March has been designated Women’s History Month and in a rare moment almost devoid of my usual chauvinism I want to spotlight some of the women without whom the world would be much less acceptable.



 Rosa Parks

rosaOn December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African American woman who worked as a seamstress, boarded a Montgomery City bus to go home from work. On this bus on that day, Rosa Parks initiated a new era in the American quest for freedom and equality.

She sat near the middle of the bus, just behind the 10 seats reserved for whites. Soon all of the seats in the bus were filled. When a white man entered the bus, the driver (following the standard practice of segregation) insisted that all four blacks sitting just behind the white section give up their seats so that the man could sit there. Mrs. Parks, who was an active member of the local NAACP, quietly refused to give up her seat.

Her action was spontaneous and not pre-meditated, although her previous civil rights involvement and strong sense of justice were obvious influences. “When I made that decision,” she said later, “I knew that I had the strength of my ancestors with me.”

She was arrested and convicted of violating the laws of segregation, known as “Jim Crow laws.” Mrs. Parks appealed her conviction and thus formally challenged the legality of segregation.

Two other women had been arrested on buses in Montgomery before Parks and were considered by black leaders as potential clients for challenging the law. However, both were rejected because black leaders felt they would not gain white support. When she heard that the well-respected Rosa Parks had been arrested, one Montgomery African American woman exclaimed, “They’ve messed with the wrong one now.

Emmeline Pankhurst

born July 14, 1858, Manchester, Eng.
died June 14, 1928, London


Emmeline Pankhurst in prison clothes, 1908

BBC Hulton Picture Library

militant champion of woman suffrage whose 40-year campaign achieved complete success in the year of her death, when British women obtained full equality in the voting franchise. Her daughter Christabel Harriette (afterward Dame Christabel) Pankhurst (1880–1958) also was prominent in the woman suffrage movement.

In 1879 Emmeline Goulden married Richard Marsden Pankhurst, lawyer, friend of John Stuart Mill, and author of the first woman suffrage bill in Great Britain (late 1860s) and of the Married Women’s Property acts (1870, 1882). Ten years later she founded the Women’s Franchise League, which secured (1894) for married women the right to vote in elections to local offices (not to the House of Commons). From 1895 she held a succession of municipal offices in Manchester, but her energies were increasingly in demand by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which she founded in 1903 in Manchester. The union first attracted wide attention on Oct. 13, 1905, when two of its members, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney, thrown out of a Liberal Party meeting for demanding a statement about votes for women, were arrested in the street for a technical assault on the police and, after having refused to pay fines, were sent to prison.

Suffragists, including Sylvia Pankhurst (a member of the Pankhurst family of suffrage activists), …

From 1906 Emmeline Pankhurst directed WSPU activities from London. Regarding the Liberal government as the main obstacle to woman suffrage, she campaigned against the party’s candidates at elections, and her followers interrupted meetings of Cabinet ministers. In 1908–09 Pankhurst was jailed three times, once for issuing a leaflet calling on the people to “rush the House of Commons.” A truce that she declared in 1910 was broken when the government blocked a “conciliation” bill on woman suffrage. From July 1912 the WSPU turned to extreme militancy, mainly in the form of arson directed by Christabel from Paris, where she had gone to avoid arrest for conspiracy. Pankhurst herself was imprisoned, and, under the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act of 1913 (the “Cat and Mouse Act”), by which hunger-striking prisoners could be freed for a time and then reincarcerated upon regaining their health to some extent, she was released and rearrested 12 times within a year, serving a total of about 30 days. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, she and Christabel called off the suffrage campaign, and the government released all suffragist prisoners.


Ban Zhao


born 45 CE, Anling, Fufeng [now Xianyang, Shaanxi province], China
died c. 115, China

renowned Chinese scholar and historian of the Dong (Eastern) Han dynasty.

The daughter of a prominent family, Ban Zhao married at age 14, but her husband died while she was still young. She never remarried, devoting herself instead to literature and the education of her son. Her father, Ban Biao (3–54 CE), apparently had begun a history of the Xi (Western) Han dynasty (206 BCE–25 CE). After his death the emperor named Ban Zhao’s brother Ban Gu (32?–92 CE) official historian and ordered him to complete his father’s work. Ban Zhao, who assisted her brother with the work, was commissioned by the emperor to complete it after Ban Gu’s death. The resulting Han shu (“Book of Han”) is one of the best-known histories ever written and the model for all future dynastic histories in China.


The Women of Greenham.

GreenhamMy wife and I drove up to see the with no particular feelings of support, just rubber-necking I guess. We drove back down the hill open mouthed in awe of these people and we joined the countrywide celebrations when the Americans were forced to remove their nuclear weapons from the base.


Some 30,000 women ringed the nine-mile perimeter of Greenham Common cruise missile base in Berkshire in December 1981 in an emotional demonstration against nuclear weapons.

In such an inaccessible part of the country and in appalling weather conditions, it was a remarkable show of strength of the anti-nuclear lobby.

Police kept a low profile and in some places must have been outnumbered 1,000 to one by the demonstrators. Colleagues with riot shields had been ferried into the base on standby before first light but there was not a single incident.

Men were excluded from the demonstration and told to run the creche, prepare food, and keep out of the way.

At dawn marquees and tents began to be built at each of the eight gates into the base. The men were confined to Gate 8, making such things as wax torches and sandwiches.

By noon the area was jammed with more than 60 coaches and thousands of cars. The weather improved and people were having to walk up to three miles to reach the base and join the demonstration.

The women were asked to attach some token from their lives to the nine foot perimeter fence to show that they had been there. Many chose photographs of their children.

Ms Joan Ruddock, chairman of CND, said: “This is a fantastic achievement. No one can claim this has been stage-managed; it is a spontaneous demonstration by women from all over the country. It is a tribute to those who have endured the horrific winter conditions in the peace camp for 18 months to keep this protest alive.”

The women’s 19 years presence outside the RAF base was a significant factor in the decision to remove the American missiles in 1991

To these ladies and the millions more who have helped make the world a better place whether by nurturing the next generations or fighting for rights or holding a mirror to the prejudices that still exist albeit to a lesser extent, thanks.


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