March 13th, 2012


“I have a new assignment – I have to give a famous speech” she complains bitterly, kicking her backpack as if the backpack had set the assignment.
Yes, this is traumatic. What on earth are they teaching the kids at school these days? It’s an outrage!
“Well, who do you want to choose then?” I ask, moving things right along.
“I want to choose a famous speech from a woman.” She says as if there were no other choice.

That’s my girl I think to myself. Perfect, my daughter will learn from the strength of a woman who has gone before, a strong, confident woman, inspiring her to be all that she can be. Yes, yes I thought to myself, this will go in the exact direction I am planning for it to go…..

Right, so, famous female speeches famous female speeches………hmmmmm, “Well let’s have a little think about this then.” I stall. The only famous female speech jumping to mind in that moment was Marianne Williamson’s “who are your NOT to shine your light?’…….. (At that point I was happy to shine it or anyone elses,  if I could only find it!)

I fumbled a little, “Why can’t I think of any?” I questioned out loud as I brought to attention the lack of famous female speeches that simply would not jump to mind. So I started listing off famous women in general – beginning with of course Mother Theresa. I find Mother Theresa is a good place to begin for many things. Then there’s all the standouts -Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Cleopatra, Simone de Beauvoir, Marie Antoinette, Georgia O’Keeffe, Princess Dianna, and let’s not forget Lady Gaga and Betty White.

But oddly enough I couldn’t think of any of them having given a famous speech. I mean, of course they said a lot of wise things. I’m sure those who listened learned, and often became better people because of these women, but a recorded speech that is known by many?

Now, no doubt I will get a flurry of comments letting me know a gazillion famous female speeches, so let’s just get it out there now – I don’t know everything. So I did what most other not-so-totally-all-knowing-mothers would do. I told my daughter to jump on line and Google “famous speeches given by women”. And if you have ever googled this you will know that the first site you visit will have a pop up add for “swifers”. Yes because mopping a floor has just so much to do with famous woman…..anyway, I digress. As we scrolled down the list, my daughter asked in somewhat of a moaning tone “Do you know this one? How about this one, ever heard it?”

I had to admit, that no infact I could not recite Marie Curie’s famous speech about the discovery of Radium, nor Sarah Brady’s famous speech on the signing of the “Brady gun control bill.” Nor did I know Katherine O’Regan’s oh so famous speech while she was the New Zealand minister of consumer affairs – I know……..where have I been right?

My daughter’s frustration with this “whole stupid assignment” had maxed out so we called it a day. I had a wrestles sleep that night thinking of all the voiceless women in history, about all the lost lessons and woke determined to find the exact right speech for my little girl to learn. The speech that would remain with her through years to come, familiar words of greatness in uncertain times, encouraging her to push through in moments of hardship. Yes, I would search “famous women speeches” till my fingers bled so that my daughter could become a woman of strength and resolve.

“Hey” she casually called out from the computer the next morning. “I found a speech.”
“Oh yeah, who did you pick?” I asked, curious as to what amazing woman captured my little girl’s heart, who would become her inspiration through life?

Oh just some woman called “Jane Addams.”
“What was her famous speech on” I asked,
Squinting her eyes to read she read out “The subjective necessity for social settlements in 1892”
‘Huh…..why did you pick her?” I wondered. Why did this particular woman speak to her, I was excited to see what this woman ignited in my daughter, what passions were stirred….
“Oh I dunno, she just looks easy to dress up as.” A simple sketch of a woman with her hair in a bun and button up shirt stared blankly at us. (Yes – because that’s what’s important)

A collective sigh from the voiceless women throughout history passed through my soul like death itself. Yet together we picked ourselves up to embraced my daughter in that moment. We were determined that her unsure voice, regardless of what she had to say and why, would at least be heard today.



