10 Women Who Will Make You Happy About America Again

As someone who considers herself reasonably progressive, sometimes it’s easy to get down on the United States. Especially when I think of all the recent attacks on the bodily autonomy of women, it’s easy to slip into day dreams of escaping to Canada. But, this Independence Day, I think it’s a great time to remember the many women who tried to make the United States a better place to live for everybody.

A word of warning: There is absolutely no way I can fit everybody, and I’ll no doubt forget some very important women. I’m operating from the perspective of my own race and education (white, lawyer), and I will no doubt overlook some really impressive women from a variety of backgrounds. I encourage to leave your recommendations in the comments. Maybe we’ll all learn something!

1. Shirley Chisholm

Credit: Wikipedia

Shirley Chisholm may not be super well-known anymore, but she was a trailblazer. She was the first African American woman elected to Congress, serving from 1969 to 1983. She was also the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination and was the first African American to run for president for a major party.  She died in 2005.

2. Alice Paul

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Alice Paul was a suffragist and women’s rights activist in the early 20th century. She was a big proponent of the 19th Amendment, which, as I’m sure you know, guarantees women the right to vote. She’s probably one of the most educated people I’ve ever heard of, with a master’s degree, Ph.D., a law degree, a master’s of law degree, and a doctorate in civil laws. Whoa.

Paul founded the National Women’s Party, and lobbied Woodrow Wilson and the Democratic party to support a suffrage amendment. She led a peaceful protest in front of the White House in 1917. She and many others were arrested and force fed raw eggs when she went on a hunger strike in prison. Paul was also the author of the original Equal Rights Amendment. She wrote it in 1923, but it didn’t make it to the Senate until 1972.

3. Sandra Day O’Connor

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Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman Justice on the United States Supreme Court. Before her retirement in 2006, she was considered a moderate voice on the court. When she graduated law school, no one would hire her because she was a woman, and she had to work for free without an office, just to get her foot in the door. Gross.

But her star rose from there. She was the Arizona Attorney General from 1965-69, and served in the Arizona state senate where she became the first woman majority leader. She was elected to the Maricopa County Superior Court in 1979 and was appointed to the Arizona State Court of Appeals where she served until she was plucked by President Reagan to serve on the Supreme Court in 1981.

4. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Ok. I know. Two Supreme Court justices. I’m sorry. But I’m a lawyer! What do you want from me?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of the most amazing people alive today. She made her career fighting for the rights of women. She co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first law journal dedicated exclusively to women’s rights. She also founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union and argued several landmark women’s rights cases in front of the Supreme Court.

Ginsburg became the second woman on the Supreme Court and the first Jewish woman on the Court in 1993. She has been a staunch supporter of abortion rights.

5. Rosa Parks

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Parks became a symbol of the 1960s civil rights movement. She is one of the most famous civil rights activists in American history. She was the secretary of the Montgomery, Alabama chapter of the NAACP when she followed through on her act of civil disobedience. Even though she was lauded later, it actually cost her her job as a seamstress at the time. She won several awards, including the NAACP’s 1979 Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. When she died in 2005, she was the first woman and the second non-government official to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

6. Nancy Pelosi

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Pelosi was the first woman to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives. She has been a member of the House since 1987. In 2001 she became the first woman to hold the House Minority Whip, and in 2004 she became the first woman leader of a major party in the House. In 2006, she was chosen to be the Speaker of the House, a position she held until the Democrats lost the House in 2010. She remains the leader of the House Democratic party.

7. Sojourner Truth

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Also known as Isabella Baumfree, Sojourner Truth was an African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. She escaped from slavery in 1826 with her daughter. After her escape, she discovered that her son had been illegally sold. Truth took the issue to court…and won. She was one of the first African Americans to win a case against a white man.

Truth became a prolific speaker, giving her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851. She also spoke at the suffragist Mob Convention, the American Equal Rights Association, and the Eighth Anniversary of Negro Freedom.

8. Geraldine Ferraro

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When I first heard about this woman as a child, it was the first time I’d ever even thought that a woman could hold the highest elected office in the country. She was the first woman to ever be on a major party presidential ticket, with Walter Mondale in 1984. She was a member of the House of Representatives and was the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

9. Eleanor Roosevelt

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Eleanor Roosevelt! Where do I even start? She was instrumental in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was a US Ambassador to the United Nations. She was also the first chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. As First Lady, she redefined the role. Instead of basically putting her interests on the back burner, she kept a very busy travel schedule and wrote a newspaper column. She was also a proponent of civil rights. She lobbied to make lynching a federal crime and spoke out against anti-Japanese prejudice.

10. Elizabeth Key Grinstead

Elizabeth Key was the first slave of African ancestry in the English colonies to sue for her and her son’s freedom and win in 1662. Her father was a white Englishman, which was important in her case. You see, in English common law, the status of the father determined the status of the child. Since her father was a free white man, Key was also free. In addition, Key was a practicing Christian, and there was legal precedent that said black Christians cannot be held in servitude for life. Ultimately, Key married William Grinstead (who was also her attorney), and was one of the only marriages between a white man and a free black woman in the 1600s.

This story would be amazing if not for the aftermath. Because of her’s and similar challenges, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed a law saying that the children of slaves, regardless of paternity, are slaves. Which ensured that there could be no more Elizabeth Key Grinsteads. Oof.


Top photo: Flickr


Jim Ven
Jim Ven8 months ago


Jerome S
Jerome S8 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Freya S.
Freya Sabout a year ago

These women should be icons.

Patt Tashjian
Patt Tashjian4 years ago

There are so many more...like Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt and on and on. I believe in this day and age, women are better problem solvers and leaders when gentlemen are in the position that they have no choice but to listen to them (us).

Carmen F.
Maria C4 years ago

Is pretty motivating to know of outsatnding woman able to do much for the History, but please correct what you say. America is the continent, not "Americas", America is only one and it includes, Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico, Canada...United States, is United State, the country.

Lika S.
Lika P4 years ago

Great role models for all of us.

Jane H.
Jane H4 years ago

"Women hold up( at least) half the world"

Cheryl Mallon-Bond

I was surprised not to.see Gloria Steinem!!!!! & of.course there are many more! Why stop at 10! Make the list as long as possible! Get a compilation from as many people that respond to this article, & let the list be as long as possible! We women deserve the accolades! Infact, I would.like to see the list span each & every of the decades of "HER-STORY" so it reflects beginning pioneers (many you mentioned), all the way up.to present day. They All deserve the accolades!!!!!!.

Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago

your list is nice not what I would have chosen

federico bortoletto
federico b4 years ago

Grazie della condivisione.