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A Salute to our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers
from around the world

The women's movement has always paid homage to its mothers, from the 70s generation peopled by the likes of Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Florynce Kennedy, Betty Friedan, Susan Brownmiller, Gerda Lerner, Germaine Greer, Kate Millet, Andrea Dworkin, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and - oh, I know I'm leaving out a slew of fabulous women who have been inspiring and active leaders in this long march to equity - to the older generation of suffragists and reformers whose efforts gained for us the 20th Amendment, comprised of such icons as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Mathilda Gage, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, Ernestine Rose, and many, many others. But it is not often that we remember the movement's great-grandmothers.

With National Women's History Month upon us, I thought it would be dutiful, educational and entertaining to take a peek at those who were shaking the bushes long before our foremothers were glints in their daughters' eyes. Beginning in biblical times, through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Elizabethan era, right through the 18th century, from the Middle East to Rome, Germany, France, England, the United States and Mexico, here are twenty-one women who helped change our world. The format is different than previous columns, as it is the women we are focusing upon; so each is introduced, followed by one or more of her quotations.

As we read their words and reflect on their actions, I'd like to suggest that we take some time to remember the estimated five million women who were martyred, burned at the stake during the Inquisition. Who were they? Scholars, teachers, writers, healers, midwives, herbalists, reformers, leaders: Had they but lived, their writings, their teachings, their wisdom, might have turned the tide of history. To them, and to all who came before and after, we must say-NEVER AGAIN!

In sisterhood, Elaine Bernstein Partnow


Leah (d. ca. 1732 B.C.E.) One of the Four Matriarchs; plainer daughter of Laban; innocently the cause of perhaps the first love triangle story when her father sent her, under cover of darkness and veils, in place of Rachel (see below) to marry Jacob. Considered one of the builders of Israel, Leah mothered Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, and Issachar--six of the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel--and Dinah

Rachel (d. ca. 1732 B.C.E.) One of the Four Matriarchs. She bore two sons, Joseph and Benjamin, progenitors of two of the twelve tribes of Israel. It was to win Rachel that Joseph labored fourteen years for Laban, her father. She died bearing Benjamin. She and Leah helped establish property rights for women, saying:

Is there yet an portion or inheritance for us [Leah and Rachel] in our father's house?
Are we not counted of him strangers? For he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.
For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our children's .
31:14-16, Genesis, Old Testament, c. 9th century B.C.E.

Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah-the Five Daughters of Zelophehad (fl. 1240s-1200 B.C.E.) Manassite biblical figures who demanded right of father's inheritance if no son living; first women to win legal property rights

Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that hath gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of K"r-ah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons.
Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son?
Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father.
27:3, 4, Numbers, Old Testament, c. 9th century B.C.E.

Hortensia (85 B.C.E.-?), Roman orator, reformer; daughter of Quintus Hortensius (orator)

...you assume the glorious title of reformers of the state, a title which will turn to your eternal infamy, if, without the least regard to the laws of equity, you persist in your wicked resolution of plundering those [women] of their lives and fortunes, who have given you no just cause of offence.
(c. 45 B.C.E.), Vol. IV, Quoted in Civil Wars by Appian of Alexandria, 32-34 C.E.

Why should we [women] pay taxes when we have no part in the honors, the commands, the state craft for which you contend?
Speech before the Roman Triumvirate (42 B.C.E.), Cited on Women in World History Curriculum (http://home.earthlink.net~womenwhist), 1996-97

Trieu Thi Trinh (fl. 270s) Vietnamese peasant AND revolutionary who led an insurrection against Chinese invaders.

My wish is to ride the tempest, tame the waves, kill the sharks. I will not resign myself to the usual lot of women who bow their heads and become concubines.
Remark (270), Cited on Women in World History Curriculum (http://home.earthlink.net~womenwhist), 1996-97

Christine de Pisan (1363/65-1430/31), Italian scholar, feminist, author, poet, balladeer; first professional female author in western Europe.

If justice were king,
neither female nor male would lose,
but mostly, I am certain
custom reigns, rather than justice
La Livre de la Mutacion de Fortune, Vol. 1 (1400); Susan Groag Bell, tr.

