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6 Trailblazing Women Who Helped Shape History

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

For this year's International Women's Day, the theme is #BreaktheBias, calling for a more gender-equal world that celebrates diversity and inclusivity while relinquishing gender stereotypes. Throughout history, women have been plagued by oppressive biases. Despite this, many have risen up to positively shape society through leadership, innovation, activism, and more.

In honor of both International Women's Day and Women's History Month, here are trailblazing women of the past and present in our Brown Harris Stevens markets⁠—New York City, Miami, Palm Beach, Hudson Valley, New Jersey, and Connecticutwho have fought oppression to make a lasting impact in their communities and society at large.

New York City

Justice Sonia Sotomayor - New York City
Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States, Steve Pettewa

Born in the South Bronx, Justice Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina Supreme Court Justice in 2009. At the start of her legal career, she was an active member of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and the State of New York Mortgage Agency. Her work with these organizations led to statewide recognition, ultimately leading to her position as U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York City. From there, she was nominated to the U.S. Second Court of Appeals, joining the court as its youngest judge. She served in the Court of Appeals for eight years before being nominated to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama.


Marjory Stoneman Douglas - Miami

A celebrated journalist, women's suffrage advocate, and conservationist, Marjory Stoneman Douglas was one of the first writers for the Miami Herald, focusing her writing on publicizing women involved with the voting rights movement. After moving to Miami, she was quickly taken by the Everglades and the various threats commercial development posed to them, eventually publishing the book "The Everglades: River of Grass," which many credit with directly inspiring the movement that led to the Everglades being designated as a National Park. She was also a charter member of the American Civil Liberties Union's Southern Division and co-founded Friends of the Miami-Dade Public Library. Many institutions throughout Florida have been named after Douglas in her honor, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, known both for the tragic 2018 mass shooting that took place there and the youth activism that resulted from it.

Palm Beach County

Agnes Ballard - Palm Beach County
The Palm Beach Post, 29 October 1920, page 7

After moving to West Palm Beach at the age of 29 in 1906, Agnes Ballard became one of the first teachers at Palm Beach High School. Her true passion at the time, however, was architecture, which she left the state to study before returning to West Palm Beach in 1911. There, she became the first female architect registered in Florida, moving into an office on Clematis street in downtown West Palm Beach. When women were granting voting rights and the ability to run for public office in 1920, Ballard quickly pivoted back to education, running for the position of Palm Beach County Superintendent of Public Instruction. Both the community and the League of Women Voters rallied behind her campaign, and she succeeded. She is credited with bolstering the school district's growth during her four years in the role.

Hudson Valley

Jean Grotty Murphy - Hudson Valley

A longtime resident of Poughkeepsie, Jean Grotty Murphy was drawn to activism and community involvement after expressing frustration with the confines of life as a 1950s housewife.

She became an active member of various local organizations, including the Hudson Valley Philharmonic and the League of Women voters, later becoming the first woman to elected to Dutchess County Government. She used her power and influence to spearhead prison reform initiatives and provide daycare services to working mothers in the area.

New Jersey

Clara Barton - New Jersey

Known as the founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton was also instrumental in shaping the educational landscape of New Jersey. After moving to Bordertown in her 20s, Barton established one of the state's first free public schools with the belief that everyone has a right to an education. The school was successful, growing to over 600 students within its first year. The success prompted the establishment of another school in the town. After Barton learned she would not be principal of the school, likely due to her gender, she left the field of education and worked as a Civil War Nurse, eventually going on to found the Red Cross.


Adrianne Baughns-Wallace - Connecticut
Source: Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame

In 1978, Bloomfield resident and journalist Adrianne Baughns-Wallace became the first female newscaster in Connecticut and the first African American news anchor in New England. She was, at one point, recognized as the "Most Watched Woman in Connecticut." Following her journalism career, Wallace went on to direct Operation Fuel, a Connecticut philanthropic organization helping elderly people, people with disabilities, and those with financial need pay utility bills. She also worked as the Director of Financial Education for the Connecticut Treasure's Office in 2001, teaching responsible financial planning to Connecticut citizens.

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