By Amy Eley
In honor of Women’s History Month, TODAY wants to highlight incredible women who aren’t always in the history books, despite the incredible things they have done with their lives.
At age 15, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat for a white person on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama – nine months before Rosa Parks did the same. She was arrested and went on to challenge the law in court as a plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, which ultimately found bus segregation in Montgomery to be unconstitutional.
In 1916, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress. The Montana Republican and fierce women’s rights advocate was one of 50 representatives who voted against declaring war on Germany and entering World War I. Her vote is believed to have ruined her chances for reelection in 1918.
The record-breaking Australian swimmer advocated for women to be able to wear a one-piece bathing suit instead of dresses with stockings — and she was arrested for it. She wore a bathing suit that left her arms bare and cut off at her mid-thigh in 1907, a look that got her arrested in Massachusetts for indecency. The popularity of her swimsuit at the time led her to launch her own swimwear line.
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins may have walked on the moon in 1969, but Margaret Hamilton helped get them there. She led the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed the Apollo spacecraft’s guidance and navigation system. Her work was vital to the mission’s success.
In 2016, five years after women in Saudi Arabia were given the right to vote, Haifa al-Habibi became the country’s first female political candidate. With a stance on education, the architect, newspaper columnist and professor campaigned with her face uncovered and, in a country where women usually favor black, she often wore bright colors.
Not only was she the first woman to run for president of the United States, but Victoria Woodhull did so in 1872 — nearly 50 years before women even had the right to vote. Among her views were that women have the right to marry who they want to, and the right to divorce their husbands.
Harriet Chalmers Adams
Harriet Chalmers Adams was a world traveler, photographer and writer who traveled across the Andes on horseback four times and retraced Christopher Columbus’ path across the West Indies. She was the only female journalist allowed in the trenches during World War I.
Roberta Bobbi Gibb
Meet Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. She hid in the bushes at the starting line, then jumped in the race wearing Bermuda shorts and a sweatshirt over a swimsuit to hide that she was a woman. It didn’t take long for the crowds to figure it out — and everyone cheered her on. She finished in 3 hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds.
Madam C.J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker, originally born in Sarah Breedlove, was an entrepeneur who became the first female self-made millionaire in the U.S. after building a company selling specialized hair and beauty products for African-Americans. During the 1900s, she grew her business across the country and even internationally. She was also an active philanthropist who supported the YMCA and the NAACP.
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Ann Velásquez is an American motivational speaker and author who was born with a rare congenital disease that comes with a variety of symptoms, including prevention from gaining weight. After being called the “World’s Ugliest Woman” in a cruel YouTube video, she spoke up against bullying. Her Ted Talk on defining yourself on your own terms went viral. She has since launched many anti-bullying campaigns.
Cori Salchert fosters and adopts children who have terminal or life-limiting illnesses. Salchert began adopting foster children in hospice care in 2012, when she and her husband, Mark, adopted a baby girl named Emmalyn who lived for 50 days before dying in Salchert’s arms. In 2015, the Salcherts, who also have eight biological children, adopted a son named Charlie, who was not expected to survive past his third birthday. He defied medical expectations and is now 7.
Marion Pritchard risked her life to save Jews during the Holocaust. She snuck food into ghettos, placed infants with non-Jewish families, distributed false ID papers and more. While she was hiding one Jewish family, three Nazis and a Dutch collaborator came to her door. The family hid under floorboards in the living room, but when the collaborator returned later, the children were out of hiding. Pritchard quickly shot the collaborator, then had his body buried in a coffin with another body. She estimated that she helped save 150 Jews.
Kathy Pitt has a specific way of finding out which students are being left out in her classroom. She has students privately list someone they want to work with on the next team assignment every Friday. The process is a way to flag to Miss Pitt which students are fitting in and which are not. The names that show up the least are the ones she needs to monitor most. Miss Pitt has been doing this exercise every Friday since the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999.
In the 1950s, Althea Gibson became the first African-American tennis player, male or female, to not only play, but also to win the prestigious Wimbledon tournament. In addition, she was the first African-American player to win the singles championship in the French Open and U.S. Open. Later, the talented athlete became the first African-American member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
Soraya Jiménez was the first Mexican woman to win a gold medal in the Olympics. She took home the gold in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, in weightlifting.
Alice Paul was a prominent suffragette who helped secure passage of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Her efforts included helping organize the 1,000 “Silent Sentinels” who picketed outside the White House in 1917 as they were verbally and physically attacked. After being arrested for blocking traffic while picketing, Paul was sent to jail and later an insane asylum when she went on a hunger strike to protest the conditions.