Writer: Itumeleng Sibiya
Editor: Veronica Yung
Graphic Designer and Artist: Heidi Wong
Pondering on the flawless words of Rupi Kaur: " I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me, thinking What can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther? Our work should equip the next generation of women to outdo us in every field, this is the legacy we'll leave behind." I can easily imagine how the forgotten women felt as they drenched themselves in their course for change, having the future of women in mind. Unfortunately, history classes and literature have chosen to shove them aside due to various reasons, like systemic sexism that downplays women's achievements and shone all the glory on male figures. Recent research estimates that women are represented in only 0.5 % of recorded history - this is a clear indication that women are easily sidelined from getting the recognition they deserve. To denounce this, let's take a closer look at the fascinating stories of women that were unfairly overlooked.
Mabel Ping - Hua Lee (1896- 1966)
The first-wave feminism was rooted in suffrage but history puts white female middle and upper-class figures in the limelight of this struggle, dismissing the role of ethnic minority women, which is a form of White Feminism. Consequently, this led to the exclusion of the greatest contribution of an extraordinary woman named Mabel Ping- Hua Lee from historical records.
She was the first Chinese American woman to fight for voting rights. She was born on October 7, 1896, in Guangzhou, during the Qing dynasty of China. While her father Lee Towe (Lee To) worked as a missionary in America, she was tended to by her mother Lennick (Libreck Lee) and grandmother. Her family resided in a tenement at 53 Bayard Street in Chinatown. She was enrolled at New York's public schools, particularly Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, which accommodated immigrant children at the time. She procured a Bachelor's degree and Master's degree from Barnard College and later a doctorate in Economics from Columbia University in 1912, making her the first Chinese woman in the United States to gain a doctorate in Economics.
At the age of 15, on May 4, 1912 she found herself in a crowd of 10,000 people advocating for women's suffrage. She worked with women like Annie Rensselaer Tinker, the women's political union, and Anna Howard Shaw in New York to make the parade a success. Moreover, she orchestrated a parade for Chinese and Chinese American women in New York in 1917 for women's suffrage. Those weren't her only efforts towards women's suffrage as she also wrote articles throughout college and gave speeches, such as one in the suffrage workshop in 1915 that was titled "China's submerged half " where she stated: "The welfare of China and possibly its very existence as an independent nation depend on rendering tardy justice to its womankind. For no nation can ever make real and lasting progress in civilisation unless its women are following close to its men if not actually abreast with them.”
She led a life of bravery and boldness, so in recognition of her life and advocacy on behalf of women and Chinese immigrants in the United States, Chinatown, the U.S Post office on Doyers Street was renamed in her honour in December 2018.
Christine de Pizan ( 1364 - c 1430)
Christine de Pizan is addressed with these titles: Author, Poet, Moralist and Political thinker. In medieval France she became the first professional woman writer. She commenced her writing career with writing love poems and shifted onto bestselling books and works of fiction. She dipped her toes into writing when her husband died, leaving her with three young children she had to provide for at the age of 25.
She argued for the protection of widows and the education of girls. Her pieces of writing like Epistre au diet d' amours and Dit De la Rose- the Letter of the God of Love and Tale of the Rose were sharply condemning and criticising how men treat women. She argued for women to be respected and educated. She was the only notable French author who was greatly involved in producing her manuscripts. Correspondingly, Distractify says, "Everyone reads Chaucer in High School, but Christine de Pizan, whose work was published by the same man, William Caxton, doesn't see the light of day in most mainstream classrooms. Wonder why. "
Dr Paulina Luisi ( 1875- 1945)
Dr Paulina Luisi was a jack of all trades - a woman of many coats, but one significant white coat she is most known to have earned in a male-orientated industry is being the first Uruguayan woman to receive a medical degree.
Born in Argentina but raised in Uruguay, Luisi was the eldest child of European immigrants. This pioneering Uruguayan Physicist and Feminist was the first Latin American woman to participate in the League of Nations as a government representative. In 1916, she founded and led the Uruguayan branch of the National Women's Council, which was a Feminist movement. With her fellow member in feminism, Argentine feminist and socialist Alicia Moreau De Justo, Luisi believed in the equality of political rights and female education. Her strife for suffrage afforded women in Uruguay the right to vote. "She was a female voice in the otherwise patriarchal soundscapes of Medicine, Politics, and Radio; a voice that in both medium and message spoke in favour of women's right to speak,” said Bustle.
Gloria Richardson( 1922-2021)
Professor Katherine Bankole-Medina, a History Professor at Coppin State University, says, "One of the truly unsung heroines of the Civil Rights Movement was Gloria Richardson." She was best known for her active leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly as the leader of the Cambridge Movement in the early 1960s. She was one of the signatories to "The Treaty of Cambridge'' signed in July 1963 with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
Gloria Richardson was one of the founders of the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee and advocated for voting and economic rights of African Americans in Maryland.
"Yet Richardson, like many Black people (at the time ), was uniquely unemployable. Though highly educated, Richardson could not get a job in Cambridge, Maryland because routine racial discrimination practices prohibited Black people from professional positions and even some of the most menial jobs."
She was at the forefront of critiquing how Black women were treated. She fought for desegregating public spaces in Maryland until Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and officially prohibited segregation in public facilities. Later Richardson moved to New York and continued to work for racial equality until she passed away on the 15th of July 2021.
There are still many remarkable women like Wu Zetian, Fatima al-Firhi, Gertrude Benham, Bessie Coleman, Frances Marion, Katharine Blodgett, Rachel Carson, Gladly Bentley, etc that history records turned a blind eye to. There is no doubt that popular historians are overwhelmingly male, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that women are concealed in history. So, to counter this we need to take the initiative to read books written by female historians, conducting our own research on prominent women leaders and dispelling mansplaining of history.