In celebration of Women’s History Month for 2020, we chose to feature a different woman or organization each day – focusing on ‘unsung’ historical women who did something that no woman (or no one) had done before and modern women and organizations who continue the fight for gender equality every day.
Arabella Mansfield graduated as valedictorian from Iowa Wesleyan University in 1866, and spent the next two years teaching English, political science, and history at Simpson College. After marrying in 1868, Arabella and her husband applied together for admission to the Iowa bar in 1869. Arabella’s performance on the exam elicited a statement from her examiners that her examination was “the very best rebuke possible to the imputation that ladies cannot qualify for the practice of law.”
Appealing an Iowa law that limited the taking of the bar to “any white male person,” Arabella was certified as an attorney that year with the Iowa legislature amending its statute to permit women and minorities to practice law. She never went into practice, but she did become active in the women’s rights movement through her leadership roles in local suffrage organizations.
Learn more about Arabella here:
Sojourner Truth is best-known as a powerful member of the abolitionist movement. Born into slavery in NY, she was eventually forced to marry another slave with whom she had five children. In 1827, shortly after her master refused to grant her freedom in accordance with the newly passed New York Anti-Slavery Law, she left her master’s estate and soon became a traveling preacher, becoming involved in the growing antislavery movement during the 1840s.
Through her travels, she met a number of women’s rights activists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony – and quickly joined their causes with her own. In her famed 1851 “Ain’t I A Woman” speech at a women’s rights conference in Ohio, Sojourner passionately illustrates how neither her womanhood nor her race make her any less worthy of equal rights. Sojourner even parted ways with Frederick Douglass while the two were touring together as he held that suffrage for black men should occur before suffrage for women, and she felt that neither group should have to wait.
Kathleen McGrath began her successful naval career in 1980. She participated in operations designed to protect Saudi Arabia during the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and later commanded a rescue and salvage ship during the mid-1990s.
In December of 1998, four years after Congress revoked rules that had previously prohibited women from serving on combat ships, Kathleen was one of 5 women selected to be the first to take command of United States Navy combat ships. Just shy of two years later, in the spring of 2000, her ship was deployed to the Persian Gulf to track down boats suspected of smuggling oil in violation of United Nations sanctions.
Through her career she earned four Meritorious Service Medals as well as the Legion of Merit.
Hannah Slater was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, marrying Samuel Slater in 1791. Samuel opened a mill that same year and began to build machinery that was intended for the manufacture of textiles.
In 1793, Samuel showed Hannah the yarn he had spun from cotton, which he thought would be good to use for cloth. Hannah and her sister, decided to spin that yarn on hand wheels and turned it into thread – a thread that was stronger than the typical linen thread of the time.
Hannah filed an application with the U. S. Patent Office for her method of producing sewing thread from cotton. The patent was issued to her in the name of “Mrs. Samuel Slater” – the first patent issued to a woman in her own right.
Interested in learning more? http://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2016/01/first-women-inventors.html
Juliette Gordon Lowe
Juliette Gordon Lowe as a young girl was known to be not only sensitive, but curious and adventurous. She was interested in sports, arts, animals, nature, etc.
In 1912, she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who had founded the Boy Scouts. She was so inspired by Baden-Powell’s scout group idea, that she started her own scouting group for girls the very same year.
The first troop consisted of a group of 18 girls from diverse cultural and ethnic background – highly unconventional for the time. Juliette infused the Girl Scouts with her passion and ideals – and to this day, the organization provides girls and young women of all cultures, races, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and abilities a supportive space in which to develop leadership skills and grow as a community of strong women.
Get to know Juliette and the Girl Scouts here:
After getting a stenography degree to support herself, Florence King began a night school program in 1893 to earn a law degree, continuing her work as a stenographer while she developed her legal service clientele. Going back to night school in 1897, Florence earned a Mechanical and Electrical Engineering degree in order to practice patent law – becoming the first woman registered to practice before the U.S. Patent Office.
