The Women Who Made Us

Learn about the women who helped shape Cincinnati as we know it today.
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What’s the Queen City without its queens? A look into the history books reminds us that our city’s past—recent and otherwise—was shaped by strong-willed women.

Photograph courtesy Marian and Donald Spencer Papers, Archives and Rare Books Library, University of Cincinnati

Maria Longworth
Widely credited with sowing the seeds of the art pottery movement, Longworth also made history as the first American woman to found and own a large manufacturing enterprise. If that wasn’t enough, the Rookwood Pottery maven was a staunch women’s rights advocate whose influence reached halls of power worldwide.

Photograph courtesy Cincinnati Library

Marian Spencer
As the first Black woman elected to Cincinnati City Council, Spencer holds a place in the hearts and minds of a new generation of city leaders. “As much as I can, I try to channel her,” says Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney. The firebrand councilwoman made her name leading desegregation efforts everywhere from the pools of Coney Island to the classrooms of Cincinnati Public Schools.

Sarah Fossett
Born in 1826, Fossett shaped Cincinnati’s history as an abolitionist, risking her life as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Alongside her husband, Peter Fossett, she founded the First Baptist Church of Cumminsville and launched a 1860 legal battle that led to the partial desegregation of Cincinnati’s streetcars.

Photograph courtesy WLWT

Ruth Lyons
Turn on the TV, and it’s nearly impossible to escape the influence of this Cincinnati legend. Lyons is largely credited with inventing daytime talk television. Also lasting to this day? The Ruth Lyons Children’s Fund, the charitable arm of this broadcast legend’s legacy. At last count, the fund had raised more than $22 million for local hospitals.

Photograph courtesy Memoirs Of Theodore Thomas (1911)

Mamie Smith
If it wasn’t for Mamie Smith, music history might look very different. Sometimes dubbed the first Black superstar in America, Smith was the first Black woman to make a blues recording. “Crazy Blues” was a runaway success, but even more poignant was the singer’s lasting impact on the industry—and on Cincinnati’s history.

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