1. Emilia Lanier
Alive in Shakespeare´s time, Lanier was one of the first ever feminist writers in the English language. She rubbed shoulders with a few well-off men of the period: she was the Mistress of Queen Elizabeth I´s cousin, and then married a Queen´s musician… but she was also an incredibly ambitious and talented woman on her own. After publishing a volume of Latin poetry in 1611, she became the first woman in England to declare herself a professional poet, and later took her late husband´s brother to court for money – and won. Her poetry is often read as proto-feminist and has some very interesting themes. Her poetry book tells the story of Christ’s passion satirically – and almost entirely from a female point of view. When, as you can imagine, this didn’t go down too well with various members of 17th century society, she said that she had been instructed to write the work in a divine dream. What a great defence.
2. Rachel Carson
Born in the early 1900s in the United States, Carson was a marine biologist, nature writer, and conservationist. She is most well known for her book ‘Silent Spring’, published in 1962, which launched the environmental movement of the 1960s and led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Endangered Species Act. When she first published her book, society tried to discredit her research and findings, and critics labelled her as “emotional” – but she didn’t give up, and many US policies from the 1970s can be accredited to her work. She has left an iconic legacy for the ecofeminist movement, as well as for many female scientists. I wonder what she would think about the way we’re treating the climate crisis today.
3. Amika George
Amika George is an 18-year-old activist who had already achieved so much for feminism in the UK before even leaving sixth form. In April 2017, she started #FreePeriods, a campaign to make menstrual products free for school children in the UK. According to one survey, 15% of girls have at some point struggled to afford menstrual products. Through campaigns, petitions and partnerships with other period poverty charities, #FreePeriods got the British government to pledge a £2 million fund to tackle period poverty around the world. In 2018, the Scottish government went a step further and became the first in the world to offer free sanitary products in all schools, colleges and universities. Then in March 2019 the British government said it too would provide free sanitary products in secondary schools and colleges in England from next year. Huge progress!
4. Princess Sophia Duleep Singh
Born in 1876, Singh was Queen Victoria’s goddaughter and the daughter of the last maharaja of the Sikh empire. However, far from staying away from normality, she was an active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WPSU, the militant women’s rights organisation led by Emmeline Pankhurst). She spoke at meetings and protested against the exclusion of women from voting rights by refusing to pay taxes and rates, despite the fact that this got her fined several times. In 1911, Princess Sophia joined her feminist comrades and boycotted the census, writing on her census form: “No Vote, No Census. As women do not count they refuse to be counted, & I have a conscientious objection to filling up this form” before signing her name. She made no secret of her affiliations with the movement, despite her social status. Even when the 1918 law to allow some privileged women to vote was passed, she remained interested in the cause and particularly in the enfranchisement and education of Indian women.
5. Caroline Haslett
Caroline Haslett was an English electrical engineer and a strong believer in women’s rights. Having received basic training as an engineer at a boiler company during World War One, she then went on to be the first secretary of the newly-founded Women’s Engineer Society and later to found the Electrical Association for Women. She believed that electricity could be used to help women by liberating them from time consuming, arduous household tasks – and so worked on coming up with solutions to household problems to try and give more women time to pursue their own interests, develop their careers and take time for themselves. She also championed the idea that men and women could equally work within these pioneering, scientific fields, and published several works including electrical handbooks for women. If only she knew that today we have electronic gadgets for housework coming out of our ears – and it’s still mostly women who have to operate them!
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