All you need to do is refuse to move to the back of a public transportation conveyance, and suddenly, 50 years later, the government will install a life-size statue immortalizing your paradigm-shifting action in Capitol Hill’s Statuary Hall.
Well, if you are Rosa Parks, that will happen. The civil rights icon is set to become the first African-American woman to be enshrined in Capitol Hill’s gallery of honor later this year, and TakePart believes she needs a few more women in there—11 more—to keep her company.
It is true that nine American women are currently enshrined in the Statuary Hall—led by Helen Keller—but that is a small fraction of the standing number of males. How long must we wait before women of accomplishment are better represented?
It’s easy to find suitable companions for the exalted Ms. Parks. After all, U.S. history is studded with women who have given their lives and their genius to improve the lot of the nation at large, and who have yet to be fittingly credited for their contributions.
Click through for a roundup of 11 women who have made the push for American progress—from instituting child labor laws to guaranteeing our social security checks—but still don’t have any commemorative copper to show for it.
Besides being the Superintendant of Female Nurses during the Civil War, Dorothea Dix was a strong voice for the mentally disabled who were confined to poorhouses, jails and asylums. Her advocacy began when she went to teach at a jail and discovered that mentally ill people were treated the same as imprisoned criminals. Documentation Dix recorded was largely responsible for establishing more humane treatment for the mentally ill today, although there has been backsliding on that progress.
Though Franklin Delano Roosevelt is most often credited, Frances Perkins was instrumental in writing New Deal legislation that still benefits Americans today. (We have Perkins to thank for minimum wage requirements and social security.) Perkins was also the first woman to become a U.S. Cabinet member as the U.S. Secretary of Labor, a title she held for a record 12 years. She was then asked to serve in the U.S. Civil Service Commission under President Truman.
Civil rights activist Daisy Gatson Bates was a key player in integrating American schools. She served as mentor and advisor to the “Little Rock Nine”—the first group of African-American students who enrolled at an all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Segregationist protests required the students to be escorted to class by the 101st Airborne Division and Arkansas National Guard. Later in life, Bates helped impoverished African-Americans become self-sufficient. The third Monday in February is Daisy Gatson Bates Day—an official state holiday in Arkansas.
After receiving her Ph.D in math from Yale, Grace Murray Hopper joined the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1943. She was named a lieutenant one year later. Assigned to a team at Harvard, Hopper helped create the first large-scale U.S. computer. Because of Hopper, the terms “bug” and “debug” for computer errors are now commonplace. (A moth she once found inside the computer prompted the term.) Hopper is also responsible for helping establish the programming language for the first commercial electronic computer.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Annie Smith Peck
In 1908, Annie Smith Peck was the first person to climb the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere—Peru’s 22,205-foot Mount Huascaran—at the age of 58. She then went on to climb Peru’s 21,079-foot Mount Coropuna in 1909, where she put a “Votes for Women” flag on the summit. According to University of Michigan records, where Peck received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Greek, she told the Alumni Association: “I decided in my teens that I would do what one woman could do to show that women had as much brains as men and could do things as well if she gave them her undivided attention.”
Photo Credit: Getty Images
One of the earliest environmentalists, Mary Walton worked to reduce air pollution in cities during the Industrial Revolution. In 1879, she began developing a way to reduce environmental hazards in factory smoke that had previously gone unnoticed. With her patented system, emissions were rerouted into water tanks that then flushed pollutants out into the sewage system. Walton took on noise pollution in 1881. She developed an apparatus to reduce the jarring sounds caused by elevated trains. Walton sold the rights for her invention to New York City’s Metropolitan Railroad, which still uses it today.
Barely 5 feet tall, Mother Jones was considered “the most dangerous woman in America” by at least one U.S. district attorney. Jones was known for her labor-organizing abilities, encouraging tens of thousands of workers to go on strike for better work hours. She also stood adamant in opposition to child labor, famously leading a march of 100 children from Philadelphia textile mills to President Theodore Roosevelt’s Long Island home.
Her name might not ring a bell at first, but her book certainly set off an alarm. The Feminine Mystique, written by Betty Goldstein Friedan (pictured second from the left), boldly spotlighted the dissatisfaction among 1960s housewives. As more women identified with the book, it sparked the feminist movement. Friedan also cofounded the National Organization for Women (NOW), which is committed to establishing “full equality for women, in fully equal partnership with men.”
From slave to millionaire, Bridget “Biddy” Mason embodied the American Dream. With no formal education, Mason became a skilled midwife and eventually obtained freedom by petitioning the court. When she moved to Los Angeles, her frugal money-saving skills helped her buy a house and become the first black woman to own land in Los Angeles. She then built a commercial building that she leased out, which helped her become the first African-American female millionaire. She donated much of her wealth to charities, and her home became a shelter for the poor and orphaned.
The first Native American woman to receive a medical degree, Dr. Picotte was inspired to go to medical school after seeing a woman on her reservation die when a local white doctor would not treat her. Picotte served more than 1,300 people across 450 square miles and eventually accomplished her life’s dream: opening a hospital on a Nebraska reservation in 1913.
As the first female American astronaut to go into space, Sally Ride “literally changed the face of America’s space program,” in the words of NASA. Prior to orbiting Earth in 1983, Ride earned four degrees from Stanford University, including a doctorate in physics. She later established a website to help teach youth, especially girls, about science, math and technology. Following her death from pancreatic cancer in July 2012, President Barack Obama hailed her as “a national hero and a powerful role model.”