Women's History Month: 26 Women Who Rocked American Politics

10 years ago

I had a few ideas in mind for who I would feature in this piece. But I wanted to ensure that I wasn't missing important women because I looked only through my lens. So I put the question out to my network and asked which women they would include. I received a flood of fabulous answers. So I present to you an extensive list, though still a sampling, in alphabetical order, of great women in American political history. Please add your own political sheros in the comments if I've missed her. And, although I had to limit this post to American women otherwise I'd still be blogging until next week, I'd love to hear your nominations for great women in politics from around the world.

Abigail Adams 1744 - 1818 was America's first second lady and second first lady*, is currently being portrayed in HBO's miniseries John Adams by Laura Linney, was known for her management skills, opposition to slavery (her husband was the only founding father without slaves) and her strong influence on her husbands thinking:

Often, Abigail spoke up for married women's property rights and more opportunities for women, particularly in education. She believed that women should not submit to laws clearly not made in their interest. Women should not content themselves with the role of being decorous companions to their husbands. They should educate themselves and be recognized for their intellectual capabilities, for their ability to shoulder responsibilities of managing household, family, and financial affairs, and for their capacity morally to guide and influence the lives of their children and husbands. Although she did not insist on full female enfranchisement, in her celebrated letter of March, 1776, she exhorted her husband to "remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation."

Marie Wilson at the Huffington Post writes "Remember the Ladies"

The Minstrel Boy at Harp and Sword writes:

And I mourn the fact that strong, intelligent and resourceful women like her only seem to be noticed if they are married to someone like John Adams. Had there been a more open society Abigail would have been of even more consequence.

Jane Addams 1860 - 1935 was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Jane Addams was an ardent feminist by philosophy. In those days before women's suffrage she believed that women should make their voices heard in legislation and therefore should have the right to vote, but more comprehensively, she thought that women should generate aspirations and search out opportunities to realize them.

Becky Levine blogs about a memoir she is reading about a girl named Hilda:

She credits much of this happiness of Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House, who helped Hilda in, as Hilda tells us, too many ways to count. Miss Addams opened Hilda's eyes to a wider world than she had ever known, assisted her in going to college, in teaching other immigrants, and in beginning her work as a writer.

Susan B. Anthony 1820 - 1906 fought for civil rights, temperance and universal suffrage. Susan B. Anthony was the first "real" woman to be depicted on a circulating U.S. coin.

Shana Thornton-Morris writing in her circle ezine notes:

On Valentine’s Day, people are often wrapped up in gifts, dedications, and sentiments regarding romantic love; however, the ties of love aren’t only attached to romantic relationships. Many women now honor Valentine’s Day and Susan B. Anthony’s February 15th Birthday with a V-Day performance of the Vagina Monologues. These performances are symbolic of the current, global Women’s Movement, which has its roots in the work started by two friends; their dedication to one another; and their desire for universal suffrage.

Jennie Day, the Interim Public Information Officer, writing at the water blog of the Portland (Oregon) Water Bureau (yes, really) calls Anthony "One Sassy Suffragist!"

Carole Moseley Braun 1947 - was the first and only African American woman elected to the United States Senate. In 2004 she ran for President. Beautiful, Also, Are The Souls Of My Black Sisters writes:

And like so many black women who kept their “eye on the prize” in the resistance against racist oppression, especially in the world of elections, political campaigns, candidate mud-slinging—-Carol ran on a slate that spoke for ALL Americans.

Shirley Chisholm 1924 - 2005 was the first major party black candidate for President after she was the first black woman elected to Congress. Shola Lynch created a documentary titled "Chisholm '72 - Unbought & Unbossed." In her blog, Sensory Overload, Mari-posa writes:

One of the many accomplishments I love about Chisholm is that she was elected to the House when she was 44 years old; before serving in Congress, she had been elected, by a landslide, to the New York State Assembly in 1964, at the age of 40. This gives me hope ~ I still have time ~ women, at any age, can embark on powerful, important political careers! ...

So, here's to Shirley Chisholm ~ a single strong voice for so many of the unheard, a strong role model for women and people of color, and a legacy that is difficult to live up to ~ rock on Sister.

Angela Davis 1944 - is a Professor of History of Consciousness at University of California, Santa Cruz and is known for her grassroots activism for racial and gender equality and the reform of the criminal justice system. I admire her for rocking the greatest hair in the history of women in politics.

Liza Sabater writing for the Awearness Blog writes about stumbling across a video:

What caught my eye was the woman at the beginning of the trailer. I said, "She looks like Angela Davis. She speaks like Angela Davis. She cannot be Angela Davis". Well, she is Angela Davis. The video compilation also includes work by Scarlot Harlot, the trail blazing sex-worker, activist and videographer. She is the reason why I stumbled upon this little gem of feminist videography; giving me yet another reason to love the web.

Elizabeth Dole 1936 - was the first woman to serve as Secretary of Transportation and is currently a United States Senator from the state of North Carolina. Dole ran for the Republican nomination for President in 2000.

