Women’s History Month means it’s time to take a closer look at the women who helped shape Atlanta. From voting activists to savvy businesswomen and generous philanthropists, Atlanta’s women have forged a path for others to follow. Keep reading to learn about 10 women who changed Atlanta forever.

Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams is a political leader, voting rights activist and author who is best known for losing the gubernatorial race for Georgia only to launch Fair Fight and Fair Count, two organizations dedicated to funding and training voter protection teams in 20 battleground states. Her organizations are credited with having a hefty role in the reversal from Red to Blue of Georgia voters.

Get a Sense for It
Make plans to visit the Atlanta History Center’s exhibit, “Any Great Change: The Centennial of the 19th Amendment.” Marking the 100th year anniversary of the right for women to vote (which was ratified Aug. 18, 1920), the exhibit celebrates the suffrage movement with a collection of photos, documents, memorabilia and interactive voting stations. Furthermore, the exhibit, which is displayed in the Swan House, also highlights Georgia’s hometown connections to the movement; the original Swan House owners, Emily C. MacDougald and her daughter, Emily Inman, were active suffragettes in the local efforts.

130 West Paces Ferry Rd. NW
Buckhead
404-814-4000
Online: atlantahistorycenter.com.

 
 

Sara Blakely

Sara Blakely is founder and owner of shapewear brand Spanx, which sells undergarments, leggings, swimwear and maternity wear in over 50 countries. And we're willing to bet we didn't have to tell anyone that. Blakely went from selling fax machines door-to-door to inventing, branding, and marketing a product that's ballooned to worldwide recognition—and turned her into a self-made billionaire.

Check It Out
Head to the Savannah College of Art and Design's fashion museum (SCAD FASH) to marvel at the role of garments as important conduits of identity. And, because of Blakely, we all have a leg up on getting ourselves into any identity we care to claim.

1600 Peachtree St. NW
Atlanta, GA 30309
404-253-3132
Online: scadfash.org

Anne Cox Chambers

Anne Cox Chambers was a businesswoman, philanthropist, and power broker in Atlanta during the 1960s until her recent death, at 100 years old in 2020. She co-owned the family business, Cox Enterprises, with her sister for 33 years. She engineered the partnership between The High and The Louvre, and a wing of the museum is named for her. She served as the Ambassador to Belgium, and she served on the board of nearly every philanthropic organization in Atlanta, not to mention The Coca-Cola Company.

Walk in Her Shoes
Check out just a tiny bit of Chambers' legacy by heading to The High Museum of Art, where you can get messy with your Toddler on Toddler Thursdays, or enjoy a Second Sunday family day.

1280 Peachtree St. NE
Midtown
404-733-4400
Online: high.org

Shirley Franklin

Shirley Franklin served as the 58th mayor of Atlanta, and was the first woman to hold the post. She was the first black woman to be elected mayor of a major Southern city, and the was Atlanta's 4th black mayor. Franklin announced an initiative called "Clean Water Atlanta" to address the problem and begin improving the city's sewer system, and was lauded for efforts to make the City of Atlanta "green." Under Franklin's leadership Atlanta went from having one of the lowest percentages of LEED certified buildings to one of the highest. She currently serves as a member on the board of directors for both Delta Air Lines and Mueller Water Products.

Understand Her Legacy
Explore the Chattahoochee, and marvel at why Atlanta's known as "The City in the Trees." Most Atlantans live within striking distance to one of the Chattahoochee’s neighboring city parks or National Recreation Areas. And while the rest of Atlanta continues to sizzle well into autumn, the Chattahoochee stays a frigid temperature year-round.

West Palisades Trail
3444 Cobb Pkwy.
Vinings
Online: redtri.com

Coretta Scott King

Notable as the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King has created an enormous legacy of her own. She was a leader for the civil rights movement, taking on the leadership of the struggle for racial equality herself after her husband's assassination. She was an activist in the Women's Movement, LGBT progress, and was an outspoken opponent of apartheid. She also founded the King Center and succeeded in making her late husband's birthday a national holiday.

