written by Natalie Pattillo

Junk Drawer

How These 7 Iconic Women Persisted Against All Odds

Women have pushed boundaries since the dawn of...well, (wo)mankind. We're pretty damn resilient. Some might say "stubborn." 😏 In the spirit of celebrating seriously amazing women (which we love to do all day everyday 🙌), we're tipping our hats off to icons who persisted, broke boring 'ol male-dominated molds, and paved the path for all of us to succeed today. 


Sonia Sotomayor

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Sonia Sotomayor – the fearless federal trial court judge who grew up in the Bronx – got her page in the record book as the first Latina Supreme Court Justice and the third woman ever to serve on the High Court in 2009. As a kid, she moved to the Bronx from Puerto Rico and was raised by her mother, a nurse, after her father passed away from heart complications. Before she was 8, Sotomayor was diagnosed with life-threatening juvenile (Type 1) diabetes. She learned how to boil water, sterilize syringes, and give herself insulin shots. A tireless learner (thanks to her mom's encouragement + her own drive), Sonia graduated top of her class at Princeton and went on to attend Yale Law School. Giving up was never in trailblazin' Sonia's vocabulary.


Judy Blume

Photo Source: Carl Lender of Flickr.com /Solid State Survivor

Judy Blume, a true literary champion for children and teens, never stopped writing candidly about puberty or bullying. She had critics who wanted her work censored because, I guess, they believed that teaching kids about their bodies and feelings is wrong? In relation to censorship, she once said that “fear is often disguised as moral outrage.” (We believe the same goes for policing the way we talk about our unruly bodies.) Despite the pushback, Judy went on the publish books and stories that changed lives (mine included).  


Patsy Takemoto Mink

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Patsy Takemoto Mink, a legislative pioneer, is no stranger to overcoming the odds. In 1965, she became the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress, and later ran for Presidency. Her dream of becoming a doctor was crushed at a young age when quotas for female students denied her from medical school, but as a fighter, she persisted and was accepted into law school and graduated in 1951. As a Congresswoman, Pasty fought to give millions of women and girls equal access to higher education and protection from sexual harassment and gender discrimination in all educational activities.


Coretta Scott King

By Herman Hiller / New York World-Telegram & Sun via Wikimedia Commons


Coretta Scott King was a fearless civil rights leader fought to end racial and economic injustice. As an African-American school teacher, Coretta was met with bigotry and wasn't allowed to teach in an Ohio school system because of her race. With her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta organized and participated in marches, boycotts, and "freedom concerts." She often stood in for her husband and gave speeches all over the country. After Dr. King was assassinated, Coretta's fight against racism didn't stop. In 1968, she opened the doors to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change to carry on her husband and family's legacy.


Dr. Mae C. Jemison

Photo Source: By NASA via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Mae C. Jemison was the first African-American woman astronaut and the first to travel to space. It's no surprise that she was confident even as a kindergartener. When her teacher asked her what she wanted to be, she confidently said, "A scientist!" Her teacher seemed surprised, but clearly, Mae didn't let anything stop her. Following that historic mission into space, she urged society to give women and people of color the opportunities they deserved. She was also the first real astronaut to appear on Star Trek! Mae is a renaissance woman—she has explored space, volunteered in the Peace Corps, acted on screen, and established two technology companies. Oh, she's also an accomplished dancer and doctor!


Taraji P. Henson

By Kim Shiflett via Wikimedia Commons

Taraji P.  Henson is one of the fiercest actresses on and off the big screen today. Taraji, who is known for starring on Empire, Hidden Figures, and the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is a fighter. While in her junior year of college, Taraji found out she was pregnant. She insisted for her theater professors to treat her like every other student and told them, "Don't you bench me because I'm pregnant." As a single, young mom, Taraji moved to LA to pursue her acting career with just $700 bank account. Read her recently published memoir to learn more about how she didn't back down from adversity.


Althea Gibson

By Fred Palumbo via Wikimedia Commons

Althea Gibson was the first African-American woman to play tennis and golf, and is known to break racial barriers in the international tennis circuit. Althea, who grew up in Harlem on public assistance, overcame hardships at a young age. Her knack for tennis was natural, and she learned to play on the streets of her neighborhood and from mentors who believed in her. She went on to win the French Open 1956, as well as the women’s singles and doubles at Wimbledon in 1957 as the first black person to compete in the tournament. To pay homage to Althea’s barrier-breaking sports(wo)manship, a statue of her will be placed at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open, in Queens, New York.


*~Persistence, a fierce trait many women share, can change the world and open up people’s minds. What other unsung heroines deserve celebration?~*

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