As it is Women’s History Month, we’ve been thinking about the women who came before us. Those who blazed a trail and made #HerStory, if you will. We investigated, thought about our own part and stories, and landed on one thing: it’s all about community. From communities on the fringe to those at the front and center, women’s groups have long been a part of history.

In 1888, the International Council of Women (ICW) was founded to advocate for women’s rights worldwide. In Texas, Florence Terry Griswold founded the Pan American Roundtable (PART) in 1916 to assist women and child refugees of the Mexican revolution. 50 years later the National Organization of Women (NOW) was founded. Fast forward to the 21st Century and you have The Women’s March. These are just several of thousands of advocacy communities women have fostered throughout the ages.

Women of the world have long been uniting to uplift one another and achieve common goals. Getting the word out was an important part of this unification, both to encourage membership into the sisterhood as well as share ideological perspectives. In the early 1900s suffragettes Nell Richardson and Alice Burke took to the road to get their message out. They traveled in the “Golden Flyer” (a yellow two-seater car) armed with, among other things, a typewriter and a cat.

Getting the word out has changed. Remember bullhorns and flyers? As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” What does this mean? In the words of McLuhan, “It is impossible to understand social and cultural changes without a knowledge of the workings of media.”

Clearly, women’s groups have this knowledge and social media is the new Golden Flyer.

There’s a Reason for #Grandmas on Twitter

People love to share stories about their parents and grandparents on Twitter. You can read some of the best ones thanks to #grandmas.

Sure, our matriarchs can make us laugh, but they also share their stories with us. Their trials, challenges, and experiences, both good and bad. Knowing about the trailblazers who came before us is not only empowering but can inform our next choices, personally and politically.

In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “Step out of the history that is holding you back. Step into the new story you are willing to create.”

Social Media and Activism

Activists across the world continue to embrace social media to influence change. However, hashtags, which first debuted over a decade ago on Twitter have rocketed social issues to the top of our feeds.

Hashtag activism on social media platforms continues to lead to widespread discussion. From #BringBackOurGirls (used on Twitter over three million times, 56% of uses by women) and the Trump-inspired #DressLikeAWoman.

Social media “democratized feminist activism,” and the results are more than “likes.” No longer decried as “slacktivism” (or armchair activism), voices of isolated and marginalized people throughout the world are being heard.

This social media state-of-affairs got me thinking about some of my favorite female historical figures. How could they have utilized social media platforms to their advantage? What platform would best suit their needs?

Dorothy Parker, Writer & Civil Rights Activist (1893 – 1967)

About: Known for her rapier wit and satire, Parker was a poet, novelist, playwright, magazine contributor, book reviewer and movie critic. She considered herself quite liberated from the Victorian Era’s classism and championed the worker. Her progressive politics are overshadowed by her one-liners such as, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

Platform: Twitter

Why: Twitter’s character count would not be a daunting factor to Mrs. Parker. When tasked with reviewing Jack Kerouac’s novel The Subterraneans, her 205 character summary of the Beat Generation was biting. It is as follows, “I think as perhaps you have discerned, that if Mr. Kerouac and his followers did not think of themselves as so glorious, as intellectual as all hell and very Christlike, I should not be in such a bad humor.”

Getting the word out: Parker’s politics became more and more important to her as she grew older. She proudly declared herself a communist during the House of Un-American Activities’  investigation into the influence of Communism on the motion picture industry. In addition, she helped found the Screen Actors Guild and the Anti-Nazi League. Finally, she was deeply supportive of Spanish loyalists during the Spanish Civil War and famously protested the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. In her will, she left the majority of her estate to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

She might have posted:  You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.

See more @MsDorothyParker

Zelda Fitzgerald, Author & Artist (1900 – 1948)

About: Zelda is perhaps more well known for being a socialite and her husband’s muse than a writer. Her rocky marriage, “debaucherous” behavior, and struggles with mental health are also notorious. Sadly her creativity and artistic endeavors have not received the same attention. Her semi-autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz, was not well received at publication but has gone on to be studied (and adored) by feminist scholars. What’s more, her artwork enjoys a similar popularity.

Platform: Facebook

Why: Zelda was never able to step out of her husband’s shadow. No small task, indeed. Zelda could have used Facebook to continue sharing her about-town exploits as well as provided her an immediate audience. Writing books and painting take time, time that Zelda was unable to make for herself. Additionally, the promotion of this kind of creative work depends on a third party. With Facebook, Zelda would be independent of outmoded decisionmakers.

Getting the word out: Since Ancient Egypt, women’s mental health issues have been chalked up to hysteria. Zelda, in and out of mental institutions for over a decade, could have shed light on this so-called “diagnosis.” It was only around the 1960s that women’s treatment at the hands of (mainly male) psychiatrists began to be discussed. It wasn’t until 1963, when Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar was published (under a pseudonym), that any woman had written about treatment of mental health in the 1950s.

She might have posted: Excuse me for being so intellectual. I know you would prefer something nice and feminine and affectionate.

