The Best Quotes From History's Badass Women
Throughout history, women have had to work harder, run faster and be better than men to accomplish their dreams. In many cases, their stories have been erased or rewritten to minimize their efforts and tear them down. Unfortunately, much of this is still true today, with many contemporary feminists working to combat the gender pay gap, sexual harassment, violence toward women, domestic labor expectations, the denial of reproductive rights — and the list goes on. To draw inspiration from the feminist badasses who have cleared a path for women’s voices to be heard, check out these 17 inspiring quotes.
1. Mary Wollstonecraft: Writer, Philosopher, Activist
Mary Wollstonecraft published a series of radical works advocating for women’s rights, including “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” which urged for education reform. “I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” —“A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” 1792
2. Harriet Tubman: Abolitionist, Humanitarian, Union Army Spy
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Though she escaped from lifelong slavery in 1849, Harriet Tubman returned to her home state of Maryland many times to rescue dozens of people, guiding them throughout a secret network of safe houses called the Underground Railroad. In 2016, the U.S. Treasury announced that she would be replacing Andrew Jackson on the new $20 bill. “I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.” —As quoted in “Harriet, The Moses of Her People,” by Sarah Bradford, 1886.
3. Edmonia Lewis: Neoclassical Sculptor, Advocate for Abolitionists
Edmonia Lewis, praised as the first black and Native-American (Chippewa) woman to earn international fame as a sculptor, became known in Europe for fusing cultural themes with the neoclassical style. “Sometimes the times were dark and the outlook was lonesome, but where there is a will there is a way. I pitched in and dug at my work until now I am where I am. It was hard work though, but with color and sex against me, I have achieved success. That is what I tell my people whenever I meet them, that they must not be discouraged, but work ahead until the world is bound to respect them for what they have accomplished.” —Indianapolis News, 1878
4. Huda Sha’arawi: Feminist Leader
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Huda Sha’arawi was a pioneer of feminism in Egypt during a time when women were confined to their houses or harems. In 1919, she helped to organize the largest women’s anti-British demonstration of all time, and she later founded the Egyptian Feminist Union. “In moments of danger, when women emerge by their side, men utter no protest. Yet women’s great acts and endless sacrifices do not change men’s views of women. Through their arrogance, men refuse to see the capabilities of women. Faced with contradiction, they prefer to raise women above the ordinary human plane instead of placing them in a level equal to their own. Men have singled out women of outstanding merit and put them on a pedestal to avoid recognizing the capabilities of all women.” —“Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist, 1879–1924,” 1987
5. Amelia Earhart: Aviator, Author, Feminist
Amelia Earhart overcame many social and financial obstacles to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean and the first person to ever fly over both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. She later became the first president of the Ninety-Nines, an organization of female pilots who furthered women’s place in aviation. “I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.” —A letter left to her husband, George Putnam, as she began her final flying journey, 1937.
6. Rosa Parks: Civil Rights Activist
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to surrender her bus seat to a white male passenger in Montgomery, Alabama. Her actions galvanized a citywide protest that reverberated throughout the U.S. and helped spark the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically…. No, the only tired I was was tired of giving in.” —“Rosa Parks: My Story,” 1992
7. Yuri Kochiyama: Activist
Inspired by her and her family’s internment during World War II, Yuri Kochiyama became involved in numerous movements throughout the 1960s, including the worldwide nuclear disarmament, the Japanese American Redress and Reparations Movement and the International Political Prisoner Rights Movement. She was a close friend and follower of Malcolm X and was there to hold him in her arms when he was assassinated 1965. “Remember that consciousness is power. Consciousness is education and knowledge. Consciousness is becoming aware... Tomorrow’s world is yours to build.” —“Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice,” directed by Rea Tajiri, 1993
8. Patsy Takemoto Mink: Politician
Patsy Mink was the first woman of color and Asian-American elected to Congress, where she advocated for civil rights, education and labor unions. She was a principle author of Title IX, a law that bans gender discrimination among federally funded education programs, which tripled women’s college enrollment. “It is easy enough to vote right and be consistently with the majority…but it is often more important to be ahead of the majority, and this means being willing to cut the furrow in the ground and stand alone a while if necessary.” —As quoted in “Why Congress Needs Women: Bringing Sanity to the House and Senate,” by Michele E. Paludi, 1973
9. Maya Angelou: Writer, Activist
Maya Angelou received numerous awards and more than 50 honorary degrees for her work as a poet, memoirist, essayist, educator, filmmaker and civil rights activist. Her internationally acclaimed autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which explores her experiences of racism and trauma, made history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. “We have to undo these lessons which have been learned by all of us. And not just taught to us — but we’ve learned them. And so it will be no small matter. But we can undo it. We can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.” —Interview with Feminist.com, 2008
