Today, we kick off the first day of Women’s History Month 2017. Celebrated annually in the United States since 1987, Women’s History Month is dedicated to highlighting women’s achievements and contributions both throughout history as well as modern times. The celebration traces its roots back to the first International Women’s Day held on March 8, 1911, which is why it is always celebrated in March. Women’s History Month is also observed in the United Kingdom and Australia.
2017 has already seen the historic Women’s Marches, where over 4 million people marched in 600 cities, making it what scientists believe to be the “largest day of demonstrations in American history.” In this spirit, we present five portraits of female rabble rousers, protesters and resistance fighters. Happy Women’s History Month!
Susan B. Anthony
We’ll start off with one of the most famous American female rabble rousers—so famous she even had a dollar coin minted in her honor for a while—Susan B. Anthony. Born to a Quaker family in 1820, Anthony’s family was committed to establishing social equality, and she became involved in many anti-slavery causes while still in her teens. Anthony was also a pioneer in early women’s rights. In 1848, she organized the Seneca Falls Convention together with her lifelong friend and colleague Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which was the first women’s rights convention. But perhaps what Susan B. Anthony is most remembered for is her work in the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA). She founded the NWSA with Stanton in 1869, and together they fought and campaigned for a woman’s right to vote. Although the group did have some early success—Wyoming granted women the right to vote in 1869 and Utah in 1870—the fight wasn’t officially won until the United State ratified the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, which guarantees women equal voting rights in all states.
Ida B. Wells
Next up in our celebration of Women’s History Month, we’ll take a look at Ida B. Wells-Barnett, more commonly known as Ida B. Wells. Born in 1862, Wells was a famous African-American journalist, women’s rights activist and early Civil Rights Leader. Wells was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. After one of her friends was murdered, Wells began a campaign of investigative journalism documenting lynchings of African-Americans. Her investigation into these murders inspired her to launch an anti-lynching campaign. Wells spoke widely about her findings at many black women’s clubs and was able to raise $500 to pay for further investigations into lynchings as well as cover the publishing costs of her pamphlet “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law In All Its Phases,” which presented her findings. Her investigative journalism undercovered a history of violence in which African-Americans were lynched for reasons of social control, such as failure to pay debts, economically competing with whites, public drunkenness and apparently not giving way to whites. This month, we should all set aside a moment to remember Ida B. Wells who, with her wits and the power of her pen, had the courage to undercover these injustices.
Another important rabble rousing woman in history to remember this month is Sophie Scholl. Although Scholl might not be as well known to many in the United States, her place in history is an important one: resisting Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime. Born in Munich, Germany in 1921, Sophie Scholl founded the non-violent resistance group known as the White Rose (Die Weisse Rose in German) together with her brother Hans and fellow students and professors at the University of Munich. Although they knew they were risking their lives, Scholl and the members of the White Rose distributed anonymous leaflets against the Nazi regime and started an anti-Nazi graffitti campaign. The group started their activities on June 27, 1942, which were brought to a halt on February 18, 1943 when the core group was arressted by the Gestapo. Four days later, both Sophie Scholl and her brother were executed by guillotine. At her trial, 21-year- old Scholl repeatedly told the infamous Nazi judge Roland Freisler, “What we said and wrote are what many people are thinking. They just don’t say it out loud!” To this day, Scholl continues to be remembered for her bravery and work in the anti-Nazi resistance. If you don’t already know her story, take the time to read up on it this Women’s History Month.
Zenzile Miraiam Makeba, also known as Mama Africa, was a South African singer and activist. Makeba spent the first six months of her life in prison, where her mother was serving a sentence for brewing beer—in the 1930s, racist laws in South Africa prohibited black people from drinking alcohol because they were not “civilized” enough to do so. Makeba had a number of hits, which made her one of Africa’s first international superstars. But, in 1959, when returning from a concert tour in the United States, Makeba was not allowed to return to South Africa. But her imposed exile caused her to become even more vocal against apartheid. Makeba was not able to return to her home country until 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. After Makeba’s death in 2008, Mandela called her “a mother to our struggle.” Makeba is another woman to keep in mind this month who refused to allow herself to be silenced in the face of oppression.
Zin Mar Aung
Last but not least, this Women’s History Month we should honor Zin Mar Aung. Zin Mar Aung is a Burmese activist and politician who was a political prisoner for 11 years—9 of those years were spent in solitary confinement. Released in 2009, Zin Mar Aung helped spread and gain support for the idea that democracy and Asian cultures are compatible. She co-founded a women’s empowerment group and created a group which offers support to female ex-political prisoners. Currently, Zin Mar Aung is working with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), a non-profit organization which offers help and support organizing elections in places in new or emerging democracies. At IFES, Zin Mar Aung focuses on the political empowerment of women as part of the Global Women’s Leadership Fund.
For more inspiring women’s words of wisdom, check out these 17 quotes about Women’s Equality. Happy Women’s History Month!
[Featured Image by Sarah Morris/Getty Images]