We Asked, You Answered: Who are the Great Women in History?

March 19, 2012

As part of Women’s History Month, we asked you to tell us about the women in history who have influenced you as well as the women who you think are missing from the pages of history books. Well, the votes are in! Here are some of our favorite results. If we missed someone, remind us in the comments section or on Twitter using the hashtag #wmnhist.

Margaret Bourke-White, photojournalist

Women journalists were not common in the 1920s, when Margaret Bourke-White was hired as the first-ever woman photojournalist. She was the first staff photographer for Fortune and LIFE magazines. Bourke-White worked in combat zones during World War II, when she earned her title as the first woman war correspondent. She was also the first Western photographer allowed into the Soviet Union.

Rachel Carson, ecologist

A 1956 AAUW Achievement Award winner, Rachel Carson has been called the mother of the modern environmental movement. Though controversial at the time, her research and writing on waterways and ecosystems — especially her 1962 book Silent Spring — shed light on the long-term effects of abusing the environment and called for a change in the way we view the natural world. In writing about the dangers of the insecticide DDT, she cautioned us about the threats humanity poses to the environment.

Marian Anderson, singer

Marian Anderson was a contralto — the deepest classical singing voice for women. She broke many barriers for women of color in the arts when she became the first African-American singer to perform as a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and at two presidential inaugurations. She also served as a goodwill ambassador with the U.S. State Department from 1957 to1958.

Rosalind Franklin, scientist

Rosalind Franklin researched and discovered vital information that led to the understanding of the structure of DNA at a time when the university climate was not particularly friendly toward women. The sexism she encountered at her lab eventually drove her to find a new research group, where she laid the foundation for the study of structural virology.

Margaret Sanger, nurse

Margaret Sanger spent her life challenging the Comstock laws, anti-obscenity legislation that restricted the distribution of contraceptives. In 1916, Sanger was arrested for opening the first birth control clinic. By the 1950s, she had won several legal victories for the advancement of birth control and by 1960 had successfully sought the first Food and Drug Administration approval for oral contraceptives. Unfortunately, the war on contraception still isn’t over, and even though Sanger had some controversial views, we have her to thank for getting us started.

And these are a few of the other great answers to our polls:

Elizabeth Blackwell, doctor

Shirley Chisholm, first black woman elected to Congress

Midge Costanza, top assistant to President Jimmy Carter

Minnie D. Craig, first female speaker of a state House of Representatives (the North Dakota House)

Lena Horne, singer and actress

Ida Lewis, lighthouse keeper

Audre Lorde, poet

Margaret Mead, anthropologist

Jeannette Pickering Rankin, first woman elected to Congress

Merlin Stone, artist and author of When God Was a Woman

We’d also like to give a shout-out to all of our women heroes who have served in the military and to our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, who helped us carve our individual paths.

Thanks for helping us look back to appreciate the women who paved the way for us. Now we’d like to look forward and hear your thoughts about who is making history now! Who among today’s women leaders will be the ones our great-great-grandchildren talk about during Women’s History Month?

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This post was written by AAUW Marketing and Communications Intern Marie Lindberg.

By:   |   March 19, 2012


  1. Nancy Moffett says:

    Let’s not forget Pearl S. Buck, the first woman to ever win both a Pulitzer and a Nobel Peace Prize. She was not only an author, but also an advocate for the children left behind by our servicemen in Japan and other Asian countries.

  2. leslie mcneill says:

    Julia Morgan….woman architect…graduate UC Berkeley/engineering/Ecole Beaux Arts..Paris…1st women to do so…read about her!

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