Once we started digging to unearth the accomplishments of Alabama’s finest women, we were overwhelmed by the impressive feats, the outstanding “firsts” and the larger-than-life legends that hail from the forward-thinking women of our great state! While we could not include them all, we highlighted these 32 women whose lives in athletics, the arts and sciences, government, politics and social change were simply inspiring. Get ready to swell with pride in these phenomenal Alabama women.
32 Remarkable Alabama Women
Luverne “Toad” Wise Albert
Atmore, Alabama, native Luverne “Toad” Wise Albert (1922-1982) became Alabama’s first female football player — and some claim first in the country — when she joined the Escambia County High School team as a kicker in 1939. Nicknamed “Toad” as a kid, Luverne was featured in Sports Illustrated, Life magazine, the New York Daily Mirror and the Atlanta Constitution.
Jennifer Kay Bellamy Chandler
Jennifer Kay Bellamy Chandler (1959-present) was Alabama’s first female winner of individual Olympic gold. The Langdale, Alabama, native and three-meter springboard champion won a gold medal for diving in 1976.
Vonetta Flowers (1973-present) is an American bobsledder and the first African-American to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. Flowers began her athletic career as a star sprinter and long jumper at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and originally aspired to make the U.S. Summer Olympic Team. After several failed attempts, Vonetta found almost immediate and unexpected success bobsledding. At the 2002 Winter Olympics, the powerhouse brakewoman, along with driver Jill Bakken, won the gold medal in the two-woman event.
Nancy Batson Crews
Nancy Batson Crews (1920-2001) was the first Alabama woman to fly a military aircraft as part of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) in the U.S. Army Air Force in WWII, and she was the first woman inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame. Nancy was revered as a pilot of exceptional ability who blazed a trail for women flyers of today.
Professional soccer player and Selma, Alabama, native Mariel Margaret “Mia” Hamm-Garciaparra (1972- present), better known as Mia Hamm, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup winner. Hamm played as a forward for the United States women’s national soccer team and was a founding member of the Washington Freedom in the first professional women’s soccer league in the United States, the WUSA. Hamm held the record for international goals, more than any other player, male or female, in the history of soccer, until 2013 when fellow American Abby Wambach scored her 159th goal.
Dr. Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson
Dr. Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson (1864-1901) was the first licensed female doctor in Alabama. She was the first woman to pass the Alabama state medical examination and the first female physician at Tuskegee Institute.
Sister Chrysostom Moynahan
Sister Chrysostom Moynahan (1863-1941) was the first registered nurse licensed in Alabama, receiving license #1 in 1916. She also served as a hospital administrator and founder of the St. Vincent’s School of Nursing. In 1918, she lead the Loyola Unit, a band of nursing Sisters and lay nurses, to Italy to serve the U.S. war effort during the first World War. This group was the only one of its kind to serve abroad in the War, and Sister Chrysostom was decorated by both the Italian and U.S. governments for her bravery and service to the military. She later received congratulations from the Pope, the President of the United States and the Governor of Alabama, among others.
Dr. Mae Jemison
Dr. Mae Jemison (1956-present) was the first African American female astronaut. Jemison, a physician and astronaut, became the first African American woman to travel in space in the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
Associate professor of Anthropology and director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at UAB, Sarah Parcak (1979-present) is an American archaeologist, Egyptologist and remote sensing expert who has used satellite imaging to identify potential archaeological sites in Egypt, Rome and elsewhere in the former Roman Empire. Originally from Bangor, Maine, Sarah has been hailed as a modern-day Indiana Jones, and in 2015, she won the $1 million TED Prize for 2016, as well as a host of other scientific and media accolades.
Dr. Hadiyah Nicole-Green
Dr. Hadiyah Nicole-Green developed a groundbreaking laser technology cancer treatment, which induces 100 percent tumor regression in mice. The St. Louis, Missouri, native attended Alabama A&M University, where she studied physics and earned her bachelor’s degree in physics and optics in 2003, then continued her pioneering nanoparticle research at UAB. Hadiyah became the 76th African-American female in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in physics and now continues her research in clinical trials through the Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation, while serving as an assistant professor of Physiology at the Morehouse School of Medicine.
