Special Report

25 Women Who Shaped the Feminist Movement

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One hundred years ago, the goal uniting feminists in the United States was gaining the right to vote. Since then, feminism has come to mean different things to different people.

From the women’s liberation movement of the ’60s to the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, feminism has become increasingly more inclusive of the needs of all women, regardless of race, religion, or class.

24/7 Wall St. compiled a list of hundreds of women known for their influence on feminism. First, we gauged influence by reviewing the number of Wikipedia page views over the five years through the end of 2017. We then narrowed down the list down to women active from the 1960s to today, selecting women whose efforts represent the diverse array of causes that fall under the umbrella of modern feminism. We refined the list further by consulting Karla Strand, the Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian at the University of Wisconsin System.

As the #metoo movement, Black Lives Matter movement, and the Women’s March have gained momentum, modern feminism is increasingly calling for previously unheard voices to take the podium, and for all women to unite for the rights of immigrants, people with disabilities, and transgender women. Though we have left out hundreds of prominent feminists and included some controversial figures, the women we have chosen have helped shape the complexities of what feminism is today.

Click here to see 25 women who have shaped modern feminism.

Source: Peter Kramer / Getty Images

1. Betty Friedan
> Occupation: Writer
> Known for: The Feminine Mystique

Betty Friedan’s 1963 book “The Feminine Mystique” is often credited with igniting the women’s rights movement of the ’60s and ’70s as it rejected women’s roles as mothers and wives first, individuals second. In 1966, Friedan co-founded the National Organization for Women, which ran campaigns to gain better access for women to jobs, childcare, abortions, and representation in government.

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Source: Scott Eells / Getty Images

2. Maya Angelou
> Occupation: Author, civil rights activist
> Known for: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

A survivor of devastating childhood trauma, Maya Angelou spent years of her youth mute but grew up to become a writer, performer, director, civil rights worker, and recipient of over 30 honorary degrees. Her first of six memoirs, the autobiography “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” has sold over 1 million copies. It details her tumultuous childhood and her long path to overcoming racism and sexism. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Angelou a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her inspirational and hopeful works, which helped generations of women survive racism and sexism and still find joy in their lives and their bodies.

Source: K. Kendall / Wikimedia Commons

3. Adrienne Rich
> Occupation: Poet
> Known for: Declining the National Medal for the Arts

Adrienne Rich was an award-winning American poet whose work spanned seven decades. Her work was known for its feminist, lesbian, and political content, focusing on issues of war, social justice, sexuality, and oppression. She brought awareness to women and lesbians’ oppression and called the American dream a myth. In 1997, when selected to win the National Medal for the Arts, Rich famously refused the award, stating that “The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”

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4. Dolores Huerta
> Occupation: Labor organizer
> Known for: United Farm Workers Association

Dolores Huerta is a long time labor and Mexican-American civil rights activist. Active since the ’50s, she’s founded numerous workers’ rights organizations, lead labor strikes, and instigated consumer boycotts. In the ’70s, she became a lobbyist for workers’ rights, and in the ’90s and 2000s she began working to get Latinos and women into political offices. She is a recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She is also the first Latina inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

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5. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
> Occupation: Supreme Court Justice
> Known for: Frontiero v. Richardson

Though best known for being the second female justice ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been using her legal skills to fight for gender equality since the ’70s. While teaching at Columbia law school in 1972, she co-founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, where she challenged laws that classified people based on gender. Ginsburg won five Supreme Court cases, the most famous of which is Frontiero v. Richardson. Four of the justices, for the first time ever, declared that classifying people based on gender was “inherently” suspect under the Constitution.” Ginsburg helped to establish equal protection for all people regardless of gender.

Source: Theo Wargo / Getty Images

6. Gloria Steinem
> Occupation: Journalist, activist
> Known for: Ms. Magazine

A key player in the women’s liberation movement of the ’60s and ’70s, Gloria Steinem kick-started her journalism career by going undercover as a Playboy bunny to expose the poor pay and working conditions at the Playboy Club in NYC. Steinem remains an outspoken feminist in the media. While she is most famous for co-founding Ms. Magazine, the first female-run feminist magazine in the U.S., she also co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Women’s Media Center, and the Ms. Foundation for Women.