If it were customary to send little girls to school and to teach them the same subjects as are taught to boys, they would learn just and fully and would understand the subtleties of all arts and sciences. Indeed, maybe they would understand them better.for just as women's bodies are softer than men's, so their understanding is sharper.
Prologue, La Cité des Dames [The City of Women],1404

I will not stay when you behave
harshly, insult me like a cur,
for things have changed. I won't concur
and won't reveal my sorrow, save
I'll always dress in black and rave.
Untitled, St. 3, Willis Barnstone, tr., A Book of Women Poets, Aliki and Willis Barnstone, eds.,1980

...a woman with a mind is fit for any task.
Quoted in The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy by Gerda Lerner,1993

Argula von Grumbach (1492-post-1563) German Lutheran reformer

To obey my man indeed is fitting,
But if he drives me from God's Word
In Matthew ten it is declared
Home and child we must forsake
When God's honor is at stake.
Untitled, Quoted in Women of the Reformation, Vol. I; Germany and Italy by Roland H. Bainton, 1971

Katherine Zell (1497/98-1562) German hymnist, reformer, religious activist

A disturber of the peace, am I? Yes indeed, of my own peace. Do you call this disturbing the peace?...Instead of spending my time in frivolous amusements, I have visited the plague-infested and carried out the dead.
Letter to the city of Strasbourg, 1557

You remind me that the Apostle Paul told women to be silent in church. I would remind you of the word of this same apostle that in Christ there is no longer male nor female.
"Entschuldigung [Apology of] Katharina Schutzinn" (1524), Quoted in Women of the Reformation, Vol. I; Germany and Italy by Roland H. Bainton, 1971

Louise Labé‚ (1524/25-1566), French feminist, poet, linguist, soldier; a.s.a. Labbé; a.k.a. La belle Amazone, La belle CordiPre (The Beautiful Ropemaker), Captain Lays (title and pseud. while in the army).

Since a time has come, Mademoiselle, when the severe laws of men no longer prevent women from applying themselves to the sciences and other disciplines, it seems to me that those of us who can, should use this long-craved freedom to study and to let men see how greatly they wronged us when depriving us of its honor and advantages. And if any woman becomes so proficient as to be able to write down her thoughts, let her do so and not despise the honor but rather flaunt it instead of fine clothes, necklaces, and rings. For these may be considered ours only by use, whereas the honor of being educated is ours entirely.
Letter to a friend, Quoted in Uppity Women of Medeival Times by Vicki León, 1997

Your brutal goal was to make me a slave
beneath the ruse of being served by you.
Pardon me, friend, and for once hear me through:
I am outraged with anger and I rave.
Sonnet XXIII, Oeuvres (1555), A Book of Women Poets, Aliki and Willis Barnstone, eds., 1980

Marie le Jars de Gournay (1565-1645), French writer, book editor, feminist; adopted daughter of writer Michel de Montaigne (1533-92)

Suppose we believed that the Scriptures indeed order woman to submit to the authority of man because she cannot think as well as he can, see here the absurdity that would follow: Women would be worthy of having been made in the likeness of the Creator, worthy of taking part in the holy Eurcharist, of sharing the mysteries of the Redemption, Paradise, worthy of the vision, even possession, of God, but not of the status and privileges of men. Wouldn't we be saying then that men are more precious and sacred than all these things, and wouldn't that be the most grievous blasphemy?
The Equality of Men and Women, 1622

...I have known some [authors] who thoroughly despised all books written by women without even bothering to read them to see of what stuff they are made, and without wanting to find out first whether they themselves could produce books worthy to be read by all kinds of women.
The Ladies Grievance, 1626

...even if a woman has only the name of being educated she will be evilly spoken of.
Proumenoir (1594), Quoted in A Daughter of the Renaissance by Marjorie Henry Ilsley, 1963

Jane Anger (fl. 1580s) English feminist, pamphleteer; pseud. only; wrote the first published English defense of women written by a woman

Was there ever any so abused, so slandered, so railed upon, so wickedly handled undeservedly, as are we women.
Introduction, For Protection for Women (Written in response to Boke His Surfeit in Love, with a farwel to the folies of his own phantasie [1588] by Thomas Orwin), 1589

We are the grief of man, in that we take all the grief from man: we languish when they laugh, we lie sighing when they sit singing, and sit sobbing when they lie slugging and sleeping.

Constantina Munda (fl. 1610s) English feminist; a.k.a. Moral Constancy

...printing that was invented to be the storehouse of famous wits, the treasure of Divine literature...is become...the nursery and hospitall of every spurious and pernicious brat, which proceeds from base phreneticall brainesicke bablers.
Answer to Joseph Swetnam's "The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Forward and Unconstant Women" (1617), The Worming of a Mad Dogge, 1617

...you lay open your imperfections.by heaping together the.fragments.of diverse english phrases...by scraping together the glaunder and.the refuse of idle-headed Authors and making a mingle-mangle gallimauphrie of them...let every bird take his owne feathers, and you would be as naked as Aesop's jay.

