Born in Wilmington, Del, the eldest of 13 children, Mary Ann Shadd Cary was a role model for women in education and law. She devoted her life to abolition and became the first African-American woman to edit a weekly newspaper. Not only a teacher, she established schools for blacks in Wilmington, West Chester, PA New York and New Jersey. After the Civil War, Cary became the first woman to enter Howard University Law School and one of the first women to obtain a law degree in the U.S. She fought for women suffrage, and became the first black woman to cast a vote in a national election. As an educator, an abolitionist, an editor, an attorney and a feminist, she dedicated her life to improving the quality of life for everyone – black, white, male and female.

FANNY WRIGHT (1795-1852)

Known as the “Rebel in America,” Fanny Wright was the first American woman to speak publicly against slavery and for the equality of women. A rebel who pursued equality for all, she lived according to her own ideals rather than society’s dictates. She wrote a treatise setting forth a plan for the emancipation of slaves. She gave public lectures, considered scandalous in society of her time. She supported freethinkers, published the Free Enquirer, calling for birth control, liberalized divorce laws and more. Courageous throughout her life, her tombstone reads, “I have wedded the cause of human improvement, staked on it my fortune, my reputation and my life.”


Katharine Dexter McCormick made a significant impact on women’s equality in several major areas. As Vice President and Treasurer of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Assoc., she helped achieve ratification of the 19th Amendment. She helped form the League of Women Voters, serving as its first VP, helping to educate women in the political process and worked to promote their political power. She used her wealth to fund the essential research that led to the discovery and development of an oral hormone contraceptive. After the Pill was developed in 1956, she continued to help and finance research on its long-term effects. The Pill has helped legitimize the study of human sexuality and significantly advanced women’s health and independence. One of the few female graduates of MIT, she received her bachelor’s degree in biology in 1904. When she attended MIT women constituted only 3% of the student body and their numbers remained at that level through the 1950’s. Realizing that one of the main barriers to women entering MIT was the lack of campus housing, Katherine fully funded MIT’s first on-campus residence for women, thereby helping to open the science and engineering professions to women. Today, women make up about 40% of MIT’s undergraduate population, thanks to this great lady in history.