Women Make History

This lesson presents the important and extensive roles of women in social justice movements. In this 45- to 90-minute lesson, participants take on the identity of one activist and interview at least six more. This lesson has been used successfully in middle and high school classes and in teacher workshops.


One of the least recognized stories of the Civil Rights Movement is the role of women. This is true despite the fact that women were responsible for many of the achievements of the Movement. They developed strategies, marched in demonstrations, attended mass meetings, registered voters, taught in freedom schools, wrote searing critiques of societal structures, organized boycotts, and risked their lives. What’s more, the participation of women crossed racial and ethnic lines. Unfortunately, in the more traditional narrative of history, women’s work in the Civil Rights Movement is reduced to one or two iconic women at best.

Teachers may use this activity to introduce students to the many women involved in the Civil Rights Movement and other movements for social justice — women whose lives and legacies transformed understandings of leadership and democracy.

This activity is useful as preparation for a larger study of women in the movement or of the Civil Rights Movement in general. The lesson makes participants aware of how many more women were and are active in movements for social change than we typically see represented in textbooks, children’s books, and the media. However, the lesson provides only a brief introduction to the lives of these women. We recommend the related resources at the end of the lesson for students to deepen their understanding.

Bios of women included in the lesson are:

  • Ella Baker
  • Daisy Lee Bates
  • Anne Braden
  • Gwendolyn Brooks
  • Elaine Brown
  • Shirley Chisholm
  • Septima Clark
  • Jessie de la Cruz
  • Angela Y. Davis
  • Virginia Foster Durr
  • Fannie Lou Hamer
  • Lorraine Hansberry
  • Dorothy Height
  • Dolores Huerta
  • Yuri Kochiyama
  • Audre Lorde
  • Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo
  • Winona LaDuke
  • Viola Liuzzo
  • Wangari Maathai
  • Rigoberta Menchu Tum
  • Joan Trumpauer Mulholland
  • Pauli Murray
  • Diane Nash
  • Antonia Pantoja
  • Gloria Richardson
  • Judy Richardson
  • Eslanda Goode Cardozo Robeson
  • Jo Ann Robinson
  • Arundhati Roy
  • Vandana Shiva
  • Barbara Smith
  • Ruby Doris Smith-Robinson
  • Emma Tenayuca
  • Ingrid Washinawatok
  • Merle Woo
  • Dorothy Zellner

If you use the Women Make History lesson, we would love to receive your feedback, suggested edits, and photographs. Send us an email.

Related Resources

A Book Every Day for Women’s History Month

In honor of Women’s History Month, each day Social Justice Books features a children’s book that highlights grassroots women’s history in the United States.

Women’s History on the Zinn Education Project

Teaching materials for all grade levels on women’s history.


Posted Wednesday, February 1, 2017 |

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