Welcome to March, aka Women’s History Month, a paltry 31 days in which we honor the nearly endless contributions of amazing women on this planet, all of whom deserve recognition 365 days a year. This month, we hail all women who stand — and stood — for progress, even by sitting (on an Alabama bus, that is). We honor women who refuse to back down despite threats and danger. We remember women who created or continue to create safe spaces for others through powerful words and courageous actions. In fact, we’re determined to celebrate women’s history and the women around us every day.
Of course, it’s impossible to write about all of history’s wonderful women at once (we’d be writing until the end of time). But just for fun, here’s one shortlist (do you know how hard it is to come up with a shortlist?) of must-know women to teach your kids about, from yesterday’s envelope-pushers to today’s game-changers — all of whom continue to inspire and empower us and our daughters every day.
Democracy’s biggest fan: Stacey Abrams
After losing her bid to be governor of Georgia in 2018, Stacey Abrams didn’t start a new campaign, nor did she retreat into her other successful careers, lawyer and romance novelist. Instead, she founded Fair Fight, an effort to make sure the restrictions placed on voters across the country (particularly in areas where voters of color live) wouldn’t get in the way of people exercising their rights in this democracy. She also was one of the few who had faith that Georgia’s Democratic voters could turn out and deliver a victory in both the presidential and U.S. Senate races.
Whichever party you’re affiliated with, you’ve got to be in awe of the way Abrams was able to energize volunteers and grassroots organizers, placing a spotlight on voter suppression that we won’t be turning off anytime soon. And she’s done it all in the name of other people’s campaigns, not her own.
Famous words: “When we show up, act boldly, and practice the best ways to be wrong, we fail forward, no matter where we end up, we’ve grown from where we began.”
The O.G. activist: Harriet Tubman
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Tubman — that is, Araminta Harriet Ross — was born into slavery but made a stunning escape in 1849. She became a leading abolitionist, rescuing innumerable others from slavery by operating the Underground Railroad. This secret route of tunnels, back roads and safe houses led from the South all the way to Pennsylvania. Many don’t know Tubman also dedicated her life to helping the elderly and indigent and founded her own Home for the Aged.
In 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a plan to replace Andrew Jackson’s likeness on $20 bills with Harriet Tubman’s. Under the Trump administration, that plan was delayed (why are we not more surprised?), but we’re hoping to see those Harriet bills soon.
Famous words: “I freed thousands of slaves, and could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves.”
The civil rights trailblazer: Rosa Parks
Born in Alabama in 1913, activist Parks is perhaps most famous for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus in 1955, a time of violent racial segregation. She was arrested, leading to bus boycotts and nationwide protests. Parks is credited as being the catalyst for the eventual ruling that segregation laws were unconstitutional. And? Her courage led to the subsequent rise of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was elected head of the brand-new Montgomery Improvement Association shortly after Parks refused to give up her seat.
Famous words: “Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome.”
The teen game-changer: Malala Yousafzai
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Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997 in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, a Taliban-controlled area. By the time she was 11, she was the author of a blog for BBC Urdu, which detailed life for girls and women under the crushing Taliban occupation. She became the subject of a New York Times documentary and began giving interviews despite threats to her life by the Taliban. Yousafzai was soon nominated by Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize. In 2012, the Taliban retaliated with an assassination attempt on Yousafzai, who nearly died from her bullet wounds. Ultimately, she recovered in Birmingham, England, and remained there, resuming her tireless advocacy for human rights, especially those of women and children. Now she is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, the founder of the Malala Fund, and the coauthor of I am Malala, an international best seller.
Famous words: “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
The trans kid activist: Jazz Jennings
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Jazz Jennings is an American LGBTQ activist and YouTuber who garnered worldwide attention in 2007 after she was interviewed by Barbara Walters. Born in 2000, Jennings is a transgender teenage girl who, according to her parents, spoke out about her female identity as soon as she could begin talking as a child. She’s considered the youngest person to become a well-known transgender figure and is a cofounder with her parents of the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, an organization created to provide support for transgender youth. Jennings hosts a series of candid YouTube videos about her life and stars in a reality TV series, I Am Jazz, focusing on the challenges of her life as a trans teen.
