Long Beach Women Who Made History

As a destination, Long Beach is known for its 5.5 mile-long beach, the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Museum of Latin American Art, and so much more. Long Beach is also a city with a diverse and storied history, and boasts many accomplished residents. In recognition of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, here are some of the women of Long Beach who have made "herstory."

Billie Jean King

Once the top woman tennis player in the world, Billie Jean King is one of the most famous people from Long Beach, and certainly the one with the most accolades. With her name on the city’s main branch library, the Presidential Media of Freedom winner boasts 39 Grand Slam titles! And, as an advocate for gender equality, she nobly defeated Bobby Riggs in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match, which has since been turned into a major motion picture. She’s also the founder of the Women’s Tennis Association and Women’s Sports Foundation.

Photo Credit: Long Beach Public Library

Barbara London

Barbara Erickson London, born in 1920, was a commanding officer for Long Beach’s 6th Ferrying Group at Daugherty Field. With the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), she picked up and delivered military aircraft from factories and airbases, once flying 8,000 miles in one 10-day period. She was the only woman awarded an Air Medal in WWII for her heroism. There is a roadway at Long Beach Airport named in her honor.

Photo Credit: Long Beach Airport

Doris Topsy-Elvord

A trailblazer who dedicated her life to public service, Doris Topsy-Elvord—known locally as “Mother Doris”—became Long Beach’s first Black councilwoman when she was elected in 1990. She was twice elected vice mayor by her peers on the council. She also made history as the first Black member of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners. At age 90, not long after Doris Topsy-Elvord Community Center was dedicated in 2021 at Houghton Park, she passed away, and a celebration of life was held in her memory.

Cameron Diaz

Hollywood A-lister Cameron Diaz was raised in Long Beach, attending Poly High School as a classmate of another famous local, Snoop Dogg. The actress and model, who has since turned author, entrepreneur and producer, has won a BAFTA Award and three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Some of her most well known films include “The Mask,” “There’s Something About Mary,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Holiday” and “Shrek.”

Photo Credit: David Shankbone

Laura Yeager

Major General Laura L. Yeager started out her decorated military career at Cal State Long Beach, where she joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps. A former military helicopter pilot for an aeromedical evacuation unit, she is now an officer in the Army National Guard, and in 2019 became the first woman to command a United States Army infantry division.

Misty May-Treanor

Maybe it’s all that sunshine, but Long Beach sure does generate some amazing Olympians. Retired beach volleyball player Misty May-Treanor is among the best of the best with three Olympic gold medals. And, with teammate Kerri Walsh Jennings, she also won three FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships. She also played for the Long Beach State 49ers, captaining the team in a historic undefeated season. May-Treanor is now the director of volleyball operations at her alma mater, Long Beach City College.

Jenni Rivera

Music icon Dolores Janney “Jenni” Rivera Saavedra, born in Long Beach in 1969, has an official day of the year named in her honor in Los Angeles. The chart-topping talent was also known for her dedication to local charities before her tragic death in a plane crash in 2012. Specializing in the styles of Banda, Mariachi and Norteno, she won the Los Nuestro Award nine consecutive times for Regional Mexican Female Artist of the Year. Her 10th studio album, “Jenni,” was her first No. 1 record on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart in the United States.

Photo Credit: Al Vazquez

Dorothy Still Danner

WWII Navy nurse Dorothy Still Danner, born in 1914 and raised in Long Beach, was a prisoner of war held by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945. Trained as a nurse at the Los Angeles County General Hospital, she worked at two hospitals before she joined the Navy and was captured in Manila—one among a group of Navy nurses who later became known as the “Twelve Anchors.” She cared for other POWs imprisoned with her and earned a Gold Star, Bronze Star and POW Medal, among other decorations.

Eunice Sato

Long Beach has had two great women mayors in its history. Educator Eunice Noda Sato, born in 1921, was the first Asian-American female mayor of any major American city and Long Beach’s first woman leader from 1980 to 1982. Before her death in 2021 at the age of 99, a local middle school was dedicated in her name. She also served as president of the California Conference for Equality and Justice and three state commissions as well as the National Advisory Council on Educational Research.

Photo Credit: Long Beach Public Library

Beverly O'Neill

The second woman mayor of Long Beach was Beverly O’Neill, who served for an unprecedented three terms from 1994 to 2006, and acted as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. An educator and former president of Long Beach City College, she graduated from Poly High School, LBCC and Cal State Long Beach, making her passionate about local schools. She also has her name on a theater downtown.