Fierce warriors, they wielded spear and sword in defense of children and motherland. The ancient Greeks considered the Amazons their most fearsome opponents, defenders of an ancient woman-centered faith who had to be defeated that father-rule might prevail---so it is that Penthesilea leads her Amazons in defense of matriarchal Troy. It was the Greeks who named them "Amazon" from a-mazos, that is, "without a breast." And so the legend has come down to us of ferocious women warriors who cut off their right breast, that it not hinder their use of the bow; who fought and often defeated the greatest of the Greek heroes; and who finally retreated into the mist-enshrouded mountains of Anatolia and Armenia and Bactria as wave after wave of patriarchal warriors invaded their lands.

The historical factuality of Amazons as a people is a debate which has raged in academic circles for centuries. Were the Amazons "real"? In the case of the Greeks, the Amazons they wrote of seem to have been a combination of fact, mythology and male fantasy. (Historically, the particular Amazons the Greeks wrote of seem to have been tribes of women, and maybe even men, who fought the armed invasions by the Indo-Europeans.) On the other hand, some tales of the Amazon are obviously fictional: for a particular society the Amazon becomes the "Other," the being upon whom are projected all of the society's doubts, fears and prejudices; the Amazon is the exact opposite of what a proper woman should be, her culture is the unnatural opposite of the natural order. However, evidence has been found throughout the world of women warriors, not just as anomolous curiousities but as standard features of society. The daughters of noble Japanese families were trained for battle and were skilled in the use of the naginata. Joan of Arc was not the only woman of Medieval Europe to lead soldiers in battle: Queens, noblewomen and nuns had been doing so for centuries. The King of Siam was protected by an elite bodyguard of women warriors. Warrior queens are a common element of African folk-history, among the most famous being Aminatu and Jinga Mbande. Vietnamese women were savage warriors who fought on both sides of their civil war, and many Russian women were decorated for valor during both World Wars. Even where archaeological evidence is lacking, surely the preponderance of stories featuring women warriors points to their historical existence.

The fictional, mythical Amazon has changed her image and function to suit the needs of the people and the times. She has also changed the battles she has fought. The Amazon has been chaste defender of the Christian faith, sword-wielding Abbess, valorous Medieval Christian Crusader and loyal daughter of Islam. She has been samurai and ninja. She has been the denizen of a Lost Valley, Victorian explorer of strange lands, Suffragette and Abolitionist, courageous war nurse and pilot, and futuristic seeker of new life and civilizations. She has wielded as her weapons sword and spear, pistol and whip, picket signs and clubs, speech and pen.

The Amazon of fiction and dream is always noble, courageous, intelligent and--above all--independent, and the women who have willingly or unwillingly earned the name Amazon often emulate these qualities. Each, in her own way, has sought and fought to improve the quality of life for herself, her sisters and her children. Some have purposefully sought battle, while others fell into the midst quite unexpectedly. Some fit the classical ideal of Amazon; that is, they fought on the traditional field of battle with pistols and swords. For others, the field of battle is the picket line, the classroom, the hospital, the factory, the laboratory and houses of politics.

Profiled here are a few such Amazons. They have been divided into eight categories--traditional, social, political, economic, educational, environmental, journalistic and religious--though many cross over into other Amazonian spheres and even into Muse. As always, any criticism or suggestion is welcome, so please mail me.

Return to Introduction.

To Women and Religion

Traditional Amazons Social Amazons
Political Amazons Economic Amazons
Educational Amazons Environmental Amazons
Journalistic Amazons Religious Amazons

Traditional Amazons

The present argument over the place--or even appropriateness--of women in the military is one at which these women would laugh. Women have always been warriors: they have borne spears and swords and bows and arrows in defense of family, land and belief. And not all of these women were forced into the role by the absence of menfolk, as so many southern women were during the Civil War. Rather, they CHOSE to be warriors, and proved to be as ferocious and ingenious as their male comrades. And while we may not always agree with or even understand their motivations and actions, these women nonetheless fit the profile of the Traditional Amazon. All of the Amazons profiled here--Marie Baktscharow, Boudicca, Marguerite de Bressieux, Deborah, Hydna, Jinga Mbande, and Lakshmi Bai--actually lived, except one, and her story may well be based on an actual historical person.

MARIE BAKTSCHAROW (flourished 1917-1918)

It was called the Great War: Britain, Italy, Germany, Japan, Austria-Hungary, the United States, Ireland, and Russia. Armies gathered, marched, were slaughtered; trenches were dug, more than a man's height deep, stretching the breadth of Europe. It was a long, unrelenting, debilitating war of waiting, fighting, waiting, waiting....

In 1917, Russia's first Women's Battalion was organized by Aleksandr Kerensky. Russian women had a proud heritage as warriors; they were tough and brave and determined; they were not held back by the sense of themselves as a fair and weak sex, which kept so many French and English and American women off the battlefields. Nor were they perceived as such by Russian men.

Lieutenant Marie Baktscharow was named the Battalion's first commander. Two hundred and fifty young women, mostly of the working class, made up the unit; they already had battlefield experience, having served and fought as nurses on the front. Many were only seventeen years of age; some were probably younger, and lied. They wore blue smocks, knees bared. They bore rifles and pistols and bayonets, and, often times, more primitive weapons such as rocks, stones, branches, swords and bones.

A peasant girl who served under Lt. Baktscharow, young and thrilled and terrified, described her encounter with a German soldier as such: "I...ran him through with my bayonet, shot him, and took his helmet as a trophy." Another described their collective fear and excitement as bombs fell around them, earth erupting. An Austrian who met the Women's Battalion, and lived to relate his experience, described the unit's members as "...brave and frequently bloodthirsty. We felt no knightly sentiments for these Penthesileas...."

Though it was the first such unit, many followed. Some such Women's Battalions were suicide units, sent on impossible missions from which none returned. These women are still remembered and honored in Russia today as national heroines--in contrast to the United States, which prefers to believe that its female citizens have never been bloodied or muddied by war.

BOUDICCA (first century CE)

She was born in the land which would one day be Britain, sometime in the early first century CE. As she grew older, the Roman presence in the land became more pronounced; the Romans established colonies, and eventually set up permanent garrisons. They were both traders and conquerors.

Boudicca married the ruler of the Iceni tribe, who lived in what is now East Anglia. By her husband Prasutagus, Boudicca bore two daughters. In the year 59, Prasutagus died; in what may have been an attempt to ally with Rome against other tribes, or ensure the peace with Rome, or protect his daughters and their inheritance--Prasutagus left half of his holdings to his daughters and the other half to the Roman Emperor. The Roman Governor of the island, dissatisfied with the arrangements (he, after all, would oversee the Emperor's share), seized the remaining portion of the inheritance, flogged Boudicca in front of her assembled tribe, and ordered his soldiers to rape her two daughters.

Thus the massacre began.

Boudicca was an impressive figure: she stood over six feet in height; her head was crowned with flaming red hair that hung past her waist. Garbed in a multicolored tunic, golden torc about her neck, and spear in hand, she was a mesmerizing figure. She was an eloquent speaker, and rallied the regional tribes to her side. Many joined out of sympathy, many out of practicality--if Rome could seize her lands, then Rome could seize theirs, also. Nearly one hundred thousand Celtic warriors, many women, joined Boudicca. The Warrior Queen herself led the fight, on her chariot. She began with the Roman colony at what is now Colchester, then began to move south; she butchered and slaughtered, avenging and revenging in painful and gratifying ways the injustice done to herself and her daughters--it was also a warning to Rome. Londinium was her greatest conquest; she slaughtered its twenty thousand inhabitants and burned the city; the layer of ash can still be seen at archeological sites in present-day London. Before her death, it is estimated that Boudicca caused the deaths of some seventy thousand Romans and Romanized-Celts.

When her army reached the Midlands, she was at last confronted by a competent Roman force. Though they outnumbered the Romans by as much as four-to-one, the Celts were out-maneuvered, beaten, and slaughtered. Boudicca may have died during the battle; others say she and her two daughters took poison, rather than be captured by the Romans.

Imperial Rome, shocked, sickened and leery, abandoned its autocratic approach to the island and its inhabitants. Instead, the Celts were treated more as trading partners; it was this more peaceful approach which proved successful. In the end, Britain was Romanized, as Boudicca had feared.

MARGUERITE DE BRESSIEUX (fifteenth century)

The coastal kingdoms of Western Europe were home to warring nobles, merchants, castles and serfs. In one such castle lived Marguerite de Bressieux. In the mid-fifteenth century, amidst one of many battles between French, Dutch, Belgians and Spanish, Catholic and Protestant, the castle in which Marguerite lived was laid seige and overrun. The soldiers of Louis de Chalons, Prince of Orange, plundered and pillaged and raped--as is so often sung in the heroic songs of soldiers and sailors.

