Woman: Annie Oakley

Annie OakleyName: Annie Oakley (Pheobe Ann Moses Butler)

Dates: 1860-1926 (August 13)

Place of Birth: Darke County, Ohio

Why is she interesting?

Annie Oakley went from a difficult childhood (to say the least) to stardom for being good at something women didn’t do. She very much lived in a man’s world, travelling around the world with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show for nearly seventeen years. She performed brilliantly night after night doing something that was considered quite odd for a woman to do.

Annie managed her image carefully so that everyone could see that she was lady, demure and proper, as well as a great sharpshooter, she never appeared tomboyish at all. Her costumes involved short skirts, but she wore long stockings so that no one ever saw any of the skin on her legs. Her outfits were practical, flattering and proper at all times. Annie was a tiny (about five foot tall) woman and wore her hair down like a child when she performed. She appeared as the perfect little lady, and always lived up to that image. Annie was breaking barriers at the same time that she was helping to create an image of American womanhood that showed them as proper, attractive women who were practical and able to handle themselves. The woman Annie represented didn’t need protection, she could protect herself.

Annie Oakley was very aware of the changes happening around her. She offered to lead a regiment of women into battle in both the Spanish American War and World War I (neither offer was accepted). She offered shooting lessons to soldiers and raised money for the war effort. She was in many ways an activist.

She lived to see women gain the right to vote, but was never a part of the women’s movement. That said, she didn’t really need to be. She embodied much of what the feminists were fighting for. She also encouraged women to learn to shoot and worked to make sure that they were allowed to carry guns to protect themselves. She even showed women how to conceal their guns in umbrellas! She never fought for the right to vote (in fact, she seems to have publicly opposed the idea), but she did fight for equal pay for equal work and a woman’s right to protect herself. She fought for many feminist ideas, but she would certainly not have called herself a feminist.

Why do I admire her?

I admire Annie Oakley for a variety of reasons. She was an incredible woman. She made her fame worldwide doing something that only men did, and doing it better than most men ever could. She managed to maintain this image of being a perfect lady, which is non-threatening, even if she held a large gun in her hands (which she usually did). Her level of skill is certainly something to admire, as is her ability to always stay above her own personal standards (as well as society’s, which were considerably lower in this case). Annie fought for women’s rights in a very unconventional way. She never fought for the right to vote or other “big” issues, but she did fight for equal pay and the right to protect oneself. Many leading feminists of the day hadn’t even thought about those issues much yet. She was way ahead of her time in many ways, but also always the true American Victorian lady. I’m particularly impressed at the image of American Women that she projected to not only the outside world, but also to American women themselves. She taught that to be a woman you could still be strong, self sufficient and self-reliant even if you were a proper lady. That’s a powerful image that in many ways came out of the image of Western Women that Annie helped create. It certainly goes against much of what the world thought women were at the time. The best part is, she could create that image without ever being threatening. Annie wasn’t scary to really anyone, as far as I can tell. She was a woman who you probably didn’t want to cross, but who you wouldn’t worry about talking to or having tea with! In some ways she was more revolutionary than many of the feminists living and working at the time. She may not have shocked a lot of people with her ideas, but that was probably partially because she never stated those ideas, she just lived them. It’s much harder to question the validity of something that already exists than it is to question something that only exists as an idea. Annie may not have been a feminist, but she certainly embodied many of the qualities that feminists over the years have been fighting for.

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