These iconic women are inspiring because they show us the power of intellect, perseverance, and sheer grit needed to create change and nudge our awareness toward the greater good.
As a young adult, Dolores Huerta began organizing communities to pursue social justice for migrant workers. Her mother had an incredible influence in shaping Dolores’ world view and stirring motivation for helping others. In 1962, she, along with César Chávez, formed the National Farm Workers Association. Dolores was instrumental in brokering a contract between the UFWOC and Schenley Wine Company. With her savvy negotiating skills and insightful realization that farm workers had leverage, she helped obtain more humane rights and appropriate wages for migrant workers.
Often referred to as the “the first lady of civil rights,” Rosa Parks challenged a nation to examine its unequal rights and unjust laws towards African Americans. In 1955, Rosa Parks’ resistance to giving up her seat on a bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama led to her arrest and shone a bright spotlight on America’s moral degradation concerning the treatment of black people. Throughout her life, Rosa always carried herself with dignity and never wavered in the her deep conviction that she, and all human beings, were equal and should be treated as such. While her Montgomery bus ride is the most publicized story of Rosa, it hardly encapsulates her amazing resume of civil rights activism.
In the 1960’s, the emergence of the 2nd Wave of Feminism began on two different fronts. One was born out of the inspiration of the African American freedom struggles of the civil rights movement. The other came from a younger generation - primarily students - who were coalescing around anti-war, civil rights activism and the 1964 Freedom Summer rally. Defining the 2nd Wave Movement has been debated, but in its simplest terms can be defined as a mass mobilization across the country pushing for women’s rights and equality.
In 1963, the book The Feminine Mystique captured the attention of America and ignited the second wave of American feminism. This book had one objective: to create parity between women and men concerning equal rights and partnership. Betty Friedan was an intellectual, activist, and author whose work significantly contoured national events with new and thought provoking insights that resonated with women, primarily white suburban housewives. One of Friedan most significant events, was organizing the Women's Strike for Equality. The national strike helped the feminist movement gain huge momentum, attracting over 50,000 for the march in New York City alone.
Things did not always come easy for Janet Reno, but one talent she could always count on was her incredible intellect. She was the first woman to ever serve as the Attorney General for the United States and faced many difficult and complex situations that would define her career. Additionally, always trying to make the world more just, Janet went on to become a founding member of the Innocence Project.
Marilyn’s grandparents immigrated to the United States and they instilled their hard work ethic in every member of the family. Though expected from her strict parents, Marilyn took pride in working hard at an early age and she credits this for her success. “I became a lawyer when there were very few women in law schools,” Marilyn says, “and certainly very few were judges.” Marilyn Aboussie was elected as the Chief Justice of the Third Court of Appeals of Texas in 1998 and was also the first female district judge in Tom Green County.
Gloria Allred is a tireless advocate for victims whose rights have been violated. Her high-profile legal battles have led to many landmark precedent-setting court decisions. As an unrelenting crusader against discrimination and defender of civil rights that cross all boundaries of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and social class, she has played an integral role in combating injustices for all – especially women and minorities.
There were many “firsts” set by Hillary Rodham Clinton. She was the first female Senator from New York. The First Lady of the White House. The first woman nominated for president of the United States for a major party and was the first woman to participate in a presidential debate. The list goes on; her resume of service, deep.
Clinton played a leading role in the creation of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the Adoption and Safe Families Act, and the Foster Care Independence Act. Clinton championed Gender Equality as a diplomat, lawyer, writer, and public speaker. In her speech at the United Nations Fourth World Conference, she famously stated “women’s rights are huma rights.” Her life of service has been constant and impactful.
One of Louise’s legendary quotes was, “When a man and woman got married, they became one. And he was the one.” This sentiment famously expressed the rights women gave up the moment they became married. Louise’s zealous work in the fight for women’s rights, especially as it pertained to marriage, led to the Marital Property Act of 1967. Louise initiated and skillfully built a coalition which forever changed family law.
After her succinct and compelling opening statement at the impeachment hearings of Richard Nixon, Barbara Jordan became a household name and certified “rockstar” in the world of politics. Barbara became the first African-American elected to the United States House of Representatives. She also made history as the first African American woman to deliver the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. These accomplishments were just the tip of the iceberg for this truly amazing and dedicated woman.
Right after emancipation, black men could vote, but black women could not. However, black women were actually more politically active than men and felt they had no time to waste. They immediately created an organization called National Association of Colored Women and became highly organized very quickly through strong leadership. Powerful grassroots movements began to mobilize throughout the country and expanded the NACW under the the leadership of Mary Church Terrell – the first president of the NACW. Mary was dedicated and a natural leader who lifted the association into a powerful force for change in in civil rights.
Susan B. Anthony’s roots go deep into activism. Her parents were Quakers, and equal rights for women were already woven deep into Quaker community. Experiencing life outside her congregation, Susan immediately became an advocate for women’s suffrage, women’s property rights, and the abolition of slavery.
