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Leaders and Innovators

Women have played a significant role in fighting for and securing equity in education, the workforce and society. They have been responsible for a number of innovations that have improved living and working conditions for all Americans. In this section we highlight just a few of these leaders and innovators.

Sacagawea (1787? - 1812)

A Shoshone Indian woman born in Idaho, Sacagawea proved to be an invaluable resource to the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and the rest of the Corps of Discovery. Originally hired as an interpreter and guide, she also helped to keep the peace between the explorers and other Indian tribes throughout their journey. She had an innate ability to identify which plants and foods were edible and had medicinal purposes and was able to lead the explorers on safe and familiar trails. In 1805, when a boat she was on capsized, she played an important role in saving some of the cargo, including vital documents and supplies. Sacagawea died at about the age of 25 at Fort Manuel in what is now known as South Dakota. Her two children were then adopted by William Clark.

Lewis and Clark
This PBS Web site offers biographies on all of the members of the Corps of Discovery. There is also an interactive trail map and lesson plans for social studies, math, science and language arts that parallel with the documentary "Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, which may be purchased from the site.  

The Journals of Lewis and Clark Expedition
This Web site includes primary documents (including the journals of Lewis and Clark, images and maps from the expedition, multimedia sources and more.

Sojourner Truth (1797 - 1883)

Born into slavery in 1797 in Ulster County, N.Y., Sojourner Truth, originally named Isabella, became one of the most well-known American abolitionists and advocates for women's rights. Believing that she was a mystic and could hear the words of God, she took the name Sojourner Truth and began preaching throughout the Eastern seaboard. During this time she also became involved in the abolitionist movement and began touring the country; she later became an advocate for the women's rights movement. Truth delivered her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in 1851.

Sojourner Truth
This PBS Web page provides the biography of Sojourner Truth. PBS also offers her famous "Ain't I A Woman?" Speech. and

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 - 1902)

Author of the Declaration of Sentiments, which was presented at the Seneca Falls, N.Y., convention for women's rights in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a distinguished suffragist. In 1851, Elizabeth Stanton met Susan B. Anthony, and the two began a 50-year collaboration for women's causes. Together they published the journal Revolution and founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. She died in New York City on Oct. 26, 1902.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton: The Solitude of Self
This Encyclopedia Britannica Web page recounts a portion of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's plea to the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives for equal rights of women. Also featured is a list of 300 Women Who Changed the World.

Susan B. Anthony (1820 - 1906)

Susan B. Anthony was one of the most influential women in the fight for women's suffrage. Born to Quaker parents in 1820, Susan B. Anthony was raised in an environment that supported equality between men and women. In 1869, Anthony, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, started the National Woman Suffrage Association and fought for an amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote. She was arrested in November 1872 for voting, which for women was against the law. Anthony's fight for women's suffrage continued to gain support from both men and women even after her death. When she died in 1906, only four states allowed women to vote. It was not until 1919, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, that women won the right to vote.

Why Vote?
This PBS Web site offers Susan B. Anthony's powerful speech after being convicted of voting in the 1872 Presidential Election.

Harriet Tubman (1820 - 1913)

Between 1850 and 1860, Harriet Tubman led more than 300 slaves to freedom through a system known as the Underground Railroad. "Lines," or escape routes, stretched from Kentucky and Maryland to New England and Canada. People who helped in aiding slaves reach freedom, including Harriet Tubman were known as "conductors."

Harriet Tubman herself was a slave who escaped to freedom using the Underground Railroad. After her successful escape she returned to her home state of Maryland to help free her family members. While freeing her family—all of whom escaped by 1857—Tubman also helped other slaves escape. Tubman quickly earned the nickname "Moses."

At the onset of the Civil War, Harriet Tubman became a nurse and aided sick and injured Union soldiers. She also worked as a spy and would, on occasion, lead scouting assignments. Harriet Tubman saved many people in her lifetime. Her tombstone reads "Servant of God, Well Done."

The Underground Railroad
This Web site by National Geographic not only allows students to follow Harriet Tubman on her heroic journey of leading slaves to freedom, but also contains timelines, information specifically for students, and class curriculums for teachers.  

Slavery and the Making of America
This PBS Web site offers historical overviews, personal narratives, primary documents, and more.

Clara Barton (1821 - 1912)

Clara Barton was born in North Oxford, Mass., on Dec. 25, 1821, and would become one of the most well-known women of the Civil War era. As the number of wounded soldiers began to rise, Barton, distressed by the Army Medical Department's lack of preparedness, worked to provide aid to those injured in battle and lobbied to bring her own supplies onto the battlefield. In 1865, with an endorsement from President Lincoln, Barton set up the Bureau of Records in Washington, D.C., to trace and locate missing soldiers. She and her assistants identified more than 22,000 missing men.

