8 Influential Women in Black History

In schools, history classes still tend to have a white, male, and Eurocentric focus, glossing over hordes of black excellence that is embedded in our history. Yes, we learn about Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King Jr., but there are so many more names and faces that have contributed to the world than just the handful of black figures that the school systems have deemed important to know. 

For example, the 2016 Hollywood film Hidden Figures shows the three black women who worked behind the scenes at NASA during the '60s. Now, everyone knows Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson's names and what they contributed to science during their time at NASA. Not only does the film teach history that has been previously overlooked for decades, it empowers young black girls and teens and shows them that they can also be great scientists who go on to change the course of history. 

Here are some incredible black women from history who have overcome the odds and did amazing things but still don't make the history books. 

1. Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) 

Mary McLeod Bethune was a civil rights activist and education advocate. Bethune believed that education was necessary to the advancement of black people in the U.S. and the key to patching racial inequalities. She founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls, which later became the Bethune-Cookman College; it was one of the only schools where African-Americans could receive a college degree and education. 

She also worked with the National Association of Colored Women and was its leader in 1924. She founded the National Council of Negro Women, worked with the NAACP, and became the director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, which helped youth find work. 

After her death, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. 

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

2. Dame Eugenia Charles (1919-2005) 

Dame Eugenia Charles was the first female prime minister in the Caribbean. She held her positon for fifteen years, making her the longest serving female prime minister in the world. She was also the first woman lawyer in Dominica. 

Charles was not afraid to challenge the traditions and systems in place during her time in office, which allowed her to break Dominica's long history of corruption. Once, she wore a bathing suit to Parliament to protest the dress code, and she often used her big voice to get her ideas through. She also survived a coup by the KKK, as well as many others. 

In general, she greatly improved the living standards and infrastruction in Dominica. 

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia

3. Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005) 

Shirley Chisholm was the first black congresswoman and the first black candidate to run for president from a major political party. In addition to this, she was one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus. She mainly pushed and supported education reform and social justice, and she later left politics to become a teacher. 

In 2015, she was awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, about ten years after her death. 

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia 

4. Angela Davis (1944-present) 

Angela Davis was a Black Panther, and she fought for race, class, gender quality, and prision reform. Her book, Women, Race, and Class, is one of the most distinguished books in women's studies fields. 

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia

5. Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) 

Marsha P. Johnson was a black transgender woman who was a vital member in the foundation of civil rights for the LGBT+ community. She was a patron at Stonewall Inn, where she acted as a key figure in the Stonewall riots when police raided the bar of the inn. Pride month is set in June because of the Stonewall riots, which took place on June 28, 1969. 

Other than her role with the Stonewall riots, she was also a model for Andy Warhol. 

Photo Courtesy of Flickr 

6. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (1938-present) 

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was the first black female president in the world and the first female head of state in Africa. During her career, she promised to boost Liberia's economy and get rid of the country's corruption and civil wars. She also spoke out against a violent regime in the country, which caused the leader, Charles Taylor, to be extradited in 2006. 

Alongside Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, Johnson-Sirleaf was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for their peaceful and nonviolent movement for the safety of woman and women's rights. 

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia

7. Marjorie Joyner (1896-1994) 

Marjorie Joyner was a beauty salon owner who invented the permanent wave machine and changed how women style their hair. Her machine simplified the straightening and curling processes for all women and allowed them to have long-lasting style. She also invented a scalp protector so that styling wasn't as painful for women. 

Joyner was the first black woman to ever get a patent for her invention, but unfortunately, all of the rights and royalties from her invention were given to Madame C.J. Walker's business because of Joyner's employment with her. 

Joyner worked to help beauticians in general, going on to co-found the United Beauty School Owners and Teachers Association in 1945 with Mary McLeod Bethune. 

8. Mary Kenner (1912-2006) 

Throughout her life, Mary Kenner received five patents for her inventions, which included maxi pads, bathroom tissue holders, a back washer that attaches to the wall of the shower, and the carrier attachment on walkers. She said that she invented these things because she wanted to help make life easier for people, rather than inventing simply for the money. 

These women all made tremendous contributions to history, yet very few are taught in schools. During this Black History Month, take the chance to learn more about the black women who made grate impacts on the world. 

For more information about black history in general, visit this free black history library