In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve compiled a short list of influential women in New York City history. From musicians, to activists, to writers and religious leaders, this city has hugely benefited from the wisdom of strong women throughout the centuries. Honor their collective legacy by calling your mom, sister or favorite female sage after reading this petite homage.
Born in Brooklyn, the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress. She was known for her fierce debate skills, anti-war efforts, and strong support of women’s rights—particularly for black women, and those left on the margins of society. She went on to make a bid for the democratic presidential nomination in 1972, losing to George McGovern. While she knew she’d lose, she famously said she ran “in spite of hopeless odds…to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo.”
Born in Philadelphia to teen-aged parents, Billie Holiday grew up struggling. Broke and poorly looked-after, Holiday became a prostitute at age 14, but eventually found her way to singing in nightclubs in Harlem. What she lacked in formal music training, she made up for with her raspy contralto and knack for improvisation. While she did not enjoy much critical success during her lifetime, she has been awarded 23 posthumous Grammys, and is now considered a jazz legend.
Anne Hutchinson was a key figure in the Americans’ pursuit of religious freedom, speaking out against authoritarian Puritanism, and encouraging people to seek a direct relationship with God. She lived with her 15 children in what would later become the Bronx, and was ultimately killed by Native Americans during Kieft’s War, in 1643.
American sex educator, nurse, and writer Margaret Sanger represents a key figure in the fight for reproductive rights. While she opposed abortion for most of her life, she popularized the term “birth control,” and founded the American Birth Control League, which would eventually evolve into Planned Parenthood. While she made huge contributions to the women’s reproductive rights movement, her questionable involvement with the eugenics movement, and the black community leave her legacy somewhat tarnished.
Known for her quick wit and eye for 20th century cultural hypocrisies, Dorothy Parker was an American poet, writer, critic and satirist who lived in Manhattan. She is best known for her writings in Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. She’s famous for having said of her hometown, “London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it.”