Marguerite was one of many women brutalized that day.

Sometime later, the Governor of Dauphine marched against Louis de Chalons. As a witness described it, twelve darkly-garbed cavaliers appeared in the army's midst. They wore scarves of crape, which hid their faces, and carried a banner of orange on which were written the words: "Ainsi tu seras." These twelve more than proved their worth in battle. They were, of course, the women of Bressieux, come in search of justice for themselves and their sisters.

The battle lasted throughout the day. Whenever one of the cavaliers encountered a man who had raped her--there were many--she uncovered her face, and then she killed him. Marguerite, the leader of the twelve, was mortally wounded. She died at sunset, and was buried with full military honors, her surviving companions gathered round.

DEBORAH (c.1209-c.1169 BCE)

In those ancient days, the Jews were not a united people, with one king. Rather, they were tribes, each with its own herds and own tents and own leaders. Disputes often arose between these tribes, and so fair arbitrators rose in power and prestige. Modern historians have given the name "Judge" to such people. One such Judge was Deborah.

She was the wife of Lappidoth. She was first a prophetess, who sat beneath a shady tree and was consulted on matters of progeny and herds and harvest. She lived on the trade route between Bethel and Ramah, and as her fame spread, more people came to consult her. Tribes came to her to settle disputes between them.

But a Judge, in those days, was also a war leader. And when the Canaanites in their chariots of iron, under the command of General Sisera, threatened to annihilate and drive out the Jews from Israel--it was to Deborah that the people turned. A skilled orator and negotiator, Deborah traveled from tribe to tribe, and eventually gathered an army of some ten thousand troops. She chose Barak, a skilled militarist, to lead the army.

It was Deborah, though, who devised the Israelite strategy of attack. The Canaanite army was stationed in a plain below Mount Tabor, not far from a river. As the Israelite army attacked, a tremendous rainstorm began. The river overflowed and the ground turned to mush. Sisera's nine hundred iron chariots were useless, mired in the muck. The Israelites, primarily afoot, slaughtered the Canaanites and drove the survivors away in disgrace. The Israelites were victorious.

And so has come down to us the story of Deborah, prophetess, Judge and war leader, preserved in "The Song of Deborah," the oldest extant poem in Hebrew.

HYDNA (c.480 BCE)

Much like the ancient Near East and Renaissance Italy, Greece in those times was divided into hundreds of rival city-states: Athens, Sparta, Thebes and Mycenae are among the better known. They warred with one another over land and trade and women; peace was rare, and often only an interval to another war, while a new generation of soldiers and sailors were nursed and reared. In the 400s, however, peace was imposed on the Greeks by an external enemy: the Empire of Persia.

Persia was one of the largest empires the world has ever known. At its height, it stretched from the borders of India to the coast of the Mediterranean and down the banks of the Nile. And the Persian Emperor now had his sights on Greece.

At a critical point in the campaign, the Persian navy was bearing down on Greece. The Greek navy was far from prepared for battle which such a large force. And so Hydna of Scione and her Father volunteered. Her Father was an expert swimmer, and Hydna had played and trained with him since infancy. Together, they swam through some ten miles of choppy, storm-tossed waters to where the Persian navy was moored for the night. Knives in hand, they silently swam among the boats, cutting their moorings. Tossed about by the wind and waves, the ships crashed together; some sank; most were crippled. And so battle was avoided until the Greek navy was prepared.

In gratitude for the heroism of Hydna and her Father, a statue was dedicated to them at Delphi, the most sacred site of the Greek world.

JINGA MBANDE (c.1582-1663)

Freedom fighters, particularly women, are supposed to be dedicated to an ideal, fighters for right; they are supposed to be virtuous, noble, free of the vices which characterize the rest of humanity. This is not always so. Historians and storytellers have the tendency to gloss-over or ignore or rewrite that which does not fit the ideal; witness the near-perfection of George Washington. It is difficult for us, so separated by time and space from such people, to entirely understand their motivations and actions.

In 1576, the Portuguese came. They founded the city of Luanda, along the West Coast of Africa, and there negotiated for ivory and spices and mahogany and, especially, slaves. Slavery was not new to Africa; it had been practiced for thousands of years; prisoners taken during war were often kept as slaves, or sold to other tribes, or even Arabic Muslims. Now, many were sold to the Portuguese .

Jinga Mbande was born not many years after the founding of Luanda. She was born in the kingdom of Kongo and Ndongo, the daughter of the King of Ndongo. Her brother, Ngola, eventually succeeded their father as King. Her sisters were Kifunji and Mukumbu

Jinga first became known to the Portuguese when she entered into negotiations with them. On behalf of her brother, she sought to win independence for Ndongo from the Europeans. It is said that the Portuguese intentionally insulted Jinga by not providing her with a chair; a servant immediately fell to his knees and hands, and she began negotiations seated on his back. To add sincerity and strength to her cause, she converted to Christianity and took the name Anna de Sousa. A treaty was signed and Ndongo became independent.

But something happened: Ngola was murdered. The Portuguese may have done it, or another tribe, or even Jinga herself. Jinga became Queen. It is said that, following Ngola's death, Jinga renounced her Christianity and returned to her ancestral Gods and Goddesses. She appointed women to all the highest offices in Ndongo, including her sisters. She may have declared war on the Portuguese or they may have broken the treaty and invaded; it is unclear; either way, Jinga was defeated and driven away. With Kifunji and Mukumbu and a small band of followers, she travelled east and conquered the nation of Matamba. She presided there as Queen, making alliances with other tribes for access to the slave routes, and with the Dutch, who competed with the Portuguese. In 1641, the Dutch seized Luanda. Jinga herself continued to raid Portuguese sites until 1643, when they recaptured Luanda, and took Jinga's sister, Mukumbu, prisoner.

Jinga was driven away again, into the wild hills of Matamba. She remained there until 1656, continuing her raids on the Portuguese. Sometime during these years, Kifunji was killed. Then, in 1656, Jinga negotiated a peaceful settlement with the Portuguese and received back her sister Mukumbu and a promise of military protection, in exchange for one hundred and thirty slaves. Jinga returned to rule as Queen of Matamba. Over the remaining years of her life, she converted them to Christianity, likely more out of practical necessity than sincere belief.

LAKSHMI BAI (1835-1858)

She was an only daughter, raised in a household of men. She was named for the Hindu Goddess of Prosperity and Beauty. Spinning and gossip were not her ways, but rather swordplay and the equestrian arts; it is said that she could guide her horse by holding the reins in her teeth, while wielding a sword in either hand to hold back the enemy.

She was wed to the Rajah of Jhansi, and by him was the mother of a son. Her husband died not many years later. Lakshmi Bai refused suttee and came immediately out of purdah, the traditionally lengthy term of mourning among Hindu wives. She established her son as Rajah, but ruled as Regent in his name.

In 1857, the great Indian Mutiny erupted. Rumors spread throughout the subcontinent that cartridges were being greased with animal fat--a thing abhorrent to both Hindu and Muslim troops in the British army. Desiring freedom from British colonial rule, which many (though not all) found demeaning and threatening and economically oppressive, large numbers of Indian reserves in the British army revolted. They were joined by many of the disenfranchised Indian aristocracy--among these was Lakshmi Bai, Rani of Jhansi.

Besieged by the British, the Rani called on all the mourning widows of Jhansi to throw off purdah and join in the battle. In the midst of war, Lakshmi Bai was described as "fair and handsome, with noble presence, a dignified and resolute, indeed stern, expression."

She died in battle in 1858, aged twenty-three.

Return to Amazons Table

Social Amazons

The cross-over between social, political and economic Amazons is common, and a dividing line between them difficult to define; for many women, such as the Suffragettes, there was no difference between the three. They fought for improvement in the lives of women in all spheres. As such, some may question my division here. The six women profiled here--Bella Abzug, Yelena Bonner, the Grimke Sisters, Fannie Townsend Hamer, He Xiangning, and Mary Wollstonecraft--struck me as being most concerned with women's lives as a whole, as well as social attitudes concerning women.

BELLA ABZUG (born 1920)

She was born Bella Savitsky in the Bronx in 1920. Educated at Hunter College and Columbia University, Abzug returned to New York to begin practicing law in 1944. She remained in that city until 1970. She earned a reputation as one willing to defend the unpopular; she often accepted cases that others refused, defending clients called "unAmerican" for their thoughts and actions. She was from the first an ardent and eloquent champion of welfare issues and women's rights.

In 1961, she became a prominent member in the Peace Movement, which grew out of the Cold War and the accompanying fear of nuclear annihilation. She founded the now-famous Women's Strike for Peace (which resulted in her being called before the House UnAmerican Affairs Committee), and the National Women's Political Caucus.

