Behind every great woman… is another great woman.
With compelling story-telling and beautifully illustrated portraits, I Know a Woman is bold and engaging with a unique purpose to uncover the links between 84 pioneering women—including Michelle Obama, Gala Dali, Emma Watson, Nina Simone, Frida Kahlo, Coco Chanel, Greta Garbo, Eleanor Roosevelt and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The extraordinary achievements, relationships and secret histories of these women are revealed in inspirational stories which together show the indomitable strength of womankind. In the following excerpt, author Kate Hodges tracks the life of Ms. co-founder Gloria Steinem.
Ever call yourself “Ms.?” You’ve got journalist and pioneering second-wave feminist Gloria Steinem to thank for popularizing the term.
Gloria’s grandmother was a suffragette, educational campaigner and Holocaust heroine, and Gloria inherited her forebear’s fire and drive. Gloria’s childhood was itinerant—each year her family would travel, buying and selling antiques, from Michigan to Florida and back, until her father left the family. Her mother’s mental health was fragile, and she had trouble keeping down a job, so Gloria cared for her.
Gloria graduated from college in 1956, spent time studying in India, then embarked on a career as a journalist. Women’s issues were a regular topic for her, but she became an “active feminist” when she covered a meeting about abortion for New York magazine. She went on to write articles such as “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation” for the publication.
In 1971, Gloria joined with 300 women to form the National Women’s Political Caucus, aiming to get more women into political life. Shortly afterwards, in 1972, she co-founded Ms., a feminist magazine that tackled issues such as domestic violence, pornography, same-sex marriage and female genital mutilation—many of which were being addressed for the first time in public. The cover of the first full-length issue featured an (unpaid) housewifegoddess in the style of Vishnu. It sold out its 300,00 print run within eight days.
Parallel to her journalistic career, Gloria was active in campaigning, becoming a figurehead for second-wave feminists and was involved in Democratic party politics. Her diagnosis with breast cancer in 1986 didn’t stop her momentum; with treatment, Gloria beat the disease, resumed campaigning, and in 1992 set up Choice USA (now called URGE), a pro-choice organization focused on younger people.
Perhaps the biggest surprise Gloria sprung on the world was her marriage at the age of 66 to animal-rights activist David Bale. Tragically, he died three years later of brain lymphoma. Gloria’s work continued. She hosted a TV show, Woman, and continued to write books and campaign. She says: “The idea of retiring is as foreign to me as the idea of hunting.”
While Gloria was fighting sexism on the streets, a young tennis player, Billie Jean King, was leading an equally passionate battle against chauvinism on the courts. The two were friends and allies; Billie Jean was on the list of women who admitted to having abortions published in the first issue of Ms. magazine. Gloria also helped Billie Jean to found womenSports magazine and the Women’s Sports Foundation, which helped women athletes obtain college scholarships.