Influential Black Women in History
We’re dedicated to uplifting our Lounge Community and showcasing a variety of powerful women and their brains, beauty, talent and success stories. And this month is no different.
To celebrate Black History Month, we’re looking back at some of the most iconic and influential black women who have reshaped our future. We’re celebrating the likes of Rosa Parks and Oprah Winfrey and their incredible contributions to society.
Regarded as one of the most influential people of the twentieth century, Rosa Parks is best known for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956 and the Civil Rights Movement.
In December 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat on a Cleveland Avenue city bus when the ‘whites only’ section had filled up. She was arrested and received a $14 fine. This marked the beginning of the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Two years later, the US Supreme Court declared bus segregation unconstitutional.
In 1987, Parks founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, teaching students about the Civil Rights Movement and encouraging them to strive for success.
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner began inventing at the age of six when she attempted to create a self-oiling door hinge.
In 1957, Kenner was awarded her first patent, an official acknowledgement for her invention of the sanitary belt, which she invented in the 1920s. Over time she improved her original version and other versions which were patented before hers.
The Sonn-Nap-Pack Company contacted Kenner to market her invention but later declined when they discovered she was black.
Kenner invented other widely used products, including the toilet paper holder, which she created with her sister.
While Kenner didn’t receive any awards, her inventions paved the way for subsequent innovations. She also continues to hold the record for the greatest number of patents awarded to a black woman by the US government.
As the first African-American First Lady of the US, it’s only fitting that Michelle Obama is on our list of most influential black women.
Michelle has quickly become a role model for women and an advocate for healthy families, service members and their families, higher education and international adolescent girls’ education.
As First Lady, Obama initiated the Let’s Move! program, which aimed to end childhood obesity. She also promoted further education and led the Reach Higher Initiative to help students understand job opportunities and the qualifications and skills they need.
You may recognise the name from the 2016 film and book which tells the inspiring tale of three incredible women: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.
In the early 1960s, the three African-American women, who were all mathematicians for NASA, helped put the first US astronauts into space.
In 1958, Mary Jackson became NASA’s first black female engineer. With female engineers being a rarity at the time, Jackson fought hard to impact the hiring and promotion of the next generation of NASA’s female mathematicians, engineers and scientists.
Katherine Johnson is arguably best known for being called upon by NASA to support the 1962 orbital mission of John Glenn. However, she was also notably handpicked as one of three black students to integrate West Virginia's graduate schools.
Last but by no means least, in 1949, Dorothy Vaughan became NASA’s first African-American manager, serving as the head of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA’s) segregated West Area Computing Unit.
Without a doubt, Oprah Winfrey is one of the most influential black women of all time.
Not only is she the first African-American woman to become a billionaire, she has repeatedly appeared on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world - and rightly so.
Winfrey has received endless awards, including 40 Emmy awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the 2007 Humanitarian Award. We’re struggling to keep count!
As well as being a renowned writer, film and Broadway producer, Winfrey was named the greatest black philanthropist in American history by Business Week in 2005, with initiatives like Oprah’s Angel Network and the Oprah Winfrey Foundation.
Black Influential Women in History
These women are well and truly legendary, and we couldn’t be more grateful for their incredible contributions to society.
As a community, we will continue to support our Female Family, as well as encourage people to embrace Black History Month and black history education. To be an ally you need to listen and pay attention, be willing to educate yourself and be prepared to feel a little uncomfortable by holding yourself and others accountable.