Aphra Behn (1640-1689) English translator, novelist, spy, poet, playwright; first woman in history to have earned a living as a writer

Who is't that to women's beauty would submit,
And yet refuse the fetters of their wit?
Prologue, The Forced Marriage, 1670

OLINDA...this marrying I do not like: 'tis like going on a long voyage to sea, where after a while even the calms are distasteful, and the storms dangerous: one seldom sees a new object, 'tis still a deal of sea, sea; husband, husband, every day, -- till one's quite cloyed with it.
Act. IV, Sc. 1, The Dutch Lover

ANGILLICA BIANCA. Who made the laws by which you judge me? Men! Men who would rove and ramble require that women must be nice.
Act II, Sc. 2, The Rover, Part I, 1677

The play had no other Misfortune but that of coming out for a Womans: had it been owned by a Man, though the most dull Unthinking Rascally Scribler in Town, it had been a most admirable Play.
Epistle to the Reader, Sir Patient Fancy, 1678

All I ask, is the privilege for my masculine part, the poet in me...if I must not, because of my sex, have this freedom, I lay down my quill and you shall hear no more of me...
Preface, The Lucky Chance, 1686

Johanna Cartwright (fl. 1640s) English civil rights activist

And that this Nation of England, with the Inhabitants of the Nether-lands, shall be the first and readiest to transport Izraells Sons & Daughters in their Ships to the Land promised to their fore-Fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for an everlasting Inheritance.
For the glorious manifestation whereof, and pyous meanes thereunto, your Petitioners humbly pray that the inhumane cruel Statute of banishment made against them, may be repealed, and they under the Christian banner of charity, and brotherly love, may again be received and permitted to trade and dwell amongst you in this Land, as now they do in the Nether-lands.
The Petition of the Jewes, For the Repealing of the Act of Parliament for their banishment out of England, 1649

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695), Mexican poet, scholar, nun, feminist; first important literary figure of the New World

Critics: in your sight
no woman can win:
keep you out, and she's too tight;
she's too loose if you get in.
Verses from "A Satirical Romance," St. 3, Samuel Beckett, tr., The Penguin Book of Women Poets, Carol Cosman, Joan Keefe and Kathleen Weaver, eds., 1978

But, lady, as women, what wisdom may be ours if not the philosophies of the kitchen? ...how well one may philosophize when preparing dinner. And I often say, when observing these trivial details: had Aristotle prepared victuals, he would have written more.
"Repuesta a Sor Filotea" ["Reply to Sister Philotea: 1691], Quoted in A Woman of Genius: The Intellectual Autobiography of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Margaret Sayers Peden, 1982

That you're a woman far away
is no hindrance to my love:
for the soul, as you well know,
distance and sex don't count.
"Phyllis," St. 3, Alan S. Trueblood, tr., Cited on Lesbian Poetry, (http://www.sappho.compoetryindex.shtml), 21 January 1996

Who has forbidden women to engage in private and individual studies? Have they not a rational soul as men do?...I have this inclination to study and if it is evil I am not the one who formed me thus - I was born with it and with it I shall die.
Letter to Father Nunez (1681), Cited on Women in World History Curriculum, (http://home.earthlink.net~womenwhist), 1996-97

Anne Finch (1661-172022?) English literary critic, poet, feminist, translator; née Kingsmill, a.k.a. countess of Winchelsea, Ardelia, Flavia

Alas! a woman that attempts the pen
Such an intruder on the rights of men,
Such a presumptuous Creature, is esteem'd
The fault, can by no vertue be redeem'd.
Introductory Verse, Miscellany Poems on Several Occasions, 1713

Trail all your pikes, dispirit every drum,
March in a slow procession from afar,
Ye silent, ye dejected, men of war.
Be still the hautboys, and the flute be dumb!
Display no more, in vain, the lofty banner;
For see where on the bier before ye lies
The pale, the fall'n, the untimely sacrifice
To your mistaken shrine, to your false idol
"Trail All Your Pikes," in toto, Miscellany Poems, Written by a Lady, 1713 (repr. 1928)

He lamented for Behn,* o'er that
place of her birth,
And said amongst women there was none
on earth
Her superior in fancy, in language, or wit,
Yet owned that a little too loosely she writ.
Ibid. "Aristomenes," The Introduction

Abigail Adams (1744-1818) American First Lady, letter writer, feminist; wife of John A- (1735-1826; 2nd U.S. president, ), mother of John Quincy A- (1767-1848; 6th U.S. pres)

Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.
Letter to John Adams, 1776

If particular care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
Letter to John Adams (31 March 1776), Letters of Mrs. Adams, 1840

Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex.

