Lawyers' Committee Honors "Sheroes" during Women's History Month

March 6, 2014

Shirley Chisolm

Shirley Chisolm

Shirley Chisolm was the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress, and she used her involvement in elected office to advance the rights of women, children, and minorities.

Chisolm was inspired to run for public office when she worked as an educator in New York City and was exposed to the situation of the poor in the city. After serving in the New York State Legislature, she continued her career of public service in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Throughout her time in public office, Chisolm worked to help the disadvantaged by supporting employment and education programs, income support, expansion of day care, and the end of the military draft. In running for the Democratic nomination in 1972, Chisolm also became the first African American woman to run for President.

Learn more about Shirley Chisolm

Jeannette Rankin

Jeannette Rankin

Jeannette Rankin served as the first female member of the U.S. Congress, and her time in office helped illuminate many issues that deserved attention from Congress, such as women’s suffrage, women’s health, and other elements of social justice.

When she was the sole vote against war in 1941, Rankin ended her career in Congress, but did not lose her cause. Rankin spent the rest of her life fighting for women’s suffrage and pacifism, serving in a leadership role in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and in war protests throughout the United States.

Learn more about Jeannette Rankin


Constance Slaughter-Harvey

Constance Slaughter-Harvey was the first African-American woman to receive a law degree from the University of Mississippi Law School. A former Lawyers' Committee staffer, Ms. Slaughter-Harvey, continues to fight for justice and equality running her own law firm specializing in civil rights cases. She also served as a former assistant Secretary of State in Mississippi.

She founded East Mississippi Legal Services and was the first African-American to serve as a Mississippi state court judge. Over the course of her career, she has received the Mississippi Women Lawyers' Outstanding Woman Lawyer Award, was appointed to the Presidential Scholars Commission by President Carter, and has received numerous other honors.

Learn more about Constance Slaughter-Harvey


Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Born in 1831 and raised by an aunt who cared for sick neighbors, Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first African American woman to earn an M.D. degree. She graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1864, and was the only woman to do so, as it closed shortly thereafter.

Upon completion of her degree, she practiced medicine in Boston and in Virginia, where she worked for the Freedman’s Bureau, providing care for freed slaves who would have had little other access to medical care. Crumpler also published a pioneer medical textbook regarding the care of women and children, which was one of the very first medical textbooks published by an African American.

Learn more about Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune

An American educator and civil rights leader known for founding a school for African-American students that became Bethune-Cookman University, and serving as the first female agency head under Franklin D. Roosevelt. As director of the National Youth Association, she ensured that thousands of African-American students received the funding necessary to attain an education.

Learn more about Mary McLeod Bethune

Learn more about the Lawyers' Committee's Educational Opportunities Project

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer, born in 1917 as a grandchild of slaves, discovered the power of activism in 1944 through working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Despite the SNCC’s nonviolent acts of civil disobedience, Hamer was beaten, threatened, and arrested, but she was not deterred from the civil rights struggle.

In 1964, following her work with the SNCC, Hamer helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Through televised speeches, she brought the Mississippi civil rights struggle to the attention of the entire United States.

Learn more about Fannie Lou Hamer

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

Despite never having formal training in music and never learning to read music, Billie Holiday became an icon in the jazz world throughout her musical career. Her soulful voice attracted nationwide attention, and she was known for having such a unique voice and style that she was able to make a piece of music truly come alive.

At the age of 18 she recorded her first album, which has been celebrated as essential in defining the style of American jazz. Through studio recordings and tours abroad, Holiday had the opportunity to work with jazz greats such as Lester Young and Count Basie. Despite her unfortunate passing at the young age of 44, Holiday left a tremendous legacy on the world of American music and jazz.

Learn more about Billie Holiday


Mary Edwards Walker

Mary Edwards Walker, one of the very first female doctors and a brave Civil War field surgeon, was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2000 posthumously as a testament to her broad range of accomplishments.

In 1855, Walker was one of the very first women to earn a medical degree, and she boldly volunteered her medical skills when the Civil War began in 1861. Despite being denied commission as a medical officer because she was a woman, she volunteered anyway, and served with the 52nd Ohio Infantry.

Throughout her life, Walker acted as a strong advocate for women’s rights. She lectured both in the United States and abroad about dress reform, women’s health issues and political and sexual equality for women.

Learn more about Mary Edwards Walker

Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, dedicated her life and her career to helping children gain access to education and resources. After graduating from Yale Law School and being the first African American woman to be admitted to the Mississippi Bar Association, Edelman worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and founded the Children’s Defense Fund in the 1970’s.

Edelman has continued her career of advocacy, with the majority of her current work focused on expanding the Head Start program, increasing access to healthcare for children, and supporting homeless children.

Learn more about Marian Wright Edelman
Learn about the Lawyers' Committee’s Educational Opportunities Project


Maria Tallchief

Known throughout the United States and worldwide as a premiere ballerina, Maria Tallchief has left her mark on the world of dance, both as a graceful dancer and a creative artistic director.

Born on the Osage Indian Reservation in Fairfax, Oklahoma, Tallchief began ballet lessons at the age of three. Throughout her career, Tallchief became the first American ballerina to dance with the Paris Opera, and she held the title of prima ballerina with the New York City Ballet for 18 years.

Following her retirement from ballet in 1965, she served both as an artistic director and a founder of ballet companies around the United States. In 1999, Tallchief was awarded a National Medal of the Arts by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Learn more about Maria Tallchief


Linda G. Alvarado

Linda G. Alvarado has been instrumental in opening the field of construction management to women. As the founder and sole owner of Alvarado Construction, in Denver, Colorado, she has been a pioneer in the field and serves as an inspiration to women hoping to break into traditionally male-dominated fields.

Coming from very humble beginnings, Alvarado worked her way through college as a laborer for a landscaping firm, which piqued her interest in the world of construction. Despite being harassed on construction sites because of her gender, Alvarado has become tremendously successful in the field.

In 1992, Alvarado made history by becoming the first Latino owner of a Major League Baseball team, the Colorado Rockies.

She has been honored many times for her achievements, and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Hispanics in America” by Hispanic Business Magazine.

Learn more about Linda G. Alvarado
Learn about the Lawyers' Committee’s Employment Discrimination Project

Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison

Dr. Mae Jemison is a notable scientist who has contributed much to the scientific community over the course of her career. Jemison followed her love of science to far reaches of the world, and beyond, participating in the Peace Corps in Africa and was the first African-American woman in space. She believes in the power of education, encouraging women and minorities to enter scientific fields.

Learn more about Mae Jemison
Learn about the Lawyers' Committee’s Educational Opportunities Project

Dorothy Height

Dorothy Height

Dorothy Height was a passionate woman determined to make a difference in the lives of African Americans, particularly young African American women. Her six decades of advocacy included elected offices within the national branch of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), and through these roles Height was a strong believer in education, literacy, and accessible employment.

With the YWCA, Height worked tirelessly to improve the conditions of Black domestic workers, and worked to further integration within the YWCA as an organization. 

Height became president of the NCNW in 1957, and was charged with leading the organization's efforts throughout the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. Height implemented voter registration and education programs, and developed scholarship funds for civil rights activist students. 

In honor of her long career of service, Height received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.

Learn more about Dorothy Height
Learn more about the Lawyers' Committee's Employment Discrimination Project


Practical Progressive - Official Selection 2008