Huda Sha'arawi, Egyptian Feminist

Huda Sha'arawi was born June 23, 1879 in Cairo, Egypt to a wealthy family. As part of her cultural tradition and due the wealth of her family, Huda grew up in a harem with little contact with the outside world. It was in the harem, with face veiled, that Huda received her formal education. At the age of 13, Huda was married to her cousin, Ali Sharawai who was in his late 40's. Ali had promised to leave his slave concubine but produced a child with his slave after his marriage to Huda. Because of this, Huda chose to live separate from her husband and forge ahead in her studies. This independence gave her opportunities to explore political activism. However, with the insistence of her family, Huda moved in with her husband. Together, they bore two children.

Even while living under such traditions, Huda and her husband were active together in Egypt's political world, becoming founding members of the Nationalist Wafd Party that fought for Egypt's independence from Great Britain.  This new movement invited women to openly participate in politics and became a turning point for Egyptian women throughout the nation.

 Huda desired that Egyptian women would come to understand that they were not created for the sexual pleasure of men, nor did they require protection as the "weaker" sex. Because of this, she created the first philanthropic society ran by women in 1908. Two year later, Huda opened a school for girls that focused on academics rather than preparing them to be wives and mothers, as had been tradition.

Years later, when Ali died, Huda began to work towards support for women's issues, founding the Egyptian Women's Union in 1923. This organization fought for increased education for girls and personal status laws.

After attending a women's conference in Europe, Huda returned to Egypt. After stepping off the rain into the crowd, Huda lifted her hands to her face and removed her veil. In that crowd, a ripple of shock and silence fell before an eruption of cheers. Women applauded and removed their own veils. Over the next ten years, more and more Egyptian women refused to wear the veil. By the time she died in 1947, Huda had changed the culture of Egypt for women and girls, forever inspiring new generations to advocate for equality.

For more on Huda, you may purchase her memoirs here.


Madame C.J. Walker, On Her Own Ground


Madame C.J. Walker was a strong black woman born on December 23, 1867 in Delta, Louisianan. Walker was originally named Sarah Breedlove. Born only a few years after the end of the Civil War and living during Jim Crow and Black Code Laws, Madame Walker would grow up to be an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, political activist, and become one of the first African American women to be a self-made millionaire.

Sarah Breedlove was the first free-born child of her family, born on the same plantation where her parents had been enslaved. As a child, Sarah worked beside her parents in a Louisianan cotton field. By seven years old, her parents had died. At fourteen, she married to escape cruelty and abuse. At seventeen, she had her daughter and only child. At twenty, Sarah’s husband died. Life came quickly, hard, and unrelenting.

In order to find a new home and life for herself and her daughter, Sarah moved to St. Louis where her brothers had established themselves as barbers. For nearly the next two decades, she worked to provide for her daughter as a wash woman. The pay was miserable, barely providing for her daughter’s education. With education being of an utmost importance to her, even while working long, hard hours, Walker managed to take night classes and provide education not only for her daughter, but for herself, as well.

In the 1890’s, Walker developed a scalp disorder that caused her to lose much of her hair. It is interesting to note, that Walker credited her hair-saving formula to prayer. She prayed to God to save her hair. For three nights, she dreamed that a big African man visited her and told her the ingredients to mix into her formula. With her hair growing back, demand for her formula increased and she sold the product door-to-door.

Madame C.J. Walker Company

By 1910, Madam C.J. Walker built her company headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. Already building a name and making money, she donated $1,000 (nearly $20,000 today) to build a black YMCA in the city. She began to make black newspapers featuring her story. People were amazed that a black woman would not only have the means to donate that amount of money, but would be willing to give back to her community. To the black community, she was a hero...and inspiration...and role model.

The Indianapolis factory manufactured Walker’s hair products and cosemetics, but was also known to train sales beauticians—providing them with education and skills. These beauticians would become known as “Walker Agents” and were well known in black communities throughout the United States. Communities looked at Walker Agents as symbols of “cleanliness and loveliness.”


In 1916, Walker moved to New York where she began to work as a social and political activist. Having developed a platform and fame, she understood that she had the power to make a difference for others. In doing so, she became a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Her work encircled educational scholarships, homes for the elderly, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She also founded the National Conference on Lynching in an attempt to raise awareness and abolish the violent act.

Madame C.J. Walker died on May 25, 1919, at the age of 51 at her home, Villa Lewaro. When she died, she was the sole owner of her business, valued at more than one million.

In her words:

“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations…I have built my own factory on my own ground.”
                    ~Madame C.J. Walker

She said these words to the face of Booker T. Washington who continually dismissed her and would refuse to let her speak at a conference. But after these words, he made sure to invite her back as a key note speaker.

On her own ground, indeed.

For more, you can read this biography written by her Great-Great-Granddaughter, A'Lelia Bundles.


The Reality of Wanderlust

I don’t have the opportunity to travel very often. My ability to learn more about the world around me and the vast subcultures of the United States comes from my thirst to educate myself. I read. I listen. I watch. I find I have questions, so I read, listen, and watch some more. The times that I do get to travel, I often come home with a brain buzzing with so much information, so many questions, that I am jittery and overwhelmed. I have lots of thoughts...ideas...research....desire to share what I am experiencing.

Perhaps, it’s a good thing I don’t travel too often. Maybe I would take it all for granted? Maybe I would soak in the environment for my own personal pleasure and enjoyment? Perhaps I’d walk away unbothered? But I doubt it.

This year’s trip to the Deep South of the United States gave me the opportunity to listen to Michelle Obama read her book “Becoming” and fill me with so much embarrassment that I had not fully grasped how good the Obama family was and is when it mattered most.

This year’s trip into the bayou revealed to me how much the environment is quickly changing and affecting all parts of the United States and the world. From the creole man of color that serenaded me with “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans” in the Quarter who remarked about the unnaturally high waters of the mighty Mississippi and his faith that the Army Corps of Engineers would keep them safe (though they had already failed this man tragically before).

This year’s trip didn’t find me on a plantation renovated by a white, wealthy lawyer who restored it to tell only the stories of the slaves that had lived and died there. However, it still had me thinking of their words, their lives, the shame of the United States’ historic past that still often goes untold in its full truth. The signs are still throughout the French Quarter and along Esplanade Avenue marking the places that were once slave pens and auction houses (signs that are relatively new to the city).

This year’s trip didn’t have me sitting in Jackson Square listening to a stranger tell me how beautiful and powerful I am--her eyes shining with truth and light--her voice full of conviction and truth. Yet, her words still followed me, reminding me that I have yet to embrace the potential she saw in me.

This year’s trip had me walking through the shops with the mind of a soon-to-be-teacher spotting children’s books that I wanted for the classroom I would one day have. Maybe that was me acknowledging that stranger’s words of potential, power, and future?

This year’s trip had me watching the flood waters from the bayou up through the entire drive home to Indiana. With each road sign marking the name of a flooded city and town, I pulled up information on my phone, startled to know that these areas had been flooded for seven long months. The fields that were not under water were pocked with patches of wildflowers and weeds, unplowed and planted, unable to produce enough of a crop to bother planting. The changing climate, the monstrous weather, the flooding and rushing currents were visible first hand.

I have a lot to process and think about.

I have a lot to research and learning.

I have a lot to say.

But mostly, I have a reason to keep teaching, writing, and creating. We need truth now more than ever. Our entire nation and world are in need.

So stay tuned.