Prior to her work with Union troops as a nurse, Barton was a school teacher who established the first free school in New Jersey. She then became a copyist and the first woman to work for the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C. In 1881, Barton founded the United States branch of the International Red Cross and became president of the American Red Cross.

Clara Barton, 1821-1912, Civil War Nurse, Founder American Red Cross
This Web site includes documents written by Clara Barton as well as photos of influential woman during and general information about the Civil War. This Web site also looks at women who disguised themselves as men in order to serve as soldiers.  

American Red Cross
This Web site provides the biography of it's founder, and offers a teachers guide with resources and activities to be used in the classroom.

Nellie Bly (1867 - 1922)

In 1889, Nellie Bly made a trip around the world in 70 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes—less time than the fictional character Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne's novel Around the World in Eighty Days. In addition to her record-breaking journey, achieved by traveling in trains and ships, Nellie Bly was also an accomplished journalist and novelist. At various times throughout her life she worked for the Pittsburgh Dispatch, the New York World and the New York Journal. Among her other accomplishments was an exposé in 1887 on the treatment of women in an mental asylum, published as a book, Ten Days in a Mad-House.

Ten Days in a Mad House
Online copy of Nellie Bly's personal account of her experiences in Blackwell's Island Insane Asylum.

Marie Curie (1867 - 1934)

After receiving a licentiateship (a license to practice) in physics and mathematical sciences at the University of Paris (commonly known as La Sorbonne), Marie Curie pursued a doctorate in science there and began a career in the physics laboratory, where she met her husband Pierre. Together they worked to isolate polonium and to separate radium from radioactive residues. By separating the radium she could then study its properties, more specifically its possible therapeutic properties. After her husband's death, Curie became professor of general physics in the Faculty of Sciences and was appointed director of the Curie Laboratory in the Radium Institute at the university.

Curie was awarded two Nobel prizes for her work in radiation, the first for physics (1903), which she shared with her husband, and later for chemistry (1911). Marie Curie was also a member of France's Conseil du Physique Solvay and the Committee of Intellectual Co-operation of the League of Nations. Curie received the Davy Medal from Great Britain's Royal Society in 1903 and 1921 and authored a number of scientific articles and journals.

Marie Curie and the Science of Radioactivity
This Web site offers an extensive biography of Marie Curie.

The Field Museum's Women in Science
This Web site includes information about female scientists from yesterday and today as well as additional information for teachers.

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)

Just ten years after the end of the American Civil War, Mary McLeod Bethune was born into the Jim Crow South, the 15th child to former slaves who still worked the same cotton fields their ancestors had worked for hundreds of years. At that time and place there was little opportunity for a black woman, nevertheless, Mary, who became known as “The First Lady of Struggle,” defied the odds and through the power of literacy she became a world-renowned racial justice activist, civil rights leader, pioneering American educator, and personal advisor and friend to President Franklin Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Black History Month: Mary McLeod Bethune
This section of the AFT Web site offers information about the life of Bethune, Women's Suffrage and the Black Cabinet along with classroom resources.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

Eleanor Roosevelt, the nation's first lady during the presidency of her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt, became a symbol of humanitarian concerns and social justice. Born in 1884 in New York City to a wealthy and privileged family, Roosevelt was sent to finishing school at the age of 15 after the death of her parents. Despite her immersion in high society, she refused to be consumed with the lifestyle and worked to help the poor in New York City. On March 17, 1905, she married Franklin D. Roosevelt. As her husband became active in the political sphere, first as governor of New York and then as President of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt continued to pursue her humanitarian agenda. She spoke out for women's rights and also helped influence her husband's policy decisions by bringing to light the conditions of the poor. Roosevelt also played a key role in the creation and acceptance of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Eleanor Roosevelt
A great resource for primary documents, including speeches given by Eleanor Roosevelt on the importance of human rights.

First Ladies' Gallery
These Web sites offer biographical information for all of our countries First Ladies. and

Amelia Earhart (1897 - 1937)

Born in 1897, aviator Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic (1932) and the first woman to fly solo across the Pacific, between Honolulu and Oakland, Calif. She also set a speed record in her nonstop flight from Mexico City to New York City. Earhart disappeared after taking off from Lae, New Guinea, with navigator Fred Noonan during her attempt to fly around the world. Despite an extensive search by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, neither the plan nor their bodies were ever found.

Amelia Earhart: Celebrating 100 Years of Flight
The official Amelia Earhart Web site offers an extensive look into the life of an aviation pioneer.

Rosa (Lee McCauley) Parks (1913 - 2005)

Rosa Parks made civil rights history in 1955 when she refused give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., bus. Her subsequent arrest by the police led to a city-wide bus boycott by the black community and eventually spurred the movement to end segregation throughout the nation.

Rosa Parks: How I Fought For Civil Rights
A very concise Web site for students about the life of Rosa Parks.

Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Movement 1954-1985
This PBS Web site offers a short biography and numerous lesson plans and teacher resources on the Civil Rights Movement. The television series may also be purchased from the site. and