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5 Female Activists - Part 1: Pioneers

Posted on February 27 2019

The history of women is a turbulent one: Oppression, self-sacrifice, resistance, empowerment and everything in between. It is the reality that our foremothers lived, some without question or opposition. However, for others, the need for change and equality was immeasurable so they turned their voices into action, transforming the future of women forever. There were many women throughout history whose contributions, both big and small, paved the way for the rights and freedoms that many of us enjoy today. So, without further ado, Skye proudly presents 5 Pioneers of Female Activism. 


Harriet Tubman (c 1822 - March 10, 1913) ''Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.''

Born Araminta Ross, Tubman was an advocate for the abolition of slavery and, in turn, became a political activist. Born into slavery and subsequently escaping, she is credited with the successful completion of 13 rescue missions which led approximately 70 enslaved people to freedom. She also played an integral part in the American Civil War. She held positions as a cook, nurse, and later, as an armed scout and spy becoming the first woman to lead an armed expedition. In her later years, she worked with Susan B. Anthony, campaigning tirelessly for women’s right to vote. In life and in death, she was an icon of freedom, equality, and civil rights. She was the first African American woman to be honored with innumerable monuments, schools, and even a US postage stamp.



Dr. Emily Stowe (May 1, 1831 - April 30, 1903) ''As educated citizens, as moral and loving women, we desire to be placed in a position to impress directly our thought upon our nation and time.''

Dr. Emily Stowe (born Jennings) was not only the second licensed female physician in Canada, but also the first female doctor to practice in Canada. Her road to becoming a doctor was filled with the challenges of navigating a medical profession dominated by men seeking to keep it closed to women. This forced her to study medicine at a women’s college in the United States. While there, she was privy to the American Women’s Suffrage Movement which inspired her to create the Canadian counterpart, the Toronto Women’s Literary Club, later renamed the Canadian Women’s Suffrage Association. Through her work, many considered her to be the mother of the Canadian Suffrage Movement. Her name and legacy live on not only in Canadian history books, but through elementary schools named after her both in her hometown of Norwich Township as well as in Courtice, Ontario.



Qiu Jin (November 8, 1875 - July 15, 1907) ''We sisters must learn to put aside everything we have preoccupied ourselves with before and focus on what we must do for our future...''.

Across the globe to the Asian continent was Qui Jin, a Chinese writer and feminist during the time of the Qing Dynasty. While living in Japan, she caused a stir and became known for dressing in western male attire. She was outspoken on women’s issues such as forced and oppressive marriage, the freedom and right to education, as well as the abolition of the painful practice of foot-binding. As a writer, she founded and published several radical journals discussing these and other issues experienced by the women of China. As such, Jin was involved in several secret revolutionary societies whose main goal was to overthrow the existing government. Since her death, she has been immortalized in numerous plays, movies and documentaries. The Chinese government chose to honor her and her contributions by transforming her former residence into a museum.



Clara Barton (December 25, 1821 - April 12, 1912) ''I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all, I shall never do a man's work for less than a man's pay.''

This remarkable woman held many distinguished titles in her time including teacher, patent clerk, and hospital nurse. As a humanitarian and self-taught nurse who served in the American Civil War, Barton is most notably known for founding the American Red Cross in 1881. Prior to this, she was also the first woman to receive equal salary to that of a man’s in a federal government office, an achievement that wasn’t without aggressive opposition. During her time in the war, she offered crucial emotional and physical support to sick and wounded men in uniform, often times near the battlefield. For her selflessness and bravery, she was affectionately known as “Angel of the Battlefield”. After the war, she became an activist for civil rights which included the women’s suffrage movement. Her reputation lives on in the many schools, streets, hospitals and foundations named in her honor.



Raden Adjeng Kartini (April 21, 1879 - September 17, 1904) '' The freeing of women is inevitable - it will come, only we cannot hasten its coming. The freedom of women will be the fruit of our suffering and pain''

Typically, just referred to as Kartini, this young Javanese woman was a pioneer for the education of girls and women’s rights in Indonesia in the late 19th century. Forced out of formal school at the age of 12, she continued her education independently by reading books, newspapers and European magazines. The latter inspired her feminist thinking, fueling her desire to improve the lives of her fellow Indonesian women. Her knowledge of Dutch allowed her to have several pen friends to which she would write letters professing her views on what she considered societal issues and injustices. These included freedom and legal equality for women as well as an opposition to polygamy. During her short life, she was able to establish a school for women, an act, which upon her death, inspired others to create a foundation in her honor which built more women’s institutions. She has also been memorialized with a national holiday in Indonesia with her birthday being declared “Kartini Day”.


To these stalwarts, we are indebted for their diligence, struggles and commitment to our future. Their triumphs not only improved the lives of millions of women, but also served as inspiration for the next wave of female activism. Stay tuned for part two where we explore the trailblazers of this movement.