9 Poets to Remember during Women’s History Month

It’s Women’s History Month and here at My Poetic Side we couldn’t be happier. To commemorate the month, we’re celebrating innovative poets of the past and radical poets of the present while maintaining that the future is indeed female. So, dive into the work of these activists, feminists, abolitionists, anarchists, and, above all, poets. Because we can guarantee each and every one of them has something to teach today’s poetry enthusiasts.


Martha Wadsworth Brewster

As an 18th century poet and writer, Martha Wadsworth Brewster is one of only four colonial women who published verse before the American Revolution and the first American-born woman to publish under her own name. As if that isn’t incredible enough, Brewster was also the first woman to focus on themes such as the evils of war, military invasion, and political ambition. Her most notable collection, Poems on Diverse Subjects, examines topics that were considered outside the knowledge and experience of 18th century women. Because of this, she was accused of plagiarizing from accomplished male poets, an insulting claim that she combated in her later poetry with the line “Ye Creatures all, in vast Amazement Stand.

Elizabeth Margaret Chandler

Elizabeth Margaret Chandler was the first female writer in United States to make the abolition of slavery her primary theme. Chandler’s first poems – romantic verses on nature – were first published at 16 years old. By the time she was 18, she was drawing national attention with her emotional poem “The Slave-Ship.” This poem caught the attention of the editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Genius of Universal Emancipation and soon began writing and editing the “Ladies’ Repository” section of the paper. Chandler used her platform to demand better treatment of Native Americans and called for an immediate emancipation of slaves across the United States. She was repeatedly told that women were powerless when faced with the abolishment of slavery, but she stood firm. Chandler believed that women, and mothers especially, were in the unique position to influence the minds of young children, children who will one day be voters, decision makers, and leaders of the United States. Chandler’s life was cut tragically short when she died of fever shortly before her 27th birthday. Her articles, poems, and letters were collected into two books, edited by BenJamin Lundy, the editor of The Genius of Universal Emancipation and the profits from those books were donated to abolitionist causes.


Frances Dana Barker Gage

Frances Dana Barker Gage was an early feminist and an abolitionist who worked closely with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, among other leaders of the United States women’s rights movement. She was a champion of voting rights for women and people of color and was notably vocal about the rights of newly freed African American women. Gage wrote poems under the pen name of Aunt Fanny, portraying herself as a warm, domestic housewife. She published a collection simply titled Poems in 1867 and went on to write several essays, letters, novels, and hymns. Gage is arguably most well known for her recollection of Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech “Ain’t I a Woman? ” which Gage transcribed from memory after 12 years of distance. Both time and memory give way to historical inaccuracies and Gage’s transcription contained several, including a lengthening of Truth’s original speech, the repetition of the phrase “ain’t I a woman, ” and the minstrel-like imitation of Southern slaves’ speech patterns, a dialect Truth wouldn’t have embodied as a Dutch speaking New York upbringing. Despite its many differences from 1851 accounts of the speech, Gage’s version of “Ain’t I a Woman” has become the transcription of record for that now famous speech.


Charlotte Forten Grimké

Charlotte Forten Grimké was an African American abolitionist activist and poet. While Grimké was a free northern African American, she was born into a country where slavery was still legal. She became a member of the Salem, Massachusetts all-female Anti-Slavery Society, where she was involved in coalition building and fundraising. In 1856, Grimké was the first African American teacher hired to teach white students at a Salem public school and was considered a wonderful teacher, but she was forced to return home to Philadelphia after only two years of teaching after contracting tuberculosis. It was then that Grimké began writing poetry, much of which had an activist bent. Her last literary effort was in response to an editorial in The Evangelist that asserted that African Americans were not discriminated against in New England Society. Grimké’s soaring response stated that despite extraordinary social odds, African Americans have fought to be treated with equality and respect. She also kept regular journals throughout her life, journals that have served as rare documentation of the life of free black women in the antebellum North.


