By: Victoria Goldiee
Many notable women from North Carolina have significantly contributed to various fields throughout history and our lives. The women below represent some who are responsible for breaking the status quo and trailblazing equality in their respective areas:
Born in St. Louis but raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Angelou is a renowned author, poet, and civil rights activist. She is best known for her memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
She taught and was celebrated at Wake Forest University for much of her life. Angelou was also an actress and role model, earning a presidential medal of freedom, a Pulitzer Prize, and three Grammys.
Elion was a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist who spent many years making her mark in medicine at the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.
She is known for her groundbreaking work developing drugs to treat leukemia, malaria, and other diseases. She received the Nobel Prize for Medicine and retired in Durham before passing away.
Gardner was the youngest of seven children in Grabtown, located east of Smithfield, NC. On a trip to New York, a portrait of her was created and went viral. Soon after, she gained momentum starring in films such as “The Killers” and “The Night of the Iguana.”
Gardner was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in “Mogambo” and was recognized as one of the greatest female screen legends of classic American cinema in the 90s. The Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield is open for anyone who’s looking to learn more about her legacy.
Ava is also recognized as a descendent by the Tuscarora Nation in North Carolina.
Born in Salisbury, Dole is one of North Carolina’s most famous politicians. She served as the first female senator from North Carolina, and worked under Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W Bush in other positions, namely as the Secretary of Labor and Secretary of Transportation.
Bette Rae Thomas
Thomas was the first African-American woman elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives. She served from 1985 to 1992 and focused on issues such as education, healthcare, and civil rights.
Jacobs was born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina, but escaped and became an abolitionist and author. She wrote “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” one of the few firsthand accounts of slavery written by a woman.
Tyler is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who spent much of her childhood in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has written many acclaimed novels, including “The Accidental Tourist” and “Breathing Lessons.”
Simone was a singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist born in Tryon, North Carolina. She is known for songs such as “Feeling Good” and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” which became anthems of the civil rights movement.
Lynch was born in Greensboro, North Carolina and served as the US Attorney General under President Barack Obama from 2015-2017. Before this prestigious public service appointment, she had a highly distinguished legal career.
Lynch has overseen the FBI and participated in the Rwandan Genocide Special Investigations, counter-terrorism investigations, and mortgage crisis and global bank investments.
Known as one of the first female action movie stars, Pam Grier was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1949. She’s a Blaxploitation star and icon who has received Golden Globe nominations and other critical awards for her work. She starred in Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” during the era of Blaxploitation films in the 70s.
Myrtle Driver Johnson
Johnson was born in Big Cove, North Carolina and is known for keeping the Cherokee language and traditions alive. She is one of the most prominent Indigenous advocates in the United States, and she continues to work to sustain tribal traditions and fight for federal representation and protection.
Julianne Moore was born as Julie Anne Smith in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She’s one of the most well-known actresses of our time. The winner of an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, and two Emmys, she is also known as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. She has starred in “The Hunger Games,” “Magnolia,” “The Hours,” “Jurassic Park,” and more, also appearing in dozens of films with some of the most famous directors.
Born in Goldsboro, North Carolina, Weil was a social reform pioneer, one of the most famous suffragettes, and a humanitarian.
She was heavily involved with getting women the right to vote and establishing foreign student scholarships at UNC-Chapel Hill. Weil also engaged in civil rights, promoted interfaith and interracial parks, and held integrated meetings promoting numerous causes both locally and nationally.
Lillian Exum Clement
Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Clement was one of the first female politicians. More specifically, she was the first woman elected to the North Carolina General Assembly and the first woman to serve in any state legislature in the southern United States. Encouraged and mentored by Edith Vanderbilt, she was, in many ways, a renegade in office, introducing bills regarding reproduction, marital rights, and maternity leave.
These examples are just some of the many women from North Carolina who have made a lasting impact in the past decades. We should celebrate them and the women in our own lives this month!
Victoria Goldiee explores the intersection of right, wrong, and an appearance of rightness. Her writing skills include women, tech, entertainment, and culture. She is particularly keen on headlining untold stories of women.