Women’s History Month has been celebrated during the month of March in the UK since 2011, Australia since 2000 and since 1987 in the US (kind of ironic given their, you know, general attitude towards women and girls) while Canada reserves October for celebrating history’s fiercest females. It coincides with International Women’s Day on 8th March and because one day is just not enough to recognise and celebrate the achievements of women throughout history and contemporary times and until the history books are rewritten to include the social, cultural, political and economic contributions of women, we spend the month of March saluting these incredible rebel girls.
While I identified as a feminist from a young age, my love of history has only recently been ignited. I absolutely hated history at school and even though I can reel off trivial facts about the Tudors and Victorians (subjects that I learnt at primary school through art, DT and drama), I cannot remember any history I learnt at secondary school (subjects I learnt about from text books about old, white men). I could not relate or see why it was important for me to know and I dropped it as soon as I could.
As a teacher, I now understand how important it is for children to see themselves and their own history and culture reflected back to them. They see the value in their own potential and the power of their actions. Every year, we celebrate Black History Month for the duration of October in my classroom and last year was the first year we celebrated Women’s History Month. I try to make sure that my book corner is an inspirational, as well as aspirational, place for children to get lost in; a place where they can learn about the achievements of women, people of colour and lgbtq+ people throughout history and current times. People like them. Recently, I have had a young girl tell me she wants to be a wing walker when she grows up after reading about Lillian Boyer in Linda Skeers’ Women Who Dared. Another girl dressed as Michelle Obama for World book day after struggling to find a black character she identified with (her second choice was Ada Twist, Scientist). We’ve had open discussions about transgender people thanks to Coy Mathis’ inclusion in Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. These books matter.
My own love of women’s history has been thanks to my discovery of several podcasts. Late to the party, I only discovered podcasts when we moved to the suburbs and started commuting into London for work but now I can’t live without them! I have learnt about incredible women from ancient history through to contemporary times; women whose full, nuanced stories were either edited for the history books or not included at all. So, during the month of March, I am going to be posting about some of these amazing women from history that have touched and inspired me to do better and be better.
Hatshepsut, Pharaoh of Egypt (1507-1458b.c.e)
Married to her half-brother, King Thutmose II, she became co-regent when his son Thutmose III, her step son/nephew, became Pharaoh at the age of 2 although it is generally believed that she assumed the role of Pharaoh herself (being only the second woman to do so). Reigning for around 22 years, Hatshepsut is regarded as one of the greatest Pharaohs in Ancient Egyptian history. Major accomplishments during her reign included establishing important trade networks and the construction of countless ambitious building projects, temples and obelisks. While she was not the first female pharaoh, her reign was long, prosperous and included long periods of peace and she was considered a great ‘king.’ She was portrayed in images as both a male pharaoh (at her own instruction) with a ceremonial beard and in some, more feminine regalia. Dying in middle age, she was buried in the Valley of the Kings and Thutmose III finally ascended the throne. During his reign, he had Hatshepsut’s image all but erased from artefacts, buildings and sculptures in what is believed to be an attempt to remove a powerful woman’s legacy from history. Because of Thutmose III’s fragile male ego, nothing was known of Hatshepsut until 1822 when hieroglyphics were translated and then in 1903, her empty tomb was discovered. We now know about this incredibly powerful, ambitious woman despite the attempts of the patriarchy to literally erase her existence.
Ida B. Wells, journalist, suffragist, civil rights activist (1862-1931)
Born in Mississippi months before the Emancipation Proclamation to enslaved parents, Ida B Wells grew up in a time of great social and political turbulence. Both parents, who died from yellow fever when Ida was 16, were politically active and she learnt her great sense of justice and fairness from them alongside a love for education. To allow her to keep her siblings together following her parents death, she became a school teacher, which fuelled her interest in civil rights after finding out that white teachers were paid over double a black teacher’s wage.
At the age of 22 in 1884, while riding the train to work, she was ordered by a conductor to give up her seat in the first-class ladies’ car, for which she had a ticket, and move to the smoking car which was already full. She refused to give up her seat and three men forcibly removed her from the car while onlookers applauded. Ida hired a lawyer to sue the railroad company and wrote about her experience in a local newspaper. Despite winning her case, it was later reversed on appeal.
She continued to teach, act and participate in a debate society and at around this time started writing for a black owned newspaper called the Living Way. At 27, she became the editor of an anti-segregation newspaper which published articles on racial injustice. Following the lynching of her friend, Thomas Moss, Ida urged black people to leave Memphis in her newspaper article which covered the lynching. She began a tireless investigation into lynching in the South which resulted in her fleeing Memphis, fearing for her life. She campaigned to raise awareness of lynching throughout her life, along with campaigning for women’s suffrage and was one of the founders of the NAACP in 1909.
Never afraid to speak her truth and fight until the very end, she remains an important figure in intersectional feminism as a woman who fought against racial injustices and for women’s rights.
If you’re interested in learning more about these brilliant women and other great women from history, check out: