For your amusement and edification, here is a compilation of anecdotes, quotations, and a bit of poetry in honor of Women’s History Month. At the end of this post I've included links to buy the books I used.
Mehitabel Haskell, speaking at the Worcester Convention, October 15, 1851:
“...This meeting, as I understand it, was called to discuss Woman's Rights. Well, I do not pretend to know exactly what woman's rights are; but I do know that I have groaned for forty years, yea, for fifty years, under a sense of woman's wrongs. I know that even when a girl, I groaned under the idea that I could not receive as much instruction as my brothers could. I wanted to be what I felt I was capable of becoming, but opportunity was denied me. I rejoice in the progress that has been made. I rejoice that so many women are here; it denotes that they are waking up to some sense of their situation...” (Tanner, Leslie B.,ed. Voices from Women's Liberation, p.63. Signet. New York.1970)
Sojourner Truth, speaking at the Broadway Tabernacle, September 6, 1853:
“...Now, women do not ask half of a kingdom, but their rights, and they don't get them. When she comes to demand them, don't you hear how sons hiss their mothers like snakes, because they ask for their rights; and can they ask for anything less? ... But we'll have our rights; see if we don't; and you can't stop us from them; see if you can. You may hiss as much as you like, but it is coming. Women don't get half as much rights as they ought to; we want more, and we will have it...”
(Tanner, p. 73)
Reverend Olympia Brown was the first woman ordained by the Universalist Church. In 1867 Lucy Stone asked her to go to Kansas to work for suffrage there: a referendum was coming up on a constitutional amendement granting suffrage to Blacks and women. She tells us about that summer and fall:
"Kansas was just then emerging from the great struggle for freedom which culminated in the civil war. Many of her men had been killed... The crops that season had been destroyed by grass hoppers. Many of the pioneers were suffering from malaria and other diseases incident to the settlement of a new country. There were few public conveyances, either by rail or stage or livery. The outlook was not encouraging. [The party had made the speaking engagements without any knowledge of the country, and they were often fifty miles apart].... In many places there were no roads, only a trail across the prairie and sometimes not even that. Under such circumstances, to lose our way became almost a daily experience... But on we went, and the most remarkable thing about the campaign was that notwithstanding all these difficulties, the speaker did not, during the whole four months, miss one appointment.” [The amendment was rejected.] (Stratton, Joanna L. Pioneer Women:Voices from the Kansas Frontier, p. 261. Simon and Shuster, NY. 198l.)
Mississippi Winter IV, by Alice Walker:
My father and mother both
used to warn me
that "a whistling woman and a crowing
hen would surely come to
no good end." And perhaps I should
have listened to them.
But even at the time I knew
that though my end probably might
I must whistle
like a woman undaunted
until I reached it.
(Walker, Alice, Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful, p. 22. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. New York. 1984.)
At the founding meeting of The National Colored Labor Union in 1869, the needs of working women were ignored, and the women challenged the group. A delegate from Newport, Rhode Island, spoke:
"...Are we to be left out? we who have suffered all the evils of which you justly complain? Are our daughters to be denied the privilege of honestly earning a livelihood by being excluded from the milliner, dressmaker, tailor, or dry good store, in fact every calling that an intelligent, respectable industrious female may strive to obtain, and this merely because her skin is dusky? These privileges are all denied colored females of Newport. However well they may be fitted for other positions, they are compelled to accept the meanest drudgeries or starve... Therefore the colored women of Newport would ask that you remember us in your deliberations so that when you mount the chariot of equality, in industrial and mechanical pursuits, we may at least be permitted to cling to the wheels.” (Giddings, Paula. When and Where I Enter, p.69. Bantam Books. Toronto. 1984.)
Ida B.Wells, a Black journalist from Memphis, is best-known as leader of a campaign against lynching. “It was 1884, and Ida B. Wells took her seat in the "Ladies Coach" of a train bound for Memphis from Woodstock, Tennessee. But by that year, customs in the South were changing. A conductor demanded that Wells leave the first class section for the smoking car. When she refused, the conductor attempted to force her from her seat - a mistake, he quickly realized when he felt a vicelike bite on the back of his hand. He called more conductors to his aid, and to the standing cheers of the White passengers on the train, the three men dragged [her] out of the car.”
