The groundbreaking achievements of women like Sacajawea, Sojourner Truth, and Susan B. Anthony allowed later generations to exercise their rights and achieve their dreams. Let’s learn more about these pioneering women and early government leaders.Less
Martha Custis married George Washington in 1759. A private person, she bravely followed her husband to war and the Presidency. During the Revolution she helped maintain morale, spending a hard winter in Valley Forge where she organized supplies, rolled bandages, and led women in work around camp. During the presidency, her welcoming nature as first hostess helped others view the couple not as royalty but just like other Americans. She set the standard for future First Ladies as a public figure.
Abigail Adams was an ardent patriot and devoted wife of President John Adams. She supported his career in law and his passion for the American patriotic cause. She stayed home to care for their children as he served in the Continental Congress and as a diplomat. When Adams was elected president, they were the first residents of the White House in Washington. They took great pride in the political career of their son, John Quincy Adams, although Abigail died in 1818 before he became President.
The charismatic Dolley Madison accompanied her husband James Madison to Washington when he was Secretary of State under Jefferson. Her political knowledge and social skills assisted Jefferson greatly and he asked her to serve as his official hostess. She continued as hostess as Madison became President. When the British invaded and burned the White House in 1814, Dolley stayed until the last moment, saving many government documents, including Gilbert Stewart’s portrait of George Washington.
During WWI Eleanor Roosevelt assisted service personnel and joined the League of Women Voters. As First Lady, she entertained, gave lectures, held press conferences, traveled, and represented her husband in official and unofficial business. She helped develop New Deal programs, supported troops, and worked to improve race relations. After her husband’s death in office, Eleanor continued to work for her nation as a United Nations representative, chairing the Human Rights Commission.
Virginia Dare is honored as the first child born of English parents in the New World. Born in 1587 at the Roanoke Island settlement in present-day North Carolina, nothing else is known of her life, or of the rest of the settlement’s members. When sailors returned to the site, the “Lost Colony” had vanished. The US postage stamp honoring Virginia Dare idealizes the hardships colonists faced on the frontier. The strength and fortitude of these pioneering women are a tribute to the American spirit.
Betsy Ross (1752-1836) symbolizes women’s contribution to the American Revolution and the founding of the new nation. In 1870, her grandson said that Betsy claimed General George Washington visited her in June 1776. He asked her to make a flag based on a drawing. She agreed, recommending a five-point star versus the six-point stars on the sketch. Betsy was an ardent patriot and her story represents the many people who used their skills in support of their country.
Nellie Cashman (ca. 1850-1925) - “The Angel of Tombstone” - embodied the adventurous spirit of the West. Emigrating to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1860s, she earned an honest reputation managing a boarding house in NV. When a scurvy epidemic broke out in British Columbia, she organized men to carry supplies through the deep snow to the sick. Later Nellie moved to Tombstone, AZ, opening the first female-owned business. When Nellie died, newspapers across the country recognized her good works.
Mary Ludwig followed her husband, William Hayes, when he enlisted in the Revolutionary army. She earned her nickname Molly Pitcher by bringing pitchers of water to soldiers in battle. On June 28, 1778, during the Battle of Monmouth, the longest battle of the war, William was unable to continue firing his cannon and Mary stepped in, manning the gun through the battle. Questioned by some, Molly’s tail continues to live on as a tribute to the many Revolutionary women who helped form the new nation.
Sybil Ludington was 16 when a messenger entered the Ludington house in Patterson, NY, on April 26, 1777, reporting that British troops had landed in Long Island Sound, and intended to destroy the militia’s supply center in Danbury, CT. Colonel Ludington couldn’t leave his station, so Sybil volunteered to ride through the night to alert the troops in time to fight the British. George Washington and Alexander Hamilton noticed the heroics of the “Female Paul Revere.”
The story of Pocahontas (c. 1595-1617) remains one of the most popular legends in American history. The daughter of a Powhatan chieftain, she was friendly with English settlers in Jamestown, delivering food and working as an emissary between the groups. She is famously known for the legendary tale of saving John Smith’s life after his capture by members of her tribe, protecting him with her body and begging for his life to be spared. She later married tobacco planter John Rolfe.