A few days ago TIME Magazine released the results of its 2010 TIME 100 World’s Most Influential People poll, claiming to “name the people who most affect our world.” Only 31 women made the list.
While the results were based on a reader poll, TIME didn’t give readers many women to choose from. The original poll included only 59 women out of the 200 possible choices. And those 59 were a baffling assortment, to say the least. Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn’t make the list, but Snooki from the reality show “The Jersey Shore” did. There was no sign of Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers, or of Marian Wright Edelman, the president and founder of the Children’s Defense fund. George Clooney and Andy Samberg made the cut, though.
Ten days before release of the TIME 100, Esquire released its own “75 Greatest Women of All Time.” The editors at Esquire were apparently unable to come up with 75 real women, and had to fill out the list with fictional characters like Jessica Rabbit and The Bond Girl. (”The Bond Girl. Twenty to forty years old. Sexually experienced. Loves bikinis. Good with firearms.”) To give credit where it’s due, though, at least Esquire included Gloria Steinem. TIME didn’t even have Steinem as an option in their poll.
Here at EVE, we decided to come up with our own list of 100 Great American Women. It was easy—in fact, too easy. The problem for us was choosing only a hundred. We decided to restrict it to American women since 1776 in order to keep the list manageable; even so, we had to cross out dozens of names we would have liked to include. We also opted to tilt the list heavily towards contemporary women, since our friends at TIME Magazine seem to need a few hints in that area.
What follows, then, is somewhat arbitrary—but we hope informative and even enlightening. Consider it our Mother’s Day gift to the women of America.
The EVE 100 Great American Women List
(in alphabetical order)
- Abigail Adams: “Remember the ladies!” she wrote to her husband, though John Adams and the Founding Fathers still managed to forget.
- Jane Addams: the founder of Hull House became the second woman to win the Nobel Prize for Peace.
- Madeleine Albright: the first woman to become Secretary of State.
- Marin Alsop: the first female conductor of a major American symphony (the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra) and a regular guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Los Angeles Philharmonic.
- Marian Anderson: the celebrated contralto whose open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial galvanized the conscience of the country.
- Maya Angelou: the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and author who became the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost in 1961.
- Susan B. Anthony: called “the Napoleon” of the women’s movement, she spent 60 years leading the fight for suffrage.
- Sheila Bair: the current chairperson of the FDIC, she was one of the first government officials to recognize the problem of subprime loans.
- Clara Barton: called “the angel of the battlefield” for her ministrations during the Civil War, she went on to found the American Red Cross.
- Regina Benjamin: the current Surgeon General of the United States, and only the fourth woman to serve in that position.
- Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider (counted as one): biological researchers who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Jack Szostak for the discovery of the telemoraze enzyme.
- Elizabeth Blackwell: the first woman in the western world to earn a medical degree and practice as a licensed physician.
- Nelly Bly: the pen name of Elizabeth Jane Cochran, who pioneered investigative journalism. Her exploits included going undercover as a sweat shop employee, getting herself commited to an insane asylum so she could report on it from the inside, and traveling around the world (à la Phileas Fogg) in 73 days.
- Grace Lee Boggs: an activist, writer, and speaker who has been involved in almost every major U.S. social movement of this century: labor, civil rights, Black Power, Asian-American rights, feminism, and environmental justice.
- Brooksley Born: as the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the 1990s, she saw the financial crisis coming and tried to warn against it–but the men in charge refused to listen.
- Margaret Bourke-White: possibly the greatest photojournalist of the 20th century, she photographed everything from Depression-era breadlines to combat in Europe.
- Pearl S. Buck: the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
- Ursula Burns: currently CEO of Xerox, she is the first African-American woman to be CEO of an S&P 100 company.
- Rachel Carson: a marine biologist and the author of Silent Spring, Carson was the founding mother of the modern environmental movement.
- Carrie Chapman Catt: when the Nineteenth Amendment finally become reality, suffragist Catt founded the League of Women Voters to help American women exercise their newly-won right to vote.
