This week, people all over the world celebrated International Women’s Day, a day to recognize the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. Below are a list of 10 women from Michigan who whose impact has been felt in Michigan, the nation and around the world.
1. Marie-Therese Guyon Cadillac – Cadillac was the first pioneer woman to make her home in what was then the Michigan wilderness when she crossed 750 miles of hostile Iroquois Territory in 1701 to join her husband at the French fort in Detroit. She was one of only two women at the fort and took on many duties that included important roles such as business manager and even the fort doctor. She stayed at the fort even though its location on the frontier was considered dangerous, because she believed in the importance of establishing Detroit as a settlement and eventually a modern city.
2.Rosa Parks – Parks inspired a generation to champion civil rights and seek reform. Segregation laws were still in effect in Alabama in 1955. One evening Parks, an African-American, was told to move to the back of the city bus she was riding to make room up front for white passengers. She refused to move. Her bold action sparked a boycott of the Montgomery bus system and eventually lead to a national civil rights movement. In 1957 Parks and her husband moved to Detroit where she lived until he death in 2005. She spent the rest of her life working in the Civil Rights Movement.
3. Gilda Radner – Growing up in Detroit, Gilda Radner planned to major in education, but developed a love for theater. Her comedic talent eventually landed her a role as cast member of Saturday Night Live where she made a name for herself by creating hilariously memorable characters. She also starred in a successful one-woman show and several movies. When Radner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she became a voice for others struggling with the disease. After her death in 1989, Radner’s legacy lived on through Gilda’s Club, an organization named in her honor that provides support to cancer patients and their families.
4. Serena Williams – Serena Williams is considered by many to be the greatest tennis player in the world. She won the Grand Slam title a whopping 23 times, including the coveted Golden Grand Slam. She’s also the recipient of several Olympic Gold Medals and has won more prize money than any other woman in any professional sport. Born in Saginaw, Williams started her tennis training at an early age under the tutelage of her father Richard Williams. Just three years after graduating from high school, she won her first Grand Slam Championship.
5. Betty Ford – Betty Ford became a household name when she became First Lady of the United States in 1974 after her husband, Gerald Ford, assumed the office of president during the Watergate scandal. Mrs. Ford used her prominence to advocate for women’s and children’s rights. She was also a strong supporter of the American Cancer Society, having survived breast cancer herself. She is perhaps best known for candidly talking about her struggle with drug and alcohol abuse which she overcame. She used the money raised from speaking engagements to open The Betty Ford Clinic. Her addiction recovery clinic has helped change the lives of many addicts and their families over the years. Both Mrs. Ford and her husband were from Grand Rapids. They are buried at the presidential museum there.
6. Sojourner Truth – Sojourner Truth was an advocate for Abolition and women’s rights in the mid 1800s. Born into slavery, she escaped and spent many years touring the country championing the rights of slaves and women. In 1857, she moved to Harmonia, near Battle Creek, where she lived out the rest of her life. During the Civil War she worked to ensure that African-American soldiers received fair treatment, even meeting with President Lincoln. She also helped free slaves start their new lives.
7. Helen Thomas – Helen Thomas grew up in Detroit and graduated from Wayne University. She was a staple of the White House Press Corps from 1960 until 2010. Originally, she was assigned to the White House to cover the First Lady, but began to cover all the presidential and political news, a new role for a female journalist. She officially became the UPI White House correspondent in 1961. Thomas’ career spanned nine presidential administrations and broke ground for female journalists covering covering politics in Washington D.C.
8. Debbie Stabenow – Debbie Stabenow became the first women from Michigan to be elected to the senate in 2002, where she still serves today. She began her political career serving on her local board of county commissioners. Then she held seats in Michigan’s house and senate and finally served as Michigan’s U.S. Congresswoman before moving on to the U.S. Senate. In the Senate, she’s championed legislation to protect the Great Lakes and jump start manufacturing, both important issues for the state of Michigan.
9. Aretha Franklin – Aretha Franklin got her start in music singing in her father’s Detroit church. By the age of 10 she was being invited to sing and play the piano at other area churches on a regular basis. She made her first professional recording at the Motor City’s Chess Records. After that she signed with Columbia records and became an international music legend. In 1986, the Michigan Legislature declared Franklin’s voice a precious natural resource. She is also a recipient of 20 Grammy’s and an inductee in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame.
10. Jennifer Granholm – Jennifer Granholm became the first female governor of Michigan in 2002. Prior to that, she served as a federal prosecutor in Detroit. In 1999, she became Michigan’s first female Attorney General and held that position until becoming governor. While in office she focused on legislation that helped improve the quality of life for Michigan families with legislation that increased access to daycare and early childhood education.