11 Women You Never Learned About in History (U.S. Edition)

Mar 09, 2022


You probably know about Sacagawea and her expedition with Lewis and Clark, and Betsy Ross sewing the first flag of the United States. Maybe you even learned about Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane of the Wild West. But what about the hundreds of women who made their marks on U.S. history, but never earned their way into history books?

We’ve put together a short (and far from exhaustive) list of America women who didn’t receive the recognition they deserve for their historical contributions. Maybe you’ll discover a new favorite heroine!


  1.  Madonna Thunder Hawk (b.1940)

 Born on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, Madonna Thunder Hawk is a prominent civil rights activist for indigenous people and founder of  the Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP) and the Warrior Women Project. She also was a leading activist against the Dakota Access Pipeline. (1)


  1.  Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964)

 Rachel Carson was a marine biologist who’s published work Silent Spring, was one of the first writings to expose the adverse effects of pesticides and environmental pollutants. In fact, her work was a major influence in the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. (1)


  1.  Dolores Huerta (b. 1930)

 Dolores Huerta is an influential Latina-American activist for migrant workers. She co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, with Cesar Chavez in 1965. Her tireless advocation and activism has helped bring about legislation to protect vulnerable farming and migrant workers. (4) 

 (Photo credit: www.npr.org)


  1.  Alice Coachman (1923 – 2014)

Alice Coachman was the first black woman to win an Olympic Gold medal at the 1948 London Olympics. Several years later, in 1952, The Coca-Cola Company hired her to become a spokesperson, making Coachman the first African-American to earn a national endorsement contract. (5)


  1. Patsy Mink  (1927 – 2002)

In 1965, Patsy Mink was the first Japanese American to be elected to Congress. Not only that, she was the first woman of color as well. She served for 12 years, and then later returned in 1989 and served until her death in 2002. “You were not elected to Congress, in my interpretation of things, to represent your district, period,” she once noted. “You are national legislators.” (6)

 (Photo credit: www.pbshawaii.org)


  1.   Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865 – 1915)

A member of the Omaha Tribe, Dr. Picotte was the first indigenous women to earn a Doctorate degree, graduating from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1889. (2)


  1.  Mary Edwards Walker (1832 – 1919)

Mary Edwards Walker earned her MD from Syracuse Medical College is 1855. When the Civil War broke out, she served as a nurse in the Union Army for 2 years until finally, her request to serve as a surgeon (the first female!) was accepted. She was later captured by Confederate troops and held as a prisoner of war for four months. When the war ended, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor by Andrew Johnson, and is still the only woman to date to receive that honor.  (4)


 8. Edmonia Lewis (1843 – 1907)

Edmonia Lewis was the first female sculptor of African American and Native American decent. One of her best-known works “Forever Free” was inspired by the Emancipation Proclamation. (1)

(Photo credit: www.biography.com)


9. Gertrude Elion – (1918 – 1999)

Gertrude Elion was a very accomplished biochemist of Jewish decent. She won the Nobel Peach Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1988 for her contributions to pharmaceutical research and development. (1)

She played significant roles in the development of many drugs, such as:

  • Azidothymidine (AZT) – one of the first drugs used to treat HIV
  • Purinethol – treatment for leukemia
  • Imuran – immunosuppressant drugs for organ transplants
  • Daraprim – treatment for malaria
  • Zovirax – viral herpes treatment 


  1. Sybil Ludington (1761 – 1839)

Sybil Ludington was a female revolutionist who rode even farther than Paul Revere to warn her nearby countrymen of the imminent British invasion. When her father was informed that the British forces were attacking, Sybil mounted her horse in the pouring rain, riding over 40 miles to spread the news. (1)

 (Photo credit: https://paulmatzko.com/sybil-ludington-and-replacement-mythology/)


  1. Rose Marie McCoy (1922 – 2015)

Rose Marie McCoy was one of the most prolific songwriters you’ve never heard of. As an African American woman, McCoy wrote her way into an office in the legendary Brill Building in New York City during the 1960’s. She wrote hit songs for numerous performers such as Elvis Presley, Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and Sarah Vaughn. (1)


Author: Stacey Nolan, Project Manager at LaunchPoint Leadership Group


 (1) https://explorethearchive.com/15-important-women-in-history

 (2) https://www.ellevest.com/magazine/disrupt-money/native-american-women

(3) https://www.bustle.com/p/31-groundbreaking-women-from-history-you-didnt-learn-about-in-school-40648

(4) https://artsandculture.google.com/story/10-inspiring-latinas-who%E2%80%99ve-made-history/NQLCw0ak0_NsKg

(5) https://www.biography.com/athlete/alice-coachman

(6) https://history.house.gov/People/detail/18329


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