Wicked Wednesday- Favorite Woman in History

Jessie: In New Hampshire feeling grateful for handknit wool socks.

Since March is Women’s History Month I wanted to ask each Wicked which is her favorite historical female figure and why?

Edith: So many women to choose from, so little time! I’m going with Lucretia Coffin Mott. A nineteenth century Quaker born on Nantucket, she was a leader in both the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements. At a hundred pounds and barely five feet tall, she founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, and also co-wrote the Declaration of Sentiments in 1848 for the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, which ignited the fight for women’s suffrage. She risked life and reputation living as a risky Friend even while raising five children. I can only wish to be so brave.

Billy Hathorn at Wikimedia Commons.

Liz: As a former journalist I’ve always been fascinated by Nellie Bly, the investigative journalist who went undercover in a mental institution to expose abuse and mistreatment. She was a pioneer in the investigative journalism field, and her book about what happened on Blackwell’s Island caused major reform.

H. J. Myers, photographer [Public domain]

Julie: Liz, your post brings Ida B. Wells to mind–another reporter, civil rights activist and amazing woman. For so long, too long, women’s stories (and stories of people of color) have not been part of the narrative, so I love this topic. Abigail Adams was an amazing woman, close advisor to her husband John, mother of John Quincy. When I was very young I read a biography of Deborah Sampson, a woman who disguised herself as a man so she could fight in the Revolutionary War. BTW, the History Chicks is a great podcast on this subject.

Jessie: One of my favorites is Victoria Woodhull. She ran for POTUS before women had won the right to vote. She opened the first female owned stock brokerage in the history of the nation. She fought for reproductive rights for women in a time when printing educational information about contraception was considered immoral and by the Comstock Law illegal. But she wasn’t a saint, by any means. She was a con artist and a grifter who was not above using any means necessary to further her own interests. She was complex, whip-smart and someone I wish I oculd have met. I highly recommend a book about her life and that of her beloved sister Tennie, The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suggrage and Scandal in the Gilded Age by Myra MacPherson.

This is the copy of Little Women that was in my house growing up. The copyright is 1915. I had no idea it was that old.

Sherry: I’m going with Louisa May Alcott. I read Little Women while I was in elementary school and immediately fell in love. After we moved to Massachusetts visiting Orchard House, where Louisa lived the longest, became one of my favorite things to do. While Louisa is widely know for Little Women she wrote thirty books. She also was a nurse during the Civil War and adopted May’s daughter after May died. When Louisa was fifteen she vowed to save her family from poverty and she did.

Barb: I am loving “Overlooked,” The New York Times column telling the stories of accomplished people who didn’t receive obituaries in the Times when they died. Many of them were women and/or people of color. They are almost uniformly fascinating. People truly are amazing. Given my previous life working in software startups, I find myself most drawn to the stories of female entrepreneurs. Here are two of them.

Readers, which historical female figure do you most admire?


17 Thoughts

  1. The first woman to come to mind was Mary Kingsley, a British explorer. Wikipedia describes her as “an English ethnographer, scientific writer, and explorer whose travels throughout West Africa and resulting work helped shape European perceptions of African cultures and British imperialism.” She was intrepid and fearless. She willingly endured incredible hardships to achieve her goals. I thought of her often as I did my (comparatively easy) exploratory treks in Peru and Bolivia. What an inspiration!

  2. I sound like a broken record, but I go back to Hedy Lamarr. As a tech geek, so many of the gadgets I love simply wouldn’t exist without her.

  3. Im going with Harriet Tubman. The work she did to flee slaves while a runaway slave herself is courageous.

  4. I’m a fan of Caroline Chisholm, who worked in Australia with the convict wives and early immigrant women, setting up homes for the destitute, teaching skills, finding employment and saving many from poverty and prostitution. On trips back to England she worked on immigrant rights and improved conditions on ships. She was rewarded with the patronising mockery of Charles Dickens who based his ridiculous Mrs Jellyby character on her. But she changed immigration for the lower classes considerably and saved many lives.

  5. Got to go with two already named – Abigail Adams and Louisa May Alcott. Not that there aren’t many others, but those two speak to me, somehow.

  6. Gotta go with Susanna Wesley, the mother of John & Charles Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement. Susanna had 19 children—only ten survived infancy— and managed to spend individual time with each of them every day! 😮 She actually defies the maxim “Well-behaved women rarely make history” by making history as an excruciatingly well-behaved woman, but she did rebel in one respect: her father was a dissenter from the church of England, but Susanna left her father’s church at the age of 13 and joined the church of England! (I know, that’s so wild and crazy, right?)

    BTW, the phrase “well-behaved women rarely/seldom make history” was originally attributed to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who used it in an academic paper on the funeral practices of the Puritans. Her intent was to highlight the daily, ordinary lives of people who shaped history, but her quote has been appropriated as advocating scandalous behavior in pursuit of notoriety, something she has said she finds humorous. Her book A Midwife’s Tale, based on the diary of Martha Ballard, a Puritan midwife, won a Pulitzer AND proved that the lives of well-behaved people can make for riveting reading.

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