Bells and liberty in the Keystone State go together like the Pennsylvania Dutch delicacy pork and sauerkraut.
The ringing of the Old State House Bell in Philadelphia, better known as the Liberty Bell, marked America’s quest for independence in the Revolutionary War.
So, it was right and fitting that in the 1914 campaign for Pennsylvania women to gain the right to vote, a bell would become the symbol for the campaign.
A 2,000-pound bell would be cast, a replica of the Liberty Bell. The Justice Bell was identical to its iconic forerunner, with the addition of “Establish Justice” in the inscription and the subtraction of its famous crack. Importantly, the clapper would be tightly chained to the side of the bell until women gained voting rights.
Leading up to the 1915 election, the Justice Bell traveled aboard a truck for 5,000 miles around Pennsylvania. Its journey had its moments. The bell’s transport got stuck in the mud at the entrance of one southern Pennsylvania fairground.
And the Justice Bell had meaning. A Pennsylvania woman in her 80s became ill and could not read a poem she composed for the bell’s stop in her town. The truck re-routed to her home for easy viewing from her bedroom window. The ratification effort to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to grant woman suffrage was defeated by popular vote in the 1915 election.
The time had not yet come, and the bell was not ready to toll.
It remained an important reminder of suffrage in the World War I years and was readied for ringing after Congress, at last, passed the 19th Amendment for women’s right to vote on June 4, 1919.
Pennsylvania ratified the amendment 20 days later, and the measure passed its last marker with approval from what was then the 36th state in August 1920. Finally, the clapper was unchained, and the Justice Bell rang out on Sept. 25, 1920, in a celebration appropriately at Philadelphia’s Independence Square.
The freeing of the clapper to do its hard work was indicative of the accomplishments of countless Pennsylvania women in the next five score years.
This year, America is observing the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
The USA TODAY Network is naming 10 American women from all 50 states and the District of Columbia as Women of the Century.
The women achieved a track record of outstanding achievements in 11 specific areas. U.S. citizenship and having lived between 1920 and 2020 were other requirements.
Of course, narrowing the Women of the Century list to just 10 was most difficult. Some women who almost were counted in Pennsylvania's top 10 included jazz singer Billie Holliday; writer and novelist Pearl S. Buck; philanthropist and educator Katharine Drexel; and women’s rights advocate Mary Purcell.
Our final list for Pennsylvania includes women we believe best answered the bell.
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.
Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter
A Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, actress and television personality, Christina Aguilera grew up in Rochester and Wexford in the Pittsburgh area. When she was young, she entered local talent shows where she became known as the little girl with a big voice.
She got her big break in 1992 when she earned a place on the Disney Channel’s “The All New Mickey Mouse Club,” which also included singers and actors Britney Spears, Keri Russell, Ryan Gosling and Justin Timberlake.
In 1999, her debut album, “Christina Aguilera,” went on to sell more than 8 million copies, led by hits "Genie in a Bottle" and "What a Girl Wants." The album helped Aguilera win the 2000 Grammy Award for Best New Artist. The bilingual singer’s accolades include five Grammy Awards, one Latin Grammy Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She cites Mariah Carey, Etta James, Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson among her influences. She remembers connecting with the “old soul and blues” when her grandmother would take her to record shops in Pittsburgh to buy her old albums. This inspired her to do material far beyond her years.
Singer and pioneer in music and civil rights
An American singer of a wide range of music, Marian Anderson was born in Philadelphia and started her career in the church choir.
Her voice carried her upward. The contralto took voice lessons from noted teacher Giuseppe Boghetti and traveled to Europe for extended tours. In 1928, she sang in Carnegie Hall and in 1936, performed for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House, the first African American to do so.
Soon after came a defining moment in both Anderson’s career and American history, when her manager tried to book her for a Constitution Hall performance in Washington, D.C., through Howard University. The Daughters of the American Revolution, operators of the venue, refused. Her friend Eleanor Roosevelt helped organize a concert on the steps of Lincoln Memorial that drew a massive audience to the National Mall and via radio.
This moment made Anderson an icon of the Civil Rights movement. Her worldwide fame grew, and she went on to sing at the inaugurations of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.
She became known for breaking ground for other African Americans to perform with symphony orchestras and opera companies. Because of her efforts, Blacks gained admission to conservatories from which they were formerly barred. But Anderson, with a voice that conductor Arturo Toscanini said "comes around once in a hundred years," remained a child of the Keystone State.
For about 20 years after 1924, she used her mother’s home in Philadelphia as an office and residence as she toured. The house remained in her family until 1990, and today serves as a museum to tell the story of this pioneer in music and civil rights.