Stay up-to-date on posts about Zelda

Frida Kahlo, Artist (1907 – 1954)

About: Frida Kahlo is well known for her self portraits, many of which reflect her health struggles, such as “The Broken Column,”  but she is also one of the few women artists also known for her social activism. She was both a socialist, feminist, and a trailblazer for the LGBTQ community. Oftentimes, she used her art to share her political beliefs. One example is “Marxism will give health to the sick,” a painting in which she shared her support of the Mexican Communist Party.

Platform: Instagram

Why: Simply put, a picture says a thousand words. As a visual artist and activist, the medium is ripe for Frida’s work. With over 400 million active Instagram users across the world and myriad trending political hashtags, Frida would make her mark.

Getting the word out: Frida Kahlo is known as one of Mexico’s greatest artists she “was not only an openly bisexual feminist, making her way ahead of her time, but also a communist and Mexican nationalist who intertwined personal experience, ideology, and cultural commentary in her art and lifestyle.” Kahlo’s art reflects every facet of her life without apology and Instagram would be perfect for her to use as both a political and advocacy platform.

She might have posted:

Self Portrait Along the Borderline Between Mexico and the United States, 1932

In Detroit, Michigan with Diego as he works on his mural. Longing for La Casa Azul and it’s beauty. However, I am pretending to be a proper American woman. No, I’m not. #mexico #politicsofwomanhood #artistislife

Dorothy Arzner, Filmmaker (1897 – 1979)

About: From the 1920s to the early 1940s, Dorothy Arzner was the only female director operating within Hollywood’s studio system. This time period, deemed the Golden Age of Cinema, saw the rise of such acting greats as Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Charlie Chaplin. She began as a (terrible) stenographer, then scriptwriter, script girl, and eventually a film editor with an excellent reputation.

It is debated who introduced her to William C. De Mille, famed Hollywood power player and film director. Some say it was her father, some say a girlfriend, and some say the head of her ambulance unit during the war.  Regardless, he was her ticket to the show.

Platform: LinkedIn

Why: Connections. As a woman who shattered a glass ceiling, LinkedIn would have allowed Arzner to connect with other women. Maybe she could have even helped them up the ladder. As a pioneer in the field, she could set the tone as a thought leader. Communication with peers, pros, and potential patrons could help her further influence the industry. This could have led to a change in the country’s visual narrative.

Getting the word out: No doubt Arzner would want to share her acumen as a filmmaker and trailblazer. Arzner was on the cutting edge when it came to new ideas. Her editing techniques changed the industry. Additionally, Arzner invented the “boom” microphone. When working on a film with Clara Bow, a silent film actress, Arzner had to help Clara learn how to make the transition into “talkies.” How did she do it? Arzner had the microphone attached to a rod and had it hung above the actress, granting her to freedom to move about at will. Today, we know this invention as the boom mic.

She might have posted:

From Silence to Sound – Sharing the Voice in Film

The boom microphone has made the transition from silent film to “talkies” a reality. @WilliamCdeMille no more hiding microphones in large planters with your actors gathered around them. Let them act – not stand around smelling the roses. How does it work? Why should you use it? #Talkies #SilentFilm

Elizabeth Keckley, Entrepreneur (1818 – 1907)

About: Elizabeth Keckley was born into slavery and secured her freedom in 1855. She went on to build a successful dressmaking career in Washington D.C. In fact, one of her clients included Mary Todd Lincoln. Though black entrepreneurship has a long and rich history, it’s “Golden Age” began in the early 1900s. It was during this time that black women, notably Madame C.J. Walker, began starting businesses in the beauty industry.

Platform: Google My Business or Pinterest

Why: Elizabeth Keckley was well known in D.C.’s free back community. Her contributions to the lives of African Americans post-Civil War included founding and then serving as president of the Ladies’ Freedmen and Soldier’s Relief Association. It was also after the war she wrote and published her book Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. It was this book that led to a strained relationship between Elizabeth Keckley and Mary Todd Lincoln and the white community. The fallout cost Keckley dearly and she was unable to earn a living after the publication. 

Getting the word out:  Keckley’s financial success hinged on her relationship with D.C.’s white community. Had she been able to promote her talents and reach a wider audience she may have had more opportunities. In addition to her dressmaking acumen, Elizabeth could have shared her work as an advocate for African Americans.

She might have posted:

Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House

I have often been asked to write my life, as those who know me know that it has been an eventful one. At last I have acceded to the importunities of my friends, and have hastily sketched some of the striking incidents that go to make up my history. My life, so full of romance, may sound like a dream to the matter-of-fact reader, nevertheless, everything I have written is strictly true; much has been omitted, but nothing has been exaggerated. In writing as I have done, I am well aware that I have invited criticism; but before the critic judges harshly, let my explanation be carefully read and weighed. (Excerpted from Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.)

The Voices We Could Have Heard

Though the women we love and admire and who blazed trails for us did not have the mediums in which they could fully share their #HerStory, we can read about them and learn from their genius. The internet is a platform on which all women may stand. Social media is just one way HerStory can be made – and it is, every day.