In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating the accomplishments of some amazing female leaders — both past and present.
From groundbreaking politicians to CEOs of major companies, women have made a significant impact in their fields for hundreds of years, although this national celebration only dates back to 1981, when Congress passed the first of a series of proclamations, beginning with “Women’s History Week” and later, additional resolutions that requested the President(s) to proclaim additional celebrations, ending with the designation of March as “Women’s History Month.”
No list of women could include every meaningful contribution, but we hope this snapshot of 10 women who stand out for their leadership inspires conversations in your circles: at work, at home and in between.
Plus — we take our best guess at which leadership styles these women are likely to possess. Agree with our assessments, or do you have guesses of your own? Sound off in our Predictable Success Leadership Center. Membership is free for a limited time.
Celebrating Women’s History Month | 10 Past and Present Female Leaders
1. Muriel “Mickie” Siebert
(1928-2013) Known as The First Woman of Finance, Mickie was a leading trailblazer for women on Wall Street making history for US and Women’s history. Making a career out of taking risks, her ambitions strung from wages rarely compared to those of men and the gender discrimination in finance. She was the first woman to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1967, where she remained the only female for over a decade.
Founding a national discount brokerage in her name, Muriel Siebert & Co. remains the only female-owned brokerage firm on the exchange. As an outspoken advocate of gender equality and minorities in the industry, she donated millions of dollars from her brokerage and securities underwriting business to help other women catapult their own start in the finance and business industry, and sat on the boards of several philanthropies.
2. Sojourner Truth
(1797-1883) Isabella Van Wagener, later known as Sojourner Truth, was an American Rights Activist who understood the importance of fighting for freedom, as she was enslaved for nearly twenty-eight years of her life. As an African American evangelist, who escaped to freedom with her infant daughter, Truth preached about abolitionism and equal rights for all.
In 1851, she spoke powerfully at the Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio, where she delivered one of the most famous abolitionists and women’s rights speeches in American history, “Ain’t I a Woman?”. Sojourner’s speech became applauded as one of the greatest speeches in American rhetoric. Refusing to be silenced, she continued to courageously campaign for women’s rights and the abolition of slavery as an important step in the history of women, and radical inequality.
3. Christa McAuliffe
(1948–1986) A true heroine by profession and passion, Christa McAuliffe dedicated her life to children by making education fun through adventure. In an attempt to touch the future in the ultimate “field trip”, McAuliffe was chosen to be the first participant in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Teacher in the Space program. As a pioneer for reaching fearless heights and uncharted territories, she encouraged careers in education, space, and STEM, reminding her students and fellow educators to simply, believe in themselves.
America tearfully watched as McAuliffe’s mission to space ended abruptly, along with six other astronauts, just 73 seconds after the liftoff of the space shuttle Challenger. After the tragedy, she was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, leaving behind a legacy as the first teacher and American civilian selected to go into space and also a fearless advocate for knowledge, science, and experiences.
4. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
(1933– 2020) Achieving success despite adversity in many areas including sexism, and even motherhood, RBG became a leader and trailblazer for law education and a pioneer for gender equality. Ruth is remembered by many as a champion of equality and an iconic powerhouse for her activism. She was the second woman ever to sit as a justice on the nation’s highest court, which she held for 27 years.
In 1971, Ruth triumphed in her first victory before the Supreme Court, which made history as the first time the Supreme Court had struck down a law due to gender-based discrimination due. This was just the beginning of her distinguished career and commitment to the principle of equal justice. Promoting national change through resilience and unity, RGB will be remembered through history as an innovative strategist, driven leader, and advocate of a just system for all. “I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.” -Ruth Bader Ginsburg
5. Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb
(1942-) In 1966, Bobbi Gibb challenged gender prejudices and misconceptions regarding women’s athletic capabilities when she was denied a race bib to compete alongside men in the Boston Marathon. Taking a stance on equality, three days later, she decided to run the race anyway, crossing the finish line before half of the male competitors.
Bobbi’s determination empowered other female athletes to compete, like Katharine Switzer, who was notably recognized a year later as the first woman to run as an officially registered competitor by using only her initials to obtain an official bib in the male-only race. Despite being attacked by the race organizer for refusing to remove her bib, Kathrine competed alongside the registered male athletes as well as other females, including Bobbi, that were once again denied official numbers. Together, these women revolutionized women’s running and both competed again on the 50th anniversary of their legendary runs, (Bibb in 2016 and Switzer in 2017) this time in the company of thousands of other women competitors.
6. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell
(1821-1910) Moving to America in 1832, Elizabeth became a leader and public health activist after facing discrimination and widespread opposition in the male-dominant education system and medical field. Blackwell deeply influenced history as the first woman to receive a medical degree from an American medical school after being denied admittance to an all-male institution time and time again. She graduated top of her class despite resistance upon her acceptance to Geneva Medical College and established the female staffed, New York Infirmary. Dr. Blackwell broadened opportunities for female medical professionals, including her sister Emily who also became a Doctor, by providing medical education accompanied by necessary experience for exceptional care.
She became a leading public health activist during her lifetime and paved the way for proper gynecological care worldwide. “If society will not admit of woman’s free development, then society must be remodeled.” – Elizabeth Blackwell
7. Madam C. J. Walker
(1867-1919) Sarah Breedlove (known professionally as Madam C. J. Walker) was the first child in her family born into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Orphaned by the age of seven, Walker later became one of the most successful female entrepreneurs of her time and the first African-American millionaire and icon of American innovation.
After a scalp disorder caused her to lose much of her own hair, she built a successful international company selling specialized hair and beauty products for African-Americans. Inspiring other African American Philanthropists of her time, Walker committed herself—and funds, to radical justice, philanthropy, advocacy, and social activism in her community.
8. Clara Barton
(1821-1912) Clara Barton is a historical female icon commonly known as the “Angel of the Battlefield”. During the Civil War, she was an independent and self-taught nurse who risked her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers of battle and first saw combat in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1862. A warrior in her own, Barton was the founder of the American Red Cross and a friend of Susan B. Anthony. Together, they spoke at several suffrage conventions and united women across the nation, both with pivotable roles in U.S. history.
9. Betty White
(1922- 2021) Betty White was a pioneer in early entertainment starting in 1939 with her first role in television. Her roles on and behind the screen inspire women and girls of all ages to embrace comedy, beauty, and growth. White frequently showcased a dynamic range of performance in the film industry and holds the Guinness World Record for the longest TV career for a female entertainer spanning eight decades. Her activism for civil rights, feminism, and animal rights make her one of America’s favorite icons.
10. Harriet Quimby
(1875–1912) Alongside Amelia Earhart, Harriet Quimby was also an American aviation pioneer, journalist, and film screenwriter. At a young age, she had a passion for innovation and refused to be held back from her dreams. Quimby plays an important role for women and National history as America’s first female pilot, successfully flying across the English Channel. Prior to her flight across the English Channel, 1912 she said, “I was annoyed from the start by the attitude of doubt by the spectators that I would never really make the flight. This attitude made me more determined than ever to succeed”.
At the dawn of aviation, and during an unstable time when the suffrage movement was in full force, Quimby became a well-known leader to other adventurers, such as Bessie who was the first African American licensed female pilot.
We can’t know how well these women fit into our VOPS leadership style guesses — but whether these women are Visionaries, Operators, Processors or Synergists (or a mix!), it’s clear that all have lasting legacies in American history.