In 1903, she became the 12th woman admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, and that same year won a case against a future U.S. Senator – establishing herself as one of Chicago’s leading patent attorneys.
She began representation of the Crown Die and Tool Company in 1921 in a patent infringement lawsuit. She handled the matter through its appeals, all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing the case there in 1923.
The Supreme Court decided in her client’s favor, a decision which not only set Florence King as the first woman to win a case in the Supreme Court, but is still binding precedent to this day.
Find out more about Florence King here:
Sally Rand, born Helen Beck, got started on the path to fame in the 1920s appearing in stage productions and silent films. She made waves in the 1930s, dancing ostensibly – and often actually – nude behind large ostrich feather fans: an act so popular when she brought it to the 1933 World’s Fair, that it is credited with saving the fair from bankruptcy.
This dance in particular led to repeated arrests for indecency. In 1946 she was arrested while dancing at San Francisco’s Club Savoy and granted immunity by the judge from any further arrests for the same while her trial was ongoing. Despite this immunity – and despite performing in a pair of long-johns that bore a note reading “Censored S.F.P.D.” – she was arrested again before the trial concluded. In response, the judge attended her performance at the Savoy and cleared her of all charges stating “anyone who could find something lewd about the dance as she puts it on has to have a perverted idea of morals.”
Sally continued to travel and perform the fan dance – and the similar bubble dance – throughout the country well into her 70s.
Find out more about Sally Rand’s legacy here:
International Women’s Day
First celebrated in 1911 in Europe, International Women’s Day transcends any one nation or organization. The current day of celebration and activism was originally proposed at the second International Conference of Working Women in 1910 by Clara Zetkin. She suggested that there should be a coordinated celebration each year in every country on the same date for women to be able to press for their demands – the suggestion was unanimously approved.
Today, International Women’s Day runs year-round programs dedicated to empowering and inspiring women, as well as fighting for equality. Each year the organizers select a campaign theme to inspire the celebrations of that year. For 2020, the #EachForEqual theme urges us to remember that we are each responsible for our individual thoughts, actions, etc. and that collectively we must each do our part to create a more gender-equal world.
Crumiller P.C. takes #EachForEqual to heart as part of our mission – every day striving to support those who have experienced inequality and working to make a positive change one client at a time.
Learn more about getting involved here:
Mary Edwards Walker
Graduating from medical school in 1855, Mary Edwards Walker was never one to adhere to the standards for women of the time – wearing men’s trousers under short skirts, keeping her maiden name after marriage, and refusing to include “obey” in her marriage vows.
During the Civil War, she tried to join as an Army surgeon, but was rejected because she was a woman. She declined the counter-offer to serve as a nurse, and instead volunteered as a civilian surgeon, serving unpaid near the front lines. In 1863, she became employed by the Army of the Cumberland, still in a civilian role, making her the first female surgeon employed by the U.S. Army. In 1864, she was captured by the Confederates and arrested as a spy.
After the war, she sought a retroactive commission to validate her service. President Andrew Johnson requested an investigation to study the legality of the issue. The Army determined that as there was no precedent for commissioning a woman, a “commendatory acknowledgement” could be issued instead. President Johnson personally issued her the Medal of Honor in response.
Gender Equality Law Center
Crumiller P.C. is always proud to highlight the Gender Equality Law Center (GELC). GELC works day-in and day-out on legislative reform, advocacy, and training projects. Not only does GELC litigate cases that will help to advance new laws and further legal protections for individuals and groups, but provides support for bills that will enhance the rights and opportunities of individuals who have historically experienced gender-based discrimination. They also create training programs around equity and public policy for companies and for non-profit legal staff.
Learn more and support GELC at https://www.genderequalitylaw.org/
Charlotte E. Ray
Born in New York in 1850, Charlotte E. Ray overcame both racial and gender barriers to graduate from Howard University’s law school and be admitted to the bar in 1872. She is believed to be both the first black woman admitted to the bar in the United States, as well as the first woman admitted to practice in the District of Columbia.
