The abolition of slavery. Voting rights. An equal education for all. The end of segregation. African-American women have led the fight to cure many social injustices in American society. All of the women profiled in this exhibit have been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
An escaped slave, Harriet Tubman (c.1820-1913), became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Fearless and known as “Moses”, she rescued an estimated 300 people on 19 trips back to the South. Later, she later recruited blacks as soldiers and spies during the Civil War. After the War, she established freedmen’s schools and organized orphanages and institutions to care for invalid blacks.
Ardent abolitionist and woman of many firsts, Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893) worked as part of the Underground Railroad and established and taught at schools for African-American students. First African-American woman to: edit a weekly newspaper, speak at a Negro Convention, graduate from law school, vote in a national election. She was also an active advocate for women’s rights.
The daughter of slaves, Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862 – 1931) taught to support her siblings after her parents died of malaria when she was 14. Well-known for her anti-lynching activism, she participated in an 1898 delegation that demanded action from President McKinley in 1898. A fervent advocate of equal education for African Americans, Wells-Barnett was one of the founders of the NAACP.
The first female self-made millionaire in the U.S., Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919) built her business on the products that she developed. The largest African-American business in the nation employed thousands of African-American women and sold hair care and cosmetics. Walker worked to end racial discrimination by supporting civic, educational and social institutions.
Dedicated to education for African Americans, Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) started her first school in 1904 with $1.50. Today, that institution is known as Bethune-Cookman University. As a member of the “Black cabinet” who advised Presidents, she influenced policy decisions at a national level and strove to improve conditions for African Americans.
The first African American invited to perform at the White House, contralto Marian Anderson (1902-1993) broke the color barrier for musicians in 1939. After the Daughters of the American Revolution refused her permission to sing at Constitution Hall, her Easter Sunday performance in front of the Lincoln Memorial, was attended by more than 75,000 people and heard by millions more on the radio.
A major force in shaping the development of the Civil Rights Movement in America, Ella Baker (1903-1986) was the premiere behind-the-scenes organizer with Martin Luther King, Jr. as the spokesperson. Baker was the co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and an inspiring force behind the creation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
The successor to Mary McLeod Bethune as the president of the National Council for Negro Women (a position she held for forty years), civil rights and women’s rights activist Dorothy Height (1912-2010) worked particularly to improve opportunities for African-American women. She helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus.
With her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus in 1955, Rosa Parks (1913-2005) became known as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” Arrested for that action, Parks’ action led to a boycott of the municipal bus system that lasted for more than a year. The Supreme Court ruled that such segregation was illegal and the boycott ended.
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) became involved in the civil rights movement in 1962 when she attempted to register to vote. She helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that challenged the all-white Mississippi delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Her tombstone reads “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."
The first African-American Federal Court judge, Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005) was a key strategist in the civil rights movement. She successfully argued nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and helped to desegregate Southern schools, busses, and lunch counters. She said: “As the first black and first woman, I am proving in everything I do that blacks and women are as capable as anyone.”
Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) was the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress, Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005). An educator by training, Chisholm was a passionate and effective advocate for the needs of minorities, women and children and changed the nation’s perception about the capabilities of women and African Americans.
Known worldwide for her dedication to human rights for all, Coretta Scott King (1927-2006) helped ignite the civil rights movement. She pleaded with women to become involved: “Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.” She spent the four decades after the death of her husband advancing social programs, peace and justice around the world.
Civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman (1939- ) founded the Children’s Defense Fund to ensure that those who cannot help themselves are helped by others. The first African-American woman admitted to the state bar in Mississippi, Edelman established CDF, which is considered the most powerful children’s lobby to help poor children, and to coordinate nationwide activities to help children.
The National Women’s Hall of Fame is located in “the birthplace of women’s rights” Seneca Falls, New York. Over 260 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.
Media: Library of Congress, National Women’s Hall of Fame
Video courtesy of Gilbane Company
"Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America", HarperCollins, www.herstoryatimeline.com
National Women’s Hall of Fame, Seneca Falls, New York, www.womenofthehall.org