International Women’s Day: Queer Women in History

todayMarch 8, 2022 65 1

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By Autumn McGowan
Web Content Assistant Manager

International Women’s Day is a global holiday celebrated on March 8th every year. It’s a day to celebrate female-identifying people across the world and reflect on the achievements and accomplishments of the women before us. 

When reflecting on the roles that women have played in history, it’s extremely important to highlight queer women. Although they may or may not have been recognized as queer role models during their time, we can remember them not only for the advances they made in history, film, performance and activism, but for the roles they play as LGBTQI+ icons to this day. 

Read below to learn about just some of the amazing queer women from history!

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was a British nurse who is often called the founder of modern nursing. She served during The Crimean War in Constantinople where she was so disgusted by the conditions that the patients were forced to exist in, that she took it upon herself to vastly improve the sanitation at all of her stations. She was deemed “The Angel of Crimea” by those she looked after and “reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds”, according to  

But her work didn’t stop there. She also established laundry services for her patients as well as a kitchen and a classroom to stimulate the minds of those under her care. 

She changed the way that nurses were viewed during her lifetime and reformed the healthcare system in ways that are still extremely impactful to this day. 

Marsha P. Johnson 

Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) was an American Black trans activist and a powerful voice for the under-represented during her lifetime. 

The “P” in her name stood for “Pay it no mind”, which was a motto she adopted in her life to combat the abusive stance against homosexuals and homosexual acts that she faced from society. 

Johnson was a key figure in the Stonewall Riots of 1969, protesting police for shutting down known gay bars and deeming gatherings of homosexuals “disorderly”. She participated in sit-ins, rallies and marches and championed equality and LGBTQ+ rights. 

Johnson founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1973 with Sylvia Rivera to spotlight issues faced by trans people in prison, homeless youths and other marginalized people who weren’t being adequately represented by other LGBT organizations during the time period. 

Ruth Gates

Ruth Gates (1962-2018) was a British marine biologist who dedicated her life to the conservation of coral reefs. 

Gates did cutting-edge research during her lifetime, including work on breeding a “super coral” that had the ability to withstand the alarming temperature increases of the Earth’s oceans due to global warming. 

At the time of her death, she was the director of The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology in Manoa, Hawaii and the first woman to be appointed as President of The International Society for Reef Studies.

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker (1906-1975) was an American-born French performer and a symbol of Black American culture in Paris in the 1920’s. 

She got her start with a road company performing the musical Shuffle Along, before moving to New York City where she performed on Broadway in The Chocolate Dandies. 

She later moved to France where she introduced her famous danse sauvage and became known for performing in a skirt made of bananas. 

When Germany occupied France in 1940, Baker joined the Free French forces, performing for troops in Africa and The Middle East. 

Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie

Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie (1954- present) is a Seminole-Muscogee-Navajo and a professor of Native American studies at UC Davis, a photographer, museum director, curator and visionary. 

She got her Masters of Fine Arts in Studio Arts in 2002 from the University of California, Irvine, and has spent her career thus far using photography as a means to reclaim what it means to be Native American. 

Tsinhnahjinnie creates original works but also often pulls historical photographs of Native Americans taken by white photographers throughout history and reworks them to tackle archival stereotypes.

She has organized several gatherings of Native American and global Indigenous photographers during her career. One of these was “Visual Sovereignty” in 2009 at the C.N Gorman Museum where she is the director. 

She also works in film and video. 

Charlotte Cushman

Charlotte Cushman (1816-1876) was an American born stage performer who was known for taking on both male and female parts in the shows she took part in. 

In fact, she “played more than 30 masculine roles in her lifetime”, according to Brittanica. 

She was considered by many to be one of the great American actresses of her era. 

In 1842, she became one of the only women stage managers at the time at The Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia.

Along with her stage fame, was known for being “scandalous”, setting up a household full of “emancipated women” and promoting a lifestyle of romantic female friendships.  

She used her money and her acclaim to promote the artistic works of her female friends, who she traveled with often. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about these pioneers! Queer women have and continue to mold history in immeasurable ways. These are just some of the few, and the list could go on for days. It’s as important as ever for us to remember these role models and keep them in our hearts as we move forward to shape a more progressive and inclusive world. 

Happy Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day!

Featured Image by KTSW Multimedia

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