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7 Notable Female Public Figures From the Golden State
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7 Notable Female Public Figures From the Golden State

These famous women from California have left their mark on history and paved the way for trailblazers.

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4 min read

March 07, 2022

The best way to honor Women’s History Month is to highlight the untold stories of women’s accomplishments. California has had its fair share of famous women who have changed the course of history for the better in significant ways. Picking only a handful of influential women from a state that is so vast, populous, and diverse is no easy feat. However, today we honor a select few famous women in history who have inspired us in the past and continue to motivate us every day. Want to learn all about them? Here’s how these women have impacted our lives in positive ways.

California’s Important Women in History you Should Know

As a role model to many in the Latino community, Dolores Huerta is the subject of many corridos and murals.

1. Dolores Huerta

As one of the most famous Latinas in United States history, Dolores Huerta has played a major role in advancing labor rights everywhere. Huerta grew up in Stockton and started her journey of activism in California as a civil rights leader. While she has done plenty to earn a spot as one of the most powerful women in history, she is most regarded for co-founding what eventually became the United Farm Workers of America with Cesar Chavez. 

In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Huerta with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor in the U.S. She continues her work, traveling the country advocating for the working poor, immigrants, women, and youth. The fruits of her activism have advanced labor rights' causes immeasurably, putting Huerta among the ranks of the most influential women in history. 

Fluent in Spanish and English, contemporary folk singer Joan Baez has also recorded songs in at least six other languages.

2. Joan Baez

Joan Baez is a singer, songwriter, musician, and activist who has constantly put herself on the line and used her platform as a famous woman to sing about what no one else dared for nearly six decades. While she hails from New York, Baez has actually spent nearly 50 years of her life in California, where she created her most notable work and did most of her activism. 

Besides singing about the human condition, Baez has also marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, stood in the fields with Cesar Chavez and the migrant farmworkers, and organized resistance to the Vietnam War—to name just a few of her efforts. Believing that we all must work for a just and loving society, Baez continues to fight for social justice, championing a variety of causes from immigrants’ rights to the abolition of capital punishment.

Sally Ride was the third woman in space overall, after USSR cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982).

3. Sally Ride

Born in Encino, Sally Ride has cemented her reputation as a paramount female historical figure by becoming the first American woman in space and the youngest U.S. astronaut to date. But Sally Ride didn’t stop there. 

Ride went on to become the Director of the California Space Institute at the University of California, San Diego, where she also worked as a professor of Physics. Later in 2001, she started her own company with a mission to inspire girls and women to pursue careers in STEM. The company has since transformed into the nonprofit Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego, and she is forever remembered as an inspiring figure who has paved the way for many women in history since. 

A member of the Democratic Party, Nancy Pelosi is the only woman in U.S. history to serve as speaker of the House.

4. Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi is a staunch politician who has changed the course for women in government forever through leading by example. Despite not running for office for the first time until she was 47, Pelosi became the first—and so far only—woman to be elected as speaker of the U.S. House. This position puts her second in line for the presidency and ranks her among the most powerful women in history

Pelosi already had five children when she and her husband moved to San Francisco in 1969. But by quickly getting involved in the state's Democratic Party, she made her most significant career advancements right here. In Congress, she has long championed LGBTQIA+ rights, pushed for stricter gun regulations, supported Obamacare, and notably opposed the Iraq war.

5. Mimi Silbert

No one believes in the power of rehabilitation and giving a second chance as much as Mimi Silbert. As the co-founder, president, and CEO of the Delancey Street Foundation based in San Francisco, Silbert has aided in saving thousands of lives. A residential educational community, Delancey Street helps ex-felons, prostitutes, substance abusers, and others who have hit bottom to get back a hold of their lives.

While Delancey Street is primarily what ranks Silbert among other influential women in history, she is also a recognized national expert in criminal justice. Silbert has been appointed to the California Board of Corrections by every Governor from Deukmejian through Schwarzenegger and served on many other boards and commissions as an expert as well.

Alice Walker is the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. Virginia DeBolt, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa

6. Alice Walker

Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker has been living in California since the 1970s. As a social activist, poet, short story writer, and influential novelist, Walker has a long list of best-selling novels and is one of the most important women in the history of American literature. Walker is also the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her book The Color Purple.

Besides creating literature that touches lives on the daily, Walker has also been a participant in most of the major movements in social and planetary change such as the Human and Civil Rights Movement, the Hands Off Cuba Movement, the Women’s Movement, and the Native American and Indigenous Rights Movement.

7. Amy Tan

Amy Tan is another awesome female author from California, whose novels and stories introduced the struggles of Chinese Americans to the mainstream. A native of Oakland, Tan turned to fiction writing in her 30s, and it only went uphill from there. 

This famous woman’s honest and engaging storytelling opened a window into the Chinese American experience, particularly the dynamics between mothers and daughters. Over the past five decades, Tan’s writings have been translated into 35 languages and adapted for both the stage and the screen. Amy Tan resides in Sausalito today, and while she hasn’t published anything in almost a decade, her influence as one of the most important female historical figures in modern literature remains unchallenged.

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