As the white settlers began to migrate from the east coast west the country changed its identity from the Native Indians, who were forced onto reservations, to the early settlers and Colonial America began to take hold. This period culminated with the American Revolution when the new country won its independence from Great Britain, and with this a simple seamstress, Betsy Ross, is credited with making the first American flag which she presented to George Washington.
After the American Revolution, and with the new constitution, the country became diversified. It had its steel mills in the north and its large plantations of the south. The east coast was engaged in fishing, seafaring and trade, and the central and western states were continuing to be explored and settled. One Shoshone woman, Sacajewea, contributed to this cause when she accompanied Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition.
The 1800s was a period of unrest. There was the abolition movement that fought against slavery, and the development of the Underground Railroad that helped slaves to freedom. At the forefront of this movement was Harriet Beecher Stowe with her famous Uncle Tom's Cabin which brought the atrocities of slavery into the homes of the average people, especially the northerners who began to rally around the cause. Lucretia Mott not only was a strong advocate of abolition, she and her husband also made their home a station on the Underground Railroad, while Harriet Tubman helped more than 300 slaves to freedom.
This, of course, culminated in the Civil War where many women rose to the occasion. One such woman, Clara Barton, organized and delivered aid to both Union and Confederate soldiers, but she is best known as the founder of the American branch of the International Red Cross. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman physician in the United States, opened an infirmary and trained women in medicine. And, Dorothea Dix fought for social reform and war nursing. She was an advocate of asylum, poorhouse and prison reform, and served as the superintendent of female nurses during the Civil War.
Women's Suffrage also highlighted this period of history, and Susan B. Anthony is the woman most known for her contribution to women's rights. Louisa May Alcott also contributed her own brand of women's rights with her writings.
As the country moved into the 20^th century it faced two major world wars and the Great Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the country, but his wife, Eleanor, helped guide it in the right direction. She was well respected for her wisdom and concern for the common people. She worked for racial equality and was a U.S. representative to the U.N. Helen Keller, who was deafened and blinded as a child, overcame her disabilities and worked for the blind and other progressive causes. And Pearl S. Buck not only won the Nobel Prize in literature, she also worked for the adoption of unwanted children.
Toward the later half of the 20^th century civil rights and social reform dominated, beginning with Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. And, women's rights also continued to be an issue led by Gloria Steinem who articulated women's issues with lectures and appearances on TV. She founded several women's organizations and Ms. Magazine. Journalism and the age of TV took hold, led by Dorothy Fuldheim, the Jewish-American news journalist and television broadcaster who developed the format for television news programming.
These women were involved in causes, but there were also women who made great contributions from their own personal suffering, like Betty Ford. She was the first lady of Gerald Ford, but during his presidency she also suffered from substance abuse. Instead of hiding this fact, she made it a public matter and co-founded the country's leading treatment center. Nancy Goodman Brinker is not well known, but the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation that she founded is. When her sister, Susan Goodman Komen, died of breast cancer at the age of 36 she promised she would help other women learn more about breast cancer and fight for research and a cure.
These are some of the remarkable women covered in this series on Great American Women. If you would like to learn more about the famous women of America you may want to visit the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.