Explore Her Legacy
From the King Center to Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta is full of places to learn about Black history. Find out how many of Atlanta's most well-known centers for Black culture and history were impacted by King as you explore Atlanta through a new lens. Start at the MLK National Historic Park.

450 Auburn Ave., NE
Atlanta, Ga
404-331-5190
Online: nps.gov

Anne Rivers Siddons

Born in Atlanta in 1936, Siddons returned home after earning her bachelor’s degree at Auburn University. Rejecting her parents’ expectation that she would teach school, Siddons instead wrote about the political and social changes she witnessed in the “City Too Busy to Hate,” including one of her most famed pieces for Atlanta magazine: “Maid in Atlanta.” She went on to write over a dozen bestselling books, and her work challenged the stereotypes of the ‘Old South’ and gave readers strong, female characters who weren’t afraid to challenge social norms.

Get to Know Her
If you're going to start anywhere, start with her "Maid in Atlanta" article for Atlanta magazine. Then, graduate to her first bestselling book, "Heartbreak Hotel." After that, you can pretty much throw a dart at her publication list and land on a good one. Pack a picnic and a blanket and spend an afternoon getting to know her through her writing at one of these perfect picnic spots around town.

Alana Shepherd

Alana Shepherd and her family co-founded Shepherd Center in Atlanta in 1975 to treat spinal cord injury after her son, James, sustained a paralyzing spinal injury in 1973. Frustrated by the lack of state-of-the-art rehabilitation care in the southeastern United States, the family galvanized support among the Atlanta community to open a specialty facility. Alana also recognized early on that she had to help change the community to which patients would return so these individuals would be accepted and could, once again, assume their place in society. Through the years, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed rehabilitation hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury and other neurological conditions.

Walk in Her Shoes
Shepherd's advocacy for accessibility resulted in the addition of lifts to Atlanta’s MARTA bus system and in making Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport one of the country’s most accessible airports. The next time you're on MARTA or chasing your toddler through Atlanta's airport, remember her!

Dorothy Lee Bolden

In 1968 Dorothy Bolden transformed domestic workers’ rights by founding the National Domestic Worker’s Union of America (NDWUA). Her efforts to organize domestic workers so that they might gain better wages, better conditions, and respect for their profession came from 40 years of domestic work herself. Bolden also understood the power of the ballot and made registration and voting a requirement for the members of the NDWUA. She organized a boycott of Atlanta schools to protest the school board’s reluctance to improve the quality of education for Black students, and worked with Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leader to confront police brutality, especially in her Atlanta neighborhood, Vine City.

Follow in Her Footsteps
Even as a child, Bolden told of waking at 4 a.m. to get on a bus at 6 a.m., to arrive at work by 8 a.m. and manage the household of a family that relied on her entirely for all aspects of household management—only to return home at 6 p.m. to do it all again, for her family. In her honor, imagine doing all the things that need to be done in a day to keep your family on track... only twice.

Ella Josephine Baker

Ella Josephine Baker was a civil rights and human rights activist, who often worked behind-the-scenes alongside some of the most noted civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and Martin Luther King Jr. She had a huge impact on the leadership of the movement by mentoring many emerging activists, such as Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks, and Bob Moses—whom she first mentored as leaders in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Baker has been called "one of the most important American leaders of the twentieth century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil rights movement."

Take a Closer Look
Find the Student Movement Marker at the former site of Yates & Milton Drug Store, which is now the Student Center on the campus of Clark Atlanta University. You can find a Georgia Historical Society marker that tells the story of the Atlanta Student Movement, which began when three Morehouse College students—Lonnie King, Joseph Pierce and Julian Bond—formed the Committee on the Appeal for Human Rights and involved all the historically black institutions of the Atlanta University.

Corner of James P. Brawley Dr. SW & Atlanta Student Movement Blvd.
Atlanta GA 30314

Featured photo via iStock.

—Shelley Massey

 

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