25 most influential women in San Diego's history

SAN DIEGO - When it comes to women who have cracked the glass ceiling–San Diego doesn't fall short. From elected leaders to artists–our county is home to plenty of women who have made history and shaped the lives of both men and women.

We asked 10News viewers and readers to submit their nominations on the most influential women in San Diego's history. In no particular order, here are 25 picks:

Joan Kroc

Kroc – a native of Minnesota who made San Diego her home – donated more than $1 billion before she died in 2003 at the age of 75. Kroc – the third wife of former McDonald's CEO Ray Kroc – was known as the "St. Joan of Arches" and donated to organizations like the San Diego Hospice, University of San Diego and the Special Olympics. She died of brain cancer on Oct. 12, 2003 in Rancho Santa Fe and was inducted into San Diego County's Hall of Fame in 2004.

Maureen O'Connor

O'Connor made history when she became the first female mayor in San Diego in 1986. O'Connor was elected to the City Council in 1971, shortly after graduating from San Diego State University. She served until 1979 before being elected as mayor, where she served until 1992. The wife of Jack in the Box founder Robert O. Peterson, O'Connor is known for spending nights with the homeless community in an effort to understand their challenges and overseeing the construction of the San Diego Convention Center. Although O'Connor made headlines last year for her gambling addiction, she is remembered by many as "Mayor Mo," a popular leader who rose from poverty.

Susan Golding

Golding was the first Jewish mayor of San Diego and the second woman to serve in that role. Golding was elected to the San Diego City Council in 1981, serving one term, before she was elected to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors where she served from 1985 to 1992. Golding, a Republican who supports gay rights and served as mayor until 2000, is known for increasing funding for public safety, creating San Diego's first winter shelter for the homeless and securing an agreement to expand Jack Murphy Stadium (now Qualcomm Stadium) to keep the San Diego Chargers in the city. The Columbia University graduate also served as the CEO of the Child Abuse Prevention Foundation in San Diego.

Gloria Johnson

Johnson, a longtime activist and retired social worker, was heavily involved in the civil rights and peace movements during the 1960s and the women's rights movement in the 1970s. She co-chaired San Diego's "No on 6" campaign, an effort against the Briggs Initiative, which would have kept gays and lesbians from working in California's schools. Johnson was also the first openly gay person to be elected to the San Diego Democratic Central Committee in 1976 and became president of the San Diego Democratic Club in 1980. An active member of the National Organization for Women, Johnson was inducted into San Diego Women's Hall of Fame in 2003.

Rita Sanchez

Sanchez taught Chicana studies at San Diego State University from 1974 to 1984 and founded the first Chicana journal, "Visiones de la Mujer." She also taught at San Diego Mesa College from 1996 to 1999, where she chaired the Chicano Studies Department. Sanchez, a member of San Diego County Women's Hall of Fame, also founded the Acevedo Gallery in San Diego, a gallery which features the work of Chicano artists and those of Latin American descent. But Sanchez's impact stretches outside of San Diego's borders. She earned a master's in English from Stanford University, where she became the first woman to win the Stanford Chicano Fellowship.

Beverly Yip

Yip was the founder of the Union of Pan Asian Communities, a nonprofit organization that provides health and human services to underserved communities in San Diego County. The 40-year-old organization now serves 50,000 people annually through its 15 programs. Yip, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, also served on the city's Housing Commission and the county's Task Force on Services to Older Minority Persons, among other boards. She died Nov. 11, 1991 at the age of 59 from liver cancer but was remembered for her "compassion" and "strength" when she was inducted into San Diego County's Women's Hall of Fame in 2003.

Lucy Killea

One bishop did not stop Lucy Killea from making history. Killea was elected to the California State Senate in 1989 despite being prohibited from receiving communion because of her pro-choice beliefs. She served until she was termed out in 1996. She previously served on the San Diego City Council and the California State Assembly. Killea earned her Ph.D. in Latin American history from UC San Diego and now serves as a senior fellow for the International Community Foundation.

Helen Hawkins

Hawkins produced more than 100 programs during her time as an executive director for KPBS in San Diego. Known to champion for women's rights, Hawkins' programs often focused on issues facing women. Hawkins, who earned her doctorate in history from UC San Diego, co-founded the local chapter of the National Organization for Women. Hawkins, who died from cancer in 1989, is remembered through the Helen Hawkins Memorial Fund that was created in her honor by the San Diego Independent Scholars Board of Directors. She was also inducted in the San Diego County's Women's Hall of Fame in 2005.

Ellen Scripps

Scripps was born in 1836 and moved to San Diego in the 1890s, where she would leave her legacy. Scripps helped to establish organizations such as Scripps Aquarium (now Birch Aquarium), Scripps Memorial Hospital and the Children's Pool. Scripps, who worked as a teacher and journalist, was inducted into San Diego County's Women's Hall of Fame in 2007 for being an "advocate of women's suffrage and of women's burgeoning role in society." She died on Aug. 3, 1932 in La Jolla at the age of 95.

Li Rong Cheng

Cheng is a professor for San Diego State University's School of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences and director of the Chinese Studies Institute. Cheng is known for her impact on cross-cultural communication and was awarded the American Speech-Language Hearing Association's award for contributions to multicultural affairs in 1997. A graduate of Michigan State University, Cheng was inducted into San Diego County's Women's Hall of Fame in 2009.

Judith Munk

Munk – who was described as a "close friend" of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and UC San Diego – was an artist and an advocate. A Bennington College graduate, Munk helped design laboratories at the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps. Munk, who was immobilized by polio at the age of 21, was also active in the Junior League, C3 and the Committee on University Community Planning. She died on May 19, 2006 at the age of 81 from pneumonia.

