Three women mathematicians smiling
About the image
University of Chicago Mathematics Graduate Students Julia Bower, Abba Newton and Frances Baker in 1933. Unknown photographer. Gift of Julia Bower.

Her story is the nation’s story.

Who are these women? Do you know their stories and the contributions they made? We invite you to learn about them and how the Smithsonian honors their legacies. 
 

Maya Lin posing with one of her art exhibits, which involves marbles as a medium
I used my marbles.
Read more

Maya Lin

Sculptor, Architectural Designer

I EXPLORE how we experience and relate to nature, setting up a systematic ordering of the land, tied to history, memory, time and language.

My art is an ode to nature. The Chesapeake Bay is a favorite. It is intricate and meandering and has been changed by human activity. But, nature is resilient.

To represent its beauty and fragility, I studied satellite images and historical maps for Folding the Chesapeake, an installation of 54,000 marbles. Through this work, I hope to motivate people to protect the bay as a vibrant life force.

Folding the Chesapeake is at the Smithsonian. It will be used to tell Maya Lin’s story and other women’s stories of their passion to protect nature. 

Credits

Photo: Wolfe, Alexandra, “Art and Architecture: Maya Lin,” The Wall Street Journal, October 16, 2015. PHOTO MATT FURMAN

Content: Maya Lin, artist talk, 2015–2016, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery; Nodjimbadem, Katie, “Maya Lin Used 54,000 Marbles to Model the Chesapeake Bay,” Smithsonian Magazine, November 9, 2015
 

Credits Return to Image
Portrait of Mary Cassatt with a large black feathered headpiece
I made an impression.
Read more

Mary Cassatt

Artist

IT MAY INTEREST you what Degas said when he saw the picture you just bought for your Museum. It was painted in 1891 ... He was chary of praise, but he spoke of the drawing of the woman’s arm plucking the fruit and said no woman has the right to draw like that.

He said the color was like a Whistler. He had spoken of the picture to Berthe Morisot who did not like it. I can understand that. If it stands the test of time & is well drawn its place in a Museum might show the present generation we worked & learnt our profession.

Mary Cassatt’s paintings and letters are at the Smithsonian. They will be used to tell her story and other women’s stories of not compromising creativity.

Credits

Photo: Unidentified photographer, Mary Cassatt, 1914. Frederick A. Sweet research material on Mary Cassatt and James A. McNeill Whistler, 1872–1975. Archives of American Art

Content: Mary Cassatt letter to Homer Saint-Gaudens, December 28, 1922, Archives of American Art

Credits Return to Image
Portrait of Michele Roberts
I played to win.
Read more

Michele Roberts

Lawyer, Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association

I SAY THIS TO young people, especially those of color: Don’t worry whether you’re the only one, worry whether you’re the best one. 

There are things you cannot change. I can’t change that I’m an African American woman, and as it turns out, I like being an African American woman. 

The players rely on me to stand up and be their voice. I intend to be the best executive director in the history of the players union. I better be because if I’m not, then some silly person will say, 'well, she was a girl.'

The pen Michele Roberts used to sign a labor agreement between NBA players and owners is at the Smithsonian. It will be used to tell her story and other women’s stories of not backing down at the negotiating table. 

Credits

Photo: Keh, Andrew, “Smashing a Ceiling and A Lot of Egos, Michele Roberts, N.B.A. Union’s New Leader, Confronts Gender Barriers,” The New York Times, August 16, 2014. PHOTO GABRIELLA DECZUK 

Content: Chafkin, Max, “Outside Shooter,” The Atlantic, May 2015; Chew–Bose, Durga, “The Lenny Interview: Michele Roberts,” ELLE, October 2, 2015; Spears, Marc J.,“The Undefeated Interview: Michele Roberts,” undefeated.com, May 23, 2016
 

 

Credits Return to Image
Sandra Cisneros sitting on the front stoop of a house with a happy-looking dog
I gave my word.
Read more

Sandra Cisneros

Author

TO ME, Spanish is like a violin—clear and melodic. English is deeper, like a cello. My voice on the page comes from speaking Spanish and English. The punch-you-in-the-nose English is from my mom, the tender Spanish my father.

I found that voice when I began writing from a place of love. I wrote stories and poems that took me to my family and the things I saw in my community. I had never seen my home reproduced in a film, photograph or literature with love. So, I said, "Why don’t I write that story?"

Sandra Cisneros’ portrait is at the Smithsonian. It will be used to tell her story and other women’s stories of putting pen to paper to transform our national narrative.

Credits

Photo: Al Rendón, Sandra Cisneros, 1998 (printed 2014). Acquisition made possible through federal support to the Latino Initiatives Pool, admini-stered by the Smithsonian Latino Center, National Portrait Gallery © Al Rendón 2015

Content: Laura Hambleton interview with Sandra Cisneros, 2018, Smithsonian 

Credits Return to Image
Lisa Jaster in her military uniform
I shed my camouflage.
Read more

Lisa Jaster

Major in the U.S. Army Reserve, Engineer

SIX DAYS into Ranger School, I was exhausted. Every second of every day I was on my feet, running through woods or swamps. The Army’s Ranger School is one of the toughest courses in the military.

