[Editor: The following three lists identify women who have influenced America in one way or another]
25 of the Most Influential Women in American History
Chrissy Clark / March 28, 2018
Women’s History Month, established in 1987, is a celebration of women’s efforts across the nation to make the world a better place for females.
Before the month is out, let’s not forget our female forefathers, um, that is foremothers. These are the ladies who paved the way for women to have a place not only in the house, but the Senate.
Here are 25 influential American women who continue to inspire us here at The Daily Signal, along with some recommended reading.
Except for a certain former Supreme Court justice, none of our choices are still alive. With one exception, we also have omitted the nation’s first ladies.
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- Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888). Alcott worked to support her family through financial difficulties at an early age, and managed to write “Little Women,” one of the most famous novels in American history. Her other famous writings include “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys.” (Recommended biography here.)
- Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906). Anthony played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement. In 1878, she and co-workers presented an amendment to Congress that would give women the right to vote. In 1920, Sen. Aaron A. Sargent, R-Calif., introduced the bill and it was ratified as the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. (Recommended biography here.)
- Clara Barton (1821-1912). Barton founded the American Red Cross and served as its first president. She was a nurse during the Civil War for the Union Army. (Recommended biography here.)
- Nellie Bly (1864-1904). A journalist, she launched a new kind of investigative reporting. She is best known for her record-breaking trip around the world by ship in 72 days. (Recommended biography here.)
- Amelia Earhart (1897-1939). Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for her accomplishments. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared in 1937 over the central Pacific Ocean while attempting to fly around the globe. (Recommended biography here.)
- Jessie Benton Fremont (1824-1902). Fremont was a writer and political activist. She was considered the brains behind her husband, John C. Fremont, and his famous exploration westward. She turned his notes into readable books and made connections in Washington, D.C., that eventually made him famous. (Recommended biography here.)
- Marguerite Higgins (1920-1966). Higgins was a reporter and war correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune during WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. She advanced the cause of equal opportunity for female war correspondents and was the first woman awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Foreign Correspondence in 1951. (Recommended biography here.)
- Grace Hopper (1906-1992). A computer scientist and Navy rear admiral, Hopper played an integral role in creating programs for some of the world’s first computers. (Recommended biography here.)
- Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910). Howe was a poet and author, her most famous work being “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” She was also a social activist for women’s suffrage. (Recommended biography here.)
- Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897). Jacobs, a writer, escaped slavery and later was freed. She published a novel, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” credited as the first to highlight the struggles of rape and sexual abuse within slavery. (Recommended biography here.)
- Barbara Jordan (1936-1996). Jordan was a lawyer, educator, politician, and civil rights movement leader. She was the first southern African-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first African-American woman to give a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. (Recommended biography here.)
- Coretta Scott King (1927-2006). The wife, and later widow, of Martin Luther King Jr. played an important role in preserving the legacy of the civil rights leader. Following his assassination in 1968, she founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She later lobbied for her late husband’s birthday to be recognized as a federal holiday. (Recommended biography here.)
- Clare Boothe Luce (1903-1987). Luce was an author, conservative politician, and U.S. ambassador to Italy and Brazil. She was the first woman appointed to an ambassadorial role abroad. Luce served in the House of Representatives from 1943-1974. (Recommended biography here.)
- Dolley Madison (1768-1849). Madison was the nation’s first lady during James Madison’s presidency from 1809-1817. She helped to furnish the newly reconstructed White House in 1814, after the invading British burned it to the ground, and is credited with saving the Lansdowne portrait of George Washington from the flames. (Recommended biography here.)
- Sandra Day O’Connor (1930-Present). A lawyer, O’Connor became a celebrated judge and eventually the first female justice on the Supreme Court, serving from 1981-2006. President Ronald Reagan appointed her. (Recommended biography here.)
- Rosa Parks (1913-2005). Parks was the most prominent female face of the civil rights movement. In December 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat in the “colored section” of a bus to a white man and was charged with civil disobedience. She is known as “the mother of the freedom movement.” (Recommended biography here.)
- Sally Ride (1951-2012). A physicist and astronaut, Ride joined NASA in 1978. Five years later, in 1983, she became the first American woman to go to outer space. (Recommended biography here.)
- Sacagawea (1788-1812). Sacagawea was a Lemhi Shoshone woman best known for her expedition with Lewis and Clark through the territory of the Louisiana Purchase. The Native American traveled from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean with the explorers. (Recommended biography here.)
