March is the annual declared month for Women’s History Month. This is a time where we, as a collective, commemorate women who have made powerful strides towards women’s equality and have broken through the glass ceiling that has long undermined women’s abilities. Here are a few women who have played vital roles in history:
- Susan LaFlesche Picotte (1865-1915)
In 1889, Picotte became the first female Native American to earn a medical degree in the United States. Picotte was a reformer who advocated for public health and legal allotment of land to members of the Omaha tribe. Picotte cared for about 1,300 patients who suffered from tuberculosis, diphtheria, and influenza. She helped raise funds to open Walthill Hospital in 1913, which was later renamed the Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte Memorial Hospital after her death in 1915.
- Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)
In 1847, Blackwell became the first woman to attend and receive a medical degree in the United States through the Geneva Medical College. Later on, in 1849, Blackwell published her inaugural thesis on typhoid fever in the Buffalo Medical Journal, becoming the first female student to do so. Blackwell was an advocate for the promotion of education for women, especially in the medical field. Her contributions continue to be celebrated through the Elizabeth Blackwell Medal: an award given to a woman who has made tremendous strides towards the advancement of women in medicine.
- Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)
In 1916, Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States and coined the term “birth control”. Her efforts to promote women’s reproductive rights were met with controversy and arrests. However, she continued writing pamphlets and fighting for legalized contraception. In 1921, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, which is now well known as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. One of her biggest accomplishments was getting the Food and Drug Administration(FDA) to approve the first oral contraceptive, Enovid, in 1960.
- Hannah Kudjoe (1918-1986)
Kudjoe was a prominent activist for Ghanaian independence in the mid-20th century. Kudjoe realized the importance of women in politics after housing Kwame Nkrumah, who would later become the first president of Ghana. After leaders of the Ghana party were arrested by British officers, Kudjoe led the campaign for their release. Kudjoe also participated in mass civil disobedience that helped bring an end to the colonial rule of Ghana. After their victory, Kudjoe founded the All-African Women’s League. They created schools and nurseries, distributed clothing to those in need, taught hygiene practices, and helped women learn how to farm their own food.
- Patsy Mink (1927–2002)
In 1964, Mink was the first Asian-American woman (and the first woman from an ethnic minority group) to be elected to the United States Congress. Mink advocated for immigrant rights and championed Title IX, the legislation that brought academic and athletic equity to American educational institutions. Mink also became the first Asian-American to seek the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party in the 1972 election, and later served as the president of Americans for Democratic Action from 1978 to 1981.
- Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002)
Rivera was a pioneer for LGBT activism who fought relentlessly for transgender rights. Alongside Marsha P. Johnson, they co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in the 1970s, which offered services and advocacy for homeless queer youth. Sylvia’s Place and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project were named in her honor to serve low-income or people of color who are transgender, intersex and/or gender non-conforming.