Women's History Month

Women who made a difference (and a few who still are)

Here are 15 women who made a difference through their inventions, intellect, activism, actions and more — along with a few who still are fighting the good fight.

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Supporters of the Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad (UR) reached its height between 1850 and 1860. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 made it more dangerous for those who helped slaves escape or offered them shelter. The consequence could be jail or a hefty fine. Here is a list of a few of the most prominent supporters of the UR. 

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Hidden figures: How black women preachers spoke truth to power

Harriet Tubman followed the voice of God

"Tubman’s faith was a major resource on these dangerous missions. She often spoke of “consulting with God,” and trusted that He would keep her safe, according to Catherine Clinton’s account in On the Road To Harriet Tubman.  

Tubman said she would listen carefully to the voice of God as she led slaves north, and she would only go where she felt God was leading her.

Abolitionist Quaker Thomas Garrett, who worked with her said, “I never met with any person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul.” Her faith in God seemed to always bring immediate assistance. She used spiritual songs as coded messages, warning escaping slaves of danger or directing them toward a safe path."

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Linda Brown, woman at center of Brown v. Board case, dies

"Linda Brown is one of that special band of heroic young people who, along with her family, courageously fought to end the ultimate symbol of white supremacy -- racial segregation in public schools. She stands as an example of how ordinary schoolchildren took center stage in transforming this country," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.  

"It was not easy for her or her family, but her sacrifice broke barriers and changed the meaning of equality in this country."

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Lillian Thomas Fox

Lillian Thomas Fox was a journalist and champion for her race

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From the Siebert Collection: Women of the Underground Railroad

Ellen Craft wearing the disguise she used to escape from slavery, via the Siebert Collection

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First Self-Made Black Female Millionaire ‘Madam C.J.’ Walker Still Inspires African-American Beauty Entrepreneurs Today

“As much as any woman of the twentieth century,” Bundles wrote, “Madam Walker paved the way for the profound social changes that altered women’s place in American society.”  

–A pioneer of the modern cosmetics industry who created marketing schemes, training opportunities and distribution strategies as innovative as those of any entrepreneur of her time.  

–An early advocate of women’s economic independence, providing income for thousands of African-American women who otherwise might have been consigned to jobs as farm laborers, washerwomen and maids.  

–A philanthropist who helped shape the philosophy of charitable giving in the black community.  

–A political activist who used her economic clout to protest lynchings and racial injustice.

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Susan B. Anthony Invites Frederick Douglass To Tea

Author Dean Robbins reads from his children’s picture book "Two Friends," which is about Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony.

What You Never Knew About Harriet Tubman

Millie Dunn Veasey

Life well lived: Millie Dunn Veasey, military and civil rights trailblazer, dies at 100

Frederick Douglass Quotes on Women's Rights

"We hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man. We go further, and express our conviction that all political rights which it is expedient for man to exercise, it is equally so for women." [at the 1848 Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, according to Stanton et al in [History of Woman Suffrage]

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A Private Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman

Rochester, August 29, 1868  

Dear Harriet: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful life has been written by a kind lady, and that the same is soon to be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a word of commendation. I need such words from you far more than you can need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt, “God bless you,” has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown – of sacred memory – I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony for your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy.  

Your friend, Frederick Douglass


Mary Ann Shadd Cary House

Writer, educator, lawyer, abolitionist and the first black newspaperwoman in North America, Mary Ann Shadd Cary lived in this brick row house from 1881 to 1885. Cary was one of the most outspoken and articulate female proponents of the abolition of slavery of her day, and promoted equality for all people. Mary Ann Shadd was born in Wilmington, Delaware in October of 1823. The oldest of 13 children, Mary was raised in a family dedicated to the abolition of slavery and her childhood home often served as a shelter for fugitive slaves. As the education of blacks was forbidden in Delaware, the Shadds moved to Pennsylvania in 1833 where Mary began attended a Quaker Boarding School until 1839. For the next 12 years, Mary taught black children in Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania.

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Recognizing the Women of the Underground Railroad

"In 1848, they [Ellen and William Craft] devised a plan of escape that required Ellen to dress as a white man with an injured arm that did not allow him to write and with bandages around his jaw that would not allow him to speak. Her husband was the man's personal servant.  

It worked. They arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas day after traveling by train and boat.  

Both were soon featured in public lectures by abolitionists seeking to build opposition to slavery."

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 A Ride on the Underground Railroad with Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman is the most famous Underground Railroad conductor. Over a decade she took 19 trips back to the south to guide friends and family to freedom. Every trip was a dangerous trek but it meant freedom for those she cared. Each journey was different and along the years she built up a network of stations owned by people she trusted. Learn more about supporters of the Underground Railroad.  

The Ride on the Underground Railroad

You are a slave and heard that “Moses” is coming to get you. You have heard that song, Sweet Chariot, for two days. Your friend wants to escape, Moses might not have space in her group but will give her instructions on how to get to freedom. Aunty Harriet sent a field agent to make contact with you notifying that she is coming to get you and your family. It is late spring and the days are getting longer. You have to make a life changing decision. If you are caught your master will never trust you again and will make your life more difficult, or he can sell you south where people work their slaves until they are dead. On the other hand if you are successful you will be free. You make the decision to escape, freedom is worth the risk.

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“An Enduring Friendship: Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony”

Frederick Douglass Biography - Women's Rights Advocate

"Douglass also advocated the rights of women. He participated in the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in 1848 and signed the Declaration of Sentiments. Elizabeth Cady Stanton later reported that the resolution calling for women’s suffrage was passed by that Convention to a great extent through Douglass’ efforts on its behalf. After the convention, Douglass published a positive editorial on “The Rights of Women,” which appeared in the July 28, 1848 edition of the North Star. The History of Woman Suffrage notes that during the subsequent adjourned Women’s Rights Convention held in Rochester on August 2, 1848, “Frederick Douglass, William C. Nell, and William C. Bloss advocated the emancipation of women from all the artificial disabilities, imposed by false customs, creeds, and codes.” In 1853, Douglass signed “The Just and Equal Rights of Women,” a call and resolutions for the Woman’s Rights State Convention held in Rochester on November 30 and December 1, 1853. He also attended and spoke at that meeting."

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Frederick Douglass on Women's Sufferage

Did you know Frederick Douglass was also a pioneer for women's rights?  

Read his speech in favor of women's suffrage here >

The Hidden History of Anna Murray Douglass

Frederick Douglass' first wife, Anna Murray Douglass, should be recognized for her selfless dedication to her husband, from sewing a disguise so he could escape from slavery, to her continued immeasurable support despite the hardships that came with her husband's growing fame and responsibilities.  

".... 'They say she held the household together, but there was so much more to it than that,” O’Keefe says. Anna would’ve been working constantly to manage the guests, keep the house clean, tend the garden, balance the varying opinions of her husband’s colleagues without getting caught in the middle, and keeping their work on the Underground Railroad secret. “It was a tough role, a very tough role.'"

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