Greene County, Alabama, native Mary Anderson (1866-1953) was an American real estate developer, rancher, viticulturist and inventor. In 1903, Mary was granted her first patent for an automatic car window cleaning device controlled inside the car, called the windshield wiper.
Rosa McCauley Parks (1913-2005), who was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, came to be known as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” On December 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery. Her non-violent protest and subsequent arrest led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ended racial segregation on the city’s buses. A long-time advocate of social justice, her actions launched the modern Civil Rights Movement. She was a woman of quiet yet unshakable courage whose fortitude changed the state, the nation and the world.
American author, political activist, lecturer and Tuscumbia, Alabama, native Helen Keller (1880–1968) was the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. In 2003, Alabama honored its native daughter on its state quarter, the only circulating U.S. coin to feature braille. Helen is one of the most famous deaf and blind people in history, and she serves as a role model to people — deaf, blind and otherwise — throughout the world.
Coretta Scott King
Coretta Scott King (1927-2006) was raised on a farm in Perry County, Alabama, where she attended segregated schools, was valedictorian of Lincoln High School and graduated from Antioch College. She became the first woman to deliver the class day address at Harvard, soon after her marriage to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After MLK’s assassination, she worked to build the King Center in Atlanta and led the campaign to establish Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday.
Evelyn Daniel Anderson
Evelyn Daniel Anderson (1926-1998) became a paraplegic at age 4 as the result of a stray .22 caliber bullet. Confined to a gurney, she considered her disability only a “physical inconvenience,” and she forged ahead to become an outstanding educator, community volunteer and advocate for the disabled. Evelyn was the catalyst for the Alabama Legislature to change a law prohibiting the handicapped from teaching, and she became the first handicapped teacher hired by Alabama Public Schools.
Known as the “Angel of the Prisons” and the “Mother of Co-Education in Alabama,” Julia Strudwick Tutwiler (1841–1916) was a legendary advocate for education and prison reform in Alabama. She served as co-principal of the Livingston Female Academy, and then the first and only woman president of Livingston Normal College (now the University of West Alabama), and she was a key founder of the Alabama Girls’ Industrial School (now the University of Montevallo). Numerous educational buildings and prisons, including the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, have been named in her honor.
Martha Foster Crawford
Martha Foster Crawford (1830-1909) was the first foreign missionary of the Southern Baptist Convention. She is renowned for her mentoring of younger missionaries, both male and female, and leaving a deep impression on the church in China. Prior to pursuing her calling as a missionary, she doggedly pursued her own education, saving money to send herself to school, and she was passionate about women’s physical, mental and spiritual welfare.
Dothan, Alabama, native Heather Leigh Whitestone McCallum (1973-present) is a former beauty queen who became the first deaf Miss America title holder. Heather lost most of her hearing at 18 months, but was inspired by Helen Keller to become an author and active advocate for the deaf.
Jacksonville, Alabama, native Lilly Ledbetter (1938-present) was working as a supervisor at Goodyear Tire & Rubber’s plant in Gadsden, Alabama. After retiring, she sued the company for paying her significantly less than her male counterparts. Her case went to the Supreme Court and ruled in her favor. The U.S. Congress subsequently passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009. Lilly now serves as a women’s equality activist.
Arts & Entertainment
Augusta Evans Wilson
Augusta Evans Wilson (1835-1909) was Alabama’s first professional author, of either gender, and a best-selling novelist. After traveling with her parents from Georgia to Texas and then to Alabama by covered wagon, she wrote Inez, A Tale of the Alamo when she was only 15. At 18, she penned her second book, Beulah, which sold more than 22,000 copies, a breathtaking figure for the time. Her third novel, St. Elmo, was her most famous.
