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Month: May, 2012

Female Badasses in History: Manshuk Mametova (1922-1943)

Manshuk Mametova was a distinguished Soviet soldier in the Second World War. Originally only assigned clerk duty, she managed to be assigned to combat duty rather quickly and played a very crucial part (if not the crucial part) in deciding the battle for Nevel, a strategically important town in Western Russia. For her role during this fight she was awarded the Order of the Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest military honor in the USSR, and effectively became the first woman from the Asian parts of the Soviet Union to be awarded this order.

Manshuk Mametova was born on October 23, 1922 in the Zhaskus settlement in the Ural region of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, today Kazakhstan. From age 5 on she was an orphan who was brought up by relatives of her father. While twenty years earlier in Tsarist Russia, being an orphan would have meant that she would have had no chance of securing any kind of career, the Soviet systems allowed for her to first go to High School (a school named after her today) and later enter medical school. While still at medical school Manshuk, a dedicated socialist, began working for the Kazakh SSR Secretariat of the Republican Enforcement Authority, which was less menacing than it sounds since it was mainly tasked with cultural and propaganda programs designed to combine Kazakh culture and nationalism with the values of Soviet socialism (odd it may sound but it worked for the most parts).

When Nazi-Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 21, 1941 Manshuk was 18-years-old and was one of the first people to volunteer at her local recruitment office. The Red Army distinguished itself from all other Allied (and for that matter Axis) armies – except irregular ones like the partisan armies in Yugoslavia, China, Korea, Vietnam and so forth – by admitting women into its ranks partly due to socialist ideology that took pride in emancipation as understood at the time, partly due to basic necessity for soldiers. Soviet sources often say that Manshuk was motivated to sign up by patriotism and believe in the Soviet system – which seems true at least to a certain extent – but some source also point out that Kazakhstan has a whole host of folklore and mythology based in historical reality that glorifies female warriors – something very common in this region of the world from the Iron Age all throughout the Kazakh Khanate and up until the 18th century. This might also have been a motivational factor for her.

In the Red Army Manshuk was assigned clerical duty for the 100th Rifle Company, mostly composed of Kazakh troops. Manshuk was one of two women who served in this specific company. While carrying out her clerical duties, she used her free time to study the design of Soviet machine guns and learn to shoot them. Because of her apparent talent, her superiors decided to make her one of the machine gunners of the company. They left for the front in October of 1942 and served with distinction.

A year after going to the front to fight the Germans, the company was assigned to take part in the battle for Nevel in Western Russia. The fight was very difficult since the Germans had the advantage of being above the Soviet troops and stopped their advance while inflicting heavy casualties on the Soviet troops. At some point in the battle Manshuk and her fellow machine gun operator went off alone and snuck around German positions and up a hill on their flank. Manshuk killed the Germans on this position with her pistol and knife and took over the German machine gun nest. From there she and her fellow gunner started shooting on the Germans effectively breaking their counter-offensive and giving Soviet troops the time and space to attack. After an hour of non-stop assaulting German troops a hand grenade hit their position immediately killing her fellow gunner and mortally wounding Manshuk. Still she carried on fighting the German army and her continued one-woman assault on the Germans turned the tide of the battle. She died the same day but because of her actions Nevel could be won by Soviet troops and she was awarded the Order of the Hero of the Soviet Union posthumously.

Without Manshuk probably many thousands of Allied soldiers more would have died in the fight for Nevel. Manshuk is buried in Nevel and can be remembered  not only as a hero of the Second World War but also as another woman in the long line of Kazakh female warriors who fought with bravery.


Female Badasses in History: Dolores Huerta (1930)


Author’s note: This post was written by a friend of mine know around the internets as Monotreme Extraordinaire. Thank you for your contribution and I am really happy to be able to put something by somebody else on this blog.


Dolores Clara Huerta was born on April 10, 1930 in the mining town of Dawson, New Mexico. She was the second child and only daughter of Juan Fernandez and Alicia Chaves Fernandez. Her parents divorced when she was three years old and her mother relocated Dolores and her two brothers to Stockton, California in the predominantly agricultural San Joaquin Valley. Her mother worked as a cook in two restaurants to support Dolores, along with her two brothers, and later two sisters, during the Great Depression. Alicia later purchased two hotels, one from a Japanese family who was relocated to a concentration camp, and a restaurant. She allowed farm workers to stay at her hotel for free. Alicia taught Dolores the importance of community activism.

