How 5 Women Influenced The Nonprofit Sector

Throughout history, philanthropy and the nonprofit sector have proven to be effective vehicles for women to exert influence over societal structure and conventional beliefs. Along with the creation and existence of nonprofit organizations, many women gained valuable experience in the workings of politics, governance, law, finance, and diplomacy. Through leadership, volunteerism, and charitable contributions, women have built portions of the sector that primarily serve the underrepresented, underprivileged, and powerless. Women have been key to the formation of a formal nonprofit sector in the United States, one that functions as a model for countries around the world.

Over the years, there have been countless women who have contributed to the nonprofit sector. In honor of Women’s History Month, here’s how 5 women had a tremendous impact and influenced the nonprofit sector:

Dorothea Lynde Dix


Back in the 1800s, it was a scary time to be someone who was mentally ill. During that time, there was this weird idea that people with mental disturbances could not be cured or helped; resulting in cruel treatment of the mentally ill in America. This is where Dorothea Lynde Dix comes into the scene. For decades before and after the Civil War, Dix exposed the horrid housing conditions of the mentally ill in prisons and almshouses. Additonally, she played an instrumental role in the founding or expansion of more than 30 hospitals for the treatment of the mentally ill.

Elizabeth Blackwell


In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. Blackwell and her sister, a surgeon, decided to open the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. The infirmary staff was entirely made up of women and they primarily served the poor. Later, the hospital was expanded to include a medical school for women.

Florence Nightingale


In 1860, Florence Nightingale founded the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London. In addition, she devoted years of leadership and service to others in the field of healthcare.

Jane Addams


In 1889, Addams co-founded Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago intended to help immigrant families. Addams’ accomplishments throughout her life have had a tremendous impact on the lives of women, children, the poor, the working class, and urban society. Her work in the field of peace resulted in her becoming the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Karen Dunigan


Karen Dunigan formed the first giving circle, 100 Women Who Care, in Jackson, Michigan. The model she created has been replicated throughout the United States, Canada and other parts of the world.