A Tribute to Womanhood

Welcome to "I Am Woman"...a tribute to all those women who had the courage and perseverance to stand up and fight for their rights. Thanks to those who came before us we enjoy a freedom unknown to women not too long ago. But, sadly, in many parts of the world, women continue to be repressed. In fact, even in this country there are women living today under the threat of violence...completely controlled by a violent spouse. Some may make it; others won't. Hopefully, one day ALL women will be free. May that day come soon.


Elena Lucrezia Cornara Piscopia

 (first woman to earn a doctoral degree)

She was born June 5, 1646 in Venice, Italy to a noble and intellectual Venetian family.  Her own grandfather had a library of nearly 2,000 volume, so it was at an early age, that Elena began her own studies even though women, at that time, were not encouraged to go to school.  It was a privilege reserved for men only. It was her father who began her training.

At the age of seven she began the study of Latin and Greek and soon became proficient in both languages.  She also mastered Hebrew, Spanish, Arabic, and French.  Her later studies included mathematics, the sciences, and she fell in love with theosophy and philosophy. And, she didn't focus all of her energies exclusively on books.  In fact, by the time she was seventeen, she could sing, compose music, and was adept at playing the violin, harp, clavichord, and the harpsichord.

Elena was not only brilliant, she was also beautiful, and she had any number of suitors. But marriage was the farthest thing from the young scholars mind.  She turned down marriage proposals and took a vow of chastity, and when she came of age, she wanted to enter the Benedictine Order, but her father refused permission.  Instead, he sent her to the University of Padua to further her studies.  

Because she had never experienced university life (no school at the time admitted women for advanced studies), her preparation in the highest disciplines of philosophy and theology were comparable to that of any man schooled at a university.  And, by now, she had gained a reputation throughout Europe for her intellect.  In fact, foreign visitors sought her out for demonstrations of her learning. There was one occasion in 1677, while in the presence of the entire college, that she held a philosophical debate in Greek and Latin.  This demonstration prepared the way for her to receive a degree in theology, but that effort was blocked because of her sex. Eventually, she received a degree in philosophy instead.  In addition to the degree, she received the doctor's ring, the teacher's cape, and the poet's laurel crown.

So, at the age of 32, Elena had become the first woman in the world to receive a doctorate degree...and the university did not offer another degree to a woman for another seventy years. After receiving her degree, she spent the last seven years of her life focusing on learning and ministering to the poor.  She died on July 26, 1684 of tuberculosis.  She was only 38 years old.

In memory of this remarkable woman, her likeness was created on a stained glass window at Vassar College, and she is immortalized in a statue at the university from which she received her degree.  For many years, she was considered a phenomenon as the time and place in which she lived had no way of explaining her, but the amazed opinions of her many admirers go to show how far women had to come before casting off their intellectual shackles. 


Rani Lakshmi Bai

(National heroine and the epitome of female bravery in India)

She was born November 19, 1835 at Kashi...which is presently known as Varanasi; her birth name was Maharashtrian; her family called her Manu.   Her father was a Brahmin...her mother a cultured and God fearing woman who died when Manu was only four, and as a result, the responsibility of raising her fell upon her father.  And, not only did he make sure that his daughter had completed her education, she also learned horseback riding, sword fighting, and shooting targets with a gun...not your typical trainings for a woman back in those days.

It was 1842 when Manu married the Maharaja of Ghansi  in the temple of the Lord Ganesh and became the Rani of Jahnsi, and after the marriage, she was given the name Lakshmi.  In 1851 she gave birth to a son who, unfortunately died when he was only four months old.  Not much later, her husband fell ill and became very weak.  Having no heir, the couple decided to adopt a child, and, to make sure that the British had no grounds to raise an issue over the adoption, she had the adoption witnessed by the local British representatives.  Alas, this did no good.

On November 21, 1853, the Maharaja died; Lakshmi was 18 years old at the time. The British rulers refused to accept the adopted son as the heir to the throne, and the government of India agreed stating that Jhansi would be broken down.  The British confiscated the state jewels and an order was passed ordering Lakshmi to leave the Jhansi fort.  But, Lakshmi refused to give up on Jhansi and in doing so, became a symbol of patriotism and self-respect.  

Lakshmi formed a volunteer army...both men and women folk...who were all given military training to fight a battle, and during 1857, the successfully defended Jhansi from raids by neighboring rajas.  Then, in January of 1858, the British army attacked.  The conflict went on for two weeks, and Lakshmi was determined not to surrender. The shelling to the fort was fierce, and the women were carrying ammunition and food to the soldier.  Lakshmi, herself, was overseeing the defense of the city.  It was a fierce battle, but eventually, Jhansi fell to the British.

Lakshmi dressed herself as a man and had her baby strapped to her back and with the horse reins in her mouth and swords in each of her hands, she managed to escape with some of her warriors.  They made it as far as Kalpi where she joined with other rebel forces. There, she donned warriors clothes and rode into battle to save the Gwalior Fort. She fought valiantly, but, however, on the second day of the battle, on June 18, 1858, Lakshmi, the great heroine of the first struggle for Indian freedom, fell on the battlefield.  It has been said that a Brahmin found her lying unconscious on the battlefield and carried her to an ashram where she died.  She was 22 years old.  

Because of her bravery, courage, and wisdom, and her progressive views on women's empowerment in India, as well as her sacrifices, Lakshmi has become an icon for the independence movement.  When the Indian National Army created its first female unit, it was named after her. 



Nellie McClung

Nellie Letitia Moody was born in 1873 in Chattsworth, Ontario.  When she was 7, her family moved to Manitoba.  Nellie was still a young girl when she began to notice that men and women were treated differently, and she began to question traditional women's roles.  For example, Nellie wondered why it was that girls were not allowed to participate in football or to compete in track, and she was never really satisfied with the response...'skirts would fly upward and legs would show.'  All she knew was that she wanted to play, and play she did.

