Mad and Valid: On Finding a Voice as a Women’s Historian

By Rachael Nuckles

For the past few months, somewhere beneath the surface, I have been experiencing an unnamed emotion struggling to make itself known. This semester, I made it a goal to find my voice and let it be heard; staying true to that goal, I have been wrestling continuously with questions and concerns about my newfound identity as “women’s historian.” Doing history is not a straightforward path. As I learn and relearn storytelling tactics, reconciling my background in technical theater with the world of primary research, I have noticed myself feeling what I lovingly refer to as an “in-betweenness.” This presents itself in my identity as an artist/historian and within the history I’m studying itself. 

The first book I read for class this semester was Beloved by Toni Morrison. It is a masterpiece, and a work I have constantly returned to for inspiration: it was the first piece I had read which had my ideal blend of art and history, the piece I didn’t know I had been searching for to guide my history writing practices. This was the starting point of my inner conflict. Professor Chikwenye Ogunyemi came to Sarah Lawrence College and spoke to our class of women’s historians about Beloved. Her words and perspective have stuck with me throughout the semester. One of the first things she mentioned was that nearly all of history is fictitious due to the role of the historian. The historian controls much of what is remembered by recording history, selecting which facts to highlight, which to leave out, and constructing their own version of events. I wondered, then, if any history could truly be objective; how can we distinguish so-called “fact” from “fiction”? 

As the semester has progressed, I have continued to question how I will use my voice to (re)write history. How will I distinguish fact from fiction? Whose voices will I make central in my narration? How can I infuse my history writing with my background in theatrical storytelling? Perhaps most recently, what is the relationship between the past, present, and future? Of course, I haven’t found answers yet. I don’t know that answers exist. What I’m trying to be more comfortable with is the messiness these questions encompass, understanding that my work as a historian will have me constantly defining and redefining the way I navigate reality. Part of researching the past has been realizing that much of the information is unreliable; it is biased, filtered by both the primary source creator and my own biased perspectives.

In academia, I have been feeling the weight of educational privilege and realizing that it’s something educated people often take for granted. We love to throw around words like “intersectionality” without fully defining (or maybe understanding?) them. These types of assumptions can make feminism inaccessible, like it’s a place for you only if you know enough buzzwords to keep up. In my work with girls’ activist technologies, this is something I’ve been thinking about constantly. I feel extremely privileged that I have the opportunity to obtain my master’s degree in Women’s History. My current research makes me mad, but it also makes me excited. As I work towards my thesis, I am locating and analyzing girls’ cultural production, paying specific attention to what Ednie Garrison describes as “democratic technologies.” These largely accessible technologies are used as “a resource enabling young women to get information to other young women, girls, and boys, a means for developing political consciousness, and a space that can legitimate girls’ issues.” [2] At the forefront of my work is the Riot Grrrl subcultural phenomenon, which was at its height from 1990-1997. As I navigate my personal identity as a women’s historian, I can’t help but be inspired by the Riot Grrrls who spread their knowledge, anger, and opinions via accessible technologies and girl-created media. It didn’t matter if they used the right lingo; it mattered that they had a voice at all.

It is with all of these thoughts in mind that I have been trying to articulate my unnamed emotion. I’d been calling it frustration, but that didn’t feel right. What I had been feeling, and continue to feel, is more visceral. On February 6, 2020, Hayley Williams released the first part of her upcoming album, Petals for Armor. Williams has been a longtime idol for me; as the frontwoman of the rock band Paramore, which formed in 2004, her music was with me during my formative years. Now, with her first solo project, I feel her words even more deeply. The first track, “Simmer,” opens:

Rage is a quiet thing

You think that you’ve tamed it

But it’s just lying in wait [1]

…and with that, I realized that this unnamed emotion I’d been feeling in my bones had a name: rage. A quiet, unsuspecting thing hiding and thriving in its unnamed-ness, building each time I disregarded it as nothing of value. This discovery has proven crucial to my ability to articulate myself. I am mad. I am angry. I feel rage and it is valid. I am mad that women’s anger has often been censored, reduced to “bitchiness” or simply “not thinking clearly.” In naming my rage, I feel as though I have never been more clear headed. My position as a women’s historian is now a necessity, no longer a choice. I have never felt more passionate about working to help women and girls of all backgrounds, all identities be taken seriously–for their voices, their experiences, their ideas, their stories, their feelings…their rage. 

[1] “Simmer.” Petals for Armor I, Hayley Williams, Taylor York, Joseph Howard. Atlantic Records, February 2020, 1.

[2] Garrison, Ednie. “U.S. Feminism–Grrrl Style! Youth (Sub)Cultures and the Technologies of the Third Wave.” In No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism, edited by Nancy A. Hewitt, 379–402. Rutgers University Press, 2010. 388.

Rachael is a first year graduate student in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her current research interests include girls’ cultural production and participation in subcultures, activist media technologies, and performance studies.

A Response to Everyone Who Asks me “Why Women’s and Gender History?”