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  1. Michelle says:

    Meg you rock!  We as women really need to pick up the baton and run with it.  While the medical community might not have know what exactly made a man different from a woman until the 1990’s when they actually figured out what our female parts really look like.  When even the Top 50 companies for women to work in the US for via Working Mother’s magazine still all have less than 25% of women on the board (some way less), and only 10 of them have women CEOs.  While women all over the world are still underrepresented and without a voice.  We who have a voice, who are lucky enough to live in countries that enable us to speak and to vote- must start somewhere. So kudo’s to you and your daughter for finding a starting point, and moving forward from there.

  2. As a mother of 2 girls I hope that they can be inspired by great women of history. Firstly though I just wish that children’s books and children’s tv programmes showed “the girls” as the heroes. Of all the books my 3 year old has, I could only name a few whete the women is the main character and helping/ inspiring others. We need to instill a positive, confident attitude in our girls and allow them and encourage them to reach their own personal potential, regardless of their gender. Lovely article, thanks!


  3. I’m so glad you shared this–it is a problem you share with many folks. I started a blog about women and public speaking, The Eloquent Woman, a few years ago, and that’s when people (including other speaker coaches) started asking me for examples of famous speeches by women. So now I publish information about one every Friday, and have collected them in a growing archive called The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women’s Speeches, at http://eloquentwoman.blogspot.com/p/eloquent-woman-index-of-famous-womens.html. At one a week, it’s slow going, but I have enjoyed discovering some incredible speeches. Hope it is helpful to you as well.

  4. Meg says:

    Wow, thank you Denise, where were you a week ago!? 🙂
    I was so saddened by this process. For we can all recall famous women, but who can recount what they had to say? and compare that to how many famous male speeches we all know!!!
    And as for fair and equal gender representation on tv, in books and movies….don’t get me started. Oh and then there are all the either dysfunctional or non- existent relationships between mothers and their children (in every fairy tale and Disney story the mother is either dead or mean) …………yeh, as I said – don’t get me started 🙂

  5. Dee says:

    I was disappointed that you did not list any black women. Barbara Jordon at the DNC or of Nixon Impeachment hearings.  Sojourner Truth ‘Aint I a woman too’. Harriet Tubman, Shirley Chisholm.    …Inclusion.

  6. Emily says:

    Love this story!  I recently Googled the top jobs that women hold today and I was shocked to see that there were no CEOs, engineers or MDs.  Another thing…. fun article, thanks!

  7. Fiona says:

    It’s interesting that I found this blog, it’s EXACTLY what I had in mind when I searched!  I have thought the same thing so many times and it drove me NUTS!  Why are Women not celebrated by history as much as Men are… Why is it always “Behind every powerful man…” . Then it hit me.  It’s because Women ARE different, and there is a genetic disposition to being if not to some degree submissive,  at a minimum being the inner strength of a marriage or relationship… But it’s more than that… It seems to me Women go in with a much more intense plan and why get all dirty and scuffed up when there are Men for that! 🙂   With that said I get infuriated when I see the chronic bullshit that is attempted by the chauvinistic element… They take their natural dominant advantage and destroy women who are simply trying to be a good mother/wife/girlfriend/daughter… That’s bullshit and is exactly where the “sanctity of marriage” has fallen apart… For some it’s not Husband and Wife anymore, it’s Victim and Victimizer/Villian . If these Men’s sensitive ego’s are so damned hurt why don’t you try standing tall and serving your purpose! 

  8. How about Queen Elizabeth I – she did some great speeches in a very male dominated 16th century world

  9. Meg says:

    Dee, you have a point. I’m also sorry I didn’t list any Aboriginal women either. Come to think of it, I left out Native American, Asian, Maori, and so many other women who  have played a large part in history. I’m hoping I still communicated my message and that it wasn’t lost because of these omissions.


    Fiona, It sounds as though you have personal experience with such oppression, I do hope you surround yourself with strong women, and men, who respect you.