Despite her legal career being short-lived due to the prejudices of the time, she did score a unique victory in the District of Columbia Supreme Court – Charlotte met an illiterate black woman who wanted to file for divorce from her physically and emotionally abusive husband. However, in 1875 there were no laws covering the issue of domestic violence and her initial petition for divorce was denied. Charlotte took on her case, helping her bring the issue to the higher court, and ultimately secured a victory.
Learn more about Charlotte:
In 1914, wealthy textile manufacturer Henry Kaufman hit Constance Kopp’s family buggy with his car, damaging the buggy enough to need repairs. Kaufmann ignored Constance’s requests that he pay the repair costs, leading Constance to sue him. Constance was awarded a $50 judgement – which Kaufmann refused to pay.
Instead, he and his friends sent threatening letters and even went so far as to prowl around her family farm and shoot at the house. The letter writers tried to get her to pay for her safety and on one occasion, she was lured to meet a man who claimed to have knowledge of a plot to kidnap her sister. Constance brought a concealed handgun, and police support, to each meeting.
Constance was eventually able to show in court that Kaufmann was behind the threats. Sheriff Robert Heath was so impressed by Constance’s help with, and handling of, her case, he appointed her Under Sheriff. Unfortunately, in 1916 a new sheriff was elected and Constance, and others appointed by Sheriff Heath, was replaced.
Known as the “founding mother” of the revenge porn and internet privacy legal fields, Carrie Goldberg is also the creator of a groundbreaking new legal theory of accountability for BigTech companies. Previously invincible with statutory immunity, tech platforms have been able to operate with impunity: for example, failing to protect users from violent platform misuse, and failing to prevent child porn on their sites. Carrie created and advanced the legal theory that such companies actually offer products, not services, and therefore should be liable under a products liability theory, circumventing CDA 230 immunity. Carrie’s theory is gaining traction and has been adopted by several courts and considered in various pieces of legislation.
Carrie has been described as a legal heavyweight and powerhouse, but her business acumen deserves praise as well. She is the founder of C. A. Goldberg, PLLC, a victims’ rights law firm, recognized by the Law Firm 500 in 2018 as the fastest growing law firm in the country based on revenue growth. Her widely-acclaimed book, Nobody’s Victim, was released in 2019. Carrie is from Aberdeen, WA.
Learn more at:
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, generally known as Ada Lovelace, has long been credited as the first computer programmer.
Showing a lifelong interest in mathematic and scientific developments, she is most famous for her works alongside friend Charles Babbage. Babbage, a mathematician and inventor, proposed the idea of the Analytical Engine – a device intended to be capable of processing ‘instructions’ and ‘variables’ while following conditional logic statements.
Ada translated an article written about the Analytical Engine, annotating along the way to better explain the function of the machine. Among her annotations is a detailed method for using the machine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers, which could have been run had it ever actually been built. This portion of her notes is generally considered to be the first known computer program, making her the first recognized computer programmer.
Learn more about Ada Lovelace:
Girls Who Code
Girls Who Code is a national foundation aimed at closing the gender gap in technology fields. The group provides classroom lesson plans and develops clubs and summer programs where girls and young women interested in technology fields can support each other as well as learn hands-on tech skills.
Elementary through High School clubs are free after-school programs where girls work with peers and role models to learn the basic building blocks of computer science and, as a team, design an impact project around a real-world problem they care about.
Learn more about all their programs and how you can support Girls Who Code:
Caroline Cohen was elected to the Civil Court in Brooklyn in 2019 – the youngest woman to win a judicial seat in the district. Prior to her election she was a Senior Associate Attorney with Crumiller P.C. – working on a variety of cases including discrimination cases brought by NYS Division of Human Rights, holdover, non-payment, HP and Article 78 proceedings – treating all those she has worked on behalf of with dignity and respect, and working tirelessly to ensure that cases moved to a tangible resolution in a timely manner.