In 1971, she joined the body before which she had once defended herself: she won a seat in the Congress. She failed, however, in her bid to win a Senate seat (1976) and the mayorship of New York (1977). In 1980, aged sixty, she returned to her legal practice, while continuing her involvement in local and national politics.

In 1994, Abzug was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Her most famous book is "Gender Gap: Bella Abzug's Guide to Political Power for American Women" (1984).

YELENA BONNER (born 1923)

She was born in Moscow in 1923. She was unfortunate enough to be born in Stalin's era; her parents were arrested during Stalin's Great Purge of 1937; her father was executed and her mother imprisoned for a lengthy term. Young Yelena was sent to live with her grandmother in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg).

During the Second World War, she loyally defended Russia from the invading Germans. She served in the military, rising to the rank of lieutenant; however, she suffered serious eye injuries which were to plague her for the rest of her life. After the war, she became a doctor and married.

In 1965, her marriage failed. Bonner joined the Communist Party; but, like many, she became disillusioned after the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. She became involved in "dissident" activities, and came under the scrutiny of the Russian intelligence service.

In 1971, she married physicist and peace activist Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989); the next year, Bonner resigned from the Communist Party. Over the course of the next fourteen years, Bonner and Sakharov became the focus of the Russian dissident and peace movements; they were international celebrities. At first, the Soviet government was reluctant to act against persons so well known in the West. In 1980, however, a hardline government came to power and the KGB cracked down on such "undesirables" as Bonner and Sakharov: That year, Sakharov was exiled to Gorky; Bonner joined him four years later. After a series of hunger strikes, Bonner was allowed to travel to Italy in 1981 and 1984 for eye treatment. In 1986, the couple were released from Gorky and pardoned by the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. Over the next three years, the two remained prominent in the democracy movement. In 1989, Sakharov died, mourned by the world.

GRIMKE SISTERS (1792-1873; 1805-1879)

The elder was born Sarah Moore Grimke in 1792. The younger was born Angelina Emily Grimke in 1805. They came from Charleston, South Carolina, the daughters of a slave-owning judge. Both, at a young age, were repulsed by the savagery of slavery: the rapes, beatings, whippings and mutilations, the cutting words, the humiliation, the separation of families, the degradation. In 1821, Sarah left her family for Philadelphia; there, she joined a Quaker community. In 1829, Angelina joined her and together they set out to rid the world of the horror of slavery.

The two appealed primarily to women and the clergy. Angelina directed her petition to the former; as mothers and wives, the women of America were in a unique position to influence present policy and future generations. To them, Angelina addressed her "Appeal to the Christian Women of the South" (1836) and "Appeal to Women of the Nominally Free States" (1837). Sarah, meanwhile, acted upon the spiritual leaders of America to free their own slaves and speak out against the practice; to this end, she penned "Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States" (1836). Together, they authored "American Slavery as it is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses" (1838).

The sisters' publications, however, had little positive effect. Instead, they were threatened with imprisonment should they return to South Carolina. Nonetheless, the two arranged to free the slaves which they inherited upon their father's death.

In 1836, the sisters moved to New York City. There, they became the first women to address the American Anti-Slavery Society. At this time, too, the sisters recognized the paradox of their activities: they were fighting for the freedom of slaves, but were still themselves, as women, denied the rights of freedom. It is they who are recognized as being the first to make this crucial link. They thus broadened their activities to include women's rights, especially suffrage. To this end, Sarah penned "The Condition of Women" (1838).

In 1838, Angelina married abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld. Sarah moved in with the couple. The sisters continued to lecture and teach on the matters of slavery, abolition and women's rights until their retirement in 1867. They thus lived to see the partial realization of their dreams: the end of slavery. It would be another sixty years, however, before women's right to vote was recognized, and another century before a concerted Civil Rights Movement began to win freedom for African Americans.


She was born Fanny Lou Townsend in Montgomery County, Mississippi, in 1918. She was the granddaughter of a slave; after the Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction, her family was forced to remain on the former plantation as tenant farmers. It was in such poor circumstances that Townsend lived.

In 1942, she married Perry Hamer. It was not until 1962, however, that her life truly began to change. Then, she began work for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. She became increasingly committed to the Civil Rights Movement, and her commitment was influenced by her own life experiences: her work on the farm; her attempts to register for the vote, which were met with hostile words and violence; and, especially, her nonconsensual sterilization in 1961.

Through the 1960s and 1970s, Hamer campaigned for the rights of African Americans. She was especially involved in voter registration and desegregation of schools in Mississippi and throughout the South. In 1964, she and several comrades founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. In 1971, the year the National Women's Political Caucus was founded, Hamer was elected to its Central Committee.

She died in 1977, mourned and admired by thousands.

HE XIANGNING (1880-1972)

She was born in China in 1880, during the twilight years of the last Imperial Dynasty. Born into a financially suucessful family, she was educated in both Hong Kong and Japan. At a young age, she began to exhibit "revolutionary" tendencies. In 1905, she married Liao Zhongkai, a well-known revolutionary. That same year, He Xiangning herself became prominent in the revolutionary cause, advocating union with Communists in China and Russia.

In 1925, after twenty years of marriage and campaigning, Liao Zhongkai was assasinated. He Xiangning continued her work. Two years later, in 1927, revolutionary leader Chiang Kai-shek broke with the Communists; though generally considered in the West to be a Democratic revolutionary, Chiang Kai-shek was in actuality an opportunist and tyrant. His policies alienated He Xiangning, who returned to British-controlled Hong Kong. There, she became an outspoken critic of his leadership and policies. He Xiangning became especially noted for her stance on nationalism and women's rights: she was the first woman to publicly speak for the ouster of foreign interests and colonialists, and for a united, independent China; she advocated violent revolution towards these ends. She also spoke vehemently for the emancipation of women. Towards this end, she cut her hair short--a daring move. Long hair was admired and envied in many societies, China among them; to cut her hair the length of man's was to renounce all that long hair--and femininity--stood for: submission, oppression, passivity, modesty. No more.


She was of Anglo-Irish ancestry, born in London in 1759. A woman of strong will and high intelligence, she was determined to maintain her financial independence. After a series of jobs, she finally won employment in 1788 with a publisher. There, she worked as a translator and became acquainted the English Jacobins; these were writers and reformers, who worked for a vaiety of causes, including economic, social, educational and political reform. One such Jacobin was William Godwin (1756-1836).

In 1790, Wollstonecraft penned "Vindication of the Rights of Man," her first great political work. She followed in 1792 with her--at the time--controversial "Vindication of the Rights of Woman." It has since become a feminist classic, a text which advocates equal opportunity in education and political equality for men and women.

In 1792, also, she traveled to France to witness the Terror. She collected materials, and wrote of her experiences and insights in "View of the French Revolution" (Volume One, 1794). There she met Captain Gilbert Imlay, an American timber merchant. They soon became lovers; Wollstonecraft found their sexual relationship--outside the bonds of marriage--to be a liberating and enlivening experience. By Imlay, she became the mother of Fanny Imlay (a troubled young woman who committed suicide in 1816). Wollstonecraft herself attempted suicide in a moment of emotional desperation and depression: the love affair collapsed and Imlay left her.

Wollstonecraft soon recovered from the rejection of her lover, however. She and her young daughter returned to England. There, she was briefly but quite happily married to William Godwin. Together, they had a daughter, Mary, who would one day wed the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and pen the classic "Frankenstein." Sadly, Mary Wollstonecraft died in 1797, of complications from childbirth.

Return to Amazons Table

Political Amazons

Politics has traditionally been a man's sphere, or so the history books would have us believe. Never mind the significant number of Queens, Empresses, princesses, chiefs and various other women who have wielded political power in the past. But they were a select few, born into a privileged class. It is only in recent times--beginning in about the seventeenth century in the West, and later in other areas of the world--that other social classes began to fight for their political rights. Slowly men, former slaves, minority ethnic groups and finally women began to gain political power and wield it in their own interests. The women profiled here (Aung San Suu Kyi, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Christine de PizanFlora Tristan y Moscosa, and Clara Zetkin) have all lent their voices and energy to the fight. It is interesting to note that the Qu'ran of Islam, recited by Muhammed in the sixth century CE, guarantees the political and economic rights of women--a fact often overlooked by the governments and male citizens of Islamic nations.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI (born 1945)

She was born in Rangoon in 1945, the daughter of General and nationalist hero, Aung San; the General founded the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, and headed the fight for Burmese independence from Britain. He was assasinated in 1947, a months before the realization of his dream.

Aung San Syuu Kyi inherited her family's taste and talent for political struggle. Follwing her education at Oxford Uniersity, and marriage to Michael Aris, and motherhood, she returned to Burma. She co-founded the National League for Democracy, and was its Secretary General. In 1988, a military coup overthrew the socialist government; the new miltary government immediately established a State Law and Order Restoration Council, an ominously-titled organization. Aug San Suu Kyi spoke out against the coup and Council; as a result, she was placed under house arrest from 1989 to 1995.

