Black history lessons in classrooms shouldn’t be limited to the names of men and only a few women, especially when there are countless women who’ve made enormous strides for the black community.
The revolutionary words Angela Davis spoke, the record-breaking feats of Wilma Rudolph and the glass ceiling-shattering efforts of Shirley Chisolm paved the way for black women and girls across the country to dream big and act courageously.
Here are 35 phenomenal women everyone should acquaint themselves with this Black History Month.
Shirley Chisolm (1924–2005)
Chisolm broke major barriers when she became the first black congresswoman in 1968. She continued on her political track when she ran for president four years later, making her the first major party black candidate to run.
Claudette Colvin (1939-present)
Several months before Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus, Colvin was the first person arrested for resisting bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, at the age of 15. She also served as one of four plaintiffs in the case of Browder v. Gayle, which ruled that Montgomery’s segregated bus system was unconstitutional.
Septima Poinsette Clark (1898–1987)
Clark was an educator and civil rights activist who established citizenship schools that helped many African Americans register to vote. Regarded as a pioneer in grassroots citizenship education, she was active with the NAACP in getting more black teachers hired in the South.
Mary Church Terrell (1863–1954)
This women’s suffrage activist and journalist was the first president of the National Association of Colored Women and a charter member of the NAACP. She was also one of the first African-American women to be awarded a college degree.
Angela Davis (1944-present)
Davis is a revolutionary American educator. The former Black Panther has fought for race, class and gender equality over the years. Davis authored one of the of the most distinguished books in the field of women’s studies called Women, Race & Class. She’s also an advocate of prison reform.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931)
Wells helped bring international attention to the horrors of lynching in the South with her investigative journalism. She was also elected as the Secretary of the Colored Press Association in 1889.
Kathleen Cleaver (1945-present)
Kathleen Cleaver is one of the central figures in Black Panther history. She was the first communications secretary for the organization and is currently a law professor at Emory University. She also helped found the Human Rights Research Fund.
Dr. Dorothy Height (1912-2010)
Dr. Height was regarded by President Barack Obama as “the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement.” She served as the president of the National Council of Negro Women for over two decades and was instrumental in the integration of all YWCA centers in 1946.
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)
Wheatley was a former slave who was kidnapped from West Africa and brought to America. She was bought by a Boston family and became their personal servant. With the aid of the family, she learned to read and eventually became one of the first women to publish a book of poetry in 1773.
Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
This Caribbean-American writer and activist was a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior and poet.” She empowered her readers with her moving poetry often tackling the injustices of racism, sexism and homophobia. She’s known for her poetry and memoirs such as, From a Land Where Other People Live, The Black Unicorn and A Burst of Light.
Flo Kennedy (1916-2000)
Kennedy was a founding member of the National Organization of Women and one of the first black female lawyers to graduate from Columbia Law School. She helped found the Feminist Party in 1971, which later nominated Representative Shirley Chisholm for president.
Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)
Johnson was an outspoken and fearless trans woman who played a vital part in the fight for civil rights for the LGBT community in New York. She was known as the patron at Stonewall Inn who initiated resistance on the night the police raided the bar.
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Born Isabella Baumfree, she escaped slavery with her infant daughter and changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She’s best known for her speech delivered at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851 titled “Ain’t I A Woman?”
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)
Hamer was a civil rights activist and organizer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Fannie Lou Hamer. She helped blacks register to vote and co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)
Dr. Bethune was an educator and civil rights activist who believed education was the key to racial advancement. She served as the president of the National Association of Colored Women and founded the National Council of Negro Women. She was also the president and founder of Bethune-Cookman College in Florida.
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)
This poet was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for her 1949 book titled Annie Allen.
Bessie Coleman (1892-1926)
Coleman became the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license and the first black woman to stage a public flight in the United States. She specialized in stunt flying and parachuting and remains a pioneer for women in aviation.
Lena Horne (1917-2010)
Horne was a popular actress and singer who was most known for her performances in the films “Stormy Weather” and “The Wiz.” She worked closely with civil rights groups and refused to play roles that stereotyped black women.
Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994)
Nicknamed “the black gazelle,” Rudolph was born premature and was stricken with polio as a child. Though her doctor said she would never be able to walk without her brace, she went on to become a track star. She became the first American woman to win three gold medals at a single Olympics in 1960.
Billie Holiday (1915-1959)