I had completely forgotten that there was such a thing as International Women’s Day, when two days ago I woke up to two texts from my dad—one about European women prancing around topless with “climate rape” written on their chests (wondering why women are objectified), and one about women in Mexico smashing windows and blowing up buildings to protest “gender-based violence.” Reflecting on what our culture wrongly encourages women to take pride in, I began to go back through history and recall women who were really strong, really unique, and who really changed the course of the world for good. Here are some of the amazing females who came to mind.
Queen Clothilde of Gaul (France) (d. 548). Clothilde was a Christian Burgundian princess betrothed to one of the greatest pagan warrior kings of her day, King Clovis of Gaul. Clovis and Clothilde had a rather unique relationship for the time—there is no evidence that he ever had a mistress and they really did rule together, he respecting her opinion and honoring her both as a wife and as his queen. Clovis rather scorned her religion, however, though Clothilde never gave up on trying to evangelize him. Finally, when Clovis was losing a battle, he desperately promised “the God of Clothilde” that he would convert if he won. After a nearly miraculous victory, Clovis and hundreds of his warriors were baptized by Bishop Remigius. Clothilde not only single-handedly ensured that Gaul would become Catholic, but she also continued to play an important role in politics. She was in charge of running the royal household, she was an advisor to Clovis, and, both before and after his death, she raised both her children and her grandchildren, intervening more than once to play peacemaker when her violent sons were tearing the kingdom apart. She eventually retired to a convent in her old age after a lifetime of public service and has left a permanent mark on what would become France.
Catherine of Siena (d. 1380). A woman with a titanic personality and unparalleled perseverance who truly set an indelible mark on both her homeland of Italy and all of Europe. The illiterate daughter of a middle-class dyer, the youngest of around 25 children, Catherine was a woman who let nothing stop her. When a convicted spy refused violently to see a priest or anyone else, Catherine walked into the jail, converted the man, and accompanied him to the execution block. When the Italian city-states were convulsing Italy with war, Catherine traveled to Siena’s traditional enemy, Florence, where she bluntly rebuked and condemned the actions of the council controlling the city. The Florentine men were so impressed they made her ambassador to the pope in Avignon, and it was under Catherine’s orders and Catherine’s advice that Italy began to make peace again. Of course, the most famous exploit of Catherine was when she went to Avignon, France, to order the pope to fulfill his duty as the bishop of Rome and return to the Eternal City, which he did. She stood up to and advised nobles, kings, and popes. Wherever she went men and women (but particularly men) followed her as her entourage, calling her reverently and affectionately “Mama.” Catherine of Siena was one of the greatest individuals of her age and one of the greatest people in history. (See Lay Siege to Heaven by Louis de Wohl).
Martha Washington (d. 1802). If her husband is the “Father of His Country,” Martha may justly be called the “Mother of Her Country.” The rich and beautiful young widow who married the planter and French and Indian War veteran George Washington surely survived great trials with admirable patience and fortitude. She had already lost a husband and two children when she became Mrs. Washington, and she survived all of her children—her son Jack died of disease as George’s aide just after the Battle of Yorktown. Her husband was often called from her side due to his indispensable role as general of the Continental Army during the War for Independence, but she always carried on without him—helping run the plantation when she could not be with him, joining him whenever possible. A woman who had been born to the aristocratic plantation class, she sewed shirts for soldiers and gave them food and other aid with her own hands every winter, including during the frightful winter at Valley Forge, a calming and warming presence in the midst of fear and suffering. When George became the first US president, Martha had to set the precedent for the behavior of the First Lady, which she did with grace, charm, and dignity. She had both the manners to impress and the real goodness to underlie the manners. When they were together, George and Martha read the Bible together every day and their relationship was deep, loving, religious, and enduring. Washington relied on her support as much as the new nation relied on him. His short note to her after receiving command of the Continental Army says, “I could not think of departing from (here) without dropping you a line.” He speaks of his anticipation for their “happy meeting” again in the future and of his “unalterable affection for you, which neither time or distance can change,” signing himself “Yr entire Go. Washington.” George and Martha Washington were truly the parents of the United States of America, and no parents could have been better. (Quotes from Mary Ball Washington by Craig Shirley.)
Margaret Thatcher (d. 2013). Aptly nicknamed “The Iron Lady,” Maggie Thatcher was a woman who could stand up to any man in politics. She steered her country away from economic ruin, led the British to victory in the Falklands War, and was essential in standing up to the Soviet Union in the Cold War along with US President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Thatcher’s strong opposition to the USSR helped sound the death knell for Communist control in Eastern Europe. Her belief in individual liberty, economic freedom, hard work, personal responsibility, and the necessity of free-market democracies standing up to aggression were so championed by her that the principles were dubbed “Thatcherism.” She was the first female British Prime Minister and held office for 11 years, longer than any other politician in the 20th century. Early into her first term, she faced the waning world influence of Britain, British economic depression, and other troubles. Yet she left Britain economically stronger and more respected on the world stage. Thatcher said well of herself, “I am not a consensus politician, I am a conviction politician.” Her convictions carried her through national and international storms and allowed her to leave behind a mighty legacy.
These four women are truly examples for the ages, and they should be rediscovered as models for young women today. If we are going to have an International Women’s Day, which seems unnecessary if women really want to establish their place in society with no help or special recognition from men, then we should be honoring the women who changed our world for the better—and that list does not include Hillary Clinton, Liz Warren, or Margaret Sanger.