Saturday, September 25, 2021

Gacad: History of HER story

Ziggy Zaggy

IN CELEBRATION of Women's Month, here are some truly inspiring women in history:


"Some of the most famous names of the American Civil Rights movement are men, including Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, with the women of the movement often forgotten. Dorothy Height, who died in 2010, spoke openly about the sexism she experienced within the civil rights movement, challenging this by working with other women to establish women's political organizations such as the National Women's Political Caucus. Height engaged white women in the movement, highlighting the particular struggles faced by African American women who experience both sexism and racism. The National Women's Political Caucus still exists today, showing the extent and importance of Dorothy Height's political activism." -- Kate Sang, Professor of Gender and Employment Studies at Edinburgh Business School

"One of my favorite women from history is Mala Sen (1947 - 2011), whose courage and activism was crucial to making London's Spitalfields the vibrant hub of culture it is today. Mala eloped from India to Britain in 1965, aged just 17, with her husband and began working in sweatshops to earn a living. Appalled by the terrible working and living conditions Bengali families were forced to endure, she helped set up the Bengali Housing Action Group, who fought to make the area around Brick Lane a safe neighborhood for these communities. Although the shape of East London wouldn't be the same without Mala Sen and the women she campaigned with, their stories have largely been forgotten. That's why I chose her as the first woman on the new East End Women's Museum trail, which has been launched this month and is free to download online." -- Charlotte Tomlinson, historian of modern British history at the University of Leeds

"If you believed the films, you'd think that LGBT activism was created by white, gay men. That is simply not the case. The recent anniversary of the Stonewall riots has just passed us, and yet one of the most prominent activists has been looked over: trans woman of color, Marsha P. Johnson. Following on from the Stonewall riots, Marsha and her close friend Sylvia Rivera founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries which sheltered LGBT kids from abusive homes. This has been overlooked as they made the money to do this through sex work. However, we cannot forget about the hundreds of LGBT youth that had a sense of family because of what they did." -- Riana Goldman, Volunteer Co-ordinator, LGBT Foundation

"Science, like all the other professions, was essentially forbidden to women for centuries. Those few women who broke the barriers of convention were deprived of much of the recognition they deserved in their lifetimes, and were often dismissed as assistants to the men, who naturally took the credit. For example, Ada Lovelace (1815 - 1852) the daughter of the poet Byron, was a brilliant mathematician who worked with Charles Babbage - considered the father of computing. However, Ada published work describing how codes could be created for Babbage's 'analytical engine' using both letters and numbers which surpassed his work. She was the first person who proposed how such an engine could be given a series of instructions to follow - essentially she created computer programming by doing this! At the time of publication in the 19th century, her work was ignored, and her ground-breaking contribution was not discovered until the 1950s." -- Dr. Anne Whitehouse, author and PhD scientist

"Constance Smedley (1876-1941) was an author, playwright, and founder of the International Lyceum Clubs. Her life is breathtaking due to the amount she got done and her commitment to improving professional opportunities for women from all backgrounds. She had an illustration published in Pall Mall magazine at 16, went on to publish articles and novels often focusing on women's emancipation, staged a historical 'Pageant of Progress' with 1,300 performers, and established a theatre company 'the Greenleaf Theatre' with her husband. She also established the International Lyceum Clubs which provided professional women of all backgrounds with institutional support - she was determined to create a world in which women could compete equally with men. Smedley was committed to internationalism, and she wanted to create new, democratic opportunities for cultural exchange. Although the first Clubhouse was established in London in 1904, by the 1920s, 28 branches had been founded in 13 countries and across 3 continents, including China and Australia. Smedley did all of this while suffering from physical disability throughout her life (likely caused by childhood polio), traveling around the world in a wheelchair and on crutches. She died in 1941 after several years of illness, living quietly in West Wycombe, which has likely contributed to her later obscurity." -- Dr. Zoë Thomas, lecturer in the history of 19th Century Britain and the Wider World at the University of Birmingham

"Una Marson (1905-1965) was an Afro-Jamaican anti-colonial feminist, poet, journalist, broadcaster, and playwright. The first black woman hired by the BBC, Marson hosted and produced a radio series that featured letters from West Indian soldiers fighting and broadcast them back home in the Caribbean. Early black feminists like Marson have been twice ignored -- black women were some of the most important theorists of black internationalism and anti-colonialism, the study of which has tended to focus on black men, and of feminism, which is often portrayed as being a white and middle class creation. Marson was one of the first thinkers to examine the relationship between gender, race, and class." -- Bethan Fisk, Teaching fellow in Caribbean history, University of Leeds