Drawing from her litigation experience and community work, Caroline noted, “Working people wait too long for their cases to be heard and pro se litigants are often left without hope for legal representation or resolution. Women who work in or enter our courts are often disrespected or marginalized. Immigrants often avoid showing up to court because of fear. Our seniors and disabled are often deprived of accessibility within the courthouse. Transgender individuals feel that they are beneath the system,” and vowed her in courtroom everyone would have an equal chance to be heard and treated with respect, compassion, and dignity.
More about Caroline:
Mary O’Toole was born in Ireland in 1874 and, when she emigrated to New York at age 16, she became the first woman naturalized in Steuben County, NY – a few years later becoming the first woman in the county to be appointed as an official stenographer. Her reputation earned her the attention of a judge who not only offered her a better salary to work for him, but actively encouraged her to study law.
She received her Law degree in 1908, and by 1921, her reputation was such that President Harding appointed her to the bench in the Municipal Court of Washington, D.C. – an appointment which was met with much approval. She would later be reappointed by Presidents Coolidge and Hoover. Her work on the bench was largely focused on the juvenile court and her courtroom demeanor was described as quiet and easy-going, but firm.
Mary did not limit her community involvement to legal organizations. She was active in numerous women’s rights groups and the Washington Chamber of Commerce and supported local arts organizations. She also managed to find time to knit for the Red Cross.
Read more about Mary at:
In 1916, Jeanette Rankin ran for the House of Representatives on a progressive platform supporting women’s suffrage, social welfare, and prohibition. With her brother’s support as a prominent member of the Montana Republican Party, she became the first female member of Congress.
A dedicated suffragist and lifelong pacifist, Jeanette made history during both of her terms. In 1917, when Congress voted to declare war on Germany, she was one of only 50 votes opposed, explaining “I wish to stand for my country, but cannot vote for war.” Later in her life she would add, “I felt the first time a woman had a chance to say no to war, she should say it.” During this term, she created the Committee on Woman Suffrage, whose January 1918 report would spur the final debates that led to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919.
After her first term, Jeanette continued her work lobbying and touring on behalf of pacifist organizations. As WWII loomed, she ran again for the House. The day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Jeanette, true to her pacifist ideals, was the only vote opposed, saying “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
The fight for women’s right to vote in the United States was lengthy, lasting 70+ years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
Brought to the forefront in 1848 by the Seneca Falls Convention, one of the biggest focuses of the women’s rights movement was women’s suffrage. Though the movement was slowed a bit by the Civil War and the abolition of slavery – as many suffragists turned their attention to enfranchising newly-freed male slaves – the suffragists were able to secure the right to vote at the state level in a handful of states. It became apparent in the late 1800s that a Constitutional Amendment would be necessary for women nationwide to have an equal right to vote.
Such an amendment was first introduced in 1878, but would not pass until 1919. It would then take an additional year to be ratified by the 2/3 majority of states required for its adoption. While officially added to the Constitution on August 26, 1920, individual states continued to try alternative ways to limit voting to white men and it would take until 1984 to be ratified by all 50 states.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell
Despite being lucky enough to find doctors willing to help her with her pre-medical school training, Elizabeth Blackwell’s applications were rejected over and over again because she was a woman. Despite finally getting into Geneva Medical School by a student vote, she was referred to by the dean as an ‘inconvenience’ to male students, seated separately in classrooms, and blocked from labs. Elizabeth, however, excelled in her studies and in 1849 not only graduated first in her class, but got her thesis published in a journal – the first medical article published by a female medical student.
Initially unable to sustain a private practice at home, she spent some time in Europe furthering her studies – though still facing much resistance. She returned to New York City in 1851 and in 1853 established a dispensary and began training other women. In 1857, with the addition of her sister and protege, who both now had medical degrees, this dispensary expanded to become the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children – which was 100% woman run, and still exists today as New York Presbyterian’s Lower Manhattan Hospital.
