9 Notable Women of the Main Line, Past and Present

Celebrate Women’s History Month with a look at some of the Main Line’s most influential women.



Valley Forge native Tory Burch.

Over the centuries, women have led remarkable lives and gone on to great achievements. To celebrate those lives and the courageous acts of women in the past—fighting for the right to vote and demanding to be considered equal in society, among many others—Women’s History Month was created and is celebrated each March.

It was officially designated in 1987 and has since held, with March 8 marking International Women’s Day. Around the globe, communities celebrate achievements and encourage women to seek out their dreams, unhindered. Though it is a celebration of women, the month is celebrated by all genders in the hopes of continuing toward the goal of gender equality.

To mark the occasion, we look back over the centuries to these nine women, who, past and present, have led or are currently leading remarkable lives.

Ann Preston

Ann Preston

Born in 1813 in West Grove, Ann Preston was raised a Quaker and highly educated. She went on to become a female leader, attending the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, where she earned her medical degree in 1852, eventually becoming the dean of the college, making her the first woman to be dean of a medical school. Preston ushered in new thinking about women in leading medical positions, despite a great deal of opposition, making her an early trailblazer.

Read more about her legacy here.

Agnes Irwin

Agnes Irwin, locally known as the namesake of the Rosemont school, wasn’t born locally, but it was the greater Philadelphia area where she eventually made a lasting impression. Born in 1841 in Washington, D.C., Irwin was a great educator. Her mother was a Philadelphia native, and it was in Philadelphia—the original location of her school—that Irwin chose to found a school in 1869. The Agnes Irwin School was one of the first girls’ schools in the United States and she geared students towards futures at top universities like Radcliffe College and later Bryn Mawr College, both all-women schools. In 1894, she left her position as headmistress to go to Radcliffe in Cambridge, Mass., where she was dean, leaving behind an enduring local legacy

Read more about her legacy here.

Alice Neel

This pioneering artist was born in 1900 in Merion Square. She was a descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, on her mother’s side. Shortly after Alice was born, the Neel family moved to Colwyn, in Darby Township, where she would attend and graduate from Darby High School. Neel went on to study at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women and had an esteemed career as a landscape, still life and portrait painter, influenced by Northern European expressionism. She moved to New York, where she continued her studies and painting, which also became her final resting place, when she died in 1984. After her death, Neel was called one of the greatest portrait artists of the century by Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts curator, Barry Walker.

Learn more about Alice Neel here.

Lisa Raymond

Lisa Raymond

This retired tennis professional was once a top competitor, especially in doubles, where she accumulated a sizable number of titles. Raymond was born in Norristown and still currently resides in the area. Throughout her impressive career, Raymond won six Grand Slam titles in women’s doubles and five mixed doubles Slams, as well as earning a bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics in mixed doubles. A doubles specialist, Raymond also played singles on the WTA tour, earning four titles and a career high ranking of 15, over the course of her 26 year career.

Maria Bello

Maria Bello

This successful actress, whose films include Coyote Ugly, Thank You For Smoking and The Jane Austen Book Club, was born and raised locally. Born in Norristown in 1967, she attended and graduated from Archbishop Carroll High School in Radnor and later attended Villanova University, where she studied political science. Bello continues to act and has penned a book Whatever…Love is Love, published last year. She is also a human rights activist and a co-founder of We Advance, a foundation in support of educating and empowering women throughout Haiti.

Read more about her foundation here.

Mary Sharpless Schäffer and Molly Adams

These two women were pioneers, quite literally. Schäffer, a West Chester native, had a very bad 1903, burying her husband and her parents. Needing to escape, she and her friend, Adams, went north to Canada, where they became the first nonnative women to explore what is now known as Banff and Jasper national parks. A few years later, the women and their traveling party became the first to reach Maligne Lake, as well.

Read more about their legacies here

Mildred Scott Olmsted

Midlred S. Olmsted was born in Glenolden and led a remarkable life, most notably as a leader for women’s rights. For 20 years, she led the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and was active in the fight for women’s suffrage and was an early advocate for the use of birth control. In addition to advocating for women’s rights, she was also a peace advocate, objecting to the World Wars. In 1990, shortly before her death, Olmsted received a lifetime achievement award from the City of Philadelphia. She was also the recipient of the Peace and Freedom Award in 1986.

Read more about her legacy here.

Tina Fey

Tina Fey

One of the best-known comedic actresses of her time, Tina Fey’s roots lie in Pennsylvania. She was born in 1970 and grew up in Upper Darby, attending and graduating from Upper Darby High School. The SNL comedian has gone on to have a blockbuster career, as both an actress and writer, in TV shows and movies alike, including 30 Rock, Mean Girls, Date Night, Baby Mama (which was set in Philadelphia), and this year’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, among others. Fey has also written a book, Bossypants, published in 2011, and is involved in several charities.

Tory Burch

Tory Burch has become a fashion icon. The Valley Forge native, born in 1966, is the chairman, CEO and designer of her self-named label, Tory Burch, as well as a philanthropist and was named one of Forbes most powerful women in the world last year. Burch attended the Agnes Irwin School and later the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied art history, before moving to New York. She launched her company in 2003 and a subsequent foundation in 2009. The Tory Burch Foundation helps give back to up and coming female entrepreneurs, much like herself. Burch currently resides in New York City where she continues her work as a designer and philanthropist.

Learn more about Burch and her foundation here.

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