When Nellie first began teaching school, she was 16 years old...and during recess, Nellie, in her long skirt and starched blouse, could be found playing football with the other students.  Parents were outraged.  Then, as a young woman, Nellie became involved with the Women's Christian Temperance Union, an organization which was particularly concerned with the social and health problems cause by alcohol use.  The group also fought many other social problems that faced women and children and spearheaded the campaign to give women the right to vote.

Then, in 1896, Nellie married Robert Wesley McClung, and during the first 16 years of their marriage, she bore five children and published her first novel, "Sowing Seeds in Danny", and became an instant success.  Meanwhile, her personal commitment to women's rights became her political cause as well, and she began to speak out for women's suffrage.

In 1911, the family moved to Winnipeg, and there Nellie joined "The Canadian Women's Press Club."  She became active in speaker's bureau and traveled across Canada, the United States, and even spoke in Great Britain in support of social changes such as prohibition, property rights for wives and widows, access to education and better laws to regulate safety and working conditions.

The family moved again in 1914; this time then moved to Edmonton where Nellie again led the fight for female suffrage, achieving success in 1916 when women's suffrage became law and women in Manitoba were the first in Canada to achieve the right to vote.  When the war broke out, she threw herself into the war effort and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Red Cross and in 1921 was elected to the Alberta Legislature where she fought for mother's allowances, public health nursing, and free medical and dental care for children amongst other things. She was then defeated because of her temperance stance when she ran again in 1926. 

Through the 1930's, her writing career flourished and she published several newspaper articles, short stories, wrote another novel, and a book of her memoirs.  She was, throughout her life, an active Methodist, and she fought for women's right to be ministers in the United Church of Canada.  In 1933, they moved to Victoria.  She was the first women appointed to CBC Board of Governor (1936-1942) and in 1938, Nellie became a delegate to the League of Nations.  She was also an advocate of divorce reform.

 Nellie died at her home near Victoria, British Columbia on September 1, 1951; she was 77 years old. The efforts of Nellie and those who shared her goals and enthusiasm effected significant change in women's lives, and she has continued to live in the spirit of Canadian women's ongoing struggle to achieve equality. Her Winnepeg home at 97 Chestnut Street was designated in the Memorable Manitobans: The Homes Program.     



(A brilliant military strategist and commander who advised Xerxes I during the Persian Wars)

She was born in the late 6th century b.c.e.in Haaalicarnassus, a Greek state on the west coast of what is now Turkey; the exact date of her birth is not known.  She was the daughter of Lygdamus and a Cretan woman whose name is unknown but it is believed she came from Crete.  Artemisia was named after the Goddess Artemis, and she is the only woman that the historian, Herodotus attributes with the virtue of courage...and almost impossible quality for a women to possess in those days.

She married the King of Halicarnassus in about 500 B.c. just prior to the Ionian Revolt that helped trigger the war between Greece and Persia.  When her husband, whose name has been lost to history, died, only a few years later, and although women were not the ideal choice as ruler, Artemisia took the throne herself upon his death.  Persian cities preferred for their rulers to be men, but she was not your typical woman, and when the Persian king, Xerxes invaded Greece, one of his allies was Artemisia who joined him with five warships.  

Her major claim occurred during the naval engagement of Salamis when the Persian and Greek navies met in a decisive battle.  Now, prior to the fight, Artemisia had against a naval battle and argued that he would lose his fleet, but Xerxes chose to follow the advice of chief admirals; then, on September 20, 480 b.c.e., the Persians met the Greeks on the sea in the channel of Salamis.  Artemisia herself was aboard one of her ships, commanding their movements.  The Greeks shattered the Persian attack, and Artemisia managed to escape with the Greeks bearing down on her ship...her escape route blocked by a confused melee of ships.  

She realized now that the cause was lost and that it was time to look for her own survival, so she planned her escape.  Suddenly, Artemisia's ship picked up speed and headed straight for the other ships; if a collision was inevitable, she was going to make sure it was on her terms.   At full speed, she rammed her ship into into one of the Persian ships.  It was recorded that Xerxes, watching from the beach, thought that she had destroyed an enemy ship, praised her for her bravery, and, on the other hand, the Athenians stopped chasing her because her action had convinced them that she was one of their allies.  

In an era where the dominant culture limited the role of women to wife and mother, Artemisia not only successfully ruled a kingdom, but also led troops in battle.  And, although we know nothing of her death, the very fact that her grandson later ruled Halicarnassus, suggests that her rule was stable.  It is so sad that far too often historians have tended to generalize about the role of women in the ancient world, but the accounts of Artemisia serve to show that exceptional women could attain and hold power. 


Murasaki Shikibu

(Japanese writer of the late Helian period; she wrote the world's first psychological novel)

Murasaki Shikibu was not her real name, which remains  unknown. She was born 973 CE into a middle-level family of nobility.  Her father was a scholar and a man of literacy who took great pains to see that his daughter, as well as his son, were well learned...and she was educated in Chinese and Buddhist classics as well as in Japanese literature.  

When she was in her early twenties, she was married to an older man who was a distant relative.  Their only child, a daughter, was born in 999.  Then, in 1001, her husband died leaving Murasaki with a daughter and much grief and pain.  Shortly thereafter, she was brought into the court of the imperial family as the youngest consort to the Emperor Ichijo due to her writing talent and brilliant mind.

It was in this background as a lady-in-waiting that she began writing her diary which recounts her life at court...while providing insight into her thoughts.  For example, Mursaki wrote about how uncomfortable she was in court life.  She felt it was all far too frivolous.  She used some of what she'd recorded in her diary to write a fictional account about a prince named Gengi; it was the first known novel ever written.  In it, she looks closely at the relationships of men and women and the unfortunate circumstances in which women find themselves placed in.  

Little is known about her later life, it is possible that after the death of the emperor, she retired to a convent.  Although it is not certain as to the date of Murasaki's death, she most likely passed away shortly after she finished the novel...perhaps when she was about forty or so. The early manuscripts and scrolls have survived through the ages, and the novel has been translated into many languages. Nearly all of her diary can be read at the following site.  It is beautiful. 