Despite her imprisonment, the National Deomcratic League thrived and continued to attract followers. Their cause was only bolstered by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Aung San Suu Kyi in 1989. In 1990, the League won a tremendous victory in national elections. The results were largely ignored by the military junta, however, and many newly-elected officials from the League were imprisoned.

Aung San Suu Kyi was released not long after the election. She continues her fight for human rights, women's rights and democracy. She is not a supporter of violent revolution, however, instead advocating dialogue, reconciliation and patience.

Among her writings are "Aung San" (1984) and "Freedom from Fear and Other Writings" (1991).


She was born in 1815 in Johnstown, New York, the daughter of a lawyer-congressman. An intelligent, perceptive and questioning child, she chose law as her life calling. She studied under her father and, while doing so, discovered many of the inequalities which existed in the legal code, and still exist today. She determined to fight for women's political, economic, and legal rights, and equity in the divorce laws.

In 1840, Cady wed lawyer-abolitionist Henry Brewster Stanton. Though she took his name, she insisted on dropping the word "obey" from her marriage vows. She accompanied him to the International Slavery Convention in London and discovered, much to her indignation, that women were excluded from the convention floor. Though she and many other dedicated, hard-working and eloquent women abolitionists spoke out against the exclusion, it remained in place throughout the Convention.

Stanton also soon experienced the same quandry and division of duties as many modern women: as her family grew, she learned to balance, as best as possible, the needs of home and work. In this, fortunately, she was aided by an understanding husband.

In 1848, she joined with Quaker-reformer Lucretia Mott in organizing the now famous Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. This convention launched the first women's rights movement; suffrage was the movement's main goal. Stanton also drew up a set of resolutions, modeled on the Declaration of Independence, which called for improvement in women's general status.

In 1850, Stanton and Susan B. Anthony founded the feminist magazine "Revolution" (1868-1870). In 1869, they co-founded the National Women's Suffrage Movement. From 1869 to 1890, Stanton served as President of the National Women Suffrage Association.

Over the decades, Stanton, Lucretia Mott and radical feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage collaborated on a number of works. Included among these are three of the six volumes of the "History of Woman Suffrage" (1881-1886). Stanton also penned her autobiography "Eighty Years and More 1815-1897" (1898).

The feminist temperament was inherited by Stanton's daughter, reformer Harriet Stanton Blatch.

CHRISTINE DE PIZAN (c.1364-c.1431)

She was born in Venice, the daughter of astrologer Tommaso da Pizzano. When she was a few years old, Christine and her family traveled to the court of Charles V, King of France, where her father became court astrologer and physician. Christine became a passionate lover and defender of her adoptive country. At her father's knee, she learned astrology, astronomy, math, Latin and studied many of the classics.

In 1378, at the age of fifteen or sixteen, she married Etienne Castel, the King's secretary. Theirs was a happy union; as Christine relates in her writings, he was a gentle bridegroom and a loving husband and father. They had three children together, two sons and a daughter; one son died in infancy. Christine quietly continued her studies.

Then tragedy. Within the span of a few years, her father lost his position, influence and wealth; he died in 1386. Then, in 1389, her husband too died, leaving her with three children, a niece and her mother to support. She had no money. Christine called upon her greatest talent to survive: her writing. She became perhaps the first professional writer in European history. She personally oversaw the copying and illuminating of her texts (unusual even for the men of her day). It is in these illuminations that we find a rare self-portrait: Christine in her sky-blue dress.

Between 1399 and 1415, Christine penned a number of brilliant prose and verse works, only a few of which have been translated. Among these are "L'Epistre au Dieu d'Amour" (1399, generally translated as "Cupid's Letter"), which is her first written defense of women. "L'Epistre d'Othea" (1399-1400, "The Letter of Othea to Hector"), a mythological social commentary in which a Queen relates instructional tales of heroism, virtue and charity to a young Hector; this was her most popular work. "Le Debat de duex amants" and "Dit de Poissy" (1400), both friendly debates on the traditions and merits of courtly love. "Le Livre de la prod'hommie de l'homme" (1405-1406, "Book of Human Integrity"), on prudence and virtue. "Le Livre des fais d'armes et de chevalerie" (1410, "Feats of Arms and Chivalry"), a treatise on war and weaponry, which many refused to believe had been written by a woman; and "Le Livre de la paix" (1412, "The Book of Peace"), a text on the virtues.

But her greatest works were of political and social nature, many focusing on the status of women and the unkindness of men. A devote Christian, Christine often called on the principles of her faith, as well as Classical Graeco-Roman mythology, in defense of her sex. Her writings in this field include "Le Livre des trois jugements" ("The Book of Three Judgements") and "Le Dit de la Rose" ("The Tale of the Rose"), both written in 1402. These were penned in response to the popular "Romance of the Rose," a tale of high adventure, knightly virtue and misogyny. The open-letter debate between Christine and the defenders of the "Romance" became known throughout Europe and was a popular topic of conversation itself. Christine also wrote "Le Livre de la cite des dames" (1404-1405, "The Book of the City of Ladies"), a feminist reinterpretation of classical mythology, in which noble women gather under the aegis of the Virgin Mary to build their own city; and "Le Livre des trois vertus" (1405, "The Book of the Three Virtues"), the sequel to her previous work. These feminist treastises have only recently been rediscovered and translated into English.

Christine also wrote two political-religious works: "L'Avision-Christine" (1405, "The Vision of Christine"), which might be considered a feminist version of Dante's "Divine Comedy." And "Le Ditie de Jehanne d'Arc" (1429, "The Tale of Joan of Arc"), the only biography of that warrior known to have been written during her lifetime.

A fierce lover of France, Christine was distraught by the carnage of the Hundred Years' War. Feeling unsafe in Paris, Christine withdrew to the nunnery at Poissy, where her daughter was a nun. She died there, probably in the year 1431.


She was born Flora Celeste Therese Henriette Tristan y Moscosa, in Paris, the daughter of a Peruvian nobleman and a French woman; she was illegitimate. Her father died suddenly when she was quite young, and her education was sporadic.

In 1821, she wed her employer, the lithographer Chazal. The marriage soon soured, and it is likely that Chazal was abusive. Under French Catholic law, Moscosa was unable to obtain a divorce. Determined to at least achieve financial independence, she traveled to her father's homeland of Peru; there, she attempted to claim a portion of her inheritance.

The experiences of marriage and attempting to claim her inheritance convinced Moscosa of the necessity and right of a women's rights movement. Upon her return to Paris, she joined a group of reformers who founded "Gazette des Femmes," a magazine for women.

Moscosa became increasingly involved in not only the political aspects of women's emanicipation, but also the economic. She traveled to London to observe the terrible working conditions. She published her observations and opinions in "Promenade dans Londres" (1840). Moscosa is best remembered, however, for her treatise on women's emancipation, "L'Union ouvriere" (1843), a feminist classic little read in the United States.

CLARA ZETKIN (1857-1933)

She was born Clara Eissner in Wiederau, Saxony (now a part of Germany). She decided to teach to support herself, and began studying at Leipzig Teacher's College for Women; while there, however, she became a devout socialist and feminist. From 1881 to 1917, she was a member of the Social Democrats.

Through her activities with the Social Democrats, she came to associate with Russian revolutionaries. Sometime in the early 1880s, she wed the Russian exile Ossip Zetkin (1848-1889). During these years, she lived in France and Switzerland. She wrote on feminist and socialist issues, distributed illegal literature, met with other prominent and lesser-known socialists and feminists, and was instrumental in the founding of the Second Socialist International Congress (1889).

From 1892 to 1917, Zetkin lived in Germany once again. She edited "Die Gleichheit" ("Equality"), a feminist-socialist magazine. With radical Jewish-Communist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, Zetkin was a founder-member in 1917 of the Independent Social Democratic Party (also called the Spartan League). She was also a founder of the German Communist Party (1919).

Both through ideology and marriage, Zetkin was an ardent supporter of the Russian Revolution and Lenin personally. She spent her remaining years in the Soviet Union, working for equality, though her influence waned after Lenin's death in 1924. 

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Economic Amazons

Women have always wielded a certain amount of economic power: no society can survive without their work. For centuries, women labored in fields and shops, and made clothing for their families. Their work was often, though not always, overlooked because it rarely involved the exchange of money; many women supported their families through the barter system; midwives in New England, for instance, received food, clothing or free repair of broken machinery in exchange for their services. Among many African peoples, women were the primary supporters of the family; they owned the fields in which they grew food; a woman who could not support her family was not a true woman. When Europeans entered the area and rearranged the society to fit their own ideas of male economic hegemony, many women lost their fields, their power and their self-respect; many such women "fell" into prostitution to support their loved ones, an occupation considered respectable by many Africans. It is only in recent years that Western women have been recognized as an economic force. The women profiled here--Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Dolores Huerta, Nadhezhda Krupskaya, Gertrude Tuckwell and Louisa Twining--are all economic Amazons, women who have fought for the economic rights of their sisters.


