Celebrating Inspiring Women on International Women's Day

By Sara Tetzloff posted 03-08-2022 14:04


March is Women’s History Month and today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. The day is dedicated to celebrating inspiring women in our communities and around the world with the United Nations putting its focus on gender equality in 2022.

The first official International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. By 1975, all 134 countries that are part of the United Nations recognized the holiday.

I always feel empowered when I see messages promoting inspiring female leaders who are creating change now. Recently I started wondering about the people who aren’t necessarily household names and the roles they played in fighting for rights women have today. Thousands of women who marched through the streets of New York City asking for voting rights and equal pay in 1908 only scratches the surface.

Connect by Rotary celebrates those who make an impact on the world around them. Here’s a brief background on several people who have paved the path for future generations of women.

Blazing the Trail

Sojourner Truth was an “African American abolitionist, evangelist, women’s rights activist and author who was born into slavery but escaped to freedom in 1826.” Born Isabella Baumfree to enslaved parents and was sold several times before ending up in the home of John Dumont. After bearing five children, she escaped in 1826 with her infant daughter in tow – leaving the other children behind who were legally bound to Dumont. After the New York Anti-Slavery Law was passed, Dumont illegally sold Truth’s son. She filed a lawsuit to get him back, and won, making her the first black woman to sue a white man in a U.S. court and prevail.

Esther Hobart Morris was the first woman to hold a judicial position in the U.S. and an American suffragist who played a critical role in the passing of the first woman suffrage law in Wyoming in 1869.

Susan B. Anthony was a women’s rights activist known for her work during the suffrage movement in the early 1800s, Susan B. Anthony believed that every human is equal. She was just 17 when she started collecting antislavery petitions and spent her adult life fighting for gender equality and women’s right to vote. Anthony died in 1906, 14 years before women gained the right to vote.

Frederick Douglass was known for being many things–an abolitionist, public speaker, and writer to name a few. What some may not know about Douglass is that he was an activist in the women’s suffrage movement.

Alice Paul was a driving force behind the women’s suffrage movement. She was jailed three times for suffragist agitation while in England doing settlement work. After returning to the U.S., Paul formed the National Woman’s Party, using militant tactics learned in England to organize parades and pickets in support of the cause. Her first – and largest – included 8,000 women marching with banners and floats down Pennsylvania Avenue the day before Woodrow Wilson took office.
She was arrested again in 1917 and sentenced to seven months in jail, where she organized a hunger strike in protest. “Doctors threatened to have her committed and force-fed her, while media coverage of her treatment “garnered public sympathy and support for suffrage.” She was imprisoned two more times before the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. Paul “successfully lobbied for references to gender equality in the preamble to the United Nations charter and the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act.

Margaret Sanger was a nurse and a steadfast advocate for women’s reproductive rights, founding the birth control movement that resulted in the modern birth control pill. Sanger participated in women’s labor strikes and believed that the ability to control family size was crucial to ending the cycle of women’s poverty. Sanger made it her mission to provide women with birth control information, which meant repealing the federal Comstock Law, which prohibited the distribution of obscene materials through the mail. Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn in 1916. However, a week later, she was arrested and spent a month in jail. She gained support through media attention, and although she lost the appeal for her conviction, courts ruled that physicians could prescribe contraceptives to women for medical reasons. This allowed Sanger to open a clinic staffed by female doctors and social workers in 1923, which later became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Edith Wharton, a novelist and writer, became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1921 for her novel, The Age of Innocence. Wharton was known for her portrayal of New York’s upper class and was also nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1927, 1928, and 1930. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996 nearly 30 years after her death.

Betty Friedan may be best known as the author of “The Feminine Mystique,” – a book that showcased her findings from questionnaires and interviews of Smith alumnae that explored the deep dissatisfaction of the American housewife in the early 60s.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a justice on the United States Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg served from 1993 until she died in 2020. Ginsburg graduated first in her class at Columbia Law School. She was the first Jewish woman and only the second woman overall to serve as a justice. Ginsburg fought for women’s rights and gender equality throughout her career and is recognized as an icon for the feminist movement. 

Supporting Women in Your Community

I hope learning about some of these lesser-known activists inspires you to support the continued momentum of advancing gender equality. Here is a quick list of things you can do:

  1. Speak up. Initiate conversations with anyone willing to listen about issues that are important to you. Spark conversations on social media. Write local politicians. Host coffee dates with friends and colleagues to discuss meaningful topics. 
  1. Find an opportunity near you to make a valuable contribution. Help plan an event, serve a community, or mentor girls and women. 
  1. Get moving. Attend a public demonstration to help demand action be taken. 
  1. Put your money where your mouth is. Support female-owned businesses. Donate to women’s movements and organizations that push for gender equality. 
  1. Lend support. Acknowledge the women in your family, workplace, and community for all the work they do to help future generations of women. Help them bear the burden when you’re able. 
  1. Question everything. Don’t blindly accept the status quo. Understand your rights. Investigate the laws. Ask questions.

Today, I’m buying gifts for a new colleague from a local female chocolatier, sending love to my female business-owner clients, and acknowledging my sister for all the incredible work she does in her career and at home.

What will you do to celebrate International Women’s Day? Which iconic women leaders would you add to this list?




03-28-2022 09:34

@Arnie Grahl @Alison Randall @Quinn Drew Great additions to the list!​​​

03-20-2022 18:03

Great thoughts, @Arnie Grahl and @Alison Randall. I'd add Kate Bornstein to my list of lady heros. She is a friggin incredible human and phenomenal trans activist, please please feel free to look her up. Also, I posted a bingo card I made out of @Sara Tetzloff's list of recommendations over here in this thread. Take a look! ​​​

03-14-2022 14:59

@Arnie Grahl I 100% was going to mention Jane Goodall! I love the relationship that she and Greta Thunberg have developed. It's great to see current leaders inspiring the leaders of tomorrow - although I'd argue that Greta is already quite a young leader - as well as Malala Yousafzai. ​

03-08-2022 14:39

When I think of inspirational women trail blazers I think of Mother Teresa for her work with the poor in the slums of Calcutta, India, and of Jane Goodall for her work in conservation. Two amazing women that showed what compassion, courage, and conviction can do.