7 Alabama women that changed the world, including Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks sitting on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, 1956. (Underwood Archives / Shutterstock.com)

From Civil Rights leaders to inventors, authors and politicians, women from Alabama have done it all. In honor of #WomensHistoryMonth, we took a look at seven women from Alabama that had a significant impact on the world.

1. Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks Gives A Speech At The Poor Peoples March In 1968
Rosa Parks giving a speech at the Poor Peoples March in 1968. (Unseen Histories / Unsplash)

Born in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1913, Rosa Parks was a civil rights activist best known for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. Parks had been involved in the civil rights movement since 1943, and worked as secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to white passengers while riding a public bus in Montgomery, and was subsequently arrested. Her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted little over a year and concluded when the federal ruling Browder v. Gayle declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws that segregated buses were unconstitutional.

Following her stand in Montgomery, Rosa Parks continued to advocate for civil rights throughout her life. She passed from natural causes in 2005.

2. Mary Anderson

Born in Greene County, Alabama in 1866, Mary Anderson is widely credited with inventing the first windshield. As the story goes, Mary Anderson first recognized the need for a windshield wiper while in New York in the early 20th century. During a trolley ride, she noticed the driver periodically stopped to remove snow and rain from the windshield by hand.

Back home in Birmingham, Mary Anderson drew up a design for a windshield wiper that could be operated via a lever inside the vehicle. After having a test model manufactured, Mary Anderson patented her design and tried to sell it to a motor company. Unfortunately, Mary Anderson was ahead of her time—companies saw no value in the device and refused to purchase the rights.

Mary Anderson passed away in 1953 and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham.

3. Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice
(Public Domain)

Originally from the Titusville neighborhood in Birmingham, Condoleezza Rice is an American politician and educator who was the first African-American woman to serve as Secretary of State. Although she initially planned to be a professional pianist, Rice developed an interest in international relations and received her Ph.D. in political science from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver in 1981.

While teaching at Stanford University, Rice served as the first female, first African-American and youngest provost in Stanford’s history. —In two years, she brought the college’s budget from a $20M deficit to a $14M surplus. During the Bush administration, she stepped down as Provost to take on a role as National Security Advisor. In 2005, she took on the role of Secretary of State, and was the first African-American woman to do so.

Since her retirement from the Bush administration, Condoleezza Rice has returned to the academic field.

4. Harper Lee

Harper Lee
President George W. Bush with author Harper Lee prior to presenting her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Nov. 5, 2007. (Eric Draper / George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

Born in Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee was a novelist best known for her 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel was inspired by Lee’s experience growing up in Monroeville in the 1930s, and deals with issues of race and class through the eyes of six-year-old Scout, a young girl based on Lee herself.

To Kill a Mockingbird won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and has since become a classic example of modern American literature. The next year, the novel was adapted into an Academy Award-winning screenplay. Due to her works, Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush and the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. Harper Lee passed in 2016 in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.

5. Helen Keller

Helen Keller
Hellen Keller holding a magnolia in 1920. (Wikimedia Commons)

Few Alabamians have gained the level of worldwide recognition of Tuscumbia native Helen Keller. At only 19 months old, Helen Keller lost her hearing and sight due to an illness. At the age of seven, Keller began studying language, reading and writing under her instructor and lifelong friend, Anne Sullivan.

Despite the odds stacked against her, Keller became the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree after attending Ratcliffe College at Harvard University. During her life, Keller wrote countless books, speeches and essays and campaigned for those with disabilities, women’s suffrage, world peace and more. She was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson and elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Keller passed away in 1968.

6. Angela Davis

Angela Davis In Court
Angela Davis. (UnseenHistories / Unsplash)

A native of Birmingham, Angela Davis is an activist, author and educator dealing with the issues of race, gender, class and more. The oldest of four children, Davis was forced to deal with white supremacy at a young age, when her family moved to a white neighborhood. Bombings became so frequent that the neighborhood was nicknamed “Dynamite Hill”.

After studying both abroad and in the United States, Davis began teaching black philosophy, women’s studies and more at a series of colleges and universities. Twice, she ran for Vice President of the United States on the Communist Party ticket. Davis has continued her strong political activism to this day, and has been involved numerous academic fields including racial politics, prison abolition, feminism and critical theory.

7. Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King
(Wikimedia Commons)

Born in Perry County in 1927, Coretta Scott was taught the value of education at an early age. Her mother, Bernice, would drive Coretta and other black children in the neighborhood to the nearest black school every single day. During her high school career, Coretta continued her love of music through choir and eventually won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music, where she met her future husband Martin Luther King, Jr.

After the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta continued to advocate for women’s rights, LGBT rights, civil rights, world peace and more. After suffering a stroke and other health issues, Coretta Scott King passed in 2006.

Tag us @bhamnow to share your thoughts on additional Alabama women that have had an impact on the world!

Nathan Watson
Nathan Watson

Tennessee native who fell in love with Birmingham during college. Graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2019. Passionate about Birmingham and its continued growth.

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