15 Trailblazing Women Who Changed Massachusetts

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Boston is known as a place of innovation, creativity and activism, thanks in part to many of the ceiling-shattering women that called the Boston home. We’re celebrating Women’s History Month by highlighting the accomplishments of 15 of these pioneering women. Read on to inspire the next generation.

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Isabella Stewart Gardner

Art collector and philanthropist: 1840-1924

This unconventional socialite some called "Isabella of Boston" is known as the eclectic curator of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum that opened in 1903. But you can tell the kids she almost caused a panic when she wore a hat that read, "Oh, you Red Sox" to a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert in 1912.

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Mindy Kaling

Actor, writer and producer: 1979-

At the age of 24, this Cambridge-born actor was the only female on an eight-person writing team for The Office. She wrote 26 of the shows episodes (the most of any writer), and went on to win multiple Emmys for her work. She continues to break ground with shows she created like Champions and Never Have I Ever. 

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Ayanna Pressley

Politician: 1974-

In 2010, Ayanna Pressley became the first Black woman elected as an at-large member of the Boston City Council. In 2019 she became the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts. She has represented the state as the U.S. representative for Massachusetts's 7th congressional district since then. 

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Susan B. Anthony

Social reformer and women's rights activist: 1820-1906

Born in Adams, MA into a Quaker family committed to social equality, Susan B. Anthony began her passion by collecting anti-slavery petitions at the age of 17. She went on to champion the rights of women and enslaved people with other like-minded women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton. 

Algonquin Couple, an 18th-century watercolor by an unknown artist. Courtesy of the City of Montreal Records Management & Archives, Montreal, Canada.

Jessie "Little Doe" Baird


Jessie "Little Doe" Baird is a linguist who helped revive the Algonquian language of her ancestors that had not been spoken for more than 150 years. She has been the co-founder and director of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project in Mashpee, MA, since 1993. As a citizen of the Mashpee Tribe of the Wampanoag Nation, she started to create a dictionary in 1996 chronicling the tribe’s ancestral language as part of a research fellowship with MIT. The dictionary holds more than 11,000 words.

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Clara Barton

Pioneering Nurse: 1821-1912

Born in North Oxford, MA, Clara Barton was a pioneering American nurse who founded the American Red Cross. She was self taught and provided nursing care during the Civil War. During a time when women did not have the right to vote, Clara Barton was known for her humanitarian work and civil rights advocacy. 

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Callie Crossley

Media commentator and radio show host: 1951-

Callie Crossley is a Boston-based radio and tv host, commentator and public speaker. In 2013 she began hosting radio program Under the Radar with Callie Crossley and continues to contribute to WGBH Radio's "Boston Public Radio".

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Amelia Earhart

Aviation pioneer: 1897-disapppeared 1937, declared dead 1939

Amelia Earhart is perhaps most well known as the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She set a number of other records during her lifetime and wrote books documenting her flying experiences. During an attempt to be the first woman to circumnavigate the globe in 1937, Earhart's plane disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. She and navigator Fred Noonan were declared dead over a year later, but significant interest in their disappearance still exists today. 

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Gwen Ifill

Journalist and Television Newscaster: 1955-2016

In 1999, Gwen Ifill became the first Black person and first woman to moderate a major television news-analysis show, Washington Week in Review. She was a journalist, newscaster and author, and became co-anchor of the PBS NewsHour in 2013 until her death in 2016, part of the first all-female team to anchor a national nightly news program.

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Margaret H. Marshall

Chief Justice: 1944-

Margaret H. Marshall was the first female chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In 2003 she wrote the ground-breaking decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that declared that the Massachusetts constitution does not permit the state to deny citizens the right to same-sex marriage.

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Maria Mitchell

Astronomer: 1818-1889

Originally from Nantucket, Maria Mitchell became the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1848, a year after discovering "Miss Mitchell's Comet," which made her famous and helped her become the first professional female astronomer

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Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel


Elizabeth Nabel is an American cardiologist and the current President of Brigham Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital, a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and the Chief Health and Medical Adviser to the National Football League. Her work has produced 17 patents and more than 250 scientific publications. 

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Phillis Wheatley Peters

Poet: 1753-1784

Born in West Africa, Phillis Wheatley Peters was sold into slavery at the age of seven or eight and transported to North America. She was enslaved by the Wheatley family of Boston. After she learned to read and write, they encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent. On a trip to London with her master's son, she was able to secure the patrons needed to publish her collection of poems: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral on September 1, 1773. She was the first African-American author of a published book of poetry. 

Ann Hobson Pilot

Ann Hobson Pilot

Harpist: 1943-

Ann Hobson Pilot began studying the harp at age 14 and received her bachelor's degree in music from the Cleveland Institute of Music. In 1966 she became the first Black member of the National Symphony Orchestra. She became the first Black woman to join the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1969. After 40 years with the BSO, Ms. Pilot retired at the end of the 2009 season. 

Doris Yaffe

Style icon: 1929-

You'll easily recognize Doris Yaffe with her eclectic collection of sunglasses and feather boas and for that she's known as Boston's Grande Dame. 

—Allison Sutcliffe & Kate Loweth


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