Constance Carroll

Carroll is the first black woman to serve as chancellor for the San Diego Community College District, overseeing the campuses that serve 100,000 students. Carroll, who celebrates 10 years in the chancellor role this year, previously served as the president of San Diego Mesa College for 11 years. Carroll earned her Ph.D. in classics from the University of Pittsburgh and has served on more than 20 national boards and councils, including the National Council on the Humanities in 2011 when she was nominated by President Barack Obama.

Sally Ride

Ride, who joined NASA in 1978, is the first woman, known lesbian and youngest American astronaut to travel to space. A Stanford University graduate, she taught physics at UC San Diego and co-founded Sally Ride Science, a company that focuses on teaching science to girls. She died on July 23, 2012 in La Jolla at the age of 61.

Donna Frye

Frye, a Pennsylvania native, moved to San Diego as a child. She was elected to the San Diego City Council in 2001 and represented District 6 until 2010 when she was termed out. Frye, who is known for being an advocate for open governments, was described as an "independent thinker" when she was inducted into San Diego County's Women's Hall of Fame in 2011. She is currently the vice president of CaliforniansAware.org, a nonprofit organization devoted to keeping governments accountable for their actions and to keep information public.

Katherine Sessions

Sessions, known to many as the "Mother of Balboa Park," moved to San Diego in 1883. She founded the Mission Hills Nursery in 1910 and later leased 30 acres of Balboa Park land from the city of San Diego where she planted 100 trees a year. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, she owned a flower shop and nurseries throughout San Diego County and co-founded the San Diego Floral Association in 1907. She died on Mar. 24, 1940 at the age of 82.

Tracy Jarman

Jarman was the first woman to become chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department in 2006 after working in the department for 22 years. Jarman oversaw the department during the 2007 Witch Creek Fires, which forced the evacuation of 200,000 residents. Jarman, who has lived in San Diego County since she was 2 years old, added three fire stations and a second helicopter to the department during her tenure. She retired on June 27, 2009.

Eileen Ochoa

Ochoa, a graduate of Grossmont High School and San Diego State University, was the first Hispanic woman to go into space when she served on the Discovery in 1993 and logged more than 719 hours in space. Ochoa made history again when she became the first Hispanic woman to become director of NASA's Johnson Space Center where she oversees 13,000 employees. She is the co-inventor of three patents and has referenced La Mesa as her home.

Veronica Froman-Blue

Froman – known as "Ronne" or "Navy Mayor of San Diego" by many – is the first woman to serve as a commander for the U.S. Navy Region Southwest. She served for 31 years before retiring in 2001 and held many positions in San Diego, including the CEO of the American Red Cross in San Diego and the city's first COO. In 2010, she became the CEO of REBOOT, an organization that helps veterans transition into civilian life.

Linda Lang

Lang has served as the CEO for San Diego-based fast food chain Jack in the Box since 2006, overseeing more than 2,200 restaurants in 19 states. Lang, who began working for the company in 1996, has been recognized for her work in the community. She earned the "Person of the Year" award from Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County in 2011 and was inducted into Junior Achievement's San Diego Business Hall of Fame.

Shirley Weber

Weber is the first black woman to be elected to the California State Assembly. Weber, who attended UC Los Angeles, earned her Ph.D. in communications in 1975. She later helped to establish the Africana Studies Department at San Diego State University and taught for 40 years. She was elected to office in December 2012  and represents the 79th Assembly District.

Gloria Penner

Penner worked at San Diego's KPBS from 1969 to 2012, earning countless awards including seven Emmys, five Golden Mikes and two Gracies. Known as a pioneer in broadcasting, Penner hosted shows such as "That's 30," "San Diego Week" and "Gloria Penner in Conversation." The League of Women Voters of San Diego County recognized her by establishing the Gloria Penner Award for Civic Service in 2003. She died on Oct. 6, 2012 at the age of 81.

Joan Embery

Embery, who was born in San Diego in 1949, is an animal and environmental advocate. She founded the American Association of Zoo Keepers, a resource organizations for animal care professionals. She is the goodwill ambassador for the Zoological Society of San Diego and has hosted shows such as "Animal Express" and "Animals of Africa." Embery was inducted into the San Diego County's Women's Hall of Fame in 2007 where she was recognized for her "devotion to the wildlife and the environment."

Makeda Dread Cheatom

Cheatom founded the World Beat Cultural Center in Balboa Park in 1985 where she has preserved the history of African and Indigenous cultures. She later created the Adams Avenue Theatre and serves as a DJ for 92.5 FM and 91X FM. Inducted into San Diego County's Women's Hall of Fame in 2012, she was recognized for being a "bridge builder."

Bonnie Dumanis

Dumanis is the first Jewish woman to be elected to the San Diego County District Attorney position. She is also the first openly gay district attorney in the United States. Dumanis, who has served since 2003, earned her J.D. from the Western State University College of Law (now Thomas Jefferson School of Law) and served as a deputy district attorney from 1978 to 1990. Dumanis was inducted into San Diego County's Women's Hall of Fame in 2008 and was named a "Woman of the Year" in 2013 by the Log Cabin Republican Club of San Diego.

Shelley Zimmerman

Zimmerman made headlines last week when she was named chief of the San Diego Police Department and became the first woman to serve in the role. Zimmerman has worked for SDPD since 1982 and has earned awards from the San Diego Press Club, the San Diego Business Journal and the San Diego Police Foundation. An Ohio State University alum, Zimmerman also graduated from the FBI National Academy.


Do you know of an influential San Diego woman or did we miss someone on this list? Tell us about her in the comments section.

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