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5 Unforgettable Speeches by Women Authors, Activists, and Politicians

November 18, 2019

Learn about the Speaking While Female Speech bank, and read five of our favorite historic speeches by women from history, as well as leaders today.

Historically—and even presently—speeches by women have been vastly under-recognized. As anyone who has been moved by the words of women activists, authors, politicians, and thought leaders knows, that lack of recognition is not due to a dearth of women delivering powerful speeches and talks, but rather a systemic unwillingness to recognize the leadership and influence of women throughout history.

Dana Rubin has initiated a resource that addresses this problem. Rubin is the founder and curator of the Speaking While Female Speech Bank, an extensive collection of hundreds of speeches by women of great influence across a wide variety of fields and time periods. In many cases, although the speeches were powerful and influential, they were not widely publicized in print, so Rubin has done the challenging and important work of sourcing them from buried government documents, mentions in books, and more.

We highly recommend exploring the full archive, but here are just a few of the speeches that we found especially compelling. Read excerpts from each below, and click through to read or watch the full speeches.

Joan Didion – We Learn From Doing It

One of the most illustrious writers of the last century, Joan Didion, on the reason to write, as she accepted the National Book Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award:

“So each of these pieces was a job, an exercise of craft, but each of these pieces was also, I see now, a lesson toward the life I was teaching myself to live. I still check pieces against transcripts, I still count characters. In retrospect we know how to write when we begin; what we learn from doing it is what writing was for. And it’s not just to pay the rent.”

Watch the full speech here.

Heather Heying – Free Speech on Campus

Biologist Heather Heying, who applies her studies of evolutionary theory to better understand human problems, needs, and motivations, on free speech on college campuses:

“And finally, don’t let anyone tell you, ‘We don’t ask those questions here.’ Dangerous questions exist, and there are going to be some ugly answers. Education and research, the twin goals of post-secondary institutions, are the roots towards understanding, and ultimately minimizing, the prevalence of ugliness in human interactions moving forward. Disappearing ugly facts, or silencing those who speak about them, gives those facts power that they do not deserve.”

Watch the full speech here.

Madeleine Albright – Speech Commemorating International Women’s Day 2010

Politician and diplomat Madeleine Albright spoke on International Women’s Day about the need to create lasting change through action and activism:  

“Our shared task is to keep building until we’ve raised enough platforms high enough to transform the very horizons of the earth. And in that quest we invite everyone to help us, and caution each that they cannot stop us.”

Read the full speech here.

Audre Lorde – The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House

Audre Lorde, a prolific writer, feminist, and civil rights activist, on the need for the diverse representation of women in order to facilitate diverse thought and real change:  

“Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives. Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of difference strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters… Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.”

Read the full speech here.

Toni Morrison – Being Your Own Story

Author, editor, and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison delivered the Wellesley College commencement address to the graduating class of 2004, and spoke on the future, the present, and the duty of post-graduate life:

“What is now known is not all that you are capable of knowing. You are your own stories, and therefore free to imagine and experience what it means to be human, without wealth. What it feels like to human without domination over others, without reckless arrogance, without fear of others unlike you. Without rotating, rehearsing, and reinventing the hatreds you learned in the sandbox. And although you don’t have complete control over the narrative—no author does, I can tell you—you can nevertheless create it.”

Watch the full speech here.

Read and watch more great speeches by women at the Speaking While Female Speech Bank.

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