Charlotte Anna Perkins was born in Hartford on 3 July 1860 to Mary Fitch and Frederic Beecher Perkins. Her father was of that famous Beecher family of preachers and activists (he was the grandson of theologian Lyman Beecher and the nephew of Harriet Beecher Stowe) a calling which seems to have skipped a generation--it was Charlotte, not her father, who would carry on the activist legacy. This activism was largely a result of her poor and unhappy childhood, for Frederic Perkins abandoned his family not long after Charlotte's birth. She, her brother and mother lived on the edge of poverty and were constantly on the move in search of food, lodging, employment and elusive security (over eighteen years they moved nineteen times to fourteen different cities). As a young woman, Charlotte supported herself and her family by designing greeting cards, teaching art and working as a governess (women's work). From these experiences arose her life-long interest in economics and gender construction.

In 1884 she reluctantly wed Charles Walter Stetson. Katharine, their only child, was born the next year. But Charlotte soon fell into a depression, one so deep that she consulted S. Weir Mitchell, an "expert" in women's nervous disorders. He commanded her to rest, forbade her to write, and severely restricted her reading. She nearly went mad. Out of this experience arose the inspiration for her greatest short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892), about a woman slowly driven mad by her well-meaning doctor-husband. Charlotte Stetson found the strength to abandon Mitchell's advice, and fled to California, leaving her husband and daughter behind. Her depression lifted. Katharine came to live with her mother in California, and Charlotte and Walter Stetson were soon amicably divorced.

Charlotte Stetson supported herself and daughter Katharine and mother Mary by running a boarding house. She also wrote--she wrote a great deal on a great many topics. In 1893 "In Our World," a book of verse, appeared. In 1894, she and Helen Campbell edited THE IMPRESS, the journal of the Pacific Coast Women's Association. Along with William Dean Howells, Henry Demarest Lloyd and Edward Bellamy, she was contributing editor of THE AMERICAN FABIAN. She also lectured, before anyone who would listen: women's clubs, men's clubs, labor unions, suffarettes, church congregations and Nationalist clubs. Charlotte Stetson was a firm believer in the ability of humans themselves to determine their own destiny. But for society to achieve its potential greatness and peace, women as a whole must rise up--for how can humanity advance if one-half of its population is oppressed and retarded? Towards that end, she dedicated herself to exposing and destroying the oppressive molds which shaped and inhibited all people, men and women.

Immediately after the divorce, Walter Stetson remarried, to Grace Channing, Charlotte Stetson's best friend. All agreed that young Katharine should return to live with him and his new wife (whom Katharine adored). Now fairly well known, Charlotte Stetson was attacked viciously by the press for being a bad mother and a worse wife. Stunned by the attack, from 1895 to 1900 she led a semi-nomadic existence, moving about the country to lecture and write. It was during this time that she wrote her most famous and influential work "Women and Economics" (1898). The text was soon translated into seven languages and won Charlotte Stetson international recognition. The success of her first economic text was soon followed by "Concerning Children" (1900); "The Home:Its Work and Influence" (1903), in which she makes the argument that the home is the socializer of inequality and inhumanity; and "Human Work" (1904). All of these, but "Women and Economics" in particular, have become cornerstones of the feminst-economic struggle.

Charlotte Stetson also produced numerous non-economic works. These were primarily of a socialist nature and are, unfortunately, less well-known than her economic treatises. "Man Made World: Or, Our Androcentric Culture" (1911), is one of the best critiques of what is now generally referred to as the patriarchy. "His Religion and Hers: A Study of the Faith of Our Fathers and the Work of Our Mothers" (1923) takes a humanist-socialist approach to religion. From 1909 to 1915, she was also the editor of THE FORERUNNER; she wrote every word which appeared in the monthly journal, from advertisements to editorials. It was in this journal that her four fictional novels were serialized: "What Diantha Did" (1910), "The Crux" (1911), "Moving the Mountain" (1912) and "Herland" (1915). The last is one of the greatest feminst utopias ever written, a wonderfully humorous and satirical piece in which three men find their way into a valley populated only by women; the children are conceived parthenogenetically and raised by trained and respected professionals; the women have no concept of "lover," "wife" or "marriage" which the men must explain to them; and in the process of comparing their two societies at least one of the men comes to the realization that perhaps his is not the superior after all.

In 1900, Charlotte Stetson married her cousin George Houghton Gilman, and took his name. They lived happily enough for some thirty years. In 1932, Charlotte Gilman was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. In 1934, George Gilman died suddenly. Charlotte Gilman returned to Pasadena to live with her daughter Katharine and Grace Stetson, her ex-husband's widow. In 1935, Charlotte Gilman published her autobiography "The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman," selected the cover she liked, secured the royalties for her daughter, said good-bye to her family and took the chloroform she had been carefully hoarding. She saw no purpose in living with a painful and demeaning death.

DOLORES HUERTA (born 1930)

In the 1950s, Dolores Huerta was recruited by the Community Service Organization (CSO). The CSO was a grass-roots advocacy group based in Stockton, California, which was primarily concerned with the plight of migrant farmworkers.

Along with Fred Ross and (the more well-known) Cesar Chavez, Huerta registered Chicano voters; many of these were farm laborers. Once registered, the workers had the power to influence policies concerning farm labor and agriculture. They looked specifically to labor reform and immigration policies.

In 1962, Huerta joined the United Farmworkers Union. She still serves as the Union's vice-president and chief negotiator.


She was born Nadezhda Constantinovna Krupskaya in Saint Petersburg, Russia to an impoverished but aristocratic family. She studied to be a teacher but was soon caught up in the socialist movement then growing in Russia. In the Russia of the day, labor unions among the working class were suppressed, and so socialists (particularly the socialist movement among women) tended to draw their numbers from the more privileged sections of society. Krupskaya was thus not alone in her devotion to socialism.

In 1896, Krupskaya married Vladimir I. Lenin, the man whose name has become synonymous with Russian socialism (Bolshevism). The marriage does not appear to resulted from romantic love, but rather from common interests and the need for companionship. Krupskaya was one of a number of women who were prominent leaders of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic party. In 1900, Krupskaya published THE WOMAN WORKER, a pamphlet which applied the analytical techniques and conclusions of Clara Zetkin (see Political Amazons, above) to the women workers of Russia.

Krupskaya stayed by her husband's side and worked with him during the years of exile leading up the 1917 revolution. In 1909, they were joined by Bolshevik activist Inessa Armand and her two children. Armand and Lenin fell in love, and Krupskaya obligingly offered to divorce her husband, that he might marry Armand. Lenin refused the offer. The three were a devoted trio. Krupskaya remained the stabilizing influence in Lenin's life, while he found joy with the exuberant Armand. When Armand died of typhus in 1920, the devastated Lenin turned to his wife for comfort and support.

Krupskaya died in 1939, having seen the realization of her dream and the beginnings of its fall to Stalinism and Hitler.


She was born Gertrude Mary Tuckwell in Oxford, Britain in 1861. She was educated at home by her father, a master at the New College School. She studied to be a teacher and traveled to London to begin her career in 1885.

Beginning in 1893, however, Tuckwell served as the secretary of Emily Dilke (1840-1904), her aunt, who was a well-known and respected writer, art critic, political activist, suffragette and trade unionist. Emily Dilke was the wife of Minister of Parliament Sir Charles Dilke, also a committed economic reformer. Through her association with the Dilkes, Tuckwell became interested in politics and economics. She was elected President of the Women's Trade Union League, in which position she campaigned for improved working conditions for women.

In 1894, Tuckwell published "The State and Its Children."

One of Britain's first women Justices of the Peace, Tuckwell laid the path for all those who followed. In 1926, she served on the Royal Commission on National Health Insurance, a topic vital to any economic reform. A life-long philanthropist, Tuckwell died in 1951, having seen women win the vote and many of her reforms passed.

LOUSIA TWINING (1820-1912)

Louisa Twining was born in London in 1820 and educated, like many others, at home. She became involved in social work through a horrifying personal experience: she went one day to visit an old and beloved nurse, and found the woman in a workhouse, working in abominable conditions. Twining visited several times and in 1855 published "A Few Words about the Inmates of Our Union Workhouse." Twining traveled through Britain, visiting other workhouses and promoting reforms.

Rather than focusing on the work environment alone, Twining also advocated changes in workhouse infirmaries and better training for the medical staffs. Twining experienced first hand the devastation of disease when she established a convalescent home for cholera victims in 1867. Thus, in 1879, she established the Workhouse Infirmary Nursing Association.

