9 Women Who Made History You Probably Didn’t Know About

March is Women’s History Month so it’s the perfect time to celebrate the women in your life, and the ones who’ve come before you. We’ve all learned about our fearless, feminist ancestors like Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, and Julia Child. Yes, Julia Child! Before she was known for her cooking, she worked as an intelligence officer in the OSS, and she spoke four languages! She was a total badass.

Still there are many whose names we don’t know by heart, yet reap the benefits of their hard work and determination every day. So prepare for some speed dating y’all, cause it’s time to meet 9 women who made history you probably didn’t know about.

9 Women Who Made History You Probably Didn’t Know About

victoria_woodhull1. Victoria Woodhull

It amazes me we still ask the question “Is America ready for a woman president?” Um, yes. And we’ve been trying to elect one since 1870. Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president, and she did so before having the right to vote herself. In fact she spent election day in jail. Campaigning under the Equal Rights Party, her running mate was none other than abolitionist Frederick Douglass. She was also very outspoken on the issue of “free love,” which back then referred to a woman’s right to divorce her husband. No one knows how many votes Victoria received because the bastards running the patriarchy refused to count them.

henrietta_lacks_1920-19512. Henrietta Lacks

Gaining popularity and recognition thanks to a book by Rebecca Skloot, Henrietta Lacks is the reason we have most vaccines and medical advancements today. At the time of her death in 1951, medical consent forms didn’t exist, so without her permission or that of her family, doctors took samples of Henrietta’s cells. The healthcare industry was desperately trying to find cures for diseases but keeping test cells alive was impossible. Until Henrietta. The cells from Henrietta’s body, known as HeLa cells, were the first ever to be kept alive and grown, resulting in great medical advancements including the polio vaccine.

f7553b57e46042a33. Elizabeth Smith Miller

Did you put pants on today? Yoga pants and jeggings count! Well you have Elizabeth Smith Miller to thank for that. She was the first woman to wear pants in 1851. Finding the long skirts and dresses of the 1800’s too confining for her hobbies, she created an early version of the skort. At least that’s what I’m calling it. Technically she wore pantaloons with a wrap skirt over them, but we all know it was a skort, or at the very least a skant.

61964-004-d4cdcf034. Sarah Josepha Buell Hale

Think you know the story of the first Thanksgiving? Think again. Thanksgiving, as a national holiday, wasn’t celebrated until 1863, over 240 years after the pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians held what we consider the first Thanksgiving. Wanting to unite our war torn country, Sarah wrote to the president and members of congress every year for 17 years asking for a national day of gratitude. In November of 1863, President Lincoln announced the first national day of giving thanks, done so at Sarah’s subtle nudging.

mte4mdazndewmdyxmtk4odyy5. Pauli Murray

Pursuing higher education in the 1930’s and 40’s when women were often barred from many colleges because of their gender, Pauli Murray became the first African-American woman to earn a graduate degree from Yale University and went on to become a civil rights lawyer and feminist. She is the co-founder of NOW (National Organization of Women) which still seeks to address issues of gender equality and women’s rights. In 1977, she also became the first black woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest.

220px-patsy_mink_1970s6. Patsy Takemoto Mink

Patsy grew up  watching and experiencing racism against Japanese Americans following WWII. She was determined to better the lives of all people regardless of their race or gender or education level. She studied medicine and law and was an active political figure in Hawaii before it was an official U.S. state. In 1964, she became the first Asian American woman elected to the House of Representatives. Patsy is most widely known for the passing of Title IX, or the Equal Opportunity in Education Act, which she helped author. The act prohibits gender discrimination in any federally funded schools and largely opened up opportunities for women in athletics.

dix-dorothea-loc7. Dorothea Dix

Dorothea was born in 1802, and at the age of 14 she started teaching. A job in a women’s prison led Dorothea to start researching the care of the mentally ill in hospitals and penitentiaries. The documentation she presented to legislative figures allowed for larger budget allocations that improved conditions in the institutions as well as built new ones. Her diligent work improved or founded over 30 hospitals for the mentally ill. She was appointed Superintendent of U.S. Army Nurses in 1861.

ada-left-and-minna-everleigh-c-19058. Ada and Minna Everleigh

The Everleigh sisters, Ada and Minna, are some of Chicago’s most notorious historical figures. During the late 1800’s, they opened up one of the finest brothels in the country, featuring a gold piano, right on Dearborn St. Before you sneer at their historical achievement, you should know how they changed the game. At a time when women’s only opportunities outside the home were teaching or prostitution, if you had to get a job, your choices were limited. And many women were actually getting drugged and kidnapped, forced into the sex industry with violence. Ada and Minna’s “butterflies” were kept in the lap of luxury with fancy clothes, education, and 3 square meals a day. As for their patrons, the Everleigh sisters were also great businesswomen who actually demanded proof of their client’s bank accounts before entrance and tolerated zero violence in their establishment.

lillian_moller_gilbreth9. Lillian Gilbreth

Lillian is the queen of professional women. Not only did she raise 12 children, she became the first female inducted into the Society of Industrial Engineers. She earned a degree in psychology and spent years working as a business consultant for top clients like Macy’s, General Electric, and even the President of the United States. You’re probably familiar with some of her inventions such as the shelves on refrigerator doors and the foot pedal on garbage cans.

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So there you have it. Nine talented women who made history, and often aren’t recognized. Happy Women’s History Month!

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12 responses

  1. I love this, Jess – a total keeper! Thanks for shedding such important light.

    1. Happy Women’s History Month, August!

  2. This is great! Spreading the word.

    1. I loved learning about these women and their stories. Thanks for sharing, Kassandra!

  3. Loved this Jess! It makes me wonder how many more don’t we know about…

    1. Gobs I’m sure! And some of them were inventors and some funders. So much history we don’t know about, or just don’t hear about.

  4. Great post! I’ve really known none of these women before but they’re all fabolous. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’m fascinated by Victoria Woodhull’s history. She spent Election Day in prison for trying to vote, as women couldn’t yet. Shockingly *sarcasm* there’s no clear number of votes we know of for her as they didn’t have the decency to even count them! Politics is such a joy, no? 😣

  5. Thanks so much for writing + sharing this post! I only knew of Henrietta Lacks thanks to Skloot’s book—and now I know a bit about eight other amazing women thanks to you. 🙂

    1. That is one of my favorite books. Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott is the story of the Everleigh Sisters. I also enjoyed that book and am a big fan of Karen Abbott. I interviewed her a while back. So fun!

      https://jesswitkins.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/interview-with-nytbs-author-karen-abbott-why-shes-a-better-writer-than-lifeguard/

      1. Cool, thanks for the recommendation!

  6. […] You might recall the name Pauli Murray on this blog before when I featured her in 9 Women Who Made History You Probably Didn’t Know About. […]

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