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Category: revolutionary

Female Badasses in History: Constance Markievicz (1868-1927)

Countess Constance Markievicz was a founding member of the Irish parliament, a fighter for Irish independence, a suffragette, a socialist and one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position in any government. Despite her aristocratic background she was involved in socialist politics in Ireland, smuggled arms for the Irish Republicans, and took part in the Irish Easter Rising and the Irish Civil War following the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Constance Markievicz was born Constance Gore-Booth in 1868 in London as the daughter of an Artic explorer and Anglo-Irish landlord. In her youth her father had already been an inspiration for during the famine of 1879-80 he had distributed free food among the peasant on his estate in North-West Ireland. She originally trained to become a painter in London and soon became involved with the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society, an organization dedicated to women’s suffrage in the UK. Before settling in Dublin in 1903 she also went to Paris where she met and married her husband Casimir Markievicz, a wealthy count from Poland.

After settling in Dublin, Constance made a name for her as a landscape painter and since she was interested in Gaelic language and culture she became a member of the Gaelic League. The league despite it’s original apolitical intent was an organization that brought together many prominent figure of the Irish nationalist struggle such as the later first president of Ireland Douglas Hyde or John O’Leary. In 1908 she joined Sinn Féin and the Daughters of Ireland, a revolutionary women’s movement. Her first activities included a cultural campaign of promoting the nationalist Irish cause through theater as well as a suffragette campaign in opposition to the election of Winston Churchill to the British parliament.
With the conflict becoming more heated, Constance founded the Fianna Éireann (Warriors of Ireland), a scout organization that trained boys and girls in the use of firearms. Soon after she was arrested for the first time for speaking at a rally against the visit of King George V to Ireland.

In 1913 the big lockout occurred. The lockout is one of the most intense labor disputes in Irish history starting when Dublin’s public transportation workers went ton strike due to low payment and in protest of British policy in Ireland, eventually culminating in city-wide dispute that involved approximately 20.000 workers and 300 employers. It lasted seven months. Through this event Constance drifted further to the left, joining the socialist Irish Citizen Army, which was dedicated to protecting the workers from the police. She supported the cause by paying for food out of her own pocket and organizing soup kitchens for worker’s children. She also became involved in gun running for the organization.

In 1916 Irish republicans mounted the Easter Uprising, a revolt staged to establish Irish independence while Great Britain was heavily involved in the First World War. Constance took part as an officer and was charged as second-in-command with defending St- Stephen Green, a park in Dublin. Constance and her men held out for six days under heavy British fire and only gave up when they heard that the leader of the uprising Patrick Pearse had surrendered. Under cheers from the crowd she was brought to prison and later pleaded guilty to “disturbing the order of his Majesty’s people”. When the court communted her sentence from death to life-long imprisonment on account of her being a woman, Constance remarked that she “had done what was right” and that she wished they “had done their lot and shot me”. She was released from prison one year later after a general amnesty of the British government for those involved in the uprising.

In 1918 Constance ran for election and became the first woman to be elected to the British parliament but refused to take her seat in protest of British policy towards Ireland. The same year, she also became one of the first women and founding constituents of the Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament that declared unilateral independence form the United Kingdom. She was again elected to the Dáil in 1921 and from 1919 to 1922 served as Minister for Labor in the Irish cabinet and therefore as the first woman to hold a cabinet position in Ireland and one of the first women worldwide to be a government minister. She left the Irish government in protest of the Anglo-Irish treaty, which established Irish independence but didn’t go far enough for Constance and other Irish republicans. She participated as an officer and fighter in the Irish Civil War but Irish Republican forces lost the conflict in 1923 to the provisional government. She was reelected several times to the Irish parliament but also several times refused to take her seat because of her staunch Republican views. Constance Markievicz died in 1927 at age 59 possibly due to tuberculosis.

Constance Markievicz can be remembered as a prominent female socialist revolutionary that fought for the right of her people for independence and national self-determination. She always stood up for the things she believed and was ready to fight for her causes of Irish independence, socialism, and suffrage with violent means if necessary. She certainly was a woman who was afraid of almost nothing and her war records as well as her prison sentences prove that it was impossible to break her and make her give up the ideals she fought for all her life.

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Femlae Badasses in History: Deborah Sampson (1760-1827)

Deborah Sampson certainly was one outstanding example of female badassery in American history. Serving at the frontlines of the American Revolutionary War, she is an example that, even in its earliest days, women had served the United States in combat roles. By publicly campaigning for her role as a soldier to be recognized and succeeding, she not only, as Lucy Freeman and Alma Pond put it, bridged gender differences but also asserted the sense of entitlement felt by all veterans.