I can not say that I think you very generous to the Ladies, for whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to Men, Emancipating all Nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power Wives.
Letter to John Adams (7 May 1776), The Adams Papers, L. H. Butterfield, ed., 1963

Jeanne-Marie Roland (1754-1793), French patriot, social figure, political activist; née Philipon' wife ofJean Marie Roland de la PlatiPre (1734-93, industrial scientist); executed by the Jacobins

O liberty! what crimes are committed in thy name! (O liberté! que de crimes on commLt dans ton nom!)
Last words before being guillotined (8 November 1793), Quoted in Ch. LI, Histoire des Girondins by Alphonse Lamartine, 1847

I shall soon be there [at the guillotine]; but those who send me there will follow themselves ere long. I go there innocent, but they will go as criminals; and you, who now applaud, will also applaud them.
Remark en route to execution (8 November 1793), Quoted in Biography of Distinguished Women by Sarah Josepha Hale, 1876

The more I see of men, the more I admire dogs. (Plus je vois les hommes, plus j'admire les chiens.)
Attributed (also attributed to Ouida (English writer, 1839-1908) and to Marie De Sévigné (French letter writer and salonist, 1626-1696).

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), English author, feminist; wife of William Godwin (1756-1836, political philosopher), mother of Mary W- Shelley

Virtue can only flourish among equals.
Dedication, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792

Taught from infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.
Ibid., Ch. 3

Would man but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers -- in a word, better citizens. We should then love them with true affection, because we should learn to respect ourselves...
Ibid., "Of the Pernicious Effects which Arise from the Unnatural Distinctions Established in Society"

From the respect paid to property flow, as from a poisoned fountain, most of the evils and vices which render this world such a dreary scene to the contemplative mind.

...as blind obedience is ever sought for by power, tyrants and sensualists are in the right when they endeavour to keep women in the dark, because the former only want slaves, and the latter a play-thing.
Ibid., "The Prevailing Opinion of a Sexual Character Discussed"

Germaine de Staël (1766-1817), French feminist, novelist, literary critic; daughter of Suzanne Chardon and Jacques Necker (1732-1804, financier, statesman; minister of finance for Louis IV); wife of Baron Eric Magnus de S- de Holstein (1; Swedish ambassador), mistress, then wife of Lt. John Rocca (2); mother, by Vicompte Louis de Narbonne-Lara, of Auguste and Albert; cousin of Mme Necker de Saussure

Every time a new nation, America or Russia for instance, advances toward civilization, the human race perfects itself; every time an inferior class emerges from enslavement and degradation, the human race again perfects itself.
De la ittérature considérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales [The Influence of Literature upon Society], 1800

Scientific progress makes moral progress a necessity; for if man's power is increased, the checks that restrain him from abusing it must be strengthened.

The entire social order...is arrayed against a woman who wants to rise to a man's reputation.

Genius has no sex!
Letter to Benjamin Constant (Coppet, April 1815), Lettres … un ami, Jean Mistler, ed., 1949

There is a kind of physical pleasure in resisting an iniquitous power.

You [America] are the vanguard of the human race. You are the world's future.
Ibid., Spoken to George Ticknow* (c. Spring 1817)

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) English prison reform activist, social reformer

Does Capital punishment tend to the security of the people?
By no means. It hardens the hearts of men, and makes the loss of life appear light to them; and it renders life insecure, inasmuch as the law holds out that property is of greater value than life.
From her Journal, Quoted in Biography of Distinguished Women by Sarah Josepha Hale, 1876

Punishment is not for revenge, but to lessen crime and reform the criminal.


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Elaine Bernstein Partnow is the editor of "Women of Wisdom," and she is a perfect fit for this task. Compiler of the noted work The Quotable Woman, The First 5,000 Years, Elaine started working on the first edition, way back in 1974, she was making the transition from actor to writer. Now in its 5th edition. The Quotable Woman has become the standard book of quotations for women's studies programs and organizations all over the English-speaking world. She also wrote The Female Dramatist a few years back, and has just came out with a new collection, The Quotable Jewish Woman, Wisdom, Inspiration and Humor from the Mind and Heart. Elaine has marveled at how her work in women's history has changed who she is and how she is. Ever eager to share that experience with others, she merged her two passions - acting and women's studies - and began, in 1984, to present living history portraits of notable women to civic and educational institutions. To date she has given more than 400 such presentations to upwards of 50,000 people, not only across the U.S.A., but in Mexico and even China! You can find out more about Elaine by visiting her web site: www.TheQuotableWoman.com.



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