THE BLOG
09/04/2014 01:32 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2014

National Jewels: A Shout-Out To America's Hard-Working Ladies

Monday was Labor Day, and I couldn't let this week pass by without acknowledging all the hard working ladies that have become role models for women everywhere. After all, the holiday was created to celebrate the achievements and contributions of American workers. These efforts have helped to build entire cities, discover cures for diseases, and create our favorite televisions shows.

But the American workforce of today looks much different from when the holiday was first introduced back in 1885. Back in that time, women were unable to pursue many the careers available to men. And yet despite these barriers, many women overcame the odds to achieve great things and pave the way for future progress. So this Labor Day week, I want to shine a light on some fabulous women who have worked their way into history.

1. Sarah Hale - Have you ever sang "Mary Had a Little Lamb?" The author of that beloved nursery rhyme is Sarah Hale, who became the first female editor of a major publication. After her husband died, she supported herself and her children through writing, eventually writing a book of poems so successful that she was offered a job as a magazine editor. This led her to becoming editor of Godey's Lady's Book, one of most influential magazines of the time. She used her platform as editor to advocate for female education, a cause she would champion throughout her life. Ms. Hale also worked to lobby for a national day of thanks, and, in 1863, President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.

2. Ethel Waters - "Oh those St. Louis blues..." Sound familiar? Ethel Waters was the first woman to sing this famous tune on stage. Ms. Waters was one of the most celebrated and influential blues and jazz singers of her time. But she wasn't just a singer - Ethel Waters was also the first African American women to be given equal billing with white stars in Broadway shows. She helped to cast away the belief that African American women could only perform as singers, and her performances on-stage gave new life and complexity to the stereotypical image of the "Southern mammy". In 1939, Ms. Waters became the first African American to star in her own television program, The Ethel Waters Show.

3. Antonio Novello - Antonia Novello helped keep America healthy in the early 1990s by becoming the first female and the first Latina US surgeon general. As a child, her beloved aunt died of kidney failure, and the tragedy inspired her to pursue the study of medicine and to specialize in kidneys. As surgeon general, she focused on the health of young people, women, and minorities. She was outspoken about the harm of tobacco and helped to promote education about HIV/AIDS. Today, she heads one of the largest public health agencies in the country.

4. Today's Ladies of Empowerment - And just in the past decade, Nancy Pelsoi was the first female Speaker of the US House of Representatives , Gabrielle Douglas became the first African-American All-Around Gymnastics Champion in the Olympics , Kathryn Bigelow was the first female to win an Academy Award for "Best Director", and Sonia Sotomayor was appointed as the first Hispanic female Supreme Court Justice.

These women show us how far we have come since 1885, but we can't forget that there is still so much more work to be done. We continue to live in a society where women are paid less than men, with the average American woman earning only 77 cents to the dollar of what an American man earns. When taking diversity into consideration, the numbers are even worse. Hispanic women face the highest wage gap, making 53 cents to the dollar of the average white man. Labor statistics have shown that that the gender-wage gap is present in all occupations, and it only worsens with age. We all know we women are hard workers - everyone is if they have the passion and drive - we just want our rightful recognition.

Countless numbers of amazing, revolutionary women have helped pave the way for women today to pursue their dreams and define their own destiny. Their work reminds us how far we have come, but also inspire us to continue the work they started, to work to reach our full potential, and to recognize that just because it hasn't been done before, doesn't mean you can't be the one to do it!
Happy Labor Day!