In celebration of International Women’s Day, where the theme is Be Bold for Change, I thought I would write about women whose life stories have had an impact on me. There is a common theme that inspires me. These women had a clear vision, took risks, pushed through barriers to achieve their vision, stood their ground even if it meant their life, and had the courage and fortitude to do what they believed to be right. This is not an exhaustive list, but these are some of my personal heroes.
Joan of Arc – “I am not afraid… I was born to do this.”
Joan of Arc led the resistance to the English invasion of France in the Hundred Years War. Believing it was her divine mission to free her country from the English, she dressed like a man, cut her hair, leading the French troops to victory in the battle of Orleans in 1429. At 19, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for the crime of continuing to dress in men’s clothing while imprisoned. Years later she would be exonerated of those crimes. She was later canonized by the Pope in 1920. This was a woman who believed in her path so fully that she was willing to risk and face death and refused to comprise her beliefs even when it would have saved her life. That’s definitely a bold for change attitude!
Queen Elizabeth I – “Though the sex to which I belong is considered weak you will nevertheless find me a rock that bends to no wind.”
Known as the “Virgin Queen”, Queen Elizabeth I was one of the most educated of her time and embodied a strong determination to follow her own path. Her life was not an easy one beginning with being declared illegitimate by her father Henry VIII after the beheading of his wife, and Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn and the subsequent annulment of his marriage to Anne. Henry VIII did later reinstate both his daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, into the line of royal succession. Throughout her life there was one political machination after another putting her life in jeopardy many times. At age 15, she was implicated in a plot orchestrated by Thomas Seymour to kill his brother Edward, who at the time was the Protector of England. While held captive, at this young age, Elizabeth had to convince her interrogators that she knew nothing of Thomas Seymour’s plan. I admire Queen Elizabeth I, because she was bold for change and lived in a time when being a woman wasn’t easy.
Alice Paul – An American suffragist, Alice Paul cofounded the Congressional Union and then formed the National Woman’s party in 1916. She led numerous demonstrations and was subjected to imprisonment as she sought a voting amendment. She and other women participated in a hunger strike, which then led to prison authorities violently force feeding these protesters for the right to vote. Ultimately, the actions of Alice Paul and others led to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Yes, women have only had the right to vote for the past 97 years!
Eleanor Roosevelt – “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”
First lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt our 32nd United States President of America. Determined to be a voice for change, she worked for political, racial and social justice and later became a delegate to the United Nations. Eleanor was an outspoken advocate for the rights of African Americans, which didn’t make her stance popular with many in the white community. Rather than buckle to pressure or public criticism, Eleanor had the courage and the tenacity to do what was right.
Rosa Parks – “As far back as I can remember, I knew there was something wrong with our way of life when people could be mistreated because of the color of their skin.”
As a young girl growing up in North Carolina, I remember the practice of expecting black children on the school bus to give up their seats for the white kids. Not raised to think that one person was better than another because of the color of their skin, I didn’t understand why this happened. I’m no Rosa Parks, but I do remember a day when the bus I road to school was crowded. As I boarded the bus, I saw a young black girl a few seats back stand up to give me the seat. I refused. Years later I would learn about Rosa Parks and her infamous stand in Montgomery, Alabama when she refused to give up her seat to a white man. Her action and courage sparked the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
Frida Kahlo – “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”
I am a passionate art lover, and Frida Kahlo’s work is some of the most amazing of its time. Her early life was anything but easy, as she survived childhood polio and later a bus accident at age 18 that led to multiple operations. Her dreams of becoming a doctor changed as a result of that bus accident, and her body would be racked with pain for the rest of her life. As she healed after the accident and subsequent operations, Frida began to paint as a personal form of escape. She rejected the artistic label of surrealist insisting that what she painted was more a reflection of her reality than her dreams. Married to Diego Rivera, they had a complicated and tumultuous relationship. Friday Kahlo is a woman who stood her ground and followed her own vision.
Harriet Tubman – “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Born a slave, Harriet Tubman knew the indignities and lack of freedom that life as a slave meant. She would later say that it was a dreadful condition that no one would ever wish to go back too once they escaped the bondage of slavery. Harriet would go on to become a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. Designed as a system to help runaway slaves escape to free states in the north, Harriet Tubman was responsible for helping more than 300 slaves to freedom. Despite a bounty on her head, she put her life on the line time and time again, as she returned to the south to help others get to freedom.