10. Anne Frank: Writer
Anne Frank documented her experiences and hopes as a teenage girl when she and her family went into hiding during World War II. At 15, she was captured and sent to a Nazi work camp, where she contracted typhus and died. Her diary, “The Diary of a Young Girl,” has gone on to be read by millions. “Everyone has inside of her a good piece of news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!” —“The Diary of a Young Girl,” 1952
11. Audre Lorde: Writer, Feminist, Civil Rights Activist
Through her poetry, essays and other writings, Audre Lorde confronted the issues of racism, sexism and homophobia in contemporary society. Later in life she founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press to promote the works of black feminists and became an advocate for black women living under South African apartheid. “Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women... know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled... in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish.” —“The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” 1979
12. Paula Gunn Allen: Writer, Activist, Professor
Paula Gunn Allen studied tribal traditions while she worked as a professor at the University of New Mexico. Her groundbreaking book, “The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine Indian Traditions,” sheds light on a nonpatriarchal society. “The root of oppression is the loss of memory.” —“The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions,” 1992
13. Wilma Rudolph: Athlete
Wilma Rudolph overcame polio and other illnesses as a child to become the first American woman to earn three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games. “The triumph can’t be had without struggle. And I know what struggle is. I have spent a lifetime trying to share what it has meant to be a woman first in the world of sports so that other young women have a chance to reach their dreams.” —Interview in the Chicago Tribune, 1989
14. Gloria Anzaldúa: Writer, Activist, Theorist, Teacher
Gloria Anzaldúa was a prominent voice in the Chicano and Chicana movement, melding different styles, languages and cultures in her writings to explore queerness and multiracial identity in the borderlands between Mexico and the United States. “My ‘awakened dreams’ are about shifts. Thought shifts, reality shifts, gender shifts: One person metamorphoses into another in a world where people fly through the air, heal from mortal wounds. I am playing with my Self, I am playing with the world’s soul, I am the dialogue between my Self and el espiritu del mundo. I change myself, I change the world.” —“Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza,” 1987
15. Zaha Hadid: Architect
Zaha Hadid was an Iraq-born British architect whose innovative structures redefined modern architecture. In 2004, she became the first woman to receive the Pritzer Architecture Prize. “Yes, I’m a feminist, because I see all women as smart, gifted and tough.” —As quoted in O, The Oprah Magazine, 2013
16. Sylvia Rivera: Activist
After taking part in the Stonewall uprising in 1969, Sylvia Rivera became a vocal gay, transgender and drag activist and advocated for sexual assault survivors and homeless populations. She took part in founding the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance and the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). “We have to do it because we can no longer stay invisible. We should not be ashamed of who we are. We have to show the world that we are numerous. There are many of us out there.” —“Queens in Exile, the Forgotten Ones,” 2002
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17. Tayyibah Taylor: Editor, Publisher, Activist
Tayyibah Taylor was the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Azizah Magazine, the first-ever magazine to focus on Muslim American women’s perspectives and experiences. She dedicated her life to shattering stereotypes surrounding Islam and Muslim women, presenting lectures in more than 37 countries on six continents. “We can either allow others to tell our stories, or we can tell our stories ourselves.” —Interview with CNN, 2010
What Do YOU Think?
Who inspires you? What are some quotes we missed that definitely belong on this list? Why is representation important? Tell us in the comments section.
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- Maya Angelou: Biography
- Biography: Maya Angelou Biography
- Feminist.com: Conversation with Maya Angelou
- Empowerment: The Competitive Edge in Sports, Business & Life, by Gene N. Landrum, Ph.D.
- Olympic: Wilma Rudolph
- Biography: Wilma Rudolph Biography
- Thought Co: Wilma Rudolph Quotes
- Hawai’i Magazine: 14 extraordinary women in Hawaii history everyone should know
- Why Congress Needs Women: Bringing Sanity to the House and Senate, by Michele E. Paludi
- Congressional Record, V. 148, PT. 13, September 20, 2002 to October 1, 2002
- Women’s E News: Patsy Mink Lives on in Today’s Fight for Title IX
- The Women’s Sports Foundation: The Mother of Title IX: Patsy Mink
- The New York Times: Patsy Mink, Veteran Hawaii Congresswoman, Dies at 74
- American National Biography Online: Mink, Patsy
- History: This Day in History June 23: 1972 Title IX Enacted
- All Academic Research: “I Change Myself, I Change the World”: Anzaldua’s Sociological Imagination in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, by Mohammad H. Tamdgidi
- ThoughtCo: Gloria Anzaldua
- U.S. Capitol History Society: Honoring Rosa Parks
- Biography: Rosa Parks Biography
- History: Rosa Parks
- Gracie Wilson/LIVESTRONG.COM