On Tuesday night, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren was silenced after reading the three-decade-old letter Coretta Scott King wrote opposing the nomination of Jeff Sessions for a federal judgeship. In 1986, his nomination failed.

King, then a widow of legendary activist Dr. Martin Luther King, wrote that as a federal prosecutor, Sessions “used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.”

During Sessions’ vote Wednesday evening, Warren was forbidden from speaking again on his nomination. The 52-47 vote confirmed the Alabama senator as the next attorney general of the US.

Little did Majority Leader Mitch McConnell know then that his answer to the removal of Warren would invoke a feminist rallying cry and a trending hashtag. “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,” has become the new motto for influential women everywhere, those who have prevailed against all odds.

These are some of the women throughout history who have broken through barriers, who have fought to rewrite wrongs and have refused to be silenced.

  1. Dolores Huerta, an American labor leader and civil rights activist who founded the nation’s largest farm workers union. Huerta inspired an entire generation of Latinos to believe that in the face of any insurmountable situation, “Si, se puede.” (Yes, it is possible).

  2. Alice Allison Dunnigan, the first African American female correspondent at the White House and the first black female member of the Senate House of Representative press galleries. Dunnigan was once barred from covering a speech given by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a whites-only theater and was forced to sit with the servants. Despite this setback, she still covered Senator Robert A. Taft’s funeral.

  3. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman to receive a medical degree in 1845. One of her greatest hurdles was when she was asked to step out of her  reproductive anatomy class. A resilient Blackwell disagreed with her professor. Years later, gynecology became one of the fields that was her claim to fame.

  4. Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese-American human rights advocate for seven decades, one of the oldest social activists this country has ever seen. In 1992, she co-founded Detroit Summer, a youth program that draws volunteers every year from all over the country to paint murals, repair homes, organize music festivals and turn vacant lots into community gardens.

  5. Edie Windsor, an American LGBT rights activist and a former technology manager at IBM. Windsor is arguably the most influential figure in the movement to pave the way for marriage equality. The United States v. Windsor case successfully overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex married couples as “spouses.”

  6. Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education and youngest girl to ever receive a Nobel Peace Prize. At 11 years old, Malala vigorously fought for girls’ right to education in a community that was under increasing Taliban control. After surviving an attempted assassination on the bus home from school by gunmen in 2012, she continued to advocate for girls’ rights.

  7. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia since 2006 and first female democratically elected head of state in Africa. Driven to exile twice, Sirleaf won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her ‘non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.’ She mobilized women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the war in Liberia.

  8. Ana Maria Rey, a Colombian theoretical physicist and a fellow at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics. Rey won the highest US government award for young scientists for her work about ultracold atoms. Her contributions would make it capable to analyze physical problems that scientists have not been able to solve up until today. She is a strong believer in investing in an educational system that encourages the enthusiasm for science among both boys and girls.

  9. Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor and Leader of the National League for Democracy of Myanmar, activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Known as “The Lady”, in 2015 she led the league to a majority win in the country’s first openly contested election in 25 years. Only five years earlier, she was released from a 15-year house arrest. Suu Kyi was forced to spend her time in custody after she started a non violent human rights movement to bring democracy to the then oppressed regime.

  10. Ida B. Wells, an iconic African-American journalist and activist. The suffragette led an anti-lynching crusade in the US in the 1890s. Wells established several civil rights organizations like the National Association of Colored Women and played a key role in starting the NAACP.

  11. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the US. She faced gender based discrimination while studying at Harvard, chastised for “ taking a man’s spot.” Before she was appointed by former president Bill Clinton in 1993, she advocated women’s rights as a volunteer lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union.

  12. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh since 2009 and ranked number 36 of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2016. Hasina’s risky political career has spanned more than four decades. Her family was assassinated in 1975 and even she was the target of an assassination attempt in 2004. Hasina pushed past tragedy and fear tactics to steer the country towards democracy and political stability.

  13. Anne Frank, a diarist, a writer and a Jewish victim of the Holocaust. In 1940, when the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, Frank and her family spent two years hiding. During this time she kept a remarkable account of her experiences in a diary, pushing to preserve the resilience of the human spirit.

  14. Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, human rights activist and the first female judge in Iran. She was dismissed as a judge after Khomeini’s revolution in 1979 and imprisoned in 2000 for openly criticizing her country. But that didn’t stop her. She opened a legal practice to defend those were persecuted by the authorities.  In 2003, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts for defending human rights.

  15. Wangari Muta Maathai, a Kenyan scientist, professor, environmental and political activist. Maathai has accomplished many ‘firsts’. Among them: she was the first woman in East or Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree and the first African woman and environmentalist to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. She is credited with founding the Green Belt Movement, a platform for women empowerment through civic and environmental education.

  16. Dr. Mae Jemison, an American physician and the first African-American female astronaut. In both 1987 and 1992, she was accepted NASA’s astronaut training program aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. But before she was the first African-American woman in space, she worked in a Cambodian refugee in Thailand and served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

  17. Rigoberta Menchu Tum, an indigenous Guatemalan woman of the K’iche’ branch of the Mayan culture and a human rights activist. After most of her family had been killed in 1981, Menchu Tum fled to Mexico where she kept up her work against the oppression in Guatemala. She received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 and helped found the Nobel Women’s Initiative, a group of female Laureates who campaign for justice, peace and equality worldwide.

These fearless women stand as a testament to #ShePersisted and serve as a reminder to everyone, including Warren, that they must persist.

“They can shut me up,” Warren told CNN’s Don Lemon on Wednesday. “But they can’t change the truth.”


Demand Equity

Like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, These 17 Women Also Fearlessly Persisted

By Gabriella Canal