Introducing The Radical Women’s History Project

If you follow me on Twitter, you might know that each morning I do a series of “this day in women’s history” tweets, marked with the #wmnhist tag. What you might not know is that each morning I open ten different tabs in a window to comb through pages and pages of HIStory to find the couple of morsels pertaining to women that wind up on my Twitter feed.

I started doing this Twitter thing a little less than a year ago and I didn’t initially mean for it to be a regular thing. Frankly, I looked up women’s history for myself on days I felt I could go no further, claw no harder against overwhelming inequalities in their overlapping, insidious forms that just keep popping up all over. I looked up the lives of the women before me because I needed to know that women before had faced obstacles seemingly as insurmountable (and most often much more so!) and come out triumphant. I looked up the lives of the women before me because I needed their sisterhood, their guidance, their solidarity, their example.

The more I did this, the more I realized how much of my history as a woman I’d been denied – I would have seen myself as so much stronger so much sooner had I been taught about the goddess religions, the matrilineal cultures, about the female warriors and peace makers, business people and inventors, healers, scribes, and artists. The more I was nourished by my history, the more I realized sharing the lives and voices and stories the patriarchy wanted silenced and disappeared was a revolutionary act. (And no, this is not an original thought – reappearing women’s history has been a feminist project for years. There’s just nothing like your own mind-blowing, wonderful and sometimes enraging “AHA!”)

BUT. I’ve realized this year of hunting down women’s history facts that the “women” in that phrase are most often white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied, and Western. Just as women have been mostly left out of the broad discourse we call “history,” women of color, indigenous, queer, trans, disabled and non-Western women (and women living within all the intersection thereof) have been further marginalized, mostly left out of or tossed in as an afterthought in feminist attempts to add women to existing history.* This is as damaging as leaving women out entirely, servicing kyriarchy by silencing the very voices deemed most threatening and marginalizing the women most threatened due to that fact. These women, ALL women, have a valiant and complicated history – one that women and men of all identities would be better served by knowing.

All these words are to say that the ten sites I go to a day that celebrate mostly privileged white women don’t cut it. I want a real women’s history. I need it and so do a lot of other women and men. It shouldn’t be radical to want ALL women to get equal and deserved credit for adding to this planet we share but it is right now so I’m calling this the Radical Women’s History Project. What that means is that every day this year, starting on January 1st, 2011, I’m scouring the internet and books and any other source I can find to chronicle the lives and the accomplishments of the world’s women, explicitly centering women of color, indigenous, queer, trans, disabled, and non-Western women, and I’m posting them here for whomever would like to use them.

Let’s face it – this isn’t going to be easy. For one, most of the easily available sources  focus on that white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied, Western woman. And two, perhaps more importantly, the woman spearheading this project claims most of those privileges in the previous sentence – I only speak one other language (Spanish, badly) and my privileges has certainly made me blind to some sources that are right there in front of me. So I need your help. Send me sites that chronicle daily women’s history. In whatever language, I’ll get it translated. Send me one fact on one date with a source. Go do some digging in your library and send me book titles. Tell your professor there’s this obsessed girl on the internets doing this thing and ask if they could please share their research. Ask your mom and grandma and your great-grandma to reach back and think of the women who stood out in their lives.

I believe with all my heart Gerda Lerner, a pioneer of women’s history, when she says “women’s history is the primary tool for women’s emancipation.” And I believe that means ALL women and this collective history is not only the key to women’s emancipation but a primary resource for all men and women and those who don’t identify with this arbitrary thing called gender in our journey toward whole humanity. So, I invite you, let’s see where this journey takes us, together.


* There are wonderful notable exceptions that I know about in English, mostly by feminists and womanists of color. Alice Walker’s In Search of My Mother’s Garden is a beautiful examination of not only Black women’s history but what an effect searching for and discovering one’s feminine lineage has on the searcher. Audre Lorde also explored Black women’s history, in her poetry and while sorting out her relationship to her mother in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Paula Gunn Allen wrote the feminine back into Native American history with her book Sacred Hoop: Rediscovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions.



Filed under Feminism, Herstory, RWHP

31 responses to “Introducing The Radical Women’s History Project

  1. Hi Shelby –
    I love the idea and passion behind this! Forgotten HERstory of the everyday American woman has long been an interest of mine, dating back to middle school when I did a genealogy project.

    Here’s a list of books you might find useful:
    “Who Cooked the Last Supper?: The Women’s History of the World” by Rosalind Miles
    “The African-American Century” by Henry Louis Gates Jr and Cornel West
    “American Women: Their Lives In Their Words” by Doreen Rappaport
    “Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey” by Lillian Schlissel
    “No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States” by Nancy Cott
    Scholastic’s Encyclopedia of Women in the United States by Shelia Keenan
    and anything by Tanya Stone.

    Good luck Sister!

  2. Amen, sister. “Women’s history is the primary tool for women’s emancipation.” – Gerda Lerner

    That is what I firmly believe and why I started my blog. And yet, I feel the same pressure and find the same phenomenon even when working in a minority subject-matter field – I only have access to what was saved (and ironically, what was saved was selected by men). I have to do immense digging to find credible resources to write my entries on women outside of Western history. But I also know this is the limit of my geography. If I could take sabbatical and get funding, I could go to Africa or Asia and get into their archives. As you rightly charge, this is a global team-effort. It’s out there, we just have to find it!

