5 Women Who Changed Your Life
This is the 91st anniversary of the day the 19th Amendment became law, granting women the right to vote. In honor of that momentous leap forward for 51% of the citizens of the United States, here's our salute to five female pioneers who shaped the way we live now in ways we have often come to take for granted.
She Fought for Your Right to Vote
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)
Among the many 19th-century activists who agitated for women's suffrage, Anthony stands out as the one who truly spearheaded the effort. In 1852, she gave a speech at the National Women's Rights Convention in Syracuse, New York that established her as a prominent and eloquent voice for change. She would go on to publish a weekly journal, "The Revolution," with the motto "The true republic—men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less." Her tireless campaign continued until her death in 1906. Others carried on her work so that fourteen years later her dream of having women legally at the polls came true.
She Advocated for Legal Birth Control
Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)
As a nurse working in New York City slums, Sanger risked being thrown in jail when she began handing out a pamphlet called "Family Limitation." The Comstock Law of 1873 prohibited the distribution of contraceptive information and devices, but Sanger felt strongly that women needed birth control – a term she coined -- in order to be able to lead physically and emotionally healthy lives on "equal footing" with men. Her relentless quest was life long. During the 1960s, while she was in her 80s, she toured extensively to promote the use of the brand new Pill. Because of Sanger's clinics and organizations, many states eventually made birth control legal. Massachusetts was the last hold out. In 1967, married women in the Bay State were finally allowed to purchase contraceptives but unmarried women didn't get that right until 1972!
She Invented The Apgar Score, Prevented Birth Defects, and Saved Preemies' Lives
Virginia Apgar (1909-1974)
In 1949, Dr. Apgar was the first woman to become a full professor at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. During her tenure there, she made history in 1953 by introducing the eponymous Apgar Score. The test assesses the health of babies at one minute and five minutes after birth and allows for immediate intervention if there are problems.
Later, on the heels of the disastrous rubella pandemic of 1964 to1965 that caused thousands of birth defects and infant deaths, Apgar advocated for mandatory vaccination against the disease. She served as vice president for medical affairs for the March of Dimes and directed the organization's research program until her death in 1979. One of her top priorities was calling attention to the risks inherent in premature birth. If you or someone you love has ever sat in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with a tiny newborn whose life and eyesight were saved, you can thank Virginia Apgar.
She Was a Key Figure in the Civil Rights Movement
Rosa Parks (1913-2005)
At about 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 1st 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks boarded a bus and took a seat in the first row of the "colored" section right behind the seats reserved for white passengers. By the time the bus had made two stops along the route, the whites-only seats were all taken. At the third stop, still more whites got on so the driver moved the "colored" sign to the row behind Parks. Three of the four people in the row got up and moved back. Parks did not.
The driver called the police and Parks was booked. In her autobiography, "My Story," she wrote "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true . . . No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."
The Montgomery Bus Boycott that ensued after her arrest was a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his 1958 book "Stride Toward Freedom," wrote, "Actually, no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, 'I can take it no longer.' "
In 1996, Bill Clinton presented Parks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
She Wrote the Book That Launched the Women's Movement
Betty Friedan (1921-2006)
Her best-selling 1963 book "The Feminine Mystique," in which housewives were portrayed as anything but happy, ignited a heated debate and set in motion the "second wave" of American feminism. Women started attending "consciousness-raising sessions" and lobbying for the reform of oppressive laws and social views.
In 1966, Friedan became the founder and first president of the National Organization for Women. The mission of NOW was to bring women "into the mainstream of American society in fully equal partnership with men." On August 26th 1970, the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Friedan organized the wildly successful Women's Strike for Equality. The march in New York City alone had 50,00 participants, both men and women. Following that, Friedan joined other leading feminists including Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Shirley Chisholm in establishing the National Women's Political Caucus.
A vocal supporter of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, Friedan helped to get it passed by the House and the Senate in 1972 but it failed to gain ratification before its 1982 deadline. Even so, in spite of her feisty personality and her many detractors, most historians agree that Betty Friedan significantly shaped national and world events in ways that will reverberate for generations to come.
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