- Phyllis Schlafly (1924-2016). Schlafly was a constitutional lawyer and conservative political activist. She is best known for her critiques of radical feminism and her successful campaign against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. (Recommended biography here.)
- Muriel F. Siebert (1928-2013). Known as “the first woman of finance,” Siebert was the first woman to head a firm traded on the New York Stock Exchange. (Recommended biography here.)
- Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995). A Republican politician, Smith served in the House of Representatives from 1940-1949 and the Senate from 1949-1973. She was the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress. (Recommended biography here.)
- Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896). The abolitionist and author’s most well-known work is the novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which portrayed the impact of slavery on families and children. Its impact led to Stowe’s meeting with President Abraham Lincoln. (Recommended biography here.)
- Sojourner Truth (1797-1883). An abolitionist and women’s rights activist, Truth was born into slavery and escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. She became best known for her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech on racial inequalities in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. (Recommended biography here.)
- Harriet Tubman (1820-1913). Tubman escaped from slavery in 1849 and became a famous “conductor” of the Underground Railroad. Tubman risked her life to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom using that secret network of safe houses. (Recommended biography here.)
- Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814). Warren was a writer and propagandist of the American Revolution. She published poems and plays that attacked the British empire and urged colonists to resist Britain’s infringement on their rights. (Recommended biography here.)
Historian Mark David Ledbetter’s Rise for the Sun identifies a few leading women who helped save America during the 20th century.
Rose Wilder Lane (daughter of Laura – little house on the prairie- Ingram) For Rose, arbitrary categories such as race and class were collectivist and feudal delusions. Like Hurston, she called for everyone to “renounce race” and all devotion to ethnicity. From her little farm, Rose Wilder Lane wrote and then published in 1943 her great work, The Discovery of Freedom. It describes a double discovery. She traces how, over thousands of years, humankind discovered freedom, and how freedom raised humankind from the oppressive poverty of millennia. And she traces freedom as a personal discovery that she and every person has to make for themselves.
Isabel Paterson produced her grand opus, The God of the Machine, a two thousand year history of freedom in the world, which sought to uncover the principles by which freedom is so productive, and why those principles were under attack. Ayn Rand would proclaim that The God of the Machine was to free market capitalism what Das Capital was to communism and the Bible to Christianity. Paterson and The God of the Machine were not only foundational to the nascent libertarian movement, but also influenced icons of postwar neo-conservatism such as William Buckley Jr. and Russell Kirk.
Zora Neale Hurston. In 1934, Hurston published her first novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, which takes place in her home town of Eatonville. All the characters, therefore, are black. There is little in the way of a white backdrop that would contextualize the characters’ struggles as racial and political struggles. The struggles are simply human struggles. Rather than fighting social injustice, Hurston was interested in creating real people who would, at times, shake off the binding strictures of whatever society they happened to live in and “jump at de sun,” as her mother told her to do. You might not get to the sun, but at least you’ll get off the ground
In the mid-1970s and the 1980s, now safely precluded from stepping outside the bounds of political correctness, Zora Neale Hurston was rehabilitated as a cultural icon of the progressive movement, but one whose libertarianism had to be somehow finessed by her New Age supporters. Roderick Long, professor of philosophy at Auburn University, writes of her rehabilitation in his blog, Austro-Athenian Empire: Again and again in the academic literature on Hurston, one finds some version of the puzzled question, “Why does she seem so sensibly left-wing on some issues and so horrifically right-wing on others?” Libertarianism is so far off their radar that they don’t even recognize that that’s the best label for her. Hurston makes most sense when placed in conjunction with such other “Old Right” literary figures as H. L. Mencken, Isabel Paterson, Albert Jay Nock, Rose Wilder Lane, Garet Garrett, and Ayn Rand – but their works are largely terra incognito in contemporary academia.
Suzanne LaFollete. We might even add a fifth founding mother, the libertarian feminist Suzanne LaFollete (Concerning Women, 1926), who took a different ideological path than that of the more famous cousin she was so close to, the Wisconsin super progressive Fightin’ Bob LaFollete.
One of my heroes by Mike Kapic, editor HFL
Ayn Rand was a Russian-born American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and had two best-selling novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Objectivism is the philosophy of rational individualism founded by Ayn Rand (1905-1982).