Amazing Women by Helen Parker (1)
c. 1820 - 1913
The slave who escaped and helped hundreds of other slaves to escape
I escaped from slavery in the south of the USA. I then helped hundreds of other slaves to escape to the north of the USA and Canada. I also freed hundreds of slaves who wanted to fight in the Civil War.
My parents were slaves for the Brodess family in Maryland, USA. I was the fifth of nine children. At the age of 6, I started work as a nursemaid for another family. After that I had to work in the woods and fields. Our owners did not think of us as people. For them, we were like animals or machines. If we did something wrong, they hit us or punished us in horrible ways.
In 1831, at the age of 11, I started to do the same work as the adult slaves. Every day we had to work for many hours in the fields. Around this time, I received an injury, which I never forgot. I refused to stop a slave who was escaping. The slave's owner threw a metal weight at the slave, but it hit me on the head. It hurt a lot and this injury gave me headaches for the rest of my life.
In 1849, I was brave and tried to escape. I was married by then, but my marriage was very unhappy and I hated the thought of another year of slavery. Two of my brothers agreed to come with me. We wanted to reach the north of the USA, where slavery was illegal. I could live there as a free woman.
We made good progress towards the north, but then we heard some bad news. Our owner was offering $300 to anyone who caught us. My brothers became frightened and we decided to return to Maryland. We were punished when we returned, but I still wanted to escape.
A short time later, I escaped again. This time I went alone. I travelled at night along quiet roads and paths. Some kind people helped me on the way. They gave me food and a place to sleep. Finally, I arrived in the city of Philadelphia in the north. The journey was long and difficult, but it felt wonderful to be free at last.
In Philadelphia, I got a job and began to earn money. I missed my parents and my brothers and sisters. I was free and I wanted my family to be free, too. Maybe I could help them to escape?
In 1850, I received some bad news. My niece and her daughters were in danger. Their owner wanted to sell them and they didn't want to go to different families. I decided to return to Maryland to free them. I had to help them to escape. We travelled at night and used the stars to find our way to the north.
After helping my niece and her daughters, I helped many other slaves to escape. I offered to help my husband, John Tubman, too, but he didn't want to leave the south. He didn't want to be with me any more, so our marriage ended.
Soon, a new law made things a lot more difficult for me. It became illegal to help a slave to escape in the USA. I had to find a new route - to Canada, where slavery was illegal.
In 1857, I went on a very special journey to help my parents. They weren't slaves any more, but their life in the south was very difficult. They were very happy to see me again and wanted to go with me to Canada. Our journey was very slow and difficult because my parents were old. We had a big celebration when we finally arrived in Ontario, Canada.
In 1861, the American Civil War started. The Confederates from the south wanted slavery to continue. The Unionists from the north wanted slavery to become illegal. I joined the Union Army, which fought for the north. An army captain, James Montgomery, heard about me. He discovered that I helped slaves to escape before the war. And he wanted my help. He wanted slaves to fight for freedom in the Union Army. I took a team of spies to the south and found slaves who wanted to join us. It was dangerous work, but we were very successful. On one trip, 700 slaves agreed to escape and they became soldiers.
On 9th April 1865, the war ended. What could I do with my life now? I decided to fight for equal rights for black people and for women. I spoke at public meetings and I tried to help black people who were poor and old.
In 1896, I bought some land and, in 1903, I gave the land to my church. I wanted the church to start a home for black people who were poor and elderly. In 1908, the home opened for the first time.
As I looked back at my life, I was very proud. I was happy that I helped so many people to find freedom.
The woman who wanted women to be able to vote
I campaigned all my life for equal rights for women.
I started a political group which fought for the vote for women in Britain. After many years of protests, we finally won the right for British women to vote.
When I was born in 1858, women in Britain didn't have the same rights as men. Most women couldn't go to school or university. They were only allowed to work in certain jobs. And they didn't have the right to vote.
I grew up in Manchester in the north of England and I saw many problems every day. Mothers had to bring up children in small, dirty houses. Disease was everywhere because of the terrible conditions. And most women only lived until they were around 50 years old. I knew from a young age that I wanted to improve women's lives.
My parents believed in human rights. They believed that education was a right for women as well as men. In 1873, my parents sent me to school in Paris. They wanted me to get a wider view of the world.
