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International Women's Day: Women Who Inspire Our Work

The White House recognizes some of the brave women who were pioneers of equality and continue to inspire the work of this administration.

When President Obama established the White House Council on Women and Girls in 2009, he recognized past pioneers of equality:“In the end, while many of the challenges women and girls face are new, the work of this Council is not — it’s been with us for generations.”

From his very first days in office, President Obamahas worked to promote equality and opportunity for all women and girls in the United States and around the world. In honor of International Women’s Day, we recognize some of the brave women who were pioneers of equality in various areas, and continue to inspire the efforts of this Administration.

“During Women’s History Month, we remember the trailblazers of the past, including the women who are not recorded in our history books, and we honor their legacies by carrying forward the valuable lessons learned from the powerful examples they set.”

– President Obama on Women’s History Month 2016

Frances Perkins: Supporting Women in the Workplace

Social Security
Roosevelt signs Social Security Bill;Standing behind Roosevelt, left to right: Rep. Robert Doughton, man obscured behind him, Senator Robert Wagner (with folded hands), Rep. John Dingell, Sr., unidentified man with bow tie, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, man obscured behind her, Senator Pat Harrison (with cigar), Rep. David J. Lewis. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve as a cabinet secretary, once said, “Being a woman has only bothered me in climbing trees.” Throughout her career as an advocate for workers and their rights, she helped women climb many ladders of opportunity.

As the first woman to serve on the New York State Industrial Commission, Frances fought to create laws governing workplace health and safety, especially for women and girls, following the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. Later, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, Perkins helped create many policies, including social security and a minimum wage,that went into the New Deal and would help re-build America’s middle class. Her life and career continues to inspire the Obama Administration’s efforts in supporting working families and working to raise the minimum wage.

Katherine Johnson: Increasing Opportunities for Girls Pursuing STEM Education

Katherine Johnson
Katherine Johnson sits at her desk with a globe, or “Celestial Training Device.” (Photo Credit: NASA)

Katherine Johnson, an African-American space scientist and mathematician, is a pioneer in American space history. While her computations have influenced almost every major space program, she is perhaps most well known for calculating the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space, as well as for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon.

From an early age, Katherine knew she loved math. “I counted everything,” she recalled. However, she faced obstacles getting education, as black students in her hometown could not go to school after the eighth grade. Luckily, her family relocated to allow her to continue her education, and she went on to attend West Virginia State College. It was there that various mentors andprofessors saw her talent and passion for science and math, and encouraged her to pursue a career in the field. From humble beginnings, Katherine’s story shows the importance of early exposure to STEM education, especially for girls of color. Just like her professors believed in her future, Katherine has continued to encourage students to pursue STEM careers throughout her retirement.

Dolores Huerta: Protecting Women from Violence

Dolores Huerta
Press conference with the UFW leadership, Dolores Huerta, Richard César Chávez, and Rick Tejada-Flores, 1972. (Photo Credit:Farmworker Movement Documentation Project)

DoloresHuerta is a civil rights, workers, and women’s advocate. With Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the National Farmworkers Association in 1962, which later became the United Farm Workers of America,a workers union that successfully promoted the rights of farm workers in California and across the country. While Dolores is most well known for her work on labor and civil rights,she has also done importantwork to protect women from violence. For Dolores, issues of abuse, sexual assault, and labor rightshave long been interconnected, as she hasheard from many women, especially immigrants, who havebeen mistreated while working on farms or in other low wages jobs.

At the age of 58, Dolores herself was the victim of a life-threatening assault by police while nonviolently protesting in California. Many years later in 2012, she was a strong voice encouraging Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. For Dolores, “every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.” Whether working for the rights of farm workers, immigrants, or women, Dolores has inspired countless people to make the world a more just place.

“Today, on International Women’s Day, we recommit ourselves to achieving a world in which every woman and girl enjoys the full range of rights and freedoms that is her birthright.”

– President Obama on International Women’s Day 2016

Danielle Cohen is an intern in the Office of Digital Strategy