Powerful speeches have shaped history and continue to shape the world around us. In this blog, we share 10 famous speeches by women that you might not have heard about. Our intention here is to showcase historical role models, to celebrate the women who have helped to shape our society or are shaping it right now, and to share snippets of history told through their voices.
Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I A Woman?
Born into slavery in 1797, Isabella Baumfree, who later changed her name to Sojourner Truth, would become one of the most powerful advocates for human rights in the nineteenth century.
At the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth delivered what is now recognized as one of the most famous abolitionists and women’s rights speeches in American history, “Ain’t I a Woman?” She continued to speak out for the rights of African Americans and women during and after the Civil War.
There are two accounts of the speech delivered by Sojourner Truth. You can read both here.
“Freedom or Death,” Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline Pankhurst was an English political activist who organized the UK suffragette movement and helped women win the right to vote. She delivered the “Freedom or Death” speech at the Parsons Theater in Hartford, Connecticut, on November 13, 1913, while she was in the United States and on temporary release under the Prisoners Act 1913.
Maya Angelo, On the Pulse of Morning
Maya Angelou was an American memoirist, popular poet, and civil rights, activist. Spoken at the Inauguration of Bill Clinton on January 20, 1993, this poem is about how the people of America can come together and make the changes necessary for a more equitable future for all.
Shirley Chisholm, America has gone to sleep
Shirley Anita Chisholm was an American politician who in 1968 became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress. She delivered this speech at the Greenfield High School Auditorium, Massachusetts, USA, in 1983.
Severn Suzuki Speech to the UN Earth Summit in Rio (1992)
Severn Suzuki is a Canadian environmental activist and writer. She delivered this speech at the UN Earth Summit when she was 12 years old, talking about the concern of children for the global ecological crisis brought on by adults in their bid to modernize the world.
Angela Merkel’s Harvard Commencement Speech 2019
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s address at the annual meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association at the 368th Harvard Commencement on May 30, 2019.
Jane Goodall, UN Messenger of Peace on International Day of Peace, 2017
Jane Goodall, in full Dame Jane Goodall, original name Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall, was born on April 3, 1934, in London, England. She is a British ethologist, known for her exceptionally detailed and long-term research on the chimpanzees of Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania.
Her global Roots & Shoots program supports tens of thousands of young people in nearly 100 countries with projects that help people, animals, and the environment. As a Messenger of Peace since 2002, she continues to help the United Nations focus attention on environmental issues.
Malala Yousafzai UNICEF Speech in New York City, July 12th 2013
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. She was shot in the head by Taliban militants on her way home from school in 2012, sparking international outrage. In her speech at the United Nations on July 12th, 2013, she spoke about how important education was for girls everywhere and how she would not be silenced by terrorism.
Hillary Clinton Women’s Rights are Human Rights Speech (1995)
Hillary Diane Clinton, born October 26, 1947, is an American politician, diplomat, and former lawyer. Hillary is the first woman to win a presidential nomination in 2016 by a major U.S. political party. She is also the first female senator from New York and became the first First lady to simultaneously hold elected office and then the first former First lady to serve in the Senate.
Hillary Rodham Clinton helped define the role of the modern political spouse and was one of the most accomplished first ladies in American history.
Angelina Jolie receives the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 2013 Governors Awards
Angelina Jolie was born on June 4, 1975, and she is one of the most famous American actresses who won the Academy Award and three Golden Globe Awards.
In addition to her film career, Jolie is known for her humanitarian efforts, for which she has received a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and was made an honorary Dame Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (DCMG), among other honors. She promotes various causes, including conservation, education, and women’s rights, and is most noted for her advocacy on behalf of refugees as a Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).