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Great Women in History

Great Women in History

Great Women in History 1024 683 LA County Library

Great Women in History

Learn about 4 women in history that you may have never heard of

Happy Women’s History Month!

This month, we’re celebrating the amazing contributions women have made to the world, honoring the past to inspire the future. As we reflect on the famous and notable—as well as the ordinary and everyday—achievements of women throughout history, we wanted to highlight incredible women in history that have made huge impacts on our local community and the world, but who may be unknown to most people.

These historical highlights were curated by the librarians at our 4 Cultural Resource Centers: American Indian Resource Center, Asian Pacific Resource Center, Black Resource Center, and Chicano Resource Center. Our Cultural Resource Centers were established to address the informational needs of these cultural communities, and to make information about them available to the larger community. They play an important role in supporting and preserving research and study on the social and historical aspects unique these cultural experiences.

In no particular order, we present 4 women in history that you may have never heard of.

Maria Montoya Martinez
American Indian Resource Center

Maria Montoya Martinez (Tewa Nation) was born in San Ildenfonso Pueblo, New Mexico during the 1880s. Martinez, with the help of her husband Julian Martinez and son Popovi Da, was most famous for her black-on-black pottery work modeled after ancient Pueblo pottery. For this reason and her passion for sharing her skills with other Pueblo potters, she was considered as one of the key figures to the 20th century pottery revival. Martinez saw herself as a Pueblo Indian woman first instead of a famous artist and made sure to share the traditional teachings of her culture. Though she died in 1980, her work has impacted Native and Southwestern Indian Art and are still featured in museum collections across the world.

Learn more about Maria Montoya Martinez


Online Resources

Maggie Gee
Asian Pacific Resource Center

Maggie Gee (1923 – 2013) was a pioneering aviator and physicist who became one of only two Chinese- American women to fly with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during WWII. When the United States entered WWII in 1941 the Berkeley, California native was eager to support the war effort and dropped out of her freshman year of college to become a draftperson for engineers working on Navy ships. Gee’s dream, however, was to follow in the footsteps of her childhood hero Amelia Earhart and become a pilot. After saving the tuition she needed for six months of flight training, Gee moved to Nevada to learn to fly. Soon after, she was accepted into the highly selective WASP training program and earned her WASP wings. She co-piloted B-17 bombers through training to help bomber gunners perfect their skill in combat. Following the war, Gee returned to UC Berkeley and completed her graduate studies in physics. She worked as a research physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for thirty years, researching topics ranging from cancer to fusion energy. In 2010, Gee, along with all living WASP pilots, received the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of their service. She spent her golden years as a political activist in the Bay area, advocating for voting rights, public housing, and AAPI representation in government.

Charlotta Spears Bass
Black Resource Center

Charlotta Amanda Spears Bass (1874? -1969) was born in South Carolina and moved to Los Angeles in 1910 after living in Rhode Island for about 10 years. She started out selling subscriptions at the Eagle newspaper and subsequently became managing editor and publisher following the death of the previous editor in 1912. After marrying Joseph Blackburn Bass in 1914, they ran the newspaper together until his death in 1934, he as editor in charge of content and she as managing editor. They later changed the name of the paper to the California Eagle newspaper, known as one of the oldest Black newspapers in the West. The newspaper was used as a platform to address racial discrimination and civil rights issues. Throughout her life, Bass dedicated herself to political action and social activism on a wide range of issues, from housing and employment discrimination to prisoners’ rights and school desegregation. Bass was a member of numerous civic, political, and professional organizations and was the first African American to serve on a grand jury in Los Angeles. Bass sold the California Eagle in 1951 and the paper ceased publication in 1964. Bass made history in 1952 by becoming the first African American woman to run for vice president of the United States on the Progressive Party ticket. This fact was noted in a Washington Post article in 2020 titled, “Kamala Harris Isn’t the First Black Woman to Run for VP. Meet Charlotta Bass.”

Pura Belpré
Chicano Resource Center

Pura Belpré was an Afro-Latina and first Puerto Rican librarian of the New York Public library (NYPL). She was also a writer, collector of folktales, translator, and puppeteer. Born in Cidra, Puerto Rico, she studied at the University of Puerto Rico before moving to New York City. In 1921 she was hired at the 135th Street Branch as a Spanish-speaking assistant.

Pura grew up with a rich oral tradition of folktales and storytelling. She was not allowed to share the stories with the children for storytime because they were not in print. This was the catalyst for her career as a writer which largely centered on translating and transcribing the folktales and stories she heard as a child. “Perez and Martina,” a love story between a cockroach and a mouse, would be her first written folktale. She wrote and published eight books many of which are out of print.

She would eventually enroll and graduate from the New York Public Library’s Library College, and she worked closely with NYPL’s literacy efforts with Puerto Rican migrant communities. The American Library Association honored Pura by establishing the Pura Belpré Award in 1996. Much of Pura’s life and legacy is largely forgotten by academics, however, her work is undergoing recovery efforts by Puerto Rican and feminist scholars.