Mamie Eisenhower 1896 - 1979 was an advocate for women's economic power and as a military wife:

Much of her time was spent with other military wives and she sometimes involved herself in projects benefiting the communities in which they lived such as establishing a free hospital for Panamanian women who were racially barred from the U.S. Army hospitals.

Emma Goldman 1869 - 1940 according to the University of California site which houses her papers:

stands as a major figure in the history of American radicalism and feminism. An influential and well-known anarchist of her day, Goldman was an early advocate of free speech, birth control, women's equality and independence, and union organization. Her criticism of mandatory conscription of young men into the military during World War I led to a two-year imprisonment, followed by her deportation in 1919. For the rest of her life until her death in 1940, she continued to participate in the social and political movements of her age, from the Russian Revolution to the Spanish Civil War.

Ella Grasso 1919 - 1981 was "the first woman to be elected governor who was not the wife or widow of a governor, as well as the first woman governor of Connecticut."

jade363 remembers:

Ella Grasso was our hero, she shut down the state- It was total chaos-everything was buried under tons of snow &
at a stand-still. This state of CT. will never forget two things... Ella and that storm....

Anita Hill 1956 - a professor of social policy, law and women's studies at Brandeis University testified at the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarance Thomas about her allegations of sexual harassment by Thomas. Hill's courage in speaking publicly about sexual harassment raised awareness about the issue to a degree that it never had before and inspired "the year of the woman" when in 1992 a record number of women were elected to the US Senate.

Tim Mazurek created an art project titled "I Believe Anita Hill" to ask about the impact of Hill's testimony (click to see the image of his project):

This is a recent project. I was interested in the way in which this declaration was as relevant/irrelevant now as it was then. Maybe what I am also interested in: 1991-2008, has anything changed for women in politics? And how to ask that question in public.

Moda Di Magno writes:

I had the opportunity to speak with Professor Hill at the reception and asked her to autograph a program for my niece Nicole who was only 2 years old at the time of the hearings, but has grown up in a world where workplace harassment protections are in place (in large part.)

Dolores Huerta 1930 - is the co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America.

Chris at Sister Spirit had the opportunity to hear Huerta speak recently:

I just returned from a talk on campus that featured 77-year-old activist, labor organizer, and human rights advocate, Dolores Huerta. Addressing a standing-room only crowd, Huerta encouraged the mostly student audience to do something--anything--even if all they do is change their minds about people. Perhaps because she was invited as part of our celebration of Women's History Month, Huerta focused much of her talk on women's rights (including those rights certain government officials would like to take away) and even gay and lesbian rights. She has more energy than most 50 year olds I know, and this mother of 11 tours the U.S. and internationally non-stop to advocate for human rights.

I felt honored to be in the same room with her. ~Chris

Kay Bailey Hutchinson 1943 - is the first woman to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate.

Lady Bird Johnson 1912 - 2007 is credited with a key role in the modern environmental movement with her work advocating the planting and protection of wildflowers.

At the time of her death, Gail Anderson wrote here at BlogHer:

The second point was that she lobbied Cabinet members on behalf of her constituents. Whoa. What a novel idea. When's the last time your congress person (or spouse of congress person) lobbied the White House on your behalf? Somthing to ponder.

Mother Jones 1837 - 1930 was known for her work as a labor activist, community organizer and Socialist. She was also known as "the most dangerous woman in America."

Barbara Jordan 1936 - 1996 was the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from the South. In addition to her work to support "the poor, the disadvantaged and people of color," Jordan was known for her powerful role in the Watergate hearings. Although she did not publicly discuss aspects of her personal life, Jordan also inspires as possibly the most prominent politician who was a disabled (suffering from multiple sclerosis she eventually used a cane and then a wheelchair for mobility), lesbian.

Phoenix Woman writing at firedoglake finds:

During this election season, I've been thinking quite a bit of Barbara Jordan. Let me now speak to you of Barbara Jordan.

Sixth Grade student Kade'Ja reviews a biography of Jordan:

I really like this book because it shows that you can be anything you want. All you have to do is try.

Patsy Mink 1927 - 2002 was the first Asian American woman elected to Congress, the first woman elected to Congress from the state of Hawaii and is known for authoring the Title IX Amendment.

NOW has a collection of tributes to Mink. Eleanor Smeal writes:

Patsy Mink was a feminist champion—a true friend of the women's, civil rights and social justice movements. I can close my eyes and hear her booming voice, her clear vision. She has left an indelible mark on the women's movement and all of us who were lucky enough to know her, work with her, and share her passion for a more just society, free from discrimination and poverty. The millions of young women who have benefited from Title IX will have better lives because of her determination, strength, and inspiration. Her life work, struggle, and accomplishments for the rights of all people—this is her true memorial. At our last dinner with her this summer at the NOW Conference we strategized about how to save Title IX from the current Bush Administration attacks. We will miss you in the fight, Patsy, but we will keep on, keeping on — thank you for leaving us so much worth fighting for.

