Meet 9 trailblazing women from Pennsylvania who changed the game in so many ways

By Ashley Adams

February 29, 2024

Women’s History Month is an ideal time to highlight the efforts of some of Pennsylvania’s impactful women.

Pennsylvania has not only played a pivotal role in many key points in history, but the Keystone state has also produced many impactful, powerful women.

From seamstress Betsy Ross to singer Taylor Swift and powerful politicians such as Joanna McClinton and Summer Lee, here are nine history-making women from Pennsylvania.

Nellie Bly

Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, better known by her pen name Nellie Bly, was a pioneer in the field of investigative journalism and also had a record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days in 1889. This globe-trotting American journalist was born in Cochrane Mills.

Rachel Carson

Born in Springdale, Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and conservationist whose landmark text, “Silent Spring,” and other writings are credited with advancing the environmental movement. “Silent Spring” was published in 1962 and was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, but it eventually started a reversal in national pesticide policy and a ban on DDT.

Sara Innamorato

In January, the former Democratic state representative Sara Innamorato became the first female to become a county executive for Allegheny County. Last year, at the age of 37, Innamorato was the youngest candidate to run for the office, winning the Democratic primary in what was a mild upset.

Joanna McClinton

Elected in 2015 in a special election for the 191st district in Philadelphia, Democratic Rep. Joanna McClinton has made history in Harrisburg, rising through the ranks to become the first Black woman elected chair of the House Democratic Caucus and first female House Democratic leader. In February 2023, McClinton became the first female — and second Black — speaker of the state House.

Summer Lee

Summer Lee’s election to the US House in November 2022 was historic, as the Braddock native became the first Black woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress. It wasn’t the first time Lee made history. Lee became the first Black woman to represent southwest Pennsylvania in the state Legislature when she was elected to represent the 34th District in the state House in 2018.

Tara Lipinski

Tara Lipinski is a native of Philadelphia who was a gold medal winner at the 1998 Olympic games and a 1997 world champion in figure skating. At the age of 14, she became the youngest person ever to win a World Figure Skating title. Since retiring from skating, Lipinski has transitioned to a successful broadcasting career with NBC.

Betsy Ross

Elizabeth Griscom Ross, also known as Betsy Ross, was an American upholsterer who was credited by her relatives in 1870 with making the first official US flag, accordingly known as the Betsy Ross Flag. Ross also made flags for the Pennsylvania Navy during the American Revolution.

Ross was buried in three separate graves. She was originally interred in Society Hill before being moved to southwest Philadelphia’s Mount Moriah Cemetery, and then finally resting where she is now in the courtyard of the Betsy Ross House.

Mary Schenley

Mary Schenley was a Pittsburgh philanthropist who inherited large tracts of land amassed by her maternal grandfather, Gen. James O’Hara. Throughout the late 19th century, Schenley donated large sums to churches and public schools in Pittsburgh. She also donated land to the city for Schenley Park; to the Western Pennsylvania Institute for the Blind; and she gave the Fort Pitt Blockhouse and adjoining property to the Daughters of the American Revolution. In addition, Schenley donated the land on which the Carnegie Institute was built.

There is still plenty in the city of Pittsburgh that bears her name, including Schenley High School, Schenley Hotel, Schenley Bridge, Schenley Park, Schenley Plaza, Schenley Quadrangle, Schenley Tunnel, and the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain.

Taylor Swift

Arguably one of the most popular musicians in history, Taylor Swift has come a long way from her humble beginnings growing up on a Christmas tree farm in Berks County. Swift got her start as a country singer based in Nashville, but since then she has sold out stadiums across the world, bolstered local economies wherever she plays, and in 2023 generated more Spotify streams than any other artist in the world. She has also been recognized as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, twice. Colleges have even started offering classes on her cultural impact.

Author

  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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