Women’s History Topics Applicable to Various National History Day Themes


Women’s Organizations to Research

·         General Federation of Women’s Clubs (formed 1890)

·         Women’s Christian Temperance Union

·         Mother’s Congress

·         National Association of Colored Women (formed 1896—BEFORE the NAACP)

·         National Consumer’s League (which did things like issue “white labels” for employers with good labor practices)
National Women’s Trade Union League

·         National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)

·         The Children’s Bureau (of the federal government, first federal agency headed by a woman, Julia Lathrop.  Check out letters written to Lathrop and staff in Raising a Baby the Government Way by Molly Ladd-Taylor)

·         Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom

·  Women Strike for Peace (of the 1960s)

·         Women’s Bureau of the United Auto Workers—set an agenda for equality for  working women in the l950s

·         National Women’s Political Caucus

·         Young Women’s Christian Association



Some “Women Who Dared”:

Faith Ringgold—African-American artist and commemorator of African-American women’s history

·         Clara Lemlich  and Rose Schneiderman (important early 20th century labor leader)

·         Margaret Sanger

·         Barbara Jordan (beginning in 1966, the first African-American woman in the Texas Senate since 1883; later an influential member of the U.S. House of Representatives for three terms)

·         Delores Huerta (pivotal leader in the United Farm Workers struggle, with Cesar Chavez)

·         Eleanor Roosevelt

·         Bella Abzug

·         Wilma Mankiller—first woman chief of Cherokee Nation (beginning 1985)

·         Crystal Lee Sutton (on whose life the movie, Norma Rae, was based)

·         Anne Sexton (feminist author)

·         Shulamith Firestone (radical feminist)

·         Pauli Murray, African-American feminist who exposed “Jane Crow” in the law

·         Charlotte Perkins Gilman (who wrote her vision of a feminist utopia in 1916, called Herland, back in print since Second Wave feminists rediscovered her)

·         Jessie Daniel Ames (Southern white woman who founded the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, ASWLP; see article in Civil Rights Since 1787)

·         Susan B. Anthony

·         Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who, in addition to founding the women’s rights movement which ultimately resulted in suffrage, also wrote a Woman’s Bible, which was scandalous in its day)

·         Sojourner Truth

·         Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (lesbian couple that founded Daughters of Bilitis, the nation’s first lesbian support organization, in 1955

·         Mary Church Terrell (early twentieth century African-American feminist)

·         Lydia Maria Child, abolitionist and domestic reformer, wrote a lot on child-rearing)

·         Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (IWW labor organizer)

·         Alice Paul (radical suffragist)

·         Catherine Beecher (19th century writer who believed in women’s moral superiority and women’s education—and that women were foremost mothers)

·         Fanny or Frances Wright  (abolitionist and feminist)

·         Elizabeth Blackwell (first woman doctor)

·         Yuri Kochiyama—activist for Civil Rights and reparations for Japanese-Americans

·         Billie Jean King

·         Anne Hutchinson

·         Jane Addams (founder of settlement house movement in U.S., reshaped urban social policy for the poor before women had the vote; founded Hull House in Chicago)

·         Florence Kelley (Progressive era reformer with Jane Addams, pivotal in child labor law)

·         Lillian Wald  (New York Progressive reformer)

·         Meridel LeSeuer (radical writer and activist of the 30s, a Minnesotan)

·         Dorothy Day, editor of The Catholic Worker in the 30s

·         Wisconsin women labor leaders:

·         Phyllis Wheatley (first African-American woman poet)

·         Ella Baker (provided critical leadership in the Civil Rights movement, including conceiving of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee)

·         Daisy Bates (Civil Rights activist)

·         Joanne Robinson (leader of the Women’s Political Council in Montgomery, Alabama, who organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott in conjunction with the famous Rosa Parks event)

·         Jessie Lopez de la Cruz (union activist in the United Farm Workers, brought women into the union)

·         Congresswoman Martha Griffiths and Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who did the critical political work to pass the amendment to the civil rights movement which made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of SEX as well as race

·         Betty Freidan

·         Gloria Steinem

·         Sarah and Angelina Grimke (abolitionists from a slaveholding family)

·         Carrie Chapman Catt (suffragist, leader of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association)

·         Abigail Adams

·         Amelia Earhart

·         Alice Stone Blackwell (abolitionist and feminist)

·         Angela Davis (civil rights activist who is still speaking out and writing today about prison and racial injustice)

·         Elizabeth Eckford (one of the Little Rock 9 who integrated Central High School)

·         Aileen Hernandez (union leader involved in early Second Wave women’s movement)

·         Addie Wyatt (African-American union leader and one of the founders of NOW)

·         Shirley Chisholm (ran the first serious Presidential campaign by an African-American women in 1972)

