We're celebrating Women's History Month by highlighting the accomplishments of women who moved the needle forward for generations to come through activism and innovation.
Audre Lorde was a self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” but the words feminist, womanist, and civil rights activist have also been used to describe the American writer. She dedicated her life to confronting and addressing the injustices of racism, sexism, classism, capitalism, heterosexism, and homophobia. Lorde’s writing largely deals with issues related to illness, disability, lesbianism, feminism, and exploration of the black woman’s identity. Throughout her life she co-founded multiple organizations such as the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix (to assist women who have survived sexual abuse and intimate partner violence) and Sisterhood In Support of Sisters (to benefit black women who were affected by the apartheid and other forms of injustice in South Africa). Lorde also co-founded an activist feminist press called Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press that was run by and for women of color. She passed away after a battle with breast cancer at the age of 58 in 1992, but her legacy is kept alive through multiple organizations that were named in her honor such as the Audre Lorde Project and the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, an annual literary award in her name, a US national monument dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights and history that mentions the activist, and more.
Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner - In 1956, Beatrice patented a revolutionary device that kept menstrual pads securely in place. She invented the device decades earlier, but could not afford a patent at that time. Over time, she improved her earlier version and added a moisture proof napkin pocket, which prevented leakage on clothing, which was a common problem for women at the time. The Sonn-Nap-Pack company got word of the invention and contacted her intending to market the invention, but later declined after discovering she was Black. Beltless pads were invented in the 1970's and Beatrice's invention revolutionized period products. Beatrice went on to become the holder of 5 patents for her other healthcare inventions. She still holds the record for most patents awarded to a Black woman by the U.S. government.
Dr. Jocelyn Elders was a pioneer in the area of public health. In particular, she was Surgeon General of the United States during Bill Clinton's administration, from the years 1993-1994. As Surgeon General, she acted as public health administrator - championing reproductive justice, critiquing medical racism, and expanding reproductive and sexual healthcare. She was forced to resign in December 1994 for advocating for masturbation as an essential part of sex education, stating "I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught".
Loretta Ross is a Black author and activist who was involved in Black nationalist politics, civil rights movements, and tenant organizing in the 70’s. Her experiences with sexual violence, sterilization abuse, and medical racism, informed her work as a reproductive justice advocate. And in 1977, her and other activists coined the term ‘women of color’. She currently teaches about call-out culture and white supremacy at Smith College.
Dr. June Dobbs Butts was a pioneer in the field of sexuality. Holding a BA in Sociology as well as a Masters, an internship at Planned Parenthood sparked her interest in sex education. She was the first African American woman on record to work with noted sex scientists William Masters & Virginia Johnson. She has her own sex therapy practice - advocating for sex-ed and sex positivity, particularly within the Black community. She was also the first ever sex columnist for Essence Magazine.
Octavia Butler was a disabled, Black science-fiction author whose work has been associated with afrofuturism, Black feminism, and queer theory. Her writing challenged traditional gender identity and unimaginative portrayals of ethnicity and class in fiction. Butler specifically told stories from the perspective of a marginalized Black woman, where difference enabled her characters to uniquely reconfigure the future of their fictionalized worlds.
bell hooks is an American social activist, author, and professor. She started teaching in 1976 and released her first published work, And There We Wept, two years later. Since then, she has published more than 30 books and numerous articles that have focused on class domination and oppression. In her writing, hooks expresses how this oppression and class divide is perpetuates by the intersectionality of race, capitalism, and gender-based discrimination. She has also addressed these intersections within education, art, history, sexuality, mass media, and feminism. Through her writing and its influence on other social activists, hooks has become a distinguished cultural critic, leftist, and postmodern political thinker who is frequently cited by other feminists.