Women have always had a way with words. This month we celebrate four women who used the poetic power of their prose to advance the feminist cause.
Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910)
Click to read some of Howe’s better-known poetry
Julia Ward Howe was a champion of social change, writing both songs and poems about the Civil War and the suffrage movement. Her life’s work demonstrates the similarities between songs and poems, as she used both to advocate for change. Howe’s first two volumes of poetry were published anonymously, without the knowledge of her husband. When he discovered her work, he disapproved of both Howe writing as well as the content that she was writing about. Her progressive illustrations of women’s role in society created a rift between her and her husband, resulting in their separation in 1852. However, she continued to work for women’s equality, helping to found the New England Suffrage Association in 1868.
Anne Spencer (1882-1975)
Anne Spencer was one of the most prominent poets during the Harlem Renaissance. Her poems spanned the topics of race, religion, and gender. She was the first African American female poet to be published in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry in 1973. Spencer writes about women through the use of modernist poetic structure, making her a pioneer in both content and form. In poems like “Letter to My Sister” and “Before the Feast at Shushan,” Spencer illustrates the complexities of male dominance and female resistance to that dominance.
Marie Ponsot (1921-2019)
Marie Ponsot was an award-winning poet as well as a single mother of seven children. She studied at St. Joseph’s College for Women and Columbia University. Ponset’s work was influenced by both her education as well as her experiences with motherhood, publishing poems like “Anti-Romantic” in 1958 and “Among Women” in 2002. Marie was elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2010.
“Poetry is priceless … a way of keeping yourself feeling rich and civilized even when you’re quite poor.”
Megan Falley has published three collections of poems focusing on her experiences both as a woman and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Alongside her published work, Falley is also a spoken word poet, performing all over the country. Adapting to the modern landscape of literature today, Falley has a large online presence, posting poems as well as videos of her emotionally vulnerable performances on her Tumblr account. Her poems often challenge gender constructs throughout history and today, as she does in one of her most famous poems, “Ode to Red Lipstick.”
*You may be wondering why we haven’t provided Falley’s date of birth, as we have for all other women featured in this newsletter. Despite her artistic success and prominence in the field of spoken word poetry, there is limited information available about this acclaimed poet. Indeed, Wikipedia doesn’t even contain an entry for her — like so many other prominent women it has overlooked. The dominant online encyclopedia itself acknowledges its gender bias problem, excusing it as a reflection of our broader patriarchal society. This dearth of representation is one reason we continue to send out our newsletter.
About the Feminist Four
The Feminist Four is a monthly newsletter that describes four ways feminists leveraged their cultural and political influence to fight for women’s equality in the US. It is part of the LWV-BHNPS’ ongoing Songs of the Suffragists Project, which includes a book, documentary film, and discussion guide. . Support our project by buying our book. And please reply by email if you would like help presenting a virtual Songs of the Suffragists program in your community!
Did You Know?
You can share this newsletter on your own social media accounts by clicking the links below. Please reply to let us know whether you find our Songs of the Suffragists project interesting and useful.