By Madison Filzer

Oftentimes I’m bombarded with the question, “Why would you get a master’s degree in Women’s And Gender History?” As if the work of Women and Gender Historians is insignificant and unnecessary with little to no place in a world outside of academia. This question suggests that I have done something wrong by choosing this path rather than attending law school straight out of college like I intended to.  If I were to answer the question above, it would warrant a two-part answer from me. Sarah Lawrence College encourages dialogue amongst our peers, and Re/Visionist gives me space to openly answer that question, so I am going to take the time to do so. First, I took the opportunity to get a degree in Women’s History because I wanted to discover the truth in all situations, past and present. To me, that is what the art of history is all about, finding the truth by looking at its source. Second, learning how to construct a narrative based on my own interpretation of evidence, as historians do, is a skill that will translate well in the legal field. I have found that people expect that I will have a broad knowledge of all history that has ever happened, EVER. This is not the case. In the last few years, I have learned how to find truth in books, on the internet, and in physical archives to make sense of the past for both myself and for others. 

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about my understanding of historical truth is the American Women’s Suffrage Movement that took place in the early 20th century. The first time I heard of Women’s Suffrage was when someone jokingly asked whether I wanted to end women’s suffrage. Since I had never heard of it, I assumed it meant ending women’s suffering, and I said yes. Joke was on me because I had no idea what Women’s Suffrage really meant, but after a quick google search, I found some level of truth on what it meant to “End Women’s Suffrage”. However, it was not until my first year of graduate school that I was able to wrap my head around how complex the Suffrage movement really was. One particular assignment was to write a historiographic essay in which we would look at a primary document and analyze the way other historians have made sense of it. We were tasked with reading a debate between leaders of the Suffrage Movement, specifically Susan B. Anthony and Cady Elizabeth Stanton, as well as Henry B. Blackwell, a proponent of African American Suffrage. [1] For me, this historical moment validated my desire to find the source of information and be able to . Reading the transcript of the debate enabled me to formulate my own understanding of the Suffrage Movement. With my own knowledge, I can retell a narrative of the Women’s Suffrage movement in America that showcases the racism within the leadership of the Movement accurately. 

The efforts of the Suffragists always arise in March as part of Women’s History Month, and this August will mark 100 years since white women gained the right to vote. I think this is a notable example for me to reflect on because 4 years ago, I didn’t even know what the Suffrage Movement was. Now when people start talking about how great Susan B. Anthony and Cady Elizabeth Stanton are, I can reference the exact words these women used to prioritize white women’s right to vote over that of African American’s. In doing so, I can reconstruct a narrative that tells more than one side of history. 

To answer the question, by getting a degree in Women’s History I can spend my life searching for sources of truth and offer interpretations of my discoveries in ways that may not have been done before. As I begin to work on my thesis, I have found that few, if any, historians or scholars have researched my topic of choice making me the first female historian to write about the 1968 Glenville Shootout in Cleveland, Ohio. There aren’t many places where you can obtain a degree specific to Women’s History, and to be doing it at the first institution in the nation to offer this type of degree is an accomplishment worth postponing law school for. Not only are we creating history, but some of us are making history too. 

Madison is a second year Master’s Candidate in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her research interests include Civil Rights activism in Cleveland, Ohio, and Black women’s activism in the United States.


[1] DOCUMENT 30 (II: 381-98): Debates at the American Equal Rights Association Meeting, New York City, May 12-14, 1869

Amina Wadud and Sherine Hafez: Activism and the Voices of Women in Arab Societies

By Marian Phillips

During the final semester of my undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas, I took a course titled “Religion, Power, and Sexuality in Arab Societies” with Dr. Marwa Ghazali.  The course and the professor made a deep and everlasting impact on me. Throughout the course, I gained an abundance of knowledge on a variety of topics in Arab societies, such as religion, power, class, sexuality, and many others. As I read through articles by Amina Wadud and Sherine Hafez, I found that the voices of Muslim women are integral to unpacking the patriarchal translations of the Qur’an. Furthermore, they draw attention to necessary activism through images, which can influence more women to become activists in Arab societies. When reflecting on the knowledge I gained, three distinct moments of this activism stuck out to me based on Wadud’s text Qur’an and Woman (1992) and Hafez’s article “The Revolution Shall Not Pass through Women’s Bodies: Egypt, Uprisings and Gender Politics” (2014): the subjectivity/objectivity of translations of the Qur’an, the social and cultural interpretations of the text, and the importance of imagery in activism. By analyzing Wadud’s discussion of the Qur’an and Hafez’s article with an emphasis on activism, I find that the voices of women in Arab societies greatly enhances a larger awareness of the injustices they face and deeply impacts activist efforts. 

