Celebrate This Independence Day By Honoring American Woman Who Fought For Freedom

In honor of Independence Day, here are some women who have helped fight for and maintain freedom across identities. While this list is incomplete because of the magnitude of strong women who have advocated for various freedoms, let this be a jumping off point to remember and celebrate our country's brave female role models. Enjoy the holiday!

Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643)

  • As a Puritan spiritual adviser in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, she gained popularity for her belief in inner spirituality over external piety from both men and for her religious meetings in her home, unusual for women.
  • The clergy believed that her popularity was a threat to their ability to govern, especially when some of her male supporters refused to fight Pequot natives. Hutchinson was banished and excommunicated.
  • She is hailed as an early American advocate for free speech. 

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

  • She wrote the first published book by an African American.
  • Wheatley wrote her first poem at age thirteen.
  • One poem she authored notes the injustice she faced as a young black girl: On Being Brought From Africa to America

Abagail Adams (1744-1818)

  • Adams was interested in politics and became the first First Lady to hold a quasi-official governmental position when appointed by the Massachusetts Colony General Court.
  • In letters, she pressed her husband, President John Adams, to make the legal status of men and women equitable, making them some of the earliest writings calling for women’s equal rights.
  • She advocated for equal public education for women and for the emancipation of slaves.

Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820)

  • Murray was the most prominent female essayist of her day, whose writings argued forcefully for improved education for women and girls and for suffrage for women.
  • In her first essay, published in 1784, she laid the groundwork for future essays on women and girls, writing, “I would, from the early dawn of reason address [my daughter] as a rational being” and “by all means guard [my daughters] against a low estimation of self.”
  • She also wrote plays which satirized American citizenship and virtue that featured strong female characters. 

Deborah Sampson (1760-1827)

  • Sampson felt a duty to fight for independence, so she disguised herself as a man in order to fight in the Revolutionary War.
  • Even though she was a skillful fighter, she was wounded which eventually led to others discovering that she was a woman and was excommunicated from her hometown church.
  • She was later recognized by Massachusetts and was awarded 34 pounds with a document praising her service: “Deborah Sampson exhibited an extraordinary instance of feminine heroism by discharging the duties of a faithful, gallant soldier, and at the same time preserving the virtue and chastity of her sex unsuspected and unblemished and was discharged from the service with a fair and honorable character." It was signed by John Hancock.   

Maria Stewart (1803-1880)

  • She was the first American woman of color to speak on political issues in public.
  • Stewart wrote essays and made speeches against slavery which promoted educational and economic self-sufficiency for black Americans.
  • After her last public speech in 1833, she retired to work in women’s organizations.

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)

  • A runaway slave, Sojourner Truth became an influential preacher who spoke on the Union’s behalf during the Civil War, as well as for enlisting black troops for the cause and for abolition.
  • Her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” follows:
  • "That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place, and ain't I a woman? ... I have plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me -- and ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man (when I could get it), and bear the lash as well -- and ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children and seen most all sold off to slavery and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me -- and ain't I woman?" 

Dorothea Dix (1802-1887)

  • As a teenager, Dix opened several private schools for young girls, even though she had little formal education and was mostly self-taught. She ran a free evening school for poor children in Boston, one of the first of its kind in the United States. She also wrote books for children and parents.
  • When seeing the conditions of jails, especially those that housed the mentally ill with convicts, she advocated for improvements through the court system.
  • Even though women rarely traveled alone or attempted to influence legislation, funding, or the regulation of public institutions, she defied convention by visiting many jails and almshouses. She recorded her findings, resulting in one of the early American social research projects.
  • Her work resulted in the improvement of conditions in many jails and the expansion of mental hospitals across state boundaries.

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)

  • Anthony canvassed across the nation for women’s right to vote, own property, and retain their earnings. She also advocated for women’s labor organizations and persuaded University of Rochester to admit women.
  • Beyond women’s rights, she campaigned for the abolition of slavery, argued for equal access to education regardless of race and/or gender, and arranged for groups of women to support and petition for the 13th amendment.
  • Her newspaper, The Revolution, supported equal rights for all American citizens, which included labor rights and equal pay.

Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)

  • She freed more than 70 slaves over the course of 13 clandestine missions through the “Underground Railroad” despite the danger of capture and death.
  • Tubman raised money for abolitionists and rebels like John Brown, and joined the Union forces as a nurse, as an aid to refugees, and as a scout.
  • In 1863, she became the first woman to plan and execute an armed expedition in the United States by leading a raid in the Civil War. She was successful.
  • After Emancipation, she dedicated her efforts to women’s suffrage.

Jane Addams (1860-1935)

  • Addams, along with Ellen Gates Starr, opened the first American settlement house, called Hull House. Its purpose was to alleviate poverty by providing a center for educational and philanthropic opportunities in Chicago.
  • She spoke about the needs of the neighborhood people, raised money, convinced women of rich families to help out, took care of children, helped the sick, and listened to the needs of disadvantaged individuals.
  • She was also a strong advocate for women and peace, lecturing at the University of Wisconsin, publishing a book titled Newer Ideals of Peace, accepting the chairmanship of the Women’s Peace Party, speaking out against America’s entry into World War I, becoming the president of the International Congress of Women and of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)

  • As a major advocate for women’s access to birth control, Sanger had to flee to America from England for publishing articles promoting birth control. When in America, she distributed 100,000 copies of a pamphlet titled Family Limitation.
  • She and her sister opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, modeled after those existing in Holland. Nine days after opening, the police closed the clinic and arrested the sisters as well as the clinic’s interpreter.
  • Sanger served 30 days in jail and brought discussion about birth control into the national sphere. She later founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation and served as its first president.

Maria Rebecca Latigo de Hernandez(1896-1986)

  • Hernandez campaigned for the improvement of civic, educational, and economic opportunity for the Mexican-American community.
  • In 1929, she co-founded the Orden Caballeros of America, a civic and civil rights organization. She also protested against the inferior education available for Mexican American children.
  • She played a huge role in the development of the Raza Unida Party to gain power through politics.

Phyllis Lyon (1924-) and Del Martin (1921-2008)

  • These two women were part of a group of eight lesbians that founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), a group that aimed to counteract the loneliness and isolation they felt as lesbians. Lyon became the first editor of DOB’s magazine, The Ladder, later succeeded by Martin, who also became the DOB national president.
  • Lyon and Martin met with state legislators in California to urge them to change laws that criminalized homosexuals. Martin also was influential in the decision of the American Psychiatric Association’s decision to renounce their assertion that homosexuality was a mental illness.
  • Both women helped to found the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) with a Methodist church. Lyon and Martin both served on the first CRH board of directors.
  • They wrote and published Lesbian/Woman, a book that portrayed lesbian women in a positive light. Martin later wrote Battered Wives, which encouraged the development of movements around stopping domestic violence and providing shelters for abused women.

Gloria Steinem (1934-)

  • Steinem, a major advocate for women’s equality co-founded Ms. Magazine, a feminist magazine, and was an editor for fifteen years. She also helped to found the Women’s Action Alliance, the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Women’s Media Center, Voters for Choice, and Choice USA.
  • She was the founding president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, a national organization which deals with issues surrounding gender and race. She was the founder of Ms. Foundation’s Take Our Daughters to Work Day, the first national day devoted to girls.
  • She travels around the world to lecture and often speaks out about issues of equality and non-violent conflict resolution.

Billie Jean King (1943-)

  • As a hugely successful female tennis player, King fought for equal prize money for men and woman and became the first female athlete to win over $100,000.
  • She proved that women’s athletic ability could match or overcome men’s ability by winning the famous “Battle of the Sexes” match against tennis champ Bobby Riggs, who was insistent that women’s games were inferior.
  • She was the first president of the Women’s Tennis Association and became one of the first prominent U.S. athletes to openly admit to involvement in a homosexual relationship.

Wilma Mankiller (1945-2010)

  • As an advocate for Native American rights, she was the first woman to be elected as chief of the Cherokee. As chief, she increased tribal membership and revenues by almost 200%. She also opened three rural health centers to address health issues.
  • Mankiller expanded the Head Start program for Cherokee children and started a center for prevention of drug abuse.
  • She was a founding director of the Cherokee Nation Community Development Department and helped establish an Office of Tribal Justice in the U.S. Department of Justice and helped found the Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations.

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