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7. Audre Lorde
> Occupation: Poet
> Known for: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Audre Lorde, who called herself a “black feminist lesbian mother poet” explored many conflicting and divergent identities in her poetry. Focusing on the intersection of lesbianism and blackness, she pointed out the interwoven nature of various types of oppression. By publicly exposing her own marginalized identities she hoped to help others find their voices and celebrate their differences. In 1991, she became the poet laureate of New York and has since been hailed as one of the foremost feminist voices of the 20th century. Though she died of cancer, her words from 1988 have helped inspire feminist activists to prioritize self-care: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Source: Frank Tewkesbury / Getty Images

8. Kate Millett
> Occupation: Writer
> Known for: Sexual Politics

Kate Millet’s book “Sexual Politics,” published in 1970, became a best-seller and a key influence on the women’s liberation movement of the time. The book rejected patriarchy as a governing ideology. Millett’s later works went on to explore and de-stigmatize mental health issues. She became a committee member of the National Organisation for Women in 1966 and an associate director of the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press in 1978.

Source: MJ Kim / Getty Images

9. Wangari Maathai
> Occupation: Environmental Activist
> Known for: Nobel Peace Prize

Wangari Maathai is a Kenyan environmental and political activist. She founded in 1977 the Green Belt Movement, which focused on environmental conservation and women’s rights and helped Kenyan women plant over 20 million trees at their farms, churches, and schools. Throughout the ’80s the movement spread to many other African countries. In 2004, she became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Source: kkendall / Flickr

10. Gloria E. Anzaldua
> Occupation: Writer, scholar
> Known for: This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Colour

Gloria Anzaldúa, a Chicana and feminist theorist who grew up on the Texas-Mexico border, is best known for her poetic book “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza” and for co-editing “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Colour.” As an openly lesbian woman of Mexican descent, Anzaldúa helped define post-colonial, chicana, and queer feminism through her extensive writing and scholarly papers.

Source: Earl Gibson III / Getty Images

11. Angela Davis
> Occupation: Author, activist
> Known for: Women, Culture, and Politics

Angela Davis, former director of University of California, Santa Cruz’s Feminist Studies department, has been an author, educator, and activist since the ’60s. She has written a number of feminist books, including “Women, Culture, and Politics,” in which she addresses the health of African American women and families, and the ills of capitalism. Her work seeks to dismantle not only sexism but also racism, capitalism, and for-profit prisons. Davis has served on the boards of both the National Political Congress for Black Women and the National Black Women’s Health Project.

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Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

12. Alice Walker
> Occupation: Author, activist
> Known for: Womanism

Alice Walker, a prolific novelist, poet, essayist, and activist began publishing her prose and poetry in the ’60s and became a contributing editor of the feminist Ms. Magazine. Her writing explores social and political revolution through the eyes of African American women. In 1983, Walker coined the term “womanism” in an attempt to expand the term feminism to include the needs of black women and women of color, calling black feminists “womanists.”

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13. Shulamith Firestone
> Occupation: Writer, activist
> Known for: “The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution”

As a co-founder of three radical feminist groups in the ’60s — New York Radical Women, Redstockings, and New York Radical Feminists — Shulamith Firestone was a key figure in the second wave of feminism. Her 1970 manifesto “The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution” argued that the world will never have true gender equality until physiology is separate from gender identity. Firestone’s radical ideas demonized traditional family structure and childbirth.

Source: Dramamonster via Wikimedia Commons

14. Marsha P. Johnson
> Occupation: Activist
> Known for: Stonewall Riots

Marsha Johnson was a drag queen in a time before the term transgender was widely used, but she is now recognized as an activist for queer and transgender people. She took part in inciting the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and in forming the Gay Liberation Front soon after. The next year, Johnson co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization aimed at helping homeless trans and queer youth.

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Source: Shalor (Wiki Ed) via Wikimedia Commons

15. Barbara Smith
> Occupation: Teacher, scholar
> Known for: Combahee River Collective

Barbara Smith was a founding member of the Combahee River Collective, a black feminist socialist collective in 1970s Boston that called out the white feminist movement for not addressing the needs of black women. The collective authored a statement that is one of the earliest analyses of the intersection of racism and heterosexism. In 1980, Smith co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, which was the first American publisher for black women.

Source: santoposmoderno / Flickr

16. Judith Butler
> Occupation: theorist, Philosopher
> Known for: Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

Judith Butler is a professor at University of California at Berkeley and the author of over a dozen books that have contributed to queer and feminist theory. Her best known books, “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity,” and “Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex'” assert that gender is socially constructed and performative. Butler has won numerous awards for her work in human rights and her contributions to feminist and queer philosophy.

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17. Winona LaDuke
> Occupation: Environmental activist
> Known for: Green Party Vice-Presidential Candidate

Winona LaDuke is an environmental and indigenous activist and politician who has spent her career working to create public support and funding for environmental causes and tribal lands claims. In 1985, she helped found the Indigenous Women’s Network, an organization whose goal is to increase the visibility of Native women in politics and society. In 1989, LaDuke founded the White Earth Land Recovery Project with a mission to recover stolen and sold Anishinaabe lands in Minnesota and to create sustainable cultivation plans for the land, including preserving wild rice and other traditional food systems.

