6 Women Who Have Changed History

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: an amendment that gave women the right to vote and participate in politics. Regardless of their role on the political stage, women in politics have always been powerhouses in inciting social change and advocating for human rights. Here are six incredible women who have helped shape American politics for the better. 

  1. 1. Eleanor Roosevelt 

    Eleanor Roosevelt (aka, our queen) was born in 1884 in New York City. She is most known for her *badass* time as America’s First Lady from 1933 to 1945. The normal wife duties were simply too tedious for Miss Eleanor, because, again, she’s a badass. When her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, came down with polio, Eleanor developed an increased interest in politics, going with him on national tours and serving as his eyes and ears throughout the nation. She joined the Women’s Trade Union League and was a United Nations diplomat. With an interest in child welfare and equal rights for racial minorities and women (YASSS), she instituted White House press conferences for women correspondents. Even after her husband died, she stayed involved in politics until she died 17 years later, serving as a United Nations spokesman. In other words, Eleanor walked so every other FLOTUS could run. Don’t sleep on her.

  2. 2. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg (aka Notorious R.B.G or  RBG) was the second Supreme Court Justice female to serve on the Supreme Court. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton and has served on the Supreme Court since August 10th, 1993. For many years, RBG has had a powerful and influential impact on the Supreme Court.

    RBG has been a huge pioneer for actively fighting and challenging the Supreme Court on issues regarding abortion, gender inequality, and international law. Some of her most well known and influential cases are United States v. Virginia 1996, Bush v. Gore 2000, Sessions v. Dimaya 2018, Olmstead v. LC, 1999, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire Rubber Company, and Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 2016. If you ever want to know more information about her and how she has made a huge impact on politics, go and watch the Emmy award-winning documentary, RBG, which is available on-demand, and available for streaming! 

  3. 3. Sandra Day O'Connor 

    In the legal field, the existence of ‘boy’s clubs’ has often barred women from advancing from a junior level in their careers. However, as our society progresses to become more accepting and inclusive, women have frequently broken the glass ceiling and paved the way for leadership in such fields. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is an example of such a woman who has broken down barriers in the judiciary. 

    As the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court she broke down boundaries and established new expectations in the field of justice. Beginning from her appointment by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, she presided over several landmark cases such as Planned Parenthood V. Casey which preserved abortion rights, despite intense pressure from her conservative base. Following her death in 2006, her legacy not only as a legal professional but as a female pioneer has continued to influence generations of women. 

  4. 4. Shirley Chisholm 

    Known as “fighting Shirley”, Shirley Chisholm was first elected into Congress in 1968, making her the first Black woman elected into this position in the United States. In 1972, she ran for Democratic nominee in the presidential race. During her campaign, she was blocked from participating in the primary debates. Because of this, she took legal action and was eventually allowed to make one televised speech regarding her positions as a candidate. In the primaries, she gained lots of support from women and minorities but lost the race. Despite having an underfunded and underrepresented campaign, Chisholm left with 10% of the delegate’s votes. She continued her role in Congress until she retired in 1983.

    Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 30, 1924, to immigrant parents from Barbados. She attended Columbia University, graduating with a master’s degree in early childhood education. She briefly worked as a consultant to the New York City Division of Day Care before finding her passion in politics. During her time in Congress, Chisholm fought for racial and gender equality, introducing nearly 50 pieces of legislation relating to these issues during her time in Congress. 

    Chisholm passed away in 2005, but her legacy in American politics remains. Her dedication to equality and her courage to incite change has opened doors for so many women and minorities in U.S. politics. As Chisholm once said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

  5. 5. Jeanette Pickering Rankin

    Jeanette Pickering Rankin was the first woman to hold federal office in the United States. She was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1916, only 20 years after women gained the right to vote. She served as a Republican congresswoman in Montana, although this was prior to the political parties switching, meaning if she were alive today, she would be considered a Democrat. Her career as a politician lasted until the 1950s. She was again elected to Congress in 1940. 

    She was known for being anti-war, famously being the only person in congress who voted against both world wars. Prior to being elected to congress, Rankin worked as a women’s rights advocate and marched in the women’s suffrage movement, and, later on in her career, she was a vocal activist for the African American community during the civil rights movement.

    Rankin passed away in 1973, at the age of 92.

  6. 6. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

    If you’ve kept up with current politics at all, it’s more than likely that you’ve heard of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Also known as AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of many fresh faces in the American political arena right now. She first gained national recognition with a landslide victory in the 2018 race for New York’s 14th Congressional District seat against Republican opponent Anthony Pappas (who had previously held the position since 2013). Not only did she win the representative seat for New York’s 14th district, but she also claimed the title as the youngest congresswoman to ever enter Congress

    Born on October 13th, 1989, Cortez grew up as a New York native into a working-class family. Throughout her childhood, she witnessed income inequality first hand as she split her time between growing up in Yorktown Heights’ flourishing suburbs and visiting extended family living in the economically disadvantaged Bronx. She first showed an affinity for politics at Boston University, where she graduated cum laude in 2011 with a degree in economics and international Affairs. In addition, Alexandria also served as an intern in Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy’s office and a volunteer for Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign. After the 2008 financial crisis, she worked as a bartender to support her family up until she was able to launch the campaign that started it all.

    Since being sworn in as a US Representative, she has brought attention to issues like social and environmental justice and introduced policies including the Green New Deal. She has dedicated her work to serving the interests of the working class rather than catering to corporate interests. Her ambition to serve her fellow working Americans is something that has attracted many young Americans who strive to go against the status quo of politics. As the newer generations begin to get more involved in the political process, Alexandria represents not only a significant shift in how to navigate the political system, but she also represents the hope of future generations for a brighter future for all.

Whether you've heard of them or not, these women (and so many more) have paved the way for women's participation in politics. Because of these hardworking women, we have many of the rights that we enjoy today; but unfortunately, the fight is not over. Women are still underrepresented in U.S. politics. However, with incredible people setting the bar, there is no doubt that we will see things change in the near future.