In Paris, I was disappointed to discover that women were still not equal with men after the French Revolution. Action was needed and I returned to England to begin the fight.
In Britain, the political situation was quite unusual. Our ruler was a woman, Queen Victoria. She was a powerful leader, but she wasn't interested in women's rights. Our politicians were all men and they definitely weren't interested in political equality for women.
In 1879, I was surprised to discover a man who was campaigning for women's rights. His name was Richard Pankhurst and he was a lawyer. We shared many of the same beliefs and ideas. We got married and started a family.
For almost 20 years, Richard and I fought for political rights for women. Then, sadly, my dear husband died. My daughters and I were very sad, but we decided to continue our campaign. The two oldest daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, became activists. In 1903, we started the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). It was a group that fought for the right for women to vote. Christabel became one of our bravest leaders. Sylvia was an artist and she designed our posters and signs.
The WSPU organized many public meetings and protests. Sometimes the police arrested our members. Christabel was one of the first to go to prison. When our members were in prison, we protested. And when our members came out of prison, we celebrated in the streets. It was very important to get public attention.
Unfortunately, the government didn't agree with our campaign. We had to take more powerful action. Some of our members began to break the law. They lit fires in buildings and broke windows. Our campaign was a war for these women. For me, it was always a fight for equal rights.
Every time I was arrested, I told the judge. 'We don't want to break laws, we want to make new laws.' But the lawyers and politicians didn't want to listen.
In 1910, Prime Minister Asquith, the government leader, stopped a new law that gave women the vote. We were shocked and angry. On Friday, 18th November, I led a group of women to meet the Prime Minister, but he refused to see us. We started to protest in the street and 100 women were arrested. It was a terrible day. We called it 'Black Friday'.
In 1914 the First World War began and we agreed to stop our campaign. Women were now needed as nurses in hospitals and to work in factories and on farms. In 1917, we started a new group with a new name, The Women's Party. In 1918, the First World War ended. The government realized that women were an important part of the victory in the war.
At last, women were given the right to vote - but only women over 30 years old who owned a home could vote. Any man over 21 could vote. We still didn't have full equality!
After the war, I went to live in the USA, Canada and also Bermuda. In 1926, I returned to England. I wanted to become a politician, but my health wasn't good enough. In 1928, only three weeks before I died, a new law gave women the same right to vote as men. It took much longer than we hoped. But in the end our campaign was successful and at last we won political equality for women.
1870 - 1952
The doctor who discovered a new way to teach children
I was the first woman to get a medical degree in Italy.
I helped children with mental problems to learn. I then created a special method to teach all children. Many schools around the world still use my method.
When I was a little girl, my mother always told me, 'Be kind to others.' Every day, she asked me to make clothes for poor people. We lived in Chiaravalle in Italy and a lot of poor families lived near our home.
Fortunately, my parents had enough money to send me to school. My father had traditional ideas about women. He wanted me to get married and stay at home. So he didn't want me to continue my education after primary school. But my mother was very different and she encouraged me to study.
In 1883, I started at secondary school and after that I went to a technical college. I did well in maths and physics, but later I became very interested in biology. I decided to become a doctor. It wasn't an easy decision to make. Only men studied for medical degrees at that time. Would a medical school accept me?
In 1890, I began a course in science at the University of Rome. I did very well in this degree and at last the university's medical school accepted me. Some of the teachers and students didn't want me to study there. But I worked hard and in 1896, I was the first woman in Italy to become a doctor.
The university had a special hospital for children with mental problems. I wanted to help the children to communicate and to learn. I wanted to improve their lives. But how could I do this? I began to study and give talks about this question.
In 1898, I became a director of a school in Rome for children with mental problems. At that time, people called these children horrible things, such as 'crazy' or 'idiots'. But these children were just different. And they needed to learn in a different way. My teachers and I showed the children what to do. Slowly, we made progress with this practical method. We showed the children simple actions, such as how to eat or wash or play games. The children copied these actions and then we repeated them again and again.
In 1906, the government asked me to work in a different school for very young children from poor families. I changed the classrooms and took away the rows of desks. We used small tables and encouraged the children to play. We created educational toys that the children could touch and feel. They learned by playing.