Wells sued the railroad. She won, and the railroad appealed. They offered her more money than the court had awarded her if she would just not contest the appeal. She refused. The Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the award. (Giddings, p. 22)
Here is an anonymous pioneer on the Kansas frontier, speaking about the marriage vows:
I already had ideas of my own about the husband being the head of the family. I had taken the precaution to sound him on 'obey' in the marriage pact and found he did not approve of the term. Approval or no approval, that word 'obey' would have to be left out. I had served my time of tutelage to my parents as all children are supposed to. I was a woman now and capable of being the other half of the head of the family. His word and my word would have equal strength.” (Stratton, p. 58)
“Ella May Wiggins was born in 1889 in Appalachia. At sixteen, she married a logger. A few years later, he was crippled in an accident, leaving her the sole provider for a family of nine children, four of whom died of whooping cough. She moved the family to cotton mill country and worked for ten years as a spinner. She joined the National Textile Workers Union, engaged in ferocious struggle with the company bosses and used her own songs for organizing. In 1929, at the bloodiest moment in the union struggle, she was shot and killed on her way to a union meeting at the mill in Gastonia, North Carolina.” (Bernikow, Louise, ed. The World Split Open, p. 309. Vintage Books. New York. 1974)
Revolutionary Dreams by Nikki Giovanni:
i used to dream militant
dreams of taking
over america to show
these white folks how it should be
i used to dream radical dreams
of blowing everyone away with my perceptive powers
of correct analysis
i even used to think i'd be the one
to stop the riot and negotiate the peace
then i awoke and dug
that if i dreamed natural
dreams of being a natural
woman doing what a woman
does when she's natural
i would have a revolution
(Giovanni, Nikki, Re:Creation,, p.20. Broadside Press. Detroit.1970)
Septima Poinsette Clark was born in 1898 in Charleston, South Carolina, and died in 1987. She was an unsung hero of the civil rights movement, who established citizenship schools throughout the South, recruiting hundreds of teachers who taught thousands of others to read, to register to vote, and to stand up for their rights. She said,
“I think that the work the women did during the time of civil rights is what really carried the movement along. The women carried forth the ideas. I think the civil rights movement would never have taken off if some women hadn't started to speak up.
Women need to grab the men by the collar and do more. That's the way I feel. We need women who will get these men by the collar and work with them. We still have a hard time getting them to see what it means to vote.” (Lanker, Brian. I Dream a World, p. 164. Stewart, Tabori, and Chang. New York, 1989.)
Johnnie Tillmon, born 1926 in Arkansas, is the founder of the National Welfare Rights Organization. She says:
“I got this idea of organizing women on welfare who lived in the project. We stopped a lot of harassment. There used to be a time when they would look in your dirty clothes hamper for men's clothes. They used to come to your house at midnight and they used to pump the kids, "Where's your daddy?"
If your kids look clean or your house looks clean, then you must be doing something fraudulent, because they understand that you really shouldn't be able to do what you do with the money you get. So when you trade a man for the man, you still got somebody telling you how to live your life.
There's six white women to every black one on AFDC in this country. But nobody ever talks about that. I met a group of white women from Kentucky who said, ‘You cannot leave us out of this organization. We're having the same problem with our welfare department that you have as a black woman.’ So that's why the organization was made up out of everybody.
I believe in rhetoric to a certain extent. But you can only rhetoricize so long and then you have to deal with fact. Now, I can do as much rhetoricizing as the next person. But sometimes I had to start a mess to get to the facts.” (Lanker, p.92)
This is from comments by Audre Lorde, the poet, at a conference in 1979:
“As women, we have been taught to either ignore our differences or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community, there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.
Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society's definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference - those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are black, who are older - know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures, in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” (Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider, p. 112. The Crossing Press. Freedom, CA. 1984)
Remember? by Alice Walker:
I am the girl
with the dark skin
whose shoes are thin
I am the girl
with rotted teeth
I am the dark
with the wounded eye
and the melted ear.
I am the girl
holding their babies
cooking their meals
sweeping their yards
washing their clothes
Dark and rotting
and wounded, wounded.
I would give
to the human race
I am the woman
with the blessed
I am the woman
with teeth repaired
I am the woman
with the healing eye
the ear that hears.
I am the woman: Dark,
Listening to you.
I would give
to the human race
I am the woman
offering two flowers
Justice and Hope.
Let us begin.
Buying the books:
Tanner, Stratton, Giddings, Giovanni, and Lanker are available from the Independent Online Booksellers Association. click
For Walker and Lorde try the Independent Booksellers Association website click. They will hook you up with a bookstore near you, which can order it if it's not in stock.
Powell's Books has all but Bernikow and Giovanni. click
Amazon has lots of dealers selling the Bernikow. click
NEXT WEEK: A SMALL WHITE ROOM
Who is your favorite heroine from history? I'd love to hear from you, about that or anything else. Click "comments" below.