4 Black Women Who Fought for Gender Equality

February 04, 2020


This year marks the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment, a milestone in securing women’s right to vote. But it wasn’t until 45 years later, when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, that women of color were granted the right to vote.

Sadly, Black women routinely faced racism within the women’s suffrage movement. And even today, a variety of laws threaten to prevent them from casting their ballots.

Black women have not remained silent in the face of these setbacks. Although they have often been leaders and innovators in the fight for equality, history has a tendency to erase their legacy and voices. So, in honor of Black history month, here are four amazing women of color who have helped fight for — and win — greater equality for women.

1. Sojourner Truth (1796–1883)

Sojourner Truth

Famous for her 1851 speech “Ain’t I a Woman?,” Sojourner Truth was a strong abolitionist and women’s rights advocate. Today her speech still resonates and continues to encapsulate the intersection of race and womanhood.

2. Ida B. Wells (1862–1931)

Ida B. Wells

 Ida B. Wells was a prolific investigative journalist and suffragist who campaigned tirelessly for anti-lynching legislation. Her activism began in 1884 when she refused to give up her train car seat, leading to a successful lawsuit against the train company. Motivated in part by racism within the women’s suffrage movement, Wells went on to found and co-found a variety of civil rights organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Association of Colored Women, and the Alpha Suffrage Club.

3. Dorothy Height (1912–2010)

Dorothy Height

Known as the “godmother of civil rights,” Dorothy Height was renowned for her work on the desegregation of schools, equal pay for women and voting rights. She advised numerous American leaders, ranging from Lyndon B. Johnson to Eleanor Roosevelt. She focused especially on helping advance Black women’s equality and served as president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years. In 2010, AAUW posthumously honored her as a Woman of Distinction.

4. Vanzetta Penn McPherson (born 1947)

Vanzetta Penn McPherson

Vanzetta McPherson, who grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, was an active participant in the civil rights movement. With help from an AAUW Fellowship, McPherson attended Columbia Law School. She returned to Alabama, where she established a private practice and later became a magistrate judge, dedicated to protecting the rights of working women and African Americans.

This article was written by a former AAUW Campus Leadership Programs intern.

By:   |   February 04, 2020