National Women's Hall of Fame

The computer compiler.  Paper bags at the grocery store.  Cultivation of indigo plants.  The Underground Railroad.  The Christian Science Movement.  A leukemia chemotherapy drug.  The American Red Cross.


What do all of these items have in common?  A woman invented, founded, or championed each!  And too many Americans have never heard of these women. 


Women have changed America.  They have changed the culture and the economy of our country to allow men and women to enjoy the rights and privileges that we have today.  This exhibit highlights a few of the over 250 women inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame concentrating on women in the social movements, women in business, and women in science and technology.

In 1843, preacher and former slave Isabella Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth (c.1797 – 1883).  A powerful antislavery speaker, she is best remembered for her 1851 “Ain’t I a Woman” speech given at the 1851 women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio.  Truth said in part:


That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?


Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 1981.

By 1850, Harriet Tubman (c.1820-1913) was active in the Underground Railroad.  She traveled to the South and escorted slaves to freedom.  Referred to as “Moses,” she is believed to have rescued 300 people.  Moses was feared and a price was put on “his” head, since people of that time did not believe a woman capable of such daring.  Tubman carried a pistol with her; to encourage those who lost heart when she was trying to rescue them to continue on. 

Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 1973.

Referred to as the “Angel of the Battlefield,” Clara Barton (1821-1912) tended to wounded soldiers during the Civil War.  In 1881, Clara Barton, with the help of a handful of friends, established the American branch of the Red Cross and became its first president.  She served in that position for twenty-three years.  At age 77, she provided relief to soldiers during the Spanish-American War.  

Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 1973.

Clara Barton

In 1889, Jane Addams (1860-1935) began Hull House, a neighborhood community center located in the slums of Chicago, offering a full range of health and social services for the poor.  She fought infant mortality, child labor, and unsafe workplaces, among other activist causes.  Newspapers called her “one of the ten greatest citizens of the Republic.”  Hull House still operates today.  Later, she was active in the peace movement and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. 


Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 1973.

Jane Addams

A domestic servant by the age of seven, Martha Matilda Harper (1857-1950) spent over twenty years as an indentured servant.  With the encouragement of Susan B. Anthony and others in the Rochester, NY area, Harper opened a public hair salon.  A marketing and entrepreneurial genius, she focused on a personalized customer experience.  In 1891, Harper developed the modern franchising system in her chain of skin and hair care salons.  With her long hair, she became the face of advertising for the business.  She sold franchises to other women in need, all former servants, who sold Harper’s natural hair care and skin care products.  Within thirty years, there were over 500 Harper shops with world-renown clientele.  She invented the reclining shampoo chair used today in salons around the world.  She introduced flextime, profit sharing and paid time off.  Her business practices resulted in wider economic opportunities for women.  

Inducted into the National Women’s’ Hall of Fame, 2003.

Martha Matilda Harper

Although Mary Engle Pennington (1872-1952) was denied a B.S. degree at the University of Pennsylvania due to her gender, she continued her academic work and received her Ph.D. in 1895.  Her research on bacteria and refrigeration led to safe eggs, poultry, and fish.  She was called the “Ice Lady” because of her efforts to cajole market vendors to put their wares on ice to keep them fresh.  The refrigerated and frozen food sections of our grocery stores are her direct legacy.  Pennington designed the refrigerated railroad cars that transported food all over the country.  The egg carton is also one of her lasting legacies.  

Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 2002.

Mary Engle Pennington

The first female self-made millionaire in the U.S. (1905), Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919) was the daughter of former slaves who initially worked as a washerwoman.  She earned her wealth through her hair and cosmetics business and developed her own products.  Walker provided an avenue for economic self sufficiency for thousands of African-American women who sold and used her products.  With her wealth, she advocated for African-Americans through civil, educational, and social institutions.  

Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 1993.

The co-founder of the field of industrial engineering, Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878-1972) and her husband Frank had twelve children to test their theories.  In 1931, she received a medal from the Society of Industrial Engineers for her time studies.  A pioneer in industrial and organizational psychology, she is the mother in the books and movies Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes.  She had a special concern for individuals with physical handicaps.  Gilbreth convinced washing machine manufacturers to design the appliance to pump water in – as well as back out.  When you look at the butter dish and egg tray in your refrigerator, you are looking at the work of Lillian Moller Gilbreth.  

Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 1995.

Lillian Moller Gilbreth

In 1943, Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992) was a professor of mathematics at Vassar College recruited to work on the first computer.  Later, she created the first computer compiler, the software that translates human language into the zeroes and ones that a computer understands.  Hopper developed the first English-based computer language and was instrumental in the development of the business computer language COBOL.  She loved to take credit for finding the first computer bug.  That first computer bug was a moth, stuck in the relay of the computer where she was working, that stopped the computer from functioning.  Hopper carried around a piece of wire 11.86 inches long – to demonstrate a nanosecond – the distance light travels in a billionth of a second (the basis on which a computer works).  She delighted in teaching young people the fundamentals of computing. 

  Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 1994.

Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

In 1944, nuclear physicist Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) worked on the Manhattan Project, a secret effort to develop the atom bomb.  Through her experiments in physics, particularly in the area of beta decay, Wu changed our accepted view of the universe.  Honored with many awards, in 1990, she became the first living scientist with an asteroid named after her.  

Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 1998.

Chien-Shiung Wu

In 1952, physician Dr. Virginia Apgar (1909-1974) developed a series of rapid checks for use on newborn infants to determine if the babies needed medical attention.  She developed the score to save the lives of infants; most attention at birth at that time was focused on the mother.  The 0-10 Apgar Score is determined worldwide today on all newborns at one minute and five minutes after birth.  She worked at Columbia University, where she became the first woman to head a department and the first woman full professor.  Later, she worked with the March of Dimes. 

  Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 1995.

Dr. Virginia Apgar

In 1955, “mother of the civil rights movement” Rosa Parks (1913-2005) was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.  This sparked the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott that lasted for more than a year.  African-American women who were the primary riders refused to ride the buses.  Parks’ courageous action is seen today as an underpinning of the civil rights movement.  She said “the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”  Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 1993.

Rosa Parks

Biologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964) is credited with launching the environmental movement leading to Earth Day in 1970.  This is due to the 1962 publication of her book Silent Spring, an expose on the dangers of DDT.  Subsequently, the use of DDT was banned in the U.S. and many other countries.  The book she had written earlier, The Sea Around Us, had also been a bestseller.  Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 1973.

Rachel Carson

Linda Alvarado owns a major Denver, Colorado construction company where she is President and CEO (Alvarado Construction).  When she was 39, she became the first woman to participate in a successful bid for ownership of major league baseball team; today she is still a co-owner of the Colorado Rockies.  She has been selected as one of the 100 Most Influential Hispanics in the U.S.  Alvarado grew up with five brothers in a home without indoor plumbing and no central heating.  In addition to serving on major corporate boards, Alvarado’s philanthropy helps others achieve their dreams.  

Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 2003.

Linda Alvarado

Lakota Indian educator, Patricia Locke (1928-2001) advocated for the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, which in 1978, set into federal law the right of Native Americans to freely practice their spiritual traditions.  She helped organize seventeen tribally run colleges and was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1991.  Locke worked tirelessly to preserve tribal languages and culture.  After she accepted the Baha’i faith, she became the first Native American woman to be elected to the National Spiritual Assembly. 

Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, 2005.

Patricia Locke

The National Women’s Hall of Fame is located in “the birthplace of women’s rights” Seneca Falls, New York, the home of the Wesleyan Chapel where the first women’s rights convention was held.  Over 250 women have been inducted into the Hall; inductions are held every two years.


The exciting new home for the Hall is the Seneca Knitting Mill.  Hear what some of the inductees have to say about preserving the stories of women and celebrating their accomplishments.

Credits: Story

Content — Jill S. Tietjen, P.E., President, National Women's Hall of Fame,; co-author, Her Story:  A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America,
Curator — Kate Bennett,  President, Rochester Museum and Science Canter
Images — Coiurtesy Library of Congress, Alvarado Construction, Inc., Kevin Locke
Video — Gilbane Company

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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