back to top

10 Fascinating Pennsylvania Women

Last month, I posted a list of Pennsylvanians memorialized in the U.S. Capitol. Some readers asked where the women were. In celebration of Women’s History Month, here you go. Undercover reporters. Abolitionists. Suffragists. Civic leaders. Artists. These amazing Pennsylvania women made their mark on history!

Posted on

1. Nellie Bly: Undercover journalist


Born Elizabeth Jane Cochrane, this Pittsburgh native famously went undercover as a journalist to report on patient abuse in New York’s Blackwell Island Lunatic Asylum. She began her journalism career at the Pittsburgh Dispatch, where she had her first taste of investigative reporting.

2. Lucretia Mott: Abolitionist, suffragist


Lucretia Mott moved to Philadelphia in 1811 and soon became a national hero for her devotion to the anti-slavery and women’s suffrage movements. Among her many achievements, she founded both the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and Swarthmore College. She is one of the few women with a statue in the Capitol.

3. Marian Anderson: National performer


The first African American to perform in New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, Anderson was born in humble circumstances in Philadelphia. She is most famous for her 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial after she was barred from performing at D.C.’s Constitution Hall because of her race. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt led the charge to ensure this gifted singer had the opportunity to perform on a grand stage – the Lincoln Memorial.

4. C. Delores Tucker: Glass ceiling smasher


Born, raised, and educated in Pennsylvania, Delores Tucker was a civil rights activist and public servant. She became the first African American Secretary of State in the country when she began her tenure as Pennsylvania Secretary of State in 1971. Before her death in 2005, Tucker began a campaign against violent and sexually explicit rap lyrics.

*U.S. Capitol History Alert* Tucker was the force behind lobbying for an image of Sojourner Truth to appear in the Capitol. A statue of the civil rights icon now rests in Emancipation Hall.

5. Mary Cassatt: Impressionist


Born in Allegheny County, Cassatt attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia before going abroad. She is most famous for her impressionist artwork depicting women and children.

6. Maria Sanford: Professor

An education trailblazer, Maria Sanford is remembered for her role as one of the first female college professors. After serving as superintendent of Chester County schools, she began teaching history at Lucretia Mott’s Swarthmore College.

*U.S. Capitol History Alert* Thanks to Minnesota, Sanford has a spot in Emancipation Hall to honor her service to the University of Minnesota.

7. Betsy Ross: Small business woman


A skilled seamstress, Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross owned an upholstery business in Philadelphia during the time of the American Revolution. As the legend goes, she was commissioned by George Washington to make a flag for the newly minted United States.

8. Katharine Drexel: American saint


Born into a prominent Philadelphia family, Katharine Drexel devoted her life to serving Native American and African American communities by establishing schools. She is the founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as Xavier University in New Orleans. In 2000, she was canonized as a saint, only the second American ever to be recognized in this way.

9. Molly Pitcher: Courage under fire


It is widely believed that Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley helped fight the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse during the American Revolution. Nicknamed “Molly Pitcher,” she delivered water to help clean the cannons during the battle. As the legend goes, Molly began firing her husband’s cannon after he collapsed in the heat. The existence of Molly Pitcher, who resided in Carlisle, is evidenced by a federal pension she received in her own name.

10. Jennie Wade: Courage under fire - Part II


Virginia “Jennie” Wade was the only civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg. Jennie, a Gettysburg native, spent the first two days of the battle giving bread and water to Union soldiers. On the third day, she was kneading dough in her kitchen when she was fatally struck by a Confederate bullet. By a national executive order, the Jennie Wade Monument and the Betsy Ross House are the only women’s memorials to fly the American flag 24 hours a day.