Small Steps for Womankind: The Woman’s Hall of Fame Turns 43

We’ve all heard the saying,

 “Well behaved women seldom make history”
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

The Tea Table used to sign
The Declaration of Sentiments in 1848

It might as well be the motto for the National Women’s Hall of Fame, created 43 years ago today (that’s 1969, for those of you who haven’t had your coffee) in Seneca Falls, N.Y; a site considered the birthplace of the Women’s Right movement from the Seneca Falls Convention, held July 19-20th of 1848. There, our foremothers drafted, fought for, and (with the impassioned help of Frederick Douglass) passed the lesser-known Declaration of Sentiments, modeled after the Declaration of Independence, which began,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…”

It also included a list of resolutions, including that women have the right to vote. Soon after it passed, An article in the Oneida Whig described it as, “…the most shocking and unnatural event ever recorded in the history of womanity.” 

Isn’t it sad how women have historically been, and still are today, just as guilty of patriarchy as men? In April, women were the ones bashing Ashley Judd for her “puffy face“, inciting this response:

Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at timesβ€”I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.A case in point is that this conversation was initially promulgated largely by women; a sad and disturbing fact.

Harriet Tubman was honored in the
National Woman’s Hall of Fame in 1973

As with most equality movements, progress has been slow and the fight is far from over, especially when women are still fighting against each other. It took 70 years from the Seneca Falls Convention until women were finally allowed to vote. It’s only been 90 years (Okay, slightly over, smartypants.) since, and it’s no wonder there is an outcry among women there is a plateau or stall in both American and global feminism. 

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, described as “rape capital of the world”, women are not only suffering unequal access to education or economic empowerment, they also suffer significant threats to their personal security on a daily basis because of a war fought primarily between men. In Darfur, rape and other forms of sexual violence are being used every hour of every day as a weapon of war in order to humiliate, punish, control, inflict fear and displace women and their communities.

Though in very different ways, American women struggle for equality, as well. They earn just 70 cents for every dollar a man earns and it’s even worse for women who are minorities. Through clever media and marketing, our faith and knowledge in our body’s own natural capabilities have been dissuaded and discouraged, both from birthing naturally and from exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months as the World Health Organization AND the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend.

It’s no surprise, given War on Women being waged today by Republicans, restricting access to reproductive healthcare  choices in the first place (though quality of care and c-sections are among the highest risk factors in US maternal deaths) Merely discussing these women’s issues (which includes verbage of the body parts involved -like vagina-) recently got two women banned from the Michigan House floor. Think that’s bad? Michigan House representative Barb Byrum was just banned –again!– this time from addressing pay equity. 

Clearly, we’ve got a long way to go.

Okay, so we’re not getting hung, raped and pillaged in American anymore, but merely settling at not-as-fucked-up is a slap in the face to all who have suffered and fought so hard to make it that way. These women were “just women“, like you and I:  Mary “Mother” Jones didn’t start until after she was 50. Sojourner Truth never learned to read. Maya Angelou was raped and didn’t speak for 5 years. Helen Keller could never see or hear. Every one of the women honored overcame their struggles with this one, simple thought:

So where to go from here? 

There are plenty of women’s issues that appear every day in the news. Woman simply using their breasts as nature intended (or NIP: Nursing in Public) anywhere but under a cloak of shame (or behind germ-infested bathroom stall doors) is enough to make headlines and get anyone normal headstrong enough to take such time liberty with their baby breasts in public dubbed doing it right a ‘feminist‘. These trailblazing, root-shaking, change-making women are undoubtedly shaking their fists from beyond at the sad fact is that simply being born with a vagina and a brain is enough to qualify one as a feminist, no action required.

It is within each of our grasps as women and men to make the changes in ourselves necessary to see the change in how society views women. Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes, ladies! There have been many small steps before us, but the journey is far from over and the torch has been placed in our hands.

