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 . . .
- Zora Neal 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.
- 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.
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?