Amina Wadud’s text illustrates the subjectivity and objectivity of interpreting and translating the Qur’an. She considers the fact that men such as Abdullah Yusuf Ali have the privilege of this opportunity rather than women. Wadud notes the inherent sexism and gender bias that men have towards women when translating the text: “the Qur’an does not propose or support a singular role or single definition of a set of roles.” [1] Furthermore, she cites that Yusuf Ali’s translation seeks to provide a definition of the roles of men and women based on social morality and modesty. She illustrates that these social mores vary in interpretation of the Qur’an based on time, location and culture significance by an individual. In turn, Wadud locates Yusuf Ali’s inherent gender bias in his subjective translation of the text. As the Qur’an never definitively separates men from women with a distinction of one having more power over the other, the patriarchal interpretations have the ability to, “place an inherent distinction between males and females and then give values to those distinctions.” [2] Thus, Wadud unpacks the gender biased interpretations of the text, going further to deconstruct the inequality that women face when they are impacted by a subjective and negative translation. She provides previous translations and interpretations of the Qur’an with the voice of a Muslim woman to make women in the Qur’an visible, attempting to remove the negativity that women have faced as a result.

As Wadud uses her voice to shed light on the negative interpretations women face based on gender biased translations of the Qur’an, she prompts women to seek further empowerment through their own visibility and voice in Arab societies. Sherine Hafez continues to establish the importance of women’s voices in Arab societies through detailing activist efforts and imagery used by women, for women when fighting against injustices. Hafez details, “the events of the Egyptian revolution,” where, “women – as well as men – rose to demand their right to ‘bread, freedom and social justice.” [3] By doing this, she draws attention to Muslim women activists such as the woman in the blue bra, Aliaa al Mahdy, and Samira Ibrahim. Each woman signifies a piece of the fight towards social justice as their names, stories, and images are markers of the greater injustices women face in Arab societies. Images of the woman in the blue bra, while unidentified, have been imperative to the discourse surrounding police brutality against Muslim women. One photograph caught the moment she was dragged across the ground by police as her clothing was pulled over her head, exposing the blue bra. 

The woman in the blue bra influenced women such as Aliaa al Mahdy to use their own bodies in their activism. Aliaa al Mahdy uses “her body as a weapon to expose hypocrisy and male chauvinism” [4], participating in nude feminism and joining the nude feminist group Femen. While both instances can be classified as imagery, highlighting the importance of voice through images is imperative to understanding the influence of the woman in the blue bra on al Mahdy’s use of her own naked body as a form of activism. A photo, painting, and other sources of imagery have a specific message attached to them by their creator and audience. The voice that an image has speaks to an array of topics; sometimes love, anguish, injustice, prejudice, and even violence. As some have said, an image is worth a thousand words, and in these cases those words pertain to social injustices, police brutality, and the fight towards freedom for Muslim women. Samira Ibrahim’s case illustrates the strength of voice in a political and legal arena, as she spoke out against the brutality and trauma of forced virginity testing on women in Arab societies. Having been a victim herself, Ibrahim’s lawsuit against the police officer who assaulted her prompted other women to vocalize their own trauma and the impact these forced testing procedures have had on them. The three women mentioned, while having individual experiences, find commonality in their ability to form a sense of community amongst women in Arab societies, and prompt other women to seek out methods to fight against the social injustices that they face. 

In summary, Amina Wadud’s ability to use her voice to counteract the subjective and patriarchal voice of translations of the Qur’an, the image of the woman in the blue bra, Aliaa al Mahdy’s nude activism, and Samira Ibrahim’s court case highlight the importance of women’s voices in Arab societies. Specifically, the voices of women are crucial when tackling social, cultural, and political issues that they have faced in a society that has been dominated by men. When I reflected on what I learned throughout that final Spring semester, I found myself drawn to the voice of Arab societies. As we discussed in the course, the prophet Muhammad spoke on the equality of women and men, but as we dove further into the semester, I found that his voice became lost in translation, figuratively and literally. What often brings me back to when I first learned of the prophet Muhammad are the voices of women interpreting the Qur’an, such as Amina Wadud, and the women who are actively fighting against the inequality they face based on the translations of the Qur’an that express a gender bias. This bias is not the only one to blame for the social injustice Muslim women face; there is also the continuous lack of Muslim women’s voices in Arab societies that further silences them. By the provision of women’s voices, it encourages women to further their efforts towards bread, freedom and social justice. 

Marian Phillips is a second year Master’s Candidate at Sarah Lawrence College studying Women’s and Gender History. Her research interests include LGBTQIA+ history, the history of punk movements/music, social movements, 1950s Cold War America, and Horror film studies.

End Notes

[1] Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Women, Penerbit Fajar Bakti Sdn. Bhd., 1993, pp. 8.

[2] Wadud, pp. 35. 

[3] Sherine Hafez, “The Revolution Shall Not Pass Through Women’s Bodies: Egypt, Uprising and Gender Politics,” The Journal of North African Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 2014, pp. 172. 

[4] Hafez, pp. 175. 

Works Cited

Hafez, Sherine. “The Revolution Shall Not Pass Through Women’s Bodies: Egypt, Uprising and Gender Politics.” The Journal of North African Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 2014, pp. 172 185., doi:10.1080/13629387.2013.879710.

Wadud, Amina. Qur’an and Women. Penerbit Fajar Bakti Sdn. Bhd., 1993.

