In May I had my last installment of Fictional Ladies I Admire, and at the time I thought I’d write a follow-up about actual ladies I admire IN REAL LIFE. Then whoosh! Months past and I didn’t get off my duff. So here we are!
There have been tons and tons of fabulous females throughout history and I’ve been lucky to have a few in my own life as well. Compiling this list of ten was hard – there were so many to choose from! But after much consideration, I narrowed it down to my top 10:
1. Margaret of Anjou
Margaret was married to Henry VI when she was 15. After her husband’s first collapse, she completely took over all royal affairs. When he was declared too mentally incompetent to rule, Margaret raised an army to defend herself and styled herself as a warrior-queen. She led several victories during the War of the Roses before she and her family fled to Scotland. In 1462 she went to France and received help from Louis XI. Things went pretty well for Margaret until her child was killed by Edward VI. Margaret was known to be incredibly smart, clever, and fierce.
2. The Grimke sisters
Sarah Moore and Angelina Emily Grimke were 19th-century abolitionist and women’s rights advocates. They were born to a slave-owning father in Charleston and fled north, where their deep personal revulsion to slavery led them to become the first females to speak out in public in the US. They were Quaker converts and their personal beliefs led them to be hated in South and made fun of up north. Upon learning that their brother had children by slave women, the sisters brought the kids up north and paid for their educations.
3. Kathrine Switzer
Katherine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston marathon with an official number in 1967. She signed up for the run under the name “K.V. Switzer” and was not discovered to be a woman until she was physically running. Marathon organizer Jock Semple went after Kathrine, yelling at her to get out of the run and physically trying to remove her. Kathrine’s boyfriend and several other male runners provided a protective shield during the entire marathon. Kathrine later won the 1974 New York City marathon (women’s division) with a time of 3:07:29.
4. Hawa Abdi
Hawa Abdi is a Somalian doctor and one of the first female gynecologists in the country. In 1983 she opened a small clinic for women and children on her farm with her own money. In 1991 during the country’s civil war, she opened her clinic to all. When militants invaded the camp and took Dr. Abdi hostage, they proclaimed that a woman should not be allowed to be in control of a clinic – she responded with “I may be a woman, but I’m a doctor, what have you done for society?” BOOM. As aid workers and agencies abandoned the country, Abdi continued to run her clinic alongside her daughters (also doctors) on her own money and donations. She also provides education and literary classes for women, gives them food and clean water, and advocates against female genital mutilation.
5. Helen Thomas
Helen was an author but was most notably a pioneering White House news reporter. She was the first women to become a chief White House correspondent and the first to join (and lead!) the White House Correspondent’s Association. After her time as a correspondent, she moved to Hearst where she wrote a fairly open political column. She covered 11 presidents’ administrations and was known for her tough questioning of presidents and their press secretaries. She openly hated the Bush administration’s policies and was often ignored by President Bush during press conferences. Apparently, it was pretty common to see a president try to get a word in edgewise when being questioned by her in the press room – she was quite the bulldog!
6. Carmen Rupe
Carmen Rupe was originally born Trevor Rupe, and was a drag performer, brothel owner, and LGBT activist in New Zealand and Australia. In 1968 she opened up Carmen’s International Coffee Lounge which became a famous hangout and was even patronized by many members of Parliament. At this time, the law still criminalized homosexual acts – Carmen challenged this prejudice and hate against the gay and transgender communities and often spoke to the press about this. In the late 70’s she even ran for mayor. She supported gay marriage, decriminalized abortion, legalized prostitution, sex education in schools, and nude beaches. Despite her loss, all of her reforms eventually became legal in New Zealand.
7. Brownie Wise
Brownie Wise is the lady behind Tupperware parties! Earl Tupper, the inventor of Tupperware, hired Brownie as part of his sales force and she created the idea of Tupperware parties. She even wrote the script for salespeople hosting them (it remained pretty unchanged for almost 30 years, too). During her first year selling Tupperware, Brownie recruited 12 more salespeople and sold $200,00 worth of merchandise through the parties. Brownie was also one of the first women to be featured on the cover of Business Week in 1954. 4 years after her cover, feeling jealous of her success, Earl Tupper fired Brownie. What a lame ass. But! Tupperware, as well as Tupperware parties, are still extremely popular. I’ve read that a Tupperware party is being held somewhere on the planet every 1.7 seconds. Well done, Brownie!
8. Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte was an author, poet, sociologist, and social reform lecturer in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. She was a utopian feminist and did more than many other women of her time could ever dream of. She became many feminist’s role models due to her unusual views and way of life. She is probably most famous for her short story (that is also semi-autobiographical and one of my absolute favorite stories of all time) The Yellow Wallpaper. The Yellow Wallpaper tells the story of postpartum depression and its ramifications. Charlotte also believed traditional domestic environments oppressed women and rejected the patriarchal aspects of society.
9. Ellen DeGeneres
Not only is Ellen hilarious, talented, and doing quite well for herself professionally and personally (she has a net worth of $65 million and is married to the gorgeous Portia de Rossi), she isn’t afraid to be herself, which is something I really admire. In 1997 she came out as a lesbian and was under immense media scrutiny. The pressure and hostility she faced caused her to career to suffer, but she came out on top and is now one of the world’s most well-known entertainers. She is also a passionate animal rights advocated and in 2011 was named by Hillary Clinton as a Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness.
10. My mom.
I know it’s a little trite to include my mother on this list, but she truly is an inspiration for me. Not only is she smart, beautiful, and hilarious, she is strong. In her 40’s she faced a terrible loss when her husband died suddenly and she was all of a sudden a single mother. Luckily, she was more than self-sufficient, having created her own graphic design and marketing business, and was able to take care of herself and her darling, wonderful child (ahem). She has instilled in me a fiery independence and a somewhat twisted sense of humor that still gets me in trouble sometimes. In addition to M, she is my rock and my biggest supporter, and I hope I am able to provide her with that same safety net and support.