In protest of suffrage, Anthony tried to vote in the 1872 presidential election and was arrested. In recognition of her fierce determination to achieve women voting rights, the19th amendment was named the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment.”
On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space for the STS-7 NASA mission. Speaking engagements and interviews provided a strong platform for Sally to encourage young women to break down barriers and achieve their dreams.
One of Sally’s passions was helping young women develop an interest in science education. She created Sally Ride Science to inspire young people in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and to promote STEM literacy. She was also an author, writing several children’s books with space exploration themes.
There were nine highly qualified women who have been considered or shortlisted for nomination of Supreme Court Justices before Sandra Day O’Connnor. However, these women had little to no chance of being selected helping to perpetuate the status quo inequality. These shortlisted women helped to create the appearance of diversity to the general public, yet helped preserve these legal positions of power exclusively for men. Franklin Deleno Roosevelt was the first president to a place a woman on his shortlist for Supreme Court Justices; her name being Florence Ellinwood Allen. This is the history of women who have been overlooked, yet equally qualified for influential positions.
Sandra Day O’Connor grew up on a working ranch from a young age and was expected to shoulder many responsibilities. She grew up with a great appreciation for hard work and manual labor which she embodied her entire life. She graduated at the very top of her law class at Stanford, yet could only find work as a legal secretary at the time. Ultimately, through her hard work and perseverance, she became the first woman associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Sandra became known as a majority builder and always stayed true to her values of equality. One of her first written majority opinions was the case of Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan. It involved gender discrimination of a man being denied admission to an all-female nursing school.
Francis Perkins dedicated her life and career championing the working poor. She spearheaded and authored legislation in the New Deal, which 80 years later is just as critical to the working class now as it was then. Early in her career, she was appointed to various New York City commissions. During that time, she met and befriended Franklin D. Roosevelt. When FDR became president, he was so impressed with the work ethic and passion Francis had for the working class, he appointed her U.S. Secretary of Labor, making her the first female cabinet member in United States history.
Born in New York City in 1954, Sonia Sotomayor became the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants. Her mother became her sole caregiver after her father died at an early age. A determined Sonia never lost her footing in her journey to success. She graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1976 and received her Juris Doctor from Yale Law School in 1979. Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by President George H. W. Bush in 1991. After the retirement of David Souter, Sonia achieved her dream when President Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court in 2009. Her incredible drive, conviction and level objectiveness has made her one of the most admired justices that serve today.
With her incredible intellect, Ruth graduated at the top of her class at Columbia Law School. Even so, she struggled to find work with law firms. This led to work at the ACLU and an internship for a district court judge. Her remarkable advocacy for gender equality and equal rights placed her in front of the Supreme Court to argue several cases, many of which she won. Although her path was dotted with many hardships, she was undeterred. On June 22, 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court with the recommendation of Attorney General Janet Reno. The American Bar gave Ginsberg its highest possible rating for a prospective justice.
Justice Ginsburg was a fierce and unstoppable force for gender equality. Her work and strong dissents became well known to the public, eventually making her a cultural icon. Ruth’s legacy will live on forever and be a constant source of inspiration for all women as to what is possible.
Prosecutorial misconduct is more than a mistake, it’s the crossing of an ethical line such as the withholding a crucial evidence that might exonerate the defendant. Nina Morrison has become a relentless fighter for the freedom of wrongly incarcerated people across the nation. Her most publicized case was that of Michael Morton who was wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife. Through the work of The Innocence Project, he was freed after 25 years of wrongful imprisonment. The Innocence Project continues its important work, case by case, to set free innocent people, who, often times, are the victims of prosecutorial misconduct.
Beryl Crowley became the first female president of TYLA in 1984. Her 49 year career has encompassed a broad and deep range of professional values and experience. She has excelled and been publicly recognized in Austin and in Texas for her leadership abilities. She is a powerful advocate and exemplar, as well as a leader where she has experience as a Partner, Shareholder, Chairman, President, Trustee, Director, Executive Director, and Mentor (in addition to mother and grandmother) and knows firsthand the issues that surround such positions of leadership.
While not a lawyer, Eleanor Roosevelt helped reshape International Law. Before the Declaration of Human Rights, International Law dealt with war and invasion, but not how individuals were treated around the world or what a government’s responsibility was to its citizens. Eleanor helped change this with one international document that was adopted by all nations in the world – Article One. This legislation stated: All human beings are born free and equal, in dignity and in rights. They are endowed with reason and conscientious and should treat one another in the spirit of brotherhood.
President Harry S. Truman later called her the “First Lady of the World” in tribute to her human rights achievements.
Born July 22, 1943, Kay Bailey Hutchison was very competitive from an early age. Ballet helped her develop a resolute discipline of practice and quickly revealed the benefits of “sticking with it.” In 1972, she became a member of the Texas House of Representatives which made her the first female Senator in Texas History. Always seeking new challenges, Kay Bailey Hutchison has continued to have impact in the political setting, and recently, on the international stage.
