Each week, we like to take a day to feature women who have perhaps not been adequately recognized by the wider world for their contributions – sometimes, we feature a scientist, or a doctor, or a writer, or oftentimes – a woman who we feel should be more known than she is. Someone who has advanced our world in one way or another, but not seen much spotlight or recognition.
We hope you enjoy these features – it’s fun for us to research and learn more about the people who have helped to shape our world – and we hope that someday women’s contributions will be more widely recognized. Right now, we are focusing our efforts on Black or POC women – because we feel their voices need to be more widely heard and appreciated.
Less than a year before the Emancipation Proclamation, Ida B. Wells was born in 1862 to enslaved parents and spent most of her childhood at the Bolling-Gatewood House in Mississippi. The role of education and political action was strong in her upbringing. Her parents were active in the Republican Party during Reconstruction and her father helped found Shaw University, a school for freed slaves that Ida also attended. At the age of 16, Ida lost both her parents and a number of siblings to a yellow fever epidemic. She quickly found work as a teacher at local Black elementary schools. Ida relocated herself and her siblings to Tennessee where she continued her own studies at Fisk University. This start in education planted the seeds for her lifetime’s work devoted to advocating for civil rights through education and journalism. In addition to writing for a number of publications under the pseudonym “Iola,” Ida came to eventually own a number of presses. Ida was above all a truth seeker at her core, writing, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” – Ida B. Wells, The Light of Truth:Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader.
Her journalism often centered on the injustices toward Blacks in the American South, particularly lynching. In 1862, she wrote and later published her research entitled Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases, which exposed the reasoning of racial violence as an act of retaliation against the progress of Black socio-economic status that the rural white population felt threatened by. This research put her in danger. Eventually, a mob destroyed her press while she was traveling, which brought her worldwide attention.
Ida traveled throughout Europe and established an anti-lynching campaign in her own right. This brought her the support of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass and eventually took her as far as the White House when she led a protest as part of her anti-lynching campaign to then-President William Mckinley. Her fervor to fight discrimination led to the formation of numerous civil rights’ organizations, including founding the National Association of Colored Women, and as a founding member of the NAACP. Ida B. Wells eventually moved to Chicago and continued her fight against racial discrimination up until her death in 1931.
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Olivia Rivard Hill wrote this article and Megan Giltner edited it. We hope you’re enjoying a look at women who have shaped our world – if you have suggestions for future features – drop them in the comments below.