The Diary of Muraska Shikabu


Female Genital Mutilation

I remember the day I first learned of this atrocity going on against females throughout the world.  I was reading a woman's magazine and came across an article by a woman who had recently come to the United States...and I remember how my skin crawled and how angry I was as I read her story.  And as I read, I thought about how really lucky I am.  I wanted to do something, to stop this needless tradition, but felt so helpless.  I am still helpless in that I, as one person cannot halt it from occurring, but I learned that I can join with others to voice my opinion.  Strength comes in numbers.

"The knife cut down the guardian of the village today.
Now he is dead and gone.
Before the village was dirty,
But now without the guardian it is clean.
So look at us, we are only women and the men have come to
beat the tam-tam.
They have phalli like the elephants.  
They have come while we are bleeding.
Now back to the village where a thick Phallus is waiting.
Now we can make love because our sex is clean."

Throughout the world, harmful traditions to women are being carried out within the family. The above lyrics are sung by young Kenyan girls after they have endured the process of female genital mutilation,  sometimes referred to as female circumcision.  It is a horrendous injustice to women that occurs everyday in this world, but it is so culturally entrenched with the citizens of many African, Middle Eastern, and other immigrant communities worldwide. 

The types of circumcision are:

  • Type 1:  involves removal of the clitoral hood with or without removal of part or all of the clitoris.
  • Type 2:  involves removal of the clitoris together with part or all of the labia minora.
  • Type 3:  removal of all or part of the external genitaliaand stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening leaving a small hole for urine and menstrual flow.
  • Type 4:  unclassified and includes all other types of operations on female genitalia including piercing, stretching, cauterizing, and incisions to the vaginal well.

The procedure is often carried out with crude tools such as scissors, scalpels, razor blades, and even shards of glass are used for mutilating the genitalia.  In addition, the mutilation most often occurs in an unsanitary room.  Anesthetics are rarely used, and the female is usually held down while screaming in pain as she is mutilated. It is a practice can lead to infection, mental trauma, sterility, complications in childbirth, hemorrhaging, and death.

Female circumcision is a very unnecessary procedure which is believed to practiced to reduce the sex drive and keep girls virgins until they marry and to prevent rape from happening to them. It is a tradition and social custom which has nothing to do with religion.  Girls who have very little education and are dependent upon their parents have little choice. If they remain uncircumcised, their families will not be allowed to arrange a marriage, and they will be cast out of the village with no means of taking care of themselves.   Furthermore, those that do resist are often cut by force.   

In many countries where the practice is widespread, laws have been passed to make FGM illegal.  In addition, widespread education on its dangers has had some effect, but so much more needs to be done. Unfortunately, there is no miracle solution but perhaps through the process of one small step at a time, this practice will one day be eliminated.  For further reading, please see the following:

FGC Education and Networking Project



Susette La Flesche (Bright Eyes)

(Native American lecturer, writer and artist from the Omaha tribe in Nebraska)
Susette La Flesche was born on the Omaha reservation in 1854, the very same year that the Omaha gave up their Nebraska hunting grounds.  She was the eldest daughter of Joseph La Flesche, the last recognized chief of the Omaha.  She attended a Presbyterian school for an English language education and then, after she expressed a desire to further her education, was sent to the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies, a private school in Elizabeth, New Jersey where she became known for her writing ability.  After completing her schooling, she returned to the Omaha reservation where she taught classes at a government school for several years.  

It was then that Susette became involved in the struggle for justice for her people by taking up the cause of the Ponca people whose lands had been taken away resulting in the loss of life.  Accompanied by her brother, Francis, and their chief, Standing Bear, Susette began touring the East Coast lecturing on the unfairness of this action.  Her presence on the stage won her many friends and helped in the outcome of the Standing Bear trial in Omaha; in fact, her fiery speeches eventually resulted in the Dawes General Allotment Act to be passed in 1887. It was after the trial that Susette became known as "Bright Eyes"

She had been joined in her crusade by Thomas H. Tibbles, a writer for the Omaha World Herald, and in 1882 they were married and settled down together on the Omaha reservation.  They did, however, continue with their lecture tours and in 1886, they traveled to England and Scotland on a ten month tour.  Here, Bright Eyes was well-received by both nobility and literary circles.  In 1890, they returned to Omaha, and Tibbles went back to work for the Omaha Herald.  

A gifted writer and artist, Bright Eyes was the first Native American to be published in the commercial press when her "An Indian Woman's Letter" was published.  Then, with Fannie Reed Griffen, she co-authored a book, "Oo-ma-ha Ta-wa-tha" in 1898 and illustrated it.  Her art work appeared in several books.  And, she continued to advocate for Indian concerns before government committees.  In 1902, she and Thomas moved to Bancroft to live a month the Omaha.  Bright Eyes died there on May 26, 1903 at her home.  She was only 49 years old.

She was eulogized in the United States Senate and is remembered as the first woman to speak out for the cause of Native Americans.  She was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame 1983. 


Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell was born on February 3, 1821 in Bristol, England.  She was the 4th child in a birth line of 9 children.  Her father owned a sugar refinery business and always encouraged the children to make their own opportunities in life.  One night, when Bess, as she liked to be called, was 11 years old, a fire destroyed her father's business, and her father moved the family to the United States in the hopes of getting a new start in life.  Unfortunately, his business did not do very well and he moved his family from New York to New Jersey and then on to Cincinnati where he died, leaving the family without any financial resources.

To support the family, Elizabeth, her mom and two sisters opened a private school to support the family, but Bess had dreams of being more than a teacher, for while she was growing up, two of her brothers and six sisters died...and she vowed that one day she would become a doctor to babies and women.  So, Bess taught and saved as much money as she could to fulfill her dream.

Finally, when she could afford tuition, Bess applied to medical school.  In fact, she applied to 22 different medical schools before she was accepted at Geneva College...and that was only by accident.  It was rumored that her acceptance had actually been a joke, and as she worked her way through her courses, she was not very well received by the others, especially by the doctors who did everything they could to thwart her progress.  The people in town thought she was an indecent woman and refused to speak to her.  At one point, she was asked by the other students to leave, but she refused.  She had made of her mind that she was going to be a doctor.

