Simone de Beauvoir: Socialist to Feminist

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.

Sources: Feminism (DK)

Frida Kahlo Accident

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” [1940]

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.

Angela Davis

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

Sources: The Feminism Book (DK)

Huda Sha’arawi

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.

Key works:

Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist (1879–1924)

Margaret Sanger

Birth control activist Margaret Sanger was born in New York in 1879, the sixth of 11 children in an Irish Catholic family. Her mother’s death at the age of 49, after 18 pregnancies, had a profound influence on Sanger. She qualified as an obstetrics nurse, which confirmed her views on the impact multiple pregnancies had on women, especially the poor. Involved in radical politics, she joined the New York Socialist Party.

In 1916, Sanger opened a short-lived birth control clinic, and in 1921, she established the American Birth Control League. She went on to organize the first World Population Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, and in 1953 became president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Sanger died of heart failure in Tucson, Arizona, in 1966.

Key works:
1914 Family Limitation
1916 What Every Girl Should Know
1931 My Fight for Birth Control