“We are trembling on the verge of one of the great ages of English literature,” Virginia Woolf told an audience a year before she published Mrs Dalloway, her fourth novel, to rapturous critical reception in 1925. She may not have been talking about her own work, but for the nearly one=hundred years since its publication, it has been near universally credited with changing the game of writing about the philosophy of life, high society, and most of all, the psychology of feminism.
Written in the same stream-of-consciousness style pioneered by Joyce in Ulysses, it follows Clarissa Dalloway, a high-society hostess in post-war England as she prepares to throw a lavish party, across a single day. “Mrs. Dalloway was the first novel to split the atom,” The Hours author Michael Cunningham famously wrote. “It is one of the most moving, revolutionary artworks of the twentieth century.”
When Simone de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex, she did not define herself as a feminist. She was a socialist and believed a socialist revolution would liberate women, but in the late 1960s, as feminism blossomed, she changed her mind. She told an interviewer in 1972 that the situation of women in France had not really changed over the last 20 years and that people on the left should join the women’s movement while waiting for socialism to arrive.
Defining herself as a feminist, but reluctant to join traditional reformist groups, de Beauvoir joined the radical Mouvement de Libération des Femmes (MLF)—the French women’s liberation movement. In 1971, when abortion was still illegal in France, de Beauvoir was one of more than 300 women who signed a pro-abortion manifesto, later known as the Manifesto of the 343, stating that she had had an abortion and demanding this right for all women.
In her essay “A Room of One’s Own” (1929), Virginia Woolf discusses the struggles women writers had faced to win the same success as their male counterparts. Acknowledging the achievements of novelists such as Jane Austen and George Eliot, Woolf describes how the confines of domesticity could hinder such work. Women often wrote in communal areas of the home, surrounded by distractions, and seldom had the financial independence necessary to break free. She conjures up Judith, a fictitious sister of William Shakespeare, and wonders what life would have been like for her. Had she been “as imaginative, as agog to see the world” as her brother, she would still have been expected to be content with being a wife and mother. Woolf imagines that, in despair, Judith kills herself, her genius unexpressed.
In her essay, Woolf uses metaphors to explore social injustices and comments on women’s lack of free expression. Her metaphor of a fish explains her most essential point, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. She writes of a woman whose thought had “let its line down into the stream”. As the woman starts to think of an idea, a guard enforces a rule whereby women are not allowed to walk on the grass. Abiding by the rule, the woman loses her idea. Here, Woolf describes the influence of women’s social expectations as mere domestic child bearers, ignorant and chaste.
On September 17th of 1925 Frida Kahlo suffers near-fatal injuries in a bus accident in Mexico, causing her to abandon her medical studies and take up art.
Her taking up art was fortuitous, as she became one of the greatest artists of our time and a personal favorite. But she had a rough life, with her painful injuries and repeated (botched) surgeries combined with her husband’s (Diego Rivera) infidelities. She died at only 47. A Kahlo painting, “Self portrait with thorn necklace and hummingbird” 
A bit surprising the U.S. government issued a stamp of her in 2001 even though she was an avowed communist and personal friend of Leon Trotsky.
It’s Women’s Equality Day in the U.S., celebrating the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote. That was in 1920—a hundred and one years ago today.
Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment and American women finally won full voting rights. While Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18th it was not until August 26th that the ratification became official. The right for women to vote was first proposed in 1848, but did not become law until 1920, 72 years later.
Today in Literary History —> Happy Birthday to Dorothy Parker, American poet, satirist and critic best known for her wisecracks and sharp wit. Her writing graced the pages of Vogue, VanityFair, and The New Yorker, and she was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, a famous 20th century New York literary circle.
Following the breakup of the circle, Parker traveled to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. Her successes there, including two Academy Award nominations, were curtailed when her involvement in left-wing politics led to a place on the Hollywood blacklist. Dismissive of her own talents, she deplored her reputation as a “wisecracker.” Nevertheless, both her literary output and reputation for sharp wit have endured. Born on this day in 1893…
As an activist, scholar, and professor, Angela Davis rose to prominence in the 1960s for her work in the black civil rights movement, especially in the Black Panther Party and the black communist group Che-Lumumba Club. Davis’s activism was driven by her background. She was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1944, grew up in an area exposed to anti-black bombings during the 1950s, and attended a segregated elementary school.
Davis was fired from her teaching post at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1970 for her links to communism, but won her job back. That same year, she was implicated in the supply of guns to a black prisoner who died trying to escape. She was released from prison in 1972, and continues to lecture on women’s rights, race, and criminal justice.
Key works 1974 Angela Davis: An Autobiography 1983 Women, Race, & Class 1989 Women, Culture, & Politics
French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne coined the term “ecofeminism” in 1974 for a new branch of feminism that focused on ecology, the study of the interactions between organisms and their environment. It holds that the domination and degradation of nature and the exploitation and oppression of women have significant connections.
Several environmental disasters in the US—most notably the 1979 near meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania—brought 600 women together in 1980 for “Women and Life on Earth,” the first ecofeminist conference. Held in Massachusetts during the spring equinox, the conference explored the links between feminism, militarization, healing, and ecology. Ecofeminism was defined as a “women-identified movement” that sees Earth’s devastation and the threat of nuclear annihilation as feminist concerns because they are underpinned by the same “masculinist mentality” that oppresses women. Ecofeminism holds that women have a special role to play in protecting the environment and campaigning against damage to the planet.
As ecofeminism developed, it began to splinter into different approaches, one of which is sometimes described as cultural ecofeminism. This strand is rooted in spirituality, goddess worship, and nature-based religions. Its adherents, including American writer and activist Starhawk (Miriam Simos), argue that women have an intrinsic kinship with the natural environment, and, as instinctive carers, should be at the forefront of its protection. Other feminists criticize this approach for reinforcing gender stereotypes, claiming women’s moral superiority, and taking little account of class, race, or the economic exploitation of resources.
In July 1888, 1,400 women and girls walked out of the Bryant & May match factory in London, in what came to be known as the Match Girls’ Strike. British socialist Annie Besant used her newspaper, The Link, to publicize the 14-hour workday, toxic materials, and the unfair difference between shareholder profits and the poverty wages paid to employees.
Workers complained of fines that cut into their wages, and of unfair dismissals. They also suffered breathing difficulties and other health problems because of the phosphorus fumes in the factory.
Bryant & May attempted to crack down on public criticism by making their workers sign a written denial of any ill-treatment. This, combined with another unfair dismissal, set off the strike. The public sided with the workers, and Bryant & May relented. The success of the match girls inspired a wave of similar strikes in the UK and boosted the rise of trade unionism.”
Often described as Egypt’s first feminist, Huda al-Sharaawi was born into a privileged family in Cairo in 1879. She was married by the age of 13, yet managed to further her studies and travel during a temporary separation from her husband.
Sharaawi later joined her husband as an anticolonial activist. After going to Europe in 1914, she returned to Egypt to mobilize women against British rule. In 1923, she founded the Egyptian Feminist Union. After her husband’s death, Sharaawi famously removed her face veil (but not her head scarf) for the first time in public at the International Woman Suffrage Alliance of 1923 in Rome.
Sharaawi also wrote poetry, and in 1925 began publishing a journal called L’Egyptienne (The Egyptian Woman). She died from a heart attack in 1947.
Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist (1879–1924)