Friday 22 September 2017

5 Forgotten Women of History

We all know that history is told through the eyes of men (and whitewashed to within an inch of its metaphorical life), and I love discovering about women who were pretty badass and shouting their praises from the rooftops. Here are some of the women whose stories I think need to be told.

1. Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune was an extraordinary woman. She was born in 1875 in America, the 15th child of 2 freed slaves. Her education started at the age of 10 in a mission school. She was later denied work as a missionary in Africa due to her race, so then became a teacher in the USA, eventually setting up her own school for young black girls in 1922. Her school went on to have about 300 students.

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Bethune was a constant and never relenting campaigner, who always turned out to vote despite the threats she received from the KKK. Her work was recognized by Franklin D. Roosevelt when she became the highest-ranking black member of his administration in 1936. Her campaigns didn’t stop and she became the Vice-President of the NAACP in 1940.

2. Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake was the most decorated British woman of World War 2. She was born in New Zealand but moved to France in the 1930s to work in as a European correspondent for some newspapers after training as a journalist in New York and London. After the German invasion, she became a key member of the French Resistance, so much so that they became the most wanted person by the Gestapo by 1943 with a 5 million Franc reward or her capture! She later moved to London, where she joined the SOE. In 1944 she was flown back out to France by the SOE, where she acted as a link between the marquis in France and the British Intelligence then led a 7,000 strong (previously unskilled) army against a German army of 22,000 and won with only 100 casualties.

3. Claudette Colvin*

We’ve all heard of Rosa Parks. The subtle heroine of the Civil Rights Movement who sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott by refusing to give up her seat to a white man. The stories we don’t hear are those of the other women who did the same thing but get much less credit than Parks does, who had the advantage of an already respectable local reputation. One woman who did not have such a luxury was Claudette Colvin. She was a single (emphasis on the unmarried part here) mother who was much poorer than Parks was and had little real influence or position in the Montgomery community. As a consequence of this, when Colvin refused to give up her seat for a white person, nothing happened except her arrest.

*After this was published I have been told by one of my friends that Colvin actually was bit of an arrogant, not that great person and that her sitting down was more because she just couldn't be bothered to move. However, I still think that it is important to know about her because her story demonstrates that part of Rosa Parks' impact was her societal status and not just her actions and shows us how racial dsicrimination publically would have affected certain people within the black community in different ways than others (such as carrying around your young child on the bus). 

4. Noor Inayat Khan

Khan was born in Moscow in 1914 to an Indian father (a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, who was the 18th century Muslim ruler of Mysore) and an American mother. Her family moved to London then to France, where she was educated and first started writing children’s stories. Once the Nazis had invaded France 1940, Khan escaped to the UK, where she joined the WAAF. In 1942 she joined the SOE and worked as a radio operator. After being trained at Beaulieu Abbey, she was flown to work as a secret agent in France in 1943 under the code name ‘Madeleine’ – the first woman to do so. She was eventually arrested by the Gestapo after being betrayed by a local French woman, and taken to Dachau concentration camp in Southern Germany where she was executed. She was awarded the George Cross posthumously.

5. Frida Kahlo

Okay, okay, you’re probably thinking what the hell? Frida Kahlo is pretty well known figure, and rightly so. She was a prominent communist artist in Mexico, although her artwork was only really appreciated after her death. One thing that most people don’t know about her (I certainly didn’t until Shona told me) is that she was disabled. Kahlo was born with spina bifida, a spinal condition which can cause mobility problems as well as problems with the bladder and bowels. When she was 6 years old she contracted polio, an illness which left her right leg thinner than her left, and at aged 18 she was part of a bus accident which left her with serious injuries. During her recovery time, Kahlo took up painting, many of which reflected on her disability.

Thank you to Shona, who helped me find some information for this post which I’ve already mentioned. Shona is currently in desperate need of a new powerchair and has started a GoFundMe to help her get it. If you can, please give anything you can or share it.


If you liked this post you might like: 5 Feminist Bloggers You Should Be Reading

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