Lola Ridge

Lola Ridge was an Irish-American anarchist poet and editor of feminist and Marxist publications. While Ridge wrote during the early 1900s, her work has received renewed critical acclaim in the 21st century as a poet who attacks harsh urban life head on with her writing. After living in New York for several years, she gained notoriety for her long poem The Ghetto, which was first published in 1918 in The New Republic. The poem was included in her first collection of poetry, The Ghetto and Other Poems later that same year. The book spoke to the immigrant experience of the time and was a critical success. Ridge received the Shelley Memorial Award by the Poetry Society of America in 1934 and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1935. Her drafts and notes are archived at Smith College in Massachusetts.


Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay was an openly bisexual poet and playwright. In 1923, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, making her the third woman ever to win the award for poetry. She is the author of 18 collections of poetry, including a few published under her pseudonym Nancy Boyd. In addition to her prolific work as a poet, Millay wrote five plays in verse, including Two Slatterns and a King and The Lamp and the Bell, originally written as a poem for Vassar College about the love shared between women. Millay was an alumnus of the college, entering Vassar at 21 years old and crediting the University for the beginning of her playwriting career. While she was a student there, Millay kept scrapbooks that included drafts of plays written during that period. In 1927, the Metropolitan Opera House commissioned Millay to write the libretto for an opera entitled The King’s Henchman, which was lauded at the time as one of the most artistically wrought American operas to ever reach the stage. She died at her home in New York at 58 years old after suffering a heart attack.


Mitsuye Yamada

Mitsuye Yamada is a Japanese American activist, feminist, essayist, and poet. Her latest collection, Desert Run: Poems and Stories, explores Yamada’s experience at the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho, a Japanese internment camp. Her first book Camp Notes and Other Poems was written while Yamada was interned in 1942 and shortly after her release, reflecting on her time in the camp as well as the discrimination she faced as a student at the University of Cincinnati. More than any of her other writing, Camp Notes promotes public awareness of the discrimination Japanese Americans faced during World War II and opens the topic up to a dialogue. Despite being written in the early 1940s, the collection remained unpublished until 1976. An activist for Japanese voices, Yamada has stated that her purpose for writing is to encourage Asian American women to speak out and defy tradition that has silenced them for many years.


Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton’s signature confessional verse won her the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967. Her writing, including the Pulitzer winning Live or Die, was incredibly transparent about her mania and depression, as well as her suicide attempts. After suffering from a postpartum mental breakdown, Sexton’s was encouraged by her doctor revisit poetry, a subject she was passionate about in high school. Sexton complied and enrolled herself in a poetry workshop at the Boston Center for Adult Education. Maxine Kumin, who became close friends with Sexton after enrolling in the same poetry workshop, wrote the introduction to the posthumous Complete Poems. In that introduction, Kumin stated that poetry gave Sexton something to live for each day — that it was poetry that kept her alive as long as she was. Sexton is the author of 14 collections of poetry, essays, and letters, several of which were published posthumously. Her eighth collection of poetry is particularly poignant, titled The Awful Rowing Toward God and inspired by a Catholic priest who refused to administer last rites. “God is in your typewriter,” he said though. Both The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975) and The Death Notebooks (1974) center on the theme of death and dying. She committed suicide in 1974 at the age of 45.


Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez self identifies as “Poet. Mother. Professor. ” In that order. As a poet, she’s the author of 18 books of poetry and has garnered numerous awards. In 1969, Sanchez was awarded the PEN Writing Award for her debut collection Homecoming. She was the recipient of the 1985 American Book Award for her collection Homegirls and Handgrenades and the 1999 Langston Hughes Poetry Award, among others. Sanchez is most often associated with the Black Arts Movement, where she established herself as a poet who uses experimental poetic forms to discuss black identity and nationalism. It was her 1970 collection We a BaddDDD People that solidified her place in this movement, thus amplifying her voice as a poet focusing on ordinary black men and women. As a mother, her three children heavily influenced her writing. In the 1970s, Sanchez turned to the bond between mother and child as inspiration for much of her work. Sonia Sanchez is currently a poet-in-residence at Temple University, where she inhabits her professorial identity with pride.


You must register to comment. Log in or Register.