She wrote numerous articles on workhouses and the Poor Law, and in 1857 presented a paper at the first conference of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science. Among her longer tracts are "Recollections of Life and Work" (1893) and "Workhouses and Pauperism" (1898).

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Educational Amazons

Education is the key--a phrase whose truth has made it a cliche. Those who have access to education also have access to and control knowledge, government, law, medicine, economic policy, literature and every other factor which affects our lives. And education of women is key to improving the lives of their children, reducing poverty, and slowing the destruction of the environment. Educated women have fewer children, which means fewer mouths to feed, which means money can be put into other things, such as better food, improvement of the home or educational funds. Fewer children means more time to devote to the children the woman does bear. Fewer children means a smaller population, which means reduction of the human impact on the environment. Educated women are more capable of raising themselves and their children out of poverty, of finding well-paying jobs, and of making informed decisions in regards to voting and life choices. Education, quite simply, is the key. And the women profiled here--Soteria Aliberty, Evanthia Kairi, Raden Kartini, Anne Sullivan Macy, Ida Sophia Scudder, and Emma Willard--knew this.


Her name means "Savior." She was born in Greece in 1847, and educated there and in Italy. She taught at the Zappeion, a pioneer school for girls in Constantinople (now Istanbul). One of her colleagues was the teacher-reformer Kalliopi Kehajia. Aliberty moved to a Greek community in Romania and lived there until 1893; she established a girls' school there, as well.

Returning to Athens in 1893, Aliberty founded the Ergani Athena, a women's association. She also edited the literary journal, PLEIADES. She wrote for the WOMEN'S NEWSPAPER, published in Athens; among her contributions was "Biographies of Distinguished Greek Women," one of the first such important collections.

EVANTHIA KAIRI (1799-1866)

She was born on the Greek isle of Andros. A priveleged daughter, she studied philosophy, Latin and ancient Greek alongside her brother, the philosopher Theophilos Kairis. A born teacher, she eventually settled at the all-girls school in Kydonies (now in Turkey), where she served as principal and taught Latin and Greek literature, and history. A reform-minded instructor, she kept abreast of the latest ideas in education (particularly of girls) and implemented those she could.

A loyal daughter of Greece, she soon became involved in that nation's fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire. In 1821, she made repeated appeals to the women of Europe to come to the aid of the Greek uprising. Kairi's appeal proved to be pivotal in shifting European favor to the Greeks and against the Turks; a wide-spread pro-Greek/anti-Turk movement throughout Europe and America grew out of her appeals. In 1826, she wrote her play "Nikiratos" in response to the fall of the Greek stronghold of Missolonghi to the Turks.

After Greek independence was achieved, Kairi returned to her home island of Andros. There she established a school for war orphans.

RADEN KARTINI (1879-1904)

She was born Raden Adjeng Kartini to an aristocratic family in Majong, Java, in 1879. At that time, Indonesia was known as the Dutch East Indies and was under the control of the Netherlands.. As her father was employed by the Dutch colonial authroity, Kartini was allowed to attend a Dutch school. There, she learned to speak the colonial language and was exposed to Western ideas.

Kartini was particularly influenced by Western ideas concerning women. The more she studied and read, the more she became aware of the inequality and inhumanity suffered by Javanese women, and of the negative impact colonialism had on Java as a whole. She became dedicated to Javanese independence and the improvement of women's lot.

In 1903, Kartini established a school in her home, with the support of the Minister of Education. She later established a second school with her husband, the Regent of Rembang. Tragically, Kartini died not long after giving birth to her first child. In 1911, her ideas about independence, women and education (as expressed in letters to a Dutch pen pal) were published in "Door duisternis tot licht." The popularity of the text and her ideas led the Kartini Foundation to establish the first all-girls' school in Java. Though she did not live to see her dreams realized, Kartini has become a popular symbol of Javanese independence and the women's movement.


She was born Anne Sullivan in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts in 1866. As the result of a childhood infection, she lost most of her sight and was sent to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. Through a series of operations, some of her sight was restored. Sullivan elected to learn the manual alphabet nonetheless, to facilitate her communication with other disabled people.

In 1887, Sullivan was selected to teach Helen Keller, a young child blind, deaf and supposedly mute. Sullivan made use of both the manual alphabet and touch to teach Keller the basics of communication and to understand the world around her. Her technique was extraordinarily successful: by placing objects in Keller's hand, and then writing the object's name in the child's palm, Sullivan taught Keller that the world around her had names. By placing Keller's hand against her lips when she spoke, she taught Keller speech.

When Keller came of age, Sullivan accompanied her to Radcliffe College, from which Keller graduated in 1904. Sullivan later accompanied her protege on a world speaking tour, which broke the taboo against speaking about blindness (it was associated with veneral disease).

In 1905, Sullivan married John Macy, a writer and critic. But Sullivan, contrary to the wisdom of the times, continued her work with the blind. During the 1920s, she took up the cause of the new American Foundation for the Blind. She died in 1936, a much-celebrated teacher, who had seen her most difficult and challenging student thrive.


She was born in Ranipet, Madras in 1870, when Britain still ruled India. Her family had a long tradition as misionaries, but Scudder was at first reluctant to follow in their steps. She changed her mind one awful night in India: three times in that night, doctors were called to assist women who were having difficult labors. But, in each case, the Hindu or Muslim husband refused to let a male doctor see his wife. Each time, the woman died. Horrified by this experience, Scudder traveled to Britain and their earned her degree in medicine.

She returned to India in 1900, a certified, qualified, compassionate doctor. At first, she worked out of the dispensary in her ome in Vellore, then moved to a hospital in 1902. She established training courses for nurses in 1907 and women doctors in 1918. From these humble beginnings, the dreams of one woman, arose the Vellore Christian Medical College (established 1942), the largest teaching hospital in Asia.

EMMA WILLARD (1787-1870)

She was born Emma Hart in Berlin, Connecticut in 1787. She was educated at the Berlin Academy and in 1809 married Doctor John Willard. It was through her husband's nephew, however, that Emma Willard was exposed to the higher subjects of learning. The nephew was studying at Middlebury College, and passed on to his aunt what he learned of geometry and philosophy, subjects traditionally not taught to women.

In 1814, Willard opened the Middlebury Female Seminary, which offered a wide-range of subjects, including geometry and philosophy. Willard intended the school as a preparatory institution for women desiring to attend college. The unprecedented syllabus of the school caused problems, however,a nd Willard was unable to find sufficient financial support. She moved the school to Troy, New York, and their found the funding she needed. The school developed quickly, attracting intelligent, ambitious women from across the country. Willard also went on to write several critically-received history text books.

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Environmental Amazons

Women and the environment have always been connected in the minds and myths of humanity. Perhaps it is because our menstrual cycles match the cycle of the moon, perhaps because we give birth as other animals do, perhaps because our ancestresses invented agriculture and so became tied to the change of the seasons. Whatever the reasons, women and nature have long been equated--an equation which became detrimental to women after the association of nature with dark, evil, materiality, sensuality, chaos and irrationality. In the West, men were perceived as more separated from nature than women; men were logical, rational, moral beings, associated with the God; nature was something to be studied and manipulated. It was the rare man, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, who could see the good and beauty in nature. Only in the present century have modern peoples come to recognize what more "primitive" peoples knew instinctively: humanity and nature are intertwined; harm to nature causes harm to humanity. Beyond this, it is simply WRONG to carelessly use and abuse and destroy the environment. Recognition of the immorality of this destruction, and bringing an end to it for that reason alone, not just because of its impact on our species, is telling. The women profiled here--Joy Adamson, Juliana Berners, Carol Browner, Rachel Carson, Linda Hogan and Sara Lamb Parkin--all recognized the importance and inherent dignity of nature, and fought to defend it.

JOY ADAMSON (1910-1980)

She was born Joy Friedericke Victoria Gessner in Austria in 1910. Curious and talented, she moved to Kenya in 1937, where she studied and painted the flora and fauna of that country. A year later, she wed her second husband, botanist Peter Bally. In 1943, she wed her third husband, British game warden George Adamson. That year, she also accepted a commission from the British colonial government to paint the portraits of many of the vanishing tribes of the region. These tribes were dying as a result of British policy and economic and social changes.

It was not through her paintings (over one thousand) that Adamson made her name, but through a series of books about Elsa the lioness. They were international best-sellers, and included "Born Free" (1960), "Elsa" (1961), "Forever Free" (1962) and "Elsa and Her Cubs" (1965).

In 1962, Adamson launched her most ambitious and long-lasting project: The World Wildlife Fund. The Fund works to raise awareness of the need to protect endangered species of plants and animals, as well as whole biospheres.The Fund also promotes the wise use of natural resources. In 1988, the Fund changed its name to the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Even after the creation of the Fund, Adamson continued her career as a leading conservationist. Some time later, she was murdered by Kenyan tribesmen in her home.