Dolores stayed in contact with her father. To supplement his wages as a coal miner, he became a seasonal farm worker, traveling to Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming. He was unhappy with working conditions and became active in labor unions. He eventually returned to school to earn a college degree. In 1938 he won election to the New Mexico state legislature where he worked for better labor laws. His union activity inspired Dolores’ own work.

Dolores received a teaching certificate from the University of the Pacific’s Delta Community College. She was the first of her family to receive a higher education and one of few women to graduate from college at that time. After graduating, she taught grammar school but decided to resign from teaching because, in her words, “I couldn’t stand seeing farm worker children come to class hungry and in need of shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing their parents than by trying to teach their hungry children.” In 1955, Dolores quit her teaching job and became founding member of the Stockton Chapter of the Community Service Organization (“CSO”), a grass roots organization started by Fred Ross. The CSO battled segregation, police brutality, led voter registration drives, pushed for improved public services in Latino communities throughout the State of California and fought to enact new legislation. The CSO played a leading role in electing the first Latino in over one hundred years, Ed Roybal, to the Los Angeles City Council.

Recognizing the needs of farm workers while working for the CSO, Dolores organized and founded the Agricultural Workers Association (“AWA”) in 1960. She became a fearless lobbyist in Sacramento at a time where few women, not to mention women of color, dared to enter the State Capital and National Capital to lobby legislators. She obtained the removal of citizenship requirements from pension and public assistance programs for legal residents of the United States and California State disability insurance for farm workers, passage of legislation allowing the right to vote in Spanish, and the right of individuals to take the drivers license examination in their native language. In 1962 she lobbied in Washington D.C. for an end to the “captive labor” Bracero Program. In 1963 she was instrumental in securing Aid for Dependent Families (“AFDC”), for the unemployed and underemployed.

It was through her work with Fred Ross and the CSO that Dolores met Cesar Chavez. It was Fred who recruited and organized both Dolores and Cesar and trained them in community organizing. While working with the CSO, both Cesar and Dolores realized the immediate need to organize farm workers because of their dire conditions. In 1962 after the CSO turned down Cesar’s request to organize farm workers, Cesar and Dolores resigned from their jobs with CSO in order to do so. At that time she was a divorced mother with seven children. She later joined Cesar and his family in Delano, California where they began the National Farm Workers Association (“NFWA”), the predecessor to the United Farm Workers Union (“UFW”).

Dolores directed the UFW’s national grape boycott that resulted in the entire California table grape industry signing a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the United Farm Workers. She negotiated the first NFWA contract with the Schenley Wine Company. This was the first time in the history of the United States that a negotiating committee comprised of farm workers and a young Latina single mother of seven, negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with an agricultural corporation. The grape strike continued and the two organizations (“AWA” and “NFWA”) merged in 1967 to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (“UFWOC”). As the main UFWOC negotiator, Dolores successfully negotiated more contracts for farm workers, she also set up hiring halls, the farm workers ranch committees, administrated the contracts and conducted over one hundred grievance and arbitration procedures on behalf of the workers. She obtained many “firsts” that had been denied to farm workers: toilets in the fields along with soap, water and paper towels, cold drinking water with individual paper cups, the Robert F. Kennedy medical plan that covered farmworker families, the Juan de la Cruz pension fund (paid for by employers), job security, seniority rights, rest periods, paid vacations and holidays, and protections from pesticides in union contracts. Dolores and Cesar also formed the National Farm Workers Service Center which today provides affordable housing with over 3,700 rental and 600 single family dwelling units, and educational radio with over nine Spanish Speaking Radio Stations throughout California, Washington and Arizona.

Dolores directed the consumer boycott of grapes, lettuce, and Gallo wines which resulted in the enactment of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, the first law of its kind that grants farm workers the right to collectively organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions. In 1974 she was instrumental in securing unemployment benefits for farm workers. In 1985 Dolores lobbied against federal guest worker programs and spearheaded legislation granting amnesty for farm workers that had lived, worked, and paid taxes in the United States for many years but unable to enjoy the privileges of citizenship. This resulted in the Immigration Act of 1985 in which 1,400,000 farm workers received amnesty.

