Throughout history, women have played a vital role in creating lasting and impactful change across the United States and the world. These accomplishments and contributions are important to recognize, learn about, and celebrate not just during Women’s History Month but all year.
Today and every day, we support and celebrate the female trailblazers, innovators, and activists who have paved the way within various fields. Below we’ve highlighted four historical women who significantly improved their communities and opened doors for future generations.
Carolyn (Carrie) Barnes Ross (1883-1918), Suffragist & Educator
Carrie grew up in Denver, Colorado, and graduated from Denver High School in 1902 before graduating from the Columbia University teacher’s college in 1905. Soon after, Carrie began teaching at Tuskegee Institute, where she remained until moving to Indianapolis, Indiana, to teach English in Indianapolis Public Schools.
In addition to teaching, Carrie was the first group guardian for the first group of Black Camp Fire girls and served as the secretary of the NAACP. While at the home of Madam C.J. Walker, Carrie became a founding member and president of Branch No. 7 of the Equal Suffrage Association in 1912, the first suffrage organization in Indiana to be completely African-American-led. As president of Branch No. 7, Carrie worked to help women, specifically women of color, gain the right to vote. She held monthly meetings and speeches to help educate the community in the hope of advancing the equal suffrage movement.
Carrie married Hubert Heaton Washington Ross and moved to Boston in 1916. She continued her activism until she died from childbirth complications in 1918. The United States House of Representatives recognized Carrie for her suffrage work in 2020.
Grace Abbott (1878-1939), Social Worker & Human Rights Activist
Grace was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, to activist parents. Her mother and father were abolitionists and suffragists involved with the Underground Railroad. Even before Grace began school, she had already started her involvement as an activist, helping with the new women’s suffrage movement. Upon graduating from college, she began teaching at a high school in her hometown and attended the University of Nebraska and the University of Chicago to complete her graduate studies. Grace moved to Chicago in 1907 and became a resident of Hull House, a pioneer settlement house founded by Nobel Prize recipient Jane Addams. She was awarded her doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1909.
Shortly after finishing school, Grace organized and became the director of the newly formed Immigrant Protective League. Under her leadership, the organization worked to obtain protective legislation and to bring awareness to the conditions of Ellis Island, the New York Harbor entry point for immigrants. Grace testified in front of Congress against immigrant restrictions, wrote articles protesting the exploitation of immigrants in the Chicago Evening Post, and wrote the book, The Immigrant and the Community.
Grace worked at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy from 1910-1917, which is now known as the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Social Work Administration. She then went to work for the U.S. Children’s Bureau as the director of the child labor division, where she administered the first federal statute that limited juvenile employment. Two years later, Grace moved back to Illinois to become the director of the newly formed Illinois State Immigrants’ Commission. She was later appointed to head up the Children’s Bureau by President Warren G. Harding in 1921, where she served until 1934. While at the bureau, she provided government programs focusing on maternal and infant health for each state. She also continued to fight against child labor after Congress ruled the previous law unconstitutional.
Grace acted as the unofficial representative of the U.S. at the League of Nations Advisory Committee on the Trafficking of Women and Children from 1922 until 1934. After leaving her position at the Children’s Bureau, she became a professor of public welfare at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. A year later, as a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Council on Economic Security, she helped plan the social security system. Grace also served as a U.S. delegate to the International Labor Organization from 1935 until 1937, an editor for The Social Service Review, and published her two-volume book, The Child and the State, in 1938.
Grace was instrumental in the child welfare system we know today. As a result of her work, we now have the Social Security Act, federal emergency Relief efforts, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Grace died of cancer at the age of 60 in 1939.
Tye Leung Schulze (1887-1972), Human Rights Activist
Tye was born in San Francisco, California’s Chinatown to Chinese immigrant parents. When Tye was nine years old, she was sold by her parents, a common Chinese custom at the time, as a child servant to another family. At 12 years old she ran away from home to avoid an arranged marriage to an older Chinese man in Montana. Tye ended up in a shelter run by Donaldina Cameron, a missionary who was committed to rescuing Chinatown’s women and girls who were often sold into sex trafficking.
During that time there was a massive gender disparity – only 4% of the Chinese immigrant population in the United States were women. Due to poverty, discrimination, and very few rights for women, forced prostitution and human trafficking were prevalent in Chinatown. Tye began accompanying Donaldina on brothel raids as an interrupter to help communicate that it was safe for those being rescued to leave with Donaldina. Because of their efforts over a period of three decades, over 3,000 women and children were rescued from trafficking.
Tye was hired as an interpreter at the newly opened Angel Island Immigration Station in 1910, becoming the first Chinese American woman hired by the federal government. Tye also became the first Chinese American woman to vote in a U.S. presidential election in 1912.
While working at Angel Island she met her husband, a German Immigration Inspector named Charles Schulze, and they married in 1913. At that time, interracial marriage was illegal in the state of California, causing them to lose their jobs, and forcing them to relocate to Vancouver, Washington where their marriage was legal. Even though their marriage was legal in Washington, it still was not widely accepted, which made it difficult for them to find employment resulting in their return to Chinatown. At the end of World War II in 1946, the U.S. government re-hired Tye as an interpreter for the Chinese immigrant wives of servicemen. Tye continued providing interpreting services to the San Francisco community until her death in 1972.
Jovita Idar (1885-1946), Educator, Journalist & Civil Rights Activist
Jovita Idar was born in Laredo, Texas in 1885. Her father was a newspaper editor and civil rights activist, which exposed her to journalism and activism at an early age. Jovita earned a teaching certificate from the Holding Institute in 1903 and became a teacher. She eventually resigned from teaching due to the poor treatment, under-resourced schools, inaccurate historical narratives being taught, and the segregation of Mexican American students. This was also a time when Mexican Americans frequently experienced hate, violence, and lynchings.
Jovita began working for her father’s newspaper, La Cronica, which was a source of news and activism for Mexican Americans. She wrote articles speaking up against racism and encouraging support for the revolution in Mexico. Jovita and her family organized the first Mexican Congress in 1911 to fight injustice and unify Mexicans in the United States and across the border, as well as focus on the lack of economic resources and education in their community.
Soon after the convening of the Congress, Jovita wrote an article promoting women’s suffrage and encouraging women to vote. This led to the founding and creation of La Liga Feminil Mexicaista (the League of Mexican Women), in which Jovita became the first president.
During the Mexican Revolution, Jovita went to Mexico to help take care of the injured. She joined the La Cruz Blanca, which was similar to the Red Cross, as a nurse. After her service with the La Cruz Blanca, Jovita returned to Texas and wrote for several newspapers, eventually starting her own in 1916, the Evolucion. She later worked for the El Progreso newspaper, where she wrote an article protesting President Woodrow Wilson’s placement of troops at the border and their interference in the Mexican Revolution. After the distribution of her article, the Texas governor ordered the Texas Rangers and U.S. Army to shut down El Progreso. They were met by Jovita, who stood in front of the door and refused to let them in, making their attempt unsuccessful. They returned the next morning, destroying the printing press, which led to the shutdown of the paper, but that did not stop Jovita. She returned to La Cronica and continued to advocate for the fair treatment of Mexican Americans.
In 1921, she married and moved to San Antonio, Texas, becoming active in the Democratic Party. Jovita worked to help undocumented workers obtain their naturalization papers after the Border Patrol was created in 1924. She also began a free kindergarten and tutored young children. Jovita continued to fight for the rights of Mexican Americans, promote equal rights for women, volunteer in hospitals as an interpreter, and was the editor of the Methodist Church publication El Heraldo Cristiano until her death in 1946.