1. Clara E. Westrop & the Women’s Federal Savings Bank: If that name sounds familiar, that’s because Clara is a Cleveland native and has a school on the west side named after her. That is in large part because Clara founded the Women’s Federal Savings Bank in 1922, the first savings and loan association directed and run by women. Her financial acumen also parlayed into other firsts, as Westrop was named president of Cuyahoga Savings & Loan League in 1952, making her the first woman to hold that position.
2. The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot: In 1966, just 3 years before the well known Stonewall Uprising, there was another major LGBTQ-related revolution in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Much like the former, the Compton’s Cafeteria was led by transgender women and was a response to ongoing mistreatment of queer and trans people by police and community members. Unlike Stonewall, there was no media coverage to attest to the events, but it is wildly considered one of the first LGBTQ-related uprisings. The aftermath of the riot yielded a new network of support services for trans folks, culminating with the 1968 creation of the National Transexual* Counseling Unit, the first peer-run support and advocacy group in the world.
3. Lise Meitner: An Austrian-Swedish physicist born in 1878, Meitner is responsible for a number of scientific discoveries. Meitner was the first woman from the University of Vienna and the second woman in the world to earn a doctorate in physics; her accomplishments include the discovery of the element protactinium as well as the process of nuclear fission. Dr. Meitner was also the first woman to be a full professor of physics in Germany, a position of which she was stripped because of the 1930’s anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany. Meitner fled to Sweden, where, in 1938, she discovered fission alongside chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman; unfortunately, Otto Hahn was the one awarded the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their shared work on the discovery. She would go on to be nominated 19 times for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry between 1924 and 1948, and 29 times for Nobel Prize in Physics between 1937 and 1965. Though she was never awarded her well-deserved recognition, she did receive many other honors, including the naming of element 109, meitnerium, in 1997.
4. Tarana Burke & the #MeToo Movement: Tarana Burke is an activist, educator, and non-profit practitioner who is responsible for the birth of the #MeToo Movement. Starting in 2006, Burke began using “metoo” to help other women feel less alone when standing up for themselves as it relates to surviving sexual harassment & violence. It took a decade for the hashtag to become the global organizing tool that we know it as today, but Burke has been working to uplift the voices of survivors since 1989. She started the non-profit Just Be Inc, to promote wellness amongst young women of color, and currently serves as the Senior Director of Girls for Gender Equity. However it was the 2017 viral sensation of the #MeToo movement that many of us know; but like many trending topics, Burke’s name was largely removed as the creator as it became a nebulous force for good. Thankfully, moments like Burke attending the Golden Globes as the guest of Michelle Williams and Time naming her, and other Silence Breakers, as a Person of the Year, we know who to give credit to.
5. Pura Belpré: Becoming the first Afro-Puerto Rican librarian in New York City was the start of Pura Belpré activism, but it certainly was not the end. To reach the many Spanish-speaking residents of New York’s buroughs, Belpré took her work on the road and began to host bilingual storytimes, including puppet shows which were not nearly as common as they are today, especially in English and Spanish. Noting the distinct lack of stories written in Spanish, Belpré wrote the first Spanish language book for children, Perez y Martina, in 1932. Beyond her gift for reaching children through literature, she also leveraged her platform by joining Latine**-serving organizations. As time went on, joined the Association for the Advancement of Puerto Rican People, and went on to help establish the Archivo de Documentación Puertorriqueña, an early effort to collect original Puerto Rican documents. Belpré felt it was her mission to make sure that all Spanish-speaking people knew that the library was for them. Today, Belpré’s legacy is honored by the Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, which celebrates Latine authors of children and young adult books.
6. Elizabeth Magie: Elizabeth Magie was a progressive women’s advocate born rural Illinois in 1866; as the daughter of a political advocate, her anti-monopolist values were instilled at an early age. One of her largest claims to fame, however, is her creation of “Landlord’s Game,” which would eventually become one of the most infamous games of all time, Monopoly. Magie received the patent for the game in 1904, more than three decades before Parker Brothers began manufacturing the game. At the time, less than 1% of all patent applicants at the time were women and it would be another 17 years before some women were given the right to vote. As her Landlord’s Game moved through college campuses and “left-wing intellectuals,” it also made its way through the Quaker community in Atlantic City, the game changed and took on neighborhood properties of the area. With these modifications, Charles Darrow was able to secure a patent for his game; In its efforts to seize total control of Monopoly and other related games, the Parker Brothers struck a deal with Magie to purchase her Landlord’s Game patent (for $500) and two more of her game designs not long after it made its deal with Darrow. The truth about Elizabeth Magie didn’t become widely known until Ralph Anspach began a legal battle against the company over his Anti-Monopoly game.
