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Influential Queer Women in History

By Tara Kurup

Image via NBC News

We’ve all heard the tales about amazing historical figures in school, but something in common between all of them is that they’re male, white, and straight. We’re barely taught about women in history unless it’s Women’s History Month, and we’re never taught about any queer women. These five amazing, powerful female figures have left such a big impact on our modern world, whether it be through their music or their space adventures.

Sally Ride

Sally Ride was born in Encino, California on May 26, 1951. She earned her Bachelor's Degree of Science in physics, her Bachelor's Degree of Arts in English, and her Master’s Degree in Science from Stanford University. Ride applied to be part of the NASA class of 1978 after realizing she could join because of her scientific background. At 26 years old, Ride made history not only as of the first American woman and youngest American in space but also as the first gay astronaut. She went on another mission in 1984 in the STS-41G, making observations of the Earth from space. Ride, unfortunately, passed away in a battle with cancer in 2012, but her legacy encouraged women and the queer community to break barriers.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1945 as a male. Growing up, she enjoyed cross-dressing but had strict rules in her Christian household. She found it difficult living on the streets of New York but made a living as a drag queen who also helped fight homelessness and promote LGBTQ rights, specifically trans rights. An example of this is the Stonewall Uprising, where many LGBTQ members were unjustly arrested, making many people angry. Johnson felt as though the trans people of color in this situation were being swept off to the side. She fought for the rights of all members of the LGBTQ community and started the STAR program to fight homelessness among trans youth.

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1906. Baker grew up in poverty and had to drop out of school at age 10 to support her family but always had a taste for flamboyancy. At 16, she joined a dance group in Philadelphia and progressed her career by becoming a Broadway star in New York. She then moved to France and worked in multiple films, sang professionally, and danced. Baker was known for having relationships with men and women. She also worked with programs such as the Red Cross and Free French forces in Africa and the civil rights movements in the US.

Ma Rainey

Born in Columbus, Georgia in 1886, Rainey grew up around music, as both of her parents were minstrel troupers. At 14, she danced and sang at local talent shows. Her ability to capture the blues feel and rhythm after training in the South made her very popular. She was known to have a very mature voice, allowing her to record professionally. She took part in tours where she became known for her extravagant gowns and blues openers. In 2020, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a movie about Rainey’s life, was released. It is believed Rainey was bisexual due to her lyrics and her home being considered an African American Lesbian safe space.

Jane Addams

Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois in 1860. Addams always had a taste for social equality in her community. After graduating at the top of her class, she decided she wanted to do more with her education. When visiting London, Addams saw how industry workers were treated in London and wanted to improve the life of industrial workers in America. She advocated for better sanitation and better factory laws. In 1889, Addams and Ellen Gates Starr worked to make a settlement house for all educated women to share knowledge. She also was an officer in the Women’s Suffrage Association. She was known for having relationships with Ellen Gates Starr and Mary Rozet Smith.

Written by writer Tara Kurup

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