Three Trojan Women Who Have Made History
Celebrate these USC alumnae who made their mark on history, from the stage to politics to the Supreme Court.
USC’s track record for producing exceptional alumnae stretches back more than 100 years.
Its first valedictorian, Minnie Miltimore, was chosen froma 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, became the most successful female discus thrower in history until the Beijing Olympics some 75 years later.
USC 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. Here are three outstanding examples of Trojan women who have left an indelible mark on the world.
First same-sex marriage officiant in Los Angeles County
In 2008, on the steps of the Beverly Hills Courthouse, Denise Eger performed the first legal samesex marriage in L.A. County. Eger, who received her degree in religion from USC 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 visited many 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. She spoke at many 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.
First Latina to win a lead actress Emmy
Early in her career, award-winning actress America Ferrera almost left the stage entirely. While pursuing her undergraduate degree at USC, she was torn between her international relations studies and her acting career. A primary concern: Acting wouldn’t help her change the world.
David Andrus, former professor of international relations at USC, encouraged her to get back in front of the camera by explaining how her role in “Real Women Have Curves” inspired the young Latina women he mentored.
Ferrera stuck with it, completing her degree in 2013 and making history as 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 has continued her dual interests in humanitarianism and the arts, partnering with the nongovernmental organization Save the Children while acting and directing.
Youngest female mayor in California history
In 2018, at the age of 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 from USC in 2015 with a degree in political science, brings youthful savvy to the city. Residents can now report maintenance issues, likea broken swing at a park, via an app on their phone and then track the city’s response — all thanks to Campbell’s sense of innovation.
Comparisons to Leslie Knope, the peppy small-town politician played by Amy Poehler on the television show “Parks and Recreation,” abound, and Campbell embraces the connection. Enthusiasm for helping your community isa good thing, she says, and she even confesses to an affinity for waffles, one of Knope’s favorite treats.
Just as Eger, Ferrera and Campbell followed in the footsteps of outstanding and accomplished Trojan women before them, the next generation of historymaking USC alumnae is already charting new paths and changing the world for the better.
– Margaret Crable for USC News