JULIANA BERNERS (born c.1388)

The details of her life are unclear after so many centuries. She may have been the daughter of Sir James Berners, a favorite of King Richard II who was beheaded soon after her birth. But she is also known as Dame Julyans Barnes, so she may have been the wife of the Lord of the Manor of Julians Barns (near Saint Albans, in Hertfordshire). There are also legends that, after 1430, she was the prioress of Sopwell Nunnery, near Saint Albans.

It is known for certain, however, that Juliana Berners was a woman of great beauty, learning and intelligence. Like the other fashionable women of her day, she took part in a number of fieldsports, especially hawking. Her experiences formed the core of her work, "Treatyse perteynynge to Hawkynge, Huntynge, Fysshynge, and Coote Armiris." Because of this work, she is one of the earliest women authors known to have written in English.

CAROL BROWNER (born 1956)

She was born in southern Florida in 1956. She earned her law degree, and directed her legal skills to protecting the environment.

From 1979 to 1983, Browner served as General Counsel for the Florida House of Representatives Government Operations Committee. Then, from 1986 to 1989 she worked for Senator Lawton Chiles; in this position, she helped negotiate a complicated land swap that expanded the Big Cypress National Preserve. Then, from 1989-1990, she served under Senator Al Gore, drafting amendments to his ambitious Clean Air Act.

After Lawton Chiles was elected Governor of Florida, Browner served as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Regulation (1991-1993). Florida's DER is the third largest environemntal agency in the United States. While serving as Secretary, Browner negotiated a widely-praised agreement in which Disney World was allowed to develop its property in exchange for $40 million, which Florida used to reclaim 8500 acres of endangered land and create a wildlife refuge.

In 1993, President Clinton appointed Browner Director of the Environmental Protection Agency.

RACHEL CARSON (1907-1964)

She was born Rachel Louise Carson in Springdale, Pennsylvania in 1907. She attended prestigious Johns Hopkins University, where she studied biology. After graduation, she taught at the University of Maryland (1931-1936). From 1936 to 1949, she worked as a marine Biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Her work in marine ecology won her the respect and admiration of her colleagues. But it was a more popular work, "The Sea Around Us" (1951) which made her name a household word. This book was the first salvo in the late-twentieth century environmental movement, warning of the danger of large-scale pollution of the seas. It was with her next great work, "Silent Spring" (1962), that Carson's name became synonymous with the environmental movement. This second work, forceful, direct, scientific and pessimistic, warned of the dangers and effects of the use of modern, synthetic pesticides on individual flora and fauna and the food chain as a whole.

As a result of her work, and the activism it inspired and supported, legislation was passed by the United States government, controlling the use of pesticides. Since then, many environmental and conservation works have been written, but Carson's remains classics.

LINDA HOGAN (born 1947)

She was born in Denver, Colorado in 1947, of partly Chickasaw descent. One of the great modern-day poets of the United States, her works focus primarily on Native American culture and the environment. Her poems evoke a mythical, vibrant landscape of great power and beauty, as well as the natural mountain and desert landscapes of the American West and South-West. Her publications include the poetry collections "Calling Myself Home" (1979), "Daughters, I Love You" (1981), "Eclipse" (1983), "Seeing Through the Sun" (1985), "Savings" (1988) and "The Book of Medicines" (1993). Selections of her poetry also appear in "She Rises Like the Sun: Invocations of the Goddess by Contemporary American Women Poets," edited by Janine Canan.

Hogan also penned several short story collections: "That Horse" (1985), "The Big Woman" (1987) and "Red Clay" (1991). She co-edited the women's anthology "The Stories We Hold Secret" (1986).

Hogan's first novel is set during the Osage oil boom of 1920s Oklahoma. "Mean Spirit" (1990) tells a horrifying tale of brutal murder and judicial corruption, in which the government attempts to disinherit the Osage of their land and (valuable) mineral rights.

SARA LAMB PARKIN (born 1946)

She was born in Britain in 1946. Educated at Coventry and the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, she began her career as a nurse in 1973.

It was not long before environmental concerns became the focus of her life. In 1983, she was appointed the International Liaison Secretary for the newborn Green Party. From 1985 to 1990, she held the post of Co-Secretary of European Green Coordination, and from 1990 to 1992 she served as the Speaker for the United Kingdom Green Party. During these years, she appeared frequently on television and radio, speaking for environmental concerns.

Parkin resigned in 1992 and moved to Lyons, France. In 1994, she published "The Life and Death of Petra Kelly," a close friend of Parkin's and the founder of the German Green Party (1979). Kelly was found shot dead in her apartment in 1992, along with her partner Gert Bastian. Initially ruled a suicide, suspician has been cast on the manner of Kelly's death since the discovery that Bastian was linked to the Stasi, the secret police of the former East Germany.

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Journalistic Amazons

In the beginning, it was called The Hen's Nest; it was the room where the women journalists congregated and wrote their stories; it was a great dishonor to be sent there, so far as the men journalists were concerned. It was many years before women journalists came to be acknowledged for their contributions and their talent. They are now so common that it is impossible to turn on the television or pick up a newspaper or magazine without seeing one or reading a report written by one. They are liberal, conservative and moderate, they agree and disagree as vociferously as their male counterparts. They are the conscience of their organization, bringing a woman's perspective to events local and international. They have been advice columnists, society columnists, muckrakers, and commentators on events political, economic and legal. The women profiled here--Margot Adler, Aminah Al-Sa'id, Margaret Bourke-White, Margaret Fuller, Ida Tarbell and Ida Wells-Barnett--are all recognized for their journalistic skill and integrity.

MARGOT ADLER (born 1946)

AMINAH AL-SA'ID (1914-1995)

She was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1914, the privileged daughter of a privileged family. Her family was something of an anomoly: they were strong supporters of women's rights, especially the right to education, and the daughters were accordingly raised. One daughter became Egypt's first women Minister of Education in 1965. Aminah Al-Sa'id herself attended Cairo University.

At the University, Al-Sa'id openly advocated for women's causes. Her primary forum was the HAWA, an influential women's weekly magazine.

Al-Sa'id went on to hold important positions in publishing and journalism. She served as President of Dar al Hilal Publishing House, and as a member of the Supreme Board of Journalism. Al-Sa'id also penned a number of books, such as "Indian Visions," "Journey's End," "The Great Goal," and "faces in Shadows."


She was born Margaret Bourke White in New York City in 1906, the daughter of a homemaker and a print designer; she hyphenated her name years later. A shy, frightened child, she would grow up to be one of the greatest photojournalists in the world.

Bourke-White studied photography at Columbia University. She began her career in 1927 by photographing industrial and architectural sites, but by 1929 she had been hired by FORTUNE magazine as a staff photographer. In 1936, she signed on with the newborne LIFE magazine as a staff photographer and associate editor. It was for LIFE that would take some of her greatest and most famous pictures.

During the Great Depression, Bourke-White was hired by Erskine Caldwell for his study of rural poverty. (They were married from 1939 to 1942.) She toured the southern United States, taking the pictures of the hungry, unemployed and dispossessed. Her photos were striking, black-and-white, and highly individualistic, in contrast to the standard pictures taken by the Farm Security Administration photographers. From this tour came the book, "You Have Seen Their Faces" (1937).

During the Second World War, Bourke-White served as LIFE magazine's European photo-essayist. She was the first woman to be attached to the United States armed forces as a photographer. Bourke-White delivered outstanding reports on the seige of Moscow (1941) and the liberation of the concentration camps in 1944. Following the Second World War, she traveled to India, Pakistan and South Africa, reporting on the social and political unrest as those colony/nations struggled for independence from Britain. It was during these years that she took her famous picture of Mahatma Gandhi. Bourke-White was also the official coresspondent of the United Nations during the Korean War.

In 1952, symptoms of Parkinson's Disease began to appear. Nonetheless, Bourke-White produced many more photo-journalistic essays for LIFE, until her retirement in 1969. Among her books are "Eye on Russia" (1931), "Halfway to Freedom" (1946) and the autobiography "Portrait of Myself" (1963).


She was born Sarah Margaret Fuller in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts in 1810. She was given an exacting education at home by her father before attending the local school at age fourteen. She later went on to teach in Boston (from 1836 to 1837) and Providence (1837-1839).

It was in Providence that Fuller made the acquaintance of the region's intellectual elite. She held much celebrated Conversations (cultural, philosophical, religious, political discussions) with a number of prominent Boston matriarchs, which in turn attracted the attention of eminent political and social reformers and Transcendentalists. (Transcendentalism is a general philosphical term, but here applies particularly to the nineteenth century movement headed by Emerson and Thoreau which exalted individual autonomy, creativity, and conscience.)

