It’s March already. 😬 But March means Women’s History Month and we love that! 🙋♀️💪 In honor of this, we’ve curated a short list (much shorter than deserved) of extraordinary women who have impacted younger generations through education. These women have overcome obstacles to blaze the trails for those who would follow them and continue moving education toward a more equitable experience for all students. Feel free to share in your classrooms, research more influential women, and encourage your students to learn more!
Fannie Jackson Coppin was in college in the 1860s during the Civil War, in a time when schools were refusing to serve freed slaves. When she enrolled in 1860, Oberlin College in Ohio was one of the first white schools to open its doors to black students. After graduating, Fannie was a teacher at the Institute for Colored Youth in Pennsylvania where she would be promoted to principal four years later and hold that position for nearly 40 years.
In her tenure as principal, she eliminated tuition so that all students could attend regardless of family income. Fannie was determined to educate, encourage, and support her students to participate in civic society and to value racial solidarity as the racial tensions continued to grow during that time. She also added trade classes to round out the opportunities the school had to offer.
Linda Perkins, an associate professor at Claremont Graduate University, stated, “People were in awe of this woman because of her dedication not only to the field of education but to her race. She believed education would free black people.”
Mary Jane McLeod Bethune was an educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, and civil rights activist. She was the daughter of freed slaves and grew up working on a cotton farm. After graduating from the Dwight Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago, Illinois, she became a teacher in South Carolina. She later moved to Florida and opened the Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls, a boarding school. With time and monetary contributions garnered by Mary, the school became a college and eventually merged with an all-male establishment to become the Bethune-Cookman College.
In addition to her work advocating for the education of black Americans, she also took part in government, serving under President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration as well as the leader of FDR’s “black cabinet.” Not stopping there, Mary’s mission of racial and gender equality led her to play important roles in the NAACP, the Women’s Army Corps, and the United Nations, among other organizations.
Lily Ann Granderson was born a slave, and while she was a house slave in Kentucky, the master’s children taught her how to read and write. After the death of her master, she was sold to a cotton plantation in Mississippi where she worked in the fields. When her health began to decline, she was relocated to the master’s home to be a house slave once more.
It was in the town of Natchez where she would teach the children slaves to read and write at midnight in a hidden room down a back alley. It was illegal to educate slaves, so Lily was surprised when, after seven years, her secret school was found but no arrests were made. There were no laws against slaves teaching slaves, so she was able to continue teaching for many years after. With the education given them by Lily, hundreds of slaves were able to write their own “travel passes” and travel to freedom. After the Civil War, she continued to teach freed slaves to read and write.
Mary Jackson was one of the African American women called “human computers” at NASA in the 1950s and 60s. Her expertise in mathematics played a major part in developing the space program. At the time, segregation and discrimination were the norm, but Mary continued to work hard despite the beliefs of those around her. On top of her challenging mathematics work, she also took engineering classes to advance her career. Soon, she was promoted to become NASA’s first Black female engineer and contributed on important experiments and research studies. Throughout her tenure there, Mary became a leading voice for women and other minorities to further their careers.
Outside of NASA, she worked at the Hampton’s King Street Community center in the 1970s and helped the kids in the science club build their own wind tunnel and perform experiments. She advocated for black children to get interested in science and educated them on the many career opportunities that would be available to them. Mary was also a Girl Scout troop leader, a chair for the NASA United Way campaigns, and a member of the National Technical Association.
For more information on these wonderful women and many more, visit womenshistorymonth.gov and continue celebrating the women of the world!