Rosa Parks

“Each person must live their life as a model for others.” —Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks (1913–2005) was a civil rights activist who refused to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger, spurring the Montgomery boycott and other efforts to end segregation.

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”—Rosa Parks

Laura Ingalls Wilder

“We’d never get anything fixed to suit us if we waited for things to suit us before we started.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder, By the Shores of Silver Lake

Happy Birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder, beloved pioneer girl of children’s literature. She would have been 150 years today! (February 7, 1867 – February 10, 1957)

Did you know that Laura and her only daughter, Rose, worked together on the Little House and the Prairie books? A real life mother/daughter writing team. Rose, a writer and journalist in her own right, encouraged her mother to write her memoirs for children as well as becoming her editor over the years. It’s also likely that Laura got her famous talent for detail and description by telling her blind sister, Mary, about the world around her.

She certainly helped younger generations of children imagine what life was like in the lives of American settlers, and surely more than a few adults.  My daughter and I recently shared the book together. She was fascinated, of course, and we were both very impressed with how much WORK was involved at the Ingalls homestead/household. I tried to use that as a bribe for chores: “What would Laura Ingalls say? Setting the table would be so easy for her! After all, she helped her father build a house!”

“As you read my stories of long ago I hope you will remember that things truly worthwhile and that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then. It is not the things you have that make you happy. It is love and kindness and helping each other and just plain being good.” —Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

 

Irena Sendler

“My parents taught me that if a man is drowning, it is irrelevant what is his religion or nationality. One must help him.” —Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler  (1910 – 2008), was a Polish nurse, humanitarian and social worker who rescued 2500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. She saved more Jews than any other individual during the Holocaust.

With a 4’11” frame and a sweet, girlish face that made her seem younger than her 27 years, Irena Sendler managed to smuggle out 2500 children during the Holocaust. 2500 children—imagine that! She entered the Warsaw Ghetto (an area the size of Central Park that 450,000 Jewish people were forced to live) everyday for 18 months by showing her social worker papers and also pretending to be working with the Contagious Disease Department. She knew that the Germans were paranoid about the spread of germs, so they readily let her into the annexed area. At first, she saved orphans living on the streets, but then went to the parents, who would always allow her to take their children with her, promising to reunite them when the war was over. Working with her social worker colleagues, Irena managed to smuggle children out in gunny sacks, suitcases, toolboxes, under potatoes in a cart, ambulances and coffins. She also kept a trained dog in her car that would bark if a child started to whimper on the way out, threatening detection. The dog’s bark would create a chain reaction of chaos through the Gestapo’s dogs, and the guards would let her pass.

Irena placed the children in convents and non-Jewish homes, and keeping her promise to the parents, wrote down the names on slips of paper which she placed in jars and buried in her garden. She always stayed just ahead of the Gestapo, though at one point, she was captured. One of her colleagues managed to to bribe the guard for her release, and she spent the next three years in hiding. When the war was over, she stayed true to her commitment by digging up the glass jars in the yard and trying to reconnect families with the children where possible. Sadly, only 1% of the Warsaw Ghetto Jews survived, but Irena maintained contact with many of the children, who thought of her as a mother figure.

It’s astounding that though she saved more lives than Schindler, little was known about her until 2000, when four middle school girls in Kansas began researching her for a history project. They had been given a newspaper clipping briefly mentioning Irena, and the students couldn’t believe the number of rescues was correct. They pursued the story, and to their delight, found that the 90-year old heroine was still alive in Poland. The girls wrote a play called “Life in a Jar,” which won the National History Day Competition, and brought Irena’s story to the spotlight. When they visited Irena in Poland and performed the play for government officials, much publicity was made of their story, and the sixty-year silence about the Holocaust was broken. More and more survivors began to come out with their stories. Since then, Holocaust Education in Poland has changed dramatically.

Her bravery should take our breath away. Yet, she thought humbly of herself, and only regretted not saving more.

“Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this earth, and not a title to glory.” —Irena Sendler

Violette Szabo

Violette Szabo— Codename: Louise

Violette Szabo (1921 – 1945) was a French-born British spy during the WW2. Her young husband had been killed in the war and she vowed revenge on the Nazi Regime. Because she could speak French so well and because she was so passionate to help in the War effort, she was trained as a Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent and sent as a courier to France. Her first mission was a success but on her second mission, she was captured by the Nazis. However, she never once gave away any secrets. She was posthumously awarded the St George Cross among other medals of honor. Her heroism shines light on what many brave women did for the resistance effort.