Carrie Chapman Catt: Suffrage and the Politics of Race

By Crystal Brandenburgh

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of American women gaining the constitutional right to vote through the 19th Amendment. The upcoming centennial has sparked a flurry of new scholarship, including a reckoning over the often racist tactics of White suffragists, the exclusion of diverse voices from the suffrage movement, and the disfranchisement of Southern Black women, Native American women, and Asian immigrant women until later in the twentieth century. On my campus, this reckoning began 25 years ago and has not yet stopped. In 1995, Iowa State University renamed Old Botany Hall after Carrie Chapman Catt, a prominent suffrage leader and ISU alumna. Protests erupted because the demonstrators believed Catt had embraced racism in the suffrage movement. [1]

As an ISU History major, I decided to examine both Catt and the criticism, a decision that turned into a three-year investigation of Progressive Era race and gender politics. I found that criticism of Catt concentrated on two main charges: she used a racist argument to sway White Southerners to support suffrage, and she failed to stop the disfranchisement of Southern Black women after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. These charges, both containing a grain of truth, require context and nuance to be understood.

Carrie Chapman Catt was born on 9 January 1859 and grew up in a typical Iowa farm family. She graduated from Iowa Agricultural College, now ISU, in 1880. [2] After the death of her first husband, Catt became active in the Iowa suffrage movement. She quickly climbed the ranks through her talent for organizing. By the 1890s, she was one of Susan B. Anthony’s protégés and in 1900 she became Anthony’s successor as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. After five years of dedicated service, Catt resigned the presidency to care for her ill husband. [3] Catt was called back to the presidency in 1915, at a time of enormous stakes for the suffrage cause. [4]

In no region was suffrage more of an uncertainty than the South. White Southerners were consumed with a fear—inflamed by anti-suffragists—that woman suffrage would upset their racial hierarchy and end white supremacy. [5] Suffragists had to acknowledge this fear through a tactic known as the statistical argument which was first iterated by Henry Blackwell, famed suffragist and abolitionist, in his 1867 essay, “What the South Can Do.” He argued that White women so outnumbered African Americans in the South that white supremacy would be unaltered by the passage of woman suffrage. [6] It must be noted that, across the South, White people outnumbered African Americans, but this was not the case in Mississippi and South Carolina. [7] Additionally, this argument quickly became common practice among White suffrage leaders and it inherently perpetuated white supremacy. 

In her 1917 book, Woman Suffrage by Federal Constitutional Amendment, Catt listed seven objections commonly used by anti-suffragists. Then she refuted the objections one by one. To quell White Southerners’ fears, Catt repeated Blackwell’s statistical argument, writing, “White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by woman suffrage….Woman suffrage in the South would so vastly increase the white vote that it would guarantee white supremacy if it otherwise stood in danger of overthrow.” [8] Catt then concluded, “Ridiculous as this list of objections may appear, each is supported earnestly by a considerable group, and collectively they furnish the basis of opposition to woman suffrage in and out of Congress.” [9] Thus even though she found the argument “ridiculous,” Catt had to address the racist fears of White Southerners, because their support was critical for woman suffrage to be enshrined in the Constitution. In fact, only three Southern states ratified the 19th Amendment: Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee; and Tennessee, the last state to ratify, did so by a one-vote margin. [10] While the Blackwell argument was one of inherent racism, it was also the tool Catt used to tip the balance in the South in order to enfranchise half the nation. 

After Catt’s extraordinary constitutional victory, at which White Southern opponents of suffrage immediately began to chip away, she handed the reins over to the newly-formed League of Women Voters and turned her attention to the fight for world peace. Catt had suffered the horrors of World War I alongside her friends in the transatlantic suffrage network and felt called to ensure it would never happen again. Thus, she told the younger generation of women activists, 

“For thirty years and a little more, I have worked with you in the first lap of this struggle toward woman’s emancipation. I cannot lead or follow in the next lap. I do not wish to advise where I cannot follow. Younger and fresher women must do that work, and because I cannot advise and cannot follow, I only point to the fact that the battle is there, and that I hope you are not going to be such quitters as to stay on the outside and let all the reactionaries have their way on the inside.” [11]

For Catt, age 61, the battle was done. She expected the League, her brainchild, to carry on where she had left off. But, as we know, the LWV ultimately refused to combat White Southerners’ relentless, successful, and long-lasting campaign of disfranchisement of Black women.

Carrie Chapman Catt died on 9 March 1947. [12] She repeated a racist argument to convince Southern Whites in the last years of the campaign, and then left American suffrage work after her electoral triumph. Though her rhetoric on race was shaped by the high-stakes politics of the suffrage movement, the documentary evidence proves that she became braver about asserting her own, more enlightened views after resigning the NAWSA presidency. She investigated and exposed racist rumors of Black military misconduct in Germany in 1921, protested against a Washington, D.C. hotel’s segregation policies in 1925, suggested returning land to people of color worldwide, and fiercely advocated for the publication of African American suffrage leader Mary Church Terrell’s memoir. [13] ISU’s Catt Hall stands as a reminder that progress in this country has been uneven and exclusionary, but it is still progress. As Catt herself stated in 1917, in her ideal world every woman could exercise democracy’s most powerful tool: the vote. [14]

Crystal Brandenburgh is a senior History major with a minor in Political Science at Iowa State University. Crystal plans to attend graduate school in the fall, pursuing a PhD in History. Her research focuses on Progressive Era Women in Politics.


