The list of Mississippi women who have been leaders in their fields is longer than this guide could possibly hold—from activists who changed the nation during the Civil Rights Movement to GRAMMY® award-wining musicians, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and Olympic Gold medalists. Discover some of the women who shaped the history of Mississippi, then visit the places where their legacies live on.

Civil Rights

Myrlie Evers and her husband Medgar worked together during the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and early 1960s, when he served as field secretary for the NAACP. He was the face of the organization and she ran the field office. On June 12, 1963, Medgar was assassinated in the carport of their home in Jackson. Myrlie continued her activism in Mississippi and California, and became the chair of the NAACP in 1995—the first woman to serve in that role. In 1998, she established the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute to preserve and advance the legacy of their civil rights activism. The Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home in Jackson is now a National Monument located in the Capital/River region of the state. 

In the Hills region, explore the legacy of journalist and anti- lynching activist Ida B. Wells, whose childhood home in Holly Springs is now the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum and Cultural Center of African American History. Born to enslaved parents and orphaned at age 16, Wells became a teacher to support herself and her siblings. Her work as a journalist brought national attention to the horror of lynching, as well as women’s suffrage. Wells died in 1931 but her legacy lives on: nearly nine decades later in 2020, the Pulitzer Prize Board gave a posthumous award to Wells “for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching.”

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free,” said civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, who made it her life’s work to ensure freedom for all. Her list of accomplishments included organizing Mississippi’s Freedom Summer, co-founding both the Freedom Democratic Party and the National Women’s Political Caucus and helping thousands of Black Mississippians become registered voters. Visit the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden and see a statue of the activist at her burial place in the city of Ruleville. 


Country superstar and GRAMMY® winner Faith Hill grew up in the small town of Star—where her marker on the Mississippi Country Music Trail can be found today. She is one of the best-selling country music artists of all time. 

Leontyne Price is celebrated in her home- town of Laurel with a downtown park. She was born in 1927. She became the first African American leading performer with the New York City Metropolitan Opera. Price has won 19 GRAMMY® Awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Stop in the name of love and appreciate the musical legacy of Mary Wilson, a founding member of the most successful Motown group of the 1960s, Diana Ross and The Supremes. Wilson was born in Greenville in the Delta region of the state. She and her fellow group members were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. 


The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty lived and wrote in her Jackson home. The house is now a museum open for tours, during which book lovers can see the author’s typewriter and trace her path to success through an exhibit based on her memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings. 

Poet Natasha Trethewey was born in Gulfport, and Mississippi’s Coastal region is featured prominently in her writing. Her poetry collection Native Guard, which includes poems exploring African American history on Ship Island, won the Pulitzer Prize. She has served as both United States and Mississippi Poet Laureate. 

Kathryn Stockett set the publishing world on fire with her debut novel, The Help, in 2009. Set in Jackson (where Stockett grew up), the book explores relationships between women of color and the white women who employed them as domestic workers during the 1960s. The book was made into a movie that was filmed in Jackson and Greenwood by director Tate Taylor and earned Octavia Spencer an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.


Brittney Reese leapt to success as the gold medalist in long jump in the 2012 Summer Olympics, only eight years after graduating from Gulfport High School in the Coastal region. Reese also captured the world championship in the event seven times and holds the indoor American record with a distance of 7.23 meters.

Born in the Coastal region city of Lucedale, Ruthie Bolton played guard for the Sacramento Monarchs WNBA team from 1997 to 2004 and was part of the gold medal-winning United States women’s basketball teams in the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics. Bolton was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. 

Sarah Thomas, a Pascagoula native and Brandon resident, was the first woman to officiate a college bowl game and the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. In 2015, Thomas was the first woman to be hired as a full-time NFL official.


Mississippi has been home to quite a few leading women on screen, and quite a few of these have graced the cover of the Official Mississippi Tour Guide in the past, including Robin Roberts, Sela Ward and Erin Napier.

Before she was a Good Morning America anchor, Robin Roberts was a high school sports star in Pass Christian. Roberts’s devotion to her Mississippi roots has been a frequent subject on the air; she revisited Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Coast in an ABC special, Katrina: 10 Years After the Storm, in 2015. She cites Mary Mahoney’s in Biloxi and Lil Ray’s in Gulfport as two of her favorite restaurants. 

Sela Ward may be best known for her Emmy-winning roles in television dramas like Sisters and Once and Again and her big-screen performances in The Fugitive and Gone Girl, but she’s equally devoted to her hometown of Meridian in the Pines region, where she founded the Hope Village home for abused and neglected children, and where she is among the Hall of Fame honorees at the state-of-the-art Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience, aka The MAX museum.

Erin Napier and her husband Ben have shown the country what Southern hospitality, an appreciation for history and hard work can do for their hometown of Laurel on HGTV’s hit show Home Town. This talented couple wowed viewers with their magical renovations of historic homes, sparking a new passion for revitalization from the minute they aired on HGTV. Home Town was the network’s highest rated pilot ever and is now in its sixth season.


Jackson native Cat Cora trained at the Culinary Institute of America before becoming a foodie TV fixture on shows including Melting Pot, Date Plate and Around the World in 80 Plates. She is best known as the first woman Iron Chef on Food Network’s Iron Chef America. She has opened more than 18 restaurants around the world.  Cora is the founder and president of the nonprofit Chefs for Humanity, aimed at reducing global hunger.

Elizabeth Heiskell has easily shifted from a stint as head chef at Greenwood-based Viking Range Corporation to crafting the renowned Debutante Farmer bloody mary mix to becoming a food contributor on the Today Show and judging Food Network competitions. All the while, she operates a thriving catering business based in Oxford, and she has authored three best-selling cookbooks.

The woman behind one of the South’s most legendary restaurants was Mary Mahoney, who in 1964 launched Mary Mahoney’s Old French House in a home built in 1737 in Biloxi. Mahoney’s winning concept—serving up a combination of New Orleans and coastal cuisine with plenty of Southern hospitality—has drawn guests ranging from Elvis Presley to President Jimmy Carter.


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