Happy Women’s History Month! To celebrate this amazing time, I would like to bring awareness to a few historical girl bosses that most people were not taught about in school. These women were all faced with discrimination based upon either their race or gender, yet they still made monumental contributions to their professional fields.
Anna May Wong (1905-1961)
Photo courtesy of IMDB.com
“I’m Chinese by race and I love Chinese people and things. I love our traditions and even our ancient religions. I think there is poetry in our plural gods of the North Wind, the West Wind and the like. They are beautiful like the American Indian gods. My only regret is the limitation upon my work, as I can only play oriental roles, or sometimes Indian parts.” – Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong was a Chinese-American actress from Los Angeles, California. She was captivated by the Hollywood scene and begged directors to give her small roles to play in films. As her acting career became more prominent, she dropped out of school to pursue it full time. Her first leading role was at the age of 17 in The Toll of the Sea, which was a technicolor film about an interracial relationship between a young Chinese girl and an American man. An issue that Wong struggled with throughout her career was racial discrimination. She was often given stereotypical Chinese roles or not given roles at all because she looked too Chinese. Instead, directors would choose tan American actresses over her to play Asian characters. Racism in Hollywood also prevented Wong from playing lead roles and prohibited her from kissing white men in romantic scenes. As a result, Wong moved to Europe to expand her opportunities and successfully starred in several foreign films before returning to America. Despite her achievements in Europe, she was still faced with discrimination upon her return. To fight against the racism she faced, Wong spoke out about the inequality in the film industry and chose to only star in films that allowed her to play authentic Chinese characters. Wong’s activism towards racism in Hollywood forged a new movement for minorities in the industry, empowering Asians and women alike to pursue their respective passions.
Emma Goldman (1869-1940)
Photo courtesy of jwa.org
“Women need not always keep their mouths shut and their wombs open.” – Emma Goldman
Emma Goldman was a radical Jewish-American feminist figure. After emigrating to the U.S. in 1885, she took interest in the Haymarket affair and started advocating for women’s equality, free speech, and other issues such as birth control. Goldman and her anarchist beliefs were incredibly controversial; she criticized the conscription of men in World War I, spread information about birth control, and even tried to assassinate industrialist Henry Clay Frick as an act of propaganda.
Additionally, Goldman was a rebellious writer who attacked issues such as free love, homosexuality, atheism, militarism, and capitalism through her essays and lectures. The themes she wrote about were very much against mainstream American beliefs, but she forged on with sharing her thoughts in her effort of advocating for speech. Goldman adapted the reputation as being one of the most dangerous anarchists at the time due to the violent strategies she used to execute her ideas. Some crazy acts she has done include illegally distributing birth control information, participating in riots and being imprisoned for it, and inspiring Leon Czolgosz to assassinate President McKinley. Through all her arrests and other troubles with the law, Goldman remained resilient and strong as ever.
Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005)
Photo courtesy of womenshistory.org
“In the end anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing: anti-humanism.” – Shirley Chisholm
Hillary Clinton was not the first woman to run for president, and Barack Obama was not the first African American to run for the role either. Shirley Chisholm beat both present day icons in terms of being the first woman and first African American to run for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, yet not many people know about this. Chisholm was already making history before the announcement of her campaign: she was the first elected African American congresswoman during 1968. Chisholm was met with many challenges during her time in Congress. She constantly had to fight for respect from her peers and was dismissed by others solely because of her minority status. She also faced a lot of discrimination for being a woman in a predominantly male field. Despite the oppressions she faced as not only a woman but an African American, Chisholm persistently fought and advocated for minorities and other underprivileged groups in hopes of creating change to support them.
Chisholm’s campaign slogan was “Unbought and Unbossed,” with the goal of challenging and changing American politics. She never expected to win, and her campaign was short-lived, but she knew that it would make a significant difference in shaping the future of American politics. Chisholm suffered through hostile threats and attempted assassinations throughout the journey, but she still made it to the Democratic convention. Chisholm achieved great triumphs in the political field, and she deserves the recognition for it.
All of these women changed and shaped America in the past, and they definitely need to be celebrated and recognized for it. High school history classes omit these important characters from the story while choosing to only focus on the prominent White men who impacted our country. This is something that needs to be changed within the curriculum. Women need to be acknowledged; they are powerful and brave, and they need to be remembered.