[1]  “Catt: Figure of Controversy,” Off Our Backs, Vol. 26, No. 10 (November 1996): 5; “Suffragette’s Racial Remark Haunts College,” New York Times, 5 May 1996, 30.

[2]  Jacqueline Van Voris, Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life (New York City: The Feminist Press, 1987), 4-5.

[3] Van Voris, Carrie Chapman Catt, 64-65, 72, 79-80.

[4] Noun, “1872-1920: Carrie Chapman Catt,” 312-313.

[5] Aileen S. Kraditor, The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890-1920 (New York City: Columbia University Press, 1965), 165-168.

[6]  Henry Blackwell, “What the South Can Do,” Leaflet, New York, 15 January 1867.

[7]  U.S. Census, 1870: The Statistics of the Population of the United States, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1872; Fourteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1920: Volume III, Population, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1922. 

[8]  Carrie Chapman Catt, Woman Suffrage by Federal Constitutional Amendment (New York City: National Woman Suffrage Publishing Co., 1917), 91, 93-94.

[9] Catt, Woman Suffrage by Federal Constitutional Amendment, 91, 93-94, 131.

[10] Louise R. Noun, Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1969), 321; Wheeler, New Women of the New South, 35; Elaine Weiss, The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote, (London: Penguin Books, 2018), 305-310.

[11]  Carrie Chapman Catt, “Political Parties and Women Voters (On the Inside),” 14 February 1920, in The Woman Citizen, Vol. 4, No. 32 (March 6, 1920), 947-948.

[12] Van Voris, Carrie Chapman Catt, 218.

[13]  Carrie Chapman Catt, “The Truth About the Black Troops on the Rhine,” Woman Citizen, Vol. V, No. 40, 5 March 1921, 1038; Carrie Chapman Catt, “Report of the First Conference on the Cause and Cure of War,” 18-24 January 1925, 151; Catt to Arrangements Committee, Nov. 11, 1924, Box 5, Josephine Schain Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College; Catt, “Report of the First Conference on the Cause and Cure of War,” 18-24 January 1925, 150; Carrie Chapman Catt to Mary Church Terrell, March 2, 1939, Correspondence, -1954; 1939, Jan.-Mar,  Mary Church Terrell Papers, Digital Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress; Catt to Terrell, October 14, 1940, Mary Church Terrell Papers, Library of Congress; Catt to Terrell, October 30, 1940, Mary Church Terrell Papers, Library of Congress.[14]   Carrie Chapman Catt, “Votes for All,” The Crisis, November 1917, 19-21.

A Meditation on Women’s History

By Sidney Wegener

Not long ago, I found myself in an debate over what women’s history is with a woman who was white, cisgender, heterosexual, able bodied, and very wealthy. Her argument was that women’s history meant “all women” and there should be no need to differentiate between the histories of Black women and white women or trans women and cis women. In response, I argued that without acknowledging intersectional identities among women identified people, many women’s histories would be erased or overwritten. The room was very loud, so bits of our statements and rebuttals were lost in the noise. After growing increasingly frustrated with the conversation, I finally had to say “we will have to agree to disagree.” She clearly did not intend to listen to any other perspective than her own; that Black women and white women won the right to vote simultaneously when the 19th amendment was passed in 1920. While I appreciated her recognition of Asian and Native American women explicitly barred from voting, I felt that there was a grave misunderstanding of Black women’s history. At the end of the day however, neither of our core arguments were entirely wrong. Women’s history should encompass all women’s history, but it remains critical to recognize that not every woman’s history is the same. This mediation on women’s history attempts to encourage readers to celebrate both solidarity and allyship amongst women who experience the world in different ways.

It is integral to contemplate how we understand the word “woman.” Often times it is read with theinvisible adjectives of white, heterosexual, cisgendered, able bodied, middle class attached to it. These frequently unacknowledged assumptions that underpin the meaning of “woman,” particularly in America, are the reason why it is important to implement intersectionality into women’s history. Intersectionality means looking at women as more than the word “woman.” There are many people who identify fluidly or by another aspect of themselves first; rarely are some aspects of their identity separable. Women are multidimensional and this month is a time to explore, celebrate, respect, and love the infinite ways in which we exist in the world. The term“women ” universalizes all women, but not all women share the same story. At the end of this article, I have provided various sources expressing intersectionality under the umbrella identity of woman. I hope to provide material that bridges some understanding between women’s differences and expand the celebration of community during International Women’s History Month.

When women’s experiences are depicted as universal, the identity of “woman” becomes a tool of erasure and works to invalidate those women who do not fit the common narrative. For example, when we consider the fight for women’s reproductive rights intersex and transgender people are often excluded from how the topic is discussed amongst cisgender women. [1] Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge that reproductive rights are often synonymous with abortion rights, erasing the long history of forced sterilization on Indigenous and Black women against their will and/or without their knowledge. [2] Women who fight for equal pay in public or professional labor spheres are often white, cisgender, heterosexual, and middle-upper class. Due to this socio-economic agency, women who hold professional careers frequently hire working-class women of color as domestic laborers in order to ease their own double-burden. [3] When we speak of domestic violence and intimate partner abuse, straight relationships often dominate the conversation, which excludes abusive same-sex or gender queer relations between women. [4] A commonly universalized women’s experience is  sexual assault. But how common is it to recognize that Native American and Indigenous women face the highest rates of sexual violence, often at the hands of non-Native or Indigenous men. [5] Universalizing women’s history and experiences can serve to unite us across race, sexuality, class, and more. However, such homogenization of women’s struggles inevitably results in erasure and exclusion of women who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, immigrant, lesbian/queer, transgender, working-class/impoverished, disabled, aneurotypical, and many other intesectional identities that do not fit into a single narrative. If Women’s History Month is for all women, then all women’s experiences must be validated and respected.

Women’s Intersectional Narratives

  • Kai Cheng Thom’s fiction novel, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girls Confabulous Memoir, is a breathtakingly magical read on the life of an Asian trans girl who is nothing short of fierce.
  • Rebecca Johnson and Tanya Quakawoot are founders of IndigiLez, a Leadership and Support Group for Aboriginal/Indiginous lesbians and same sex attracted women, located in Queensland, Australia. Their website contains information for worldwide access to support, news, and events.
  • Mikaela Moody, trans, gay, and disabled actvist shares her experiences with PinkNews, a United Kingdom news outlet for queer and trans communities, in an interview titled, “This is what it’s like to be a disabled, disfigured, gay, trans woman.” There is also a video of the interview posted in the article.
  • HuffPost recently published an article titled, “Muslim Women Break Down the Myths Around Hair and Hijab,” which features seven different women from the United States and one from the United Arab Emirates. 
  • TalkSpace published a brief article written by Dr. Marika Lindholm titled, “8 Mental Health Challenges Single Moms Face,” which outlines some of the hardships working-class mothers face and where they can seek support.
  • If you are unaware of the epidemic in violence committed against Black trans women in the United States, the Human Rights Campaign website features some facts on 2019 homicide rates. Equally, if not more, important is the list of the names and life details of the women whose lives were taken out of hatred. Please be aware that this site may be triggering in terms of details on violence committed against trans women.


[1] “Transgender Healthcare and Reproductive Justice.” April, 2018.

[2] “Unwanted Sterilization and Eugenics Programs in the United States.” PBS. January 29, 2016.

[3] “Breaking Down Domestic Labor: Gender, Race, Class and Sexuality.” The ReVisionist. December 6, 2019.

[4] “Domestic Violence Is Not Straight Violence.” The ReVisionist. October 21, 2019.
[5] “Murdered and Missing Native American Women Challenge Police and Courts.” The Center for Public Integrity. October 29, 2018.

Sidney is a first year Master’s Candidate studying Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College. Their academic interests include lesbianism and lesbian history in American from the 1920s to the 1930s. They are currently pursuing many different avenues for research in U.S. history pertaining to women’s and queer studies and looking forward to working on a thesis related to the linguistic and social evolution of female sexuality.

Margaret Garner: Putting the History Back in Historical Fiction

By Madison Filzer

(Image courtesy of

An engraving of the story of Margaret Garner, from Harper’s Weekly in 1867.

Well for starters, Happy Black History Month! May this month, and every other month, remind us of where we come from and what we can do in order to honor the stories of those who are often forgotten. History comes from many different places and is rendered in many different forms. The different ways in which history is communicated is what ultimately inspired this piece. You’re all familiar with Toni Morrison’s Beloved, correct? If not, go read it (duh) but the focus of this article is not to encourage you to read the novel. The purpose of this article is to get back to the roots of historical fiction. At face value, the genre of historical fiction is a bit of an oxymoron. To be fictional, in any way, eludes to the idea of falsehood; alternatively, history is rooted in factual evidence, all of which can be proven. So where does a story stop relying upon history in order for the imagination to take over? 

Beloved focuses on the story of Sethe, a runaway slave woman and mother from Kentucky who seeks refuge in Cincinnati, Ohio prior to the Civil War. While the novel is historical fiction, there is an element of history that warrants deeper analysis: the story of Margaret Garner.[1] It is important to say her name because historically, it matters as the slave narrative portrayed throughout history is rarely from a mother’s perspective. Furthermore, women are often erased from this narrative entirely. In this instance, the story of Sethe, the runaway slave woman, is based upon the factual story of what Margaret Garner endured at the hands of her white slave owners. After escaping the plantation of Archibald Gaines in Kentucky, Margaret and her family traveled about 16 miles crossing over the Ohio River into Cincinnati. Days after escaping Federal Marshalls surrounded the house of Joseph Kite, Margaret’s cousin, in pursuit of the Garner family. As the marshalls approached her, the mother of four made the decision to attempt to take the life of her children rather than allowing them to return to slavery. [2]  Margaret attempted to kill all four of her children and herself, however, only her two-year-old daughter succumbed to her injuries.[3] [4]

It is easy to read Beloved and be captured by Morrison’s ability to bring history to life, but Margaret Garner had a life too. One can simply read the book and appreciate it for what it is, but I encourage readers to be thoughtful enough to dig deeper. Margaret Garner attempted to kill her four children rather than allowing them to be subjected to life on a plantation, and that should tell us something. Now, I don’t have children yet, but can you imagine the pain that Margaret must have endured throughout her life as a slave that made death seem like a better option for her children? This is the “historical” in historical fiction, and it is imperative to remember that these renderings are based on the truth of someone else’s story. 