A pioneering newspaper woman and one of the most accomplished women in journalism history, Nellie Bly was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania.
Her journalism career began at the Pittsburgh Dispatch after her 1885 letter to the editor about the newspaper’s negative portrayal of women caught the editor’s eye. She took the pen name "Nellie Bly," and her role evolved to writing primarily for female audiences.
She sought work in New York to write pieces that addressed women and men. Her break came when Bly pretended to be mentally ill for 10 days. The New York World published her “Ten Days in the Mad-House,” immediately making her a popular American writer. Her work brought a major investigation to the asylum, Blackwell Island.
She later wrote a book about living with women in the asylum, now Roosevelt Island, who were suicidal and violent. Further, some of the women were mentally sound and had mistakenly been committed.
Inspired by Jules Verne’s book “Around the World in 80 Days,” Bly sought and gained the blessing of the New York World to circle the globe and write about it. The trip took 72 days, then a world record.
Bly married an industrialist in 1895 and retired from journalism; when her husband died eight years later, she ran the manufacturing company. She later returned to journalism and covered women’s suffrage.
Her undercover journalism made her a pioneer in investigative reporting.
Marine biologist, author and conservationist
A marine biologist, author and conservationist who played a key role in starting the environmental movement, Rachel Carson was born in Springdale, Pennsylvania.
She earned her undergraduate degree in biology at Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) in Pittsburgh and earned her master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins. In 1936, Carson was appointed to a position at the Bureau of Fisheries, one of only two women employed there at a professional level. She was later promoted to editor of all U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publications.
Gifted with the ability to write about complicated scientific topics in a clear style, Carson wrote several books on aquatic life. Her “The Sea Around Us” won the National Book Award. In 1962, she wrote “Silent Spring” upon learning about the loss of bird life in Massachusetts after pesticide spraying.
The book became her most influential work, underscoring the dangers of pesticides on ecosystems. Chemical companies pushed back, but her work led to a ban on certain pesticides and to the creation of what became the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.
She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980, and inspired environmental prizes that bear her name today.
Painter and printmaker
A leading 19th-century American painter and printmaker, Mary Cassatt was born near Pittsburgh and, while still a young child, moved with her wealthy family to Philadelphia.
Young women of means in her day often learned painting to pass the time. Cassatt enrolled in the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts to build a career. She found the male faculty and students, unaccustomed to a woman who wanted more than a hobby, resentful of her presence.
She moved to Paris at age 22, at a time that the Impressionists were introducing their unconventional art. Impressionists often chose everyday subjects and unusual visual perspectives. Working initially in the Impressionists’ camp, she painted what she saw in her surroundings, particularly portraits of mothers and children. A prolific artist, Cassatt produced numerous etchings of members of her family.
This American in Paris has been described as intense and outspoken. She did things her way. For example, she would not do commissioned portraits and did not accept students.
But Cassatt’s significant contribution to the art world went beyond her own art, as important as that was. She advised art collectors to acquire the old masters and then donate them to American art galleries upon their deaths. She was instrumental, for example, in forming the Havemeyer collection, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Her visible legacy thus includes exhibitions of her own work – and the display of the work of others.
Special Olympic athlete and advocate
A Special Olympic athlete and advocate, Loretta Claiborne was born in York, Pennsylvania, partially blind and with intellectual disabilities.
She was unable to walk or talk until after she turned 4, but she has worked to become a world-class runner and an inspirational public speaker. She took special education classes and graduated from William Penn Senior High School. Her sports career began when a social worker introduced her to Special Olympics.
Since then, she has run in more than 25 marathons, and she carried the torch for the International Special Olympics. She was named "Special Olympics Athlete of the Quarter Century" by Runner's World magazine in 1991. Her inspirational story has been told in many ways, including in a television movie, “The Loretta Claiborne Story.”
She won the ESPN Espy Arthur Ashe Award for Courage and holds honorary doctorate degrees from Quinnipiac College, Villanova University and York College of Pennsylvania.
Her influence has reached the halls of government. In 2001, she addressed the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee about health care for the mentally disabled. She introduced President Bill Clinton at the opening ceremonies of the 1995 Special Olympics World Games.
Today, her public addresses focus especially on the treatment of people with disabilities.
Running remains part of her physical conditioning, and on some of her routes in her hometown, she can see a large brick office building with big letters on the side: “The Loretta Claiborne Building.”
Teresa Heinz Kerry
Philanthropist and businesswoman
Teresa Heinz Kerry was born in Mozambique when that east African country was under Portuguese rule.