Then, on January 23, 1849, history was made when young Bess ascended the platform of the Presbyterian Church in Geneva, New York and received a diploma conferring on her the degree of Doctor of Medicine.  Thus, after many years of determined effot, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to complete a course of study in medicine and receive her M.D.  The church was packed with women and when Bess was handed her degree, they broke out in applause.

Shortly thereafter, Bess became a naturalized citizen before traveling to Europe for further study.  However, there she suffered from and infection and lost the sight in one eye. Handicapped now by partial blindness, she gave up her dream of becoming a surgeon and went to work at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London.  In 1851, Bess returned to the United States and opened opened a private practice, but, because men still handled all the family financial matters, she had very few patients.  Then, in 1857, she established the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children.  The hospital, now known as New York Downtown Hospital, remains open to this day.

In 1868, she and her sister opened the Women's Medical College of the New York Infirmary, and the following year, she returned to England where she lived the rest of her life.  There she founded the London School of Medicine for Women. She retired in 1877.  Bess died at the age of 89 in her home on May 31, 1910 leaving behind a legacy that would pave the way for countless generations of women physicians.


Molly Pitcher

 (Heroine of the Revolutionary War)

Mary Ludwig (Molly Pitcher) was born on October 13, 1754 to German immigrants who had moved to the colonies and settled on a dairy farm near Trenton, New Jersey.  Mary was always a happy child and loved her family dearly, but when she was 13, she was sent to Carlisle, Pennsylvania to become a servant in the home of a Colonel William Irvine.  Mary lived and worked for them for several years.  It was there that she met her future husband, John Casper Hays.

They were married on July 24, 1769, and the couple had several happy years together.  Then, the Revolutionary War broke out, and John enlisted in the Continental Army in 1775.  Mary and John were so devoted to each other that she packed up and followed him to the battlefield.  Of course, many other women did the same and joined their husbands to help with the cooking, washing, sewing, and other work around the camp, but Mary carried it further and did so much more.  

Mary went right onto the battlefield carrying pitchers of clear spring water to the parched soldiers; hence, the nickname Mary Pitcher.  She even hoisted the wounded on her slim back and carried them off the field.  June 28, 1778 was one of the hottest summer's ever; the temperatures were nearing over a hundred degrees in Monmouth, and while Mary was carrying the pitchers of water to the soldiers, her husband fell from heat stroke while firing his cannon.  Mary charged over to him, and after assuring herself that he was going to be all right, she seized the rammer and assisted in loading and firing it until victory was won.  

At the close of the war, Mary and John returned to Carlisle, Pennsylvania where they continued to live happily ever after until John's death in 1788.  Their only child had been born only 5 years prior.  After that, Mary married John McCauley, a man who also had been a soldier...and her husband's friend.  It was a very unhappy marriage.  He was a very irresponsible man who squandered everything.  Eventually, they were forced to sell the property left to her by her first husband.  

Bitterly poor, Mary did not receive any recognition for her war effort until 1822 when, at the age of 68, she was awarded a pension in the amount of $40 annually.  Until that time, Mary had gone back to work as a domestic.  

Mary Ludwig Hays MacCauley died in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on January 22, 1832 at the age of 87.  She was buried in the old Carlisle Cemetary with military honors...and a company of soldiers firing a salute to this brave women who risked her own life to do her part in the war effort.  Today there is a Molly Pitcher rest area along the New Jersey Turnpike named in her honor for her service to the country.



Juliette Gordon Low

(Reformer and founder of the Girl Scouts of the United States)

Juliette was born on October 31, 1860 in Savannah, Georgia.  She was the second of six children born to William and Elenore Gordon.  Daisy, as she preferred to be called, became interested in the arts while she was still a child, and when she became a teenager, she was sent to a boarding school in Virginia and then a French school in New York.  After graduating, Daisy spent time traveling throughout the United States and Europe.

In 1886, Daisy married millionaire William Low, and as the wife of a wealthy land owner, she was introduced to the highest levels of British society.  Daisy had spent years suffering from ear infections and had lost most of  her hearing in one ear because of improper treatment, but at her wedding, she lost hearing in her other ear after a grain of rice thrown by well-wishers lodged in her ear and punctured her eardrum.  In the early days of their marriage, the Low's appeared to be a happy couple, but as the years passed by, William spent more and more time away from the home.  Daisy was lonely and frustrated and returned to art to fill her days.  By the early 1900's, the marriage was coming to an end with news of William's affair with another women. In 1902, Daisy agreed to begin divorce proceedings, but William died in 1905 before they could be divorced.  

After William's death, Daisy spent several years searching for something meaningful to do in her life.  Her search ended in 1911 when she met and befriended Sir Robert Baden Powell, founder of the boy scouts, and soon, Daisy became interested in the youth movement.  Soon, she was channeling all of her energy into the movement and founded the Girl Guide troops in Scotland and England.  Eventually, she made a decision to introduce and offer the program to girls in the United States. 

On March 12, 1912, Daisy gathered 18 girls to register the first troop of American Girl Guides (soon to become the Girl Scouts of America), and from those 18 original girls, the program has grown to 3.7 million members, the largest educational organization for girls in the world. Daisy became its first president and gave freely of her own money in those early years.

In developing this movement, Daisy brought girls of all backgrounds together, giving them the opportunity to develop self-reliance and resourcefulness.  She encouraged the girls to not only prepare for traditional homemaking, but also to prepare for future roles as professional women.  Girls with disabilities were welcomed into the program with open arms at a time when they were excluded from many other activities.  

  By 1920, the Girl Scouts had become so large that a full-time administrative staff was hired to manage duties previously done by volunteers.  Daisy retired from her post but continued with many of her activities within the scouts.  And, although she was losing the last of her hearing and diagnosed with cancer, she traveled to England in 1924 to attend the World Camp of the Girl Scouts, volunteering to bring the occasion here to the United states in 1926.

