More readers offer their nominations:
My vote goes to Alexandra David-Néel: explorer, opera prima donna, anarchist, spiritualist, and author. She was an acquaintance of the 13th Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, studied Buddhism at the Royal Monastery of Sikkim (becoming the Maharaja’s lover), trespassed into Tibet disguised as a pilgrim, traversed China, traveled through the Soviet Union during WWII, completed a circumambulation of the holy mountain Amnye Machen. She died in France at age 100, having written over 30 books about Eastern religion, philosophy, and her travels. Her ashes were mixed with those of her lifelong traveling companion and dispersed in the Ganges.
As a general rule, the women featured on the site Badass of the Week (especially the real-life ones) are pretty damn interesting. Some examples include a Somali gynecologist who gets terrorists to stand down with stern dressing down (Hawa Abdi) and the “Joan of Arc” of India (Rani Lakshmibai). Plus, I need to throw in a nomination for a personal heroine of mine, Dr. Francis Kelsey, a.k.a the woman who saved the United States from the ravages of thalidomide.
Thank you for this. I find myself needing to search for interesting and inspiring people, to renew my faith in humanity. I have two nominees who may be unknown to many Dish readers:
Celia Sánchez and Emily Hahn.
Alice Walker, at the beginning of her article on Sánchez, wrote: “Nothing makes me more hopeful than discovering another human being to admire”:
My wonder at the life of Celia Sánchez, a revolutionary Cuban woman virtually unknown to Americans, has left me almost speechless. In hindsight, loving and admiring her was bound to happen, once I knew her story. Like Frida Kahlo, Zora Neale Hurston, Rosa Luxemburg, Agnes Smedley, Fannie Lou Hamer, Josephine Baker, Harriet Tubman, or Aung San Suu Kyi, Celia Sánchez was that extraordinary expression of life that can, every so often, give humanity a very good name.
Hahn was a free spirit, an adventurer, and a book-lover who said, “I have deliberately chosen the uncertain path whenever I had the choice.” She was called “Ms. Ulysses” in her obituary in the New Yorker. She lived in the Congo in the 1930s, “young and impulsive, because I’d always wanted to.” She lived in China in the 1930s and 1940s, immersing herself in writing and politics and love (with a touch of opium addiction). After the war, after her lover, a British intelligence officer, was released from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, they married and lived in England, when “she called herself a ‘bad housewife’ since, in reply to his concern about money, she said: ‘Then let’s not spend money on anything else, except books.‘”
This little search has made my day.
(Photo of Alexandra David-Néel in Tibet circa 1933 via Wikimedia Commons)