In 2001, poet Sonia Sanchez (1934-present) was Alabama’s first recipient of the Robert Frost Medal, one of the highest honors awarded to a nationally recognized poet. She has taught as a professor at eight universities and has lectured at over 500 college campuses across the U.S. Sanchez was the first to create and teach a course based on Black Women and Literature in the United States, and the course she offered on African American literature is generally considered the first of its kind taught at a predominately white university. She was also the first Presidential Fellow at Temple University, where she began working in 1977, and Philadelphia’s first Poet Laureate. She is currently a poet-in-residence at Temple University. She has read her poetry in Africa, the Caribbean, China, Australia, Europe, Nicaragua, Canada and Cuba.
Birmingham native Estelle Louise Fletcher (1934-present) is an Academy Award-winning film and television actress. Louise gained international recognition for her performance as Nurse Ratched in the 1975 film One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. She became the third actress to win those three prestigious awards for a single performance, after Audrey Hepburn and Liza Minnelli.
Birmingham native Donna Hilley (1940-2012) is the former Sony/ATV Nashville president and CEO and the first woman ever to head a major Nashville music company. This powerful country music executive was instrumental in negotiating the acquisitions of Acuff-Rose, Little Big Town and the catalogs of Conway Twitty, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. She was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1999. Sony CEO Tommy Mottola once called Donna “the pulse” of the country music industry.
Credited with nearly 300 film, stage, television and radio roles and regarded as one of the 20th century theater’s great leading ladies, Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968) possessed an eccentric personality, glamorous demeanor and cutting wit that remain legendary in the pantheon of American actresses. The Huntsville, Alabama, native acted in New York, London and Hollywood, garnering critical acclaim for her stage roles under such notable playwrights as Thornton Wilder, Lillian Hellman, Noel Coward and Tennessee Williams, who was inspired by Tallulah in creating the character of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Monroeville, Alabama, native Nelle Harper Lee (1926-2016), better known as Harper Lee, became famous for her 1960 novel To Kill A Mockingbird. It won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and has been celebrated across cultures for the clarity, innocence and realism with which it examines racism. The revered Alabama author was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature, as well as numerous honorary degrees.
Actress, producer, director and Birmingham, Alabama, native Courtney Cox is probably best known as “Monica Geller” on the hit ’90s sitcom “Friends.” According to the 2005 Guinness Book of World Records, Courtney and her female costars became the highest-paid TV actresses of all time, with their $1 million-per-episode paycheck for the final two seasons of “Friends.”
Actress, comedian, author and Irondale, Alabama, native Fannie Flagg penned the 1987 novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which was adapted into the 1991 movie Fried Green Tomatoes. Flagg was nominated for an Academy Award for the screenplay adaptation.
Government & Politics
Political scientist, diplomat and Birmingham, Alabama, native Condoleezza Rice (1954-present) served as the 66th United States Secretary of State — the second person to hold that office in the administration of President George W. Bush. Condoleezza was the first female African American Secretary of State, as well as the second African American Secretary of State, after Colin Powell, and the second female Secretary of State, after Madeleine Albright. She was President Bush’s National Security Advisor during his first term, making her the first woman to serve in that position.
Maud McLure Kelly
The first female lawyer in Alabama, Maud McLure Kelly (1887-1973) began to study law while serving as a stenographer in her father’s law office after the family moved to Birmingham. Her score on the entrance exam to The University of Alabama School of Law allowed her to enter as a senior in 1907. She graduated with highest honors a year later, and, after a change in wording in the Code of Alabama, she became the first woman to practice law in Alabama.
Hattie Hooker Wilkins
Hattie Hooker Wilkins (1875-1949) was the first female in the Alabama House of Representatives. In 1923, the renowned suffragist became the first woman elected to the Alabama State Legislature, where she served one term.
Fran McKee (1926-2002) became the first female unrestricted line officer in history to become a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy in June 1976.
Dixie Bibb Graves
Dixie Bibb Graves (1882 -1965) was married to David Bibb Graves, Alabama’s governor from 1927 to 1931 and 1935 to 1939. In addition to acting as the state’s First Lady, she became the first female from Alabama to serve in the U.S. Senate after her husband appointed her in 1937.
Now, get out there, roll up your sleeves and make a difference in the world doing what you’re passionate about! Here’s to the women of Alabama!
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