Great speeches by women, decade by decade 1910-1970 — Part 1
I've gone through the Speakola library and found some great speeches by women, decade by decade, since 1910. This is part one which will take us through to 1970. Next installment tomorrow.
Nellie McLung, ‘Should Men Vote?’, Manitoba, 28 January 1914
This funny and cutting women’s rights speech was delivered at a mock parliament in Manitoba, Canada in 1914. The whole event was conceived to ask the intentionally provocative question, ‘Should men vote?’ with female delegates grappling with male foibles and weaknesses as they worked through the issue.
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Nellie McLung was the star of the event, and the most famous of the Canadian suffragists. She was also a prolific author, and was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta from 1921-26 .
Man is made for something higher and better than voting ... Men were made to support families ... Shall I call man away from the useful plow and harrow to talk loud on street corners about things which do not concern him? Politics unsettle men, and unsettled men mean unsettled bills—broken furniture, and broken vows—and divorce ... When you ask for the vote you are asking me to break up peaceful, happy homes—to wreck innocent lives.
The full speech is here. Women in Manitoba were granted the vote in January 1916, the first province in Canada to do so.
Margaret Sanger, The Morality of Birth Control, New York City, 18 November 1921
Margaret Sanger was a nurse and birth control activist who coined the term birth control, opened the first birth control clinics, and started organisations that later became Planned Parenthood. That makes her a polarising figure in today’s USA, where abortion remains such divisive issue, but she was a true feminist and a brave one, a voice for working class women struggling from pregnancy to pregnancy. But her legacy is further complicated by the fact she preached eugenics, and even spoke at an event organised by Women of the Ku Klux Klan. This article debunks some of the more extreme accusations leveled against Margaret Sanger, but there’s no doubt her views on race would be unacceptable today.
This speech at Park Theatre in new York City on 18th of November is her most famous.
We stand on the principle that Birth Control should be available to every adult man and woman. We believe that every adult man and woman should be taught the responsibility and the right use of knowledge. We claim that woman should have the right over her own body and to say if she shall or if she shall not be a mother, as she sees fit. We further claim that the first right of a child is to be desired. While the second right is that it should be conceived in love, and the third, that it should have a heritage of sound health.
If you read the whole speech, you’ll get a sense of Sanger’s belief that some people are intrinsically inferior.
We desire to stop at its source the disease, poverty and feeble-mindedness and insanity which exist today, for these lower the standards of civilization and make for race deterioration.
Dolores Ibárruri, ¡No Pasarán!, They Shall Not Pass!, Battle of Madrid, 1936
A famous speech from a woman known as ‘The Passionflower’, who was a trade union leader, writer, and Communist Party politician during the fascist takeover of Spain. This 1936 speech became legendary, a woman in the field inspiring her troops, almost reminiscent of the very non-communist Elizabeth 1 at Tilbury !
The Communist Party calls you to arms. We especially call upon you, workers, farmers, intellectuals to assume your positions in the fight to finally smash the enemies of the Republic and of the popular liberties. Long live the Popular Front! Long live the union of all anti-fascists! Long live the Republic of the people! The Fascists shall not pass! THEY SHALL NOT PASS!
Jessie Street, Is it to back to the kitchen?, ABC broadcast , Sydney, 1944
Jessie Street was a pioneering feminist in Australia, who fought for women's rights, equal pay, reproductive rights, as well as indigenous rights during an amazing 81 year life. She was one of the activists behind the changes in the 1967 referendum.
Dr Lenore Coltheart was a guest on the Speakola podcast in episode 21, talking about Street’s landmark ‘Is it to be back to the kitchen’ broadcast in 1944, as she prepared Australia for a new world in which women sought and expected to embraced as part of the postwar workforce.
Do you remember that one of the first things the Nazis did when they came to power was to put women out of the professions, out of the factories? They barred the doors of the universities to all but a few women and they severely limited women’s opportunities for any kind of higher education; by these methods the Nazis forced women back to the home – back to the kitchen.
I can’t help thinking that if any attempt is made here after the war to force women back to the home, it will be proof that fascism still has strong roots in Australia.
Women should not be forced to return to the home, but they should be free to return there if they wish to. I don’t like what’s implied in the suggestion that women will have to he forced back into the home – that’s a slight not only on home life, but also on the work of bearing and rearing children, don’t you agree?
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1950 Margaret Chase Smith, speech against McCarthyism, US Senate
Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman to run for president at a major party’s convention, when she contested for the Republican Party nomination in 1964. She was a member of both the House of Representative, and the US Senate, and he most enduring speech was made as Senator for Maine in 1950. At the height of the ‘Red Scare’ and fellow Republican Senator Joe McCarthy’s campaign to name and shame communist sympathisers, Chase stood up and called out the witch-hunts as unAmerican:
You can read the full Senate floor speech here:
I speak as a Republican. I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States Senator. I speak as an American.
The United States Senate has long enjoyed worldwide respect as the greatest deliberative body in the world. But recently that deliberative character has too often been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity ….
Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism:
The right to criticize;
The right to hold unpopular beliefs;
The right to protest;
The right of independent thought.
The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs. Who of us doesn’t? Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own. Otherwise thought control would have set in.
If you’re a paid subscriber you can leave comments. Tell me your nominations for famous speeches by a woman, each decade 1920-70
Shirley Chisholm, speech on gender equality, 1969
Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman to run for President when she took a tilt against Nixon in 1972. But in 1968 she was the first African American woman to win a seat in Congress.
Leaving aside her political courage, she was also an amazing speaker. She had an incredible voice. She almost seems to lisp on some words, and it’s so different and arresting, and there’s such beautiful pacing and articulation to her speeches. She’s funny and poetic. To my mind she deserves to be ranked in the Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr, Obama bracket of greatest orators of all time.
You have to listen to this. Shirley Chisholm in a late 1960s speech on gender roles (I’m trying to nail down the date and location). It’s also up on Speakola with transcript.
I think it’s very very important that all of us in this country today, regardless of our particular sex, realise that we’ve got to come together, in order to make the republic work for everyone, regardless of race, creed or colour.
St Paul said a long time ago, ‘let the woman learn in silence’ Aeschylus, the great Greek philosopher said ‘woman it is thy place to keep quiet, and stay within doors’.
And just one hundred years ago, Nietzsche, the German philosopher said, ‘when a woman is inclined to learning, there is something wrong with her sexual apparatus’.
Though of course all of these pronouncements were made by gentlemen, so we can understand, but I want to say to you very seriously, that the time has come in America when we must try to overcome the traditional feelings and attitudes towards the sexes in this country.
Because we have been prescribed roles for a very long time in our country. And we now know today, very sincerely and forthrightly that our nation needs the utilisation of its best brain power, whether said brain power can be found in men and /or women.
Here’s another clip of the great Shirley Chisholm in action, declaring her presidential bid in 1972.
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I aimed to have a podcast episode ready for International Women’s Day today, but have fallen just short. It’s going to be one of the best eps yet. Professor Clare Wright talking about the life of Vida Goldstein, who in 1903 became the first woman in the British Empire to contest a seat in a national parliament (she lost). It’s such a brilliant chat, and gave me a rollicking lesson in suffragist history, 1880-1920. Subscribe here to get it as soon as its released.
I’ll do six more great speeches by great women for Part 2 1970-2023 which is hopefully out tomorrow.
Best wishes and solidarity with the sisters!
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Over on my personal writing blog, I challenged myself to do one last backflip on the trampoline before I retire due to ill knees.