Wicked Wednesday – Celebrating Strong Women

Happy March, readers! Our theme this month is “Strong Women,” since International Women’s Day is March 8 and in my opinion, we should have an entire month devoted to badass women. So we’re going to do it here on the blog!

The theme for the IWD 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge. One of the statements on the IWD website is: “We can choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements.” To kick off a month of celebrating/acknowledging strong women, let’s talk about the achievements of women who we’ve never met, but who have impacted our lives in some way (Agatha Christie, Maya Angelou, etc). Pick one and tell us who and how. 

For me, I’ve always loved the story of journalist Nellie Bly, known for her time undercover in a mental institution to expose the awful conditions in which women were being made to live. Her investigative journalism prompted reforms for the system and also paved the way for serious women journalists. So cool!

Edith/Maddie. I’m going for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I didn’t realize the impact this tiny brilliant woman had on my life until the last ten years. She fought so hard for women’s rights, for civil rights. She had an equal loving marriage. She survived illness after illness and worked hard in the gym to stay fit well into her old age (planks at eighty-two!). And with all that, she was apparently funny and caring – as well as Notorious. Rest well, RBG.

Jessie: At some point I ran across the book The Scarlet Sisters by Myra MacPherson, a biography of Victoria Woodhull and her sister Tenny Claflin. I was so astonished by their audacity and persistence. Victoria ran for president long before she could legally vote. The pair of them set up as the first female stock brokers in NYC. They had progressive ideas on birth control, marriage and love affairs. They practiced Spiritualism. Completely fascinating and inspiring!

Liz: Edith, I’m with you on Ruth for sure! I also have to shout out Glennon Doyle – she is one of the most inspiring women out there today. Not only is she an amazing role model for women and girls about being true to yourself and living the life that works for you, she is also a fierce activist. She created Together Rising, a non-profit led by all women that impacts causes all over the world. Her book, Untamed, is a must-read for women and girls. It’s one of those books I keep handy to refer back to regularly for inspiration.

Barb: I am going to go with the mystery author PD James. Forced to drop out of school by a father who didn’t believe higher education was for girls, she married and had two children. When her husband returned from WWII so mentally compromised he was eventually institutionalized, she took over as the only source of income for the family, went back to school to become a hospital administrator and rose through the ranks. All the while writing her wonderful mysteries while commuting, until she was able to live off her writing. I mention her story because this is how so many strong women persevere, balancing the worlds of family, money, and creativity, any one of which can be all-consuming. I highly recommend her autobiography, A Time to be in Earnest.

Sherry: Barb, I’d never heard that about PD James! Phyllis A. Whitney influenced me. I loved reading her books when I was young. Her books are part of why there is always a touch of romance in my books. I was also fascinated to find out that a letter she wrote to Mystery Writers of America in the eighties pointing out that it had been fifteen years since a woman had won an Edgar for Best Novel was one of the reasons that Sisters in Crime was formed. I’ve read the letter before, but of course can’t find a link to it to share right now. All of us are members of Sisters in Crime and I can’t imagine my writing life without being part of SinC.

Julie: There are so many women who have inspired me over the years. I do remember the story of a woman named Deborah Sampson. I read a biography of her when I was in third or fourth grade, Even then, the Revolutionary War fascinated me. Anyway, she disguised herself as a soldier in order to fight the British. At one point she was shot, and removed the bullet herself to keep her secret. She was finally discovered to be a woman when she got sick, lost consciousness, and was taken to the hospital. She was honorably discharged, and went back home and got married. Anyway, learning about Deborah Sampson opened my eyes to thinking about the stories we don’t know, of which there are many.

Readers, what about you? What strong women have influenced your life? Tell us below!

14 Thoughts

  1. So many great examples! Now I want to read PD James’ autobiography and re-read the Phyllis A. Whitney books. Who influenced me? I’d have to say Eleanor Roosevelt. She lived life on her own terms, saw what needed to be done and did it. It could not have been easy for her finding her feet. On a personal level, a woman named Jean Raines. Jean was like a mother to me. She was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, came to the US engaged to a GI after WWII who jilted her and she persevered and made her way. In all the years I knew Jean, I never heard her complain or berate her fate although she had more than ample cause. A true role model.

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  2. So many great choices here. But I have to confess a soft spot for Nellie Bly (born Elizabeth Jane Cochran on May 5, 1864) so much so that I named a sailboat in my book, A Side of Murder, after her! She was not only an amazing investigative journalist, she was also a tremendously adventurous one. After reading Around the World in 80 Days, she took off on her own 72-day trip, a world record.

    But my favorite story may be how she broke into the world of journalism. After the death of her father, Elizabeth had to leave college to help her mother run her Pittsburgh boarding house. The young woman was an avid reader of the Pittsburgh Dispatch, but finally felt compelled to speak out about the paper’s negative representation of women. She sat down and wrote a short but compelling letter to the editor, who not only published the letter but promptly offered her a job as a columnist — under the pen name Nellie Bly.

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  3. Great women listed above, and I had no idea about the life of P.D. James before she wrote.

    My choice is rather personal. One of my first bosses as a co-op student at Environment Canada was a woman named Linda. She had graduated from the same geography program at the University of Waterloo that I was in. Women were a minority in our directorate (10 out of 140 staff) and Linda was a section head. She had 3 female staff (including me) as well as a male technician who gave her A LOT of trouble, probably because she was 1) female and 2) much younger. Linda also had 2 young children (4 and 1) and had a brutal 2.5 hour commute to Toronto every work day.

    About 5 years after I got my permanent position at Environment Canada, a massive reorganization resulted in Linda and me being reunited into the same research unit. We were the only 2 women in a group of 30 researchers. Linda has always been a mentor and friend, and is largely responsible for my career in climate change research.

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  4. Personally, I’d have to say my mother. Her father told her she’d never get into college – she earned an Associate’s Degree, Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree, all in nursing. She raised four kids and sadly died of breast cancer before she had a chance to sit back and reap the fruits of her labors.

    Another trite choice: Agatha Christie. She wasn’t some pampered rich woman indulging a hobby. She started writing to support her family. She worked in a dispensary in WWI, experience which informed her writing. And the non-writing part of her life was just as fascinating. If you haven’t read her autobiography, give it a peek.

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  5. Actually, all of March is Women’s History Month, which is why I’m posting an entry from my A Who’s Who of Tudor Women (written as Kathy Lynn Emerson) at my Facebook page for that book. As for the writer who had a huge influence on me, it was Dorothy Dunnett, from whom I borrowed half of my Kaitlyn Dunnett pseudonym..

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  6. Like Liz, I would have to say my mother. She completed high school as WWII started and went to work for the military building airplane parts. She married my father when he came home from the war, had me and then decided to go back to school for her college degree and join the work force at a time when many women were stay at home moms. She always portrayed a work ethic that impressed in me the need to work hard and anything I really wanted I could do. The first woman I read about as a child and found inspiring was Helen Keller, another woman who faced trials and overcame them.

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      1. I have it in my queue to buy, thanks! And, I have read all the M. Ruth Myers book about Maggie Sullivan, a working PI during WWII as well as The Code Girls. So many fabulous books about what women characters and authors can accomplish, I need more time to read them all. Thanks to all of you for the book suggestions.

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  7. Mary Kingsley, because she defied everyone by going to Africa as a discoverer. She loved it, even when she was hip deep in mud when wearing a dress and boots she wouldn’t remove because she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to get them on again. Nothing stopped her!

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  8. The strong women who have influenced me are my Mom, Aunt Evelyn and Aunt Janet. My Mom and aunts were born in West Virginia. They left the lives they knew in the mountains to move to Toledo, Ohio. Aunt Evelyn came to Toledo after she married Uncle Clyde. He worked on the ships so he was gone for months at a time. Aunt Evelyn raised three children alone while he was gone in a town when she knew few people. Aunt Janet learned to drive after Uncle Herb shattered his ankle and leg. He was very angry. He did not want his wife to drive. My Mom taught her to drive. My Mom came to Toledo with my Grandmother after she graduated from high school. My Grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. My Mom took care of her until her death. I pray that I can be half the woman these wonderful ladies.

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  9. I would have to say my wife, the writer Nancy Marie Brown. She is an excellent writer — and, fortunately for me, a top notch editor! More than twenty years ago, she helped me get through a really difficult time in my life, after my mother had been (yes) murdered. She kept the family together, working as an editor at a research magazine published by Penn State University, helped raise our son, helped me get some mental focus back by suggesting relatively straightforward books I could write (nature books), as my concentration was pretty well shot. Nowadays she gives me insight into female characters that I write about in my current Gideon Stoltz historical mysteries. Her nonfiction books (about Vikings and medieval times) are wonderful. Oh, and she also got me on a horse at age 50 (I won’t tell you how long ago that was!), and we both continue to ride together almost daily in spring, summer, and fall here in northern Vermont.

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