Jane Austen

“But for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.” —Jane Austen

Jane Austen  (1775 –  1817) was an English novelist, who’s work depicted middle class British life at the beginning of the 19th century. Her strong-willed and independent female characters have to navigate a world in which they are expected to marry in order to have a place in respectable society. Though her novels were not very popular when Jane was alive, they have become timeless classics, rarely out of print for the last 200 years. And though she only published six books, she is considered one of the most influential novelists of all time.

Florence Nightengale

 

“Nursing is an art: and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work.
—Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale  (1820 –  1910) was an English nurse and social reformer who greatly affected 19th-and 20th -century policies around proper nursing care.  During the Crimean War, she was put in charge of nursing allied and British soldiers in Turkey. As she walked around the wards at night, tending to the wounded, she became known as the “Lady with the Lamp.” Her efforts to formalize nursing education led her to establish the first scientifically based nursing school in 1860. She also helped set up training for midwives and nurses in workhouse infirmaries. Florence Nightengale is revered as the founder of modern nursing.

Sojourner Truth

 

“Truth is powerful and it prevails.”—Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth (1787-1883) was sold as a slave at 9 years old. She eventually became a freed woman, but when her own young son was sold into slavery by her third owner, she took the matter to court and, against many odds as a black woman at the time, won her son back. Her courageous example  became a  triumph of hope against injustice. Impassioned by her Christian  belief that every man and woman had the divine right of freedom, she joined forces with other abolitionists, and became a traveling preacher. She also became an outspoken advocate for women’s rights. During the Civil War, Sojourner recruited black soldiers to fight for their own freedom. Mostly she was known as a fierce orator, traveling the country describing how it was to be treated as a slave and gaining empathy and momentum for the abolitionist cause.

This is her most famous speech, delivered at the Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio in 1851:

*Ain’t I A Woman?

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have plowed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.

PS* It’s likely Sojourner did not use the word “ain’t” because she was from New York state and her first language was Dutch (she was born into slavery in a Dutch household) but “Ain’t I Woman?” just sounds so good, doesn’t it? 🙂

Naziq al-Abed

Naziq al-Abed—”Joan of Arc of the Arabs”

Naziq al-Abid (1898-1959) an early Syrian feminist and revolutionary, was known as the “Joan of Arc of the Arabs.” Born into a wealthy family, she traded in her privilege to live a life fighting for the rights of women and the independence of her country. When she was just 20 years old, she founded  Noor al-Fayha (Light of Damascus), the city’s first women’s organization (and publication) which provided free classes in English, poetry and religion for Muslim girls. In the Franco-Syrian war, she was the only woman who fought in the Battle of Maysaloun, for which she was made an honorary general of the Syrian army. She also founded the Syrian Red Crescent, an organization dedicated to caring for those who were wounded in war.  She also co-founded the Damascene Women’s Awakening Society  in 1925, organizing workshops to train displaced and widowed Syrian women in various crafts and promoting female intelligence. Later on, she also founded the Association for Working Women, which lobbied for the basic rights of women in the workforces, such as equal pay and sick days. Throughout her life, she worked toward emancipation for Syrian women and  led the then-largest women’s march in Syrian history in 1945. A rebellious woman, driven by her passion for justice, Naziq’s name has gone down in history as one of the most influential women of the modern Arab world.

Though I have found no direct quotes to share, I have found a few about her by others:

“She was a humble person who loved sports and horseback riding. She used to dress like middle-class Damascenes and avoided accessories and ornaments. She was the only woman at that time who wore trousers and boots and carried a whip.”

“Naziq’s family were very modern and open minded compared to the mentality at that time. Even so, they did not always like her behavior. But she did not listen to them. She did what she wanted to do.”

 

 

Susan B. Anthony

Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.”

—Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) was an American social reformer and women’s rights activist who dedicated her life to women suffrage.  It is largely because of her determination and zeal that women in American have the equal right to vote and own their own property. She campaigned for equal rights for most of her long life. In  1920—fourteen years after her death—the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment was passed, granting the right to vote to all U.S. women over the age of 21.

So committed was Susan to her cause that once pledge the cash value of her life insurance to meet the University of Rochester’s financial demands for the admission of women. I don’t even think we realize how grateful we should be for women such as Susan B. Anthony.

Happy March, by the way—it’s Women’s History Month!

Harriet Tubman

“I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted.” —Harriet Tubman
 Harriet Tubman (1820–1913) escaped slavery to become a leading abolitionist. She led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom along the route of the Underground Railroad. She was also a Union spy and military leader during the Civil War, freeing many more slaves.
Check out our first podcast! Listen in on a talk with my 6 year old daughter, Justine, and myself about the life of Harriet Tubman. Justine found it particularly fascinating that Harriet had suffered a brain injury as a girl—since Justine’s own father had experienced a major brain injury after an accident.