"The reason why we should remember Cattelena, who lived in Almondsbury near Bristol, is that she is one of the few African women to have left a record in the rural Britain of the seventeenth century. All we have is the inventory of her goods at her death in 1625: a cow worth £3, a bed, a quilt, a candlestick, four pots, dishes and spoons, 'all her wearing apparel,' a coffer and two little boxes. It amounted to £6, 9 shillings and sixpence. She was not wealthy, but she was supporting herself, with the aid of her cow and her labour. She was single, like one in five of the women of seventeenth-century England, and she appointed another woman as her executor. Her name - only a first name was given - suggests she had arrived in Bristol via Spain. That's all we know, but it's enough to change our picture of the English countryside." -- Laura Gowing, Professor of early modern history at King's College, London

"When many people think about pilots in World War Two they will imagine a dashing young man flying a Spitfire or a Lancaster bomber. However, in many ways, the most daring pilots were the women who worked in the Air Transport Auxiliary. The Spitfire Women, or Attagirls, delivered planes to the RAF and flew without any supporting defense. These women also had to fight the ingrained sexism as they challenged the prevailing gender norms of the early twentieth century. Called the Spitfire Women, the pilots flew different planes in the war including Lancaster Bombers. Despite working in very dangerous and challenging conditions, these women are rarely recognized as heroes of the War even though they worked tirelessly for their country." -- Professor Kate Sang

"Another of my favorite women from history has got to be Lillian 'Big Lil' Bilocca. Lil was an ordinary working-class woman from Hull, who worked in the city's fishing industry as a cod skinner. The men in Lil's community worked on fishing trawlers in the Atlantic - an incredibly dangerous job where men often died because of almost non-existent health and safety measures. In 1968 when 58 men tragically died in the space of a month, Lil decided that enough was enough. Together with other Hull women she launched a petition, gathered hundreds of women for demonstrations, and eventually travelled to London to pressure the government for change. Lil was amazing because she used her voice at a time when women like her were expected to stay silent, and refused to be turned away from spaces where she wasn't 'supposed' to be, like on the docks (where only men were allowed) or in the buildings of Whitehall. I love her story because it shows how ordinary women can change the course of history if they put their minds to it." -- Charlotte Tomlinson

"Another brilliant scientific mind was that of Henrietta Leavitt (1868 - 1921) the American astronomer. She worked at Harvard, but being female was not permitted to work with real telescopes, neither was granted the status of full researcher. Yet despite being relegated to data analysis, she discovered a method of measuring astronomical distances on the inter-galactic scale. Her work at the time was largely ignored, and it was not until after her death that the famous male astronomer Edwin Hubble used her findings in his work showing that the fuzzy nebulae were in fact distant galaxies, and that the universe was expanding. Hubble himself said of Henrietta Leavitt that she deserved the Nobel prize for her work. He had the famous telescope named after him, but his work would not have been possible had it not been for Henrietta's discoveries." -- Dr. Anne Whitehouse

"Anne was a butcher's wife from Maldon, Essex, and led a crowd of women and children in a food protest in 1629. It was a time of agricultural depression and food shortage, but grain was being exported to Europe. According to court records, Anne Carter and a hundred other women boarded the ships waiting at Mersea Island and filled their aprons with corn and rye for their families. Carter also toured the local towns to gather support, calling herself 'Captain Anne Carter.' It was traditional in the 1600s for women to participate in protest, partly because contemporaries often believed that once married, they had no legal responsibility; but this was a myth, and Carter was hanged. Women like Anne Carter, illiterate, often survive only in the traces of legal records, but the tradition of female political activism is important to remember when women's public voices are so often under threat." -- Professor Laura Gowing

"Claudia Jones (1915 - 1964) was a Trinidadian-born communist, anti-imperialist intellectual and founder of the first black British newspaper, the West Indian Gazette (1958) and Notting Hill Carnival (1955). She was one of the earliest theorists of intersectionality - her 1949 paper 'An End to the Neglect of Problems of the Negro Woman' conceptualized of the triple oppression black women faced because of race, class, and gender. In the late 1940s and early 1950s she was imprisoned various times for being a communist, ordered to be deported from the US, and refused entry into Trinidad. Jones's publishing, writing, and organizing center on resisting cultural imperialism and celebrating Caribbean culture. Following the Notting Hill 'race riots' of 1958, started by mobs of white people attacking people of color, she founded the Notting Hill carnival, which is celebrated to this day. Jones's intellectual and cultural contributions have largely written out of history until recent years because, as a black feminist communist, she embodied the greatest fears of white establishment Britain." -- Bethan Fisk


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