Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix was first born in Hampden Maine, but left an abusive father and family for her grandmother’s home in  Massachusetts at age twelve. As a young adult, Dix spent many years teaching girls that lacked access to education because of their gender and socio-economic status. After a bout of sickness that brought Dix to England, the young teacher returned to Massachusetts with a desire to understand how the state cared for citizens that were mentally ill and homeless.  Dix travelled throughout the state conducted research and published a report called Memorial to the MA state legislature which resulted in an expanded bill to create a home for the mentally ill in Worcester, MA.  Her success inspired her to continue to advocate for the mentally ill throughout the United States.  Dix worked tireless to bring about change states such as New Jersey, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. Dix also traveled abroad and published reports in Scotland and Nova Scotia which lead to improvements in laws and regulations regarding the treatment of the mentally ill. Even though she has been a leading figure in mental health care and reform, Dix is only mentioned in about 10% of United States History textbooks.


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Mary McLeod Bethune

“There can be no divided democracy, no class government, no half-free county, under the constitution. Therefore, there can be no discrimination, no segregation, no separation of some citizens from the rights which belong to all…. We are on our way. But these are frontiers which we must conquer…. We must gain full equality in education …in the franchise… in economic opportunity, and full equality in the abundance of life.” – Mary McLeod Bethune

African American women’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement was crucial to it success. One woman who was paramount to the movement’s success was Mary McLeod Bethune. Bethune, known as “The First lady of the Struggle”, was an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She was a prominent civil rights leader who pushed hard for Civil Rights legislation and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Eleanor Roosevelt adored Bethune and they were close friends. Their relationship enabled Bethune to form the Federal Council on Negro Affairs which worked closely with President Roosevelt to highlight the needs of African Americans throughout the U.S.

Bethune began her career as a teacher and education remained important to her. She also served as a Leader in the National Association of Colored Women and the National Council for Negro Women. These organizations were crucial to the success of the Civil Rights Movement and worked highlight the needs of African American women. Bethune’s ubiquitous influence made her a profound soldier in the battle for Civil Rights.

Alice Herz-Sommer

Aside from reaching an incredible age, Alice Herz-Sommer was a Holocaust survivor and optimist. Herz-Sommer was a classical pianist, and she was one of the many musicians whose careers suffered when the Nazis took over in Europe. Herz-Sommer and her son Stephan were sent to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp now found in the Czech Republic. Her husband was sent to Dachau, where he died six weeks before the camp was liberated. During the two years she spent in the camp, Herz-Sommer played in over 100 concerts held for the prisoners and guards. When asked about the concerts, Herz-Sommer stated:

“Whenever I knew that I had a concert, I was happy. Music is magic. We performed in the council hall before an audience of 150 old, hopeless, sick, and hungry people. They lived for the music.“

Herz-Sommer played piano three hours each day until her death last month at the age of 110. She truly believed in the power of music, and she used it to save herself along with so many others from the horrors of the Holocaust.

Tegla Loroupe

Tegla Loroupe is a role model to girls everywhere. One of 24 siblings, she developed her love of athletics while running ten miles to and from school each day. She quickly became a star athlete in Kenya and now competes on the work circuit. She has won the World Half Marathon three times and, in 2006, was named the United Nations Ambassador to Sport.

In addition to athletics, Loroupe runs the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, which promotes peace through education and sports. Through the foundation, she has established the Tegla Loroupe Peace Academy and Orphanage in Kenya. In her own words, “In a country where only men are encouraged, one must be one’s own inspiration.” Loroupe’s perseverance, athleticism, and grit are an inspiration to all of us.

“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!”


Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Kenya in 1940. She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. She was active in the National Council of Women of Kenya and was acknowledged for her struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation. Most notably she was the founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.


Harriet Beecher Stowe

1811–1896, United States

Harriet Beecher Stowe was a lifelong educator and writer. She is best known for writing her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin which had a major impact in abolishing slavery in the United States. After she attended school and married, Harriet traveled to Kentucky and saw the realities of slavery in the South. Together, Harriet and her husband hired a young slave girl and brought her to Ohio. This meant the girl was free from slavery. However, the girl’s slave owner soon came looking for her and had the right to take her away from the couple. Harriet decided to hide the girl in a wagon and travel back roads to bring her to safety. This story became the basis behind Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 

After the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, slave owners could travel north to take slaves back to the South. In attempts to reveal the realities of slavery in the South, Harriet wrote articles for The National Era in order to show the North what was really happening. She hoped to create a movement against slavery. Although she was contracted to write only a few articles for the magazine, Harriet ended up writing more than 40 articles. These articles were eventually turned into the book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book did just what Harriet wanted: convinced the North to fight against slavery. Harriet spent the rest of her life writing, advocating, and educating. 


Coretta Scott King


1927 - 2006, Alabama, United States 

Coretta Scott King was a civil rights activist who was also interested in women’s rights, LGBT rights, and world peace. She was married to Martin Luther King Jr. and worked with him on civil rights issues. King had an active role in advocating for civil rights legislation and also was involved in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She received many awards in her lifetime including being inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. 


Charles Eastman


1858 - 1939, Minnesota, United States 

Eastman wrote eleven books about Native American culture including Old Indian Days, The Madness of Bald Eagle, and his memoir, Memories of an Indian Boyhood. He worked as a physician at several reservations in South Dakota and treated Indians after the Wounded Knee Massacre. In addition, Eastman established thirty-two Indian groups within the YMCA and helped found Boy Scouts of America.


Aida Overton Walker


(1880-1914): U.S.

Aida Overton Walker was known as “Queen of the cakewalk” prominent vaudeville performer known for choreographing and acting routines for Williams and Walker. After her husband became ill, she performed her own parts as well as his; drag performances became her specialty. Played Salome at Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre.


Audre Lorde


1934-1992, United States

"When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak."

Audre Lorde was a Caribbean-American feminist writer and theorist. Her poetry was published regularly during the 1960s. She wrote two volumes of poetry, The First Cities and Cables to Rage. She was well known for her essay, ”The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” She advocated for gay and lesbian rights, and was politically active in the civil rights and anti-war movements. Her goal was to empower black women through her poetry.