She could barely hide the pain she was suffering as she hosted the week long event, and knowing she didn't have much longer to live, she made a final trip to England to say good-bye to her friends and then came home to Savannah.  Daisy died in her home on January 18, 1927.  She rests peacefully at the Laurel Grove Cemetery.  

On October 14, 2005, Juliette Gordon Low's life work was immortalized in a commemorative, bronze and granite medallion as part of a new national monument in Washington, DC.


Florence Kelley

 (Social reformer and activist who championed for government regulation to protect working women and children)

Florence Kelley was born into a Quaker and Unitarian family  on September 12, 1859 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Her family had a strong commitment to abolitionist and women's rights, and Florence very early decided the path she wanted to follow.  She had two brothers and five sisters, but all of her sisters died in childhood.  She studied at Cornell University and later at the University of Zurich...and after she graduated, she worked in the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics investigating worker abuse...and eventually provided the numerical evidence which led to the state legislation mandating eight hour work days for women and children.

"In order to be rated as good as a man in the field of her earnings, she must show herself better than he.  She must be more steady, or more trustworthy, or more skilled, or more cheap in order to have the same chance at employment."--Florence Kelley

In 1884, she married a Russian medical student, and the couple had three children.  It was a bad marriage from the start.  He was an abusive husband, and after seven years of it, Florence took refuge from him at the famed Hull House...and after divorcing him, she not only went back to using her maiden name, but went a step further and legally changed her children's names to Kelley.  

"Tenement house manufacture is rapidly spreading in Chicago and entering a large variety of industries.  Wherever the system enters, the trade becomes a sweated trade, carried on in the worst and most unwholesome premises, because it falls into the hands of the very poor.

Shops over sheds or stables, in basements, or on upper floors of tenement houses, are not fit working places for men, women, and children.  Most of the places designated in this report as basements are low-ceiled, ill-lighted, unventilated rooms, below the street level; damp and cold in winter, hot and close in summer; foul at all times by reason of adjacent vaults or defective sewer connections.  The term cellar would more accurately describe these shops.  Their dampness entails rheumatism and their darkness injures the sight of the people who work in them.  They never afford proper accomodations for the pressers, the fumes of whose gasoline stoves and charcoal heaters mingle with the mouldy smell of the walls and the stuffiness always found where a number of the very poor are crowded together."
 --Florence Kelley, Factory Inspectors of Illinois Report (1895) 

She and her children stayed at Hull House until 1899. Then, she moved to New York City where she lived at the Henry Street Settlement House...which, by the way is still standing and two blocks from where I work.  While residing there, she helped found the radical pressure group, the National Consumer's League.  The main object of the organization was to achieve a minimum wage and a limitation on the working hours of women and children. She soon became the leader of the NCL, a position she held for over 30 years.  As the leader, she travelled across the country giving lectures on the working conditions in the United States.

Florence was deeply involved in improving labor conditions for women, and 1903 marked a turning point for labor reform for women. Florence was one of the founders of the National Woman's Trade Union.  This new organization was instrumental in getting laws passed that regulated minimum wages and other issues relating to labor.

She was also a strong supporter of women's suffrage and African American civil rights and helped to establish the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People in 1909, and, a committed pacifist, she was one of the founding members of the Women's Peace Party. She was a founder of the National Child Labor Committee and her efforts contributed to the creation of the 1912 U.S Children's Bureau, the only government agency run by women. Juvenile Courts were brought about partially because of the work she did for that cause.  and in 1919 helped to establish the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.  She considered her greatest accomplishment to be the 1921 Shepherd-Towner Maternity and Infant Protection Act.

After a life of contributing to the well-being of thousands, she died in Germantown, Pennsylvania on February 17,1932. Her role in the abolishment of child labor, the passage of protective legislation for women, the establishment of the minimum wage law, and the development of maternal and child health services are some of the accomplishments of this brave woman who devoted her life to improving the lives of those of us who followed her. 


You've Come a Long Way Baby...Or Have You

Ever wonder what life was like for your Puritan female ancestors?  We all know how difficult the struggle to survive was in those early days, but what about the women?  We know that life was hard, but how were they treated?...Badly.  Women and children treated rather harshly...especially the women who were regarded as instruments of Satan.  And children were regarded as the property of their parents.  Should a child disobey their parents, any magistrate could punish them with up to ten lashes for each offense.  

Women were, of course, subordinate to men, and in some colonies, women were subjected to the same laws that existed in England. For example, married women were not allowed to possess property, sign contracts, or conduct business.  Their husbands owned everything...including the children.  Only widows who did not remarry were permitted to own property and run their own business.  Women had to dress modestly, covering their hair and arms, and women who were found guilty of immodest dress, could be stripped to the waist and whipped until their backs were bloody.  Public humiliation could include confessing one's sins in front of the entire congregation.

There was a strong imperative for women to marry...something I understand.  Survival was of the utmost importance...children were a necessary part of survival.  Sex was confined to marriage, and offenders were punished severely.  Women were considered 'morally weak'...based on Eve's role in original sin.  Thus, it was feared that women were much more susceptible to temptations and that they possessed qualities which could be exploited; thus, making the women sinful.  A woman was to love, obey, and further the interests and will of her husband.  If she was blessed with good mate, she had fulfilled her God-given duty.

Families were so much larger back then...especially among the Puritans.  They did not approve of doing anything to prevent pregnancy...and at least 90 percent of children were given Biblical names, and a child was expected to follow in the footsteps of their namesake. The Puritans were strict parents, and although they loved their children, they believed their wills had to be broken--due to the basic depravity of human nature.  This was accomplished with much strict and rigorous supervision, and, if necessary, physical constraints. 

Yes, many of us have come along way since those days, but women as subordinates still remains in some cultures and religions. Male domination continues to exist.  I see it here, in the United States...in my own neighborhood...a woman following several feet behind her husband, not beside him, because she is his subordinate and must follow.  Why? Why do they allow themselves to be treated this way....here in the 21st century.  Because for so long this has been drilled into their heads for so many years...the mothers, their mother's mothers...for so many generations...that they believe it; they believe they are not as good.  I place my hope that one day all women will be treated as equals to men...and that women one day believe they should be.


