March is Women’s History Month – a time when the nation celebrates the contributions of women to society and recognizes the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history.
At Ford Motor Company Fund, we salute trailblazing African American women who – through their courage and perseverance – have paved the way for others.
Let’s take a look back at some of the African American women who inspired future generations to reach for the stars and beyond:
Phillis Wheatley – First African American poet to publish a book. Although enslaved, she was one of the best-known poets in pre-19th century America and a household name among literate colonists. She led the way for poets such as Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovani, Maya Angelou, and Sonia Sanchez.
Mary Jane Patterson – First Black woman to graduate from an established American college, Oberlin. Paved the way for millions of African American women who have graduated since her accomplishment.
Mary Eliza Mahoney – Born in 1845, she was the first African American licensed nurse. At the age of 33, she was admitted to graduate school for nursing and went on to have a 40-year career. Mahoney carved a path for thousands of African American nurses who are on the frontline of today’s COVID crisis and treat millions of patients across the world.
Maggie Lena Mitchell – Daughter of a former slave who established a newspaper before founding the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1903, the first Black-owned bank in the United States. Mitchell led the way for Black-owned banks today including One United Bank, Citizens Trust Bank, and First Independence Bank.
Alice Dunnigan – The first African American female White House correspondent and the first black female member of the Senate and House of Representatives press galleries. Dunnigan blazed the trail for White House Correspondent, April Ryan, and many other African American women journalists.
Wilma Rudolph – Dubbed the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s, Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track. She served as a mentor to many track stars such as Florence Griffith Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, as well as Allyson Felix who now follows in the footsteps of Rudolph as a four-time Olympian, breaking Usain Bolt’s record for the most ever gold medals.
Mae Jemison – Enrolled at Stanford University at age 16 and in 1977 graduated with degrees in chemical engineering and African American studies. She became the first Black woman to travel in space in 1992. She led the way for NASA astronauts such as Jeanette Epps, Stephanie Wilson, Yvonne Cagle, Joan Higginbotham, and Jessica Watkins.
Zelda Valdes – Born in 1905, Valdes was a classically trained pianist who started a dressmaking business in New York City. It was the first Black-owned business on Broadway. She dressed Dorothy Dandridge and Josephine Baker and outfitted the entire wedding party of Nat King Cole. She designed the original Playboy Bunny costume, which became the first commercial uniform to be registered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. She blazed the trail for modern designers such as Ann Lowe, Tracy Reese, and Stella Jean.
On FGB.life social platforms, we will highlight women who made history as the first in their fields, as well as recognize those who are shining brightly and making an imprint on the world today is what we call “The Time of The Black Woman.”
African American women are the heartbeat of America. Their ingenuity keeps us moving and we thank them for their contributions.
Follow and engage with our Women’s History Month campaign via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @fgblife.