Women’s History Month – a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society – has been observed annually during the month of March in the United States since 1987. In that spirit, we’ve put together a list of ten women from the past and the present who have made great contributions to their communities, the nation, and the world. The fact that they were self-taught or home-educated – whether by choice or the unavailability of schooling – enhances their exceptional accomplishments. Learn more about these famous women homeschoolers below!
Abigail Adams – Wife of John Adams; Mom of John Quincy Adams
Abigail Smith Adams was born on November 11, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Although girls at that time typically did not receive a formal education, Abigail’s mother taught Abigail and her sisters to read, write, and cipher; they also studied English and French literature. In addition, Abigail obtained a considerable amount of education from her father’s large, private library. On October 25, 1764, Abigail married John Adams. During his prolonged absences during the American Revolution, Abigail remained at home teaching their children while running the family farm. Although women at that time did not normally handle business affairs, Abigail traded livestock, hired help, bought land, oversaw construction, and supervised the planting and harvesting. She believed that women should educate themselves and thus be recognized for their intellectual capabilities, so as to better guide and influence the lives of their children and husbands. She was the first woman to be both wife of a president and mother of a president.
Ada Lovelace – First Computer Programmer
Born in London in 1815 and brought up in a privileged aristocratic family, Ada Lovelace was educated at home by private tutors. She received lessons in French and Italian, music, and handicrafts such as embroidery. As the daughter of Lord Byron, she was naturally interested in poetry. Ada’s mother insisted that her daughter should also study the subjects of mathematics and logic. She was then self-educated but was helped in her advanced studies by mathematician-logician Augustus De Morgan, the first professor of mathematics at the University of London. Ada’s educational and social exploits brought her into contact with scientists such as Andrew Crosse, Charles Babbage, Sir David Brewster, Charles Wheatstone, and Michael Faraday – all of whom helped to further her education. When she was eighteen, her mathematical talents led her to a long working relationship and friendship with British mathematician Charles Babbage, who is known as “the father of computers.” Lovelace’s notes from 1843 contain what many consider to be the first computer program—that is, an algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine – specifically Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical computer, the Analytical Engine. “The Analytical Engine,” she said, “weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves.”
Harriet Tubman – Underground Railroad Heroine
Harriet Tubman was born into a family of slaves, so by law she was not allowed to have any schooling. But her parents taught her the most important things she needed to know. Harriet learned Bible stories from her mother and gained considerable knowledge of the Bible through oral recitation. Throughout her life, she would often refer to Biblical passages and parables. Harriet’s dad taught her about outdoor survival skills, living off the land, navigating through forests, fields and waterways. “He passed that knowledge to his gifted daughter,” wrote biographer Kate Clifford Larson, “and she put it to good use while traveling along the Underground Railroad.” Despite her lack of formal education, Harriet did more to help black people than most of her contemporaries. Known as “Black Moses,” Tubman risked her life to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom in the North as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, a secret network of safe houses. Infuriated slaveholders posted a $40,000 reward for her capture, but she was never apprehended. When the Civil War began, she volunteered as a scout and spy for the Union Army, and led a guerilla military mission where she helped about 750 enslaved people escape with federal troops. When she passed away in 1913, she was buried as “General Tubman” with military honors, making her the first African American woman on record to serve in the military. Harriet was no stranger to racism and her life was full of horrific injustices, but Tubman grew closer to God in her darkest days and had a faith that made her fearless. Her strength came from an unshakeable belief in the deliverer and protector of the weak. She said, “I always tole God, ‘I’m gwine [going] to hole stiddy [steady] on you, an’ you’ve got to see me through.’”
Julia Ward Howe – Abolitionist and Women’s Rights Activist
Julia Ward Howe was an American author and poet, known for writing the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” She was also an advocate for abolitionism and a social activist, particularly for women’s suffrage. Similar to many wealthy girls of the time, Ward learned from private tutors at home through age sixteen, while her brothers attended school. An imperfect student, Ward blamed “a certain over-romantic and imaginative turn of mind” (Howe, Reminiscences, p.43) for her rebellious attitude toward tutors. Learning independently, however, she taught herself multiple languages and became a voracious reader. She attended lectures, published essays, and wrote plays and dramas. She was inspired to write “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” after she and her husband visited Washington, D.C. and met Abraham Lincoln at the White House in November 1861. Howe was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an honorary society begun in 1904 which chooses the most exceptional artists, writers, and composers in America.
