Every two weeks, we will publish the Staff’s Top 5 on a certain topic. We hope that you find common interests as you get to know us better! Top 5 you want to see? Contact us!
As Mother’s Day approaches, we’re thinking about the important women in history and in our lives who have made their mark on us. As you read through our list, we hope it allows you to reflect on the women who have influenced you. Consider honoring them with a donation or by giving a gift of membership. Here are the Staff’s Top 5 influential women.
- Felisa Rincón de Gautier – well-dressed suffragist, activist, and first female mayor of Puerto Rico. She championed welfare programs like “Las Escuelas Maternales” (“The Maternal Schools”), an early model for our original Head Start program.
- Madame C.J. Walker – entrepreneur, philanthropist, and one of the first American women to be a self-made millionaire. She founded the Madame C.J. Walker Company and provided thousands of other black women and women of color economic opportunities as Walker sales agents.
- Mary McLeod Bethune – educator, government official, and civil and women’s rights activist. While serving as special advisor on minority affairs to President Franklin Roosevelt, she founded the National Council of Negro Women to advocate for African-America women.
- Rigoberta Menchú – suffragist, and social rights activist, and leading advocate for indigenous rights in Guatemala.
- Dolores Huerta – social and civil rights activist, educator, and co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA)—now known as the United Farm Workers’ Union (UFW).
- Yayoi Kusama
- Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff
- Joan Baez
- Greta Thunberg
- Dorothea Dix
My top five include three Black women who were pivotal in the suffrage movement but have often been written out of its history.
- Frances Ellen Watkins Harper - an abolitionist, suffragist, and one of the first Black women writers to be published in the United States. In the mid-1800s she advocated for the integration of the women’s rights movement, saying “[w]e are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity.”
- Mary Church Terrell - born the child of recently freed slaves in 1863 and lived until 1954, the year that Brown v. Board of Ed was decided. She was a renowned teacher, anti-lynching activist, suffragist. and a founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs - the precursor to the NAACP.
- Hettie Blonde Tilghman - a Bay Area community activist in the early 1900s, president of the Alameda County League of Colored Women Voters, and served in major leadership roles in the African American unit of the League of Women Voters.
- Emma Goldman
- U.S. Representative Patsy Takemoto Mink
- Hedy Lamarr – Most people just know her as an actress, but she was also a fantastic inventor, a lot of what we use now is because of her (GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth)
- Simone Biles – Amazing gymnast, first female gymnast to win three world titles in a row.
- Lucille Ball – The first woman to run a production studio and laid the groundwork for TV syndication for future generations.
- Katharine Wright – It really should be the Wright family, not the Wright Brothers, she was instrumental to the success of the first motorized flying machine.
- Patsy Takemoto Mink – First woman of color to be elected to the national legislature and first Asian-American congresswoman. A critical figure for passing Title IX of the federal Education Amendments.
My top 5 list includes activist women who profoundly impacted my life through their unique societal contributions fighting for others human, civil, and voting rights.
- Rosa Parks - I met Rosa Parks and presented her with an honorary degree from Bryant College in the 1990s. Her efforts in the civil rights movement inspired me to choose a career fighting for equality and embraced her saying that there is only one race, the human race.
- Maya Angelou - Reading Maya Angelou at a young age taught me the importance of sharing your personal story and the positive impact of literature and poetry on cultural issues like racism and sexism.
- Mother Teresa - Mother Teresa inspired me to be humble and help others due to her devotion to helping the poor with love and grace and reminding us “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
- Inez Milholland - I admire Inez Milholland as a trailblazer/activist and the face of the early Suffrage Movement. She was a gifted communicator and used her skills to further the cause, riding her horse across the nation in the name of women’s rights. Often offended that her looks were valued and not her brain, she died after a speech in LA, her last words were, "Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”
- Ida B. Wells - While in journalism school I discovered Ida B. Wells who inspired me due to her brave, dedicated efforts as an investigative journalist exposing poor conditions in education and the horrors of lynching.
- Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz- 17th century nun,writer, and feminist that defended women’s rights to educational access.
- Frida Khalo- one of Mexico’s most famous female artists. Very well known for her self portraits and works inspired by nature.
- Mother Teresa
- Princess Diana
- Marie Curie - Most famous for the discovery of the elements polonium and radium. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.
- Heady Lamarr
- Rosa Parks
- Simone de Beauvoir
- Billie Jean King
The women who have influenced me most are those who were, and are, unapologetically themselves. Women who went against the grain to speak to or fight for marginalized people – or just to boldly be themselves in a world that said that’s not who they should be.
- Ani DiFranco – When I was just out of high school and finding the courage to come out of the closet while living in the deep south, I found Ani DriFranco and her music. She is fierce and unapologetically herself, and I needed to see strong women who went against the grain and owned their whole identities with no shame or fear. Because that was exactly how I intended to live and seeing someone else do it gave me the courage to step into my own identity.
- Adrienne Rich – Another unapologetic feminist, using her poetry as a reflection of her experience of femininity, womanhood, politics, and society.
- Audre Lorde – Self-described, “black, lesbian, feminist, mother, warriot, poet”. She spoke early on about the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality – and dedicated her art and life to fighting marginalization. She was active in liberation movements including civil rights and Black cultural movements, second wave feminism, and the LGBTQ+ movement for equality.
- Megan Rapinoe - US Women’s National team soccer star - never afraid to speak truth to power. 2019 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year, she has crossed from star athlete to courageous activist for equal pay for women, a vocal ally on racial inequality, and an activist for LGBTQ+ rights. She reminds me continually of how important speaking truth to power is for all of us, and that showing up time and again to have a voice in the issues we care about makes a difference.
- Laverne Cox – First openly transgender person to accomplish a tremendous number of milestones in the entertainment industry and an advocate in the LGBTQ+ movement.