From 1840 to 1842, Fuller edited THE DIAL, the Transcendentalist journal. Then, in 1844, she traveled to New York where she was hired as the TRIBUNE's literary critic. She was soon offered a new position, however: that of the TRIBUNE's European correspondent. Fuller was the United States' first woman foreign correspondent. In 1847, Fuller moved to Italy, where she fell in love with and married the Marquis Giovanni Ossoli. The Marquis was already involved in the Italian independence movement, and he drew Fuller in as well; they were both heavily involved in the Revolution of 1848, which sought to free the Italian States of foreign rule and establish a more equitable, democratic government.

Unfortunately, the Revolution collapsed from internal weaknesses and dissension. In 1850, Fuller sailed back to the United States with her husband and young son. But the ship sank just off New York, and all three were drowned.

Among Fuller's books are "Summer on the Lakes" (1844) and "Woman in the 19th Century" (1845), a feminist manifesto arguing for political equality and the personal fulfillment of all women.

IDA TARBELL (1857-1944)

She was born Ida Minerva Tarbell in Erie County, Pennsylvania in 1857. She graduated from Allegheny College.

From 1883 to 1891, Tarbell worked as the editor of THE CHAUTAUQUAN, then moved to Paris to study at the famed Sorbonne from 1891 to 1894. She returned to the United States and joined the editorial staff of MCCLURE'S MAGAZINE (1894-1906).

It was Tarbell's scathing denunciation of millionaire John D. Rockefeller's business practices that won her household fame and the admiration of her colleagues. Her "History of the Standard Oil Company," serialized in MCCLURE'S MAGAZINE, was published in book form in 1904. Tarbell was the first woman to be awarded the title of "muckraker," an honorific unofficially conferred by Teddy Roosevelt on those investigative journalists who made a point of "racking up the muck" on corrupt business practices and corrupt businessmen. In 1906, Tarbell joined Lincoln Steffens and other of the MCCLURE'S staff in publishing the AMERICAN magazine (closed 1915), which campaigned against corruption and Big Business.

Among Tarbell's other writings are biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte, Madame Roland and Abraham Lincoln.. Her feminist-economic writings include "The Business of Being a Woman" (1912) and "The Ways of Women" (1915). She also penned "The Nationalizing of Business" (1936), a history of the post-Civil War economy, and her autobiography "All in a Day's Work" (1939).


She was born Ida Wells to slave parents in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862. Her parents died in an epidemic when she was young. Wells, intelligent and ambitious and determined, turned to teaching to support herself and some of her siblings. But journalism was her true calling, and she began writing for a black-owned newspaper under the pseudonym Iola.

Following the failure of Reconstruction, conservative southern elements began to reassert themselves. The Klu Klux Klan and other terrorist gangs were born to turn back the tide of economic and political reform--and most especially to terrorize "uppity" African-Americans. Schools were burned, businessmen driven away. Lynchings became common, and were justified with the standard line that the African-American man lynched had raped a white woman. These lies were, unfortunately, believed by many white Americans in the North. It was the fight against lynching which was to shape the remainder of Wells' life. In 1892, she published "Southern Horrors," a pamphlet which chronicled the lynchings and overthrew many of the lies. Wells' articles and editorials were also the catalyst to the great Black Migration to the West, in which tens of thousands of former slaves and freemen and -women left the South and headed to the Promised Land of the West where there was plenty of land and opportunity for all. Or so it was hoped.

In 1895, Wells married Ferdinand Lee Barnett, the editor of the African-American newspaper, the CHICAGO CONSERVATOR. Together, they raised a large family while continuing their journalistic careers. Ida Wells-Barnett was also one of only two women to sign the call to form the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). On her own, she founded the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago, the nation's first African-American women's suffrage association.

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Religious Amazons

Religion is a fundamental element of human civilization and the human psyche--even atheists acknowledge its impact and importance in their very denunciation of it. Religion comes in many forms: monotheistic, pantheistic, polytheistic, henotheistic. Its creeds are many, though there is general agreement on a code of moral conduct and the inherent dignity of men and women. Its Deity and Deities are male and female and animal and immanent and transcendent and finite and infinite and benevolent and malevolent. Yet religion, which should be one of the great comforters in times of pain, also brings fear and hatred. Just as religion brings art and learning, it also brings destruction and ignorance. Just as it brings hope and dignity, it brings oppression and tyranny. Religion, which should be a celebration of love and learning, is one of the great institutions of intolerance in human civilization, advocating war and genocide and hatred. It does not have to be this way--it not always is: the pagan Roman Empire, the Mauryan Empire under Asoka, and Moorish Spain were three great eras of tolerance and the flowering of culture. Religion is something best left to the conscience of the individual; too much death and destruction has already resulted from infringement on this private issue. The women profiled here--Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Fatimah, Anne Hutchinson, Florence Tim Oi Li, Charlene Spretnak, and Katherina Zell--were and are all Amazons, women who fought for the religious liberty and religious dignity of themselves and their sisters.


She was born in San Miguel Nepantle, not far from Ciudad de Mexico, in 1648. She became a legend in her own time, celebrated as much for her beauty as for her intellect and artistry. Her scholarly abilities and creativity (in science, literature, music and poetry) attracted attention at an early age, and she was called to Ciudad de Mexico by the Viceroy's wife.

But the frivolity and cruelty of court life were not to her liking. And so, at age nineteen, Cruz entered the Carmelite Order. This life, too, did not please her--much too rigorous. And so she returned to the court. In 1669, however, she found a religious calling to her liking: the Hieronymites, who had a convent in Ciudad de Mexico. She remained there for the rest of her life, for Cruz had no desire to marry, and every desire to retain her freedom and continue her studies. This she could do only at a religious house.

Though celebrated throughout the Spanish-speaking world in her day, few of her works have been translated from the original. They are difficult, brilliant and subversive. Her "Primero Sueno" (rendered "First Dream" or "I Dream" or "First I Dream") is rich in allegory and metaphor, lyrical in composition and individualistic in perspective; she was one of the first poets of the modern era to make use of the personal, individualistic perspective. Cruz's poems about men, their stupidity and their idiotic opinions about women will likely be among the last of her works to be translated. These "Redondillas" (or "Verses") are satirical gems, and recommended to anyone fluent in Spanish. Most importantly, there is her "Repuesta" (or "Response," 1691). During the last years of her life, Cruz was involved in a draining struggle with the local Bishop and other Catholic officials over the correctness of some of her writings--even the correctness of a woman daring to learn! The "Respuesta," a cornerstone of modern feminism, was her ironic, satirical response to these attacks; in it, she even dared to argue that "artistic heresy" could not be punished by the Pope.

Cruz also penned a number of plays to be performed by the Hieronymite sisters. These particular compositions, in light of her later problems with the Bishop, have led some to question the depth of her Catholicism. It may have been only skin-deep, assumed for convenience: only as a loyal Catholic could she enter a convent, retain her independence, and continue her studies and writing. One play describes the Aztec rite of the eating the Corn God as Satanic caricature of the Christian Eucharist.

In 1695, Cruz sold all of her books, musical instruments and scientific equipment. She used the proceeds to aid the plague victims of Ciudad de Mexico. But, Cruz succumbed to the disease while ministering to the sick and dying, and died herself in 1695.

FATIMAH (died 633)


She was born Anne Marbury in 1591, the daughter of a Lincolnshire clergyman. In 1634, she and her merchant husband, William Hutchinson, emigrated to Boston. There, Anne Hutchinson came into conflict with local civil-religious leaders: Hutchinson had organized a number of meetings which were held at her home, and at which sermons were discussed and some unorthodox religious views presented.

Hutchinson was taken to trial, and it is through the trial transcripts that we are offered a unique view into the world of seventeenth century Puritan New England. At the trial, Hutchinson was articulate, outspoken and learned--sometimes more learned than the clergymen she faced. She accused these clergymen of beings slaves to religious doctrine and dogma and legalism, rather than knowing liberation through Christ. Hutchinson herself was in turn accused of breaking Paul's commandment that women should not teach men, and of Antinomianism (a radical Christian doctrine that liberation by the Gospel emancipates believers from following the moral law). Convicted of sedition and heresy, Hutchinson was excommunicated.

Driven from the Puritan community, Hutchinson and her husband and a few friends resettled on the island of Aquidneck in 1638, where they established a short-lived democracy. It was here that she gave birth to a menopausal baby: the infant was deformed and still-born, and held up as demonic proof by clergyman Cotton Mather that Hutchinson had, indeed, been an agent of the Devil. After William Hutchinson's death in 1642, Anne moved to what is now Pelham Bay in New York state. Not long after, thirteen members of her family , including Hutchinson, were murdered by Native Americans; only one child survived.

Hutchinson was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1994.

Florence Tim Oi Li (1906-1992)

Charlene Spretnak

Katherina Zell (c.1497-1562)

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