  10. Opal says:

    I’d like to add Kate Sheppard to you list, I even found a quote from one of her famous speeches. She is featured on the New Zealand ten dollar note.  “Is it right that your mother, your sister..should be classed with criminals and lunatics ?” She was making reference to a womans right to vote being equal to that of a man. Very good topic and not one we were asked to cover in school. I would have related to it as a ‘female’  teenager immediately as a history topic…

  11. Harriet says:

    How about Rosa Parks? Short speech, but life changing for many. My daughter, who is also named Rosa, loves to hear the story about Rosa Parks on the bus ….

  12. itchbay says:

    This is similar to the struggle I have finding stories about famous historic women to share on my own blog. Once I’ve exhausted the few that everyone seems to know about, I run into trouble getting good info about women from history. I had an ambitious plant to blog extra during Women’s History Month, and to include more stories of American women of color, but it has been a real challenge.

    Which is, of course, why we need to work even harder to get these stories out there.

    Helen Keller was a speaker and rather well known. I imagine it might not be too hard to find some of her speeches published somewhere. And I second the vote for Barbara Jordan. She was very powerful.

  13. naomi says:

    That is so funny yet disappointing that she could not find any famous speeches on the internet.

  14. Most of the speeches I can think of were made by male leaders. Churchill, Kennedy, Roosevelt. Even the Pope and the Dalai Lama are male. Discouraging.
    I often think woman are stronger than men because we have to be to survive all the dishes they serve up.
    And when the men go to war, or off to work in the morning, I often think of a fragment of aoe  m I read once, ‘they also serve who only stand and wait.’
    To say I am not a fan of patriarchy is putting it very m
    Perhaps another way of looking at women’s speeches would be to examine what they did, instead of what they said.
    Many women in times past have borne  20 children or more.  That’s enough to leave anyone speechless. Especially when they had to bury about a third of them. Check out old graveyards for their stories.
    And then there are the women who did accomplish things in the male realm;Madame Curie, Amelia Ehrhardt, Betsy Ross, Rosa Parks.
    I’m not an historian, but you get the picture.
    When men accomplish something I always think two things. One, was there a woan 

  15. Apologies. I had to post an incomplete comment or lose the whole thing.
    I was going to say, that whenever a male accomplishes something, I wonder if he had a woman sacrificing her choices to help and support him, and know that in any event, he had a mother. 

  16. Phyllis Ring says:

    Thanks for this column, which has already served the wonderfully constructive purpose of setting the topic out there and engendering (pardon the unintended pun) reflection and response.
    Possible future resource: Elisabeth Cady Stanton, who in 1848 found her courage and her voice to stand up and begin a revolution for women, and gender, right here in the US, and the world. Also, the poet Tahirih, who did the same in the eastern hemisphere at about exactly the same time when she removed her veil, and later declared, “You can kill me as soon as you like [and  they did] but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”

  17. Jill says:

    This is a fantastic article, Meg!  We need to step up and fill this gap.  What occurred to me as I read your thoughts is there are some famous speeches by women that we do NOT want to be known for because they bring women backwards instead of forwards.  The fact that I could pull quotes from memory from speeches made by women that seemed to oppose women is tragic.  Let’s unite, ladies, and give our daughters, nieces, and granddaughters voices they can be proud of, voices from strong, confident women who lead with gentleness and love.

  18. As a teacher,  I was all ready to take you to task for “what are they teaching in schools these days… it’s an outrage”! Glad it was a false alarm! Awesome assignment for your kiddo! What about commencement speeches given by contemporary female public figures? There have been a lot of amazing, inspiring things said by women to graduating students! YouTube, perhaps? Hope that helps!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Loved it! Ur point 2 me is “yes”  speeches r out there but who actually remembers any being highlighted. You can talk and say things all day, but that is different than having a resounding historical voice whose words are taught in the classrooms and highlighted continuously-  #letschangethat – Cherinita 

  20. Lesson to self – a picture is worth a thousand words.BTW – this quote is attributed to so many different people that nobody really knows who said it. I’m guessing it was a mom while looking at a picture of the family drawn by their three year old.

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