12 Famous NC Women on our list represent a cross-section of entertainers, pioneers, and politicians. Many of the uninitiated think of the South and North Carolina as home to the provincial and polite, hardly a breeding ground for big thinking, however the Raleigh Durham area and North Carolina are home to some of the brightest and most notable women of our time. This list includes some contemporary notable women and the most famous. Some were born in North Carolina, and some CHOSE North Carolina as their home. If you are choosing North Carolina as your home, contact My NC Homes today to start your home search.
Maya Angelou was not born in North Carolina but called North Carolina home and her presence was formative in North Carolina, and the United States. She taught and was celebrated at Wake Forest University and lived in Winston-Salem. Angelou was a civil rights activist, actress, prolific writer, and role model, nominated for Grammys, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Born in Goldsboro, Gertrude Weil was a social reform pioneer, one of the most famous suffragettes, and a humanitarian. She was heavily involved in getting women the vote and also in establishing foreign student scholarships at UNC. Weil was also involved in civil rights and promoted interfaith and interracial parks, pools, and held integrated meetings promoting numerous causes, locally and nationally.
Julianne Moore was born Julie Anne Smith at Fort Bragg North Carolina and is one of the most well-known actresses of our time. Winner of an academy award, two Golden Globes, and two Emmy Awards, she is also known as one of Time Magazines 100 Most Influential People in the World. The Hunger Games, Magnolia, The Hours, Jurassic Park, and more, she has starred, co-starred, or appeared in dozens of films with some of the most famous directors of all time.
Eunice Waymon was born in Tyron, North Carolina, and originally aspired to be a concert pianist, but became so much more. Professionally known as, Nina Simone, Waymon was a civil rights activist, and prolific songwriter, performer, and musician, whose music and influence transcended more barriers than musical. She attended Julliard in New York City and started performing in Atlantic City as Nina Simone to disguise herself from her family, who attributed secular music as "the devil's music." Her arrangements fused pop with classical and she recorded over 40 albums in her career.
Ava Gardner was born the youngest of 7 children in Grabtown, North Carolina, before becoming an iconic actress, singer, and beauty in the 1950s and 1960s. On a trip to New York City to visit a sister, she had a portrait taken and it was so striking that they put it in their window, someone remarked they should send it to MGM, then did, and MGM signed Gardner, with the provision that she get a speech coach immediately to get rid of the Southern drawl. She went on to perform in dozens of movies with MGM and The American Film Institute recognized Gardner as one of the greatest female screen legends of classic American Cinema in 1999. For true Ava Gardner fans you'll want to visit Smithfield NC about an hour south of Raleigh to tour the Ava Gardner museum.
Myrtle Driver Johnson
Myrtle Driver Johnson was born in Big Cove, North Carolina, and is attributed to keeping the Cherokee language and traditions alive. She is one of the most prominent indigenous advocates in the United States and continues to work to sustain tribal traditions and fight for federal representation and protections. North Carolina transplants may not know that in Western North Carolina the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are self-governing and autonomous.
Elizabeth Dole is one of North Carolina’s most famous politicians, serving as the head of the American Red Cross, Secretary of Labor, and North Carolina's First Female Senator. She served under Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H..W. Bush. Dole is the wife of Bob Dole and attended Duke University and Harvard Law School, and was born in Salisbury, North Carolina.
Lilian Exum Clement
Lilian Exum Clement, born in Asheville, North Carolina was one of the first female politicians and was the first woman elected to the North Carolina General Assembly and the first woman to serve in any state legislature in the Southern United States. Encouraged and mentored by Edith Vanderbilt, she was in many ways a renegade in office and introduced bills regarding reproduction, marital rights, and maternity.
Pauli Murray was a lawyer, Episcopal Priest, civil rights activist, and Durham Native. One of the first African Americans, and a woman, to attend UNC Graduate School, she was critical to the civil rights movements and one of her papers "States Laws on Race and Color ',was called the "Bible" of the Brown vs Board of Education decision. Murray was also critical of the role men played in the Civil Rights Movement and the first ordained female and African American priests.
Known as one of the first female action stars, Pam Grier was born in Winston-Salem in 1949 and is a Blaxploitation star and icon who has received Golden Globe Nominations and other critical awards for her work. She starred in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown in a reprisal of the era of Blaxploitation.
Loretta Lynch was born in Greensboro and served as the US Attorney General under President Barack Obama from 2015-2017. Prior to this prestigious public service appointment, Lynch had a highly distinguished legal career. She has overseen the FBI, participated in the Rwandan Genocide Special Investigations, counter-terrorism investigations, and the mortgage crisis and global bank involvement.
Gertrude Trudy Belle Elion was born in New York City to immigrant parents but made her mark in medicine in North Carolina. She watched a grandfather die of cancer and pursued a medical career to great success in North Carolina. Her contributions include anti-malarial drugs, organ transplant drugs, and later groundbreaking work for the HIV virus. She received the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Elion lived and retired right here in Durham.
There's no doubt we've missed numerous other truly notably famous North Carolina women. Who do you think should have made our list?
Posted by Larry Tollen on