·         Mary Daly (radical feminist of the 1970s famous for her critique of patriarchal religion)

·         Arvonne Fraser (early Second Wave feminist and Democratic Party activist)

·         Mary McLeod Bethune (leader of the “Black Cabinet” in the F.D. Roosevelt administration)

·         Molly Dewson (major Democratic party strategist in Roosevelt era)

·         Francis Perkins (FDR’s Secretary of Labor)

·         Ruth Bader Ginsburg

·         Fannie Lou Hamer (sharecropper turned Civil Rights Activist; her testimony about her experience in Mississippi was so powerful that Pres. Johnson interrupted television coverage of it to divert attention)

·         Jeanette Rankin:  first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives

·         Winona La Duke



History Day Topics on Women Specific to Exploration, Encounters, Exchange


·         Women and the Exchange of Religious Ideas in the New World (e.g. Anne Hutchinson or the Salem With Trials)

·         Colonists’ Views of Native American Women

·         Nineteenth-Century Women Missionaries and Cross-Cultural Encounter (See for  example, Theda Perdue’s book, Cherokee Women or Peggy Pascoe’s work on women in the West, including Anglo women setting up missionary homes for Chinese women immigrants)

·         Native American Women and Boarding Schools as Cross-Cultural Encounter (a.k.a. cultural imperialism in my judgment)

·         Women’s Adoption of New Technologies and Through Cross-Cultural Encounter (examples:  Cherokee women in Theda Perdue’s book, or on Progressive reformers and immigrant women, see the book Perfection Salad, which includes stories of efforts to change the cooking practices of southern and eastern European immigrant women)

·         Progressive Reformers and Immigrant Women (more generally; another good book which details everything from health care to ideas about women’s work, is Elizabeth Ewen’s book, Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars—very readable book!)

·         Changing Ideas of Gender Roles in the Hmong Community in the U.S. (use oral history!)

·         Exchanges of ideas about feminism in the 18th and 19th Centuries (explore, for example, the careers of Mary Wollstonecraft and Frances Wright, whose ideas were of trans-Atlantic significance)

·         Exchanges of ideas between white feminists and women of color in the 1970s and 1980s

·         Exchanges of ideas between Socialists and Suffragists (many women—and men—were both) in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

·         Jane Addams and Leo Tolstoy:  Exchange of Ideas about Social Justice (Addams was a  giant of early twentieth-century American social reform, a Nobel laureate, and greatly influenced by Tolstoy)

·         I wonder if NHD would go for “exploration of ideas,” in which case some of the above-mentioned feminist thinkers would be interesting to explore


Note:  If a student really uses the concept “exploring” skillfully, topics related to “exploring new opportunities” may work for this year’s theme.  There are many new opportunities women have explored outside the bounds of cultural definitions of gender roles.  Similarly, students might look at men exploring new opportunities, such as stay-at-home fatherhood or traditionally female occupations like nursing.





Selected Bibliography:

Sara M. Evans, Born For Liberty:  A History of Women in America

Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era

Susan J. Douglas, Where the Girls Are:  Growing Up Female with the Mass Media (a very fun read!)

Joan Jacobs Brumberg, The Body Project, An Intimate History of American Girls

Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter:  The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America

Elizabeth Ewen, Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars:  Life and Culture on the Lower East Side, 1890-1925

A couple pre-twentieth century works:
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Good Wives:  Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England

Theda Perdue, Cherokee Women:  Gender and Cultural Change, 1700-1835

Barbara Epstein, The Politics of Domesticity:  Women, Evangelism, and Temperance in Nineteenth-Century America

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A  Midwife’s Tale:  The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812


Printed Collections of Sources:

Ruth Barnes Moynihand, Cynthis Russett, and Laurie Cumpacker, Second to None:  A Documentary History of American Women, Lincoln, NE:  University of Nebraska Press, 1993 (there are two volumes, one to 1856 and one since 1865)

Molly Ladd-Taylor, Raising Baby the Government Way:  Mothers’ Letters to the Children’s Bureau, 1915-1932

Gerda Lerner, Black Women in White America


Online Resources:

There are some excellent collections of primary documents/images on women at the websites listed below, some of which are offshoots of the American Memory online collection of the Library of Congress, a wonderful multimedia site:  http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amhome.html.

For a general clearinghouse site, see the National Women’s History Project:

www.nwhp.org (They have a special section for teachers, and they have women’s history month celebration ideas).

Some topical sites:

Women and Social Movements (1830-1930):


Triangle Shirtwaist Fire:


Votes for Women:  Suffrage Pictures (Library of Congress):



World War II Exhibit:  A People at War (National Archives) See: Women Who Served:




Revised 08/25/2008  


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