Surely, at some point in your life, you’ve enjoyed a box (or two, or three) of Girl Scout cookies. But do you know the story behind the organization and its founder, Juliette Gordon Low? You’ve probably seen Mary Kay makeup strewn across someone’s vanity. Are you aware of how that mascara or lipstick got there, and the powerhouse business its founder built? You likely know that Eleanor Roosevelt was married to a U.S. president. But did you know about her deep passion for philanthropy?
To mark the 100-year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in America, USA TODAY, in consultation with an expert panel, put together its list of 100 Women of the Century, recognizing those who have significantly impacted their communities and country. The women below represent the categories of business, nonprofit and philanthropy.
First Latina to hold a Cabinet position
Born in Puerto Rico, Aida Alvarez was the first Latina to hold a Cabinet position as head of Small Business Administration in 1997 for President Bill Clinton. Before then, Alvarez held positions at New York Post, Bear Stearns and New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. She now chairs the Latino Community Foundation of California, is a trustee of UnionBanCal Corp. and Union Bank, and is on the board of directors for Walmart, Zoosk and Oportun.
Mary Kay Ash
When Mary Kay Ash was passed over for a promotion by a man she trained, she decided to write a book to help women get ahead in business. Instead, she eventually founded her own cosmetics empire that provided employment to millions of women. It has been recognized as one of the 100 best places to work in the world and one of the 10 best places to work for women. She also founded the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation, which raises money for domestic violence victims and cancer research.
Founder of Susan G. Komen Foundation
Nancy Brinker broke the silence around breast cancer when she founded Susan G. Komen in 1982. Named after her sister, who died of breast cancer at 36, the foundation is one of the world’s largest cancer charities, having raised $750 million for research. Her advocacy is credited for destigmatizing breast cancer and bringing to light a disease that so many women suffered in silence. Brinker was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, has served as a U.S. ambassador and released a bestselling memoir about her life.
Lois Alexander Lane
Lois Alexander Lane worked 36 years for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before earning her master’s degree in retailing, fashion and merchandising from NYU. Her research focused on the history of Black people in retailing, which ultimately led to her founding the Harlem Institute of Fashion in 1966 and the Black Fashion Museum in 1979. She also worked as a freelance photographer for Black newspapers and was vice president of the Capital Press Club, an organization for Black journalists.
Juliette Gordon Low
Founder of Girl Scouts
Inspired after meeting the founder of the Boy Scouts in 1911, Juliette Gordon Low famously said, “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world.” In March 1912, she founded a troop of Girl Guides in Savannah, Georgia, her hometown. By 1915, the Girl Scouts of the USA had become a national movement. Gordon Low served as its president until 1920. At the time of her death, there were more than 140,000 Girl Scouts. Today, there are millions.
Women’s rights advocate
Born in New York City to a wealthy, humanitarian family, Eleanor Roosevelt leaves behind a legacy as one of the world’s most powerful women of her day. She married her distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1905, and he was elected president in 1933. She traveled the country in his stead because of his polio, reporting back to him about the conditions she observed and public opinion. She championed child welfare, housing reform, and equal rights for women and Black Americans.
Sources used in the Women of the Century list project include newspaper articles, state archives, historical websites, encyclopedias and other resources.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Women of the Century Business, Nonprofits, Philanthropy: See the list