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Women have been transforming the world for millennia, across many different disciplines. Some created beautiful artwork that still graces museums and family rooms today. Others led earth-shattering social movements and set new records. In any case, these women deserve to be acknowledged for their contributions to the world.
Chances are high that you have some remarkable women in your own family as well. Even if they didn’t discover a cure for a common ailment or break a world record, they have endured, thrived and set the course for the generations that follow them. Celebrate the women in your family throughout history by reading about these trail-blazing women.
1. Sally Ride
Sally Ride was the first American woman (and the third woman overall) to go to space, aboard the Challenger space shuttle. She made her first trip when she was just 32 years old, making her the youngest person to go to space.
2. Sandra Day O’Connor
Sandra Day O’Connor served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court from 1981 to her retirement in 2006, making her the first woman to serve the highest court in the land.
3. Anna Vanness Siple
Online Editor Vanessa: “My great-great-aunt Anna Vanness Siple’s aunting skills are so legendary that she continues to inspire the women in our family to be as wise and indulgent as she was. My grandmother named both my mother and I after her.”
4. Laurene Markert Springer
Our Facebook friend Mary Kay Springer’s mother, Laurene Markert Springer (left), enlisted in the Nurses Corp after graduating from the Sacred Heart School of Nursing in Spokane, Wa. She’s shown here during basic training at Fort Lewis (Tacoma, Wa.) in 1944.
5. Annie Oakley
Sharpshooter Annie Oakley traveled the world as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, performing such feats as shooting the ashes off a cigarette held by Kaisher Wilhelm II of Germany. Her life story inspired the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun.
6. Sybil Ludington
According to legend, 16-year-old Sybil Ludington rode 40 miles on horseback to warn the town of incoming British forces during the Revolutionary War. Her midnight ride was twice as long as that of Paul Revere, and she received praise from George Washington himself.
7. Leola N. King
Leola N. King was America’s first female traffic cop, serving in Washington D.C. in the early 20th century.
8. Sojourner Truth
Arguing for equal rights for women at an 1851 convention in Akron, Ohio, the former slave Sojourner Truth declared: “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?”
9. Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth II was the queen and matriarch of the United Kingdom from 1952 until her death in September 2022. Despite her royal lineage, she insisted on being allowed to serve as an auxiliary mechanic and truck driver in World War II. Read this old newspaper article to discover more about her.
10. Elizabeth Blackwell
Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman admitted to medical school when she attended Geneva (NY) Medical College in 1847. She graduated at the top of her class.
11. Mourning Dove
Hum-ishu-ma or Mourning Dove (Christine Quintasket), born on the Colville Indian reservation in 1884, was forced to give up her native language at the mission school she attended. She worked most of her life as a migrant laborer, writing at night. Her 1927 novel Cogewea, The Half-Blood, was among the first to be published by an American Indian woman. Her later books include Coyote Stories, legends told by her grandmother and other tribal elders.
12. Florence Owens Thompson
Florence Owens Thompson (the “Migrant Mother”) was 32 when Dorothea Lange photographed her and her children for the Farm Security Administration in March, 1936, in a pea picker’s camp in Nipomo, Calif. Lange later said that Thompson had sold her car’s tires to buy food for her family.
13. Margaret Bourke-White
Margaret Bourke-White was an American photojournalist and the first female war correspondent in World War II to work in active combat zones. Her photo of Mohandas Gandhi at his spinning wheel was the first LIFE magazine cover photo to be taken by a woman.
14. Mina Loy
Mina Loy was an English poet, artist, mother, feminist, playwright and actress. One of the defining members of the Modernist era, she was known for her somewhat frank and shocking poetry that utilized intimate details of her own life.
15. Mrs. O’Leary
Catherine O’Leary is the Irish immigrant who legend blames for allowing the cow she was milking to kick over a lantern, starting the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Historians lay the blame elsewhere, and the Chicago City Council exonerated Mrs. O’Leary in 1997.
16. Gwenllian Evans
Gwenllian Evans, a widow from Wales, was Montana’s first female homesteader. She filed for her land in 1870 and received her patent in 1872.
17. Lydia Chapin Taft
According to legend, Lydia Chapin Taft was the first woman known to legally vote in America, during a town meeting in 1756 in Uxbridge, Mass. She voted in place of her deceased husband and son.
18. Nellie Bly
Nellie Bly (real name Elizabeth Cochran) was an influential journalist, best known for faking insanity to expose the abusive conditions in a New York asylum and for taking a trip around the world in 72 days.
19. H. Greene
While we don’t have a picture of her, a woman named H. Greene kept a diary in 1886 and 1887 that reveals her life seeing to the domestic and farming work on her parents’ Ohio property after they passed away. You can read it on the Harvard University Open Library website.
20. Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt redefined the First Lady’s role in the White House and served as the first chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
21. Maud Wagner
Maud Wagner was the first well-known female tattooist in the United States. She also taught her daughters how to tattoo.
22. Frances Perkins
Frances Perkins, an American sociologist and worker-rights advocate, was the first woman appointed to the US cabinet, serving as the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945.
23. Frida Kahlo
Known for her self-portraits, Frida Kahlo was an internationally celebrated artist who drew inspiration from her Mexican culture.
24. Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune was the daughter of former slaves and the only one of 17 siblings her family could send to school. Her belief in the power of education led her to become a teacher and found the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute (now Bethune-Cookman University).
25. Jackie Mitchell
Pitcher Jackie Mitchell signed with the Chattanooga Lookouts minor league baseball team in 1931, mostly as part of the manager’s publicity stunt. In an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, the 17-year-old left-hander struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession, in seven pitches.
26. María Messina Greco
An early 1900s midwife in Tampa Bay, Florida, María Messina Greco kept records in her native Sicilian of the 6,734 babies she delivered.
27. Trieu Thi Trinh
The “Vietnamese Joan of Arc,” Trieu Thi Trinh raised an army to fight against Chinese occupiers in the third century.
28. Laura Ingalls Wilder
Author Laura Ingalls Wilder detailed everyday life as a pioneer in the American west and the books that document her life continue to inspire young girls.
29. Abigail Adams
In a 1776 letter, future First Lady Abigail Adams encouraged her husband John, then a member of the Continental Congress, to “Remember the ladies … [we] will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
30. Francisca Ladenkotter
Editor of Family Tree Magazine Diane Haddad’s great-great-grandmother Francisca Catherina raised seven children with her husband in Cincinnati. Francisca was born to German immigrants and had a hard life, with two of her children dying in infancy.
31. Kady Brownell
Brownell served as a vivandière with her husband’s 1st Rhode Island Infantry regiment during the Civil War. Col. Ambrose Burnside named her Daughter of the Regiment and color bearer. She participated in the battles of Bull Run (first) and New Bern, and is the only woman to have received Union Army discharge papers.