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
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
Celebrated annually on March 8, International Women’s Day is traced back to the US in 1907, when more than 15,000 female textile workers marched through New York City, demanding better working conditions and voting rights. In 1909, the Socialist Party of America declared a National Women’s Day, celebrated until 1913 on the last Sunday of February.
In 1910, about 100 women from 17 countries attended the Second International Conference of Women in Copenhagen, Denmark, at which Clara Zetkin proposed the establishment of International Women’s Day, on which women would highlight women’s issues. The following year, more than one million women and men attended International Women’s Day rallies worldwide. In Russia in 1917, women marked the day with a four-day strike for “peace and bread” that was a key event in the lead up to Russia’s October Revolution that year.
Before there was Rosa Parks there was Martha White, who was thrown off a public bus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for sitting in the “whites only” section. This was in 1953, 2½ years before Rosa Parks was arrested for the same “crime”. White’s defenestration didn’t move the country the way that Parks’s did, but she was brave nonetheless. White died on Saturday at 99.
On this date in 1830, Clémence-Auguste Royer was born in Nantes, France. Her parents were Catholic royalists, and Royer’s early education took place in a convent school. Royer became a republican following the Revolution of 1848, and began to question other common views at that time. Royer obtained a teaching certificate and taught at girls schools in Wales, where she mastered English, and in France. She read widely on science in these school libraries. In 1855, as a result of her inquiries, she rejected Catholicism thoroughly, and devoted herself to science. She began to offer lectures on science and logic for women in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1858. Royer translated Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species into French in 1863. She famously wrote a preface to the work which used Darwin’s mechanism for evolution as part of an anti-religious argument which Darwin himself did not make — by this time, the book was in its third English edition and contained several strong references to a creator. Royer had been an evolutionist before reading Darwin, having been strongly influenced by the writings of Jean Baptiste LaMarck. French scientists, especially atheists and anthropologists, were strongly influenced by evolution and natural selection as framed by Royer, who also discussed the implications of evolutionary theory for human beings and society in her introduction (it would be almost ten years before Darwin himself grappled with these issues in The Descent of Man). Royer continued as Darwin’s official French translator until the third French edition of Origin was published in 1870.
Royer, despite not being a research scientist, remained a popular interpreter of science as well as a philosopher of science throughout her life. As a woman, she was denied access to many learned societies, as well as university teaching positions. It has been argued by Jennifer Michael Hecht, among others, that Royer opened doors to women within the freethinking movement. Royer was a feminist who argued passionately for the rights of women, married and unmarried, to child custody, property, education and equality with men. In 1866, she had a son by her lover and life partner, Pascal Duprat, a married man, which sharpened her concern about the major legal obstacles then present to unwed mothers and their children. She published many books and articles throughout her life, and considered the pinnacle to be 1900’s Natura rerum, her theory of nature. In 1900, Royer was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor for her contributions as “a woman of letters and a scientific writer.” D. 1902
“Yes, I believe in revelation, but a permanent revelation of man to himself and by himself, a rational revelation that is nothing but the result of the progress of science and of the contemporary conscience, a revelation that is always only partial and relative and that is effectuated by the acquisition of new truths and even more by the elimination of ancient errors. We must also attest that the progress of truth gives us as much to forget as to learn, and we learn to negate and to doubt as often as to affirm.” ~ Clémence Royer, preface to Charles Darwin, L’origine des espèces, in Jennifer Michael Hecht, The End of the Soul
The attack on the US Capitol and our democracy remind us of the ever-present dangers of hatred and propaganda. Join USHMM for a discussion about how, 75 years after the Holocaust, white supremacist and other hate groups continue to exploit racism, conspiracy theories, and antisemitic lies.
Arie Kruglanski, Holocaust Survivor, Terrorism Expert, and Psychology Professor, University of Maryland
Patricia Heberer Rice, Senior Historian, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Edna Friedberg, Historian, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Today in History –> Seventy-eight years ago today Sophie Scholl (along with Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst) a twenty-one year old German student and anti-Nazi political activist, active within the White Rose non-violent resistance group in Nazi Germany having been convicted of treason was executed by the guillotine.
In February of 1943, the [White Rose group] was apprehended when leaving pamphlets in suitcases all across the University of Munich. Sophie took to a balcony that overlooked a courtyard and scattered reams of flyers as students exited classes. Her action was witnessed by the school’s janitor, who reported Sophie and Hans to the Gestapo. After being interrogated for nearly 24 hours, Sophie emerged from questioning with a broken leg but a steely spirit. She was quoted as saying, “I’ll make no bargain with the Nazis.”
The students’ hearing began a mere four days after their arrest and, because all pled guilty, they were not allowed to testify. Still, Sophie did not sit quietly throughout the proceedings. She interrupted the judge throughout, with statements like: “Somebody had to make a start! What we said and wrote are what many people are thinking. They just don’t dare say it out loud!” and “You know the war is lost. Why don’t you have the courage to face it?”
She was allowed one official statement: “Time and time again one hears it said that since we have been put into a conflicting world, we have to adapt to it. Oddly, this completely un-Christian idea is most often espoused by so-called Christians, of all people. How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone who will give himself up to a righteous cause? I did the best that I could do for my nation. I therefore do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences.” She and her fellow defendants were sentenced to death by execution, which was carried out within hours of the decision. On the back of Sophie’s indictment, she wrote the word “Freedom”. Her reported last words were, “Die Sonne scheint noch”—”The sun still shines.”
Her last words:
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” ~ Sophie Scholl