A collection of some of the women whose stories and actions inspire me and remind me of the power and beauty of women.
*Eleanor Roosevelt – First Lady of the United States and mother of 6. She changed the role of first lady from hostess to advocate and politically active participant. She championed women’s issues, children’s causes & human rights. She was a delegate to the United Nations, appointed two separate times. My favorite quote of hers and one that I try to live by is, “Happiness is not a goal. It is a by-product.”
*Lucille Ball – Actress, comedian and producer. She was unabashedly funny at a time when women were supposed to be seen in a certain light. She wasn’t afraid to be herself on screen and pushed beyond the constructs in place of a female in show business.
*Zadie Smith – The British born, Jamaican author of “White Teeth”, “On Beauty,” and “Swing “Time” among others. Her perspective and prose is as unique and beautiful as her. She writes about multiculturalism in a way that is honest and draws from her own personal experience. She is also a mother and a wife who speaks about balancing her commitment to her work and her family.
*Billie Holiday – One of my all-time favorite voices overcame a truly heinous childhood and channeled her pain into her music, becoming a sensation. She recorded “Strange Fruit” in the 30’s long before the Civil Rights Movement.
*Katharine Hepburn – She was a woman who was completely unafraid to express herself and to be her true self. Even in the face of public rejection she didn’t back down and continued to reinvent herself as an actress and a woman. She rejected social constructs that told her how to live her life and what kind of a woman she should be.
*Dorothy Day – Catholic convert and the founder of the Catholic Workers Movement. She fought for help for the poor and marginalized and did it through civil disobedience and peaceful protest. She was also an active journalist who documented her work for a broader audience.
*Mother Jones – A teacher and dress maker who lost her husband and dress shop in one year. She was left with children to raise and began her career as an organizer. She successfully helped miners fight back against unsafe working conditions at the turn of the century. She was called the “most dangerous woman in America.”
*Sandra Day O’Connor – First female Supreme Court Justice. She was the daughter of an Arizona rancher and overcame rampant sexism as she attempted to rise through the ranks as an attorney. She was denied employment numerous times because of her gender but did not let that stop her. She was considered one of the most meticulous of the judges and was often the deciding vote or swing vote on the court.
*Marian Anderson – American opera singer who was refused entry to the Philadelphia Music Academy because of her skin color. She went on to have a successful European singing career. She was then refused the right to perform at Constitution Hall in D.C. by the DAR which led to her giving an open air and racially integrated performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939.
*Nellie Bly – An American Journalist, writer, inventor and charity worker. She projected herself into her causes even going so far as to fake a mental illness to expose the inhumane treatment of patients in a mental hospital
*Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis – The former first lady who was beloved for her classic elegance and grace. She went on to be a successful book editor, a philanthropist and an advocate for preserving history.
*Betty Friedan – Author the “The Feminist Mystique” and founder of the National Organization for Women in 1966. She fought to bring women into a full partnership with men. She fought for women’s causes for the duration of her life. She was also very critical of feminist that attacked others such as men and homemakers and valued more of a partnership among many groups.
*Isabel Allende – Chilean Author of magical realism. One of my favorite authors, she writes with a deep sense of her own story while weaving in magical elements. She endured the death of her daughter and started the Isabel Allende Foundation that champions economic and social justice for women.
*Malala Yousafzai – A voice for education for all women around the world after she was attacked on her way to school by the Taliban in her native Pakistan. Her strength and resilience in the face of backward thinking oppressors has allowed her to grow into the Nobel Prize winning young woman that she is today.
*Serena Williams – Arguably, the greatest female athlete in history who is constantly doing things her own way. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind and has completely challenged what we think of as a female athlete role model. She is fierce and strong while also being interested in things beyond her sport.
*The women in my family – They are survivors, entrepreneurs, educators, musicians, poets, activists, seekers, skeptics, sisters, mothers and wives. <3 MEB