“Makers: Women Who Make America” is a groundbreaking documentary that tells the story of women’s advancement in America over the past 50 years. It is built on an extraordinary archive of interviews with women who challenged the status quo in fields from coal-mining to medicine. Watch “Makers: Women Who Make America” online.

THIRTEEN asked New York City “Makers” what woman has inspired them. Visit www.thirteen.org/makers for more programs on women who have made an impact.


Virginia Johnson

Artistic Director and Founding Principal Dancer, Dance Theatre of Harlem
Inspired by Therrell Smith

Therrell Smith is a maker—still. The daughter of an African-American physician, when Therrell couldn’t find anyone to teach her ballet in segregated Washington, DC, she took herself off to Paris to study with the legendary Russian ballerina Matilde Kchessinskaya. She came back home and opened her own school in 1948. My mother, wanting to support her good friend, sent her two daughters to study with Therell. I was one of them. It is because of Therrell Smith that I fell in love with ballet—not just the lovely movement and orderliness of it, but the fact that it only works when you give of yourself. At 95, Therrell is still teaching today. She goes into the D.C. public schools and works with young people in the midst of typically chaotic 21st century lives, giving them the solid grounding that comes from studying a classical art form.

In an interview with Virginia Johnson and company members, learn more about Dance Theatre Harlem’s comeback with its inaugural New York season, April 10-14, 2013, on NYC-ARTS.

Virginia Johnson photo by Rachel Neville.

More stories on the women who inspire artists, leaders, advocates, journalists and others
  • Maria Hinojosa
  • NYCB principal dancer Wendy Whelan CREDIT: David Michalek
  • christine_quinn_150x150
  • mariane_pearl_150x150
  • pam_mackinnon_150x150
  • Ray Suarez wtih Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon
  • ann_ temkin_150x150
  • brewer_150x150
  • sarah_schulman_150x150
  • Dr. Joyce Brown
  • AppleMark
  • janet_mock_150x150
  • elizabeth_streb_150x150
  • yelky_perez_150x150
  • judith_shea_150x150
  • valerie_steele_150x150
  • virginia_johnson_photo_by_rachel_neville
  • yajaira_gonzalez_150x150
  • richard_buery_150x150
  • Linda Villarosa, author and journalist
  • Rafael Pi Roman
  • Anne Pasternak of Creative Time. Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders