Kenner (1912-2006) was an African-American
inventor. She developed the sanitary belt, an early menstrual product that was
patented only thirty years later due to racial discrimination.
Along with her sister Mildred, she invented and
obtained patents for five household and personal care items. However, she
obtained the patents much later than the invention, simply because the company
that was interested in her creations rejected them when they discovered her
Isaacs (1900-1997) was a tennis player, teacher, and
women’s rights activist from the Bahamas. She was the second Bahamian woman elected
as Senator in her country, and the first to be awarded the title of Dame Commander
of the Order of the British Empire.
She was a founding member of the
Progressive Liberal Party and a strong supporter of women’s suffrage. Bahamian
women were allowed to vote in 1962, and she became Senator in 1969.
Merrick Sklarek (1926-2012) was one of the first black women to become a licensed
architect in the United States. Nicknamed the “Rosa Parks
of Architecture”, she was the first black female architect in the states of New
York and later California.
She received her degree from Columbia
University School of Architecture in 1950, graduating as one of only two female
students. In 1980, she was the first black woman elected as a fellow of the
American Institute of Architects.
Eaton (1921-2018) was a civil rights activist in
the state of North Carolina. President Obama described her as a personal
inspiration and a “beacon of civil rights”.
When she was 21, she passed a severe literacy
test and registered to vote, one of the first African Americans to do so in her
state. She served as a county poll worker and a special registrar commissioner
for 40 years after that, helping more than 4000 people to register to vote.
Puryear Hearn (b. 1940) is a biophysicist whose
career focuses on health policy. She has worked on various development
programmes to improve the health of at-risk children.
She has a degree in biochemistry and a PhD
in biophysics, the latter from Yale University. She served as the Senior Vice
President of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the largest healthcare
philanthropy in the US, for almost 20 years. She focused on maternal and child
health, as well as AIDS and substance abuse.
Bolin (1908-2007) was a lawyer and judge who
achieved a number of historic firsts. She was the first black woman to graduate
from Yale Law School, the first to join the New York City Bar Association and
the first to serve as a judge in the United States.
She graduated from Yale Law School in 1931,
from a class where she was the only black student and one of three women. She
was appointed as a judge in 1939 and served in this position for 40 years. She
was also a legal advisor to the National Council of Negro Women and an activist
for education and children’s rights.
Cooper Cafritz (1947-2018) was a civil rights activist and philanthropist from Alabama,
active in Washington, D.C. Although she was born in a well-off family, the racism
she experienced throughout her life still shaped her worldview.
She attended George Washington University,
where she studied law and organised the Black Student Union, working to
integrate fraternities and sororities. She was one of the founders of the Duke
Ellington School of the Arts, and served on the DC Commission on the Arts and
Aprille Ericsson-Jackson (b. 1963) is an aerospace engineer working for
the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. She was the first African-American woman
to obtain a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University, as well as a
PhD in Engineering from NASA GSFC.
She was an undergraduate in aeronautical engineering
at MIT, where she worked in the Applied Physics Laboratory. Her work at NASA helps
to manage spacecraft orientation during missions.
Naomi Sims (1948-2009) is considered the first
African-American supermodel. She battled racial prejudice to become one of the
first successful black models.
She began her career after winning a scholarship
with the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Even though it was
very difficult to find modelling jobs because agencies claimed her skin was too
dark, the breakthrough came when she was featured in the fashion supplement of The New
York Times in 1967. A year later, she was the first African-American model
to appear on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal.