Woman: Belva Lockwood

Name: Belva Ann Bennett McNall Lockwood

Dates: October 24, 1830 – May 19, 1917

Place of Birth: A farm in western New York

Why is she interesting?

Belva Lockwood lived in a time of turmoil and change in the United States (and much of the rest of the Western world). She never lived to see women win the right to vote, but she fought hard for the cause. She ran for president of the United States twice and while she wasn’t the first woman to do so, she was the first woman to run a full, serious campaign for the office. She traveled the country giving speeches and answering questions. She had sponsors, a campaign manager and a budget.

During her campaign, Belva suggested that it would be a good idea for all of the candidates to get together for a debate to discuss the issues. She invited the other candidates to join her at a specific time and place for just such a debate, which would benefit all of them and be a useful thing for the voters as well. None of the men even bothered to send her a response, much less show up.

Belva Lockwood studied the law at a time when women weren’t supposed to do such a thing. She completed all of her coursework and filled every requirement to graduate from National University Law School, Washington D.C., but the school refused to allow her to graduate, saying that they had not studied long enough. She and the only other woman in the class were required (and that, only after much negotiation on the part of themselves and lawyer friends of theirs) to sit an extra several days of grueling oral examination by a special bar examination committee. There were two rounds of this and the other woman finally quit when it became clear the committee didn’t intend to let them pass. The committee kept delaying it’s results until it became clear that they never intended to give any.

Belva decided not to take this lying down. The President of the United States, then Ulysses S. Grant, was the honorary president of the university. She wrote directly to him, twice, to demand her diploma. She explained that the school had enrolled her as a student and that she had studied seriously and passed all of the same exams that the male students had (in fact, she had been required to take more exams than they had). It was an injustice that her diploma was being refused her and she demanded that he rectify the situation. She never received a reply, but two weeks later she did receive her diploma!

Mrs. Lockwood became the first woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court and achieved much in her law practice. Probably the most remarkable case in her history was when she represented the Eastern Cherokee Indian Nation. She won them a five million dollar settlement from the U.S. Government as retribution for the forced relocation known as the “Trail of Tears”.

Why do I admire her?

Mrs. Lockwood was a remarkable woman. She believed in justice and she fought hard for it. She was smart and worked hard. She lived in a time when women just didn’t do things like demand law degrees and run for president, yet she did them. She went into everything she did with her homework done and her resources accounted for and marshaled. As optimistic as she seems to have been about the world, fighting for women’s rights and sponsoring a southern black man to become a lawyer in the U.S. Supreme Court, she also seems to have been a realist. She saw the world around her for what it was and didn’t waste her time mourning the fact that it wasn’t what it could or should be.

Belva Lockwood had a personal life full of tragedy, but also full of love. She was left a widow with a young daughter within a few years of marriage and had to find ways to support them. Then she was forced to leave her daughter with her mother for a time while she attended college and after that ended up supporting herself, her daughter and her sister, all on a teacher’s salary. Eventually, she married again and had a son. The son died a year later. A few years later, she lost her husband. Her daughter and granddaughter moved in with her, which Belva loved. Unfortunately, her daughter died suddenly and Belva had to bury her only remaining child.

Although she fought hard and could envision a better future, Belva never lived to see many of the things she fought for. She imagined an international organization that could help broker peace all over the world, but such a body never existed until well after her death. She fought hard for women’s rights and her campaigns brought enormous attention and interest to the cause all over the country. She broke down barriers by not giving in, by demanding what was rightfully hers, like her diploma and the right to argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

I admire Belva Lockwood’s ability to see a better future and strength to fight for it. I admire her ability to always have and show respect for her critics and opponents. I admire her wisdom in helping people to see what she saw, but not pushing them too fast, not asking too much. She knew she wouldn’t win her campaigns and didn’t expect men to react well to them, but she knew that every political cartoon and newspaper article and discussion in a town hall meeting meant that more people were thinking and talking about women and how they fit into the political landscape of the country. She understood that even when they make fun of you, they are thinking about what you said, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to write or laugh at the joke in the first place.

I admire that she understood the importance of details. Little things impact the way the world works and the way people think, which seems to be something that a lot of people don’t really understand. She very clearly understood it, though. When she had her campaign photo taken, the photographer asked her to sit in a chair. It wasn’t a bad chair, but she refused to sit in it. She asked to sit in a different chair, the chair all the other candidates had sat in for their photos. The photographer laughed and told her that was the “presidential chair”. She said she would have her photo taken in that chair. And she did. She knew that if she was the only candidate who wasn’t portrayed in the “presidential chair”, that would visually undermine her in a very fundamental way, and she was doing everything she could to wipe away anything that did that and show that being a woman didn’t make her different in any important way.

I think it’s sad that she died before ever getting to vote. I think she would have absolutely loved getting to participate in the political process like that. She never accepted less than she deserved and it seems like it must have hurt to live in a world where you don’t have a voice in the most important matters. I wonder if she died hoping that her granddaughter would get to vote someday, never knowing if it would happen soon or keep getting blocked. I wonder how long she thought it would take our country to elect a woman as president? She impacted the cause and the country in so many ways. Her campaign gave the fight for women’s rights a visibility that I don’t think it had on a national level before that. The cases she fought were so interesting and many were significant. She definitely made the most out of that hard-won diploma!

Belva Lockwood was a remarkable woman and I wish she was more remembered than she is. I think her impact was significant and I think it’s sad that history has overlooked her so much.

Woman: Queen Elizabeth I

Name: Elizabeth I (Elizabeth Tudor, Elizabeth Regina, Queen of England)

Dates: September 7, 1533 – March 24, 1603

Place of Birth: Greenwich Palace, England

Why is she interesting?

