Women are often on the front lines of social change. Over the last two hundred years or more of U.S. history, women have worked for abolition, women’s rights, civil rights, human rights, and many other causes. Often unsupported, ridiculed or dismissed, these women’s hard-fought successes resulted in the rights and privileges that many of us take for granted in our daily lives. Come discover more about these dedicated women and social reformers.
Carrie Nation was a social activist in “temperance.” This was an anti-alcohol movement; she started a chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in the late 1800s. Nation believed that alcohol consumption was the source of many societal problems and she gained much notoriety when she used her hatchet for smashing liquor bottles in saloons. She was jailed and beaten many times for her acts of violence. In 1901, she opened a shelter for women and children of alcoholics in Kansas City, Missouri, credited as the forerunner of today’s battered women shelters. Her home in Medicine Lodge, Kansas has been named a National Historic Landmark. Nation is credited with helping to raise awareness of temperance issues and the eventual enactment of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Prohibition Amendment, which was ratified in 1919.
An activist for suffrage and women’s rights, Mary Church Terrell was one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree. Born in 1863 to parents who were both former slaves, Terrell received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Oberlin College, in Ohio. She taught at the high school and college level until she married; at that time, she was precluded from teaching. After a friend of the family in Memphis, Tennessee was lynched, she formed the Colored Women’s League with a focus on addressing the issues facing black communities and black families. A few years later, she helped found the National Association of Colored Women and served as its first president. With a motto of “Lifting as We Climb”, the organization aimed to encourage education and community activism for societal improvements. An active suffragist, Terrell spoke both in the U.S. and abroad. In 1909, she was a charter member of the National Association for Colored People – the NAACP. Terrell also actively participated in the effort to end legal segregation in Washington, D.C.
The “mother of social work,” Jane Addams pioneered in many areas of social reform. With Ellen Gates Starr, she founded Hull House, a settlement house in the immigrant neighborhoods of Chicago that provided a wide range of services in this poor urban area. Hull House provided kindergarten and day care facilities, a library, an employment bureau, an art gallery, what today we would call English as a second language class, citizenship classes, theater, music and art classes and many other amenities. Hull House launched the Immigrant’s Protective League and the first juvenile court in the country. The Hull House residents successfully advocated for protective legislation for women and children at the state and federal level. Also active in the peace movement and the recipient of the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize, Addams has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
A philanthropist and dog breeder, Dorothy Harrison Eustis trained dogs to assist individuals with vision impairments and established The Seeing Eye, Inc. After seeing the success her first husband achieved in selectively breeding cattle and noting the intelligence of her German Shepherd dogs, she moved to Switzerland and began selectively breeding German Shepherds. Her Fortunate Field kennels gained a very favorable reputation among European police units and the Swiss army. After reading about a school in Germany that trained dogs to assist blind individuals, Eustis published an article in The Saturday Evening Post (1927) about the school. Contacted by Morris S. Frank, a blind man from Tennessee, Eustis trained a dog she named Buddy to be Frank’s “eyes.” The publicity that ensued when Frank returned to the U.S. with Buddy led Eustis to also return to the U.S. and establish The Seeing Eye, Inc. in 1929. Furthermore, she established a school to train both the dogs and their owners. By the time she died in 1946, more than 1500 dogs had been matched with owners. Eustis has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
A community activist who specializes in leadership development and diversity training, Juana Bordas left Nicaragua with her family, including her seven siblings, on a banana boat. Later, she would become the first member of her family to attend college. Wanting to give back, she joined the Peace Corps and spent her years of service in Santiago, Chile. She founded the Mi Casa Resource Center which is the largest Hispanic-serving organization in Colorado. Intent on developing leadership within the Hispanic community, Bordas founded and served as the inaugural president of the National Hispana Leadership Institute. The Circle of Latina Leadership, which she founded in 2001, works to train and bring along the next generation of leaders. An author of books on leadership, Bordas has won many awards including the Franklin Williams Award from the U.S. Peace Corps, the 2008 International Latino Book Award, and the Colorado Unique Woman of the Year. Bordas has also received an honorary doctorate. She has been inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.
Women’s dedication to social reform has affected our lives in so many ways. The women profiled above and many other women, almost all of them women who we have not heard about nor learned about in school, across all fields of endeavor, are profiled in our book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. To be frank, it never occurred to us to question the absence of women in history, as men’s stories were told. Men defended the Alamo. Men forged across mountains to open the Northwest Passage. Men found gold, etc. Well, women were there, too, with many leading the way! Help us by continuing to tell women’s stories. Write women back into history!
Jill S. Tietjen, PE, is an author, national speaker, and an electrical engineer. After 40 years in the electric utility industry, her professional focus is now on women’s advocacy, worldwide. She blogs for The Huffington Post, speaks nationally on the accomplishments of women, nominates women for awards, and continues to write books (8 published to date), following in the footsteps of her bestselling and award-winning book, Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America (written with Charlotte Waisman). She is a frequent keynote speaker as her positive energy and her ability to relate to the audience result in inspired and energized listeners. The recipient of many awards, her induction into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2010 remains one of her most treasured.
Charlotte S. Waisman, Ph.D. is a national champion and advocate for women as a professor and keynote speaker. A corporate leader, executive coach, and facilitator, she conducts leadership workshops nationally.