7. 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion: The “Six Triple Eight” was a group of 855 Black women who were tasked with solving a mail crisis in England during World War II. The millions of pieces of undelivered mail for troops & workers had a direct impact on their performance – thus, the Six Triple Eight’s motto became “No Mail, Low Morale.” The women successfully maneuvered out of the way of German U-Boats on their travels to England, only to be placed in to an “unheated, rat-infested airplane hangar.” Their living facilities, including housing, mess halls, and recreation facilities, were all segregated by race and sex, forcing them to setup their own operations, on top of dealing with ongoing interpersonal racism and sexism. Despite all these barriers, the Six Triple Eight worked through the estimated 17 million pieces of mail in half of the time projected, an impressive three months. The women were successful after their time, many of them becoming “firsts” in their various fields, however their accomplishments went uncelebrated for decades. The good news is that the last few years have seen great strides in recognition – a monument was erected honoring them in 2018, they were given the Meritorious Unit Commendation in 2019, a documentary, all culminating with the receipt of the Congressional Gold Medal in February of 2022.
8. Barbara Gittings: Barbara Gittings was one of the many LGBTQ+ identified people who found themselves leaning into activism solely because the support she needed wasn’t already available. In 1958, Gittings went on to form an East Coast chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian-led and focused organization. She also went on to write for their famed publication, the Ladder. Through her activism, Gittings found herself picketing in front of the Whtie House in 1965, and her sign now lives in the Smithsonian. Gittings also was amongst those who helped successfully lobby the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
9. Maya Lin: Originally born in Athens, Ohio, Maya Lin is a first-generation Chinese American designer and sculptor. After graduating from Athens High School, Lin went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University in 1981 and her Master of Architecture in 1986. While in her undgrad at Yale University, Maya won a public competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. At just 21 years old, she was selected out of 1,422 submissions in a blind judging to determine the winner. Her actual design drew some controversy for a handful of reasons, but it was the public response to her identity being revealed that was the most troublesome. Her age and Chinese heritage were viewed as an “affront” by some – they couldn’t imagine how a young Chinese American woman could design something to memorialize “men, soldiers, and Americans.” The whole debacle sparked national dialogue and was immediately politicized, despite her intention to stay neutral and simply memorialize the soldiers. Lin did receive an outpouring of support from the American people, which generated $8.4 million in donations so the memorial could be built. In the end, Maya’s design was defended in front of Congress until a compromise was reached; her design would go on to be erected in October of 1982 and dedicated just one month later. The compromise was that alongside her design, The Three Soldiers monument, which was created by Frederick Hart, was placed with an American flag. Though it took her years to discuss the pain and hurt she experienced, in 2000 she penned an essay about the entire process; Maya Lin has gone on to design other iconic structures like the Civil Rights Memorial and she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. Possibly the strangest part of the whole story is that despite being selected by a panel of judges to design a national monument, she only received a B for the assignment.
10. Eliza “Lyda” Conley: Eliza Lyda Conley was a born member of the Wyandotte Tribe and holds the unique honor of being only the third woman and the first Indigenous American woman to speak in front of the Supreme Court. Conley watched as Kansas City become more and more widely desired property, and worried for the safety and sanctity of the Huron*** Indian Cemetery which was prime real estate. Concerned with the development trajectory, Conley felt that no one could defend the land where her family and community was buried better than she could. She entered and graduated from the Kansas City School of Law, after attending Park College, and was admitted to the Missouri Bar in 1902. Four years later, Congress approved legislation to sell the land and move the bodies in order to begin development. Conley filed a permanent injunction against the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and Indian Commissioners in U.S. District Court to prevent the sale. Defending her community in court was not enough for her, though; as a private citizen, she built a shack known as “Fort Conley” at the entrance of the cemetery, padlocked the gate, and hung a sign against trespassers. As the case progressed, Conley and her sister guarded their ancestors’ graves with a shotgun. Though she lost the legal battle, she did ultimately win the long game. She gained the attention of Kansas state senator Charles Curtis who wrote a law protecting the land from any future development; after her untimely murder during a robbery in 1946, generations of activists continued the fight until the cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. And as of 2017, the land has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, ensuring Conley and her ancestors would never be displaced.
*‘Transexual’ is an outdated word used in medical and psychological fields to describe transgender people and is considered offensive. However, it was considered appropriate at the time and is still used by some transgender people.
**Latine and Latinx are both designations that seek to create a gender-neutral alternative to the binary options of Latino and Latina. It also de-centers masculinity as the baseline, as the “neutral” way to refer to people is the masculine Latino. Latinx gained popularity early on, but the ‘x’ at the end can be clumsy or difficult, as not many Spanish words do not end in ‘x.’ However, Latine is seen as a more usable alternative as words ending in ‘e’ can be seen in many gender-neutral words like ‘estudiante.’
***According to Wyandotte Nation, “the term “Huron” was a somewhat derisive nickname bestowed by the French. It is a reference to the traditional headdress worn by Wendat (or Ouendat) people that reminded the French of the bristly hairs that stood up on the back of a wild boar.” Wyandotte is an evolution of the original name Wendat (or Ouendat,) which means ‘people of the islands’ and is in reference to the origins on Lake Huron.