(Image courtesy of

Margaret Garner’s story did not stop after the death of her two-year-old child. Garner’s case went on to trial, not for killing her child, but for being a fugitive slave. [5] [6] To be tried for murder would establish Garner as a free woman, something that her attorney, John Jolliffe, fought for. However, in the eyes of the court, Margaret was the property of Archibald Gaines. As such, Margaret, her husband, and her remaining children were detained, and charged as fugitive slaves and were transported to a plantation owned by the Gaines family in New Orleans, Louisiana. En route to New Orleans, it is thought that the steamboat carrying the Garner’s, the Henry Lewis collided with the E.H. Howard, sending Margaret and her infant child overboard.[7]  Although Margaret survived, she again suffered the loss of a child at the hands of slavery. Margaret Garner never obtained her freedom. She died on a Mississippi plantation in 1858 from typhoid fever but one could argue that her story, in part, led to the Civil War that broke out only a few years later. The trial of Margaret Garner went on for two weeks, which was longer than most and due to the circumstances, the trial drew large amounts of newspaper attention. [8] During a time when abolition was at the forefront of people’s minds, a case like that of Margaret Garner only added to the escalating conflict between the North and the South. 

Margaret Garner’s story is important, not just in the context of Beloved, but also in the context of American history. Historical fiction is rooted in history, and in order to fully understand the text at hand, readers must think beyond the fictional component of the story. In an article written about Richard Danielpour’s theatrical rendition of Margaret Garner’s story Toni Morrison says the following, “The interest is not the fact of slavery, but of what happens internally, emotionally, psychologically, when you are in fact enslaved and what you do you do to try to transcend that circumstance. And that really is what Margaret Garner reveals,”[9] Morrison was inspired by the story of Margaret Garner, but from the above quote we know that her focus was not on the historical component but rather the emotional toll that slavery took on one woman and her family. However, Morrison’s focus  does not negate the history embedded in her writing. Going back to the historical roots of Beloved forces one to think about what it would be like to choose between enslavement and “freedom” by death. For every slave story, choices were made that were contingent upon the time in which one lived. One could never judge the actions of Sethe without knowing the reality of what Margaret Garner lived through. During Black History Month, at a time where racism is still alive and well, put yourself in the shoes of Margaret Garner. Ask yourself what you would do when stuck between two evils. As you read Beloved, or any other historical fiction novel, always remember there is in fact history in Historical Fiction. 


[1] Margaret Garner | African American Resources 

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4]  If you have read the book, then you know that her husband witnessed all of this. 

[5] Margaret Garner Incident (1856) •

[6] Article from the Cincinnati Gazette, January 29, 1856

Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center

[7]  Black Abolitionist Archive | The Slave Margaret. :: UDM Libraries / Instructional Design Studio

[8] Margaret Garner | African American Resources 

[9] A Mother’s Desperate Act: ‘Margaret Garner’ 

Madison is a second year Master’s Candidate in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her research interests include Civil Rights activism in Cleveland, Ohio, and Black women’s activism in the United States.

Black History Happening Now

The following list was compiled by the current editors of the Re/Visionist to provide a glimpse at Black history being made today. While this list is certainly not exhaustive, we hope it will showcase the variety of achievements in Black history’s recent past.

Ava DuVernay: An American filmmaker and film distributor, DuVernay was the first black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director for Selma (2014). Her 2016 film 13th was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Most recently she created, co-wrote, and directed the critically acclaimed Netflix series When They See Us (2019) which follows the 1989 Central Park five. Lucy Mangan of The Guardian notes that the show “is a dense, fast-moving series that examines not just the effects of systemic racism but the effects of all sorts of disenfranchisement” [1]

Billy Porter: Porter is the first openly gay Black man to win an Emmy in any lead acting category. He won for Outstanding Leading Actor in a Drama Series for his work on the television series Pose. Acceptance speech. Previously, he originated the role of Lola in the Broadway production of Kinky Boots, winning the Tony for Best Actor.

Indya Moore: Transgender and using non-binary pronouns, Indya is a model and actress who played a role in television series Pose. They are known for trans activism as Time magazine named them in the top 100 most influential people in the world in 2019.

