Although many terms like feminism and the idea of women’s rights have slightly shifted over the years, the purpose and need for female activists has not. For decades, women have stood up against unjust causes in hopes of bringing out a change and a better world. Here are some of those women.
Early 1900s - Elizabeth Cady Stanton
The Seneca Falls Convention, a convention that started in the late 1940s, was one of the first meetings that was centered on women’s rights. Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped organize the convention and also helped write the Declaration of Sentiments . This was a document written about the unjust treatment of women and the rights they should have. Her dedication to the cause left her as a model and heroine for women’s rights, as she spoke about her concerns at many conventions. She fought against the 14th and 15th Amendments because, while they gave voting rights to African Americans but neglected to give any rights to women. She also began to advocate for other rights women should have, such as the right to divorce and have sexual freedom. Although her wishes never came true in her lifetime, she was one of the main advocates in first wave feminism that brought about the 19th Amendment, where women were given the right to vote.
1930’s - Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a very smart woman who got a full ride scholarship to Cornell University where she got married. She then had a son but continued to get a degree at Harvard Law School. After becoming a lawyer, she wrote the first law book on gender equality. She was nominated for U.S. Court of Appeals by Jimmy Carter and was eventually nominated to be Supreme Court justice by Bill Clinton. Ginsburg, to this day, holds the title of one of the only few female justices in the Supreme Court. She spent her life fighting to advance women’s rights both in and outside the courtroom. One of her famous cases on gender equality surrounded the Social Security Act, where she fought for equal rights for men. Previously, the courtrooms gave women much more benefits if they became widows than men if they became widowers.
1950s - Florence Matomela
Matomela was an anti-pass and civil rights activist. She was a teacher on the South African coast, but was also an avid activist in women’s and African rights. She organized many marches, including the 1956 Women’s March , where over 10,000 women came to protest. Not only was the march a success, but it extinguished the stereotype that women are not capable of understanding politics. She found herself in jail multiple times for standing up for what she believed in and eventually died in jail from lack of medical treatment.
1960s - Odetta Holmes
Odetta Holmes was a singer , but at the turn of the ‘60s, she also became a top voice as a civil rights activist. She performed on the street, outside of rallies and at benefits. She used her love for music to express her strong desire for a much needed change in equality for African Americans in the United States. Because of this, her music was labeled “the soundtrack of the Civil Rights Movement."
1970s - Phyllis Schlafly
Phyllis Schlafly was known as a conservative leader. She appealed to many of the women who did not identify with feminist ideals because they enjoyed being homemakers and mothers. She led the pro-family movement, which was in opposition to radical feminism. She appeared at many college campuses to share her thoughts on keeping the traditional American family, where the man worked and the woman cared for the house and children.
1980s - Geraldine Ferraro
Geraldine Ferraro is a very accomplished woman. She was the first female vice president candidate for a major political party. Her main focus was for supporting the elderly--housing them, their medical aid, and social support. She also fought for the rights of women to work and iconically stated, “I don’t disparage that [being a stay–at–home mom], I did it myself… But not every woman can afford to do that." She sponsored the Economic Equity Act, which was an act that would give women pension rights, would aid divorcees, and gave women the option to have separate retirement accounts from their spouses.
1990s - Anita Hill
Anita Hill was one of the first women to advocate against workplace indecency, harassment, and assault. She spoke against her harasser, and former employer, who, at the time, was nominated to the U.S Supreme Court. She was overlooked, told she was exaggerating and lying, but she stood strong. While she did not win the suit, she became the voice of inequality in the workplace and became the first tenured African American professor at University of Oklahoma’s College of Law.
Early 2000s - Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi is the first woman to lead a political party in congress. She has a passion for environmental laws, women’s rights, labor laws, providing funding for medical discoveries and more. She uses her voice to compel people, raise questions and shine light on needed changes. She continues to advocate for her beliefs today.
Today - Young Adult Advocates
There has never been a generation that has more young adults interested in politics and social issues. One such advocate is Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. She advocates for a gun law reform. She believes in controlling which guns are available for purchase and making it harder to obtain a gun. She encourages other young people to learn about the gun issue in America. Other young female advocates include Amariyanna Copeny, who advocates for clean water, Malala Yousafzai, an advocate for women’s education, and Shamma bint Suhail Faris Mazrui, who encourages young people to be engaged with the government and politics.
Activism has been a regular practice in America since before the 20th century. There have been some incredible women who did so much to make changes in the world. We have these women to thank for the rights and laws that are in place for women, minorities, and people everywhere. Let’s continue to raise our voices and fight for what is right.