Through activism, sports, astronautics, and monumental court cases, these five trailblazers made history in the Mitten.
March is Women’s History Month, and The ‘Gander is highlighting trailblazing women native to Michigan or who played a pivotal role in the state’s history.
A former funeral director, Aimee Stephens was fired from her job in 2013 after she announced to her colleagues that she was transgender via a written letter. Upon being fired, Stephens filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued the funeral home, stating her employer had violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, a district court ruled in the employer’s favor. Fortunately for Stephens, she won her appeal of that ruling at the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati. The funeral home challenged the Sixth Circuit’s decision, and in June 2020 the US Supreme Court ruled that the landmark civil rights law protects LGBTQ workers from workplace discrimination. Stephens, who died last May, hailed from Redford.
Christina Koch, a native of Grand Rapids, became a NASA astronaut in 2013. A graduate of North Carolina State University, Koch holds a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering and physics and a Master of Science in electrical engineering. The electrical engineer recently served as flight engineer on the International Space Station for Expeditions 59, 60, and 61.With a total of 328 days in space, she also set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman.
Two-time Olympic champion, three-time division world champion, Claressa Shields is an unprecedented boxer. The Flint native made history as the first American woman to win gold in boxing while also becoming the first American boxer (male or female) ever to win gold in back-to-back Olympic games. Affectionately called T-Rex, Shields is now a two-division undisputed champion and ESPN’s new No. 1 women’s pound-for-pound fighter. The “Greatest Woman of All Time (GWOAT),” who is inspired by Laila Ali and Serena Williams, dominated Marie-Eve Dicaire in a ten-round unanimous division victory, unifying all four major junior middleweight belts, on March 6. In 2019, Shields had already collected all four middleweight world titles with a decision victory over Christina Hammer.
Grace Lee Boggs
The daughter of Chinese immigrants, the late Grace Lee Boggs was a prominent intersectional feminist, activist, writer, and speaker. Boggs studied at Barnard College and Bryn Mawr, and received her PhD in philosophy in 1940. Influenced by Marx, Hegel, and Margaret Mead, Boggs was dedicated to a life of social activism rather than academia. Her activism started in Chicago, where she joined the movement for tenants’ rights and the Workers Party, which was an offset group of the Socialist Workers Party. During her activism, Boggs’ focus was on marginalized groups such as people of color and women. Although Boggs was originally from Providence, Rhode Island, she dedicated her life to Detroit activism. In 1992, she co-founded Detroit Summer with her husband, James Boggs. They also created the Boggs School,which was centered around nurturing young critical thinkers. She died in Detroit at the age of 100 in October 2015.
Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Viola Liuzzo left her family in Detroit and headed south to march for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965. Liuzzo’s intentions were to assist with registering Black voters in Selma. However, shortly after her arrival, Liuzzo was murdered by Ku Klux Klan members while driving a Black man from Montgomery to Selma. Liuzzo is known as the only white woman killed during the civil rights movement. Before relocating to the Motor City, Liuzzo spent her childhood in rural Georgia and Tennessee, where she witnessed the racism that Black communities endured. Prior to her death, Liuzzo trained as a medical laboratory assistant, and enrolled at Wayne State University in 1963.