Here are just a few of the 247 listed women who have been honored in the Hall of Fame, including 30 living legends; women who have sang loud and proud the song of women’s rights amidst a symphony of backwards thinking, rattling their chains for equal treatment and free use of their mind and bodies for nature’s (or God’s, if that’s your steeze) intended purposes… long before there existed internet headlines to make.

In order of their birth, some highlights from the list of our foremothers, whose trailblazing efforts we honor and appreciate as we celebrate today the anniversary of the place that brings them all together.

  • Fanny Wright Honored: 1994 (1795 – 1852) was the first American woman to speak out against slavery and for the equality of women who wrote and spoke out publicly for equal rights for all at a time when women were not accepted in such roles.
  • Amelia Bloomer Honored: 1995 (1818 – 1894) was the first woman to own, operate and edit a newspaper for women,  called The Lily. First published in 1849 in Seneca Falls, it became a recognized forum for women’s rights issues. She often wore full-cut pantaloons under a short skirt, giving birth to the term “bloomers.”
  • Mary Cassat Honored: 1973 (1844 – 1926) was a 19th century “painter of modern women” whose breastfeeding art is featured in my breastfeeding album, along with the art of many others.
  • Margaret Sanger Honored: 1981 (1879 – 1966) was a nurse and social reformer. After seeing many poor women in New York City damaged and dying from attempts to end unwanted pregnancies, she fought for reform. Sanger underwent arrests and imprisonment for distributing information on birth control and contraception.
  • Mary Breckinridge Honored: 1995 (1881 – 1965) was the nation’s foremost pioneer in the development of American midwifery and the provision of care to the nation’s rural areas as founder of the Frontier Nursing Service. 
  • Virginia Apgar Honored: 1995 (1909 – 1974) was a physician best known for development of the Apgar Score we are familiar with today in 1952. This system of simple tests is used to determine whether a newborn child requires special medical attention, and it has saved thousands of lives.
Feminsm isn’t just for or about martyrs and suffragettes. It’s about you and I -male and female- uniting, educating and encouraging ourselves and each other to take a holisitc approach towards womanhood; where each woman has the right and the freedom to exist as a whole human being, not as defined by sexual identification by themselves or others.
For more, check out all 247 women who have been honored in the Women’s Hall of Fame. 
[Update: 7/23/12 RIP Sally Ride. Thank you for taking one small step for womankind. 
See What We Can Learn From Sally Ride and Her Parents]
Also, feel free to check out these empowering, female-friendly videos for yourself and your kids and please share in the comments or on my Facebook page any other empowering music, reading or resources.
Who are your favorite female role models? Why?
What do YOU have a passion for?

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Check out this fun, feminist, mama, Jill Scott!


by Jill Scott
Clearly I am not a fat ass
I am active brain
and lip smacking peach deep
sometimes too aggressive in its honesty
and heart sweet
that loves whole-ly and completely
whom it may choose
whom ever it may choose

I am not gonna lie and pacify
I am arms to hold
I am lips to speak
I am a muthafuckin’ “G”

Strong legs that stroll off the 33 bus
or out of a money green Phantom confortably
Knees that bend to pray
clean from Ajax washings
hair that is thick and soft
Thighs that be-twixt
an amazing all expense grand prize

I am eyes that sing
smile that brightens
touch that rings
and supplies euphoric release
I am a Grand Dame Queen Beast

I am warm
I am peace
From the roads of Botswana to 23rd Street
From the inside third eye
ever watching this wicked wicked system of things
I do see

I am friend to pen
and a lover of strong women
A Diamond to men
I am curious and interested like children
I welcome the wise to teach
appreciator of my culture
Thick not just from bone dense and eat

I have a rhythm in my ways
and a practice in my seek
and yes I do crave the rhythm of my space
with a man that rejoices in God’s Grace

with faith I do hear to listen
two hands that fist
when forced pushes to shove
and your ego won’t submit

I am gifted
I am all of this
and indeed the Shit

Clearly I am not just an ass

Check out these women-friendly resources & leave your recommendations in the comments! 

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