Emma Goldman is one of my favorite feminists of all time. Her indomitable crusade for justice has inspired me from the first moment I came across her story.
In 1885, Emma emigrated to the US from Russia at the age of 16. Disillusioned by the injustices she witnessed in turn-of-the-century New York City, she was drawn to the radical anarchist movement. Her impassioned speeches and writing quickly solidified her as a leader in the movement. She advocated for labor reform, sexual freedom, freedom of speech, and much more.
Her activism led to her imprisonment and later deportation. If you don’t know much about this woman, I suggest learning more. Her authobiography, Living My Life is a must-read.
Sojourner Truth, is another endlessly inspirational figure in U.S. history. Enduring slavery for 30 years, Truth escaped with her infant daughter and later rescued her son. She dedicated her life to the abolition of slavery and agitated for women’s rights within the abolitionist community. Most notably, Truth delivered her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman” at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention where she masterfully illustrated intersectional oppression, and the necessary union of the abolitionists and women’s rights movements. Although many suspect the phrase “Aint I a Woman” was never included in the original speech, Truth’s words have left an indelible mark on anyone who’s read it. Take a quick moment to honor Sojourner by reading “Aint I a Woman” today.
Inspired by Jeffrey’s contemporary history-in-the-making pick, I’m going with first and current female UFC champion, Ronda Rousey as my final pick!
In 2008 before her career in MMA even began, Rousey became the first woman from the US to earn an Olympic medal in Judo. Parlaying her success in Judo into the burgeoning women’s MMA scene, Rousey quickly rose through the ranks after finishing every opponent by armbar submission. Four years after medaling in the Olympics, Rousey became the first woman in history to be signed to the UFC - something naysayers, including the UFC’s president said would never happen. With 3 UFC title fights under her belt, Rousey has yet to be defeated.
As a trailblazer for female athletes, Ronda Rousey is a name to remember.
(6 July 1907 - 13 July 1954)
Frida Kahlo (aka Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón), the Mexican painter, is perhaps one of the most recognizable faces in contemporary history precisely because she intended to make it so. Although she would not gain fame until years after her death, Kahlo’s favorite subject connected with a global audience. She painted self-portraits; her subject was almost exclusively herself. (Have to mention some still lifes, too.) Through her art, and later her writings (diaries or letters made public after her passing...), we learned, and have the privilege of continuing to learn, about Frida--her life, her loves, her political leanings, and, obviously, her suffering. And with more than a hundred self-portraits we can keep on learning.
(12 November 1651 - 17 April 1695)
Sor, digo “Sister,” Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana (later de la Cruz) may be familiar to those of you who’ve held a $200 peso (MX) billete. She’s the iconic 17th century nun known throughout Mexico (and many a Latin American studies class) for her literary works--some of which she authored in her teens. Sor Juana was a self-taught scholar with a voracious academic appetite who “took up the cloth” so that she could continue her studies at a time when respectable women simply didn’t study in the first place. She continued to write, much to the dismay of the Church, and was an early proponent of women's rights. Check out “Respuesta Sor Filotea de la Cruz.” (Here it is in English.) She died in Mexico in 1695.
¡Qué viva Sor Juana!
At just 26, Robyn Rihanna Fenty has sold more than thirty million (that’s right, t-h-i-r-t-y) records worldwide; that single feat alone will secure her place in history (or herstory). She has thirteen number one singles (tying with Michael Jackson for third most number ones in the history of the Billboard Chart), has 7 albums, headlined several world tours (check out the “Diamonds” tour), appeared on the cover of hundreds of magazines, has a successful fragrance line (see Reb’l Fleur), a fashion range (see her collaboration with River Island), and a television show with iterations for viewers on both sides of the Atlantic (see “Styled to Rock”). When she gets a haircut, a dye job, or a new weave, the world takes notice. It makes sense then that her fans call themselves a “navy”... She’s certainly a new superpower.
Never one to shy away from controversy, Rihanna (like countless other women, unfortunately) publicly rekindled with an abusive ex, openly uses marijuana, and flatly denies being a role model, to girls or anyone, despite her massive global presence. We, at Feminist Friends, are not in the business of blaming her for her decisions so don’t look for that here. We are excited to see where she’s headed--and we know it will be loud.
Ann Lohman (aka Madame Restell)
In mid-19th century New York City, Madame Restell was the most famous midwife and abortionist or “the wickedest woman in New York,” depending on whom you asked. Originally a poor English immigrant, Madame Restell performed abortions, delivered babies and ran a thriving trade in contraceptives and abortifacients from the late 1830s to the late 1870s - a period when many ignored the law that made abortion illegal in New York. Restell and her husband, who was also her business partner, advertised their services in respectable newspapers in Boston and New York and became rich. They eventually built a mansion on Fifth Ave and 52nd Street, practically next door to the newly built St. Patrick’s Cathedral - a pretty badass move, if you ask me!
Restell was routinely attacked in the press, indicted six times and was the source of serious allegations including the charge that she was selling babies. By 1878, she was the target of Anthony Comstock, who showed up at her door armed with police and reporters and charged her with selling abortive and contraceptive devices. Madame Restell didn’t wait to hear the verdict against her. On April 1, 1878, she slit her throat in the bathtub and died in her Fifth Avenue mansion. (Madame Restell’s life is the inspiration behind Kate Manning’s awesome new novel, My Notorious Life.)
A scientist, conservationist and writer, Rachel Carson is perhaps best known for her work Silent Spring, published in 1962. After spending 15 years in federal service as a scientist and editor for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Carson turned to her attention to putting her government research into writing as a naturalist and scientist for the public. Carson was disturbed by the increasing use of unregulated, chemical pesticide use after World War II, and wrote Silent Spring to challenge agricultural scientists, the government and the public to create new policies that protect human health and the environment. Her work ignited the modern environmental movement.
Carson died in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1964 after a long battle with breast cancer. Her legacy is felt today from the contemporary struggle to protect farmworkers and their children from the effects of pesticide use, to the movement to label foods that contain genetically modified crops.
If you’ve been paying attention to Maryland politics, then you know that state Delegate Heather Mizeur is poised to make history as she runs to become the first woman/LGBT governor of The Free State! Mizeur is a progressive Democrat from Montgomery County, just outside of Washington, D.C., and she brings a new style of campaigning that is more about community-building and empowerment than politics as usual.
Once considered a long-shot by political insiders, Mizeur is on the heels of her competitors and gaining significant ground. She’s trailblazing a path of her own to the Governor’s mansion by publicly supporting the legalization and regulation of marijuana to fund universal pre-K programs; accepting public financing for her gubernatorial bid; eliminating mandatory minimum drug sentencing; and advocating for a living wage of $16.70 an hour, indexed to inflation by 2022. Oh, and did I mention that she wants to end the backlog of rape kit testing in the state?
Mizeur already has the endorsements of major women’s groups, including EMILY’S List, Feminist Majority, Maryland NOW and Women’s Campaign Fund. This dynamic, progressive and feminist candidate is certainly the one to watch in the race for Maryland governor!