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3 Inspired Women In History Who You Need To Know

Isn’t it just almost impossible to narrow it down to 3. Ah, the rich resources of the female persona that have made our world oh-so-much better.


Not that men haven’t too, of course, but women in history tend to get less, let’s say, credit.

And many of these females leaders in history, well, nobody knows their names . . .

1).      Alice Paul.  She’s not alone in the suffrage movement, of course, but she’s the one who persisted for the entirety of her life.  Not exactly a household name, no?

But I thank her, literally all the time.  She didn’t begin the women’s suffrage movement, but thank God she carried the banner ‘til the end.

Paul along with Lucy Burns and many others marched, protested, picketed, were jailed, force fed, experiencing untold brutality.  In the District jail under horrid conditions, Paul began a hunger strike.  So they moved her to the prison’s psychiatric ward, and force fed her raw eggs through a feeding tube.

“Seems almost unthinkable now, doesn’t it?” Paul told an interviewer from American Heritage when asked about the forced feeding. “It was shocking that a government of men could look with such extreme contempt on a movement that was asking nothing except such a simple little thing as the right to vote.”  

Paul formed the Nationals Women’s Party in 1916.

Finally, the 19th Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution on August 26, 1920.

Paul later received her law degree, then an LL.M, and in 1928, a Doctorate in Civil Laws from American University.

But she was not done.  She played a major role in protecting women’s rights in the 1964 Civil Rights Movement.

Not one mention of her was made all through my public schooling, or even into graduate school.

The film, Iron Jawed Angels, does a marvelous job telling her story.

If you are female, and voting—which is the only thing that protects your rights as a free person—tip your hat to Alice Paul.

And more importantly, remember her . . .

  1.      Zora Neal Hurston.

Zora Neale Hurston

Another household name.  LOL.

I’ll never forget when I stumbled upon the writings of this incredibly talented woman.  And stumble, I literally did.

Alice Walker is just such a marvelous novelist.  You know her, right?  The Color Purple, et al?  Even non-readers know of her, having read her or not.

But one day long, long ago I was reading some of Walker’s nonfiction, and she mentioned Hurston as a role model.  So of course, I looked her up. This was before the Internet!  Back when you had to actually go to the library or bookstore.

I had to have the local bookstore order her novel, which was most likely only in print on account of Walker talked about her.

Their Eyes were Watching God changed my life.  In one of those visceral, sudden whirlwind ways where you know you’ll never quite be the same.

Out of print for nearly 30 years (many say due to the fact that readers rejected its strong black female protagonist), it was reissued in the 1978.

The book itself is beautifully done.  But it’s Hurston’s life that always snaps me up straight.  A young, black, female feminist writer in the 1930s.  Now, wrap your head around that . . .

Her courage bolsters me when I think I have it tough.  She causes me to go straight back to the writing table and carry on.

  1.     Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf

Now this one you know.

The complexities of her characters take my breath away.

But I didn’t find her until grad school.  I know, lived a sheltered life.  Lol.  But what I found in her works changed my life for good.

Especially To the Lighthouse.  The themes delve deeply into family life, and are of course too myriad and complicated to dissect here, but the one that turned my head around to see something different was what I was dealing with at the time.

And what young women still must grapple with today.

How do you find liberation from clearly defined roles?  Especially if the ones presented to you aren’t the ones you want?

I came of age during the women’s movement of the ‘70s, and knew traditional female roles were not the ones I sought.  And even though the world was opening up, choices were to be made, and some of them involved the either/or question.

Still today we talk of women “having it all,” which translates to job, career, marriage, and children.  We don’t talk in those terms for men.

Still today.

Imagine that conversation in 1927, when the book was first published.

What this novel did for me, in essence, was to tell me I wasn’t alone.  That it was all right to choose differently from my family model.  That the choices came with consequences of their own, and those I would surely have to face.  But that the choice was, indeed mine.

Which opened my world.

Many inspirational women in history changed me, our world, the way we see things.  These are just 3 that stick with me, pretty much all the time.  They opened our world to a deeper understanding.

As Virginia Woolf says in To the Lighthouse, “For nothing was simply one thing.”

What women in history shaped you?


