Literary Links: Activism in Women’s History

Change is inevitable. But change does not have to be random; it can be strongly influenced by people who speak up and take action. Activists are a key component of change, shining a light on the issues at hand, ensuring they are not forgotten until they are resolved. During this Women’s History Month, let us reflect on the role women have played as activists both in this country and around the world. As Margaret Mead is thought to have said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

The Civil Wars of Julia Ward HoweJulia Ward Howe is probably most well-known for writing the anthem “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1861. She was also an abolitionist and active in the women’s suffrage movement. Her activism was inspired by her marriage to Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe. Despite being an activist himself, Howe’s husband did not approve of married women working outside the house and he tried to stifle his wife’s ambitions of being a writer. In “The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe” author Elaine Showalter explores Howe’s unhappy marriage and how it helped shape her into an important early voice for women’s rights both in and outside of the home.

The women’s rights movement in this country succeeded thanks to the work of many activists. In “The Woman’s Hour,” Elaine Weiss The Woman's Hourchronicles the complex journey to the passage of the 19th Amendment, with a focus on how notable suffragettes including Carrie Chapman Catt, Alice Paul and Sue Shelton White worked to get Tennessee to serve as the necessary 36th state to ratify the amendment. Weiss also explores how race factored into the fight for equality for women, with many people working for women’s rights as long as they did not include the rights of their fellow black citizens.

Hands on the Freedom PlowThe Civil Rights movement came about as it became clear that people of color in this country would remain second-class citizens without their own revolution. This movement featured many women, both black and white, who stood up for change, and in doing so had a chance to step outside the traditional roles of women of the time. “Hands on the Freedom Plow” is a collection of personal testimonies of women who worked for civil rights with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. These are the reflections of “ordinary” women from multiple backgrounds, including educators, nurses, homemakers, teachers and

In 1977, Midge Costanza was the first woman to become the Assistant to the President for Public Liaison and an important early voice in the A Feminist in the White Houseculture wars. “A Feminist in the White House” by Doreen Mattingly explores Costanza’s time in the Carter administration as she tried to advocate for controversial cultural issues including gay and lesbian rights, women’s rights and abortion rights. Mattingly offers insight into the gender politics of the time and the beginning of the culture wars in the United States.

The Last GirlThe Nobel Peace Prize, which acknowledges people whose work and activism have helped direct the world towards peace, has been awarded to 17 women since 1901. Leymah Gbowee, winner of the prize in 2011, chronicles her experiences rallying the women around her and using nonviolent protest to help end the Second Liberian Civil War in her memoir “Mighty Be Our Powers.” She writes, “…when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire.” Nadia Murad was awarded the prize in 2018 and chronicles her story in “The Last Girl.” The first Iraqi to be awarded the prize, she was kidnapped and enslaved by the Islamic State. After escaping, she spoke out about the horrors her people experienced and established the non-profit Nadia’s Initiative, which aims to help victims of atrocities such as war, genocide and human trafficking.

Who will be the activists of tomorrow and beyond? How will they fight for their beliefs and what barriers will they Powered by Girlbreak down? In “Powered by Girl,” Lyn Mikel Brown explores modern day activism through the stories of girls who are currently changing the world and the adults who are helping to guide them. Social norms have not made it easy for girls to try to be activists in the past, which makes it especially important that girls start stepping into this role. Brown notes, “Girl activists embody alternative versions of girlhood. This makes the spaces they occupy safer for all girls, but especially for those…[who] are more likely to be discounted or disciplined for their outspokenness and resistance.”



Literary Links, compiled by library staff, appears monthly in the Ovation section of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Each article contains a short list of books on a timely topic.
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