- Lydia Maria Child: an abolitionist, suffragist, and advocate for the rights of Native Americans.
- Shirley Chisholm: the first African-American woman elected to Congress, the first major-party black candidate for president of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
- Hillary Clinton: the current Secretary of State, Clinton has spent the majority of her career advocating domestically and abroad for the recognition of women’s rights as human rights.
- Jackie Cochran: the founder and director of the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots), she was also the first woman to break the sound barrier, the first woman to fly a jet across the ocean, and the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic. Cochran still holds more international speed, distance, and altitude records than any other pilot, male or female.
- Bessie Coleman: the barnstorming stunt pilot who was the first black woman in the world to earn a pilot’s license.
- Eileen Collins: the first female commander of the space shuttle.
- Florence Denmark: a pioneer in the psychology of women, she published the first widely used textbook about women’s psychology, entitled Women’s Choices, Women’s Realities.
- Emily Dickinson: the reclusive author of some 1800 poems, Dickinson has been called the greatest female poet in the Enlish language.
- Babe Didrikson: not only was she the greatest female athlete of the 20th century, but she was quite possibly the greatest athlete period.
- Dorothea Lynde Dix: a lifelong activist for mental healthcare reform, Dix was also the head of the Union Army nurses in the Civil War.
- Isadora Duncan: she revolutionized dance, rescuing it from stodgy formality and re-imagining it as a high art form based on natural body movements.
- Amelia Earhart: the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Earhart inspired a generation of female pilots.
- Marian Wright Edelman: the president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, Edelman is a lifelong advocate for the rights of children.
- Gertrude Ederle: the first woman to swim the English Channel, she also beat the world record by nearly two hours.
- Gertrude Belle Elion: a biochemist and pharmacologist, she won the Nobel Prize for her development of effective drug treatments for cancer, and was the first woman to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
- Dianne Feinstein: the senator from California was the first female president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the first female mayor of San Francisco, the first woman chair of the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the first woman to preside over a presidential inauguration.
- Geraldine Ferraro: the first female vice-presidential candidate on a major-party ticket, she helped pave the way for Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton.
- Dian Fossey: a dedicated primatologist and conservationist, Fossey did for gorillas what Jane Goodall did for chimpanzees.
- Matilda Joslyn Gage: the third member of the National Woman Suffrage Association leadership triumvirate with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Gage was an abolitionist and freethinker who was adopted into the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk nation and inspired The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg: the second woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, she has spent her career advocating for equal citizenship status of women and men.
- Martha Graham: the creator of modern dance, and an artistic genius on par with Picasso, Stravinsky, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
- The Grimke sisters, Angelina and Sarah (counted as one): among the first women to speak publicly for abolition, the Grimke sisters also became early activists in the women’s rights movement.
- Dorothy Height: the president of the National Council of Negro Women for forty years, Height was one of the top seven leaders of the modern civil rights movement.
- bell hooks: one of the most influential contemporary feminists, her writing focuses on the intersection of race, class and gender.
- Grace Hopper: the inventor of the compiler, which made modern computer programming possible.
- Dolores Huerta: the co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers, Huerta has spent her life advocating for workers’ rights, Chicano/a rights, and women’s rights.
- Mae Jemison: a physician and astronaut, she was the first African-American woman in space.
- Barbara Jordan: the congresswoman from Texas was the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.
- Billie Jean King: best remembered for her defeat of Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes,” King founded the Women’s Tennis Association, the Women’s Sports Foundation, and World Team Tennis.
- Maxine Hong Kingston: a novelist and feminist scholar, she writes about cultural heritage, ethnicity, and feminism.
- Dorothy Lange: the groundbreaking photographer whose stunning Migrant Mother photograph captured the face of the Depression.
- Ursula LeGuin: a science fiction author whose works often explore feminist and racial themes.
- Annie Liebowitz: forget the money thing; Liebowitz is still the greatest photographer in the world.
- Maya Ying Lin: the architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
- Belva Ann Lockwood: one of the first female lawyers in the United States, she became the first woman attorney permitted to argue in front of the Supreme Court.
- Juliette Gordon Low: the founder of the Girl Scouts.
- Sybil Ludington: a heroine of the Revolutionary War who, at the age of 16, rode twice the distance of Paul Revere’s famed ride to warn American colonial forces of approaching British troops.
- Catharine Mackinnon: an outspoken legal feminist on behalf of women’s rights, specifically in areas of sexual harassment and rape, pornography, and international law.
- Wilma Pearl Mankiller: the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in modern times.
- Barbara McClintock: the winner of the Nobel Prize for her work in unlocking genetic transposition.
- Barbara Mikulski: the senator from Maryland is currently the most senior woman in the U.S. Senate.
- Edna St. Vincent Millay: the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
- Toni Morrison: the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, her novels include The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved.
- Lucretia Mott: often called “the first feminist” in America, Mott was an abolitionist and suffragist who helped found the women’s rights movement.
- Annie Oakley: possibly the best sharpshooter who ever lived, Annie Oakley became a star in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
- Michelle Obama: the first black First Lady, Obama is making her mark with a program to decrease childhood obesity.
- Sandra Day O’Connor: the first female justice on the Supreme Court of the United States, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2009.
- Georgia O’Keeffe: one of the most celebrated American painters of the 20th century.
- Elinor Ostrom: the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics.
- Sarah Palin: the first female governor of Alaska, Palin became a national figure when she ran for vice-president on the Republican Party ticket.
- Rosa Parks: called the “mother of the modern-day civil rights movement,” her refusal to give up her seat sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955.
- Alice Paul: a suffragist whose radical tactics helped push through passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, Paul also authored the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
- Nancy Pelosi: the first female Speaker of the House, Pelosi is the highest-ranking female politician in the history of the United States.
- Frances Perkins: the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet, Perkins was Secretary of Labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
- Condoleeza Rice: the first African-American woman to become Secretary of State.
- Sally Ride: a physicist and former NASA astronaut, she was the first American woman in space.
- Janet Rideout: the chemist who discovered the applicability of AZT to AIDS, leading to the first effective treatment for the virus.
- Eleanor Roosevelt: an active champion of civil rights, she supported the United Nations and was directly involved in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Rossana Rosado: the publisher and CEO of el diario/LA PRENSA, the oldest Spanish-language daily newspaper in the United States.
- Janet Rowley: a geneticist and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she was the first scientist to identify chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers.
- Vera Cooper Rubin: the astronomer who discovered the discrepancy now known as the galaxy rotation problem.
- Sacagawea: the Shoshone woman who served as guide and interpreter for the Lewis and Clark expedition.
- Margaret Sanger: she provided information on contraception to women at a time when it was scandalous and even illegal.
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver: the founder of the Special Olympics, she was also a key figure in the foundation of the National Institute of Child Health and Development.
- Ruth J. Simmons: the first woman president of Brown University and the first black president of an Ivy League institution.
- Ellie Smeal: the president and founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation, she also has served twice as president of the National Organization for Women.
- Sonia Sotomayor: the first Hispanic justice and the third female justice appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton: an abolitionist, suffragist, and co-organizer (with Lucretia Mott) of the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, she wrote the Declaration of Sentiments, which outlined women’s rights as human rights.
- Gloria Steinem: a feminist, journalist, and political activist, she was the founding editor of Ms. Magazine and one of the leaders of Second Wave feminism.
- Lucy Stone: the first woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree and the first American woman to retain her own last name after marriage, she was a devoted abolitionist and suffragist.
- Harriet Beecher Stowe: the abolitionist author whose Uncle Tom’s Cabin changed forever the public perception of slavery.
- Mary Eliza Church Terrell: one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree, she founded what is now known as the National Association of University Women and was a founding member of the NAACP.
- Sojourner Truth: a former slave who became an itinerant preacher, abolitionist, and suffragist.
