Updated: Aug 7
In lieu of this weekend’s celebrations, we’ve rounded up 5 women who fought long battles, endured strife, and disregarded any status quo to create a better world for those around them.
No matter the decade they grew up in or the region of the world they came from, the masses preached to these women that their purpose was to take care of their families. The media spoke of domestication and ideal femininity. But they were never sold on any of it.
Credit a longing for independence or a bold spirit, each discovered what they were capable of and used their talents to make a positive impact. Some wrote words that inspired a new way of thinking. Others taught their peers that they could too, rise to the occasion. Justice and equal opportunity weren’t merely something they hoped for but devoted their lives to instead.
While all have worked to create a better future, we have to give extra recognition to those that disregarded the voices telling them who they ought to be.
These are the kind of women who light up a sky.
Susan B. Anthony
(1820 - 1906)
“It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed this Union.”
Susan is widely known through history books as the leader (alongside Elizabeth Stanton) in charge of the Woman’s Suffrage Movement. The National American Woman Suffrage Association fought for over a decade to give women the legal right to vote. In 1868, Anthony and Stanton began producing The Revolution, a weekly publication that lobbied for women's rights. The newspaper's motto was "Men their rights, and nothing more; women their rights, and nothing less." In 1872, Anthony managed to illegally vote thus was later arrested. She was found guilty resulting in a widely publicized trial, only giving the movement more momentum. A woman who understood publicity.
Madam CJ. Walker
“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations.”
Before John Paul Dejoria met Paul Mitchell, Madam CJ Walker built a million-dollar hair product line by promoting and giving lecture-demonstrations throughout the country. Starting a hair business would be her first step to inspire others to support deserving causes benefiting her race. It was in the 1890s that Ms. Walker developed a scalp disorder and decided to experiment with at-home remedies as well as store-bought treatments. It wasn’t long before the Walker Manufacturing company was built and used as a place to train sales professionals. Their mission was to spread the brand's message of ‘cleanliness and loveliness.’ A relentless innovator, Walker organized clubs for her representatives that recognized not only successful sales but philanthropic and educational efforts among African Americans. This model, which made her the first female entrepreneur millionaire, is widely used today in beauty product lines from skincare to haircare. It was Madam CJ Walker who said, “I am not satisfied making money for myself, I endeavor to provide for hundreds of the women of my race.”
Simone de Beauvoir
“Capabilities are clearly manifested only when they have been realized.”
-The Second Sex
De Beauvoir was a french writer who published countless works of fiction and nonfiction during her lengthy career. Often centered with existentialist themes, 1949’s The Second Sex, is considered a pioneering work of the modern feminism movement. In her first publication, She Came to Stay, she writes about the love triangle between her spouse John-Paul Sartre, a student, and herself. In this novel, she examines the complexity of relationships and a person's conscience as related to “the other.” Following, she published several other essays and novels all revolving around an investigation of one’s existence. Upon retirement, she used her literacy fame to help claim Algeria and Hungary’s independence during the 1950s. Into the 1970’s De Beauvoir devoted her time to sharing her knowledge through nationwide lectures, standing up for women’s equality and abortion rights.
“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.”
Activist and labor leader Dolores Huerta spent her career working to improve social and economic conditions for farmworkers as well as injustices she endured through discrimination. She created the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA) in 1960 and co-founded what would become the United Farm Workers (UFW). At a young age, Dolores had excelled in school despite suffering racism from fellow students and teachers who thought of her as less capable. It was this hardship that taught her resiliency. After 5 years of working to create change with the UFW, a historic agreement was made to remove harmful pesticides and allow healthcare benefits to farmworkers. She is credited with coining the phrase "sí se puede," or "yes we can," as a means of spurring union members onward through tough times. After Dolores had been elected the Eleanor Roosevelt Award along with the Puffin Prize for Creative Citizenship, she used these funds to create the Dolores Huerta Foundation, bringing organization and training skills to low-income households.
“We all have yavashaki, or stealthy, moments, but we become powerful as women the moment we stop living a lie.”
Since founding her Facebook page My Stealthy Freedom, which invites women to post pictures of themselves without a Hijab, it has gained hundreds and thousands of likes and has caught international attention. Her memoir, The Wind in My Hair, tells the story of her journey from a tiny village in northern Iran to becoming a journalist and creating an online movement that sparked the nationwide protests against compulsory hijab. The New York Times said the book paints a vivid portrait of modern Iran and is told with blunt honesty that perfectly paints the character of Alinejad's life and writing. It is a gripping tale that permits us to peek at the inner workings of the Iranian Revolution and consider the question of its health and longevity.
I had the honor of meeting Masih in Chicago in 2019. Her speech was powerful and inspiring. An audience of about 3000 were on their feet as she shouted out the names of Iranian women who have been jailed because of rejecting compulsory hijab. While I and many others in the audience were balling, we heard her shout: “Don’t be afraid. Be the voice of these oppressed women. Say their names. They are our children. Be their voice. Be their advocates.”
A quick note about the video; I was so moved that I didn’t know that my camera was switched on me and not Masih. Nonetheless, I hope you feel the power of Masih’s message through this clip.
“Oh, if I could but live another century and see the fruition of all the work for women! There is so much yet to be done.”
- Susan B. Anthony