TODAY, March 8, 2011, is the 100th annual International Women’s Day.
What better day is there to pay homage to the amazing and inspiring women who have given the world a lasting legacy?
Most of these women are or were ahead of their time; independent free-thinkers and creative tour de forces who embody the immense and extraordinary qualities of being a woman.
Much of their accomplishments are striking irrespective of gender but perhaps all the more important because of it.
Here are just a handful of the countless women who indefatigably and unapologetically left their mark on the past, the present and the future.
I highlight the following figures but it is by no means an exhaustive list, merely one which has been randomly cherry-picked; Immense orchards of wisdom and awe, of strength and courage, of science, art and love that our foremothers have left growing with fortitude, never to wither or be uprooted.
SAPPHO (circa 630 BC)
LITTLE is known about Ancient Greek lyrical poet Sappho.
She is one of the first published female writers, though hardly any of her work survives.
The pen is mightier than the sword and most women in history who have shone out have done so along with the power of their words.
Sappho married a wealthy merchant, had a daughter, and studied arts. She wrote beautiful poetry and composed melodies for her lines.
Held in high regard by Plato, she also established a performing arts school for girls.
JOAN OF ARC (circa January 6, 1412 – May 30, 1431)
AT just 17, Joan of Arc stormed to victory as she led the French in the Battle of Orleans.
Joan said she received her first divine vision when she was 13 and later predicted the outcome of military action during the war between the French and English.
Through sheer determination she ended up riding as a knight with the army and leading them to triumph. During her brief leadership she was unparalleled in her success.
Joan was subsequently tried for heresy and burnt at the stake. Five centuries later she was made a saint.
Joan, or Jeanne D’Arc, in her own words:
“Get up tomorrow early in the morning, and earlier than you did today, and do the best that you can. Always stay near me, for tomorrow I will have much to do and more than I ever had…”
“Children say that people are hung sometimes for speaking the truth.”
“I am not afraid… I was born to do this.”
ELIZABETH I (September 7, 1533 – March 24, 1603)
The daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn – who was executed when she was just a toddler – Elizabeth was never expected to become queen.
She was 25 when she took the throne and reigned supreme for 45 years, making the country a formidable force at home and on the world stage.
Elizabeth was intelligent and loved the arts. Her rule was dubbed the golden age as learning and literature took hold.
Elizabeth I in her own words:
“It is a natural virtue incident to our sex to be pitiful of those that are afflicted.”
“All my possessions for a moment of time.”
“Though the sex to which I belong is considered weak you will nevertheless find me a rock that bends to no wind.”
MARIE CURIE (November 7, 1867 – July 4, 1934)
Marie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize – and the first person and only woman to win in two different categories.
Her research into radioactivity won her the first prize for physics in 1903. Her second was in 1911 for chemistry after discovering radium and polonium.
Her legacy is outstanding, irrespective of her gender.
Marie in her own words:
“I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.”
“All my life through, the new sights of nature made me rejoice like a child.”
“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”
ELEANOR ROOSEVELT (October 11, 1884 – November 7, 1962)
But even if she hadn’t been elevated to public consciousness by her being married to President FDR she would without doubt still have been one of the great humanitarians ever known.
She campaigned on human rights and women’s rights for most of her life and was described as having effervescence and boundless optimism.
She was the head of the UN’s Commission on Human Rights and helped draw up the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Eleanor in her own words:
“Women are like teabags. We don’t know our true strength until we are in hot water.”
“As for accomplishments, I just did what I had to do as things came along.”
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticised anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”
“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
ROSA PARKS (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005)
PEACEFUL activist Rosa Parks was famous for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in Alabama on December 1, 1955.
Rosa wasn’t the first African-American woman to not budge from her seat. Others before her include Lizzie Jennings, Irene Morgan, Sarah Louise Keys and 15-year-old Claudette Colvin.
But her subsequent arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted over a year and to this day is one of the most successful mass protests against racial segregation in history.
Rosa’s decision to sit firm that day meant she became a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement. Her daring action and its subsequent effects is the epitome of a graceful but powerful fight against injustice.
Rosa in her own words:
“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
“Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.”
“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.”
MARILYN MONROE (June 1, 1926 – August, 5 1962)
MARILYN Monroe remains one of the most iconic figures in cinema and popular culture. Good looking and glamorous, many are quick to dismiss her.
But she had a sense of humour and intellect that her appearance belied. She loved to read and had a huge library of books including works by Milton, Dostoevsky and Hemingway.
She had a troubled childhood, much of which was spent in the Hollygrove orphanage in Hollywood and in foster homes.
But she was a tenacious steadfast student and went on to star in a whole host of classic movies including the delightful Some Like It Hot for which she won rave reviews.
Marilyn in her own words:
“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”
“We should all start to live before we get too old. Fear is stupid. So are regrets.”
“I don’t mind being burdened with being glamorous and sexual. Beauty and femininity are ageless and can’t be contrived, and glamour, although the manufacturers won’t like this, cannot be manufactured. Not real glamour; it’s based on femininity.”
“Keep smiling because life is a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.”
“We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle.”
AUDREY HEPBURN (May 4, 1929 – January 20, 1993)
BRITISH actress Audrey spent a lot of her childhood in the Netherlands during World War II. As a youngster she helped the Allied forces and donated much of her own food to those less fortunate.
Drawing and ballet lifted her spirits during this period. She also worked as a volunteer nurse looking after wounded Allied soldiers. After the war she went to London and began acting.
Charming in all her roles and beautiful inside and out, it is perhaps in her role as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF that Audrey found her true calling.
She travelled extensively to the world’s trouble spots meeting children and using her fame to raise funds for the organisation. Audrey said of her work with UNICEF: “I’ve been auditioning my whole life for this role, and I finally got it.”
Audrey in her own words:
“I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person.”
“Pick the day. Enjoy it – to the hilt. The day as it comes. People as they come… The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present – and I don’t want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future.”
“I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.”
“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!”
“The most important thing is to enjoy life – to be happy – that’s all that matters.”
ANNE FRANK (June 12, 1929 – March 1945)
Like most teenage girls, Anne Frank sought solace in writing in a diary.
But Anne’s journal was written while the 13-year-old Jewish girl was in hiding in Holland during World War II.
And her words became even more poignant because Anne was the voice of over one million children who died in the Holocaust.
Her book – which she dreamed of being published after the war – is one of the most read books in the world.
Anne in her own words:
“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good 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!”
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.”
“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”
“I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.”
And of course, THE EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ALL AROUND US!
Were it not for the wonderful women in my life, I would not be who I am. In them I find daily wit, wisdom and winsome ways.
On this, International Women’s Day, take a moment to reflect on the loving and powerful women in your life and all the other women who inspire us with their words and deeds, their impact on history and their creativity and femininity including the Anguissola sisters, Jane Austen, Lauren Bacall, Lucille Ball, Helena Bonham Carter, the Bronte sisters, Maria Callas, Cleopatra, Coco Chanel, Princess Diana, Emily Dickinson, Amelia Earhart, George Eliot, Helen Keller, Florence Nightingale, Edith Piaf, Mary Shelley, Marie Spartali Stillman, the Suffragettes, Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher, Sigourney Weaver, Oprah Winfrey, Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf… ad infinitum.
Here’s to International Women’s Day. Even James Bond is getting in on the act…