Patricia Bath, (1942-2019)
Patricia Era Bath was an American ophthalmologist, inventor, humanitarian, and academic. She was an early pioneer of laser cataract surgery and was the first Black woman physician to receive a medical patent, which she received in 1986, for the Laserphaco Probe and technique, which performed all steps of cataract removal.
She became the first woman member of the Jules Stein Eye Institute, the first woman to lead a post-graduate training program in ophthalmology, and she was the first woman elected to the honorary staff of the UCLA Medical Center. Bath was the first Black person to serve as a resident in ophthalmology at New York University and was also the first Black woman to serve on staff as a surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center. She became the first Black woman physician to receive a patent for a medical purpose and would go on to earn a total of five patents during her lifetime. Bath is also recognized for her founding of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, a nonprofit located in Washington, D.C.
Ruby Bridges, (1954-)
Ruby Bridges is a civil rights icon, activist, author and speaker who was the first Black child to integrate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960. In 1963, painter Norman Rockwell recreated Bridges’ monumental first day at school in the painting, “The Problem We All Live With.”
Ruby graduated from a desegregated high school, became a travel agent, married and had four sons. She later wrote about her early experiences in two books and received the Carter G. Woodson Book Award.
A lifelong activist for racial equality, in 1999, Ruby established The Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote tolerance and create change through education. In 2000, she was made an honorary deputy marshal in a ceremony in Washington, DC.
Elouise Cobell, (1945-2011)
Elouise Pepion Cobell (“Yellow Bird Woman”) was an entrepreneur, banker, advocate, and member of the Blackfeet Nation who fought tirelessly for government accountability and for Native Americans to have control over their own financial future. Cobell was first appointed as the treasurer for the Blackfeet Nation, and went on to found the Blackfeet National Bank, now part of the Native American Bank, the first national bank located on a Native American reservation and established by a Tribe in the United States. In 2001, 20 tribal nations and Alaska Native corporations joined in the newly launched Native American Bank. Today, 31 tribes participate in the Bank which has assets of $128 million and provides financing across Indian country. In 1997, Cobell was named a MacArthur Fellow for her work in support of tribal banking self-determination and financial literacy education.
On June 10, 1996, Cobell and the Native American Rights Fund filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior for the mismanagement of Indian Trust Funds owed to over 300,000 individual tribal members. The lawsuit alleged that the Bureau of Indian Affairs mismanaged and abused the Indian Trust Funds for over a century, resulting in high poverty rates for Native Americans. Elouise Cobell was not only the lead plaintiff on Cobell v. Salazar, but also raised money for the lawsuit, donating part of her MacArthur Genius Grant to the cause. After 13 years of arduous court battles, the federal government settled for $3.4 billion. It was 16-years by the time Congress ratified the settlement.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, (1959-)
Kimberlé W. Crenshaw is a pioneering scholar and writer on civil rights, critical race theory, Black feminist legal theory, and race, racism, and the law. She currently holds positions with Columbia Law School and the University of California, Los Angeles.
Crenshaw’s work has been foundational to the field of critical race theory; in 1987, she coined the term “intersectionality” to describe the double bind of simultaneous racial and gender prejudice. Her writing and activism have identified key issues in the perpetuation of inequality, including the “school to prison pipeline” for Black children and the criminalization of behavior among Black teenage girls. After co-founding Columbia Law School’s African American Policy Forum (AAPF), Crenshaw and Andrea Ritchie authored Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women, which drew attention to the killings of Black women and girls by police. The #SayHerName campaign was subsequently launched by Crenshaw and the AAPF in December 2014.
Crenshaw’s groundbreaking work on intersectionality was influential in the drafting of the equality clause in the South African Constitution. She authored the background paper on race and gender discrimination for the United Nations’ World Conference on Racism in 2001, served as the rapporteur for the conference’s expert group on gender and race discrimination, and coordinated NGO efforts to ensure the inclusion of gender in the WCAR Conference Declaration.
Peggy McIntosh, (1934-)
Peggy McIntosh is an educational innovator, race relations and feminist activist, author, and public speaker, best known for her seminal 1989 article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” She derived her understanding of white privilege from observing parallels with male privilege, and her work has been instrumental in introducing the dimension of privilege, or unearned power, into discussions of gender, race, sexuality, and colonialism. Her own experiential examples of unearned power have inspired people around the world to explore the impact of privilege on themselves and on society.
McIntosh is also the founder of the National SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Project on Inclusive Curriculum, the nation’s largest interdisciplinary program for peer-led professional development of educators. She has published more than 40 papers—on privilege, women’s studies, educational reform, and the connections between personal and systemic change. Sixteen of her most influential essays are collected in her book On Privilege, Fraudulence, and Teaching As Learning. Over 58 years, McIntosh taught English, American Studies, or Women’s Studies at the Brearley School, Harvard University, Trinity College (Washington, DC), Durham University, the University of Denver, and Wellesley College. In 2021 Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences awarded her its highest honor, the Centennial Medallion, for her “unflinching commitment to naming white privilege and confronting systemic forces of oppression.”
