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.

My 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. 

Portrait of Michele Roberts
I played to win.
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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. 


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,”, May 23, 2016


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Sandra Cisneros
I gave my word.
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Sandra Cisneros


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.


Photo: Sandra Cisneros, © Keith Dannemiller

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

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Mary Church Terrell portrait
I was a step ahead.
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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.


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

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Julia Child poses in her kitchen, mid-laugh
I made a mess in the kitchen.
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Julia Child

Chef, Entrepreneur, TV Personality, Author

I WAS 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.

The kitchen is the beating heart of the house. All you really need is a kitchen, bedroom and office.

We called my show "The French Chef" because it fit on one line in the TV Guide. We filmed in my kitchen. Anyone who has been in the kitchen knows that awful things can happen. If you cook, you have to make do. Cooking is a kind of a drama. You start with nothing, then you end up with something to eat.

Familiar to millions who watched her Emmy Awardwinning show, Julia Child’s kitchen is at the Smithsonian. It will be used to tell her story and other women’s stories about daring to try something new and succeeding.


Photo: Julia Child in her kitchen in France. © Marc Riboud, Magnum Photos

Content: Emily Rooney interview with Julia Child, 2001, WGBH 

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Wilma Mankiller
I led my nation.
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Wilma Mankiller

Principal Chief, Cherokee Nation

IN BELL, OKLAHOMA, 25 percent of people didn’t have indoor plumbing and lived in dilapidated conditions. We proposed they build a waterline and rehab their houses, as volunteers. We’d supply the technical engineering. 

Most were on welfare; people said they’d never show up. They showed up. 

We proved that Cherokee values were alive. I was trying to encourage our people to trust their thinking again, to look to themselves for solutions. 

I want to be remembered as the person who helped indigenous people restore faith in themselves. 

Wilma Mankiller’s memoir is at the Smithsonian. It will be used to tell her story and other women’s stories of inspiring her people and leading a nation. 


Photo: Courtesy of Wilma Mankiller Foundation

Content: Dick Pryor interview with Wilma Mankiller, OETA, 2008

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