Clara Barton – Started the Red Cross
Clarissa “Clara” Harlowe Barton was born in North Oxford, Massachusetts, on Christmas Day of 1821. Clara was the youngest of five children; all of her brothers and sisters were at least ten years older. Clara was extremely bright and by the time she was four years old, she could easily spell three-syllable words. Although Clara spent brief periods in public schools, she received most of her education at home under the tutelage of her brothers and sisters who taught her reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as carpentry and athletics. Her father, Captain Barton, a respected state lawmaker who had served in the French & Indian Wars, thrilled young Clara with stories that taught her about geography as well as military tactics and logistics. Clara also studied philosophy, chemistry, and Latin. Clara’s vast and diverse education was supplemented with practical experience, working as a clerk and bookkeeper for her eldest brother. Inspired by her aunt, a midwife who often administered medical care much like a doctor of that era, Clara dreamed of being a nurse. In 1861, Clara moved to Washington, D.C. and became the first woman hired to work as a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office. On April 21, 1861, nine days after the start of the American Civil War, Miss Barton tended to wounded Massachusetts soldiers quartered in the U.S. Senate chamber. Then after the First Battle of Bull Run, Miss Barton organized a relief program to gather supplies for wounded soldiers. The following year, U.S. Surgeon General William A. Hammond granted Clara a pass to travel with army ambulances “for the purpose of distributing comforts for the sick and wounded, and nursing them.” Clara became known as “The Angel of the Battlefield.” By the end of the Civil War, Barton had performed most of the services that would later be associated with the American Red Cross, which she founded on May 21, 1881. The compassionate, courageous work that Clara Barton performed while caring for people in times of war made her an icon of humanitarianism.
Florence Nightingale – Nurse, Writer, and Statistician
Florence Nightingale was a celebrated English nurse, writer, and statistician. As a child, Florence loved learning and was always eager to learn. Her father, William Nightingale, thought it was important for girls to have an education. When Florence was twelve, he began teaching her history, philosophy, and five languages, including Latin and Greek. Although history was her favorite subject, she had an unusual ability in mathematics. But Florence believed that God had called her to be a nurse. She came to prominence for her pioneering work in nursing during the Crimean War, where she improved the sanitary conditions and reduced the mortality rate of wounded soldiers. She was dubbed “The Lady with the Lamp” after her habit of making rounds at night. Nightingale was also a pioneer of statistics and data visualization, using pie charts and graphs to illustrate the impact of her work and to advocate for health reforms. Florence Nightingale’s innovative methods made her the founder of modern nursing. International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday, May 12.
Amelia Earhart – American Aviation Pioneer
Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas, on July 24, 1898. Amelia had a sister who was two years her junior. The siblings’ upbringing was somewhat unconventional because their mother did not believe in molding her children into “nice little girls.” As a child, Amelia was a tomboy. She spent long hours outdoors where she liked to climb trees, hunt rats with a rifle, and “belly-slam” her sled downhill. The girls kept a growing collection of specimens – including worms, moths, katydids and a tree toad – which they gathered on their outings. Amelia and her sister were homeschooled together by their mother and a governess. Amelia later recalled that she was “exceedingly fond of reading” and spent countless hours in the large family library. As a young girl, Amelia kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about women who were successful in predominantly male-oriented fields. Amelia believed that women should be given the same chances as men, and that women should earn their right to work by doing their jobs as well as or even better than men. Amelia survived the Spanish Flu epidemic but was hospitalized and required nearly a year of convalescence. She passed the time reading poetry, learning to play the banjo, and studying mechanics. On December 28, 1920, Amelia visited an airfield where she was given a 10-minute ride in an airplane for $10. From then on, she knew that she wanted to become a professional pilot. Amelia began taking flying lessons and she studied weather, navigation, how an airplane works, and all the other things a pilot must know. At that time, aviation was one of the toughest new professions. Amelia Earhart was then unknown but would soon become a celebrity, known around the world as one of the greatest women pilots. In May of 1932, Amelia became the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean.