Jeremy O. Harris: At only 30, Harris became the youngest black, queer man to be produced on Broadway with Slave Play in 2019. He recently graduated from Yale’s MFA in Playwriting program. The 17-week run worked actively to make theater more accessible by providing affordable tickets and special programming such as Blackout nights, in which audiences were entirely African-American. Harris and his efforts were recently featured in this Re/Visionist blog post.

Jordan Peele: In 2017, Peele’s horror film Get Out won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and nomination for Best Director. He describes the film as a social thriller, explaining that “one of the best ways to enter the conversation about race is through art. If we can have a shared experience in a movie theatre, it gives us more of a basis for conversation.” [2] Before turning to horror, he was known for co-creating the popular Comedy Central show Key & Peele. His most recent film, Us, was released in 2019.

Jalaiah Harmon: 14-year-old Harmon is responsible for creating the viral Tik Tok “Renegade” dance. Teenage girls’ accomplishments, particularly those of girls of color, are not always highlighted or taken seriously. Thousands of internet users posted their own content using her choreography, including several prominent celebrity renditions. When other teenage creators, particularly white girls, began to get benefits from the dance (notably an invite to perform at an NBA All Stars game) without crediting her, there was a push on various online platforms to give Harmon the credit she deserved. Most recently, she had the opportunity to perform her dance at Chicago’s United Center.

Jocelyn Bioh: A Ghanian-American actor and playwright in New York City, her play School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play was the 2018 winner of several awards: the Lortel Award, a Drama Desk Nomination, Drama League Nomination, and Off Broadway Alliance Nomination to name a few. She is currently a resident playwright at Lincoln Center. Bioh has also been seen on several prominent stages, including Signature Theater, The Public Theater, and with the 2015 Tony Award Winning production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Kenan Thompson: Now in his 17th season on the sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live, Thompson is the longest-tenured cast member in its almost 45 year history. While SNL alums have used the show as a stepping stone to solo endeavors, Thompson says that he isn’t planning on leaving. Looking to the future, Thompson is considering the role of representation in media, noting a lack of black-owned production companies producing comedy. [3] He will both work on and produce his own comedies, a new step in his decades long career. “The Kenan Show,” his newest effort, has been picked up by NBC and will air during the 2020-21 season.

Lena Waithe: A Black, queer woman Lena Waithe is an American screenwriter, producer and actress. Screenwriter and producer of Queen and Slim, released in 2019, the film is breaking ground in “making urgent art about the Black experience.” [4]  Lena Waithe also received an Emmy award in 2017 for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, making her the first Black woman to win the award.

Lil Nas X (Montero Lamar Hill): An openly gay Black musician, Lil Nas X has made history by breaking barriers between music genres of country and rap. His 2019 hit song, “Old Town Road” was remixed with Billy Ray Cyrus and performed at the 2020 Grammy Awards. Lil Nas X’s awards include (but not limited to): BET Awards Best Single of the year (2019), Country Music Association Award for Musical Event of the Year (2019), and Grammy award for Best Pop Duo/ Group Performance (2020).

Lizzo (Melissa Vivian Jefferson): As a Black woman who refuses to be shamed for her body size and weight, Lizzo has been making history as a rap and R&B musician who can play the flute while dancing like nobody else. She won three Grammy awards in 2020 for Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Urban Contemporary Album, and Best Traditional R&B Performance. At the 2019 Video Music Awards she performed “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell,” a piece centering Black women and their empowerment.

Morgan Parker: As a powerful poet, Morgan Parker is a Black woman who won the Pushcart Award in 2017. She centers Black womanhood in her poetry as her 2019 published collection, Magical Negro, “challenges white ideas of Blackness.” [5] She has also published There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce (2017),  Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night (2015), and more.

Saeed Jones: Queer and Black, Saeed Jones is a poet and the author of his memoir, How We Fight For Our Lives (2019). He is breaking ground as a writer who confronts the hardships of growing up and living as a gay Black man in the South.

Virgil Abloh: In 2018 Virgil Abloh made history as the first African American man to be named Louis Vuitton’s Artistic Director. Prior to 2018, Virgil was mostly known in association with the streetwear brand Off-White, which he founded in 2013. Virgil also produced the artwork for Jay-Z and Kanye’s joint album titled “Watch the Throne” which was later nominated for a grammy. 


[1] Mangan, Lucy. “When They See Us Review – Netflix’s Gut-Wrenching Tale of the Central Park Five.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, May 31, 2019.

[2] Kettler, Sara. “Jordan Peele.” A&E Networks Television, August 24, 2019.

[3] Izadi, Elahe. “The Quiet Brilliance of Kenan Thompson, SNL’s Longest-Tenured Cast Member.” The Washington Post. WP Company, August 28, 2019.

[4] Comedy Central. “Lena Waithe – Making Urgent Art About the Black Experience with ‘Queen & Slim’ – Extended Interview – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Video Clip).” Comedy Central. Accessed February 18, 2020.—making-urgent-art-about-the-black-experience-with–queen—slim—-extended-interview.

[5] Phillips, Emilia. “In ‘Magical Negro,’ Morgan Parker’s Poems Challenge White Ideas of Blackness.” The New York Times. The New York Times, April 12, 2019.