7 influential Birmingham women that left their mark on the world, including Mary Anderson

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Just a few of Birmingham’s influential women.

Our city is home to some of the world’s most influential women. Learn more about 7 Birmingham women who left their mark on the world.

1) Eleanor Bridges

Eleanor Bridges, one of Birmingham's influential women
Eleanor Bridges surrounded by her dog paintings. Photo via Homewood Historical Preservation Foundation.

Eleanor Bridges was a civic activist, artist, philanthropist, and one of Birmingham’s influential women.

  • In 1921, Eleanor and her husband built the Homewood Pink House. During the Great Depression, they took in abandoned children.
  • Eleanor received the Birmingham Woman of the Year award in 1953.
  • During her time on several Birmingham civic boards, she intended to make Birmingham the cultural center of the South.

2) Mary Anderson

Mary Anderson, influential woman in Birmingham
Portrait of Mary Anderson. Photo via Bhamwiki.com

During the early days of automobiles, driving in the rain was a challenge.

While riding in a New York streetcar, Mary Anderson saw her driver struggle to clean the windshield. Afterwards, she returned to Birmingham with a mission to find a better way. She designed and received a patent for her device that could wipe the windows clean of rain.

Mary Anderson's windshield wiper design
Mary Anderson’s hand-cranked windshield wiper design. Via the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Eventually, car manufacturers adopted windshield wipers as standard equipment. However, they only began to use them after Mary’s patent expired. After her death in 1953, Mary was buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

Although her invention is something we now take for granted, take a moment to consider how Mary Anderson’s invention changed the way we drive forever.

3) Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox. Photo via Facebook.

Renowned actress Laverne Cox got her start right here in Birmingham. Although she was born in Mobile, Laverne studied creative writing and dance at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in downtown. Significantly, Laverne portrays a trans woman on the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black.

Laverne is a trailblazer for the transgender community, and is the first openly transgender person to be on the cover of Time magazine and be nominated for a Primetime Emmy.

4) Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice, woman of Birmingham
Official portrait of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State. Photo via Wikipedia.

Did you know that Condoleezza Rice, the first African-American woman to serve as Secretary of State, is from Birmingham’s Titusville neighborhood?

In 1993, she became the first woman and African-American Provost at Stanford University. Within two years, she not only balanced Stanford’s $20 million deficit, but developed a $14 million surplus. Significantly, President George W. Bush selected Condoleezza to become Secretary of State.

5) Nina Miglionico

Nina Miglionico, influential Bham woman
Nina Miglionico, one of Birmingham’s most influential women. Photo via Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.

Born in Birmingham to Italian immigrants, Nina Miglionico graduated from Howard College (now Samford University) and earned her law degree from the University of Alabama. Since she was a strong supporter of women’s and civil rights, she earned many enemies in Birmingham. In 1965, a bomb was found in her home. However, that did not stop her from pursuing what she knew to be right.

  • Nina was one of the first women in Birmingham to open her own law practice.
  • Additionally, she was the first woman elected to the Birmingham City Council, where she remained active for 22 years.

6) Louise Wooster

Louise Wooster, influential Birmingham woman
Artist Max Heldman’s depiction of Wooster helping the sick and dying during the cholera epidemic. Photo via BhamWiki.

During Birmingham’s early days, the city was almost wiped out by a cholera epidemic in 1873. The outbreak threatened the future of the Magic City, with nearly half of the city’s 4,000 residents fleeing.

But not Louise Wooster.

Although Louise had moved to Birmingham just a few months before, she was determined to stay with the city through thick and thin. While others fled the city, Louise stayed behind to care for the sick.

In order to honor her contributions to Birmingham, UAB presents the Lou Wooster Public Health Hero Award every year to recognize unconventional public health heroes.

7) Bessie Estell

Bessie Sears Estell, woman of Birmingham
Bessie Sears Estell. Photo property of Birmingham Public Archives and Manuscripts.

Bessie Sears Estell was the daughter of Milton Sears, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in North Birmingham. Bessie worked in the Birmingham City Schools system for most of her life, and referred to teaching as the greatest profession in the world. Significantly, Bessie became the first African-American woman to sit on the Birmingham City Council in 1975.

Additionally, Bessie Estell Park in Glen Iris is named in her memory.

These are just a few of Birmingham’s influential women. Let us know who we missed by tagging @BhamNow !

Nathan Watson
Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer at Bham Now

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