Women's History Month

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In the United States and Canada, March is celebrated as Women's History Month, a time for us reflect on the often-overlooked contributions of women to U.S. history. Keep scrolling for photographs, book recommendations, and links to more information about the important role women have played all throughout history!


Maria Elena Salinas

Photograph of Maria Elena Salinas

María Elena Salinas is an American broadcast journalist, news anchor, and author. Called the "Voice of Hispanic America" by The New York Times, Salinas is one of the most recognized Hispanic female journalists in the United States. She was the co-anchor of Noticiero Univision, the primary evening news broadcast on Univision, and the co-host of the news magazine program Aquí y Ahora.

Salinas has been working for more than three decades in the U.S. and in 18 Latin American countries. She has interviewed Latin American heads of state, rebel leaders, dictators, and every United States president since Jimmy Carter.

Salinas began as a reporter, anchor and public-affairs host for KMEX-TV, the Univision affiliate in Los Angeles, in 1981. She became the anchor of the national Spanish-language news program Noticiero Univision in 1987.

She has interviewed every US President since Jimmy Carter; Manuel Noriega, the former military dictator of Panama; Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega; and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation spokesman Subcomandante Marcos. She has also interviewed celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin and Gloria Estefan.

Salinas was among the first female journalists in wartime Baghdad.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman and first Jewish woman to be appointed Associate Justice to the United States Supreme Court. Her dissenting opinion in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. 550 U.S. 618 (2007) inspired the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to ensure gender equality in pay and make it easier for plaintiffs to win their pay discrimination cases (Ginsburg, n.d.).  Even while battling cancer, she continued to advocate for women’s rights and gender equality until her death on September 18, 2020.

Justice Ginsburg graduated from Cornell University finishing at the top of her class. At Harvard University Law School, she became the first woman to join the Harvard Law Review despite facing discrimination based on her gender. She graduated from Columbia University Law School also finishing number one in her class. Justice Ginsburg continued to face gender discrimination in the workplace often being turned down for positions at prestigious firms or being offered less pay than the men newly hired despite her stellar qualifications. Justice Ginsburg went on to become the first tenured female professor at Columbia University.

Prior to her Supreme Court appointment: Justice Ginsburg continued to fight gender discrimination at the American Civil Liberties Union as the director of the Women’s Rights Project; she argued several landmark cases before the Supreme Court; and, she served on the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Vice President Kamala Harris

Photo of Vice President Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris was the first Black woman and person of South Asian descent to be nominated for a national office by a major party. She was also the fourth woman in history to compete on a major party's presidential ticket. On November 7, 2020, Harris became the first female vice president and first Black person and Asian American to hold the position

Vice President Harris earned her Bachelor of Arts Degrees in political science and economics from Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she was elected to the liberal arts student council and joined the debate team, and she obtained her Juris Doctorate from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Prior to her bid for the Office of President and later being named as President Joe Biden’s running mate, she served as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general, making her both the first African American and the first woman to hold the position 

In November 2016, Harris handily defeated her opponent for a U.S. Senate seat from California, becoming just the second African American woman and the first South Asian American to enter the Senate. Harris joined the chamber's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Select Committee on Intelligence, Committee on the Judiciary and Committee on the Budget.

Naomi Osaka

Photo of Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka is a Japanese-Haitian professional tennis player born October 16, 1997.  She has been ranked No. 1 by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) and is the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles. She is a four-time Grand Slam singles champion. Her seven titles on the WTA Tour also include two at the Premier Mandatory level. At the 2018 US Open and the 2019 Australian Open, Osaka won her first two Grand Slam singles titles in back-to-back Grand Slam tournaments. She was the first woman to win successive Grand Slam singles titles since Serena Williams in 2015 and was the first to win her first two in successive majors since Jennifer Capriati in 2001.

Born in Japan to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, Osaka has lived and trained in the United States since age three. She came to prominence at age 16 when she defeated former US Open champion Samantha Stosur in her WTA Tour debut at the 2014 Stanford Classic. Two years later, she reached her first WTA final at the 2016 Pan Pacific Open in Japan to enter the top 50 of the WTA rankings. Osaka made her breakthrough into the upper echelon of women's tennis in 2018 when she won her first WTA title at the Indian Wells Open. Later in the year, she defeated 23-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams in the final of the US Open to become the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam singles title. Since 2018, Osaka has won a Grand Slam singles title in four consecutive years. She played a limited schedule in 2021 to focus on her mental health.

Osaka is one of the world's most marketable athletes, having been ranked eighth among all athletes in endorsement income in 2020. She was also the highest-earning female athlete of all time by annual income that year. Osaka has gained significant recognition as an activist, having showcased support for the Black Lives Matter movement in conjunction with her matches. She was named one of the 2020 Sports Illustrated Sportspersons of the Year for her activism largely as part of her US Open championship run and was also included on Time's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world in both 2019 and 2020. Moreover, she was the 2021 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she became the first tennis player to light the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony. On the court, Osaka has an aggressive playing style with a powerful serve that can reach 201 kilometers per hour (125 mph).

Katherine Johnson

Photo of Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson is African-American and was born Katherine Coleman on August 26, 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. A “bright child with a gift for numbers, she breezed through her classes and completed the eighth grade by age 10. Although her town didn’t offer classes for African Americans after that point, her father, Joshua, drove the family 120 miles to Institute, West Virginia, where they lived while she attended high school.” high school graduation, Johnson enrolled at West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University), where at age 18, she graduated summa cum laude with degrees in mathematics and French.

Beginning in the late 1930s, Johnson taught math and French at schools in Virginia and West Virginia. In 1952, Johnson learned that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was hiring African American women to serve as "computers;" namely, people who performed and checked calculations for technological developments. Johnson applied, and the following year she was accepted for a position at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. After only two weeks, Johnson was transferred from the African American computing pool to Langley's flight research division, where she talked her way into meetings and earned additional responsibilities. In 1958, after NACA was reformulated into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Johnson was among the people charged with determining how to get a human into space and back. For Johnson, calculating space flight came down to the basics of geometry: As a result, the task of plotting the path for Alan Shepard's 1961 journey to space, the first in American history, fell on her shoulders. 

The next challenge was to send a man in orbit around Earth. This involved far more difficult calculations, to account for the gravitational pulls of celestial bodies, and by then NASA had begun using electronic computers. Yet, the job wasn't considered complete until Johnson was summoned to check the work of the machines, providing the go-ahead to propel John Glenn into successful orbit in 1962. While the work of electronic computers took on increased importance at NASA, Johnson remained highly valuable for her unwavering accuracy. She performed calculations for the historic 1969 Apollo 11 trip to the moon, and the following year, when Apollo 13 experienced a malfunction in space, her contributions to contingency procedures helped ensure its safe return. Johnson continued to serve as a key asset for NASA, helping to develop its Space Shuttle program and Earth Resources Satellite, until her retirement in 1986. 

Johnson was honored with an array of awards for her groundbreaking work. In November 2015, President Barack Obama presented Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Margot Lee Shetterly's 2016 book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race” celebrated the little-known story of Johnson and became an Oscar-nominated feature film, Hidden Figures (2016). 

A year later, in September 2017, NASA honored 99-year-old Johnson, with the dedication of a new research building which is named after her - the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at NASA Langley Research Facility, Hampton, Virginia. Johnson passed away on February 24, 2020. She was 101 years old.  

Mary McLeod Bethune

Photo of Mary McLeod Bethune

Born Mary Jane McLeod on July 10, 1875, in Mayesville, South Carolina. She grew up in poverty, as one of 17 children born to formerly enslaved people. Bethune became the one and only child in her family to go to school when a missionary opened a school nearby for African American children.

“Bethune later received a scholarship to the ‘Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College), a school for girls in Concord, North Carolina. After graduating from the seminary in 1893, she went to the Dwight Moody's Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (also known as Moody Bible Institute) in Chicago. Bethune completed her studies there two years later. Returning to the South, she began her career as a teacher.” 

Bethune married fellow teacher Albertus Bethune in 1898. “She believed that education provided the key to racial advancement. Bethune founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls in Daytona, Florida, in 1904. Starting out with only five students, she helped grow the school to more 250 students over the next years.” 

Bethune served as the school's president, and she remained its leader even after it was combined with the Cookman Institute for Men. The merged institution became known as Bethune-Cookman College, a Historically Black College or University or HBCU, still in existence today. Bethune stayed with the college until 1942.

In 1935, Bethune became a special advisor to President Roosevelt on minority affairs. That same year, she also started up her own civil rights organization, the National Council of Negro Women. Bethune created this organization to represent numerous groups working on critical issues for African American women.

“Bethune spent much of the rest of her life devoted to social causes after leaving Bethune-Cookman College.” Before her death, Bethune penned "My Last Will and Testament," which served as a reflection on her own life and legacy. She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa

Photo of Dr. Ellen Ochoa

Dr. Ellen Ochoa is a research scientist and astronaut who became the first Latina to travel in space. She also invented and holds patents for optical systems for space missions.

From 2013-2018, she became the first Latina and second woman to direct NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Dr. Ochoa was born in California and is the first in her family to go to college. She earned her doctorate in Engineering at Stanford University. 

Because of her accomplishments, as a renowned speaker, she encourages more girls to consider STEM opportunities in education. Dr. Ellen Ochoa continues to be an inspiration to many, has several schools named after her, and currently serves on numerous boards

Kalpana Chawla

Photo of Kalpana Chawla

Born in Karnal, India, Kalpana Chawla immigrated to the U.S. for college and to pursue her girlhood dream of becoming an astronaut. In 1997, Chawla made that happen, making 252 orbits of the Earth in just over two weeks as part of the Columbia crew on flight STS-87. In the process, she became the first Indian-American woman and second Indian-American person to go into space.

In 2000, Chawla was selected for her second voyage into space, serving as a mission specialist on the ill-fated STS-107 shuttle Columbia. The shuttle launched on Jan. 16, 2003. Upon returning a few weeks later, Columbia broke up during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The entire crew of seven was killed.

Jeannette Rankin

Jeannette Rankin

The first woman elected to Congress in 1916, Jeannette Rankin didn’t always know she wanted to be in politics. Her political interest began when she returned to school in 1910 at the University of Washington in Seattle, and joined the state suffrage organization. Over the next four years, she spoke and lobbied for women’s suffrage.

Ultimately serving two terms in the House, Rankin was the only member of Congress to vote against the U.S. participation in both World Wars. She also served as an officer for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and campaigned for maternal and child health care and to the regulation of hours and wages of women workers.

Continuing her pacifist traditions, Rankin helped form the “Jeannette Rankin Brigade,” a collection of some five thousand feminists, pacifists, students and others opposed to the Vietnam War.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Photo of Eleanor Roosevelt

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884, in New York City. She married Franklin D. Roosevelt on March 17, 1905, a ceremony that featured former president Theodore walking his niece down the aisle. They had six children.  

As Franklin achieved success in politics, Eleanor found her own voice in public service, working for the American Red Cross during World War I. She also exerted herself more prominently after Franklin suffered a polio attack in 1921 that essentially left him in need of physical assistance for the rest of his life.

When Franklin took office as president in 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt dramatically changed the role of the first lady. She gave press conferences and spoke out for human rights, children's causes and women's issues, working on behalf of the League of Women Voters. 

Along with writing her own newspaper column, Eleanor focused on helping the country's poor, stood against racial discrimination and, during World War II, traveled abroad to visit U.S. troops. She served in the role of first lady until Franklin Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945. President Harry Truman appointed Eleanor as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, a position in which she served from 1945 to 1953. She became chair of the U.N.'s Human Rights Commission and helped to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — an effort that she considered to be her greatest achievement. President John F. Kennedy reappointed her to the United States delegation to the U.N. in 1961, and later named her to the National Advisory Committee of the Peace Corps and as chair of the President's Commission on the Status of Women.

Eleanor Roosevelt died on November 7, 1962, at the age of 78. She was buried at her family’s estate in Hyde Park, New York.

Susan B. Anthony

Photo of Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony was born on February 15, 1820, in Adams, Massachusetts. Anthony’s family were Quakers involved in the abolitionist movement to end slavery. 

Ms. Anthony was later involved in the temperance movement, aimed at limiting or completely stopping the production and sale of alcohol. Anthony was inspired to fight for women's rights while campaigning against alcohol. Anthony was denied a chance to speak at a temperance convention because she was a woman, and later realized that no one would take women in politics seriously unless they had the right to vote.

In 1851, Anthony attended an anti-slavery conference, where she met fellow activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They formed the New York State Woman's Rights Committee. Anthony also started petitions for women to have the right to own property and to vote. She traveled extensively, campaigning on the behalf of women.

In 1856, Anthony began working as an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society. She spent years promoting the society's cause up until the Civil War. After the Civil War was over, Anthony began focusing more on women's rights. She and Stanton established the American Equal Rights Association in 1866, calling for the same rights to be granted to all regardless of race or sex.

In 1869, Anthony and Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. In 1872, Anthony voted illegally in the presidential election. Anthony was arrested for the crime, and she unsuccessfully fought the charges. She was fined $100, which she never paid.

Anthony died on March 13, 1906, at the age of 86 at her home in Rochester, New York. It wouldn't be until 14 years after Anthony's death — in 1920 — that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving all adult women the right to vote, was passed. Anthony's portrait was placed on dollar coins in 1979, making her the first woman to be so honored.

Recommended Books

The Prince George's County Memorial Library System (PGCMLS) is also celebrating Women's History Month with book recommendations for all ages.Visit the PGCMLS Women's History Month page for books, online exhibits, and more.