Famous Girl Scouts who have made a difference
When the Girl Scouts named Michelle Obama honorary president in 2009, the first lady lauded them for "preparing the women of tomorrow to be a positive force for change – in their own lives, their communities, and across the globe." She has lived up to those words of praise as “mom-in-chief.” And it’s not just Sasha and Malia who are reaping the rewards of her mama-bear mentality about strong families.
The first lady’s "Let’s Move!" campaign has drawn attention to the troubling rise in childhood obesity, the need to make healthy food more affordable and accessible — especially in poor communities — and the importance of being physically active. Michelle Obama has also been a fierce and eloquent advocate for military families. She made her Twitter debut with a Tweet urging Americans to support the White House's Join Forces initiative, which has helped tens of thousands of moms and dads in uniform find jobs and get back on their feet when they return home from the battlefield.
-- By Liz Murtaugh Gillespie
Sally Ride's career as an astronaut had a trail-blazing start. She joined NASA as an astronaut candidate in 1978, a year after the space agency first allowed women to apply. Five years later, she became America's first woman in space, serving as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. She later taught college physics and started a company to help teach young students — especially girls — about science, math and technology. After her death in 2012 from pancreatic cancer, President Barack Obama called her "a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars."
Sandra Day O'Connor
There weren't many law firms hiring women in the 1950s — not even one with a Stanford law degree who had graduated third in her class. Sandra Day O'Connor said no to legal secretary jobs, clawed her way into county attorney and state attorney general's office positions, got involved in Arizona state politics, and in 1981 became the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. During her 24 years on the bench, she held powerful sway as the swing vote in many landmark cases. She retired to care for her husband, who had long been ailing from Alzheimer's disease, and has been an outspoken proponent for more research funding for the degenerative illness.
As a writer, editor, co-founder of Ms. magazine, and columnist for New York magazine, Gloria Steinem set the tone for the women's movement in the late 20th century. She has brazenly fought for women's reproductive freedom and challenged gender discrimination in the workplace, in politics and in the media. When Glamour magazine gave her its lifetime achievement award, University of Chicago history professor Christine Stansell said Steinem "was to the women's movement what Martin Luther King, Jr. was to civil rights: the galvanizer."
It's one thing to be the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics. It's another for an African-American track star to achieve such greatness after overcoming polio as a child in the segregated South. Wilma Rudolph had to wear a brace on her left leg when she was a girl. She worked through her disability with physical therapy and tireless determination. By high school, she ran so fast people called her "Skeeter." In 1960, when she won her three Olympic golds at the Summer Games in Rome, the Italians nicknamed her "The Black Gazelle." She seized on her fame as a civil rights opportunity. On her return from Rome, she insisted that her homecoming parade be open to people of all races. It was reportedly one of the first integrated events ever held in Clarksville, Tenn.
Linda Chavez-Thompson's childhood prepared her well for her rise to prominence as a union leader. The daughter of Mexican-American sharecroppers, she toiled in the Texas heat picking cotton as a girl. In her early 20s, a friend of her dad's hired her as secretary; he needed someone who could speak Spanish with his largely Latino membership. She went on to organize garbage haulers, cafeteria workers and bus drivers. In 1995, she was elected executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, becoming the first woman of color to hold a top officer position with the union. She also was a mover and shaker in politics, serving as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
Hillary Clinton's career in law, politics and government is riddled with shining moments and rough patches — much like her marriage to a love-him-or-hate-him commander in chief. Through it all, she has endured as one of the world's most powerful and successful women. And she hardly owes it all to her husband; the year before Bill Clinton was elected president, the National Law Journal named her one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the United States. Her own bid for the presidency fell short in a bitter and bruising primary, but she answered her rival's call to serve as secretary of state and became the first former first lady appointed to a White House cabinet. Though she has yet to declare her intentions for 2016, she looms larger than life as the presumptive candidate and would-be first female U.S. president.
Much like her mom, Chelsea Clinton credits the Girl Scouts with teaching her some of her first and most formative lessons about leadership. And like both of her parents, the former first daughter's ever-growing list of achievements took root in academic excellence and a passion for public service. She's taken an active role in her father's Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative. In 2012, she took her highest-profile job yet, signing on as a special correspondent for NBC News's "Making a Difference" series while she pursues her doctorate from Oxford University.
Pop diva Mariah Carey has sold more than 200 million records worldwide over the past two decades, making her one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. The Guinness Book of World Records calls her "songbird supreme." Her musical career has endured ups and downs, hundreds of awards and an embarrassing buyout that paid her millions not to sing. As she weathered those ups and downs with grace, she channeled her fame toward humanitarian causes and founded Camp Mariah to give inner-city youth a chance to learn about the arts and career opportunities. In 1999, she received a Congressional Horizon Award for her work to improve the lives of disadvantaged youth.
For a former teacher and librarian, literacy was the no-brainer cause for Laura Bush during her years as first lady. In 2001, she teamed up with the Library of Congress to launch the first National Book Festival. Five years later, she hosted the White House Conference on Advancing Global Literacy. The Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries awards grants that add books to the shelves of schools and libraries all over the country. In her travels around the world, she has called much-needed attention to the troubling rates of illiteracy among women. She was named honorary ambassador for the United Nation's Literacy Decade during her last year as first lady, saying this about the importance of advancing women's literacy: "If women are educated, everything across the board improves for families."