History hasn't always been kind to women who want to serve their country by entering the political area. However, that hasn't stopped them from doing so. Whether they fought for women's rights, freedom from slavery, workplace fairness, education or their personal beliefs, these women earned their place in history and paved the way for future generations.
Quaker-born Susan B. Anthony was an activist all her life. She spent the majority of her life fighting for women's suffrage despite much opposition and abuse. Anthony also helped start the Women's National Loyal League to petition to outlaw slavery. Anthony also pushed relentlessly for women's right to vote, co-founding a newspaper called The Revolution, with the motto "Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less." The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, passed in 1920, after Anthony had died, and gave women the right to vote.
Isabella Baumfree, an abolitionist and women's rights activist, was born in to a family of slaves in upstate New York in 1797. She escaped from her master and took her freedom along with her daughter, the year before New York's emancipation laws went into effect. In order to free her son, Baumfree took his master to court and won, becoming the first black woman to win against a white man in court. Baumfree eventually changed her name to Sojourner Truth and traveled the country speaking about gender equality and equal rights for black people.
Wife to President Lyndon B. Johnson, Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson was an active presence in politics for decades serving in numerous capacities, but her passion was for the environment. Lady Bird campaigned heavily for the passage of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 and founded the National Wildflower Research Center. She was also an astute politician herself, helping launch her husband's political career, running his congressional office and representing First Lady Jackie Kennedy when she was unable to make appearances. In 1988, Lady Bird received the Congressional Gold Medal becoming the first wife of a president to receive it.
On Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Ala., civil rights activist Rosa Parks shot onto the national scene when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, an act that began a movement that led to the end of legal segregation in the U.S. From there, Parks helped spur on the Civil Rights movement working with Martin Luther King Jr. and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to strike down laws that punished black people because of race. After her death, Parks was the the first woman to lay in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.
Suffragist Victoria Woodhull was the first women to run for the office of the president, doing so at a time when women hadn't yet won the right to vote but could run for office. Woodhull, however, did not win any electoral votes. Working with her sister, Tennessee, Woodhull became the first female stock broker and made a fortune on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1871, known as a brilliant orator, Woodhull was the first women to appear before the House Judiciary Committee where she spoke on women's suffrage, although she was not well received for her strong words on the subject.
Nancy Reagan once tried her hand at acting, just like her husband, President Ronald Reagan, but left the industry to care for her young family. After her husband won the presidency, Reagan made a name for herself as a champion fighting against drug abuse. Her famous "Just Say No" campaign helped raise drug-abuse awareness, and she was known for working as a team with her husband on a number of political endeavors such as cabinet appointments, considered instrumental to his presidency.
Eleanor Roosevelt was once called the "First Lady of the World" by President Harry S. Truman for her work on human rights issues. She also advanced support for the formation of the United Nations and served on the UN General Assembly from 1945 and 1952. Roosevelt was a strong supporter of the New Deal, a series of economic programs instituted by her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to provide relief, recovery and reform following the Great Depression. A supporter of feminist ideas and Democratic policies, Roosevelt was ranked in the Top 10 of Gallup's 1999 list of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century.
Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to Congress. A progressive and a feminist, Rankin represented Montana in the House two separate times. She once ran for the Senate but did not win. Almost immediately after being elected to the House, Rankin and other House members were called in for an emergency vote on declaring war on Germany. Rankin, a pacifist, voted "no" and did the same for World War II, making her the only member of Congress to vote against U.S. participation in both wars. The war resolution passed the House 388–1 and Rankin became so unpopular for her vote that she didn't run for re-election.
Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman to serve in Congress, representing New York in the House of Representatives. She spent much of her career fighting for educational opportunities and social justice by serving on the House Education and Labor Committee. Chisholm was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969, and in 1972 she ran for the Democratic presidential nomination during which she survived three assassination attempts. She once said she received more discrimination for being a woman than for being black.
Frances Perkins was not only the longest-sitting labor secretary in U.S. history but was also the first woman appointed to any U.S. Cabinet position, being placed there by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Fully supporting Roosevelt's New Deal policies, Perkins helped create laws to fight child labor, established the first minimum wage and overtime laws under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and she resisted having women enter the military during World War II so they could help support the civilian workplace. Much her of work as chairwoman of the President's Committee on Economic Security resulted in the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935.