- Harriet Tubman: born into slavery in Maryland, Tubman became the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, personally leading dozens of slaves to freedom.
- Mercy Otis Warren: called “the Conscience of the American Revolution,” Warren was one of the chief intellectuals of the early republic. In addition to penning numerous political tracts and the first history of the Revolution, she also laid out the principles of the Bill of Rights.
- Randi Weingarten: the current president of the American Federation of Teachers, she is one of the most influential labor leaders and educators in the country.
- Ida B. Wells: a civil rights activist, suffragist, journalist, and newspaper editor who crusaded against lynching.
- Meg Whitman: named the eighth best-performing CEO in the past decade by the Harvard Business Review, she was CEO of eBay for 10 years and is currently a Republican candidate for governor of California.
- Jody Williams: the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ban landmines.
- Rosalyn Yalow: a medical physicist and winner of the Nobel Prize for her development of the RIA technique for measuring concentrations of antigens.
Great list … I see some names I need acquaint myself with further .
Happy Mother’s Day! | Reclusive Leftist says:
[...] the EVE blog has provided something to talk about with their list of 100 Great American Women. It’s an interesting list of names. What do you think? Share [...]
Some of these women don’t even have Wikipedia pages (e.g. Florence Denmark, Janet Rideout, and Rossana Rosado), which only empowers the need for the recognition of their accomplishments.
Thank you for putting out a list of women worth recognizing! If anyone has a Wikipedia account – consider starting pages for these women and add them to our history!
What a great list. I love to see quite a few important female scientists on the lists. Too bad Rosalind Franklin did not make it on the list. Her scientific contributions form Xray cristallography of the carbon backbone of the DNA was instrumental to develop the double helix model of DNA. More over Watson & Crick did not acknowledge that they saw her data without her permission. Her data were published in the same nature paper back to back. she died at age 37 of cancer in 1958, the nobel prize went to the three males in 1961. I remember well my PhD thesis advisor in the late 70ies still fuming over what happened in London at King’s college then.
Rosalind Franklin was British, though.
Like the list, but I think you could pick a much better representatino of the achievements of First Nations women than Sacajawea. Try this:
Shannon Drury says:
Why Ellie Smeal and not the founders of NOW? …one of whom was Betty Friedan, who deserves to be on this list.
Time to add another woman to the list of 100 : EVE | Equal Visibility Everywhere says:
[...] EVE published its list of 100 Great American Women, past and present. It’s time to add another name to the list: Elena [...]
Nina M. says:
Er, Margaret Sanger did a lot more than just “give information to women…” A lot of people gave information about contraception.
Sanger started a world-recognized non-profit business that has provided essential medical services to millions and millions of women for the past 90-odd yearsl; led a social movement that changed our country and the world; authored numerous pamphlets, articles, and books; etc.
I’d like to have seen Mary McCarthy on the list – one of the 20th century’s great writer-intellectuals, now almost forgotten (would that we might forget Norman Mailer instead).
In addition, I recommend including Nancy Paterson, who died in 2010, on the list at its next iteration. From her obituary:
Ms. Paterson, who had been a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office for 11 years, specializing in child abuse cases and sex crimes, had volunteered to go to Yugoslavia in 1994 as a member of a United Nations commission investigating widespread sexual violence there.
‘She worked for years with a small team, all women, bringing dozens of charges of rape,’ Ms. Arbour said. ‘She was very involved in collecting the evidence, which was very difficult because of the reluctance of victims to tell their story’…
With Clint Williamson, who later became the United States ambassador at large for war crimes issues, Ms. Paterson led a team of more than 50 lawyers and investigators who gathered evidence leading to the indictment of Mr. Milosevic, whose role in the bloodshed earned him the sobriquet Butcher of the Balkans.
The 54-page initial indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which focused on war crimes in the Kosovo region, was written by Ms. Paterson and Mr. Williamson. It was the first time that a sitting head of state had been charged by an international tribunal. The indictment was later expanded to include crimes in Croatia and Bosnia.
Dr. Margaret Meade