Rosa Parks 1913 - 2005 is widely recognized as the "Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement." Time Magazine honored Parks as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th Century.

Karen at Life Two writes about making sure her daughters know about Parks and other feminists:

Antonia's comment served as a subtle reminder that part of my job in raising my daughters is to make them aware of the strong role models that exist for women.

So that is why last night, as we sat down to dinner, I spoke with my daughters of June Callwood, the Toronto social activist who died last year.

My eldest daughter was somber, her eyes fixed on her plate. When I asked her what she was thinking, she looked up and replied, "Why do you think this crouton in my salad is so soggy?" Not the reply I was hoping for but hey, we're just getting started.

As for my seven year old, I asked her if she knew who Rosa Parks is. Happily she did.

Jeannette Rankin 1880 - 1973 was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (even before the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified) and the only woman elected to Congress from Montana. She was known for her pacifism, voting against U.S. entry into World Wars I and II and led resistance to the Vietnam war.

Ann Richards 1933 - 2006 delivered a memorable keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention and in 1990 was elected Governor of Texas. Richards was perhaps best known for her charisma and wit which inspired many women across the country.

Stella at Swiftspeech lists 10 Reasons Why We Miss Ann Richards:

7. As governor, Richards made it a priority to appoint more women, African-Americans and Hispanics to state boards than any previous Texas governor. Before she left office in 1995, she said: "I did not want my tombstone to read, 'She kept a really clean house.' I think I'd like them to remember me by saying, 'She opened government to everyone.'"

Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 - 1962 transformed the role of First Lady, championed women's rights, civil rights and human rights and advocated for the formation of the United Nations.

Sharon Grigsby on the Dallas Morning News Opinion Blog writes about "My Hero, Eleanor Roosevelt"

But I'm never ceased to be dumbfounded by Mrs. Roosevelt's courage and totally-out-of-bounds-for-the-times efforts to make this country one where all people were treated equally.

Betsy Ross 1752 - 1836 in addition to sewing the first American Flag, played an important role in the early history of women in this country:

What made the story turn into legend so quickly? Probably three social trends helped:

* changes in women's lives, and social recognition of such changes, made discovering a "founding mother" to stand alongside "founding fathers" attractive to American imagination. Betsy Ross was not only a widow making her own way in life with her young child -- widowed patriotically in the American Revolution not once, but twice -- but she was earning a living by a traditionally women's occupation: seamstress. (Notice that her abilities to buy and manage land never made it into her legend, and are ignored in many biographies.)

Margaret Sanger 1879 - 1966 was a nurse who dedicated herself to making information about birth control available to women and who founded the organization that is now Planned Parenthood.

Recently, some conservative groups and anti-abortion activists have tried to paint Sanger as a racist proponent of eugenics. Women's Space blog has Planned Parenthood's response which reads, in part:

Sanger also entertained some popular ideas of her own time that are out of keeping with our thinking today. Finding it easier to undermine her character than to confront the message she conveyed, the anti-family planning movement has seized upon some of these ideas, taken them out of context, and exaggerated and distorted them in order to discredit Sanger and the organization she founded. ...

Margaret Sanger clearly identified with the issues of health and fitness that concerned the early 20th-century eugenics movement, which was enormously popular and well-respected during the 1920s and ’30s, when treatments for many hereditary and disabling conditions were unknown. However, Sanger always believed that reproductive decisions should be made on an individual and not a social or cultural basis, and she consistently repudiated any racial application of eugenics principles. For example, Sanger vocally opposed the racial stereotyping that effected passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, on the grounds that intelligence and other inherited traits vary by individual and not by group.

Margaret Chase Smith 1897 - 1995 was the first woman to be elected to both the House and Senate and the first woman from Maine to serve in either legislative body. A moderate Republican, Smith was known "for her early principled opposition to the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy."

Elizabeth Cady Staton 1815 - 1902 was an early leader of the women's movement in America and helped organize the first women's rights convention where she wrote and read a "Declaration of Sentiments" demanding voting rights for women.

Sojourner Truth 1797 -1883 was known for her work as an abolitionist and advocate for women's rights. Truth's legacy includes her slave narrative and her 1851 "Ain't I A Woman" speech.

Rachel on her blog, Rachel is Blogging writes about Truth:

I learned about her in an African American lit. class I had in collage. She stuck in my head because she was the shit. She fought for not only black rights but also just as hard for womens rights. She was not content with the work her fellow abolitionists were doing to free her people, she also wanted respect as a woman from white and black men. She has a famous speech called Ain't I a Woman? Its pretty humbling how a woman born into slavery and given no formal education can speak and fight with such fierceness for what is right. Besides being the shit, I also admired her because she was a woman traveling. (Something I've always been in love with). And she was traveling in the name of truth, for the sake of truth, to spread truth. Yes, she is the shit.

Maria Niles blogs about politics on her blog PopConsumer

*Corrected from earlier version. Thanks lyrehc

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