Many courageous, groundbreaking women were behind the major political movements of modern America, yet most of them remain virtually unknown. They were marginalized in their day, in part because their ideas were ahead of their time, but mostly because of the bias toward male leadership. What fascinates me is how that very marginalization caused them to find new, creative ways to achieve political change. In this piece, I profile three: Mother Jones
, Frances Perkins
and Septima Clark.
They were all colorful characters who stood strong for the most disadvantaged in our country, forging real and lasting mechanisms for justice, such as child labor laws, social security and civil rights. In doing so, they were ridiculed, threatened, alienated and even thrown in jail. Their stories resonate today not only because they reveal much about how political change happens but also because they can inspire the many young girls (and I was one) who feel depleted when flipping through history books that feature presidents, generals and judges. We have made great progress breaking the glass ceiling, thank God. But it is also important to recognize that women have always been political leaders in this country, even if they weren't promoted or spotlighted as such.