Shawnadithit, Last of the Beothuk

She was born 1801, the daughter of Doodebewshet, a member of an aboriginal tribe in Newfoundland--the Beothuk. Her people had lived in the area for more than 1800 years.  Beothuk means 'people' in the Beothuk language, and their origin is unknown.  Some believe they may be a branch of the Algonquian.  They were a semi-nomadic peoples who wintered around the shores of the beautiful lakes in Newfoundland where they hunted caribou and other game.  In spring, they paddled down river to the coast to hunt seal and salmon.  Their habit of covering themselves with red ochre gained them the name of "Red Indians".

As a young woman, she was familiar with hunger for, by then, the Europeans had come and put a stop to their hunting and fishing...wanting it for themselves. In the spring of 1823, her father died, falling through the ice while trying to escape a group of hunters.  Weakened by hunger, Shawnadithit, her mother, and her only sister surrendered to a trapper called William Cull.
The three women were taken to St. John's, and then to the Exploits where it was hoped they would be able to convince the surviving Beothuk that the British and other colonial officials were hoping to establish friendly relations, but the women were unsuccessful...and the women retunred....her mother and sister desperately ill.  They died within a few days of one another. Shawnadithit was then brought back and worked as a servant until she was taken in by an explorer, William Cormack, who began writing her story. 

Her health was precarious for many years, and she began to deteriorate. In June of 1829, Shawnadithit died of tuberculosis. She was buried two days later in the military and naval cemetery at St. John's river head.  A monument to her memory stands somewhat to the east of her burial site. 

She was 28 years old and the last known survivor of the Beothuks. With her death, the people of the ochre became officially extinct as an ethnic group, but thanks to Shawnadithit, they have not been forgotten.  It is to her that we owe much of the data written down by Cormack--their language, their customs, and the events and general condition of her tribe in the final years when their numbers had dwindled down.  And Shawnadithit, herself, was gifted with a talent for art; her drawings done with a pencil and a sketchbook are invaluable.  


Hildegard of Bingen

(Medieval mystic, prophet, and visionary)

Hildegard of Bingen was born at Bockelheim, West Franconia.  She was the 10th child of a wealthy Christian family, and when she was born, her parents made a decision to dedicate this child to God when she reached a suitable age.  So, Hildegard, a sickly child, from birth was destined to live a cloistered life rather than marry and have children.  She was provided with little education, but from an early age, she learned to sing and chant in Latin.

When Hildegard reached the age of 8, she was placed in the care of an anchoress named Jetta.  Now, an anchoress is not your average nun.  An anchoress lives alone in a cell with their food being passed to them through a small window.  Theirs is a life of solitary and spent mostly in meditation or handiwork. Jutta taught Hildegard how to read and instilled a thirst for knowledge in the girl, and she received the religious education of a recluse.  At 15, Hildegard became a Benedictine nun and went on with her studies in natural history, German folk medicine, and ancient Greek cosmologies. 

And all the while, she was experiencing inexplicable visions which, at times, terrified her.  The visions began at the age of 3 and lasted throughout her life.  Later she characterized them as a period of illness followed by visual disturbances in the form of flickering, dazzling light.  Today, we recognize these as symptoms of a migraine.  The visions exhausted and drained her of her strength, and keeping them a secret from everyone, was especially wearing on her.  But, she dared not tell anyone for fear they would think her crazy, or worst yet, think the devil was communicating to her. It is a tribute to her remarkable spirit and her intellectual powers that she was able to turn this debilitating illness into the word of God and create so much with it.  

Jutta died when Hildegard was 38, and she was unanimously elected as the new abbess.  Now, until that point, the monastery was a part of a double house, with units for men and for women, but Hildegard decided to move the convent to a place where it was on its own and not directly under the supervision of a male house.  This gave her a lot of freedom as its administrator, and she watched her convent grow to as many as 50 women. And, at age 42, she began to write about her visions and prophesies; many believed her to be a true prophetess of God.   

Now, during this time, there was no such thing as a medical practice as we know of it today, and people went to the monasteries for help with their ailments, and Hildegarde was an expert on the curative value of herbs...today known as 'holistic medicine'.  And, she was actually the only medieval woman to leave any account of her wise woman healing practices...many which are still in practice today.  For example, she promoted both a balanced diet and encouraged everyone to brush their teeth with aloe and myrrh.  She was the first to recommend bilberries for respiratory complaints and celery seed to treat gout. 

Music was very important to her, and she is probably best known today for her beautiful ethereal music. She wrote hymns and sequences of honor to saints, virgins, and Mary.  She introduced a magical harmony which over the last few decades has been undergoing a revival.   

A final famous incident occurred when she was in her eighties.  A nobleman, who had been excommunicated by the church, passed away, and she allowed him to be buried at the convent, making sure that the man had the last rites.  She claimed that God had sent word allowing the burial, but the authorities stepped in and ordered the body to be exhumed.  Hildegarde defied them by hiding the grave, and the entire convent community was excommunicated.  Eventually, she was forced to comply and the interdict was lifted.  

On September 17, 1179, she died, loved and revered, among her beloved nuns.  She was a saint to everyone whose life she had touched, but not in the eyes of Rome.  Hildegarde had been a remarkable woman, and at a time when few women wrote, she was known as "Sybil of the Rhine". She produced major works in theology and visionary writings.   And at a time, when few women were accorded with respect, she was consulted by bishops, popes, and kings. She is the first composer whose biography is known.  Her story is one of a woman who overcame social, physical, social, and gender barriers to achieve timeless transcendance.


Hannah Snell....Female Soldier

(An English woman who took a man's role so she could become a soldier; she is Britain's most famous female soldier)

Hannah Snell was born April 23, 1723 in Worcester, England into the large family of a draper and his wife.  She had an ordinary childhood and spent much of her time playing with her siblings.  They say she especially enjoyed playing soldier.Then, in 1740, her parents died, and the 17 year old Hannah moved to London.  There she met and married a Dutch sailor in 1744.  Right from the start there were problems with the marriage, and when Hannah became pregnant, her husband deserted her.  In 1746 she gave birth to a daughter, Susannah, who, sadly, died a year later.

