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Her Story: Powerful, Unknown Women of The Past

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SJSU chapter.

With Kamala Harris finally Vice President, she joins the ranks of some other powerful women in history who may not be as known as she is. These women, in some way, have paved the way for Harris to assume her role as VP of the United States. Here are some incredible women of the past who have been trailblazers in their respective industries:

Francis Perkins

Since the pandemic first broke out back in March 2020, approximately 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment. The unemployment system itself is rife with issues since the number of tax dollars that actually goes to benefits varies depending on the state. However, Francis Perkins created this system with the idea that it would secure federal aid at a time when Americans needed it most during The Great Depression.

As the first female labor secretary to be in any presidential cabinet, Perkins spent a good portion of her life fighting for worker’s rights that categorized from unemployment aid to ensuring better wages for women. Although Franklin Roosevelt was attributed for enacting The New Deal, without Perkins, it wouldn’t have been as successful.

Mary Mcleod Bethune

Similar to Perkins, Bethune worked directly with presidents. She had an immense career in education before working with the federal government. She started her own school for black girls which became a co-ed college, serving as one of the few places black men and women could obtain a college degree. Because of her past in education, specifically in pushing for the education of minorities, she was involved with child welfare under the Coolidge and Hoover administrations.

In 1935, she was appointed as an advisor for minority affairs under President Roosevelt. She started her own civil rights organization and became the vice president of the NAACP later on.

According to The Women’s History Museum, Roosevelt appointed her as “director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration”, where her focus was ensuring young people had jobs available. She became one of the first black women to champion the rights of African Americans in office. A lifelong educator and activist, Bethune was dedicated to advocating for minorities in office and in schools.

The Petticoat Rulers

In the same year women were given the right to vote, a town in Wyoming was governed by an all-female council. This was one of the first towns (with Kanasa and Utah having female councils prior) to see female leadership. Grace Miller (mayor), Rose Crabtree, Mae Deloney, Faustina Haight,and Genevieve Van Vleck beat out all of the men running and transformed Jackson, Wyoming into the city it is today. They collected all of the taxes that were due, revitalized the town square and built a cemetery.

The Petticoat Rulers” took their job seriously at a time when running for local government wasn’t popular. Through Jackson, “The Petticoat Rulers” proved from the very beginning the power of women in leadership. Despite this leadership early on, the U.S. still is far behind in terms of female governance.

According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. ranks 86 for political empowerment which measures the number of women who have had leadership positions in government. Even though we are behind, more women have taken office, and in many ways. “The Petticoat Rulers” paved the way.

History has shown us the influence and power of the women before us. By paying homage to their forgotten stories, we can ensure that every influential woman, even in current times, will be remembered. It will not be rare to hear the names of Perkins of Bethune, nor will the names of Kamala Harris or Alexandria Ocasio Cortez dwindle in our textbooks.

Tag @hercampusjsu and let us know about other women who have been forgotten in our history!


Journalism major and marketing minor with a passion for storytelling.