Where Women Made History: Politicians Edition

As part of the commemoration of the passage of the 19th Amendment, the National Trust has been working to tell the full history—to uncover and uplift women across the centuries whose vision, passion, and determination have shaped the country we are today.

Drawing from the incredible submissions we've received through the Where Women Made History crowdsourcing campaign, this guide highlights the lives of five women who shaped history by breaking new ground in politics and government.

  1. Photo of the Penelope Barker House in Edenton, NC, a two-story home on waterfront property.

    Penelope Barker (Penelope Barker House)

    Penelope Barker (1728-1796) organized the first women’s demonstration in Edenton, North Carolina, in 1774. She was motivated by the passage of the 1773 Tea Act, which granted the struggling British East India Tea Company a monopoly on tea sales in the American colonies. Barker responded to this act by organizing fifty women to sign a resolution boycotting British tea, and continued to rally for American independence during the entirety of the Revolutionary War through similar boycotts. Her life is now memorialized at the Penelope Barker House.

  2. Black and white image of Soledad Chávez de Chacon (1890 – 1936), the second woman to act as chief executive of a U.S. state.

    Soledad Chávez Chacón (New Mexico State Capitol)

    In 1922, Soledad Chávez Chacón (1890–1936) was elected Secretary of State of New Mexico, the first woman to hold that post. Two years later, Chacón became the second woman to act as chief executive of a state when she acted as Governor of New Mexico for two weeks (due to the governor being out of state and the lieutenant governor’s unexpected death). In 1934, she became the fourth Latina woman to be elected to the New Mexico House of Representatives. Unfortunately, Chacón's progressive career was cut short when, in 1936, she died at the age of 46 due to peritonitis.

  3. Photo of the the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House in Washington, D.C., a red brick rowhouse in Logan Circle.

    Mary McLeod Bethune (The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House)

    Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) began her career as an educator but moved into an increasingly political role, ultimately becoming the highest ranking Black woman in American government when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed her to direct the Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, a role she held until 1944. A champion of both women’s rights and racial equality, Bethune integrated the Women’s Army Corps in 1942 and was the only Black woman present at the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945. Her home, also the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women, was added to the D.C. Register of Historic Places in 1975, and is now owned and operated by the National Park Service.

  4. Black and white photo of Hattie Caraway in her later years. She was the first woman elected to serve a full term as a United States Senator.

    Hattie Caraway (Oaklawn Cemetery)

    Hattie Caraway (1878–1950) was the first woman elected to serve a full term as a U.S. Senator from Arkansas, a role she held for fourteen years. Though initially elected to the Senate in 1931 in order to complete her late husband’s term, Caraway campaigned for her own election in 1932. Caraway supported President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms, and in 1945 Roosevelt himself nominated her to join the Federal Employees’ Compensation Commission. Caraway remained an active politician until her death, and her life is now memorialized at Riversdale, a National Historic Landmark and Caraway’s former home. She is buried at Oaklawn Cemetery in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

  5. Black and white headshot of Pat Saiki, an American politician and teacher.

    Patricia "Pat" Saiki (Harvard Institute of Politics)

    Patricia Saiki (1930 - ) is a politician and educator. She served as a Republican in Congress from 1987 to 1991, making her the first Republican to hold a House seat from the state of Hawaii. During her term, Saiki—whose family members had been interned by the U.S. government during WWII—supported H.R. 442, which called for financial reparations and an official apology to be made to the Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated in concentration camps during WWII. The legislation passed, and Saiki was present in 1988 when President Ronald Reagan signed it into law. After her term, Saiki acted as administrator of the Small Business Administration under President George H. W. Bush, and later became a professor at Harvard University.

Have you encountered a place where women made history? They can be famous or unknown, protected or threatened, existing or lost. No matter their condition or status, we encourage you to share these important places with the world.

Emma Peters is the marketing assistant at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Every place has a woman's story to tell. Through Where Women Made History, we are identifying, honoring, and elevating places across the country where women have changed their communities and the world.

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