Each year during the month of March, the nonprofit National Women’s History Project highlights a group of exemplary women in celebration of Women’s History Month. This year’s list honors women who have contributed to society through government leadership, civil rights advocacy, and public service.
The organization, which was instrumental in getting the U.S. Congress to officially designate March as Women’s History Month in 1987, chose the theme “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.” This year’s list of 16 women features a diverse roster of civil servants and civil rights advocates, including two Native American women.
One such woman is Suzan Shown Harjo, of the Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee Nations — who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. She has been an activist for American Indian rights since the mid-1960s when she co-produced the first Native radio news show. She has also campaigned against Native American imagery in sports, influenced museums to return sacred garments to tribes, and served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians in the 1980s.
The Women’s History Project also credits Harjo with helping American Indians reclaim more than one million acres of tribal land. In addition, she founded the Morning Star Institute in 1984 and is currently president of the organization, which advocates for traditional indigenous cultural rights.
Another Native woman on the list, the late Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, is honored for being the first female Seminole chief and the first woman to be chief of a federally recognized tribe. Trained as a nurse, Tiger Jumper was responsible for integrating traditional and modern medicine into the practices on the reservations she visited. She also founded the first Seminole newspaper and advocated for the preservation and dissemination of oral history and traditions, particularly to younger generations.
Other honorees include civil rights activist Daisy Bates, National Organization for Women co-founder Sonia Pressman Fuentes, and Bernice Sandler — known as the “Godmother of Title IX.” See the full list here.
“Each of these public leaders succeeded against great odds,” a statement on the organization’s website reads. “The diversity of their experiences demonstrates both the challenges and the opportunities women in public service have faced. Their ability to use the art of collaboration to create inclusive solutions and non-partisan policies, as well as their skill and determination, serve to inspire future generations. The tenacity of each honoree underlines the fact that women from all cultural backgrounds in all levels of public service and government are essential in the continuing work of forming a more perfect union.”