The fight for women’s equality is filled with a dense and beautiful complexity. We finally have a voice. But very few of us realize that the voice came at the expense of women of color. The shoulders that we are standing on are the shoulders of marginalized women, the women who knew the pain of true silence.
They knew the risk that accompanied the fight for women’s equality in its purest, most boiled down form. Yet, they kept the knowledge of their worth when the society tried to tell them they had no worth. They fought to breathe while the world tried to suffocate them.
It is these sisters whose voices need to be honored. Whose names must be said. Who the glory must be given. Whose shoulders deserve a rest. Here are some of the women who fought for equality with nothing but fire in their heart and sweat on their brow.
Ida B Wells; 1862–1931
Sufferagtee; Journalist; Anti-lynching Activist; Co-founder of the NAACP; Feminist
Why we should know Ida:
Ida B. Wells did not back down from a fight and refused to be silenced. She understood the way to equality was to shine a light upon the injustices of the world. Her main focus – the political use of lynching to keep African Americans as second class citizens. She realized that even the suffragette movement must be called out for their refusal to recognize lynching as a crime. Even though she was fired from her teaching job, her business burned to the ground and had her life threatened, Ida still used her voice. Almost a century after her death, the voice of her spirit is still being heard- fueling other women to call out injustices in hopes that one day all genders and races will be equal.
Cherríe Moraga; 1952- present
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color; Professor; Playwrite; Political Essayist; Feminist
Why we should know Cherrie:
Cherrie Moraga entered the world of activism after becoming concerned that the feminist movement was failing to recognize women of color, trans, and lesbian women. She uses her talent as a writer to give voice and representation to the intersection of feminism, LGTBQ, women of color, and the Chicanca community. She is dedicated to the representation of marginalized females in her work. Cherrie strives to make sure they are seen as a vital part of our American culture. She knows that there will never be equality until all women are recognized and their struggles heard. Cherrie’s spirit is one of art, inclusion, and representation.
Rose Schneiderman; 1882-1972
Founded the United Cloth Hat and Cap Makers’ Union; served as the only woman on the National Labor Advisory Board under President Franklin Roosevelt; Secretary of Labor for New York; Suffragette; Feminist
Why we should know Rose:
Born in Poland, Rose immigrated to the United States as a child and started fighting for gender equality while she was a young adult. While working in the garment industry, her eyes were opened to both the unfair treatment of laborers and to the patriarchal system that honored men and kept women small. Rose built a foundation for other women to stand on and demand to be given the rights that should have been lawfully theirs from the beginning. She became a labor champion and led the charge of women’s equality in the workforce. Her legacy reveals the determined and selfless spirit of a woman who will lay it all on the line for her fellow sisters.
Patsy Mink; 1927-2002
The first Asian American Woman to practice law in Hawaii; The first woman of color elected to Congress; Principal author of Title IX- Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act; Feminist
Why we should know Patsy:
Patsy Mink was a fierce fighter for race and gender equality. She endured the unwarranted arrest of her father and many other Asian Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was denied admission to medical school because of her gender, and faced workplace discrimination because she was a mother. Patsy used her story as a catalyst for change in order to end discrimination and women’s equality. Her spirit was one of perseverance- she simply would not be told she was “less than” because she was of Asian descent and a woman. When others tried to block Patsy’s road to success, she simply built a path around the injustice and kept moving forward.
Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer; 1917-1977
Civil Rights Activist; Activist for Voters Rights and in the desegregation of the Democratic Party; Founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative; Feminist
Why we should know Fannie:
Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer understood the importance of activism in ways many of us will never come to fathom. She was a victim of forced sterilization she called a “Mississippi Appendectomy.” Two years later she was arrested and severely beaten after trying to register to vote. Fannie turned her tragedies and gross abuses into fuel for her activism. Her influence helped change the political landscape of Mississippi. Her spirit is one of resilience. Though her rights and safety were extremely violated, she still gave so much of herself for the betterment of others and for women’s equality.
Grace Boggs; 1915-2015
Philosopher; Author; Social Activist working to improve labor and civil rights in Detroit as well as aid in environmental programs, Co-founder of Detriot Summer; Feminist
Why we should know Grace:
Grace understood the importance of spirituality in the fight for equality. She also understood the gravity of symbiotic relationships, especially when it came to the struggle to end discrimination among races and genders. She joined forces with others and lent her voice and insight into humanity to those who were shunned by society. Grace believed true change begins with small, meaningful acts at the community level. Grace’s spirit is one of passion, peace, and an understanding of how little changes can have big impacts.
Dolores Huerta; 1930-present
Civil Rights Activist; Labor Leader; Co-founded the United Farm Workers; Founder and President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation; Feminist
Why we should know Dolores:
Dolores has dedicated her life to serving those who are silenced in our culture. Her support for equality covers the broad spectrum of the American life. Whether she is working for the rights of farmworkers, women, the education system, or voter rights, Dolores comes at us with energy, truth, and compassion. Her spirit is one of humility, strength, and activism. She readily walks into the fight for equality eager to uphold and strengthen the rights of all people.
Mary Terrell Church; 1863-1954
Activist; Suffragette; Author of A Colored Woman in a White World, Co-founder of National Association of Colored Women; Feminist
Why we should know Mary:
Mary recognized that equality for the black people would come only when black women have a voice. She knew that when one succeeds, all succeed. She was vocal about the intersectionality of her life – overcoming both race and gender prejudice. Mary fought this struggle with intensity and truth. She fiercely campaigned for the female vote, anti-lynching, and desegregation of public spaces. Her spirit was one of truth, determination, and benevolence.
Sarah Deer; 1972-present
Author of The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America; Professor of Law; Scholar and Legal Advocate; Member of the Moscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma; major influencer in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization 2013
Why we should know Sarah:
Sarah’s work is dedicated to ending violent crimes toward Native women on Native American Reservations. This negligence gets very little attention and many of us are unaware of the extent of the violence. However, until all women have equal protection under the law, our gender will always be at a disadvantage. Sarah is determined to fight for the legal rights of women who have been left vulnerable by the loopholes that develop where tribal and public lands meet. Sarah’s spirit is one of strategic planning and detailed pursuit of the protection and safety of Native American Women.
Women are intertwined in this world.
We are the many-colored hands, backbone, faces, and hearts of this world. We belong to each other, therefore, we should celebrate each other. Take time today to look at the women around you, especially those who are silent or silenced. Dare to hear their stories and as you do, steady your shoulders. Get ready to lift her up because the only way we keep this fight for women’s equality going is by the continuous raising of our fellow sisters.