Sandra Day O’Connor – First Woman Supreme Court Justice
Sandra Day O’Connor was born in 1930 to a ranching family. The isolated location of their cattle ranch near Duncan, Arizona, made formal education difficult. At first, O’Connor was taught at home by her mother. She read profusely, went on long nature walks, and learned valuable lessons from everyday life. In her biography, Lazy B, O’Connor wrote, “MO was a patient and loving mother. She read endlessly to all three of her children. She taught me to read by age four. She taught all three of us to play various card games, including gin rummy, canasta, bridge, hearts, and booray. She was an avid walker. When we were small she would walk with us for hours and look for interesting things to see— a wildflower, a pretty rock, an unusual plant or insect. We would pick up these treasures and carry them home to put in a favorite place to keep forever.” Sandra was then sent to live with her grandmother so she could attend a private school for girls in El Paso, Texas, but O’Connor later acknowledged that she would have rather spent her days “reading and riding” on the ranch. At age 16, Sandra enrolled in Stanford University where she studied economics and law. O’Connor began her career in Arizona state government, and in 1981 she was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Michelle Kwan – Olympic Medalist Figure Skater and Diplomat
Michelle Kwan left public school at age 13 to be homeschooled starting in the 8th grade. She has had a distinguished career in sports, public service, and diplomacy. Kwan represented the United States as the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history, having won 43 championships, including five world championships, nine national titles, and two Olympic medals. Kwan also served as Treasurer and Board Member of Special Olympics International and was a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. After she earned a B.A. from the University of Denver with a focus on international relations, Kwan entered Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and International Diplomacy, earning a graduate degree in 2011. She traveled extensively on behalf of the U.S. Department of State to engage youth around the world on social and educational issues, while serving on the department’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sports initiative. As an Advisor to the Office of Global Women’s Issues, she assisted with the U.S.-China Women’s Leadership Exchange and Dialogue. Kwan was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Belize on October 7, 2022.
Venus and Serena Williams – Tennis Star Sisters
The Williams sisters, Venus (b. 1980) and Serena (b. 1981) are regarded among the best tennis players of all time. The superstar tennis sisters were coached from an early age by their parents Richard Williams and Oracene Price. Vowing to turn his daughters into champions, Williams wrote up a 78-page plan and started giving lessons to them when they were four years old. He also homeschooled Venus and Serena so they could focus on their tennis careers. Having played in competitions starting at the age of five, the two began playing professionally as teenagers and became stars of the sport in the late 1990s. They have dominated women’s tennis ever since. Former U.S. professional tennis player Pam Shriver said the Williams sisters also helped black women “to feel there’s a pathway for them to the top of the tennis world.”
Bethany Hamilton – Professional Surfer of “Soul Surfer” Fame
An avid surfer since age 8, Bethany started homeschooling after sixth grade so she could devote more time to the sport. On October 31, 2003, while surfing near her home on the North Shore of Kauai, Hawaii, a tiger shark attacked her, severing her left arm. Less than a month later, the teen returned to surfing with an unbelievably positive attitude. Overcoming all odds, she went on to win several professional championships, get married, and have three children. She launched her own foundation, Friends of Bethany, to support shark attack survivors and traumatic amputees, and she is a spokesperson for Beating the Odds Foundation and Foundation for a Better Life. Bethany is also active in the Women’s Sports Foundation, Walking on Water, Life Without Limbs, and Christian Surfers. The story of her determination to rise above adversity and turn tragedy into opportunity has inspired millions.
Lila Rose – Pro-Life Advocate and Human Rights Activist
Lila Rose, president of the pro-life group Live Action, is on a mission to help transform people’s hearts and minds when it comes to abortion. Homeschooled through high school while attending a Christian school and junior college part-time, Rose was only 15 years old when she founded Live Action in 2003. After enrolling in UCLA, she started a pro-life student magazine, The Advocate, which is now distributed to over 300 high school and college campuses nationwide. Rose’s undercover campaigns at Planned Parenthood centers across the country have exposed staff breaking laws, covering up abuse, and giving out inaccurate medical information. Rose believes “anyone can change” – and indeed, faced with the facts about the abortion procedure, many people who were once pro-choice have become pro-life.
Juliette Turner – Author, Public Speaker, Harvard Law Student
Juliette is the author of the best-selling Our Constitution Rocks (2012), Our Presidents Rock (2014), and That’s Not Hay in My Hair (2016). The homeschooled daughter of actress and conservative talk radio host Janine Turner, Juliette is a self-proclaimed history nerd. She aims to help her peers understand the importance of the U.S. Constitution and gain a deeper understanding of the document, saying: “It is of utmost importance for kids, the future generation of America, to understand the relevancy of our Constitution, the law of the land. It is America’s road map and guide and without reverence and a working knowledge of it, we will lose our country.” Juliette has served as the National Youth Director of Constituting America, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to teaching America’s upcoming generation about the Constitution. A professional public speaker, Juliette educates students and adults across the country about the Constitution and how to effect change through the legislative and amendment process. She also speaks on topics such as how to resist drugs and alcohol in a substance abuse culture, and how to maintain faith in a secular society. Juliette graduated from Rice University in 2020 where she majored in English, Philosophy, and Business. She is currently enrolled in Harvard Law School.
Famous women homeschoolers include high achievers like athletes, singers, poets, authors, educators, inventors and scientists. We’ve just named a few of them above. Some other famous female homeschoolers include Billie Eilish, Emily Bear, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beatrix Potter, and Agatha Christie.