Famous Women: Politicians, Rulers, and Activists

Welcome to the final Monday of Women’s History Month! It’s been so much fun to learn more about a whole bunch of amazing American women!

Today, we dive into female rulers, politicians, and activists.

Women were denied the right to vote in the US until 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified. However, like Queen Bey sings, we run this world.

Shirley Chisholm

With one 1968 election, Shirley Chisholm broke all sorts of racial and gender barriers. Shirley was elected to serve as the first African-American congresswoman ever. She represented New York for seven terms.

During her tenure in Congress, she served on the Veterans Affairs and Education and Labor Committees. In 1969, she was one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus. In 1972, Shirley was the first African-American to seek the presidency as a major-party candidate.

After her time in Congress, Shirley went on to teach at Mount Holyoke College and was also a public speaker. Shirley Chisholm (r) and Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

We most often hear about Rosa Parks as the woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus. Sometimes, it can almost seem like her silent, dignified protest was an accident.

Rosa joined the NAACP in the 1930s, and rose to a prominent position in the Montgomery, AL chapter in the 1940s. Her quiet refusal to give up her bus seat in 1955 sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a pivotal peaceful protest in the Civil Rights movement. Armed with the recent Brown vs the Board Supreme Court decision, Civil Rights activists and lawyers successfully won several court cases that struck down the racial segregation laws in Alabama.

Rosa and her family suffered for her activism. Rosa and her husband lost their jobs in Montgomery, eventually moving to Detroit. Later in life, Rosa served on the board of the Planned Parenthood Association of America and wrote several books about her life.

Nina Simone

The High Priestess of Soul helped to pioneer this form of music in the 1950s and 1960s. After being turned down by a classical music conservatory, Nina Simone turned to soul music., although she preferred to be called a folk singer.

In the 1960s, Nina Simone became the voice of the Civil Rights movement, putting to song some of the many feelings and injustices experienced by African Americans every day. “Mississippi God Damn” was her response to the assassination of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a church in Birmingham where three little girls died.

Nina became disenchanted with the racial divide in America, and moved to Europe  and rarely returned to the US. Her career had a second life in the 1980s after one of her songs was featured in a commercial in the UK.

Today, many “standard” songs were originally sung or made popular by Nina Simone. “I Put a Spell on You” and “Feeling Good” are both songs that Nina made popular. 

Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Woodhull’s life and careers were unusual and odd for her time, but she helped to blaze new paths for women in politics and work. Victoria was an early and vocal advocate of women’s rights, including the right to vote and birth control as well as the more controversial concept of free love.

She established the Equal Rights party and ran for president on their platform in 1872. While she did end up defending her reputation, Victoria helped to establish women as activists and politicians.

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. AnthonyFrom abolition of slaves to women’s suffrage, Susan B. Anthony was an activist, speaker, and reformer who helped to move our country towards greater equal rights in terms of gender and race.

Starting in 1851, Susan became involved in the temperance movement, aimed at stopping the consumption of alcohol. When she was denied the right to speak at a convention due to her gender, Susan realized that women would have to have the right to vote before men would take them seriously in terms of politics and social issues. She partnered with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to work towards temperance, abolition, and for women’s rights.

After the Civil War, Susan and Elizabeth turned their focus to women’s rights almost exclusively. In 1869, they founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. In 1872, Susan voted in the presidential election, an act that was illegal and for which she was fine $100. Susan never paid the fine.

Jane Addams

Jane AddamsJane Addams is the original social worker, as in she essentially created the field. After seeing a settlement project to help the poor and new immigrants in London, Jane created her own settlement in Chicago in 1889. Hull House helped to provide medical care, sanitary cooking facilities, education services, and child care.

Beyond helping to alleviate the terrible conditions experienced by the urban poor, Jane was also a committed anti-war activist. She worked with international committees and conferences to find a way to promote peace and end war. Jane served as the president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom from 1919-1929. For her efforts in this capacity, Jane was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

Liliuokalani

This actual real life queen was both a first and a last in her native Hawai’i. Liliuokalani was the island nation’s first ruling queen, and also its last royal head of state. She was a dedicated supporter of her people, establishing schools for Hawaiian children.

Her reign came after her brother was forced to sign a new constitution stripping the monarchy of their powers and giving more political clout to American and European businessmen. Despite this, when she was named queen in 1891 Liliuokalani attempted to establish a new constitution that restored power to the monarchy and native Hawaiians. She was ultimately forced to abdicate and hand all control over to the US.

Liliuokalani’s song “Aloha Oe” is a haunting and beautiful reminder of the final Hawaiian queen.

Which women inspire you politically, socially, or as a leader? Share your thoughts in the comments!

~Meg

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