10 Women You Didn't Know Were From Rochester, NY
Wednesday, April 21, 2021 12:00 PM by Felícia Swartzenberg
The Rochester Museum & Science Center’s (RMSC) limited-time featured exhibit, The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World, closes on May 16, 2021-- but there is still time to explore! The exhibit highlights the inspiring stories of diverse women from the Rochester region and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy-- including visionaries, trailblazers, inventors, activists, spiritual leaders and entrepreneurs from the past and present.
Here are 10 impressive women featured in the exhibit that you didn’t know had deep connections to the Rochester region.
1. Maria Lopez
While Maria’s name may not ring any bells in your head, you’re sure to have encountered one of her accomplishments if you’ve ever voted in the United States. Her advocacy led to increased assistance in Spanish at the polls, including printing the ballots in Spanish! In September 1965, the Monroe County Board of Elections refused María the right to register to vote because she could not read or write English. When Maria’s case moved to the federal level, three federal judges ruled that any American citizen who did not attend English speaking schools may register to vote.
2. Linda Sue Park
You may recognize her name from books you read in school! Linda Sue is the author of A Long Walk to Water and inspired children all over the world to raise money to build wells that provide safe, drinkable water in the villages of South Sudan. She also advocates for inclusivity in children’s books and her work has made it easier for parents and children to find books that represent them. Linda says that Brighton Memorial Library is one of the “libraries that have saved me, where I have been a regular patron.”
3. Maria Maybee
If you’ve heard-- or even participated in-- a walking protest advocating for clean water and water protection, it’s likely you’ve encountered the work of Maria. She coordinates “water walks” where the community gathers to peacefully walk 30 miles starting at the West Valley Nuclear site to the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek on Seneca territory.
Every year, they walk to bring awareness to protect the waters from nuclear waste, fracking, contamination, and pollution. Each step Maria takes on these walks is a meditative prayer for protection of Mother Earth, and the humans, animals, birds, fish, and plant life that depend on the waters.
4. Ellen Stubbs
You may recognize her name from her work locally, but Ellen’s work stretches far beyond Rochester, NY. Combining her love for travel with her passion for social justice, Ellen extended her advocacy internationally. She served as a delegate to the 1995 United Nations (UN) Conference on the Status of Women in Beijing, China, and attended the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.
These events led to the UN establishing a Platform for Action for women’s empowerment and a declaration against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance. Ellen’s quiet dedication and global impact have been recognized through a number of local, national, and even international awards for her humanitarian service.
5. Clara Barton
Everyone has heard of the American Red Cross, but did you know that Clara, the founder of the organization, established the very first American Red Cross chapter in Dansville, NY? Clara risked her life to bring medical supplies to soldiers on the battlefield during the Civil War. On a trip to Europe after the war, she was introduced to the international Red Cross. She saw that the American Red Cross could help in crises other than war, such as earthquakes, fires, and hurricanes. In 1881, Clara started the first local Red Cross in the St. Paul Lutheran Church in Dansville, NY. She led the organization for twenty-three years.
6. Maggie Barry
Even if you haven’t heard her name, you’ve undoubtedly seen her work. A fashion designer, Maggie has created iconic looks for tons of celebrities, including Cher, Nicki Minaj, Shaquille O’Neal, JoJo Siwa, David Lee Roth, Van Halen, and countless others. Her fashion sense developed when she was a student at Franklin High School in Rochester, and she later attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York where she launched her career as a designer and entrepreneur. Since then, she has been featured in Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and WWD (Women’s Wear Daily). In 1991, she was one of 12 American designers chosen by Absolut Vodka to design for an ad campaign.
7. Harriet A. Washington
You may have seen her name in recent articles about the key role of environmental racism as a major risk factor for COVID-19 that has influenced the disparately high rates of infection and death in people of color. Harriet changed the narrative in modern medicine. Her award-winning work has revealed, among other things, a long history of medical abuse and marginalization of African Americans. She got her start in Rochester as a University of Rochester student, and later worked for eight years as an editor, including Page One editor for USA Today and Health and Science editor at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
As a Medical Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School, Harriet wrote Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. The awareness created by her work has changed the international dialogue on issues at the intersection of race, ethics, medicine, public health, and medical and environmental racism.
8. Mara Ahmed
If you’ve seen the films A Thin Wall or The Muslims I Know, you’ve enjoyed the work of Mara. She is a multimedia artist and activist filmmaker whose work breaks boundaries, shifts assumptions, and inspires dialogue-- and she developed her craft at local universities like Nazareth College and Rochester Institute of Technology. Her documentaries focus on personal narratives invisibilized by mainstream media, engaging international audiences on subjects as diverse as the partition of India and racism in contemporary America.
9. Nancy Woodhull
Have you read any USA Today articles recently? You can thank Nancy, founding editor of the publication! Nancy was an American journalist and avid champion of equal rights for women. She started her career as a reporter and worked her way up to become managing editor of the Times Union and Democrat & Chronicle before becoming a founding editor of USA Today. She was also a founding chairwoman of Women, Men and Media, an organization that monitored how the media covers women.
10. Nadia Reiman
The recipient of many awards-- including a Pulitzer Prize and a Peabody Award-- you may recognize Nadia’s voice from the popular NPR (National Public Radio) show, This American Life. A graduate of Brighton High School in Rochester, Nadia has worked in radio journalism since 2005. In the past, she has worked for the nationally broadcasted radio programs StoryCorps on NPR and Latino USA.
You can discover more about these impressive women when you visit the exhibit. Make sure to get your tickets and visit before the exhibit closes May 16: RMSC.org/changemakers.