7 Women Who Made History Despite the Odds

Happy Women’s History Month!

According to the National Women’s History Project this year’s theme is “NEVERTHELESS SHE PERSISTED: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” In honor of this theme, we are highlighting some of the incredible women we’ve spotlighted over the years. From the way they live(d) their lives to the impact they’ve had on the world, all these women have one thing in common: persistence.

1. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is an American artist, activist and freelance illustrator. She’s most famous for her street art project addressing gender-based street harassment titled “Stop Telling Women to Smile.” Fazlalizadeh created the series “to speak back to the men who harass me. The work began as a way to tell my story, but it has grown to reflect the stories of many other women,” she said in this 2014 interview with the New York Times. Want to see her work? Head over to New York City where she will be working with the NYC Commission on Human Rights as an artist in residence later this year.

2. Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou needs no introduction. Through her writing, she’s been a source of inspiration for women of all ages. From her message of self-acceptance in “Phenomenal Woman” to her call for strength in “Still I Rise,” Angelou’s writing has been a constant source of motivation. In addition to her poetry, her deeply personal autobiographies are a well of knowledge and guidance.

3. Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson was the first black tennis player to win a Grand Slam tournament, and she won three, including the U.S. National Championships, the French Open and Wimbledon. She also broke racial barriers in professional golf, making history again as the first black woman ever to compete on the pro tour. From her roots as a sharecropper’s daughter in the cotton fields of South Carolina to her emergence as the unlikely queen of the highly segregated tennis world in the 1950s, her inspiring story is a complex tale of race, class and gender.

4. Suzan-Lori Parks

As a playwright, screenwriter and novelist, Parks has been breaking barriers in her field for years. One thing that really sets her apart is her distinct commentary on race and society which helped make her the first African-American woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Parks is also a MacArthur “Genius” Award recipient, and in 2015 was awarded the prestigious Gish Prize for Excellence in the Arts. To top if off, her project 365 Days/365 Plays (where she wrote a play a day for an entire year) was produced in over 700 theaters worldwide, creating one of the largest grassroots collaborations in theater history.

5. Margaret Cho

Comedian Margaret Cho is an outspoken advocate for LGBT, Asian-American, women’s rights and anti-bullying in her stand-up routines and beyond. She has won awards for her humanitarian efforts, and has been recognized by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the American Civil Liberties Union and National Organization for Women. In an exclusive interview for the American Masters podcast, Cho talks about her career and the role comedy plays in dealing with the current social climate.

6. Carole King

The career of singer-songwriter Carole King is unparalleled. She’s a four-time Grammy Award-winner, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and the first woman to be awarded The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. To date, more than 400 of her compositions have been recorded by more than 1,000 artists, resulting in 100 hit singles, including songs co-written with Gerry Goffin: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” (The Shirelles), “Up on the Roof” (The Drifters) and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha Franklin). From her songwriting debut at age 17 in the 1950s to being a recipient of the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, she has had a continuously evolving and successful musical career, and she now uses her voice to shed light on environmental and political issues and women’s rights.

7. Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn’s story is certainly one of perseverance. Born into poverty in a coal mining community in the Appalachians in Kentucky, Lynn grew up to become “The Queen of Country Music” and has been inducted into more music Halls of Fame than any female recording artist to date. Lynn’s songs speak to her own special brand of feminism, including “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and “The Pill,” a song released in 1975 about birth control that was both banned and a top hit. Lynn is still going strong after more than 60 years in the industry.

Share Her Story

Do you know an inspiring woman? It could be your friend, a colleague or a teacher. Have they expressed themselves artistically? Worked to better their community? Achieved academic success? Empowered others and embraced diversity? American Masters is celebrating the powerful, creative and innovative women in our lives. We want to hear about how this strong woman inspires you. Share her story and it could be featured on the American Masters website and social channels.