Women’s History Month: 11 Women Activists You Should Know

In the United States, March is designated as Women’s History Month. Here is a short list of leaders and activists whose work and advocacy are making history.

Esmerelda Simmons

Esmerelda Simmons is the executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, NY, which provides legal services to people facing voter suppression and discrimination. Simmons has been fighting for equal rights for over three decades as a civil rights attorney. Simmons was raised in Brooklyn by immigrant parents from St. Croix. Simmons cites the “culture shock” of moving from public housing in a predominately Black neighborhood to a majority white area as an influence in her pursuit of civil and racial justice work. In 2014 she was named a New York State Woman Of Distinction, and in 2018 she received the Haywood Burns Award from the New York State Bar Association.

Melanie Campbell

Melanie Campbell is the CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and she has worked for youth and women’s rights for more than two decades. Campbell helped create Black Youth Vote!, a youth-focused leadership development program, which played a key role in the 2012 election. Campbell also runs the Black Women’s Roundtable, which advocates for policies to advance women, including appointing them to high-level positions in government. You can follow Campbell on twitter @coalitionbuildr

LaToya Ruby Frazier

LaToya Ruby Frazier is an acclaimed photographer and MacArthur Genius Award winner who treats her art like activism. Frazier’s photography focuses on images from industrial towns and cities across America that highlight the struggles of working-class Black families. Frazier’s powerful work illuminates how issues like racism, economic erosion, and environmental degradation make the “American dream” unattainable for most Black people. Frazier’s work was featured in the September 2020 issues of Vanity Fair, which featured the life and murder of Breonna Taylor.

Gabby Rivera

Gabby Rivera is a Queer activist and the author of Juliet Takes a Breath, a critically acclaimed coming-of-age story book about a queer Puerto Rican girl trying to figure out her identity. She’s also responsible for creating Marvel’s America Chavez, a comic featuring the franchise’s first queer, Latinx teen-girl superhero. Rivera serves as a Youth Programs Manager at GLSEN, a leading education organization focused on providing LGBTQ students with a safe experience at school. You can follow her on Twitter @QuirkyRican

Negin Farsad

Negin Farsad is a comedian and American-Muslim who uses her humor to call attention to social justice issues. Farsad is the acclaimed writer, director, and star of The Muslims are Coming!, a documentary meant to highlight and combat islamophobia by following American-Muslim comics on a tour around the United States. Farsad is also the author of How to Make White People Laugh, a memoir about the struggle of growing up Iranian-American after 9/11. Farsad’s work is proof that laughter can change the world. You can follow Farsad on Twitter @NeginFarsad

Ashton Applewhite

Ashton Applewhite is an anti-ageism activist and her book This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism flips the narrative on society’s view of aging (something to be avoided at all costs) to something positive, a process that unites us all. In Applewhite’s TedTalk, “Let’s end ageism” she address what she calls one of the last acceptable prejudices. “Aging is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured,” she says. “It is a natural, powerful, lifelong process that unites us all.” You can follow Applewhite on Twitter @thischairrocks

Kimberley Chongyon Motley

Kimberley Chongyon Motley is an international human rights and civil rights attorney from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is the first and only attorney from the West to work in Afghanistan, where she spends 9 months out of the year fighting for the freedom of countless victims. Motley is the author of 2 books: Lawless: A lawyer’s unrelenting fight for justice in a war zone and Lawless: A Lawyer’s Unrelenting Fight for Justice in One of the World’s Most Dangerous Places. In Motley’s TEDGlobal talk she shares her knowledge and expertise on international law, as well as her hands-on experience approaching criminal, commercial, civil, and human rights issues.

