First, let’s get some truths out there: Black women and girls matter, our lives are important, our ideas and positive contributions are constantly changing the world, and we’re magic! Black women and girls may be more visible in popular culture nowadays, but like other races, we’ve always been poppin’! In honor of Black History Month, let’s pay homage to some exceptional melanated women who make all women proud.
Shirley Chisholm- The first woman to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination
lthough Hillary Clinton came close to becoming the United States’ first female president, Shirley Chisholm paved her path. Born November 30,1924 in Brooklyn, New York to Caribbean immigrant parents, this trailblazer became the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress and served New York's 12th Congressional District from 1969 to 1983.
Chisholm, who in 1952 received a master's degree in elementary education, became interested in politics while running a daycare center. On January 25, 1972 she announced her presidential bid and became both the first Black major-party candidate to run for the president of the United States and the first woman ever to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. Although Chisholm knew that she wouldn’t win the election, her main goal was to "change the face and future of American politics." Chisholm remained a powerful force to be reckoned with during the remainder of her life. She taught at Mount Holyoke College, rallied people of color to become politically involved at the local level, and joined 15 other Black women and men to form the organization, African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom.
Mary McLeod Bethune- Showed that Blackness and intelligence go hand in hand
Mary McLeod Bethune must’ve been a boss babe if she had her own school! Born July 10, 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina to former slaves, Bethune initially worked in the fields with her family but was able to pursue her education with the support of generous benefactors.
Although Bethune wanted to become a missionary in Africa after college, she was told that Black missionaries weren’t needed. This rejection led her down the path towards teaching Blacks in the United States. Bethune’s mentor, Lucy Craft Laney, inspired her to focus on educating girls and women to enhance the quality of life of Black people as a whole. After moving to Daytona, Florida, Bethune used $1.50 to start the Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls. In the beginning, her 5 female students burned wood to make pencils and used elderberry juice to make ink for their pens. After the first year, Bethune was teaching more than 30 girls. In 1931, the Methodist Church helped merge her school with the boys' Cookman Institute, which formed the co-educational junior college, Bethune-Cookman College. Bethune became president of the school and was one of the few women in the world to serve as a college president during that era.
Although Bethune was a powerful force in education, she was a dynamic political force as well. She served on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Black Cabinet, where she was one of the few women on the team to advise the Roosevelt administration on issues facing Black Americans. Bethune was also heavily involved in groups like the National Association of Colored Women and the National Youth Administration. Her many contributions to the United States included organizing the first officer candidate schools for Black women who wanted to join the military.
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner- The Woman Who Revolutionized The Way That We Go To The Bathroom
Ever had days where the best thing to happen to you was finding an extra sanitary napkin at the bottom of your purse? If this scenario applies to you, then you have Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner to thank. Born May 17, 1912 in Monroe, North Carolina, Davidson Kenner’s father inspired her to cultivate her inventive side. Although there isn’t extensive records on this girl boss, she invented the standard sanitary belt (which was an early version of the sanitary napkin) and the sanitary belt with a moisture-proof napkin pocket. It took 30 years for her work on the the sanitary napkin to be patented and the first company to show interest rejected her invention after discovering that she was a Black woman.
From 1956 to 1987, she received 5 patents for her inventions. She invented a bathroom tissue holder, which allowed the loose end of a toilet paper roll to be accessible at all times and a back washer that could be propped on the shower or bathtub wall. Davidson Kenner also patented a carrier attachment for the walker.
Not only was Davidson Kenner an inventor, but she was also a professional floral arranger who owned her own floral business in the Washington, DC area.
Being a woman can be tough and being a woman of color is an even greater challenge. But when life tries to downplay our intelligence, make us feel mediocre, or questions the gifts that we have to share with the world, let’s remember dynamic ladies like Shirley Chisholm, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner. They’re just a few of the countless women who have influenced our past so that we all can have a brighter future. So happy Black History Month to you because Black history is a part of your history too!
Astrid Heim | Contributor