The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Honoring Literature's Top 15 Female Powerhouses

A 1920 photo of Alice Paul, the 28 year-old powerhouse behind the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Harris & Ewing, [reproduction number LC-DIG-ds-00180]

One hundred years ago this Sunday, 5,000 women’s suffragist supporters descended on Washington, DC. Their demand was simple and their voices loud: women have the right to participate in the political process.

Twenty-eight year old Alice Paul organized and executed the activist procession. Although it took another seven years for women to secure the right to vote, Paul’s fearless leadership and the thousands of supporters who turned out on March 3, 1913 helped forever change the debate about women’s suffrage in America.

Paul was---and is---a powerhouse of female initiative. March is Women’s History Month, and in honor of Paul (and the countless others who lead the charge for women’s equality), we’re counting down the top 15 fearless women in literature, and highlighting the words that brought them to life. Spoken by or about the character at hand, the quotes below show the strength, love, spirit, and determination of literature’s leading ladies. We admit this was no easy task. Think we missed one? Let us know and post your comments!

1.) Hester Prynne---The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

 “…she must either sustain and carry it forward by the ordinary resources of her nature, or sink beneath it. She could no longer borrow from the future, to help her through the present grief. Tomorrow would bring its own trial with it; so would the next day, and so would the next…”

2.)  Janie Crawford---Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

“Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches…” 

3.)  Scout---To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it." 

 4.) Jo March---Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

 “I’ve got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen.” 

 5.) Offred---The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

"I wait. I compose myself. My self is a thing I must now compose, as one composes a speech. What I must present is a made thing, not something born."

 6.) All the women characters---The Help by Kathryn Stockett

“Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought.” 

 7.) Leslie Burke---Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

“It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength.” 

 8.) Julia---1984 by George Orwell

Winston:I don't mean confessing. Confessing isn't betrayal. I mean feelings. If they can make me change my feelings. If they can stop me from loving you, that would be real betrayal.” 

Julia: “They can't do that. It's the one thing they can't do. They can torture you, make you say anything. But they can't make you believe it. They can't get inside you. They can't get to your heart.”

 9.) Fern & Charlotte---Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

“Fern was up at daylight, trying to rid the world of injustice. As a result, she now has a pig. A small one to be sure, but nevertheless a pig. It just shows what can happen if a person gets out of bed promptly.” 

 “You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing...after all, what's a life anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die...By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.” 

 10.) Ántonia "Tony" Shimerda---My Ántonia by Willa Cather

“…he had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions…”

 11.) Ma Joad---Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

“Well, Pa, a woman can change better'n a man. A man lives sorta---well, in jerks. Baby's born or somebody dies, and that's a jerk. He gets a farm or loses it, and that's a jerk. With a woman, it's all in one flow, like a stream---little eddies and waterfalls - but the river, it goes right on. Woman looks at it thata way.”

12.) Anne Shirley---Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

“It's not what the world holds for you. It's what you bring to it.” 

13.)  Queenie and Maddie---Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein

“I am a coward. I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending.”

 14.) Anne---Persuasion by Jane Austen

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” 

 15.) Nayeli---Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

“Here came Nayeli, late for work again, dancing through town on her way to the Fallen Hand. She didn’t mean to dance – it was just that everywhere she went, she swung and swayed, and it was all she could do to keep herself from running.”




Add new comment