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Drawing out Her Legacy: Eight Women to Know

Line drawing of Ruth Muskrat Bronson on a yellow post-it note. She wears traditional Cherokee clothing and wears her hair in two long braids.

Illustration of Ruth Muskrat Bronson. Smithsonian Channel.

Designed to stop your thumb and grab your attention as you scroll through your social media feeds this Women's History Month, 26 videos by the Smithsonian Channel highlight women from American history, including artists, daredevils, activists, inventors, and more.

Can you guess the portrait before time runs out? Here are a few we don't want you to miss.

 

 

1. Ruth Asawa

Ruth Asawa was a sculptor, artist, and arts advocate known for her abstract wire sculptures and large public projects. Asawa was one of nearly 75,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry and 45,000 Japanese nationals incarcerated by the U.S. government during World War II. Her children later donated her incarceration camp ID to the National Portrait Gallery.

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A woven chair is printed in white ink on a black background, while an abstracted shadow of white squares floats behind it.
Print, The Chair, 1965; Ruth Asawa (American, 1926–2013); Lithograph on paper; Gift of International Business Machines Corp., 1969-124-1; © Smithsonian Institution
 

 

 

 

2Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray

Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray worked as an activist, lawyer, and poet. Her long legacy of fighting injustice includes creating the term "Jane Crow" to describe intersectional discrimination faced by black women. She cofounded the National Organization for Women and served as a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union. She became the first black female Episcopal priest in 1977. Murray also wrote about being queer and gender nonconforming. She said she was "a girl who should have been a boy."

You can currently learn more about Murray and her writing about her family at our National Museum of African American History and Culture in their exhibit Pauli Murray's Proud Shoes: A Classic in African American Genealogy.


 

 

3. Celia Cruz

Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1925, Celia Cruz helped popularize salsa music in the U.S. and across the globe. She released more than 70 albums during her decades-long career. In 1994, she was awarded the National Medal of the Arts. Cruz was known for her larger-than-life personality and elaborate stage costumes. Our National Museum of American History collected her bata cubana, or Cuban Rumba Dress. You can find a pop-art portrait of Cruz in the collection of our Anacostia Community Museum and her stamp at our National Postal Museum.

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alt="Red, gold, and blue sequin dress designed with horizontal, varied stripes and large open sleeves."
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Gift of the Celia Cruz Knight Estate.
 

 

 

4. Sunita Williams

Sunita Williams is the first woman to ever run a marathon in space! (She's also completed a triathlon in orbit.) Williams, an Indian American astronaut, participated in four missions aboard the International Space Station. On one mission, Williams studied Nefertiti, a jumping spider that retired to our National Museum of Natural History. Nefertiti was the first jumping spider to return to Earth and successfully readjust to life. You can watch Williams talk about her experiences of spacewalking during an event at our National Air and Space Museum.


 

 

5. Dolly Parton

Did you know that Dolly Parton started performing at age 10? Parton is a singer-songwriter, philanthropist, businesswoman, and actor. She received the Living Legend Award from the Library of Congress in 2007. Our National Museum of American History's collection includes a country music fan's photo album that includes photos of Parton performing in 1972. 


 

 

6. Kathy Sullivan

Kathy Sullivan was the first American woman to walk in space. She was one of the first six women to join the NASA astronaut corps in 1978. She has worked as an oceanographer, geologist, and astronaut. Her 15-year career in NASA included the mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope. See her extravehicular activity gloves from a 1984 space shuttle mission and learn more about her first spacewalk with our National Air and Space Museum.


 

 

7. Ruth Muskrat Bronson

In Ruth Muskrat Bronson worked alongside fellow Native women writers and artists to pressure the U.S. to acknowledge the then-forgotten history of removal of American Indians. Her 1922 poem, "Trail of Tears," helped bring the event to national attention. She lobbied President Calvin Coolidge for more schools and overall equity for American Indians. In 1950, she was appointed executive secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

You can learn more about Bronson from our National Museum of the American Indian in their Americans exhibition in Washington, D.C. 


 

 

8. Shirley Chisholm

In 1969, Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to Congress. She served seven terms and championed anti-poverty programs and educational reform. She was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women's Political Caucus. In 1972, she campaigned for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. You can see a poster for her presidential campaign from our National Portrait Gallery, and buttons from her campaign in the collection of our National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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