Mariah Moore

Mariah Moore is is the Organizing Program Associate for Transgender Law Center. Her work includes fighting to ensure equity, equality and safety for the transgender community, especially Black transgender women. Moore was featured in The Guardian in 2020 for her work in New Orleans when the pandemic hit. Moore, just 32, organized other trans activists in cultivating an emergency Covid fund and raised more than $20,000 for transgender and nonbinary citizens at risk. This activism led Moore to creating House of Tulip, Louisiana’s first refuge for trans and nonbinary residents. You can donate and follow House of Tulip on Twitter @houseoftulipno

Erika Andiola

Erika Andiola is an immigration rights activist and the Chief Advocacy Officer for the organization RAICES, a non-profit organization that aims to provide legal services to immigrants and refugees. In 2012, Andiola appeared on the cover of Time magazine with 35 other immigrants living in the U.S. without papers. Her Twitter @ErikaAndiola handle says she is “undocumented and unafraid.” Andiola went viral in 2014 when a video surfaced of her, and other Latinx activists, confronting former Representative. Steve King (R-Iowa) over federal immigration policy. Andiola also co-founded the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, an organization that fights for immigrant rights in her home state.

Patrisse Cullors

Patrisse Cullors is not only an author, artist, and activist, she is the woman responsible for the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. Cullors wrote the hashtag after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin in 2013. Before that Cullors founded the group Dignity and Power Now in 2012 to fight for law enforcement reform, and dignity and power for incarcerated individuals, and advocates for the rights of the LGBGTQ community, in Los Angeles County. In 2017 Cullors, and the other founders of Black Lives Matter, received the Sydney Foundation Peace Prize for “building a powerful movement for racial equality.” You can follow Cullors on Twitter @OsopePatrisse

Alice Wong

Alice Wong is a the Founder and Director of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community which records and shares disability-related media. Wong’s advocacy for the disabled led to a national leadership profile and a 2013-2015 appointment to Obama’s National Council on Disability. In 2015, Wong attended the reception at the White House for the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act via telepresence robot. Wong is a writer and a podcaster. Her focus is on creating, amplifying and sharing disability media and culture. You can follow Wong on Twitter @DisVisibility

Risa

Risa has a Masters and Bachelors degree in Social Work. She is an Associate Therapist who has worked in child abuse prevention, adoption, and volunteers as a CASA . She is a mother of 4 and in her spare time she is a voracious reader, snarker, and subversive cross-stitcher.

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11 Responses

  1. Nancy Ross says:

    Thanks for this list, Risa! You list several memoirs in this list and I’m going to add those to my reading list. What do you feel like you learned by looking into these women?

    • Risa says:

      Thanks for asking, Nancy. I had no idea about Ashton Applewhite’s advocacy until I happened upon her TedTalk a couple weeks back. Maybe it’s because I’m 42 and I’m starting to think about aging more, but her points about age discrimination really spoke to me.

      I loved learning more about Alice Wong. I think because I was a child when the ADA was passed I’ve taken disability access for granted. After watching Crip Camp and seeing the literal struggle people with disabilities have gone through just for equal access, it really opened my eyes to fight for more access and inclusivity of everyone. I often think of Reese Dixon’s words about how everyone with a disability wants everything that every able bodied person wants – love, intimacy, meaningful work, validation, etc.

  2. Mindy says:

    This is an awesome list of women to celebrate and support! I’ve been looking for resources for FHE and love the idea of sharing some of these stories and accomplishments with my family.

    • Risa says:

      It makes me so happy to hear about using this for FHE. We definitely don’t learn enough about women and gender minority’s contributions in church materials.

  3. Em says:

    LaToya Frazier’s photographs are so powerful! I hadn’t seen that article in Vanity Fair. Thanks for sharing!

    • Risa says:

      Isn’t her work incredible? It was Vanity Fair that introduced me to Frazier’s work and I don’t often think about the person behind the camera, but her work is powerful, like you said.

  4. EmilyCC says:

    Thank you for this resource! I haven’t done much to celebrate Women’s History Month, and this is an easy and great place for me to start.

    I also wanted to plug Gabby Rivera. Her interview with Brene Brown showed a joy and hope for life that I don’t think I have ever heard conveyed through a podcast. So fun to listen to!

    • Risa says:

      Brene Brown’s podcast introduced me to Gabby as well. What a bright light! Her book, “Juliet takes a breath” is now on my “Want To Read” list.

  5. Chiaroscuro says:

    What an amazing list of women, thank you for bringing them to our attention!

  6. spunky says:

    I echo the above! These women look amazing! And podcast recommendations for American Women’s History month that might showcase these women?

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