You don’t have to look far through the pages of history to find women who made a mark on America.
From Betsy Ross to Louisa May Alcott, Amelia Earhart and Rosa Parks, notable women have been part of America’s story. Their fingerprints are everywhere: on the first American flag, on the expansion of voting rights and civil rights, and in literature and fine art.
Here’s a look at just a few of the many monumental female figures from our nation’s history, as well as historic sites, museums and other places travelers can learn more about them.
Among the most famous stories from the founding of our country is the tale of Betsy Ross stitching the first American flag, with one star representing each of the 13 original Colonies. While some historians debate whether Ross actually created the first flag, she was a successful upholsterer and flag maker in Philadelphia in the 1770s. During her career, she sewed numerous other items for George Washington and the Continental Army, which lends credence to the legend about her creating the first American flag.
Groups can learn more about Ross’ fascinating life — and decide for themselves whether the American flag story is true — at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia. One of several sites administered by a group called Historic Philadelphia, the house is a 1740 building that served as Ross’ workshop, showroom and family home. Groups can meet a Betsy Ross interpreter and enjoy other immersive experiences during their visits.
Louisa May Alcott
In an era when few women had the opportunity to write and publish fiction, Louisa May Alcott became one of the most celebrated American novelists of the 1800s when her book “Little Women” took the country by storm. The story has been read and beloved by generations of children and adults ever since, and Alcott went on to enjoy financial independence and a continued writing career.
Alcott penned “Little Women” at a small desk at her family’s home in Concord, Massachusetts. The family called the home the Apple House because it was surrounded by an orchard. Visitors can now tour the Apple House, which has been meticulously preserved and is still filled with many furnishings and objects owned by the Alcott family. The house and surrounding area were major sources of inspiration for Alcott, so many fans see visiting the Apple House as a chance to step into the pages of their favorite novel.
Susan B. Anthony
Rochester, New York
Anyone who values women’s place in civic life owes a debt of gratitude to Susan B. Anthony. A leader in the suffragist movement in the late 1800s, Anthony ran the National American Woman Suffrage Association out of her home in Rochester, New York. In 1872, she was famously arrested for having voted illegally in an election. And though she died in 1906, 14 years before women gained the right to vote nationwide, her vision, courage and inspirational leadership paved the way for the success of the movement that fundamentally reshaped America.
Today, that house in Rochester is preserved as the National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House. The home tells the story of Anthony’s life and mission, and visitors will find a collection of objects and artifacts that help bring that story to life. The museum features a variety of educational interpretive programs and a gift shop with inspiring books, jewelry and other items.
The history of the civil rights movement is full of impressive figures. While some dedicated themselves full-time to the effort, others, such as Rosa Parks, were ordinary citizens who displayed extraordinary bravery. In 1955, Parks, a Black woman, famously refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Though she was arrested, her principled stand led to the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and inspired thousands of people across the country to take up the cause of civil rights.
Today, travelers can learn more about Parks, her life and the change she helped catalyze at the Rosa Parks Museum. Part of Montgomery’s Troy University, the museum is located at the corner where Parks was arrested in 1955. It has a permanent exhibit, “The Cleveland Avenue Time Machine,” which tells Parks’ story, as well as temporary art exhibits and educational programs.
When Amelia Earheart was born in in 1897, few people knew humans were less than a decade away from powered flight. Even fewer could have imagined that this girl from Atchison, Kansas, would become famous worldwide as an aviation pioneer. Earhart first encountered airplanes as a nurse’s aide during World War I and learned to fly soon thereafter. She set records as the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Her 1937 disappearance over the Pacific during an attempt to fly around the world remains one of history’s great unsolved mysteries.
Several sites in Atchison pay homage to Earhart. The Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum preserves the home where she was born and spent much of her early childhood. And set to open in 2023, the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum will display a historic airplane identical to the one Earhart piloted on her final, fateful flight.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
In the middle of the 20th century, as the age of the automobile made nationwide travel accessible for everyday Americans, many set off toward New Mexico to see for themselves the landscapes that had become immortalized by the country’s preeminent Southwestern artist, Georgia O’Keeffe. Born in Wisconsin in 1887, O’Keeffe first began spending time in the Southwest in 1912. By 1929, she was making annual pilgrimages to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to paint. By the time she died in 1986, O’Keeffe had established herself as one of America’s most influential artists.
Today, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe pays tribute to both the artist and the landscape that inspired her. The museum displays numerous pieces of O’Keeffe’s original artwork, as well as works of her contemporaries and others she influenced. Groups can also tour her home and studio at the O’Keeffe Welcome Center in nearby Abiquiú.