Many philanthropists have earned the title by devoting their lives toward the betterment of society. Today we’re highlighting women who sacrificed their lives to fight for equal rights, abolitionism, voting rights, and desegregation. Let’s look at five Black women from generations past who changed the future through philanthropy.
Known as one of the most recognized icons in American history, Harriet Tubman’s legacy has inspired countless people from every race and background. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made more than 13 missions to rescue approximately 700 enslaved people, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Not only did Tubman risk her life to save others, she worked with the Union Army during the Civil War as a nurse and cook; then as an armed scout and spy, becoming the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war. In 2016, the United States Treasury announced that Harriet’s image will replace that of former President and slaveowner Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill.
Bridget “Biddy” Mason
Born enslaved, Mason became one of the first prominent citizens and landowners in Los Angeles. During her time in LA, Mason worked as a nurse and midwife, carefully saving her money to become the first African American to buy real estate in the city. Continuing to invest in land, she amassed a small fortune of nearly $300,000 and became a humanitarian, helping to fund a traveler’s aid center, an elementary school for Black children, and the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the city’s first and oldest Black church.
Born in 1877 in Metropolis, Illinois, Annie Malone grew up on a farm and attended the local public school. Her interest in chemistry and in hair care for Black women led to success in the cosmetics and hair care industry. At that time, many Black women used greases or fats to straighten their curls, but these badly damaged the scalp. Her success in business made her a multi-millionaire. With that money, she financed tuition for many students at nearly every Historically Black College and University in the United States. She made other sizable donations to various institutions during her life and gave much of her fortune to charities at her death.
One of the world’s best-known human rights crusaders, Sojourner Truth spent most of her life fighting for women’s rights. Truth was born a slave named Isabella Baumfree in 1797 and was set free in 1827 when New York abolished slavery. After gaining her freedom, Truth became a Christian and preached about abolitionism and equal rights for all, highlighted in her stirring “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, delivered at a women’s convention in Ohio in 1851. Truth left behind a legacy that is still celebrated today and also a gift of words and songs, including her autobiography, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, which she dictated in 1850.
Mary Church Terrell
One of the first Black women to earn a college degree, Mary Church Terrell was born on September 23, 1863 in Memphis, Tennessee. Terrell devoted her time to helping improve the lives of Black women, and became a national activist for civil rights and suffrage. She co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and was a visible face in the fight for women’s suffrage. She was president of the NACW for five years, using the position to fight tirelessly for racial and gender equality.
These Black women have made a lasting impact on American history and philanthropy. During Black History Month, we seek to celebrate the many contributions of these women and many more who continue to help change the world for the better.