She attended college in Johannesburg and speaks five languages. In fact, the linguistically gifted Heinz Kerry was studying interpreting in Geneva when she and John Heinz III met. She later married Heinz, of the Pittsburgh-based family known for processing Heinz ketchup and other condiments.
Upon the death of her husband, then a U.S. senator in 1991, the cultivated Heinz Kerry chose running Heinz family charities over a potential career in the Senate and politics.
When her second husband, John Kerry, sought the presidency in 2004, she said she would remain head of the family charities if she became first lady. "I don't want to give up my work," she told USA Today. "It's important to me."
Those charities reflect Heinz Kerry’s interests. The charitable work includes advocacy for women and support for environmental and sustainability solutions, learning outcomes for young people and engaged creativity in the community.
Grammy Award-winning singer
A Grammy Award-winning American singer and actress, she was born Patricia Louise Holt-Edwards and began her singing career as a teenager in Philadelphia. Her career began with a group originally known as Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, before changing its name to Labelle.
Notable success came with the recording of the disco standard “Lady Marmalade,” which helped earn Labelle the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, the first Black vocal group to appear on that cover.
The group was also the first Black pop act to play at the Metropolitan Opera House. Patti Labelle, a “powerhouse soprano,” became a solo artist in the mid-1970s. She has sold 50 million records over five decades, and is best known for "If Only You Knew," "New Attitude" and "Stir It Up," among other hits.
She has since added stage and screen credits, including roles in the films “A Soldier's Story” and “Beverly Hills Cop.” She has written several books, including the autobiography “Don't Block the Blessings,” and the diabetic cookbook “LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About.”
She is a part of the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Apollo Theater Hall of Fame. LaBelle is commonly identified as the "Godmother of Soul."
Author, poet, art collector
An author, poet, art collector, and convener of talented artists and writers, Gertrude Stein was born near Pittsburgh and spent her childhood in Oakland, California.
She graduated from Radcliffe College and studied medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School.
But her fame did not come from work as a physician. Shortly after the turn of the century, she moved to Paris, where she collected art and hosted an art and literary salon, which welcomed leading modernists.
There, she hosted writers Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, Ezra Pound and other fellow Americans living in France. She coined the term “The Lost Generation” because many of the writers visiting her salon felt alienated from America.
As an art collector, she helped promote the work of Pablo Picasso and other leading artists.
In her own work, she has been described as an imaginative and influential 20th century writer. Her works are widely quoted, with these observations and others: “There is no there there” and “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”
Her best-known work is “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” which is really Stein’s autobiography. It is written in the voice of her lifelong companion, Alice B. Toklas. This book, the most accessible of her works and a commercial success, ensured her international fame.
Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter
A multi-Grammy Award-winning American singer and songwriter, Taylor Swift was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, and spent her early years in nearby Wyomissing.
Musical talent ran in her family: Her grandmother had been a professional opera singer. Swift, named after singer James Taylor, sang the national anthem at a Philadelphia 76ers basketball game at age 11, and began writing her own songs and learning guitar at age 12.
Later, her family moved to Hendersonville, Tennessee, near Nashville, to further her music career.
Her rise in first country music and later in pop music came early. She gained fame as a country music singer at age 16 with hits like "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me."
Her music connected with both country and pop fans, and her album “Fearless” earned a Grammy in 2010. Her 2014 album “1989” featured "Shake it Off" and "Blank Space,” and took her another step from her country roots. The record won Grammys for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album.
Before she had reached age 30, Swift had been named Billboard’s Woman of the Year, the American Music Awards Artist of the Year, as well as the Entertainer of the Year for both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music, among a host of other awards. In 2013, Swift funded the $4 million Taylor Swift Education Center at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
The school opened with three classrooms, a learning lab and exhibit space for children.
She explained that music education was a big part of her life, and that her life changed when she wrote her own songs with a guitar.
Women of the Century: They didn’t succeed despite adversity, but often because of it
50 states: Learn about notable women from every state
Who is your Woman of the Century?: Let us know
Recognizing women past and present: See all of our coverage
Special thanks to Samantha Dorm, local historian; Dorothy King, retired Penn State Harrisburg professor, playwright; Jim McClure, historian, retired newspaper editor; Pedro Rivera, Pennsylvania secretary of education; and Kim Strong, journalist.
Sources used in the Women of the Century list project include newspaper articles, state archives, historical websites, encyclopedias and other resources.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Women of the Century Pennsylvania: Grammy Awards winners on list