Rad, Nasty Women (and Nurses)

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Detail of papercut illustration by Miriam Klein Stahl, Rad Women Worldwide, p. 95

Rad, as in radical. Nasty, as in the newly reclaimed feminist term for strong, powerful, capable women (thanks to Trump’s misogynistic mansplaining over Hilary Clinton in the last presidential debate).

Books, as usual, have helped me through the latest vicissitudes of politics and of life. And one new book in particular has been my constant companion over the past several months. Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History, written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2016) is quite simply a lovely, inspiring, and comforting book. The strong black and white papercut illustrations are striking and complement the brief write-ups of the lives of forty rad, nasty women from all around the world and throughout history.

Mixed in with familiar rad women, including Frida Kahlo, Malala Yousafzai, and Aung San Suu Kyi, and less familiar women such as Enheduanna from 4,300 years ago in Mesopotamia, who is the world’s oldest known named author. She wrote hymns and poems on clay tablets using Cuneiform script, and she wrote in first person. Rad Women Worldwide also includes at least a few nurses. Irene Joliot-Curie, daughter of Marie Curie, went to nursing school in Paris during WWI and then traveled with her mother to field hospitals to train doctors in the use of their newly invented mobile X-ray machines. And the indomitable Emma Goldman worked as a nurse and midwife in the 1880s with impoverished immigrant women in the tenements of New York City. Yes! Rad, nasty female nurses unite!

Although not included in this book, some of the other rad, nasty female nurses I admire are the following:

  • Dorothy Day (I highly recommend her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, a rich and thought-provoking book.) I love her statement, “Writing is an act of community.” 
  • Mary Seacole, a Jamaican-British creole nurse who worked in the Crimean War and was shunned by none other than Florence Nightingale. Seacole published her memoirs under the lovely title, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. It is a rollicking good read.
  •  Ruth Lubic, nurse midwife and amazing nurse leader/pioneer. She founded the NE Washington, DC Family Health and Birthing Center using her MacArthur (“Genius”) award money. I love this video interview with her, where she opens with this statement: “I told the staff, when I walk in this door, I want to feel love.”

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