Famous Hispanic Women in American Culture and History

Latinas have contributed to the culture and progress of the United States since its colonial days. Here are just a few women of Hispanic heritage who have made history.  

Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende 2005
Isabel Allende 2005. Caroline Schiff/Getty Images

A Chilean journalist who fled Chile when her uncle, Salvador Allende, was overthrown and assassinated, Isabel Allende moved first to Venezuela and then to the United States. She has written several popular novels, including the autobiographical novel "The House of the Spirits." Her writing is often about the experience of women from a "magic realism" perspective.

Joan Baez

Joan Baez performing, 1960

 Gai Terrell/Redferns/Getty Images

Folksinger Joan Baez, whose father was a physicist born in Mexico, was part of the 1960s folk revival, and she has continued to sing and work for peace and human rights.

Empress Carlota of Mexico

Empress Carlota of Mexico, by Heinrich Eduard, 1863
Sergio Anelli / Electa / Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

European in heritage, Carlota (Born Princess Charlotte of Belgium) was married to Maximilian, archduke of Austria, who was established as emperor of Mexico by Napoleon III. She spent her last 60 years suffering from severe mental illness—probably depression—in Europe.

Lorna Dee Cervantes

 A Chicana poet, Lorna Dee Cervantes was a feminist whose writing was known for bridging cultures and exploring gender and other differences. She was active in women's liberation, farm worker's organization, and the American Indian Movement.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez at Lectern with U.S. President-elect George W. Bush
Linda Chavez at Lectern: U.S. President-elect George W. Bush Announces Cabinet Members.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Linda Chavez, once the highest-ranking woman in Ronald Reagan's administration, is a conservative commentator and author. A close colleague of Al Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers, she moved on to serve in several positions in Reagan's White House. Chavez ran in 1986 for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Maryland senator Barbara Mikulski. Chavez was nominated by President George W. Bush as Secretary of Labor in 2001, but revelations of payments to a Guatamalan woman who was not a legal immigrant derailed her nomination. She has been a member of conservative think tanks and a commentator, including for Fox News.

Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta, 1975
Cathy Murphy/Getty Images

Dolores Huerta was a co-founder of the United Farm Workers, and has been an activist for labor, Hispanic and women's rights.

Frida Kahlo

Mexican painter Frida Kahlo sits with her arms folded, looking down, in front of one of her paintings and a wooden bird cage.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter whose primitive-like style reflected Mexican folk culture, her own pain and suffering, both physical and emotional.

Muna Lee

Author, feminist, and Pan-Americanist, Muna Lee worked for women's rights as well as advocating for Latin American literature.

Ellen Ochoa

NASA Astronaut Ellen Ochoa
NASA / Getty Images

Ellen Ochoa, selected as an astronaut candidate in 1990, flew on NASA space missions in 1993, 1994, 1999, and 2002.

Lucy Parsons

Lucy Parsons, 1915 arrest

Library of Congress

Of mixed heritage (she claimed Mexican and Indigenous but also likely had African background), she became associated with radical movements and labor. Her husband was among those executed in the so-called Haymarket Riot of 1886. She spent the rest of her life working for labor, the poor, and for radical change.

Sonia Sotomayor

Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Vice President Joe Biden
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor swears in Vice President Joe Biden, January 21, 2003.

 John Moore / Getty Images

Raised in poverty, Sonia Sotomayor excelled in school, attended Princeton and Yale, worked as a prosecutor and lawyer in private practice, and then was nominated to the federal bench in 1991. She became the first Hispanic justice and third woman on the United States Supreme Court in 2009.

Elizabeth Vargas

Elizabeth Vargas

Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images

Journalist for ABC, Vargas was born in New Jersey to a Puerto Rican father and Irish American mother. She was educated at the University of Missouri. She worked in television in Missouri and Chicago before moving to NBC.

She created an ABC special report based on the book The Da Vinci Code questioning many traditional ideas about Mary Magdalene.
She filled in for Peter Jennings when he was treated for lung cancer, and then with Bob Woodruff became a co-anchor to replace him. She soloed in that work when Bob Woodruff was injured in Iraq.  She left that position because of problems with a difficult pregnancy, and was reportedly surprised not to be invited back to the anchor job when she returned to work.

She has more recently been open with her own struggles with alcoholism.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Famous Hispanic Women in American Culture and History." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/famous-hispanic-women-3529314. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). Famous Hispanic Women in American Culture and History. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-hispanic-women-3529314 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Famous Hispanic Women in American Culture and History." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-hispanic-women-3529314 (accessed June 4, 2023).