During March, the Government & Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina is celebrating Women's History Month. From Virginia Dare, the first child born to English parents in America on the North Carolina coast; to the hundreds of women who have served in our state's General Assembly; to Bev Perdue, the first female governor of North Carolina, we recognize the vital place that women and their accomplishments have in our history.

Strong women have gained notoriety throughout the state's past. Here are just a few prominent North Carolina women:

  • 1804 - Winifred Marshall Gales writes and publishes Matilda Berkely; or, Family Anecdotes, which becomes the first novel ever published in North Carolina written by a resident of the state.
  • 1809 - Dolley Madison is the first North Carolinian to become first lady.
  • 1862 - Mary Jane Patterson, from Raleigh, is the first African American woman to receive a bachelor of arts degree in the United States.
  • 1878 - Tabitha Ann Holton is the first licensed female lawyer in North Carolina.
  • 1887 - Dr. Annie Lowrie Alexander is the first licensed female doctor in North Carolina.
  • 1902 - Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown founds the Alice Freeman Palmer Memorial Institute.
  • 1921 - Lillian Exum Clement is the first woman to serve in the North Carolina General Assembly.
  • 1946 - Eliza Jane Pratt is the first female to represent North Carolina in the US Congress.
  • 2009 - Beverly Perdue is North Carolina's first female governor.

For every woman who has gained a place in the history books, numerous female tar heels have helped build and sustain the state in so many ways. From working in the burgeoning textile industry, to forwarding higher education and research, to documenting their Civil War experiences, these women are an integral part of our culture.

Please join us as we celebrate the contributions that women have made to the history of our state, and the United States.

back to top General Resources

  • Government and Heritage Library Resources

    The Government and Heritage Library has many resources about women in North Carolina in the catalog.

  • NC Digital Collections

    The Government & Heritage Library and NC State Archives have a number of digital resources about women in the North Carolina Digital Collections. Try an advanced search on "Women" in the title or subject fields.

  • NCpedia

    Read about women in North Carolina's history in our online encyclopedia.

  • North Carolina Museum of History Women's History Timeline
  • Designed with students in mind, this online resource lists important dates for women’s history in North Carolina.

DID YOU KNOW?matilda

The first book published in North Carolina was written by a woman, Winifred Marshall Gales. This book is entitled Matlida Berkely; or, Family Anecdotes and a digitized version is available through the North Carolina Digital Collections.

back to topIndividual Women

  • Etta Baker, Legend of Piedmont Blues (1913-2006)

    Listen to Etta Baker, a famous blues guitarist from Morganton, NC, in these clips from Morning Edition, an NPR radio program.

  • Penelope Barker and the Edenton Tea Party (1728-1796)

    Penelope Barker hosted the Edenton Tea Party in Edenton, NC, in 1774, in which 51 women signed a declaration supporting a boycott of British products.

  • Westray Battle Boyce: The Story of a WAC

    Westray Battle Boyce, a native of Rocky Mount, NC, enlisted in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) during World War II. She went on to lead the WAAC as a colonel.

  • Tiny Broadwick: First Lady of Parachuting (1893-1978)

    Tiny Broadwick, the first woman to make a parachute jump from an airplane, had a long career of parachuting around the country.

  • Biography for Kathryn Grayson (1922-2010)

    This native of Winston-Salem, NC went on to star in notable musicals such as "Anchors Aweigh" and "Show Boat."

  • Rose O'Neal Greenhow (1817-1864)

    Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a successful and determined Confederate spy, who ended up perishing off of the North Carolina coast. Her diary can be found at the State Archives of North Carolina (Call No. PC.1226). A collection of her papers is available from Duke University, and some items can be found online at the site below.

  • Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897)

    These websites give biographical information about Harriet Jacobs, a slave who secretly escaped via boat from Edenton, NC, and fled to Philadelphia and then New York City. She went on to publish an account of her life, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

  • Elizabeth Keckley, Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House (1818-1907)

    Elizabeth Keckley's autobiography recounts her life as a slave living near Hillsborough, NC. She purchases her freedom and then goes on to become a close friend of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln.

  • Nell Battle Lewis (1893-1956)

    "Nell Cornelia Battle Lewis (1893-1956) was a journalist, feminist, lawyer, educator and a strident human rights advocate in Raleigh, N.C., in the early twentieth century."

  • Flora MacDonald: "The Bright and Particular Star" (1722-1790)

    "Although Flora MacDonald lived in North Carolina only a short time, her legend took strong hold within the Scottish population here and has continued as an important symbol of North Carolina’s Scots history." Her name was adopted for the Flora MacDonald College in 1916, an insitution which was dedicated to the higher education of women. It still exists as the Flora Macdonald Academy. In addition, images of students from the early 20th century can be found at the State Archives of North Carolina.

  • The Dolley Madison Project (1768-1849)

    Dolley Payne, born and raised in Guilford County, NC, grew up to become the wife of James Madison, the fourth President of the United States. This site contains letters, maps, essays, and other resources related to Dolley Payne Todd Madison.

  • Alice Person: Good Medicine and Good Music (1840-1913)

    "Professional musician, patent medicine entrepreneur, women's rights advocate—all are appropriate titles for colorful North Carolinian Alice Morgan Person (1840-1913). This digital collection, ... celebrates Alice’s unique life by presenting digitized versions of her published folk tune arrangements in both audio and visual formats along with a broad range of other images collected by Alice’s biographer and ECU music librarian, David Hursh."

  • Gertrude Weil (1879-1971)

    Gertrude "Weil stood courageously at the forefront of a wide range of progressive and often controversial causes, including women's suffrage, labor reform and civil rights."

  • The Photographer Bayard Wootten (1875-1959)

    Bayard Wootten (seen right), a native of New Bern, NC, traveled around the state as an "activist photographer," with some of her most significant documentary photographs coming from the North Carolina mountains.