Judith Plaskow, (1947-)
Judith Plaskow is an American theologian, author, and activist known for being the first Jewish feminist theologian. She earned her doctorate from Yale University in 1975 and spent over three decades teaching Religious Studies at Manhattan College. Plaskow launched the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion in 1985 and served as the journal’s editor for its first 10 years and from 2012 to 2016. Plaskow also helped found B’not Esh, a Jewish feminist spirituality collective and served as president of the American Academy of Religion.
Plaskow’s work has remained critical in the development of Jewish feminist theology. Her most significant work, Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective, argues that the absence of female perspectives in Jewish history has negatively impacted the religion and she urges Jewish feminists to reclaim their place in the Torah and in Jewish thought. It is one of the first Jewish feminist theological texts ever written and is considered by some to be one of the most important Jewish texts of the 20th century.
Loretta Ross, (1953-)
Loretta J. Ross is a Black academic, feminist, and activist for reproductive justice, especially among women of color. Driven by her personal experiences as a survivor of rape and nonconsensual sterilization, Ross has dedicated her extensive career in academia and activism to reframing reproductive rights within a broader context of human rights. Over her decades of grassroots organizing and national strategic leadership, Ross has centered the voices and well-being of women of color.
Ross is a Professor at Smith College in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender where she teaches courses on white supremacy, human rights, and Calling In the Call Out Culture. In 2022, she was announced a MacArthur Fellow for her work as an advocate for reproductive justice and human rights.
Prior to academia, Ross was the National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (2005-2012) and co-created the theory of Reproductive Justice. She served as the National Co-Director of the 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C. and founded the National Center for Human Rights Education (NCHRE) in Atlanta, Georgia. Her leadership has also included national programming for the National Black Women’s Health Project, the launch of the Women of Color Program for the National Organization for Women (NOW).
Sandy Stone, (1936-)
Allucquére Rosanne Stone, also known as Sandy Stone, is an academic, media theorist, author, performance artist, multi-instrumentalist, educator, and programmer. Best known for her groundbreaking 1987 essay, “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttransexual Manifesto,” Stone is considered a founder of the academic discipline of transgender studies. She is currently Associate Professor and Founding Director of the Advanced Communication Technologies Laboratory (ACTLab) at the University of Texas at Austin. She is also the Wolfgang Kohler Professor of Media and Performance at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.
Stone’s impressive career began long before her academic accomplishments. She made a career in the late 1960’s and 70’s as a sound engineer working alongside well-known musicians like Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, and Van Morrison. She was heavily involved in the second wave feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s and beginning in 1974 lived and worked as a house engineer with the Olivia Records collective, a radical feminist music company located at the time in Los Angeles, California.
Stone was assigned male at birth but spent her life knowing she didn’t feel like a boy, despite her male anatomy and societal expectations. In the 1970s, she publicly transitioned to living as a woman, taking her name Allucquére from a character in her friend, Robert A. Heinlein’s novel, The Puppet Masters. Stone was essential in creating a framework for those seeking to understand both womanhood and being a transgender woman. Much of her work is fighting against exclusionary gender essentialism, which is the idea that gender and gender-based characteristics are inherently linked to biological traits, chromosomes, and the sex a person is assigned at birth.
Anna Wessels Williams, (1863-1954)
Anna Wessels Williams was an American pathologist and pioneer in the study of immune responses to infectious diseases at the turn of the 20th century. Over the course of her research career, she worked on developing vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests for many diseases, including diphtheria, rabies, scarlet fever, smallpox, influenza, and meningitis. Notably, Williams worked at the New York City Department of Health’s diagnostic laboratory specifically on projects that tackled diphtheria. In her first year at the lab, she isolated a strain of the diphtheria bacillus which could be used to produce the antitoxin for diphtheria in large quantities. This fundamental discovery increased the availability of the antitoxin and cut production costs, which was crucial to controlling the devasting disease.
Within a year of Williams’ discovery, the antitoxin was being shipped to doctors in the United States. In 1896, Williams began researching rabies, hoping to find effective methods of diagnosing and treating the disease. Within two years, she had developed an effective vaccine which could be mass produced. Not satisfied with her own vaccine’s success rate, Williams studied the brains of rabies infected animals in an effort to diagnose the condition sooner, which would allow for more effective treatment. Her observation of abnormalities in the brain cells of infected animals led to the creation of a test capable of producing results in minutes. Her test became the standard rabies test for the next 30 years. In 1932, she became the first woman to be elected chair of the laboratory section of the American Public Health Association.