In the 1940s, San Francisco hired its first African-American streetcar conductor. That same women, in 1969, wrote the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American. She also recited one of her poems during President Bill Clinton’s inaugural ceremony. Called “the black woman’s poet laureate,” Maya Angelou won three Grammy Awards for spoken word albums and received both a Pulitzer Prize nomination for writing and a Tony Award nomination for acting.
Celebrating Black History Month
A commitment to inclusion, diversity, and equality has always been a part of Girl Scouts' DNA. In 1954, Martin Luther King, Jr. called Girl Scouts “a force of desegregation.” This February, in honor of Black History Month, we're sharing the stories of amazing women who have shaped and are shaping our country. Some you know. Others you may not. All have made a positive impact on our society.
One of only six women to have won four Track and Field gold medals at the Olympics, Evelyn Ashford made history at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. That’s when she became the oldest American woman to win Olympic Track and Field gold after leading her team to victory in the 4x100 relay.
Ella Baker played a key role behind the scenes of the Civil Rights movement, working alongside other influential leaders like Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, Jr. Famous for saying, “My theory is, strong people don’t need strong leaders,” Baker shaped the minds of activists seeking equality for more than 50 years.
At the center of one of the most iconic moments of the Civil Rights era, Ruby Bridges made history at a very young age when she became the first African-American child to attend an all-white elementary school in the south. Decades later, while meeting President Barack Obama at the White House in 2011, he said, “"I think it's fair to say that if it hadn't been for you guys, I might not be here and we wouldn't be looking at this together."
Who was elected the first African-American congresswoman in the United States in 1968? Who helped found the Congressional Black Congress in 1969? Who became the African-American woman to run for president of a major party in 1972? The answer to all three questions is Shirley Chisholm, who was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
Recipient of the Living Legacy Award in 1979, Septima Poinsette Clark developed workshops that played an important role in the drive for voting and civil rights. She also worked alongside the NAACP to create the petition that led to the first black school principal in Charleston, South Carolina.
While a prodigy from an early age, dancing en pointe within three months of her first dance class and performing professionally in just over a year, Misty Copeland made history in 2015 when the American Ballet Theater named her its first African-American principal dancer.
Until 2015, no African American woman had ever directed a movie that received an Oscar nomination for best picture. That changed when Ava DuVernay received a nomination for her film Selma. She broke another Oscar barrier in 2017 when she became the first African-American woman nominated for a feature-length documentary Oscar for her film, 13th. Last year, with A Wrinkle In Time, DuVernay became the first African-American woman to direct a movie with a budget greater than $100 million and the first African-American woman to direct a movie earning more than $100 million in the United States.
While Murphy Beds are common in areas where space needs to be maximized for both sleeping and living, the concept was once new and novel. One early implementation of this design was called a folding cabinet bed. It was invented in 1885 by Sarah E. Goode, a former slave who owned a furniture store in Chicago following her emancipation. She patented her invention in 1885, making her the first African-American woman to receive a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
It’s hard to believe, but until 1987 NASA had never admitted an African-American woman into its astronaut training program. That changed with the acceptance of Mae C. Jemison who also became the first African-American woman in space in 1992 when she served on the Space Shuttle Endeavor.
At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, New Jersey’s own Ibtihak Muhammad became the first Muslim-American woman to win an Olympic medal when she took home the bronze in the team sabre event. At the same time, she also became the first Muslim American to represent the United States at the Olympics while wearing a hijab.
When she was 74-years-old, Leontyne Price briefly came out of retirement to perform at Carnegie Hall at a concert for 9/11 victims and their families. The concert came 40 years after she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera House. Known for her work both on stage and on air during the early days of television, Price was one of the first African-American singers to earn international acclaim as an opera singer.
Before the Civil Rights movement and before women could vote, Maggie Lena Walker was a business entrepreneur. The daughter of a former slave, she was a newspaper editor, the first African-American woman to form a bank and the first woman of any race to serve as a bank president. She even ran to become Virginia’s governor. Most impressive, she did much of this while using a wheelchair due to paralysis.
One of the most famous, popular and wealthy women in the world, Oprah Winfrey is also a groundbreaker. In 1986, she became the first African-American host of a nationally syndicated talk show. In 2002, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences named her the first recipient of its Bob Hope Humanitarian Award and in 2003, she became the United States’ first African-American woman billionaire.