I was in the first class that allowed women. But, I was like a unicorn. I looked different, sounded funny and was older — a mother. When other soldiers saw me, they didn’t know how to react.

I kept thinking about young women launching their careers. I needed to set the example. Three of us made it through.

Lisa Jaster’s uniform is at the Smithsonian. It will be used to tell her story and other women’s stories of bravery and perseverance.

Credits

Photo: Hill, Glynn A., “Ranger School Grad Wanted to Prove that Women Aren’t So Weak,”  Houston Chronicle, September 17, 2016 © Houston Chronicle. PHOTO YI-CHIN LEE

Content: Laura Hambleton interview with Lisa Jaster, 2017, Smithsonian

Credits Return to Image
Joan Trumpauer's mug shot from Jackson, MS
I spoke out.
Read more

Joan Trumpauer

Freedom Fighter

I WAS put on death row at age 19 in Mississippi along with other Freedom Riders. The idea was to intimidate us because Parchman Penitentiary was a notorious, awful prison.

I had been taught to do unto others as I would have them do unto me and that all people were created equal. Segregation was wrong and I had to do something about it. I had protested in many sit-ins and picket lines before the Freedom Rides. The most violent protest was at the Jackson Woolworth lunch counter, which galvanized Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington.

Joan Trumpauer’s mug shot and ticket stub to Alabama are at the Smithsonian. They will be used to tell her story and other women’s stories of courage and fighting for your beliefs.
 

Credits

Photo: Joan Trumpauer, mug shot taken by the City of Jackson (MS) Police Department, 1961

Content: An Ordinary Hero: The True Story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, documentary, 2013; John Dittmer interview with Joan Trumpauer, Library of Congress, 2017
 

Credits Return to Image
Muriel Siebert smiling while seated at a desk
I took a seat at the table.
Read more

Muriel Siebert

Finanicer

I ARRIVED IN New York with $500, a used Studebaker and a dream. As a financial analyst, I earned 60 percent of what men were paid. I asked a client where I could go to find equal pay. He said, “You won’t. Buy a seat. Work for yourself.”

My application for a seat on the New York Stock Exchange turned Wall Street upside down. Never had a woman applied.

I bought the seat. In 1967, I was the only woman among 1,365 men. Within six months, I had a legitimate office. You have to have faith in yourself and believe “I can do it.”

Muriel Siebert’s portrait is at the Smithsonian. It will be used to tell her story and other women’s stories of challenging the rules.

Credits

Photo: Muriel Siebert, the 38-year-old analyst, is pleased at hearing she was elected to the New York Stock Exchange, January 16, 1968. Getty Images, Bettman/Contributor

Content: Muriel Siebert, “Muriel Siebert: First Lady of Wall Street,” Makers Profile, 2013

Credits Return to Image
Mary Church Terrell portrait
I was a step ahead.
Read more

Mary Church Terrell

Suffragist, Civil Rights Leader

COLORED WOMEN have always had high aspirations for themselves and their race. From the day when shackles fell from their fettered limbs till today, as individuals they have often struggled single handed and alone against the most desperate and discouraging odds.

But it dawned upon them finally that individuals working alone would accomplish little compared with the possible achievements of many individuals, banded strongly together throughout the entire land, with heads and hearts fixed on the same purpose.

Mary Church Terrell’s portraits are at the Smithsonian. They will be used to tell her story and other women’s stories about the struggle for equal rights.

Credits

Photo: Scurlock Studio Records, Mary Church Terrell, ca. 1935 –1940. Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Content: Mary Church Terrell, A Colored Women in a White World, unpublished manuscript, ca. 1940, Library of Congress

Credits Return to Image
Vera Rubin gazes at the sky through a telescope
I knew what mattered.
Read more

Vera Rubin

Astronomer

HOW COULD YOU possibly live on this Earth and not want to unravel the mystery of the cosmos?

I didn’t know a single astronomer. But, I really wanted to study astronomy, and I needed a scholarship to go to college. I applied to three places. One of them was Vassar.

The day I was notified I got a scholarship, I walked around the halls, and I met Mr. Himes, my physics teacher. I told him I had a scholarship to Vassar. And he said, “As long as you stay away from science, you should do okay.”

Vera Rubin’s spectrograph is at the Smithsonian. It will be used to tell her story and other women’s stories of pursuing ambition and reaching for the stars.

Credits

Photo: Vera Rubin at Vassar College, 1947. Courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Content: David H. DeVorkin interview with Vera Rubin, National Air and Space Museum, 1995

Credits Return to Image
Load More Stories