For International Women’s Day, Hattie Samuel, UEA Feminism Society’s campaigns and community secretary, celebrates 10 of the most notable women. The Society is hosting events on campus today from 12-5pm, and then again from 7:30pm. Click here for full details. Fem Soc also hold weekly meetings – follow @uea_feminism.
It can often feel like history was dominated entirely by white men, with everyone else left out of the records. With so many people forgotten, we may never know many of the things that women have achieved and are continuing to achieve throughout the world.
Here’s a short introduction to just 10 women – past and present – who have managed, in the face of all types of discrimination, to make their names known.
Murasaki Shikibu (c. 978 – c. 1014)
Photo: The Commons.
Murasaki Shikibu was a novelist, poet and lady-in-waiting at the Imperial Court of Japan during the Heian period. Although her real name is unknown (Murasaki is that of one of her characters), she is recognised forThe Tale of Genji, often considered the first novel in the world. Most of it was written during Murasaki’s time in the service of Empress Shoshi, and is famous for its revealing and detailed insights into the life of the court.
Queen Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603)
The reign of Elizabeth I is remembered in Britain as a period of flourishing arts and of successful military campaigns. Elizabeth was the founder of the protestant Church of England, which helped to shape the beginnings of an English national identity.
Most notably, she was able to establish herself as a credible ruler both at home and abroad, in spite of her gender. Pope Sixtus V wrote that “She is only a woman … and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all.”
Mary Seacole (1805 – 14 May 1881)
Mary Seacole was a Jamaican-born woman of Scottish and Creole descent who ran a British hotel behind enemy lines during the Crimean war. After her application to work as a nurse was declined by the British War Office, Seacole travelled to Balaclava independently and set up the hotel with only £800.
She provided meals, medical aid and a place to stay for troops and visitors to the area. She was so popular with the armed forces that they raised money to support her after the war ended. Her autobiography, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole, was one of the earliest published autobiographies by a mixed-race woman.
Harriet Tubman (1820 – March 10, 1913)
Harriet Tubman and her family. Tubman is on the far left. Photo: harriettubmanbiography.com
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland. During her youth she was struck in the head by a two-pound weight, an injury which caused her to experience seizures for the rest of her life.
In 1849 Tubman fled to freedom in Philadelphia. She subsequently returned to the South and led over 70 slaves, including her family, to the North via the Underground Railroad.
During the American civil war, she worked for the Union as a scout and spy, and was the first woman to lead an armed assault. After the war, she campaigned for suffrage for women of all races.
Frida Kahlo de Rivera (July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954)
Kahlo’s paintings have been celebrated both for their celebration of Mexican national and indigenous identity, and for their realistic depiction of a woman’s body and experience.
She is known for her rejection of western standards of beauty and fashion, and embracing traditional Mexican styles in her dress. She and her husband, Diego Rivera, were active communists, and provided temporary sanctuary for Leon Trotsky after he fled the Soviet Union in the 1930s.
Rosalind Franklin (25 July 1920 – 16 April 1958)
Franklin was a British biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer. Her work confirmed the double helix structure of DNA, images of which were shown to James Watson and Francis Crick without her approval, providing the data for their model.
Watson and Crick’s research barely acknowledged her contribution, with Franklin’s work published after theirs. For 25 years her contribution remained unrecognised, by which time Franklin had passed away of ovarian cancer.
Nina Simone (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003)
Simone was a singer-songwriter and civil rights activist. She recorded more than 40 albums during her career and was widely associated with the jazz scene.
In the 60s she became involved with the American civil rights movement. She began using her music to make political statements and portray the experiences of an African American woman, with songs like Strange Fruit, Mississippi Goddamn and Four Women. She herself was notable for her refusal to conform to a white standard of beauty.
Aung San Suu Kyi (b. 19 June 1945)
Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese opposition politician and chairperson of the National League for Democracy in Burma. She formed the party in 1988 during mass protests for democracy in Burma. She was placed under house arrest for her political activities in 1989 by Burma’s ruling military junta.
She was offered freedom in exchange for exile, but refused to leave Burma. She remained under house arrest until November 2010.
Since her release, she has continued to work for democracy in Burma, standing in the national by-elections in 2012 and gaining a seat in the lower house.
Hillary Rodham Clinton (b. October 26, 1947)
Clinton studied at Yale Law School and has served as a United States senator (2001-2008) and as US Secretary of State (2008-2013). She was also one of the frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.
There is speculation that she may run again for the nomination in 2016 – Clinton could become the first female president of the United States.
Lana Wachowski (b. June 21, 1965)
Lana Wachowski is a film director, screenwriter and producer. She was born Laurence Wachowski and transitioned from male to female in the early 2000s.
Since coming out in 2012, she has spoken publicly about her experiences as a transgender woman, revealing that her gender dysphoria caused such intense depression in her youth that she considered suicide.
Together with her brother, Andy Wachowski, she has directed popular films such as The Matrix, its two sequels, V for Vendetta and Cloud Atlas.