August 14, 2020

Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Tammy Duckworth among inspiring Illinois Women of the Century

The woman earning the most nominations for the USA TODAY Network’s Women of the Century Illinois list was Chicago-born first lady Michelle Obama.

Source: Rockford Register Star


From the skyscrapers of Chicago to the open plains of the Prairie State, Illinois is famous for its rich diversity and Midwestern values.

So it should come as no surprise that the state’s most influential and inspiring women represent that same diversity, cultural richness and spirit of America’s heartland.

As the country commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the legal right to vote, the USA TODAY Network is identifying 10 women from each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, as Women of the Century.

The rules were simple: They had to have lived in the past 100 years and shown outstanding achievement in the areas of arts and literature, business, civil rights, education, entertainment, law, media, nonprofits and philanthropy, politics, science and medicine, or sports.

In Illinois, this was no small task. Illinois’ women are authors, politicians, megastars and starchitects. They are trailblazers, activists and leaders.

The woman earning the most nominations was Chicago’s very own first lady, Michelle Obama.

And while Illinois could claim a second first lady for its top 10, Hillary Rodham Clinton — who was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs — is listed instead in Arkansas, where she served as that state’s first lady for nearly 10 years before taking on the national role.

Likewise, a woman who was born and raised in other parts of the country – such as Mississippi, Tennessee and Wisconsin – became so famous filming a talk show in Chicago that she would become a household name.

That would be none other than Oprah Winfrey.

But, with a limit of only 10 women per state, many notable, well-known and deserving women did not make the list.

They run the gamut from Mary G. Harris Jones, also known as union organizer “Mother Jones”; Violette Neatley Anderson, the first Black woman to practice law before the U.S. Supreme Court; and Marca Bristo, a lifelong leader in the disability rights movement who helped write the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Those listed below truly represent the great women of Illinois. They are women of purpose, influence, strength and change.

Who is your Woman of the Century? Did we miss a woman you think should be on our list? We’d like to hear from you.

Tammy Duckworth

U.S. Senator, Iraq War veteran

(1968- )

Tammy Duckworth is a Purple Heart recipient; the first Thai-American U.S. congresswoman; and the mother of two girls, Abigail and Maile.

Duckworth, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard, was among the first women in the U.S. Army to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was during this time, on Nov. 12, 2004, that Duckworth lost her legs and partial use of one arm when her helicopter was struck by a grenade.

In 2009, she was appointed an assistant secretary of Veteran Affairs. She worked with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help end veteran homelessness and address changes faced by women and Native American veterans.

She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016 after representing Illinois’ 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives for two terms.

Duckworth had a multicultural upbringing that spanned several countries, from Thailand and Indonesia to Singapore, Cambodia and the United States.

She attended the University of Hawaii for her undergraduate studies and earned a master’s degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Duckworth relocated to Illinois to pursue a Ph.D. in political science at Northern Illinois University.

By:  Corina Curry