You Gotta Know These Feminists
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) Wollstonecraft was a British author and philosopher who is best known for writing A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). In that text, she argued that women are inherently equal to men, but appear inferior because they do not have the same access to education. Two years before, Wollstonecraft had responded to Edmund Burke’s conservative Reflections on the Revolution in France with her own A Vindication of the Rights of Men. Wollstonecraft’s daughter, Mary Shelley, is famous as the author of Frankenstein.
Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) Mott was a Quaker who agitated for both abolitionism and women’s rights. When she attended the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, the male delegates excluded Mott and the other female delegates from the convention and made them sit in a segregated area. Mott then turned her attention to women’s rights. She was older than many of the other prominent delegates to the Seneca Falls Convention, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whom she mentored. Mott briefly served as the first president of the American Equal Rights Association. She was also one of the Quakers who founded Swarthmore College.
Sojourner Truth (1797–1883) Sojourner Truth was born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree in Dutch-speaking New York. She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 when she converted to Methodism and informed her friends that the spirit had called her. She was already well known as an abolitionist speaker when she attended the 1851 Ohio Women’s Rights Convention and declared that she had “as much muscle as any man” in her most famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?”
John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) and Harriet Taylor Mill (1807–1858) John Stuart Mill was a utilitarian philosopher who comes up in quiz bowl most often in conjunction with his works On Liberty (1859) and Utilitarianism (1863). He makes this list, however, because he wrote one of the most influential philosophical defenses of women’s rights in The Subjection of Women (1869). Mill claimed that his wife, Harriet Taylor, co-authored this text with him, a claim which is debated by historians. The husband and wife did write several essays together, including a tract advocating women’s suffrage titled The Enfranchisement of Women (1851), and Mill recognized his wife as a major contributor to all his greatest works.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) Stanton is most famous for writing the “Declaration of Sentiments” that she presented at the first women’s rights conference in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Stanton based the text of her declaration on the Declaration of Independence; it included the line, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.” Stanton was a close collaborator for many years with Susan B. Anthony; for more on the two women’s accomplishments, see Anthony’s biography below.
Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) Anthony was one of the most outspoken and most famous proponents of women’s suffrage in the United States. Along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she co-founded the first women’s temperance society in the 1850s after they were excluded from an all-male temperance society. Together, in 1868, the two women founded a journal called The Revolution, which was dedicated to promoting women’s rights. The following year, Stanton and Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. In 1872, Anthony gained fame when she was arrested for voting in the presidential election. She defended herself by quoting the Fourteenth Amendment, but she was convicted.
Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928) Pankhurst was the most prominent advocate for women’s voting rights in the United Kingdom. As one of the founders of the Women’s Social and Political Union, she called for direct action and frequent protests to force male politicians to grant votes to women. Her protests frequently got her arrested, and while in jail she and other suffragettes often went on hunger strikes. Initially, prison officials brutally force-fed the hunger-striking suffragettes. In 1913, Parliament passed the Cat and Mouse Act, which provided for hunger strikers to be released from jail and re-arrested after they regained their health. As a result of the advocacy of Pankhurst and others, Parliament began to grant voting rights to women in 1918.
Margaret Sanger (1879–1966) Sanger was an early advocate of birth control and reproductive rights who founded the American Birth Control League, which later evolved into Planned Parenthood. As a young nurse living in New York City, Sanger wrote columns about sexual education for the New York Call titled “What Every Mother Should Know” and “What Every Girl Should Know.” Sanger gave up nursing after one of her patients died of a self–induced abortion, and instead dedicated herself to educating women about contraception. In 1914, she began writing a newsletter called The Woman Rebel, in part to challenge the Comstock law, which prohibited the sending of “obscene” texts by mail, since she considered education about contraception to be an issue of free speech.
Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) Woolf was an author who comes up in quiz bowl most often because of her novels, especially Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927). She makes this list, however, because of her essay A Room of One’s Own (1929), in which she argued that a woman must have money and space in order to write and express herself. In the essay, Woolf famously created the character of Judith Shakespeare, William Shakespeare’s imagined sister, who could not achieve the status of her brother because she did not have the same access to education. Woolf also addressed these themes in Three Guineas (1938).
Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986) De Beauvoir was a French writer and philosopher perhaps best known for her feminist treatise The Second Sex (1949). In that work, de Beauvoir argued that “womanhood” is defined by its differences from masculinity, which is perceived as normal. The Second Sex contains the famous line, “One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” The book is divided into two parts, titled “Facts and Myths” and “Lived Experience.” One fact about de Beauvoir often mentioned in quiz bowl questions is that she was a lover of Jean-Paul Sartre. She is often considered one of the pioneers of “second-wave” feminism, which emphasizes sexuality, the workplace, and other forms of inequality over the first-wave focus on voting and property rights.
Betty Friedan (1921–2006) Friedan was a writer and activist best known as the author of The Feminine Mystique (1963) and as the most prominent co-founder of the National Organization for Women. In 1957, Smith conducted a survey of graduates of her alma mater, Smith College, and found that many of them were unhappy with their lives. Friedan labeled this general unhappiness “the problem with no name.” She then began writing The Feminine Mystique, in which she argued that being a housewife is unfulfilling and advocated for women to seek education and work outside the home.
Gloria Steinem (b. 1934) Steinem is a journalist who founded and edited Ms. magazine. For an article in Show magazine in 1963, she went undercover as a Playboy bunny. Having had an abortion herself, she became a prominent advocate of abortion rights. She worked as a writer for New York magazine when she founded Ms., a feminist magazine devoted to women’s issues. The magazine also popularized the use of the title “Ms.” to address women regardless of marital status. Steinem also wrote the book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983), and the phrase “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” is often attributed to her.
Some Additional Feminists You Don’t Gotta Know, But Might Enjoy Learning About Anyway
Other American voting rights activists: Amelia Bloomer advocated dress reform so that women could wear reasonable clothes; the pants known as “bloomers” were named after her. Frederick Douglass is best known as an abolitionist, but he attended the Seneca Falls Convention and was (without his consent) nominated as Victoria Woodhull’s vice presidential candidate. Margaret Fuller was a journalist who advocated for women’s rights; she is best known for editing the transcendentalist journal The Dial. Julia Ward Howe was a reformer and women’s rights advocate who wrote the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Alice Paul picketed the White House and went on a hunger strike to agitate for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. She later wrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923. When Gerrit Smith ran for president with the Liberal Party in 1848, he became the first presidential candidate to include women’s voting rights as part of his party’s platform. He was also a first cousin of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Lucy Stone is often grouped with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the “triumvirate” of American voting rights campaigners. She is famous for keeping her maiden name after marriage. Ida B. Wells is best known as an opponent of lynching, but she was also a women’s rights crusader who agitated for the inclusion of black women in women’s groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Victoria Woodhull became the first female candidate for the presidency of the United States in 1872 when she ran with the Equal Rights Party.
Other British voting rights activists: Emily Davison died when she ran in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913 with a “Votes for Women” banner. Millicent Fawcett led the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, a more moderate organization than Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union. Mary Richardson attacked Diego Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus with a meat cleaver in 1914 to protest the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst.
American female politicians of note: Bella Abzug advocated passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and was known for declaring that “a woman’s place is in the House — the House of Representatives.” In 1972, Shirley Chisholm became the first black female candidate for a major party’s presidential nomination. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin became the first female elected to the House of Representatives. Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress and the first to be nominated for the presidency of a major party.
Other twentieth-century feminists: Andrea Dworkin wrote Pornography: Men Possessing Women (1979) to argue that pornography degrades women and leads to violence against women. Helen Gurley Brown was a sex-positive feminist who wrote Sex and the Single Girl and edited Cosmopolitan magazine for 32 years.Germaine Greer wrote The Female Eunuch (1970) to argue that traditional societal and family structures repress women. Anita Hill publicized the issue of sexual harassment in 1991 when she testified at Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings that he had harassed her. Maxine Hong Kingston wrote about the lives of Chinese women in The Woman Warrior (1975). Adrienne Rich was a poet most famous for writing “Diving into the Wreck” (1973). Naomi Wolf wrote The Beauty Myth (1991) to argue that societal constructs of beauty punish women who cannot attain them.
This article was contributed by NAQT editor Kyle Haddad-Fonda.