Elizabeth was born the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Her mother was beheaded for treason when she was just a small child. Elizabeth was brilliant, something women weren’t supposed to be in the 1500s. Because she was the daughter of Henry VIII and, ostensibly, in line for the throne she had excellent tutors and loved learning new things. She spoke a number of languages and is known to have written prayers and notes for herself in several different tongues.

Although no one really expected her to, Elizabeth did become the queen of England in 1558 after the death of her sister, Mary. From the outset, the expectation was that her reign would not be hers alone. As queen, it was understood that she should marry and provide royal heirs. As a woman, it was somewhat expected that she would defer to the wisdom of the men around her in important things. None of this happened.

Elizabeth entertained marriage proposals for the majority of her reign, using the possibility of marrying her as a tool for international diplomacy, but she never intended to accept any of them. She appointed brilliant advisers, not least among them Cecil who would be her right-hand man for nearly the whole of her life, but she always made up her own mind. She enjoyed playing at romance with courtiers, but none of them ever had the influence they might wish over her (and a few found that out the hard way). She always remained in control.

As a result of her incredible intelligence and devotion to her kingdom, Elizabeth’s reign was one of incredible peace and prosperity for England. The borders of the empire stretched as England became the prime power to be reckoned with at sea, and even the religious turmoil that had plagued the country largely came to an end. Despite threats from Mary of Scotland, Phillip and his Spanish Armada, and even the Irish rebels, England remained strong and independent. Elizabeth is widely considered to be one of the greatest rulers the world has ever known, and rightly so.

Why do I admire her?

I admire Queen Elizabeth because she was able to hold up to incredible pressures, probably not least of all from herself, and accomplish great things. She suffered from physical and psychological ailments all her life, periodically suffering from all sorts of things caused by stress and who knows what else. She suffered from chronic migraines in a time when they didn’t know how to deal with such a thing. But through it all, she managed to rule an empire.

I’m in awe that she was so able to maintain her power base, not least of all by keeping herself out of marriage. Her councilors all pushed so hard for her to get married, but she stuck to her guns and never did, knowing the mess it made of the royal line of succession that she didn’t have children. But what would marriage have meant for her? A loss of personal power, probably personal freedom, possibly having to just grin and bear it as she was abused either physically or otherwise, and all because she lived when she did. Marriage always represented a loss of power, from her point of view, so why should she, who had all the power in the world, submit to it?

Elizabeth was smart, very smart, and she not only knew it and nurtured her intellect, but she freely let the people around her see it. Women weren’t supposed to be smart (to some extent, they still aren’t), but she didn’t care. She spoke at length and with great intelligence to her court, her councilors and visiting foreign dignitaries. Clearly she wasn’t concerned about intimidating anyone (if they found her intimidating, presumably that was their problem). A prince was supposed to be intelligent in order to rule his land, so why should she not be? But she wasn’t just a bookworm – she danced and played instruments and did embroidery and rode horses like a master and had any number of other hobbies and accomplishments. She about as well-rounded as they come!

I don’t imagine that I will ever make the kind of difference in the world that Elizabeth did. It’s a one in a million person who can, but I do admire the woman and the ruler that she was and I would hope that women everywhere could hear about her and aspire to be as independent, strong and self-assured as she was.

Woman: Margaret Wise Brown

Margaret Wise BrownName: Margaret Wise Brown

Dates: 1910-1952 (May 23)

Place of Birth: Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Why is she interesting?

Margaret Wise Brown was the author of a large number of picture books for children. Her most famous work is likely Goodnight Moon. She studied at the famous Bank Street Experimental School in New York City where she learned about many new and unconventional ways of teaching. Many of her books were clearly inspired by her work at Bank Street. Margaret was clearly innovative in her own right, however, since after a while she began to develop new types of picture books and experimented with styles that clearly are not compatible with the Bank Street philosophy. She wrote The Little Island, which was awarded the Caldecott Award in 1947.

Margaret’s life was as unconventional as her books. She lived for a time with a flamboyant woman poet who may or may not have been a lesbian, she bought a cute little cottage hidden in the middle of a city, and she always kept dogs (usually kerry blue terriers). She hunted rabbits on foot in elaborate Long Island contests where the winner was the first to reach the prey with the hunting dogs (hardly a lady’s type of entertainment for the time).

Margaret died at the age of 42. She suffered from appendicitis while on a book tour in France. She recovered quickly. Unfortunately she did a can-can kick to show her doctor how much better she was feeling and promptly died of an embolism. Her death shocked everyone, especially her friends and publishers.

Why do I admire her?

I admire Margaret Wise Brown for a number of reasons. I admire her life and her willingness to take risks. I wish that I could shrug off other people’s opinions the way she seems to have been able to do. She was a strong, independent woman who managed to live her own very unconventional life.

I also wish I had a fraction of Margaret Wise Brown’s creativity and innovation. Some of her books are absolutely brilliant! Her noisy books are unlike anything that had ever been done before in picture books. I know that Goodnight Moon is her most famous book, and it is certainly an amazingly well-done book, but I was always even more impressed with the lay-out and story of Runaway Bunny. Some of her construction ideas are even more brilliant. The first edition of The Little Fur Family was originally covered in real rabbit fur. Brown was one of the first people (perhaps the first) to produce books made entirely out of soft fabric. She came up with a book that was never produced where four separate quadrants are bound such that they can be read in any order desired as the book is turned. Her ideas were always completely fresh and all her own.

Margaret Wise Brown was just so creative and such a passionate woman. She had independence and strength that are rare in anyone, but particularly impressive in a woman who lived in the first half of the twentieth century when independence was a less than desired quality in an affluent young woman. I live in a time when independence is perfectly ok in a woman, but I can’t do half the things that she did. I really admire that strength and independence! It’s amazing. And creativity like that is uncommon in anyone and greatly admired.

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.