BHM Spotlight: Influential Black Women in History


Image Source: Teen Vogue

Analise Bruno, Editor-in-Chief

BMH Spotlight: Influential Black Women in History

Women, particularly those belonging to minority groups, often have their contributions overlooked due to gender inequalities. While some of the most brilliant female minds have delivered us some of the world’s most powerful lessons and useful inventions, their influence on society has not been given the credit it deserves. With that being said, I would like to highlight a Black woman who had a major impact on our history. 

  1. Elizabeth Eckford: The Little Rock Nine is known in history as a group of 9 Arkansas teenagers who were the first to integrate an all-white school from their state, and were met with opposition. However, what most people don’t know is the true story that appears behind that very brave photo of Eckford. The Little Rock Nine were met with more than just students holding angry posters, they truly faced intense abuse. Eckford recalled the white students spitting in her hair, chanting awful things such as “Lynch her” or “two-four-six-eight, we don’t want to integrate!” The Little Rock Nine knew they would be facing tough opposition that day, and planned to walk in together. However, plans changed overnight and Eckford did not have a phone so she was the first to step off the bus and remained all alone in front of the crowd of students hurling awful obscenities at her. I truly admire the perseverance shown by Eckford that is especially apparent in this photo of her. Eckford’s ability to look hate directly at its fate and push on forward was truly groundbreaking and paved the way for the future integration of all schools in the country. Truly nothing can stop a determined woman
  2. Mary Kenner: Best known for her work as an inventor, Mary Kenner brought to the table a plethora of inventions that have
    Image Source: Black Then

    helped better develop society, with her most famous one being the sanitary pad. Born to a family of inventors, Kenner had been tinkering with small bits and pieces her whole life. After graduating High School, and despite all the odds stacked against her to receive an education in the first place, Kenner developed the “sanitary belt” which essentially functioned as a long strap to hold sanitary napkins in place. Many companies were fascinated by her design ideas but proceeded to drop them as soon as they found out its inventor was Black. Racism prevented Kenner’s patent from being developed until at least 30 years later. However, what most people see as a pad today, actually comes from Kenner in her quest to revolutionize women’s comfort and menstrual hygiene in a time when women had limited options to deal with their periods. 

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    Mary Jane Richards: Perhaps one of the most buried names in history is that of Miss Mary Jane Richards who helped fool the confederacy in the Civil War. As many people know, during the creation of the USA, there was an ongoing argument over whether slavery could be permitted into new territories. Northerners voted against slavery, seeing it as cruel and unnecessary, while southern plantation owners view it as a necessary evil to keep their agriculture sales flourishing. This led to the Civil War, where Richards posed as a slave in Jefferson Davis’s house to spy on Confederate Civil War plans. Though she had previously escaped slavery, she sacrificed her life to go back and get ahold of the confederacy battle plans and report back to the union through a mistress to turn the tide in the war and abolish slavery. 

  4. Jane Bolin: Known as the first Black female judge. A Yale graduate, Bolin had entered law starting as a defense attorney for
    Image Source: Wikipedia

    the family court where she worked tirelessly to defend the disadvantaged women and children of New York. For decades she continued to advocate for policy change that would ensure predominantly Black schools receive adequate funding, and that they had access to public funds if they were struggling financially. She continued, alongside former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for years to decrease the crime rate amongst young Black boys and help disadvantaged neighborhoods. Bolin was finally sworn in as a judge in 1939. Under her rule, she achieved two main legal landmarks- eliminating the assignments of probation officers based on ethnicity, and making private child-care agencies running on public funds accept all children, regardless of skin color. She retired in 1978, but she paved the way for all future female attorneys and those entering the legal field. 

  5. Image Source: Biography

    Madam CJ Walker: Walker is best known for being the first Black millionaire in history, but her accomplishments go far beyond that. Walker suffered from a scalp condition that made her lose most of her hair, and motivated her to start creating her treatments that formed the foundation of the Black Hair Care industry, During that time, most stores and brands only really catered to the hair texture for white women, turning many Black women over to more natural resources to care for their head. After moving to Denver Colorado with just $1.05 to her name, Walker pursued her goals of selling hair care directed towards Black women. With products like Wonderful Hair Grower, Glossine, and Vegetable Shampoo, Walker gained a quick following and later opened her beauty salon. The effectiveness of her treatments earned her a reputable success as an entrepreneur. However, on top of just making her millions, Walker opened many salons that employed women who had migrated and were members of the Harlem Renaissance. This was greatly impactful because, at the time, the job options for Black women were extremely limited, and offered incredibly low/unfair pay. Today, she can be remembered as the woman who changed the course of Black hair care and financial independence. 

There are, of course, still millions of other influential Black artists, activists, musicians, and figures to learn from, these are just a few stories that pulled my attention. All of the women listed above, apart from their accomplishments, truly reshaped our entire history and gave back to the Black community and society in hundreds of different ways and deserved to be celebrated every day for it. Remember learning about Black history and culture goes far beyond February, make sure you are consistently educating yourself on their importance all 12 months of the year!