Historically Important Feminist Heroes

Celebrate and learn about some of the women that shaped the modern era.

If you take a look at history books anywhere, you might notice somewhat of a pattern. Most historical “heroes” written about are men. Their lives and their achievements all well documented and celebrated by the entire world. The word hero itself is of the male nature as it immediately evokes pictures of big, strong men holding a sword and fighting evil. But what history often fails to include is the fact that women have had to fight for their rights to simply exist since the dawn of time. Omitting important women historical figures from historical documents has been common practice for centuries. However, whether you are reading about how slavery within the US ended, or how women worldwide were gaining their rights to vote, there are some key feminist figures that deserve remembrance, and their names in all the history books. 


Early Feminism

The history of feminism is a rich one, with historical figures making an impact all throughout the 19th and the 20th century. The Seneca Falls Convention kicked everything off when 200 women met in a New York church to discuss the current rights of women and their grievances at the time. Sojourner Truth was a woman of colour and a key figure at the time fighting for women’s right to vote worldwide, and against the abhorrent anti-black racism of the time.

Wilhelmina Drucker (1847-1925) was a Dutch politician and one of the earlier known feminist who fought hard for women rights through politics and different organizations that she founded herself. She was part of what is known as first wave feminism throughout the late 1800s. It was mostly centred on important legal inequalities that women were facing at the time, including women not being allowed to vote. Other things that first wave feminism sought to accomplish were; educational rights and taking down double standards that favoured men at the time. 

Some of the most notable names throughout the first wave also include: 

Jane Addams (1860-1935), born in Chicago, Illinois, was a social reformer and pacifist that co-won the Nobel Prize in 1931.

Alice Paul (1885-1977) was a leader in the suffragist movement and a key voice in the push for the 19th amendment that allowed women to vote. 

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) coined the term “birth control” and fought all her life towards more informative sex education for women. 

Additionally, when it comes to women’s right to vote specifically, activists such as Emily Davison (1872-1913), Lucy Stone (1818-1893), and Nellie McClung (1873-1951), also played essential roles. 

There were many protests that even got violent at times, but women’s suffrage was achieved due to many women who worked hard in the face of danger posed by men who felt threatened. With women gaining rights and more involvement in the work force and in overall decision making processes, men had to start getting used to a new reality that most could not comprehend nor accept.  


The Progression of Feminism Through the 20th Century

Women had important roles throughout the World War I and World War II as well. The British services alone enrolled around 460,000 women and in many countries women themselves volunteered in anti-aircraft gun combat. Through World War II more specifically, women served in the military as medics, radio operators, truck drivers, snipers, analysed photos, rigged parachutes, flew aircraft and more. 

The second wave of feminism evolved from there and it covers a period from the early 1960s through late 1980s. It served to take down a sexist power structure, and it focused on ending discrimination. “Women roles” were mostly traditional, as most women who even graduated were still stuck doing house chores and traditional work despite the education. “Women’s Liberation” was a phrase coined throughout the second wave. It was first used in 1964 and in print in 1966, and it sought personal freedom for women. 

Gloria Steinem (1934-) is one of the most prominent feminist figures all throughout the 20th century, but especially through the second wave. She was a columnist for New York magazine, and a co-founder of the ‘Ms. Magazine’. Nowadays, Steinem is still doing wonderful feminist work travelling as a lecturer, and is a media spokeswoman on the issues of equality. 

Germaine Greer (1939-) is also one of the more prominent figures through the second wave feminism. Greer’s ideas have created additional controversies since she published her book, The Female Eunuch on 1970. Greer argued that women are forced to take roles in society that are only fulfilling of male fantasies of what a women can or can not be. Her work has focused on literature, feminism and the environment, with 20 books written on these topics and more. 

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is one of the most famous feminists and writers to ever live. Her novels are ground-breaking and still taught in academic universities all over the world. Woolf also wrote essays on artistic theory and the politics of power. Despite having had a tough life struggling with mental illnesses, her written work is exceptional and unmatched, having gained attention and inspiring many other feminists through history. 


Third and Fourth Wave Feminism

Third wave feminism started in the early 1990s and has focused on doing what the second wave failed to. The third wave deals not only with gender related issues, but with the homophobic and racist ones as well. Feminists such as Gloria Anzaldua (1942-2004) and Audre Lorde (1934-1992) brought new queer and POC perspectives to the movement.  

Another topic that third wave feminism deals with is the pro-choice / pro-life debate. Whereas before, women were never allowed to have control when it comes to making decision regarding their own bodies (including abortions), nowadays feminism has made incredible progress on the issue. 

The fourth feminist wave focuses somewhat more on modern issues. A prevalent focus has been set on the technological side of thing dealing with social media harassment, transgender support, and male feminism. 


Current Feminism

While incredible progress has been made on many important fields all throughout the history of feminism, there are still many issues at hand that need to be dealt with. The feminist movement is embracing intersectionality and focusing on work against racism and homophobia, which is a sign of progress and moving with the times. 

Even in 2021, racism is still a huge obvious problem in society. Immigration is also a real issue that needs to be taken seriously, and not just brushed aside with blatant racist overtones. The fights against these issues have a place in an ever-evolving feminism, one which previous feminist heroes would be proud of. 


There’s still much to fix, but it’s good to know that feminists everywhere are at least trying, and therefore giving everyone a fighting chance. 

Picture: Shutterstock/ ID: 1892886166

Interested in learning more about women making a difference?

Nawal Haider Butt: A 15-Year-Old Activist Making Her Mark in Pakistan


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