More can be read about her at the Violet Szabo Museum website.

A movie was made about her story in 1957. You can watch the whole thing in glorious black and white here:

 

Juana Inés de la Cruz

The Genius Nun

“I don’t study to know more, but to ignore less.”—Juana Inés de la Cruz

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a 17th century nun, self-taught scholar and acclaimed writer of the Latin American colonial period and the Hispanic Baroque. She was also a staunch advocate for women’s rights. (biography.com)

What strikes me most about Juana is her consistent thirst for learning—it drove her for her entire life. She spoke of her experience as a young girl:  “… I was not yet three years old when my mother determined to send one of my elder sisters to learn to read at a school for girls we call the Amigas. Affection, and mischief, caused me to follow her, and when I observed how she was being taught her lessons I was so inflamed with the desire to know how to read, that deceiving — for so I knew it to be — the mistress, I told her that my mother had meant for me to have lessons too. … I learned so quickly that before my mother knew of it I could already read ...”

Now, this is back in the days when girls didn’t get further education. Rather than getting married, she opted to join a convent at the age of 16 in order to continue learning at will. She famously wrote many plays and poems for the church but also wrote on secular subjects, and spoke out strongly for women’s rights and education. She surrounded herself with books and scientific and musical instruments in order to teach herself everything she could. She was a mind ahead of her time. She knew it, and she made sure to use it!

You can see Juana’s portrait on Mexican money.

Ida B. Wells

“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” —Ida B. Wells

Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (born into slavery on July 16, 1862 – died March 25, 1931), more commonly known as Ida B. Wells, was an African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, sociologist, feminist, and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

{Born into slavery, but} later as an activist, Wells documented lynching in the United States in the 1890s, showing that it was often used in the South as a way to control or punish black people who competed with whites, rather than being based on criminal acts by black people, as was usually claimed by whites. She was active in women’s rights and the women’s suffrage movement, establishing several notable women’s organizations. Wells was a skilled and persuasive rhetorician and traveled internationally on lecture tours. (Wikipedia)

Seventy years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, Ida refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a train and was thrown off the train by a group of white men. She later sued the railroad, though she did not win. Beyond being a groundbreaking journalist and activist, she was a thoroughly modern wife and mother. Not only did she postpone her wedding three times in order to keep up with her rigorous antilynching speaking schedule, but once she had babies, she would bring them along with her. In her own words: “I honestly believe I am the only woman in the United States who ever traveled throughout the country with a nursing baby to make political speeches.”

For more reading on Ida, check out her biography.com page or this book, A Sword Among Lions.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (October 11, 1884 – November 7, 1962) was an American politician, diplomat, and activist.She was the longest-serving First Lady of the United States, having held the post from March 1933 to April 1945 during her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four terms in office, and served as United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952. President Harry S. Truman later called her the “First Lady of the World” in tribute to her human rights achievements. —Wikipedia

Eleanor’s was the first painting I made in the series of women, just a month ago when I decided that “looking for inspiration” would be my New Year’s Resolution. I’d always enjoyed the quotes I’d read from Eleanor and admired her tireless campaigns for social reform and human rights, but after speaking to a friend of mine who has written a screenplay about her and seeing how impassioned she became that really piqued my interest. When I asked my friend why she found Eleanor so inspiring, this is what she said:

“The thing I most admire about her is that when she finally learned that her her kindness, compassion and loyalty, not only to her family but to all she met, when she learned that this was her strength not her weakness. That this innate trait in women, to put others before themselves, is not something that keeps them back but is something that can cure a very ill world. That I feel is the strongest take away from studying her. Eleanor had that need to help others more than most due to the lack of love in her earliest years. To her it meant that if she was helpful, people would need her and therefore love her. 

“Something that many people don’t know is that when she became First lady she held the first all female press conference. It was the Depression and she was told by Lorena Hickok that these women would loose their jobs unless she took this step. She asked the reporters to ask Americans to write to her with their problems, no matter how large or small, just write. In the first 6 month as First Lady she received and hand replied – hand replied – to more than 300,000 letters. To her it was more important than sleep to fulfill her promise to Americans.

For further reading on this real-life heroine, I encourage you to visit her page at biography.com.

And remember these wise words: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” —Eleanor Roosevelt