 

Deborah Sampson was born in 1760 in Plymouth, Massachusetts to a family of colonial stock. Because of their poverty, Deborah was forced to become an indenture servant, spending her youth in seven different households. After being released from servitude at age 18, Deborah chose a career as a schoolteacher and rejected the notion of getting married.

Being a staunch patriot of the very young United States, Deborah decided to enlist in the Continental Army in 1778. Since women could not become soldiers, she disguised herself as a man and going by the name of Robert Shurtleff Sampson, enlisted at her local recruiting office.

She was assigned to the 4th Massachusetts Regiment consisting of 50 to 60 men with only her distinct cousin, a reverend, knowing her secret. As part of the regiment, Deborah fought distinctly in several skirmishes until she was wounded during her first battle in 1782. She was shot two times in the leg and after unsuccessfully pleading to her fellow soldiers to let her die, she snuck out of the hospital they brought her two and removed one of the two musket balls in her leg herself with a penknife and a sewing needle.

For the rest of the war she was assigned as a waiter to General John Patterson due to the injuries she sustained.

In 1783 she came down with a fewer and a doctor discovered her secret. The doctor decided not to betray her outright but seems to have informed General John Patterson. In the same year after the treaty of Paris brought Peace she received an honorable discharge from the army at West Point, although not receiving her fully pay.

 

In 1792 Deborah petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for the pay the army had withheld from her because she was a woman. Her petition was approved by the Senate and signed by then Governor John Hancock, citing her extraordinary display of female bravery.

Ten years later, Deborah Sampson, by then married with four children and considerable financial trouble, started petitioning again in order to receive her military pension. For this purpose she enlisted her friend Paul Revere from whom she also occasionally borrowed money. She was successful in her petitioning to Congress but it took until 1816 until she received her full military pension for invalid soldiers of a total of 76.80 Dollars per year.

She died in 1827 at age 66 due to yellow fever.

 

Deborah Sampson stands until this day as an early example of women serving in combat roles, which sheds the debate concerning this issue today in a quite ridiculous light. Also, by her petitioning, she asserted the claim to wellfare for veterans everywhere and of every race and gender. Several books have been written about her and a monument to her memory can be found in Sharon, Massachusetts. Despite this, American politicians concerned with the issue of women serving in combat roles would do good to remember her outstanding example of bravery.

Female Badasses in History: Clara Zetkin (1857-1933)

Clara Zetkin was one of the most famous socialists of her time. She stands out for her involvement in German and international socialist politics, was one of the socialist movement’s most revered fighter’s for women’s rights and never shied away form criticizing, even when it came to her own movement’s politics. She is remembered today as a successful fighter for women’s rights (including being one of the initiators of the Internal Women’s Day) as well as a fighter for a more just world including her opposition to Stalin.

 

Clara Zetkin was born as Clara Eißner in 1857 in Germany as the daughter of Josephine Vital, an early women’s rights pioneer, and granddaughter of Jean Dominique, a participant of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. She became a elementary school teacher by trade and through her contacts to the women’s rights and workers movement joined the Socialist German Workers Party in 1878. The same year the German imperial government outlawed any socialist activity outside of parliamentary institutions. This prompted Zetkin to go into exile, first living in Zurich and the in Paris where she met Ossip Zetkin who had fought in the Russian Revolution. Despite the fact that she had two sons with Ossip and that she took his name, Clara never married him. She participated in the International Workers Congress in Paris in 1889 and was one of the main initiators of the second Socialist International.

 

Returning to Germany in 1890 she became together with Rosa Luxemburg one of the most outspoken and known people in the left-wing of the German Socialist movement, rejecting reformist politics and striving for revolution. In 1907 she met Lenin in Germany with whom she developed a life long-friendship.

Early on, Clara Zetkin became one of the most outspoken fighters for women’s rights. At the International Workers Congress in Paris she held her very famous speech elaborating how the fight for the worker was also a fight for women’s rights. Despite the fact that she criticized the non-socialist movement for women’s rights – denouncing them as bourgeois -, this speech made her one of the pioneers for this cause in the socialist movement.

Following her return to Germany, she became head of the Women’s Bureau of the socialist party and managed together with Luxemburg to incorporate the demand for women to be able to vote into the German Socialist Party’s program. She also was a founding member of the Socialist Women’s International, an organization dedicated to the fight for the rights of female workers world-wide.

