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In Pictures: Pioneering Feminism in America

A look back at the greatest women icons who have fought the battle for gender equality in America

Magnum Photographers

Eli Reed Aretha Franklin, American singer. Lincoln Memorial, USA. January 17th, 1993. © Eli Reed | Magnum Photos
Philippe Halsman Eleanor Roosevelt. USA. 1961. © Philippe Halsman | Magnum Photos
David Seymour Eleanor Roosevelt at a United Nations meeting. Paris, France. 1951. © David Seymour | Magnum Photos
Carl De Keyzer News conference with Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Tex) and Elizabeth Dole (R-Tenn). The latter had been the first woman to serve as Secretary of Transportation. Washington, DC, USA. 2005. © Carl De Keyzer | Magnum Photos
Gilles Peress As is customary, other Democratic presidential contenders stand with Walter Mondale (center left) and Geraldine Ferraro (center right) in support of Mondale's nomination as the Democratic Party's c (...)
Bruce Davidson Madeline Albright at the Institute for EastWest Studies awards dinner. New York City, USA. 1997. © Bruce Davidson | Magnum Photos
Paolo Pellegrin Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. She was the first woman to hold this office. Washington DC, USA. 2010. © Paolo Pellegrin | Magnum Photos
Susan Meiselas Presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the DNC. Philadelphia, PA, USA. 2016. © Susan Meiselas | Magnum Photos
Carl De Keyzer Armed Services Subcommittee on seapower on the Marine Corps programs budget. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY). Washington, DC, USA. 2005. © Carl De Keyzer | Magnum Photos
Leonard Freed Gloria Steinem at the podium of a Frances "Sissy" Farenthold for Vice President rally. USA. 1972. © Leonard Freed | Magnum Photos
Nikos Economopoulos Gay Pride parade. New York City, USA. 1998. © Nikos Economopoulos | Magnum Photos
Thomas Hoepker Bella Abzug, Congresswoman and New York politician, in her Lower Manhattan office. New York City, USA. 1986. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos
Wayne Miller American poet Maya Angelou. USA. 1974. © Wayne Miller | Magnum Photos
Christopher Anderson Recent graduates of the FDNY Academy, Vanessa Schoening, Giselle King, Charlotte Shannon and Antoinette Proctor. NYC, USA. 2014. © Christopher Anderson | Magnum Photos
Michael Christopher Brown West Point cadets during the graduation ceremony. West Point, USA. May 27th, 2006. © Michael Christopher Brown | Magnum Photos

In 2016, Hillary Clinton became the first woman ever to secure a major political party’s nomination for presidency. Just as Barack Obama’s election broke the race barrier, her potential victory would serve as a major milestone for gender equality in the United States. 

Although the gender gap has been further diminished since the last century, women across the country (and globe) are still facing innumerable disadvantages and obstacles on a daily basis: they hold far fewer political offices than men, are subject to job discrimination, and still earn less than their male equivalents. Despite its stance in the world, the US ranked 22nd in terms of gender equality according to the 2012 World Economic Forum.

The current context for feminism in American has progressed little in recent years, and the fight for equality is ever-present. However, the impact of Clinton’s campaign in running to become the first female president of the US could deliver an important socio-political message. 

Here we look back at some of the US’s greatest female firsts – leaders, politicians, writers, poets, and singers – those who across their respective fields have challenged gender inequality.

Shot by Magnum photographers including Susan Meiselas, Paolo Pellegrin, David Seymour, Carl de Keyzer, Bruce Davidson, Leonard Freed, Wayne Miller, Eli Reed, and more, these archival images celebrate some of the world’s most influential women figures across history. Alongside the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Pelosi, iconic activist and writer Gloria Steinem, to those representing the arts: Maya Angelou, and Aretha Franklin, we also champion the documentation of those fighting for the cause in everyday, male-dominated industries. Photographs by Michael Christopher Brown, Alec Soth and Peter van Agtmael here feature women across the armed forces, police departments, to firefighters, pushing daily boundaries in closing the gender gap in difficult and often highly discriminatory vocations.