Famous and Hidden Women's Friendships that Made History

Historians in the News
tags: social history, womens history, Womens History Month

If you ask Sam Maggs, female friendships don’t get enough credit in history. It’s why the author decided to write a book about them: A band of gal pals who became the first women admitted to medical school in the United Kingdom. The musicians who defied laws to become Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra. Two female pirates who sailed the seven seas together.

In “Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History,” Maggs recounts the stories of friend groups who helped change the world. “I think it’s important, especially as we look back on history, to see where women were able to fight back against the patriarchy,” she said.

Particularly during periods of racial and gender inequality, Maggs believes there are key lessons to learn about how women supported each other, because “no one is successful on their own, and especially with women, the more we work together, the stronger we are.”

Kaila Story, an associate professor in the departments of Pan-African studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Louisville, adds: “If we’re trying to eradicate such monumental structural institutional things, we need our homegirls to hold our hand, to give us a hug and to see us and let us know that we’re not only capable, but that we’re more than capable.”

In recognition of Women’s History Month, we talked with authors and professors to highlight five friendships between women leaders in politics, art, literature and activism.

The unlikely friendship between Eleanor Roosevelt and activist and legal scholar Pauli Murray began as a confrontation, said Patricia Bell-Scott, who wrote about the pair in her book “The Firebrand and the First Lady.” In 1938, frustrated by the South’s racial segregation in higher education, Murray penned a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The first lady wrote back within two weeks, Bell-Scott said, “and that opened a conversation that continued for nearly three decades.”

Over time, they moved from disagreement to allyship, Bell-Scott said. And following Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in 1945, their correspondence shifted from political issues to genuine concerns about personal family matters. “So it became one of mutual caring and friendship,” Bell-Scott said. “They had very busy lives, but rarely were they out of touch for more than six months.”

Read entire article at Washington Post