22 Influential Women You Probably Didn't Learn About in School

Victoria Woodhull, Althea Gibson, Hypatia
Victoria Woodhull, Althea Gibson, Hypatia / Victoria Woodhull, Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images // Althea Gibson, AFP/AFP via Getty Images // Hypatia, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
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6. Virginia Hall

Virginia Hall
Virginia Hall / Apic/GettyImages

What a different world it would have been without the efforts of Virginia Hall, a Baltimore native who became one of World War II’s most celebrated spies. Despite losing her left leg in a hunting accident, the resourceful Hall managed to spend years in France spying on German movements and assisting French resistance fighters with planning attack locations. When Nazis were close to finding her, she fled through the mountains to Spain on an arduous 50-mile trek on foot (including a prosthetic one). After the war, she went to work for the CIA. It was a job that, considering Hall’s experience, she probably found rather tame.

7. Mary Church Terrell

Born in 1863 as the daughter of formerly enslaved parents, Mary Church Terrell went on to become a significant figure in the Black civil rights and suffragist movements. Education was at the forefront of much of Terrell’s work: She was one of the first Black women to earn a Bachelor’s degree and embarked upon a career in teaching after graduating. Struck by the tragic lynching of her friend Thomas Moss in 1892, Terrell—by then living in Washington, D.C. and married to future judge Robert Heberton Terrell—moved toward social activism and joined anti-lynching campaigns.

In 1896, Terrell helped to co-found the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and became one of the founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. Still an ardent activist at 86, she fought a segregated restaurant that denied her service in 1950. Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor—a groundbreaking moment for the emerging Civil Rights Movement and one that helped to cement Terrell’s status as one of the most preeminent Black activists of the 19th and 20th centuries.