Betty Chapman is the historian and author behind the book Rough Road to Justice: The Journey of Women Lawyers in Texas. Her book describes the many “firsts” of women lawyers in Texas, discussing how they learned the law, established careers, and balanced their lives with the demands of law practice. It is a story of fight for equality for women in the legal profession. Betty is an expert storyteller, who seamlessly injects compelling anecdotes to help listeners or readers “feel” the struggle of those who fought so hard for equality.
Raised in a military family, Lisa Tatum rarely faced racism on the Air Force base. That changed when Lisa became an Assistant Criminal District Attorney for Bexar County, Texas. With fierce determination, Ms. Tatum pressed on and became successful – prosecuting over 100 cases by jury and bench trials. Sex discrimination, racism, even ageism, has helped forge Lisa’s commitment to justice. Lisa is admitted to practice law before all courts of the state of Texas, the United States District Court of the Western District and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
As a child, Yuri Kochiyama along with family was sent to a Japanese Internment Camp in Arkansas. In 1948, Yuri and her husband, Bill Kochiyama, moved to New York and along with their six children lived in public housing. Her activism was shaped by the death of her father, her experience in the internment camp, and living in public housing. After moving to Harlem in 1960, she began actively participating in Asian American, Black, and Third World movements for civil and human rights. Yuri was the founder of Asian Americans for Action which sought to build a more political Asian American movement that linked itself to Black liberation. In 1988, she, her husband, and other Japanese internees fought for the Civil Liberties Act and won. The Act was a formal apology and provided reparations to WWII internees.
Chief Judge Barbara Lynn is the epitome of what women lawyers should aspire to be, someone who has opened countless doors for women in the legal profession.
An early trailblazer for female attorneys in the state of Texas, Judge Lynn was the first female clerk, associate, and partner at her firm from 1976-1999. In 1999, she was nominated and confirmed to a seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. In 2016, Judge Lynn became the first woman to attain the position of Chief Judge of the Northern District of Texas.
Condolezza Rice became the first African American woman to serve as the United States’ national security advisor and the Secretary of State under President George W. Bush.
Despite growing up surrounded by racism in the segregated south, Condolezza Rice used her intelligence and dedication to overcome. She worked tirelessly to educate the public on international relations, and her policies on transformational diplomacy brought much needed growth and change to United States’ foreign policies, even surpassing many partisan divisions.
Elsa Alcala was the first Hispanic woman to be on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. At the time of her appointment, she was the only Hispanic or minority on the Court. Her judicial career was one of thoughtfulness and courage. On death penalty issues specifically, ethics and science guided her judicial determinations. An extremely hard-working mother of three, she stood up for her beliefs and for all marginalized individuals.
Described as “a pit bull in size 6 shoes” by former President George W. Bush, Harriet Miers fought for change throughout her legal career. Mentored by iconic woman Louise B. Raggio, she worked hard to become the first woman nominated as a president-elect candidate and the first woman elected as president of the State Bar of Texas. She served in the administration of President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2007 as staff secretary, deputy chief of staff, and counsel to the president. Her pro bono work and commitment to the Texas Access to Justice Commission further demonstrate her selfless dedication to the service of others throughout her career.
Jovita Idar was born on September 7, 1885 in Laredo, Texas. She spent her life in South Texas and was influenced by the injustice and poor conditions experienced by Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants in that region. She served as the first president of La Liga Femenil Mexicanista, the League of Mexican Women. This organization became a social and political force focused on providing food, clothes and education to those in need. In her roles as an activist and journalist, Jovita Idar was dedicated and fearless, and despite countless attempts to quiet her, Idar was determined to use her voice to promote awareness and create change.
Resourceful, undeterred, and unstoppable, Linda Yanez used her personal ambition to reach new heights for Latina woman. Whether it was finding a new job after being unfairly let go for her political activism, going to law school as a single mother or sitting for the bar while eight and half months pregnant with her second baby, Yanez stopped at nothing to accomplish her goals. She fought for causes she believed in, primarily on behalf of Mexican Americans and immigrants.
She became the first Latina female to serve on the 13th Court of Appeals, and the first Latina woman to ever be appointed in the Texas appellate court system.
Kamala Harris’ mother had a saying “Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.” Harris broke major barriers that will pave the way for future leaders when she became the United States’ first female vice president, the highest-ranking female official in U.S. history, and the first African American and first Asian American vice president.
Kamala Harris graduated from the University of California, Hastings College of Law and began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office. In 2010, Harris was elected Attorney General of California. In 2017, she was elected as a California United States senator becoming only the second African American woman and the first South Asian American to serve in the United States senate.
Nancy Pelosi is the only woman to ever serve as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and the first woman in American history to lead a major political party in Congress.
Guided by her family’s long tradition of public service, Nancy Pelosi became interested in politics at a young age and was first elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1987. She was elected House Democratic Whip in 2001 and House Democratic Leader in 2002, making her the first woman to hold both positions. In 2007, Pelosi broke the marble ceiling of the Capital and became the first ever woman Speaker of the House. Pelosi has been a strong advocate for women’s rights. She was instrumental in passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to restore the ability of women and all workers to fight pay discrimination.