For whatever reason at that time, perhaps as a way of dealing with grief, Hannah decided it was time to seek out her husband, and for some either stranger reason, felt she had to disguise herself as a man to do so.  She borrowed a suit as well as a name from her brother-in-law...becoming Mr. James Grey.  Why, her disguise was so good that Hannah was drafted into service as soon as she arrived in the city of Coventry.  Hannah never let on that she was a woman and marched with the army to Carlisle. However, for some unknown reason, she incurred the wrath of her sergeant and ended up deserting after he gave her 500 lashes.

Hannah fled to Portsmouth, and there she joined the Royal Marines...hoping to find her husband.
She boarded the ship Swallow on October 23rd and sailed to Lisbon and then on to India where she participated in an assault on the French colony of Pondicherry. Then in a later battle, she was wounded in the leg and in the groin.  It is unsure whether or not she treated her groin wound herself without revealing her sex, or she may have found a sympathetic nurse who agreed to keep her secret.

It was 1750 when Hannah's unit returned to London, and this is when she learned that her husband had been hanged for murder.  Now, with no reason to continue her search and weary of being disguised as a man, Hannah revealed her sex to her shipmates and was discharged from service. 

"Why gentlemen, James Grey will cast off his skin like a snake and become a new creature.  In a word, gentlemen, I am as much a woman as my mother ever was, and my real name is Hannah Snell"--From 'The Female Soldier, 1750

And within days, news of her exploits quickly spread throughout the country and were even published in print.  She even took to donning her uniform and appearing on the stage where she would present her old drill motions.  Then, in November of 1750, Hannah's military exploits were officially recognized and she was granted a lifetime pension.

Hannah lived for another 40 years, marrying twice and raising two sons.  In 1789, symptoms of insanity struck, and Hannah was admitted into Bedlam Hospital where she died in 1792.  She was buried among the soldiers at Chelsea Hospital as she always wanted. 

Hannah had been one of the most colorful characters of the 18th century, and we will never know whether she did this because she truly desired to be a soldier or for the fame that followed.  What we do know of Hannah was that she was a brave woman, a woman unafraid to to fight side by side with the men...and she was the first woman to be granted a military pension.


Anne Hutchinson

(Anne Hutchinson is a woman to be admired as a woman who fought for freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom to worship as one pleases. She was a wife, mother, religious leader, and perhaps the first American Feminist)

She was born in Lincolnshire, England,  in 1591.  In 1634, Anne, with her husband and family, immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in search of a place where they could worship freely.  Anne was a very intelligent woman who hosted Bible study classes in her home...first with very small groups of women, but soon, she was leading larger meetings which included both ministers and magistrates.  But, it wasn't long before her religious views and outspoken nature put her into a precarious position with the religious

First of all, according to the established religion, people were told they could only find God by following the teachings of the Bible and only by whose who belonged to an 'approved' church could vote.  Anne, on the other hand, preached that people could communicate directly with God--without the help of ministers or the Bible. Each person's soul was implanted with God's grace.  Add this to the fact that she was a woman--a woman presuming to teach me--something that was forbidden in the Bible.

John Winthrop, the governor of the colonies, was very leery of her views and cautioned that women could do 'irreparable damage to the brain' by pondering deep theological matters.  (Yes, you read that right). Anne was placed on trial for heresy and charged with violating the Commandment 'to honor thy father and mother; essentially what they were saying was that she was undermining the father's of the Church with her preaching.

Anne stood trial alone,  With no lawyer willing to defend her, she face a panel of 49 powerful and well-educated men who accused her of trying to undermine the government. (Remember, church and government were very tied together back then.)  In addition, they said she stepped beyond her bounds of what was allowed for women.  Anne may not have had a chance, but she sure was a fighter.  As more and more men spoke up against her, she used the Bible and the men's own words to defend herself...but, in the end, the verdict went against her, and she was banished and excommunicated from Massachusetts Bay in 1637.

She left in the spring of 1638 to settle in Rhode Island, where she and her husband helped found Portsmouth.  Then, after her husband's death in 1642, she and her younger children moved to the Dutch territory in what is now New York's Pelham Bay.  In 1643, she and all but one of her children were slain in an Indian attack. 

REal heroes are those who, despite facing adversity, refuse to betray their ideals and ethics.  Anne Hutchinson was such a woman.  Her only crime was expressing religious beliefs that were different from the colony...and that was against the law--especially for a woman.  Her courageous actions helped set the stage for an American in which religious freedom was a reality.  To honor her unrelenting advocacy for the freedom of religion, the right to free assembly, and women's rights, the Hutchinson River and the Hutchinson River Parkway  were named for this feisty woman.


Pharaoh Hatshepsut

(Hatshepsut was the first great woman in recorded history; she was the forerunner os such great figures as Cleopatra and Catherine the great)

