Of course black women have played significant roles in black and American history. As Black History Month celebrates black leaders, black firsts and important historical events and periods of the Black Diaspora, sometimes it seems to focus on the same black pioneers and leaders over and over again.
When you think of black women in history — Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman probably come to mind for civil rights and advocacy. When you think of black women first you probably think of Bessie Coleman and Madame C.J. Walker. When you think of black women in entertainment who broke down many barriers — you probably think of Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Bessie Smith and Hattie McDaniel.
But what about the unsung black women in entertainment, politics, education, civil rights, public affairs and sports who broke down barriers for women and black people?
MadameNoire has compiled a list of 15 black women you probably don’t know about, but should because they were the ones who took a stand or broke down barriers in a racial and racist America.
You can check out part one here, and please let us know of any other unsung black women historymakers in the comment section below — as there are so many black women (and girls) in history who rocked and played a significant role in the betterment of our people.
Alice Marie Coachman
… became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 1948.
Carolyn R. Payton
… became the first woman and first black director of the Peace Corps in 1977.
…was the first black woman to enlist in the army posing as a man named Williams Cathay in 1866.
…BELIEVED to be the first black woman to own and operate a newspaper (California Eagle) in 1912 until 1951, and the first black woman to be nominated for vice president by the Progressive Party in 1952.
…was the first black woman to be elected into the US state senate with a Michigan seat in 1952.
was the second black actress nominated for an Academy Award in best supporting for Pinky in 1950. She was also the first black actress to star in her own TV program (“The Ethel Waters Show” on NBC), becoming the first black actress nominated for an Emmy award for “Route 66” in 1962.
Fanny Jackson Coppin
The first black woman school principal in 1869 at the Institute for Colored Youth — improving educational experiences in Philadelphia for 37 years.
The first black poet to win a Pulitzer Prize winner for Annie Allen in 1950.
Lucy Diggs Slowe
The first black female athlete to win a major sports title at the American Tennis Association’s first tournament in 1917. She was also one of the 16 founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.
Mary Eliza Mahoney
She was the first formally trained black nurse at New England Hospital for Women and Children in 1879; she went on to co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908.
Fields was the first black postal carrier (of United States Postal Services) in 1895 and respected as Stagecoach Mary.
Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones
Was the first black singer to perform at Carnegie Hall in 1892 and revered as the Black Patti (after Italian opera singer Adelina Patti).
The first black graduate of Smith College and the first black female graduate of Yale University with a Ph.D. in 1926.
Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander
The first black woman to ever earn a Ph.D. just years before Cromwell in 1921 at the University of Pennsylvania in economics.
Sarah Jane Woodson Early
…was the first black female college professor at Wilberforce University in 1858.