In 2002 Dolores was the second recipient of the Puffin Foundation/Nation Institute Award for Creative Citizenship (visit that included a $100,000 grant which she utilized to establish her long time dream, the Dolores Huerta Foundation’s Organizing Institute. The Foundation’s mission is to focus on community organizing and leadership training in low-income under-represented communities. Dolores serves as President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

Dolores Huerta speaks at colleges and organizations throughout the country about public policy issues affecting immigrants, women, and youth. Dolores is a board member for the Feminist Majority Foundation (visit that advocates for gender balance. She teaches a class on community organizing at the University of Southern California. Dolores is also Secretary-Treasure Emeritus of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO (UFW). She has 11 children, 20 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Video of Dolores Huerta on YouTube

The Delores Huerta Foundation


Female Badasses in History: Nathalie Lemel (1827-1921)

Nathalie Lemel was a French socialist activist, feminist, anarchist, and fighter for the Paris commune. Together with other like-minded women she founded the Union of Women during the Paris commune, which additionally to its role as an organizational extension of the First Socialist International played a vital role in furthering feminist and socialist causes during the Paris commune.

Nathalie Lemel was born in Brest in 1827. She was in school until age 12 when she became a bookbinder. In 1861 the business she and her at the time husband ran in Brest went bankrupt and Nathalie moved to Paris to work as a bookbinder and book retailer. During her time in Paris she became involved in socialist activism. Her first action was when the newly founded First Socialist International supported the French bookbinder’s strike of 1864. Lemel joined the First International and when a second strike was called a year later she was elected a union delegate and a member of the strike committee, which was rare for women at the time. Additionally to her socialist activism, she also used her position to fight for feminist causes, mainly equal salary for men and women and women’s right to vote should democracy be re-established. France at the time was ruled by Napoleon III in the style of an absolutist monarchy but in 1868 slow attempts at re-democratization were made. One of these measures was the repeal of the prohibition on public meetings. Additionally to the discussion of the social question, many meetings were held concerning the “question of women” mainly by socialists like Lemel. This lead to the general politicization of women in France, which should become a major factor in the Paris commune a few years later.

In 1870 war between France and Germany broke out. Paris was under siege by German forces and as unrest grew, riots broke out. Socialist and other left-wing revolutionaries seized this opportunity to form a city government that would govern the city according to socialist principles. The so-called Paris Commune was the first attempt in history to create a socialist order in any form of governance. It existed for two months, from March 18 to May 28 1871. Nathalie Lemel was closely involved in the Commune. Not only did she fight against German as well as French government troops but also was closely involved in Commune politics. Together with other like-minded women she formed the Union of Women in an attempt to further feminist politics in the Paris Commune. The Union had about 1800 members and was the biggest women’s organization in Paris. Its members organized oublic talks on the rights of women, were involved in the fight against enemy troops not only by supporting men in combat but by fighting themselves. Lemel and the co-founders such as Elisabeth Dimtrieff were also big critics of Commune politics, especially since there was no woman in the Commune’s government and its rulers did not introduce women’s suffrage arguing that this was not the time given the precarious military situation.
One of the biggest achievements of Lemel and the Union was that they organized women’s labor. They created places to work and founded soup kitchens and other places of supply for all of the Paris’ population, opposed to the Commune or not. Lemel saw socialism as a movement for everybody.

The Paris Commune was ended in a very bloody fight in May of 1871. Unlike many of her fellow fighters Lemel did survive the Commune’s end and was banished from France’s mainland to New Caledonia from where she returned in 1880 to continue her fight for socialism and women’s rights through publishing several magazines until her death in 1921.
Lemel does not only stand out as a practical fighter in the field of activism and real military fighting (she stood on the barricades of Paris, rifle in hand) but one of her and her fellow founders of the Union of Women lasting contributions is that the socialist movement was forced to discuss feminist politics and women’s rights issues. Through their active participation in all areas of life during the time of the Commune Lemel and the members of her organization basically proofed that the cause of socialism could not go on without including women. Although it was a very slow process, later prominent female socialist activist such as Adelheid Popp or Rosa Luxemburg could find a political home also concerning women’s rights with the Socialist International in part due to activists like Nathalie Lemel.