Too often, historical narratives overlook the contributions of women. Museums, documentaries, historical sites, and even textbooks omit essential parts of the whole because they leave out her story. Join Allison K. Lange, historian and professor, as she guides you through the fascinating lives of 12 early Americans in 12 Women Who Shaped America: 1619 to 1920 and shares their stories which are crucial to a better understanding of American history. With a deft talent for bringing history to life, Allison explores the complex and often controversial lives of these American women who shaped the United States as we know it today.
12 Women Who Shaped America: 1619 to 1920
Meet the often-overlooked women who changed the face of America—feminists, scholars, reformers, and visionaries.
Allison K. Lange is an Associate Professor of History at Wentworth Institute of Technology. She holds a PhD in History from Brandeis University.
Allison is a historian who explores the stories that images tell about the intersection of gender and power in US history. Her book Picturing Political Power: Images in the Women’s Suffrage Movement focuses on the ways that women’s voting rights activists and their opponents used images to define gender and power. She has written for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Imprint. She has also provided interviews for The New York Times, TIME magazine, USA TODAY, and podcasts like And Nothing Less and American Girls Podcast.
For the Nineteenth Amendment centennial, Allison served as a historian for the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. She also curated exhibitions at the Massachusetts Historical Society and Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library as well as a website for Melinda Gates’s Pivotal Ventures called Truth Be Told: Stories of Black Women’s Fight for the Vote. Various institutions have supported her work, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Library of Congress.
01: Phillis Wheatley Peters, Founding Poet
Before the age of eight, Phillis Wheatley Peters was kidnapped, forced to endure the Middle Passage, and sold into slavery. By the age of 21, she was a published poet, lauded by the intellectual giants of the new American Colonies. Travel back in time to colonial Boston and discover the woman whose words made her one of the very first professional Black writers in the United States.
02: Martha Washington, First Lady of the Republic
Was Martha Washington more than simply the first American First Lady? Was she more than an icon for 19th century opponents of women’s rights? Consider what we know today about her complicated life as a mother, wife, widow, partner, and architect of the preeminent female role throughout much of the history of the United States.
03: Sacagawea, Shoshone Diplomat and Guide
Who was the real Sacagawea? Was she the mythologized “Indian Princess,” guide, and helpmate to white explorers that you learned about in school? Was she something more than the stories? Meet Sacagawea of the Shoshone and explore how the stories about her life have often reflected changing American political and cultural landscapes.
04: Sojourner Truth, Crusader for Human Rights
American society in the early 1800s told women that they were not supposed to work on the lecture circuit or become political activists. Sojourner Truth did both. Learn how this undaunted, formerly enslaved woman advocated for herself and all women, using photographs to fight the limiting racist and sexist narratives of her day.
05: Catharine Beecher, Author and Educator
Catharine Beecher believed in traditional gender roles, but that did not diminish the value of women’s contributions to American life. In seeking to educate a new generation of women to fill the roles of mother, wife, and teacher, she also raised the ire of anti-slavery and women’s rights activists who wanted more for women than domesticity and compliance.
06: Victoria Woodhull, 1872 Presidential Candidate
Come face to face with the complex and outspoken Victoria Woodhull: stockbroker, editor, politician, consummate feminist, and the first female candidate to run for the US presidency. Learn about the public speaking talent that led to her being embraced by American suffragists—and the controversial free love ideology that eventually forced them to reject her.
07: Susan B. Anthony, Women’s Rights Champion
Mocked by cartoons depicting her and other suffragists as masculine and a threat to established gender norms, Susan B. Anthony fought back. Examine the photographs she used to control her public image and see how her editorial oversight of an influential book series defined the women's voting rights movement and its leadership.
08: Harriet Tubman, Underground Railroad Leader
The truth about Harriet Tubman is sometimes as extraordinary as the familiar myths about her. As a child, Tubman suffered a traumatic brain injury, but she did not let that stop her from escaping slavery and creating an exceptional life. Learn about her work as a nurse, domestic worker, mapmaker, spy, Underground Railroad conductor, and even military raider, as she tirelessly fought for equity and justice.
09: Isabella Stewart Gardner, Art Museum Pioneer
Born into an age when women across New England were blazing trails in both politics and art, Isabella Stewart Gardner dreamed of opening her own museum. Reveal how heartbreak over a child’s death provided the impetus to travel and finally manifest her dream of a museum that we still enjoy today.
10: Frances Benjamin Johnston, Photographer
Explore the extraordinary life of one of America’s first female professional photographers. From her earliest days in portraiture for the elite of Washington, DC, to her later years as a documentary, architecture, and landscape photographer, Frances Benjamin Johnston’s vision and talent paved the way for generations of female artists and photographers.
11: Alice Paul, National Woman’s Party Leader
Dive into the life and work of the unusual Alice Paul, who was considered a radical by other American suffragist leaders. Well-educated for a woman in any era, Paul was exceptional in early 20th century America. Hear about her controversial protests, her historic leadership, and the fight for the 19th Amendment.
12: Mary Church Terrell: Suffrage to Civil Rights
As the first president of the National Association of Colored Women, Mary Church Terrell understood the critical importance of public image. Find out more about her long life, from her birth into slavery in Tennessee to her education at Oberlin College, and her eventual fights to secure rights and freedoms for all people through politics, protests, and the law.