  3. I love this, Shelby, and I definitely plan to help! There aren’t any great sources for specifically for women and disability history, per se, so it’s kind of a matter of digging. Most of the disability history is written through a male lens, even men of color’s history. So frustrating! I’m thinking I should write a book on women’s disability history someday…

    Oh! And I just realized I should give a heads-up on this to an old English prof of mine who has spent her life studying women’s diaries. Will do!

    Also, this week is not good for me but I’ll gather some stuff together and get back to you soon.

    xo -Danine

  4. Bridget

    Do you have the book “Feminist Theory Reader” by Carole McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim? It has great writings about women of all backgrounds.

  5. You’re the shit, Shelby. I am so excited to hear about the direction you’re going with this project!

  6. Awesome project!

    If you like, I’d be happy to chip in regularly with some women’s history in art and literature. Those are two of my favorite non-work-related geeks, and having an excuse to revisit and dig into them more often would be a total joy.

  7. Hi Shelby!

    Get yourself a Slingshot organizer ( and find some from past years too, if you can, to inspire you. There’s all kinds of radical history included on each day – not just women’s, but inclusive of women, and I have learned so much from it! I have moved to an electronic planner, but I *really* miss my daily dose of slingshot. The essays are usually phenomenal too!

    That’s my best idea – rock out!


  8. Good luck with your project, Shelby. I love your site!

    All the best,

    Tom Degan

  9. Gabrielle

    You should come check out the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Park Slope. We’d love to have you!

  10. Serina Zapf

    Thank you so much for this Shelby! Reading your post introducing the project nearly brought me to tears. I didn’t really realize how deeply I was effected by not hearing the stories that reflected my identity until I took art history at a community college this last semester. I was aware of the inequalities and intellectually could discuss the effects and act against oppression, but then one day in class I was wondering why I was so down and exhausted. Bam. It hit me. Where are the stories of my sisters?

    So! I’ll see what I can dig up for ya and see if I can get some art history contributions in here. One book that has really been a great source for me to find a different narrative of 20th century art than the usual cannon is Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century by Richard J. Powell. I was happy to find, that at least compared with the conventional canon, that a lot of women were included.


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  12. What a great project! I know Shirley Chisholm is already on your radar, but I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage you (and your blog’s fans) to read the whole of “Unbought & Unbossed” if you haven’t already. I just read it last year and spent the whole time wondering where she had been my whole life! Unfortunately, we know the answer to that…..

    Good luck!

  13. rcturk

    “Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in US Women’s History,” ed. Vicki Ruiz and Ellen DuBois

  14. Wow! This is so exciting! I’m a History Major in the UK, but as I specialise in military history (it always shocks my tutors to know that a GIRL wants to look at wars…), no specific examples come to mind just yet.

    I will definitely have a good old dig around, though – I’m sure I remember some stuff vaguely… but only very vaguely. Shall email/stop by again when I find them! 🙂

  15. Dear most feisty Shelby: As i know you know, my generation of feminists has gotten a bad rap for only seeing white middle class women (aint true- shall i say more) and I and many others been doing this work for decades. So now I feel disappeared. Anyway- the book I edited “The American Women’s Almanac: An Inspiring and Irreverent History” will delight you — on the grounds you’re searching for. “The World Split Open” is a collection of women’s poetry with historical introductions- I write about the blues women as early 20th century poets. I love the series “Women’s America,” (Refocusing the Past) by Linda Kerber and Jane De Hart. I’ll send you a big long list and applaud as you keep letting the whole world know these amazing stories about all women. My work is American, but I’ll dig up names from Africa and Latin America. You can spend decades drinking it in. Much love. xox

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  17. Aya

    New Zealand has a long list of women who were the first to do things, so it might be worth looking up some NZ history.

  18. Shelby, I declare you next in a wonderful line of historian activists. May this category of activists long thrive! I see you needing to double your income in order to collect and store the wonderful books that are in your immediate future! (The internet has its limitations, just as books do). Or am I just projecting onto you my love of books? But I know you love them too!

    Long-term, you might eventually want to enlist a team more formally — by which I mean having an historian for each topic (Iranian women’s history, for example, or Korean women’s history) agree to send in their items gradually over time…The women’s history listserv would be a great place to recruit people, or, at the very least announce your project.


    • Lucy, you know you’re not projecting a love of books onto me – just since releasing this project I’ve added 15 to the ever growing list on a sticky note on my desktop!

      There’s a women’s history listserv?? Um, intro please!!! I truly appreciate your support and advice and know you, as a well respected historian I’m very privileged to know, will be lots of help, as you already have beem. Thanks so much!

  19. love your project. i totally relate to the need to document personal history. more and more, my personal blogging helps me to find my stories — and my womanhood. not easy, given the grip confucius has on chinese culture! but my latest post gave me a chance to sort out my thought on that topic. and i think reading your blog will help me too. thanks you for sharing this. looking forward to reading more!

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  21. Hi Shelby,

    Before you reinvent the wheel, check out my blog post:

  22. Hi Shelby,
    Love your project. A book you’ll find helpful is A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America, by Darlene Clark Hine and Kathleen Thompson.
    I’m an escapee from Lubbock, live in Mexico via California, and I’m a new friend of Courtney Martin — who just spent a week across the estero from us, on the shores of Jaltemba Bay.

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  25. Minor correction: The book by Allen is Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions (not rediscovering).

  26. Pam

    This is a great page for women in medical history…women have made so many strides in medicine…

    Please also don’t forget women in sports…they have been pioneers too! Billie Jean King et al:-)

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE what you’re doing.

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