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Here are Some Amazing Single Women Who Have Made History

Here are Some Amazing Single Women Who Have Made History

Living as a single person, as a single female person in particular, has historically not been easy. In many countries, including America, women were not allowed to live alone – a tradition that still exists in parts of the world today. There have been studies that single people don’t live as long as married ones, adding fuel to the idea that those who choose the single life are less well. Certain employers were wary of hiring single people – male or female – because the unattached were seen as less trustworthy and reliable.

Even in the most modern of societies, those who remain single are looked at with caution. While single men face few criticisms for their decision to remain unattached, aside from the periodic gay rumor, single women are rarely held in high regard. When women venture outside of societal norms, even when married, their choices are criticized and accomplishments diminished, often based on their refusal to adhere to societal pressure to remain in the home, raising children and standing behind a man.

Historically for a woman to remain single, she would risk financial insecurity, physical safety, homelessness and societal scorn. Nevertheless, women either through choice or through circumstance remained single. In spite of the odds, single women have thrived and made their mark in ways both large and small.

Some ruled the world.

Whether Queen Elizabeth I remained single by choice or circumstance remains up for debate. Taking the throne in 1558 at age 25, she seemed to have little interest in sharing power with a spouse, in spite of concerns of succession of the thrown. Perhaps she was wary of her father’s, King Henry VIII marital history, which included the killing of her mother. Nicknamed the Virgin Queen (a misnomer if rumors of the time are true), she reigned for 44 years, a period of which would be known as the Elizabethan era. She is remembered as a favorite of the people and ruling over a golden age of England’s history.

To remain unmarried at 18 in the late 1800s in America was a definite sign of spinsterhood. To do so and be black didn’t make life easier. Still, Mary Eliza Mahoney chose work over marriage when she chose to pursue a career in nursing at the age of 18 at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in 1863. Fifteen years later, she became one of 42 women accepted into the hospital’s nursing program, the first professional nursing program in the country. She was one of only four students who made it through the 12 month program, making her the first black professional nurse. By the time never-married Mahoney died in 1926 from breast cancer at the age of 81, she had been the first black member of the American Nurses Associations, fought to increase the number of black women in nursing and was a strong supporter in the women’s suffrage movement. At age 76, she was one of the first women to register to vote in Boston.

Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the pioneers of the women’s suffrage movement was also a single woman.

Susan B. Anthony grew up as part of a large Quaker family and was an early advocate of social justice. In her fights for women’s rights, she was accused of trying to destroy the institution of marriage. While her social justice fights included fights against slavery and unfair labor practices, it was her work towards women’s suffrage that gave her the greatest political and social power. In fact, there is some belief that the movement could only succeed because she was single. At the time, married women were not allowed to sign contracts as they were now under the authority of their husbands. As a single woman, Miss Anthony was free to enter into business arrangements that helped fund and support suffrage activities. It is rather fitting that Susan B. Anthony was the first American woman to be featured on money when the dollar coin with her image was produced in 1979.

Today, single women are less hindered by their unmarried status, though complete social acceptance remains elusive.  As single women continue to reach heights in areas ranging from politics to business to science, whether it’s the highly accomplished Dr. Condoleezza Rice, or media mogul Oprah Winfrey (who has been in a more than 20 year partnership but never married), questions of why they never marry inevitably surface. Unlike men, women who remain unmarried are somehow seen as sacrificing a key part of what it means to be a woman by choosing to be single. Many still believe that women can not be happy if they are single.

Susan B. Anthony would disagree.

“I think the girl who is able to earn her own living and pay her own way should be as happy as anybody on earth. The sense of independence and security is very sweet,” she once said.

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153 comments

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4:00PM PDT on Mar 21, 2014

Whatever you choose married, single, divorced, childless, single parent, serial dater, multiple marriages, co-habitation etc. just be at peace with your choice(s).

12:01PM PDT on Mar 20, 2014

From all these post I suggest any single of any sex who is self confident, self supporting,and supporting of of others should be on a 'list'. But what would be the point? it These should be the norms and until they are we are not an enlightened society.

Engendering these qualities in our progeny and in others' is the best way to get there from here. More is happening in a generation now than has happened in any one century as yet.

8:28PM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

Be they single, be they married, women have all made a fascinating contribution over the thousands of years of human history. An interesting article.

2:14PM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

thanks for sharing

11:03AM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

single or married - we can all make a difference

6:38AM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

with almost all of these women the point to being single was to own themselves; they lived in times where their money, personal freedoms, even the right to say no, would have evaporated at the alter. (certainly the power of the crown would have been taken over for Elizabeth.)

marriage today doesn't take those things from a woman, but we are still left with the feeling that a woman should be married, or else there is something wrong with her.

i would love to hear more about women like these; it's cool and it helps to put things in proper perspective.

5:19AM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

I REMEMBER WHEN I WAS MARRIED I FELT MORE ALONE THAN ANY OTHER TIME IN MY LIFE.........THE WORST PART IS I HAD A NAME BEFORE I SAID 'I DO', AND THEN I BECAME JUST HIS WIFE. WITHOUT A NAME. I AM NOT KNOCKING MARRIAGE I WAS JUST MARRIED TO A MAN WHO SHOULD HAVE NEVER ASKED. TODAY I AM A SINGLE WIDOW AND I AM HAPPY TO EMBRACE TODAY.

5:00AM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

OK but there are also great women who did not stay single to. They are amazing but honestly their love life is really none of my business. Just saying.

4:38AM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

Thank you

3:25AM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

Didn't enjoy this at all. As a social piece, it doesn't really shed any light on anything we didn't know. As an historical piece it is superficial. As a woman's piece it is extremely poor: Really, after mentioning the difficulties of being a single woman without real focus, was the author only able to come up with these three examples? :S As for the people she mentions later on, frankly, the fact some of these women have had long term relationships but never said vows infron of a priest or mayor gives a poor image on what being "single" is. In USA, being rich and famous and in the 21st century, being 20 years with the same guy is more of a marital life than what some people do by marrying/divorcing every 2 months! It's sad that women -as this author- are apparently the first to find being legally single as a surprising decision for a woman.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches and writes about ancient Greek and Latin and is Online Advocacy and Marketing... more
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