University of Southern California: 5 Trojan women who have made history

USC’s track record for producing exceptional alumnae stretches back more than 100 years.

Its very first valedictorian was a woman, Minnie Miltimore, chosen from a graduating class of three in 1884.

Vada Somerville Watson, the first Black woman licensed to practice dentistry in California, graduated in 1918.

Lillian Copeland, the first Trojan woman to compete in the Olympics, was the most successful female discus thrower in history until the Beijing Olympics some 75 years later.

The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Science boasts its fair share of illustrious alumnae who have set records and changed history in diverse arenas, including the swimming pool and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alumna performs first same-sex marriage in Los Angeles County

In 2008, on the steps of the Beverly Hills Courthouse, Denise Eger performed the first same-sex marriage in L.A. County. Eger, who received her degree in religion in 1982, had been an activist for LGBTQ rights for decades.


After her ordination as a rabbi, she served at a gay synagogue in L.A. during the height of the AIDS crisis. She spent her days visiting young patients around the city who were dying of the disease, a harrowing experience that fueled her activism.

Eger became a staunch advocate for equal rights for the gay community, campaigning against Proposition 8 in 2008 and Proposition 2 in 2000, which aimed to bar same-sex couples from marriage. Eger spoke at numerous rallies and marches to oppose these measures. Her hard work paid off when she officiated the marriage of Robin Tyler and Diane Olson on a warm June day, a few hours after the California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

A landmark Supreme Court ruling

The summer of 2020 likely won’t be remembered with much fondness, but recipients of Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) may think back on it with appreciation thanks to one USC Dornsife alumna. Lindsay Harrison co-led the team that litigated and prevailed in the Supreme Court against the Trump administration’s attempt to disband protections for DACA recipients.


Harrison, who graduated with a degree in political science and gender studies in 2000, found the victory personally rewarding: Her father fled with his family to the United States from the Soviet Union in the ’70s, during a period of economic hardship that years later resulted in the end of Soviet power.

“I’ve always been raised with a recognition of how immigration enriches the American experience, and how it’s really important to the character of our country,” she explains. “To see some devaluing of that over the last few years has been disheartening. I’ve really wanted to fight back against that.”

First to earn $1 million in swimming prizes


Psychology major and champion swimmer Katinka Hosszu ’12 is at the top of the charts. Dubbed the “Iron Lady” for her steely strength in the water, she currently holds four world records, three gold medals and one silver from the 2016 Summer Olympics and is the first person — man or woman — in swimming history to exceed $1 million in prize earnings.

You can see her back in the pool at the next Olympics, which she’s currently training for in her home country of Hungary, likely gliding ahead of the competition.

First Latina to win a lead actress Emmy


Early in her career, award-winning actress America Ferrera ’13 almost left the stage entirely. While an undergraduate at USC Dornsife, she was torn between her international relations studies and her acting career, concerned that acting wouldn’t help change the world.

David Andrus, former professor of international relations at USC Dornsife, inspired her to get back in front of the camera by explaining how her role in Real Women Have Curves was a source of inspiration for the young Latina women he mentored.

Ferrera stuck with it and made history when she became the first Latina woman to win an Emmy for a lead performance. In 2007, Time magazine named her one of the most influential people in the world. She’s continued her dual interests in humanitarianism and the arts, partnering with the nongovernmental organization Save the Children while also acting and directing.

Youngest-ever female mayor in California history

In 2018, at the age of just 25, Tara Campbell was sworn in as mayor of Yorba Linda, California, making her the youngest woman to ever hold the office in the state. Campbell, who graduated in 2015 with a degree in political science, is already bringing a youthful savvy to the city. Residents can now report maintenance issues, like a broken swing at a park, via an app on their phone and then track the city’s response — all thanks to Campbell’s innovation.


Comparisons to Leslie Knope, the peppy small-town politician played by Amy Poehler on the television show Parks and Recreation, abound, but Campbell doesn’t mind. Enthusiasm for helping your community is a good thing, she believes, and she even confesses to an affinity for waffles, one of Knope’s favorite treats.

There’s plenty more outstanding Trojans following in the footsteps of women like Eger, Harrison, Hosszu, Ferrera and Campbell. USC Dornsife undergraduates are tackling solar energy storage, building orphanages and dancing in prestigious ballet company while studying biology, poised to become the next wave of history-making alumnae.

Comments are closed.