This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Krystal Bernier

    These woman have so much courage, how inspirational. With the new movie about suffragettes coming out (I can’t remember the name), their work has been on my mind lately. My life would be completely different if it wasn’t for pioneers like the women you mention here. We take our freedom for granted these days, it’s hard to believe that we’ve only had the right to vote for less than 100 years, this is a little spot in human time so far.

    1. Susan Malone

      Isn’t it amazing how quickly we take this “right” for granted, Krystal! All of our lives would be so completely different had they not blazed such trails before us. And you’re so right–less than 100 years is just a speck. I shudder to think of what my life would be like without them.

  2. Jacqui Odell

    Actually I would say Hellen Keller. I believe she has over comed so much!!

    1. Susan Malone

      Absolutely on Helen Keller, Jacqui! What an amazing human being!

  3. Donna Verret

    Amelia Earhart — for her bravery and sense of adventure. Margaret Sanger — for her undying push for birth control and women’s rights. And strangely, though not truly a historically significant women, Janis Joplin. I knew that if she could get out of Port Arthur, I could get out of Port Arthur and into a bigger universe. And out I went! 🙂

    1. Susan Malone

      I love that, Donna! Inspiring women, all. But I especially love the part about Janis Joplin–you have absolutely gotten into that bigger universe!

  4. Jamie

    It was interesting to read about these 3 women. I will be looking into their lives more!

  5. GiGi Eats

    I need to turn the TV & Computer off and… Open a book! 😉

    1. Susan Malone

      If I could entice you to do so, Gigi, my life would be complete! There are just so many wonderful authors with fabulous books out there, begging to be read . . .

  6. Roslyn Tanner Evans

    I’m having a Sr. moment & cannot think of a single name but pictures & loose letters are swirling. Just yesterday had a conversation with a very dear group of writer friends about the difficulties our in-law families have if we are not as conventional as they. And we are not so far out, just more interesting and live life open to the world, culture, learning. Thankfully, the 3 women you brought to our attention had the courage, intelligence, commitment to be unconventional. Thanks for this post and introducing me to 2 new outstanding women.

    1. Susan Malone

      Isn’t it amazing, Roslyn, the changes in just our generation. My own family had difficulties with my unconventional choices, as did my in-laws. But I like to think by choosing our own lives, we open up the world a bit for everyone around us. I’m sure that’s been true of those around you!

  7. Julie Syl Kalungi

    Virginia Woolf has inspired me for years, I Honestly hadnt heard of Paul and I have only seen the book Colour Purple…es I ma a lil ignorant. But you have given me something to look forward to over the holidays…how much time I will have is the question coz I have planned such fun things to do lol. Thanks for sharing Mary!

    1. Susan Malone

      Wasn’t Virginia Woolf just amazing, Julie! And oh, you must read Zora and Alice Walker–two of my all-time heroes 🙂

  8. Beth Niebuhr

    Helen Keller of course. When I was learning to fly Amelia Earhart until I learned that she wasn’t a really great pilot. Darn! Still she encouraged a lot of women. I love stories like you told us, especially the less well-known ones.

    1. Susan Malone

      I never knew that about Amelia Earhart! But she had to be pretty good, no? I figure planes weren’t very easy to fly then (not that they are now!).

  9. Sheila Bliss

    Oh Susan! How you reminded me I need to go back and re-read some classic literature. And pick up classics that would be new to me such as Their Eyes Were Watching God. Oh, how I can’t wait to read that. The title always rumbled through some of my women’s history classes in college, but I always put it off. Not anymore! Thank you for the solid reminder! Happy Holidays!

    1. Susan Malone

      Oh, Sheila, you will be blown away by Their Eyes were Watching God. It’s truly wonderful, and will stick with you forever!
      And a very Happy Holidays to you as well!

  10. Sharon M Hart

    Thank you for sharing. It’s been years since I last read Hurston and Woolf. Their books are definitely worth a re-read. I would also include the works of Edith Wharton and Dorothy L. Sayers.

    “Complicated rules to adjust behavior are a weak substitute for simple principles.” ~ Mary Wollstonecraft A Vindication of the Rights of Women

    1. Susan Malone

      I love Wharton and Sayers too, Sharon! Thanks for the addition!

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