1. Abigail Adams, 1744-1818
The second First Lady of the United States from 1797 to 1801, Adams was educated by her mother, and so by the time she married John Adams in 1764 she was an intelligent young woman with progressive views for her age. This would go on to have a profound impact on her husband, and as such the United States themselves, as their in-depth correspondence showed him to continually seek her advice and discussion on political matters. As a result of her proactive participation and advocacy, she took a stance for Women's Rights and the Abolition of Slavery, writing down her beliefs that married women should be granted property rights and increased opportunities, as well as denouncing slavery as evil and violative of the American principles of 'Freedom.' In total there are 1200 letters between John Adams and Abigail, and they depict a woman ahead of her time both intellectually and emotionally, who shaped her country with her passionate beliefs and political stances. If you want to write about an extraordinary woman breaching expectations, Abigail Adams is a serious contender.
2. Sacagawea, 1788-1812
Despite a variety of differences of opinion as to firstly, the nature of her name, and secondly, the story of her death, Sacagawea has undoubtedly been adopted as a symbolic figure for American women due to her essential participation in the Lewis and Clark expedition. Born into the Agaidika tribe she was, during a battle, captured and taken to a Hidatsa village where she later became one of the two wives of French-Canadian fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau. What Sacagawea is famed for, however, is when in 1804 at six months pregnant she became one of the translators for Lewis and Clark as they explored the 'Louisiana Purchase'. Several events defined her as a key member of the expedition: upon the capsizing of the boat they were in, Sacagawea was able to save many of their essential supplies, with Lewis and Clark showing their gratitude by making her the namesake of part of the river; her understanding of both Hidatsa and Shoshone enabled communication and trading between various groups and the expedition, particularly as Sacagawea's presence often created a more trustworthy atmosphere, and finally her knowledge of the environment allowed her to both guide and advise the group. All this was done with her baby son; an incredible feat for which she received no compensation, unlike her husband. Sacagawea really was a remarkable woman who would do great justice to any history essay.
3. Arabella Mansfield, 1846-1911
Mansfield is known for being the first woman in America to become a lawyer, after being admitted to the Iowa bar in 1869. Earlier, she had graduated as valedictorian from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1865, and went onto become a teacher of History, English and Political Sciences at Simpson College. However after a year, she returned to her home town to marry John Mansfield, a decision which would turn out to be beneficial as John encouraged her interest for law, and so together they studied for the bar exam. During this period, Mansfield studied under her brother in his law office, as he had already passed the bar exam, although it is interesting to note that Arabella and her brother had originally graduated in the same class, the former with higher honours. When 1869 came, Mansfield took the bar exam, achieving such distinguished scores that despite the bar being exclusive to males over 21, she was admitted after challenging the law in court, which ruled in her favour. If you're looking for a woman unwilling to be limited by her gender, Arabella Mansfield is a very notable candidate.
4. Bessie Coleman, 1892-1926
Everyone's heard of Amelia Earhart, but I have another first for you: Coleman was not only the first African American female pilot, but also the first female pilot of Native American descent to hold a license. In an era where women of minority descent were all too frequently ignored in history- the women's right movement in the 1920s being particularly problematic- Coleman's story is pivotal. only having enough savings to complete a term of university, Coleman was a manicurist in Chicago, but was fascinated by the stories of pilots coming home from World War One. However, as an African American woman, no place in America would teach Coleman, so instead with funding from the Chicago Defender and Jesse Binga she travelled to Paris to go after her dream. There she learned the trade in a Nieuport Type 82 Biplane and after arriving in 1920, by June 15th 1921 she had become the first of her gender and ethnicity to have an possess an aviation licence. By September 1921, she was back in New York where she continued to train build a repertoire as an accomplished stunt pilot. What Coleman really wanted was to set up a flying school for young African Americans, and all her activities were dedicated to this cause until her death when flying a plane in Florida in 1926, meaning she never got to fulfil her plan to give others the opportunity she had never been given. Despite this, Coleman's legacy continues today, and her prodigious story sure is one worthy of being told.
Who is your favourite woman in American History? Tell me in the comments below!