Hedy Lamarr is best-known for being a Hollywood bombshell – appearing in dozens of movies throughout the 1930s and 40s. However, off screen she spent her spare time working on various hobbies and inventions including designing an improved traffic light and a carbonated beverage tablet.
Her biggest technological contribution, came during World War II. Hearing that the newly-introduced radio-controlled torpedoes could easily be jammed, Hedy came up with the idea of creating a signal that could jump around different frequencies so that it couldn’t be tracked and jammed. She enlisted the aid of a composer friend, George Anthiel, to help her build a device to implement her idea. The invention was patented in 1942, though it was not implemented right away due to difficulty in doing so and the Navy not being receptive to inventions coming from outside the military. It was however adapted in 1957 to develop the sonobuoy and later used on Naval ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Hedy’s idea continues to be incorporated into technology today, with variations being used to develop WiFi and Bluetooth.
Learn more at:
Hattie Caraway, following a precedent of the time for widows to temporarily fill their husbands’ political seats, was appointed to the U.S. Senate representing the state of Arkansas in December of 1931. She then won a special election in January 1932, allowing her to complete the final few months of her husband’s term.
She surprised everyone when, in May of that year, she declared that she would run for a full-term seat in the Senate. The field was crowded with candidates who had presumed she’d step aside. Hattie purportedly told reporters that “The time has passed when a woman should be placed in a position and kept there only while someone else is being groomed for the job.”
Aided in her campaign by Louisiana Governor & Senator Huey Long, Hattie won her primary with nearly double the votes of her closest opponent, and won the subsequent general election in November. Hattie would remain in the Senate, winning re-election in 1938 – the first woman to win re-election to the Senate, serving on and chairing (another first for women) a number of committees, until 1945.
Learn more about Hattie – and her other Senate firsts – at: https://history.house.gov/People/Listing/C/CARAWAY,-Hattie-Wyatt-(C000138)/
Born to an interracial couple in 1908, Jane Bolin grew up to become the first African American woman to serve as a judge in the United States. She enrolled at Wellesley College at age 16, graduating in the top of her class in 1928, despite enduring overt racism and social isolation. She continued her education at Yale, graduating from Yale Law School in 1931 – the first African American woman to do so. Initially joining her father’s law firm, Jane would soon relocate to NYC and make history once again by becoming the first female African American assistant corporate counsel for the City.
In 1939, Jane was invited to appear before Mayor La Guardia at the World’s Fair, where he swore her in as a judge. Jane was known to be thoughtful and conscientious on the bench, taking particular care with domestic issues and those involving children. She also made changes to segregationist policies within the court system and worked with Eleanor Roosevelt in support of the Wiltwyck School.
Jane would serve a total of four 10-year terms on the bench before she was forced to retire at age 70.
Margaret Sanger founded the birth control movement in the early 1900s, at a time when it was taboo to speak about family planning or women’s healthcare in public. The 6th of 11 children, growing up in poverty, she that her mother’s pregnancies took a physical toll contributing to her death at age 50. Margaret became a nurse and eventually moved to New York City.
Believing strongly that a woman’s ability to limit her family size could end the cycle of women’s poverty, she not only set herself on a crusade to repeal the Comstock Law, but also to help get birth control information to women in need – despite it being illegal at the time.
When she opened a birth control clinic in Brooklyn, she was quickly arrested. Appealing her conviction, Margaret lost her case, but the courts ruled that doctors could prescribe contraceptives to women for medical reasons. She used this loophole to open a new clinic in 1923, staffed by female doctors and social workers, which would later grow to become the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Margaret was also a driving force in the development of “the pill,” which was FDA approved in 1960.
National Association of Women Lawyers
The Women Lawyers’ Club was created in 1899 by a group of 18 female lawyers in New York City. In the early 1910s they began publication of the ‘Women Lawyers Journal’ and saw a rise in their membership – nearly 200 women across 25 states by 1915. Two members – Judge Mary Belle Grossman and Mary Florence Lathrop – were the first women admitted to the American Bar Association in 1918.
By 1923, due to increased membership nationwide, the Women Lawyers’ Club was renamed the National Association of Women Lawyers and held its first national convention. NAWL throughout its history has fought for women’s equality – from suffrage efforts to social legislation and the Equal Rights Amendment.
Today NAWL continues to work for women’s equality both in and out of the legal profession through education and activism initiatives.
Learn more about NAWL at:
Ernestine Rose was born in Poland in 1810 to the town rabbi. As a young woman, she was well-educated for the time, and did not agree with the Jewish laws and customs that held women as inferior. After her mother’s death, she received a large property inheritance, which her father tried to sign away as her wedding dowry – to a man she did not intend to marry. Ernestine took the matter to court and won, soon leaving Poland and meeting her husband her a few years later in England. The two emigrated to America in the late 1830s.
In strong opposition to laws stating that a woman could not retain control of property she owned before marriage, Ernestine began to push for equal women’s rights. A drive she led in New York State to reverse these laws led to 1848 legislation permitting married women to keep control of property they held when they were single. After the Seneca Falls convention, Ernestine’s involvement in the women’s rights crusade grew, co-founding the National Women Suffrage Association with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Ernestine was also a strong supporter of the temperance and abolitionist movements.
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Despite having little formal education, June Almeida became a Doctor of Science and a pioneer in the fields of virus imaging, identification, and diagnosis. She managed to get work as a histopathology technician in Glasgow, just after leaving school at 16, and would eventually move with her husband to Ontario to work as an electronmicroscopist. Her abilities far outshone her lack of qualifications, and she was promoted in line with her skills. She developed a method to better visualize viruses by using antibodies to aggregate them.
Much of her work focused on hepatitis B and the cold virus, and she also produced the first images of the rubella virus. In conjunction with David Tyrrell, she categorized a group of viruses that are now called #coronaviruses. In 1979, she published a manual for rapid laboratory viral diagnostics for the World Health Organization and her work is still used today to quickly identify emerging viruses.
Edith, a widow since 1908, met the recently widowed President Woodrow Wilson in 1915, the two quickly falling in love and marrying by the end of that same year. With the U.S.’s entry into World War I in 1917, Edith set aside her hostessing duties, and immersed herself in Woodrow’s work, trying to help ease the strain he was under. When he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed, Edith, at the urging of his doctors to ensure he rested, became the “steward” of his presidency.
She oversaw many of the routine details of the government and filtered issues – determining what was important enough to present to the President for review and relegating other matters to appropriate department heads. Her management of the presidency during her husband’s prolonged illness lasted until the end of his term in 1921, and she is sometimes referred to as the “Secret President” or “First, First Lady President.”
Victoria Woodhull & Tennessee Claflin
Sisters Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin spent their early years traveling as mediums and faith healers. In 1868, the sisters moved to NYC to make a better life for themselves. Initially continuing to work as mediums, they gained the trust of William Vanderbilt who helped them to open Wall Street’s first woman-owned and run stock brokerage in 1870. Their firm gave women of all levels of society the ability to control their own money. The brokerage profits allowed them to start the first women-owned newspaper – which advocated many radical reforms including shorter work days, fair wages, gender equality, and sex education for teens.
The pair became active in the political scene as well, and in 1872, Victoria announced she would run for President and was endorsed by the Equal Rights Party, which she and her sister had founded. Tennessee’s political aspirations were less ambitious and while ignored for election to robber baron Jim Fisk’s colonelcy in the 9th Regiment of the NY National Guard, a newly-created regiment for black soldiers, aware of her history of advocacy, elected her as their colonel.
National Organization for Women
Founded in 1966 the National Organization for Women (N.O.W.) is the largest organization of grassroots feminist activists in the United States. N.O.W.’s ongoing work supports economic, constitutional, and racial equality; reproductive rights; LGBTQIA+ rights; and end to violence against women.
Learn more at: