Five Fast Facts: Women’s History Month Edition

default author image03.12.2024

During Women’s History Month, we recognize the contributions of women in U.S. history who overcame countless obstacles created by the patriarchy. Without the efforts of these women, we would not be where we are today.

1. Arabella Babb Mansfield was the first female attorney

In 1869, Arabella “Belle” Mansfield became the first woman in the U.S. admitted to the bar. Though Arabella did not practice as a lawyer, her passing the bar in Iowa prompted the state to change its laws which previously only allowed white men to sit for the exam.

Arabella was active in Iowa’s suffrage movement and became a faculty member at several colleges, including Iowa Wesleyan University, her alma mater. Her namesake is used by Diversity Lab as the Mansfield Rule, a certification process for aiding in the diversification of leadership in law firms.

2. Belva Lockwood was the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court

Belva Lockwood stood and argued before the Supreme Court in 1880, only one year after being the first woman admitted to the Supreme Court Bar. She spent much of her career as a lawyer representing individuals in civil and criminal cases. In one of her landmark cases, Belva represented the Cherokee Nation at the Supreme Court, resulting in the U.S. government paying the tribe five million dollars in 1906.

Belva also ran for president twice, becoming the first woman to appear on a ballot before women were allowed the right to vote.

3. Ida B. Wells was a suffragette and anti-lynching activist

Ida B. Wells was an investigative journalist, known for her work as an anti-lynching activist, sparked by the lynching of her friend in 1892. She risked her life as she traveled across the South to uncover information on other lynchings. In 2020, she was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her work.

While Ida was a women’s rights activist, she was largely ostracized by the Women’s Suffrage Movement because she was critical of their silence on lynching. She was active in several other civil rights groups, like the Alpha Suffrage Group, throughout her life. Ida is thought to be one of the first American women to not change her maiden name after marriage.

4. The first Black woman to run for president under a major party: Shirley A. Chisholm

Shirley A. Chisholm made history in 1972 as the first African American woman to run for president from one of the two major political parties. Shirley began her career as an educator working with children in NYC and eventually became involved in local political groups. In 1964, she sought a seat in the New York State Assembly becoming the second African American to successfully do so.

Four years later, Shirley set her sights on a congressional seat and became the first Black woman elected to Congress. While serving in the House of Representatives, she co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. As a representative, Shirley fought for reproductive rights, the expansion of food stamps, and the amendment of minimum wage laws to cover more employees. After serving seven terms in Congress, Shirley became a professor at Mount Holyoke College where she taught in the sociology and anthropology departments. She posthumously received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

Shirley Chisholm

Source: Library of Congress

5. Before Roe vs. Wade, an underground collective in Chicago helped people get abortions

From 1969 to 1973, the Jane Collective, an underground organization comprised of medical professionals and other individuals, performed over 12,000 abortions for people in need, regardless of age, class, or race, in Chicago, Illinois. Before Roe, abortion access varied state-by-state, creating unsafe conditions for people seeking to terminate their pregnancy. The Jane Collective started as a referral service for university students looking for abortions, which at the time were expensive and hard to legally get. The group brought attention to the unsafe illegal abortions performed in the city and provided further healthcare education.

The work of the Jane Collective is more salient than ever after the striking down of Roe in 2022. We can only imagine the negative consequences this will have on obstetric healthcare. Already, a disproportionate amount of birthing people are dying at a higher rate in the United States compared to other “developed” countries.