Pauli Murray: A 20th Century Historical Figure You Never Heard of

Pauli Murray as an orphaned teenager, a New York college student sculpted by her friend, and as the brilliant legal mind whose work played a key role in the court challenges of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s ands 60s.

Pauli Murray may be one of the 20th century’s most important historical figures you’ve never heard of. She was a civil rights activist; a gender rights activist and feminist; a lawyer and brilliant legal strategist; historian, author and poet; and, later in life, an ordained priest.

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Rosalie Edge: Champion of Women’s Suffrage and Environmental Activism

Rosalie Edge at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary
Rosalie Edge was one of the most active and effective conservationists of the 20th century, with a particular interest in protecting wild birds from mass killings by agricultural and industrial interests.

If visitors to New York’s Woodlawn Cemetery in the Spring of 2018 felt the ground shift a little beneath their feet, it was probably just Mabel Rosalie Barrow Edge — once known as America’s most militant conservationist — rolling in her grave.

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Lillian Wald — Mother of Public Health Nursing

A high society girl who abandoned her upper crust life to become a nurse in the 1880s, Lillian Wald and her corps of public health nurses changed the world of health care in the teeming immigrant slums of New York’s Lower East Side and established a new mode of nursing focused on the poor that spread across the country.

We hear a lot about privilege these days. And this Wednesday’s Woman, Lillian Wald, would be the first to tell you she was born into privilege — the daughter of wealthy German-Polish parents whose families fled Europe seeking economic opportunity. She once described herself as a well-educated, frivolous, spoiled socialite. But two pivotal events shaped this frivolous, spoiled socialite into a humanitarian and visionary who dedicated her life to helping others.

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Constance Baker Motley : Unsung Civil Rights Trailblazer 1921-2005

Constance Baker Motley in a law library
Along with massive protests and clashes with segregationists across the south, the Civil Rights movement fought some of its most important battles in the courtroom and Constance Baker Motley was a central figure in those legal efforts.

At the heart of almost every important civil rights case for twenty years stood a tall, gracious woman whose goal was as simple as it would prove to be elusive: provide dignity for everyone. You may not know her name, but Constance Baker Motley has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to quietly change the course of American history.

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Frances Perkins: The Mother of Social Security

Frances Perkins in a Washington, D.C. meeting
Frances Perkins was one of the most powerful people in the federal government during the height of her career and her legacy continues to directly touch the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans.

Frances Perkins (1880-1965) was a pioneering feminist and America’s first female cabinet member, serving as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945. A dedicated civil servant, and an equal in a field dominated by men, her vision improved the lot of every working man and woman in America.

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Elizabeth Jennings: The Rosa Parks of 1854

Elizabeth Jennings, 1854
In 1854, after being physically removed from a streetcar because she was black, Elizabeth Jennings filed a lawsuit. Represented by a future U.S. President, she won the case that ultimately desegregated New York City’s public transportation. Today, she is commemorated with a New York Street Sign.

A century before civil rights icon Rosa Parks kept her seat at the front of an Alabama bus, a 24-year-old African American woman was forced off a New York City streetcar and jeeringly told to seek redress if she could. She could, and she did, ultimately desegregating New York City’s public transportation system. She is this Wednesday’s Woman, Elizabeth Jennings.

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