Born in the 18th Dynasty, also referred to as the New Kingdom, Hatshepsut was the royal daughter of the Pharaoh, Tuthmosis I.  It was a time of peace and prosperity in Egypt, and although she was never trained to succeed her father as ruler--that training was reserved for male heirs--she did learn to read and write, manage the household servants, and take part in the religious rituals as a queen to Pharaoh.  Her father died at age 50, a ripe old age during that time period, and he had actually outlived all but two of his children--Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis II.  She was 12 1/2 years old when she became the Queen of Egypt and ruled along with her half-brother.  Together they ruled for 14 years.
Then, Tuthmosis II died, and Hapshepsut was to assume the duties of an official regent along with her minor stepson, Tuthmosis III.  But, she had loftier goals for herself, and she gradually took on more and more responsibilities.  Then  within three years she made a rather bold and unprecedented move; she crowned herself as a king and proclaimed herself to he, His Magesty, the Female King of Egypt. And, she was a most accomplished Pharaoh.  Immediately, she started to build a wealthy and powerful state.  This was a job she had trained herself for from her earliest days at her father's side. 
She was rather unique because she took on several male adornments...wearing male clothing, and even attaching a false beard...and this was depicted in her statues...probably due to the fact that the masses might not have accepted her in a purely feminine role.  There were few military endeavors during her reign and most of her efforts went into building projects including her massive mortuary temple  which was built by Senemut, her chief of court, and supposedly her lover.
Hatshepsut claimed that her father had proclaimed her his rightful heir instead of his son before his death.  She also claimed to be of divine descent.  These claims were written in stone one the front panels of her temple, and words written in stone to the Egyptian masses were considered truthful and magical.  Her temple was majestic and each day at dawn, the Sun rose over the Thebes and set the temple walls aglow...illuminating the hierogliphs that proclaimed her kingship.
Her other great endeavor as Pharaoh was a land/sea expedition that sailed along the coastline.  One year later the ships returned with ebony, ivory, monkeys, panthers...as well as 31 living myrrh trees which were complete with roots and soil.  These were planted in the gardens in front of her temple and the story of the expedition carved into her temple as an example of her greatness, a greatness to be remembered for all eternity.  This was the first recorded attempt to transplant foreign trees on Egyptian soil.
On January 16, 1458 BC in the 22nd year of her reign, Hatshepsut died, and to this day, her death remains a mystery...although it is presumed that she died of natural causes.  After her death, her stepson took the throne, and it is believed that his hatred for her pushed him to erase the memory, existence, and and depictions of the Pharaoh Queen.  Her remains were long considered lost, but in June, 2007, her mummy was publicly identified.  Modern Xrays suggest she was about 50 years old at her death and died from a ruptured abscess after the removal of a tooth.  But, she probably would not had lived much longer anyway for her body was riddled with cancer.
Hepshepsut's life is a story of power, wisdom, mystery, and courage. She was considered one of the greatest rulers of all time, male or female.  She wielded far more power than Cleopatra, and had the wisdom to use this power for the benefit of her country; and although we will never know for sure, it appears that she had courage against all traditions to love the commoner who captured her heart, Senenmut.  


Mother's Day Proclamation

 In 1872, Julia Ward Howe, author of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" proposed an annual Mother's Day for peace.  Committed to abolishing war, she wrote the famous Mother's Day Proclamation and for the next 30 years, American women celebrated the "Mother's Day for Peace" on June 2nd. Then, for some strange reason, the celebration day ended...until 1913 when Congress declared the second Sunday in May to be Mother's Day.  America was now more consumer-oriented, and the new advertising industry quickly taught Americans how to honor their mothers; hence, the commercialism that we see today, and since then, Mother's Day has ballooned into a million dollar industry.

Mother's Day Proclamation

Arise, then, women of this day!  Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of fear.

Say firmly, "we will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.  Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause; our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.  From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own.  It says, "Disarm!  Disarm!  The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.

Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.  As men have often foresaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now lead all that may be left of a home for a great and earnest day of counsel!  Let them meet first as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.  

Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not if Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of woman without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

Julia Ward Howe
Boston, MA


Lucretia Coffin Mott

(Lucretia Coffin Mott was, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the founders of the women's rights movement in the United States; she was the first American feminist in the early 1800's and the initiator of women's political advocacy)

She was born January 3, 1793 to Quaker parents in Nantucket, Massachusetts.  Her dad was a sea captain and was gone for much of the time; her mother ran a country store.  In 1804, the family packed up and moved to Boston where Lucretia attended school until she was sent, at age 13, to a co-educational boarding school in New York State.  It was there that she became an assistant teacher, without pay...and the experience woke her up to the world's view of women.  She noticed that as good as they may be, experienced female teachers were only paid about half of what male teachers were getting.

"If our principles are right, why should we be cowards?"  Lucretia Coffin Mott

Then, in 1811, she met and married James Mott, a liberal Quaker who supported her work.  The couple made their home in Philadelphia where she was to spend the rest of her days.  Between 1812 and 1828, Lucretia bore six children--5 of whom survived to adulthood.  Lucretia was opposed to slavery, and she and James began boycotting Southern products in the 1820's--a hardship which meant finding alternatives to such products as sugar, rice, and cotton.  And, in 1829, Lucretia was speaking at 'colored churches'.

In 1831, The couple met William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist, and she became one of the founders of the American Anti-Slave Society in 1833, and she served as president of the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society long before women even thought of joining such organizations.  Eventually, accompanied by James, she began traveling throughout the Northeast and Midwest to speak out against slavery.  In 1837, she helped form the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in New York City, and the following year, she organized the 2nd convention to meet in Philadelphia...and, as the women convened in the hall, a pro-slavery mob of thousands surrounded the building, uttering threats against the Motts.  They managed to escape by the skin of their teeth when a friend led the mob in the wrong direction.

But nothing could deter Lucretia.  In 1840, she was chosen as a delegate to the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, and it was there that she, as well as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and several other women were denied seating as delegates...because they were women.  That was her first and only trip abroad, but in 1848, she and Stanton met once again and planned the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York...and it was Lucretia herself who delivered the opening and closing speech. Then, in the 1850's, she made her home a stop on the underground railroad. 

In 1861, the Civil War pushed all other social causes into the foreground, and the reformers all focused on the battlefield.  Lucretia did not support the war, and as a pacifist, felt that non-violence was the only moral way to end slavery, and she served as president of the Pennsylvania Peace Society while she began now to work for education reform...raising money to pay for the education of the free and the newly free.  After the war, Lucretia served as the first president of the American Equal Rights Association, an organization founded by Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to secure equal rights for all Americans...and that included both blacks and women.  

Widowed in 1868, Lucretia continued to devote her life to work for justice, liberty, and equality for all.  In 1878, at age 85, she delivered her last public speech at the 30th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention in Rochester.  On November 11, 1880, Lucretia Coffin Mott died of pneumonia.  In life, she was a women whose quiet passion for justice gently steered the world toward freedom and truth.

"It is not Christianity, but priestcraft that has subject woman as we find her."--Lucretia Coffin Mott