Need a reminder that your voice matters? Check out 21 quotes from women who spoke up.
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History is full of women who bravely fought to make a difference in the world.

As activists, journalists, or fighters, women have stepped up to combat social injustice and defend their freedoms. Others worked their way into “boys clubs,” helping to pave the way for others to follow.

A Woman Suffrage Party parade through New York in 1915.  Image by Paul Thompson/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images.


But while women have always been working toward making the world a better place, their voices were not always heard or acknowledged. And some of these women still do not get the recognition that they deserve in classroom history textbooks, even though their contributions are undeniable. All of them are inspirations.

Here are 21 quotes from just a few notable female leaders about how to make a better world:

1. “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” — Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Journalist, suffragist and progressive activist Ida Wells Barnett (1862-1931). Photo by R. Gates/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Wells-Barnett was an important African-American journalist and activist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s. She also marched in Washington, D.C., in 1913 for universal suffrage.

2. “I hate wars and violence but if they come then I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.” — Nancy Wake

Code-named "The White Mouse," Wake was one of the most decorated Allied servicewomen of World War II. She joined the resistance when the war broke out, and is credited with saving the lives of hundreds of Allied soldiers and downed airmen.

3. “Don’t sit and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” — Sarah Breedlove

Breedlove, who later became known as Madam C.J. Walker, was one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire, making her fortune by creating a line of specialized hair products for African-American hair.

4. "Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." — Mother Teresa

Charity worker Mother Teresa seen in her hospital around the time she was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress. Photo by Mark Edwards/Keystone Features/Getty Images.

The founder of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to helping the poor, Mother Teresa is one of the most important humanitarians of the 20th century. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and was canonized as a saint in 2016.

5. “When you find a burden in belief or apparel, cast it off.” — Amelia Bloomer

A 19th-century women’s rights activist, Bloomer helped transform the way American women dressed, advocating for corsets and petticoats to be abandoned and shorter skirts with pants underneath. She also established one of the first newspapers written, edited and published by women: The Lily.

6. “If it is true that men are better than women because they are stronger, why aren’t our sumo wrestlers in the government?” — Kishida Toshiko

A writer and women’s rights activist, Toshiko is also known as Japan’s first female orator. She is famous for her “Daughters in Boxes” speech that criticized a family system that confined women at home.

7. “You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right.” — Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was detained for 15 years. Photo by Drn/Getty Images.

Activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was a vocal critic of Myanmar’s dictator U Ne Win, and she initiated a nonviolent movement toward achieving democracy and human rights in her country. More recently, she led the National League for Democracy to a majority win in the country’s first openly contested election in 25 years.

8. “Energy rightly applied can accomplish anything.” — Nellie Bly

Elizabeth Jane Cochran, who wrote under the pen name Nellie Bly, was a brave American journalist known for her investigative and undercover reporting, including her 1887 expose on the treatment of asylum patients at Blackwell’s Island.

9. “To the wrongs that need resistance, To the right that needs assistance, To the future in the distance, Give yourselves.” — Carrie Chapman Catt

She was an activist instrumental in the suffrage movement to get women the right to vote. Chapman Catt also served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and founded the League of Women Voters.

10. “Truth is powerful and it prevails.” — Sojourner Truth

Abolitionist and feminist Sojourner Truth. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Born a slave, Sojourner Truth became a popular spokesperson for abolition and women’s rights. She is renowned for her “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech.

11. “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” — Marie Curie

We all know that Curie is a famous physicist who conducted important research on radioactivity that led to the discovery of polonium and radium. But did you know that she was twice the winner of a Nobel Prize? She also advanced women's role in the scientific community.

12. “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” — Maya Angelou

Angelou was an acclaimed American poet, actress, writer, and activist. She is perhaps best known for her memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

13. "We will not have failure — only success and new learning." — Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria ascended to the throne just weeks after her 18th birthday and went on to have the second-longest reign of any queen in British history. Historians often associate her reign with imperialism but also with cultural expansion and advances in industry, science, and technology.

14. “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” — Malala Yousafzai

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

Yousafzai, an advocate for girl’s education, made headlines after she survived being shot in 2012 by the Taliban. The incident didn’t stop her from continuing to speak out for education. In 2014, she became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

15. “You must come to terms with the reality that nothing outside ourselves, be it people or things, is actually responsible for our happiness.” — Mary Edwards Walker

Walker was a doctor at a time when female physicians were rare, was arrested several times for dressing in men’s clothing, and became a vocal women’s rights activist after the Civil War.  

During the Civil War, she worked as an assistant surgeon and was captured by the Confederates. She became the first and only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor — though Congress tried to take it back in 1917. She refused to return the medal, proudly wearing it until her death, and President Jimmy Carter reinstated her honor in 1977.

16. “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” — Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks is fingerprinted by police Lt. D.H. Lackey in Montgomery, Alabama, on Feb. 22, 1956. Image by Gene Herrick/AP Photo.

One of the most famous civil rights activists is Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in 1955. She was a key player in initiating the civil rights movement in the United States.

17. "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."— Eleanor Roosevelt

First lady Roosevelt was also a writer and humanitarian. She is credited with changing the role of the first lady through her active participation in American politics.

18. "Believe in yourself, learn, and never stop wanting to build a better world." — Mary McLeod Bethune

Bethune was one of the most prominent female African-American educators and civil rights activists at the start of the 20th century. She was known as the "First Lady of the Struggle."

19. “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” — Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2005. Photo by Olivier Laban-Mattei/AFP/Getty Images.

As president of Liberia, Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state in Africa. She also received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

20. “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.” — Helen Keller

Keller, who lost her sight and hearing when she was 19 months old, was an educator, a leading humanitarian, and one of the co-founders of the ACLU.

21. “If you don’t have an idea that materializes and changes a person’s life, then what have you got? You have talk, research, telephone calls, meetings, but you don’t have a change in the community.” Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Shriver was an advocate in the worldwide struggle for rights and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities. She founded the Special Olympics in 1968.

Whether they were marching for civil rights, resisting political oppression, or advancing women’s position in the workplace, these women — and many others — fought the good fight.

The 1911 Solvay conference in Brussels. Marie Curie is the only woman in the photograph. Image by Benjamin Couprie/Wikimedia Commons.

They remind us that change is possible. Their words continue to resonate and inspire today.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

This story was originally published on The Mighty and originally appeared here on 07.21.17


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