Women’s History Month: Powerful Women

Throughout history women have accomplished remarkable achievements and broken many barriers. In 1987 what started as a week-long celebration transformed into a month-long observation. Each year March is dedicated to acknowledging the major contributions women have made to society. From making strides in social change to making advancements in science, women have played an important role in shaping the world around us today. 

Gloria Steinem, 1934-Present

Gloria Steinem is an American journalist, political activist, author and a feminist organizer. Steinem’s work is centered around gender equality, social justice and peace. Steinem started her career in the field of journalism during a time where newsrooms were predominantly operated by men. However, she never let being in a male-dominated space keep her from taking on big assignments. Wanting to move her writing career along, Steinem assisted in the founding of New York Magazine in 1968 where she wrote many features and contributed greatly to the politics column. Most of her articles touched on the women’s liberation movement and other different social issues. She also wrote for major publications like The New York Times, Esquire and other women’s magazines. Steinem began to branch out from writing when she started speaking at public events. She soon became one of the leading voices at protests and demonstrations for gender equality and reproductive rights. On May 6th, 1970 Steinem testified before the United States in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Two years later she founded the first feminist magazine, Ms. Magazine. The publication was created and operated by an entire team of women. Steinem also helped to create other organizations like Women’s Action Alliance and National Women’s Political Caucus that are important to the fight for gender equality. The Women’s Action Alliance is a national information center that focuses on providing nonsexist, multiracial education for children. The National Women’s Political Caucus is a group dedicated to increasing the number of women who support pro-equality in office on both national and local levels. In 2004, Steinem was one of the co-founders for the Women’s Media Center along with Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan. Steinem has received wide recognition for her courageous work including awards from the United Nations, an honorable induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and much more. Steinem’s work has set an example for the changemakers of today.

Wilma Mankiller, 1945-2010

Wilma Mankiller was an American Cherokee activist, social worker and the first woman to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Mankiller came from a family that embraced activism. It was her upbringing that led her to take on a life dedicated to bringing change. As a young child Mankiller spent a lot of time at the San Francisco’s Indian Center where she became engaged with the efforts of the Native American community to reclaim Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. These events would soon be the inspiration for her move back to Oklahoma on the Cherokee reservation. Mankiller knew her purpose was to serve the community. The first thing she did was lead a project that built an 18-mile long water system and brought repairs to the dangerous housing in Bell, Oklahoma, a small village in the Cherokee reservation. Mankiller’s hard work and skills as a community leader earned her the position of deputy principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. In 1985, after a resignation Mankiller moved up to being the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Two years later, she successfully reclaimed the role again after a tough election. When running for office she was met with a lot of threats. At one point, her car was vandalized. Through her knowledge and deep connection to Indian culture, Mankiller was able  overcome these challenges with a victory. When Mankiller was principal chief she sought to improve conditions surrounding education, job opportunities, and healthcare. Her work revolutionized the Indianrun healthcare system. She also worked with the federal government and the EPA to construct a self-government agreement for the Cherokee Nation. Mankiller was able to double annual tribal revenue and triple tribal enrollment.  “We are better people and a stronger tribal nation because of her example of Cherokee leadership, statesmanship, humility, grace, determination and decisiveness,” Chad Smith, the former principal chief for Cherokee Nation told the New York Times. She prompted a revival of Cherokee culture, an era of prosperity and the opportunity for self-governance amongst Cherokee people. Even after her time as principal chief ended she still was a major influence on the community. Mankiller passed away in 2010 due to complications with pancreatic cancer. She is survived by her two daughters and grandchildren. Today her legacy remains an example of true leadership. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1933-2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman and the first Jewish woman to serve as a judge for the United States Supreme Court. RBG was an exceptional scholar who faced a lot of gender discrimination throughout her academic journey. When she attended Harvard Law School she was one of the nine women in a class of 500 students. She often received misogynist comments about “taking a man’s spot” in the program. She and her female peers were also excluded from certain sections of the library. Nevertheless, RBG still achieved great academic accomplishments throughout her studies. She received her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University with high honors, made both the Harvard and Columbia Law Review and graduated the top of her class in 1959 at Columbia’s Law School. RBG started her career as a law clerk for the Honorable Edmund L. Palmieri, Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1959. Shortly after she made a career change began to teach at Rutgers University’s Law program. She also became heavily involved with the American Civil Liberties Union. By 1971 RBG became the director of ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. The project sought out to protect the rights of poor women, immigrant women, and women of color who faced gender bias and other prevalent barriers to equality. In 1972, RBG returned to Columbia University where she was the first woman to join the Columbia Law School as tenured faculty member. RBG also served on the ACLU’s general counsel and National Board of Directors while teaching at Columbia. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed RBG to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. By 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated RBG as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. RBG was easily confirmed by the Senate with a vote of 96-3. As a Supreme Court judge, RBG stood for gender equality, workers’ rights and the separation of church and state. She fought for women’s rights in famous cases like the United States vs. Virginia case. She won five landmark cases on gender equality in the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2009 RBG worked closely with President Obama on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a legislative act that would combat gender pay disparities. RBG died on September 18th last year due to complications from metastatic pancreas cancer. She was a champion for women’s rights and her perseverance has inspired many to continue to close the gap on gender equality. She once said, "Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” It is our hope to continue the fight that she started.

Dorothy Pittman Hughes,1938-Present

Dorothy Pittman Hughes is a child welfare advocate, an African-American activist and a feminist organizer. Hughes worked closely alongside Gloria Steineim during the 1970s. Together they co-founded Ms. Magazine and the Women’s Action Alliance. The duo fought hard to dismantle struggles of racism, sexism, and classism. Their collaborative efforts helped strengthen the women’s liberation movement and establish feminist solidarity. However, Hughes also had her own individual impact as a community organizer too. In Jacksonville, she worked to combat poverty by organizing community food gardens. When she lived in New York she worked towards bringing better conditions to the Harlem community by responding to the issues of racial discrimination, job opportunities, poor housing and the consequences of the Vietnam war. Hughes helped to establish New York City’s Agency for Child Development, a high-quality childcare center that also offered job training, adult education classes, a Youth Action corps, housing assistance, and food resources. These programs helped many struggling families. Today the New York City’s Agency offers care to almost 250,000 children. Hughes was also responsible for organizing one of the first shelters in NYC for battered women. She also played a role in the creation of the Business Resource and Investment Service Center, an organization that provided assistance in developing small businesses in Harlem. In 1997, she was the first Black woman to own an office supply center and be a member of the Stationers Association of New York. Hughes has been honored with many different awards including the Esther Award and the Women of Valor Award. Hughes’ work as an activist and community organizer supported multiple communities and fought against discrimination. 

Each of these women have been powerful forces of change. Their character and actions impacted the lives of women and different communities. May their stories inspire us to continue to overcome any obstacle and fight for what’s right.

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