 

In the years between 1914 and 1918 Clara Zetkin together with Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, fought against the German Socialist Party’s politic regarding the war. The party had decided to participate in the German war government in order to support the German state in its war efforts. Zetkin rejected this because she believed that the First World War was a war fought by imperialists against the interest of working men and women all around the world. Again together with Luxemburg and Liebknecht, Zetkin split from the party and founded a new Socialist Party in 1916, which would ultimately after the war become the German Communist Party. In contradiction to Luxemburg and Liebknecht who were murdered by right-wing death squads, Zetkin narrowly escaping the politically motivated violence that followed the right-wing orchestrated backlash against German communists and the Munich Revolution in 1918.

 

Following the end of World War I and the founding of the Weimar Republic, Zetkin was elected into the German parliament as one of its first female delegates. Within the Communist Party she retained considerable influence, which she used to fight for women’s rights such as the right to vote, the right to maternity leave, institutionalized care for women’s health, the legalization of abortion and generally a greater participation of women in the political process. Also within the party she routinely criticized political orders from Moscow – by then the capital of the only socialist state thus the Soviet Communist Party’s understanding of itself as the “mother party” of all communists world-wide – and the attempts to use political violence.

At the conference of the executive committee of the Comintern 1923 she stood out by reject the theory that fascism was the next stage of capitalist development, instead attributing the growing number and influence of fascist and extreme right-wing parties to the failures of the socialist movement itself, especially the socialdemocrats and their willingness to join alliances with bourgeois parties.

 

Zetkin remained a delegate to the German parliament until 1933 continuing her fight for women’s and workers’ rights. With the Nazi takeover of power she fled Germany to the Soviet Union, living isolated for the next couple of months until her death at age 76. Stalin himself carried her urn to her grave in the Kreml murals.

With her death the official socialist movement immediately began to remember her while at the same time she her memory was distorted. In official writings neither her fight for women’s rights nor her critique of the Stalinist system and methods were remembered. Instead she was turned into a martyr for the movement.

Clara Zetkin stands out as an independent and determined woman, even by the standards of the socialist movement. She never shied away from critique and conflict, especially if it was in a fight for something she believed would contribute to a better and more just world. Her political career and her fight were dedicated not only to workers but to all people, especially women who at the time were marginalized even by the socialist movement in many ways.

Female Badasses in History: Adelheid Popp (1893-1939)

Adelheid Popp is known as the founder of the Proletarian Women’s Movement in Austria and was an important figure in the International Women’s Committee of the Socialist International.

Popp was born in 1893 in Vienna into a poor proletarian family. She had to leave school after three years and had to start working in a factory from age ten on. Her brothers, also workers, were Socialists and started taking her to meetings, demonstrations and gatherings from an early age on. At one of these meetings, presumably in 1910, she spontaneously spoke at one of these gatherings about the workers’ living situation and the audience was so impressed by her that she was asked by the Socialist Party of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy to write an article. She agreed but since she only had three years of school education realized she had to learn how to read and write better first. She started teaching herself to read and write after her 10-hour workday. Popp succeeded  and the people in the party were so impressed by her that she started rising in the ranks of the Socialist Party, even becoming a founding member of the official party newspaper, “Arbeiterzeitung”, a couple of years later.

Popp became a female Socialist icon in Austria, especially after she and her allies in the party managed to influence party line to support suffrage in 1918 after the Austrian republic was founded. Up until 1934 she was a member of the Austrian parliament and fought a long hard fight for the rights of female workers and against the prohibition of abortion in Austria. She is credited with introducing and pushing through legislation that granted time off to pregnant workers, shortening the work day in Austria from 10 to 8 hours, better health regulations for women in the work place, availability of some free health benefits to women in Austria, the introduction of the International Women’s Day in Austria as well as the first anti-discrimination regulations in Austria’s history.

With the abolishment of democracy in Austria in 1934 her political activity became illegal, the Austrofascist government however did not persecute her for her political conviction especially since she was connected internationally through her role as the successor of Clara Zetkin as the president of the International Women’s Committee of the III. Socialist International. Adelheid Popp died in 1939 shortly after the annexation of Austria by Nazi German. The exact circumstances of her death are not known.

Today she is remembered not only as a pioneer for women’s rights in Austria but also an internationally as a female Socialist icon fighting for women’s and worker’s rights.