  • Oral Histories of North Carolina Women

    The Oral Histories of the American South Project features extensive interviews with women from all over the South, and especially North Carolina.


back to top Digital Collections

  • Folkstreams: Women

    Folkstreams includes documentary films about American roots cultures, along with accompanying transcripts and resources. This link points to films especially related to women's history.

  • Green 'N' Growing: The History of Home Demonstration and 4-H Youth Development in North Carolina

    "4-H and Home Demonstration, dating from the early twentieth century, were established to instruct children and women in agricultural practice and home economics." From North Carolina State University Libraries, this site features images, historical essays, and a bibliography.

  • Library of Congress, American English Dialect Recordings

    The Library of Congress holds a number of oral history interviews conducted with women in North Carolina between 1941 and 1984. These interviews can be heard online, as part of the American English Dialect Recordings site. Simply search using the term "North Carolina female" to locate these interviews. (NOTE: Load time may be slow.)

  • The North Carolina Experience: Topical Access to Women

    This list links to digitized materials in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's North Carolina Collection related to women in North Carolina.

  • Women Veterans Historical Collection

    This project "documents the contributions of women in the military and related service organizations since World War I. The collection offers a wide range of source material, including photographs, letters, diaries, scrapbooks, oral histories, military patches and insignia, uniforms, and posters, as well as published works."

  • Women's History

    View hundreds of photographs, books and other items related to women's history from East Carolina University's digital collections.

  • Work Projects in North Carolina, 1933-1941: Women's Work Division

    A small collection of images from the State Archives of North Carolina featuring women working for the WPA.

DID YOU KNOW? file folders

Transforming the Tar Heel State: The Legacy of Public Libraries in North Carolina contains many historical photographs of individuals, including women and children, using or working in various public libraries across the state.

Project home

back to topPlaces to Go

  • Ava Gardner Museum

    Born in Brogden, NC, a small rural community near Smithfield, Ava Gardner went on to become an international film star. She starred in over 60 movies throughout her career, including Show Boat and Night of the Iguana. This museum, located in Smithfield, features a large collection of Gardner memorabilia.

  • Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum (Palmer Memorial Institute)

    "Founded in 1902 by Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Palmer Memorial Institute transformed the lives of more than 2,000 African American students. Today, the campus provides the setting where visitors can explore this unique environment where boys and girls lived and learned during the greater part of the 20th century."

  • Elizabethan Gardens

    The idea for the Elizabethan Gardens, located in Manteo, NC, was first proposed in 1951 to the Garden Club of North Carolina, a non-profit organization of 17,000 women. Since then, through the efforts of a number of women, this extraordinary monument to the first English settlers of Roanoke Island has grown and flourished.

  • Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture, Duke University Libraries

    "The Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture in Duke University’s Special Collections Library acquires, preserves and makes available to a large population of researchers published and unpublished materials that reflect the public and private lives of women, past and present."


UNC-G began as a women's college. Today, North Carolina is home to four colleges for women.

Bennett College, Greensboro, NC - est. 1873, exclusive to women in 1926
Meredith College, Raleigh, NC - est. 1891
Peace University, Raleigh, NC - est. 1857
Salem College, Winston-Salem, NC - est. 1772

An entry on the history of women's colleges in NC may be found in the NCpedia at http://ncpedia.org/education/womens-colleges.

back to top Family History

  • Civil War Women: Primary Sources on the Internet
  • This site contains digitized first-person narratives and photographs of women who lived during the Civil War, including Diaries, Letters, and Documents as well as Photographs and Prints.

  • Dear Diary: Discovering Your Female Ancestors
  • "Because tradition and law have until recently focused recordkeeping on male heads-of-household, the details of our female ancestors' lives are often more difficult to find. One possibility for research is the diary, and Sharon DeBartolo Carmack shows you how to find and use these precious documents in your family's history."

  • Finding Female Ancestors
  • "The hidden half of history: When you can't look up a female ancestor by her maiden name (or you don't know what it is), what do you do?"

  • North Carolina Family Records Online
  • A growing joint project of the State Library and State Archives of North Carolina, you can search for your female ancestors from North Carolina within numerous Bible Records, and an index of marriage and death notices.

hwy markerDID YOU KNOW?

You can discover a number of places of historical statewide significance commemorated by historical markers in the Highway Historical Marker Program. Click here to go to the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website.

back to topResources for Youth

  • 300 Women Who Changed the World (grades 4-12)
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica has selected 300 women from past and present, and featured them in this online exhibit. Included are several women important to North Carolina's history, including Dorothea Lynde Dix, Mia Hamm.

  • Cherokee women (grades 4-12)
  • This brief article, originally from the Tar Heel Junior Historian, describes the role of women among the Cherokee. Accompanying the article are a lesson plan, teacher guide, and related topics.

  • Grooming in 1930s North Carolina (grades 8, 10-12)
  • "Using primary source materials, this lesson plan provides a glimpse into the lives of girls and women from the 1930s and will give students the opportunity to study what was considered attractive for the time, how the Depression affected grooming practices, and the universal concept of healthful living."

  • North Carolina in the Early 20th Century: Women's Suffrage
  • This module from LEARN NC explores the struggle for women's suffrage in North Carolina, and includes primary and secondary resources for students.

  • North Carolina Women and the Progressive Movement (grades 11-12)
  • "This lesson includes primary sources from Documenting the American South specifically related to North Carolina women involved in reform movements characteristic of the Progressive era."

back to topImage Credits

Header: Group of Smith College Students, detail. Courtesy of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Bayard Wootten: North Carolina Collection, Univ. of N.C. at Chapel Hill Library. Used with permission.