Source: Angela Weiss / Getty Images

18. Kimberle Williams Crenshaw
> Occupation:Teacher, Scholar
> Known for: Introducing Intersectionality

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia is the co-author of “Critical Race Theory: Key Documents That Shaped the Movement.” She is known for her intersectionality theory, which looks at the interplay of various factors such as race, class, gender, and sexual identity and how they create a web of overlapping oppression for certain individuals. Her work on race and gender has been internationally received, contributing to the drafting of the equality clause in the South African constitution and the Race and Gender Discrimination definition for the United Nations’ World Conference on Racism.

Source: Chase Elliott Clark / Wikimedia Commons

19. Alison Bechdel
> Occupation: Cartoonist
> Known for: Bechdel Test

Alison Bechdel is a graphic novelist and cartoonist who is best known for creating what she calls the Bechdel-Wallace Test. It first appeared in 1985 in her long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For (1983-2008) in which a character made a rule that they’d only watch a movie if it featured more than one woman, and those women had to talk to each other about something other than men. These guidelines have recently become a way to highlight sexism in Hollywood.

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Source: Nicholas Hunt / Getty Images

20. Kathleen Hanna
> Occupation: Singer, activist
> Known for: Riot Grrrl Movement

Kathleen Hanna, former lead singer of the feminist punk band Bikini Kill, helped spark the Riot Grrrl Movement in the early ’90s. Riot Grrrl started as a meeting for women in punk music to address sexism in the music scene and unite over issues that affected them but were not represented in mainstream punk. It developed into independently published zines, local chapters across the U.S., and a musical subgenre. Riot Grrrl music addressed rape, incest, eating disorders, racism, domestic abuse, and female empowerment.

Source: Sarah Deer via Flickr

21. Sarah Deer
> Occupation: Scholar, advocate
> Known for: Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act

Deer is a legal scholar and advocate for Native American women who are victims of sexual and domestic violence. She has written several books, including “The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America.” Her work has been instrumental in passing legislation, including The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the Violence Against Women Act, both of which empower tribal nations to protect Native American women and survivors.

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Source: Paras Griffin / Getty Images

22. Tarana Burke
> Occupation: Activist
> Known for: Metoo movement

In 2003, Tarana Burke created Just Be Inc., a nonprofit aimed at helping teenageres who had been victims of sexual violence. Three years later, she created a name for her movement: Me Too. Her goal was to create solidarity and healing for survivors. Over a decade later, when a viral tweet by Alyssa Milano encouraged women to tweet #metoo if they’d been sexually harassed or assaulted, the movement took off, creating a national public dialogue about the prevalence of sexual violence against women. Burke’s experience highlights the lack of support many black feminists receive for their ideas, as well as the co-opting of their ideas by mainstream feminism.

Source: Theo Wargo / Getty Images

23. Linda Sarsour
> Occupation: Activist
> Known for: 2017 Women’s March

A Muslim Palestinian American and Brooklyn native, Linda Sarsour is the former director of the Arab American Association of New York. Her activism has focused on dismantling Islamophobia, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and co-founding the Women’s March, starting in 2017. Her support of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel has lead critics to accuse her of anti-Semitism and divided supporters of the Women’s March. Sarsour has publicly claimed that the Women’s March is committed to fighting anti-Semitism, but that she continues to support the rights of Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territories.

Source: slowking4 / Wikimedia Commons

24. Tamika Mallory
> Occupation: Activist
> Known for: 2017 Women’s March

A civil rights, gun control, and black lives matter activist, Tamika Mallory worked for Al Sharpton’s National Action Network for 14 years and was the youngest executive director at the organization. She co-chaired the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, where protesters marched against the racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic rhetoric of the newly inaugurated president. The march was intended to allow immigrants, women of color, people with disabilities, and people of all faiths to have a voice and feel solidarity. Though accused of anti-Semitism over her relationship with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and asked by some women’s march supporters to step down, Mallory went on to co-chair the 2019 Women’s March.

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Source: Susanne Nilsson / Wikimedia Commons

25. Anita Sarkeesian
> Occupation: Media critic, video blogger
> Known for: Gamergate

Anita Sarkeesian is the creator of an online video series called Feminist Frequency that applies feminist theory to popular culture. After running a kickstarter campaign in 2012 to fund a series examining common sexist tropes in video games, she became the target of profuse online harassment from gamers, which included rape and death threats. Her experience shed national attention on the misogyny in the gaming culture and the need for social media companies such as Twitter to form clearer definitions of free speech that do not allow online harassment.

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