Famous words: “Change happens through understanding, and one of my biggest hopes is that our next generation of kids will grow up in a world with more compassion.”
The gun reform powerhouse: Emma González
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Emma González is making history right now as a courageous and outspoken advocate for gun-control reform. She survived the February 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 of her friends and classmates were murdered by a gunman. In the aftermath of the shooting, González cofounded gun-control advocacy group Never Again MSD and stunned the nation with her powerful speech condemning gun violence in schools. On Twitter, she has more than 1 million followers — more than the National Rifle Association — and she and other Stoneman Douglas students are now organizing a March 2018 protest nationwide, March for Our Lives. Glamour called González “the face of the #NeverAgain movement” and “a recognizable icon.” We can’t agree more.
Famous words: “You’re either funding the killers, or you’re standing with the children.”
The scientists: Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson & Dorothy Vaughan
White men Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom ,and John Glenn get all the credit for space race glory in the 1960s — not a shocker. But behind the scenes at NASA, Black women Jackson, Johnson, and Vaughan were key players who brainstormed how to put American astronauts on the moon safely. They were known as “human computers” for their incredibly complicated equations calculating orbital trajectories, but were rarely credited for any of their stunning successes. Only recently were their stories heard in the 2016 film Hidden Figures starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe.
Famous words: “Know how to learn. Then, want to learn.” — Katherine Johnson
The genius: Marie Curie
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In 1903, Curie — born Marie Sklodowska in Poland in 1867 — became the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her groundbreaking work in physics. And get this: She also became the only woman to win the prestigious award in more than one category. Curie is arguably the most famous woman scientist in history — especially for her dangerous work with radioactive materials.
Famous words: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
The farmers’ fighter: Dolores Huerta
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It’s disappointing that Dolores Huerta, despite her tireless work over the past 50 years, is not yet a household name. She should be. Huerta has devoted her life to championing fair social and economic conditions for farmworkers. She founded the Agricultural Workers Association in 1960 as well as the organization that would become the United Farm Workers. Though Huerta stepped down from the UFW in 1999, she continues her advocacy by speaking out on immigration, income injustice, and Latino and women’s rights, not to mention encouraging the disenfranchised to take the right to vote seriously.
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Famous words: “Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.”
The champion of future history-makers: Michelle Obama
The former first lady and mother of two continues to make her mark — especially when it comes to education for girls. After meeting Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama created Let Girls Learn in 2015. Michelle Obama has become a champion to the 62 million girls who do not currently have access to education. The Let Girls Learn initiative supports and invests in efforts to extend and enrich educational ops for girls around the world, particularly in areas where conflict and crisis are rampant. Obama is also the force behind the Better Make Room/Reach Higher Initiative, focused on encouraging students to strive for higher education beyond high school. As of 2021, she’s added best-selling author, podcaster, and movie and TV producer to her resume as well.
In 2018, Michelle Obama made news by having a playdate and impromptu dance party with 2-year-old Parker Curry, a toddler who captured the internet’s heart with a photo of her standing in awe before the official Smithsonian portrait of Obama. Obama reached out to Curry’s family after learning of Parker’s admiration of the portrait. Video and photos of the former FLOTUS interacting animatedly with the young girl pretty much sum up Women’s History Month for us — this tiny dance party is the stuff that future history is made of. Michelle Obama tweeted a thank-you to Parker, saying, “Parker, I’m so glad I had the chance to meet you today (and for the dance party)! Keep on dreaming big for yourself… and maybe one day I’ll proudly look up at a portrait of you!”
Famous words: “When they go low, we go high.”
A version of this story was originally published in March 2018.
Want more badass ladies? Here are 13 books to read with your kids during Women’s History Month — or anytime.
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