The price of freedom was paid not only by our forefathers but those brave women who, through struggle and resistance, paved the way for all of us. This Fourth of July, let’s celebrate the courage of revolutionary women who refused to accept the societal expectations of their time; many are still fighting for freedom today.
Malala Yousafzai grew up in Pakistan advocating for the rights of girls to acquire an education in her homeland. Unfortunately, this revolutionary belief made her a target. In 2012, after leaving school, she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban in retaliation for her support of young girls like herself in the pursuit of education. After making a full recovery in Britain, Yousafzai decided to stand up to the fundamentalist political group instead of living in fear or hiding. Her story brought world-wide attention and support from the United Nations, leading her to write about her ordeal in the book, I am Malala. It became an international best seller. Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 and continues to inspire through her activism and fight for the rights of children and women around the world.
Angela Yvonne Davis
Angela Yvonne Davis is an American author, professor and political activist fighting for the rights of the oppressed. In her youth she was one of the leaders of the Black Liberation movement and opposed the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. As a lesbian and black feminist, she supports gay rights and speaks out against racism and sexism, fighting against the exclusion and subordination of women and people of color throughout American society. In 1997, she co-founded Critical Resistance, an organization that works to abolish a corrupt private- and state-run prison system, which has been the focus of her activism in recent years. Davis continues to be an advocate for social and education reform to address homelessness and incarceration and has criticized the broken immigration system.
Bessie Head is one of the most influential Botswanan writers of the 20th century. She was born to an affluent white woman and black servant in South Africa, in 1937. During this time, interracial relationships were against the law, so her life was controversial from the beginning. Head was raised in an orphanage after her mother committed suicide. Then, at the age of twelve, she attended an Anglican boarding school for black girls which changed her life. Introduced to the world of books, she eventually became a teacher and journalist. The heavy burden of being a child of an interracial relationship in apartheid South Africa took its toll, and Head decided to migrate to Botswana. She then focused on racial issues and politics, along with the psychological trauma of divisions among human beings. Growing up interracial, without a family, and eventually without a country, profoundly influenced her life and writing. Despite these challenges, Head tried to rise above divisions between human beings and resists being labeled “feminist,” “black,” “African,” or “revolutionary” writer.
Born into slavery in 1822, Harriet Tubman endured cruel beatings until she escaped from her abusive slave owner in Maryland in her early 20s. Although she made it to the North, it was not long before Tubman returned to Maryland to help free her relatives. She subsequently began helping more slaves escape by setting up daring raids in the South and establishing links with the Underground Railroad. Tubman continued these efforts in South Carolina during the Civil War, creating a spy ring to transition former slaves into a new life of freedom. Eventually, after the war, she set up a charity in Auburn, New York, to aid neglected African Americans. She also joined the women’s suffrage movement before she died in 1913, concluding a long life of heroism and activism.
Deborah Sampson Gannett
Deborah Sampson Gannett was a Massachusetts woman who was born into hardship. At age 22 she changed her name to Robert Shurtlieff and enlisted into the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Initially she was detected after disguising herself as a male soldier, but eventually was able to pass herself off as a man and fight alongside male soldiers. Gannett was granted a uniform and military equipment, then marched with 50 other recruits to West Point, New York. Her secret was finally discovered by a doctor after she was wounded by a musket in Tarrytown, New York, in 1782. She received an honorable discharge, then went back to her home in Massachusetts. After being rejected by her Baptist church for impersonating a male soldier, she married a man and had three children. She faded into obscurity, but not before sharing her adventures on a speaking tour in 1802.
Mary Wollstonecraft was a revolutionary English writer, philosopher and feminist in the late eighteenth century. Controversial in her time, she wrote about feminist principles and held radical views on the American and French revolutions. She is best known for her treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. The book, first published in 1792, was a scandal as it advocated for women’s education and equality. It remains a fundamental text of Western feminism and continues to contribute to modern social thought. Wollstonecraft’s inspiration for her writings most likely stemmed from a difficult childhood of family instability. She endured her father’s alcoholic abuse towards her mother and frequent moves around England due to her family’s financial troubles. Eventually she married William Godwin, but then died of complications from the birth of her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Her daughter was heavily influenced by her mother’s writings, carrying on her beliefs and penning the now canonical novel, Frankenstein.
Marie Antoinette is best known for excesses that inspired a radical revolution. Initially, the young queen from Austria was well liked when she married the prince who would eventually ascend to the throne as King Louis XVI. However, after a reported affair, expensive spending habits, and military support for France’s enemies in Austria, the tide started to turn against the once-beloved queen. The royal couple’s popularity plummeted as they and the rest of the royal family bought expensive clothes and jewelry for elaborate celebrations, while many French people suffered in poverty. Accused and convicted of depleting the treasury and high treason by revolutionaries, she was condemned to die by guillotine like her husband in 1793. Both were buried in unmarked graves. The deaths of many more at court finally subsided with the end of the French monarchy and then the French Revolution that finally concluded in 1802.
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc was a 17-year-old illiterate peasant who claimed to receive ominous spiritual visions in the early 15th century. Her courage and faith helped her convince the uncrowned King Charles VII of France to let her go to war against England. Her perseverance and tactical strategy turned the siege in France’s favor despite their having endured several devastating defeats at Orléans during the Hundred Years’ War. Eventually, after several engagements with the enemy, Joan of Arc was captured by the English two years later. She was tried, found guilty of being a heretic, and burned at the stake for the crime of crossing-dressing in male military clothing. Despite the damning label, she became known as a heroine and patron saint who changed the tide of a war that would eventually deliver her country out of the control of enemy hands.