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Beautiful Love Stories: Female Friendships in History

  • 5 min read

Valentine's celebration of Female Friendships in History with a painting of "Summer's Day" from Impressionist artist Berthe Morisot

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Female Friendships in History, Enya's Attic

Valentine’s Day is all about celebrating love. And what better love to honor than the fierce bonds of friendship between women.

Of course, all friendships differ depending on the people, personalities and circumstances involved. But sometimes such relationships become the catalyst that pushes a woman on to act in ways or make a change that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.

From challenging politics and crossing race barriers to spinning gender norms on their head, some of the most iconic female friendships in history have shown that the sister-like support between women not only sustains individuals but can truly change the world.

Susan B. Anthony & Elizabeth Cady Stanton - Founders of the American Women’s Movement

Female Friendships in History Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Enya's Attic

The unwavering friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the foundation of the fight for women’s voting rights in America. Together, Anthony and Cady edited and published a weekly feminist newspaper, the Revolution, which ran from 1868 to 1870.

As founders of the National Woman Suffrage Association, they traveled all over the country, and abroad, promoting women’s rights.

By all accounts, a formidable pair, they were close pals for over 50 years, and their friendship changed the world.

In 1869, Stanton wrote to her dear ally: "No power in heaven, hell or earth can separate us, for our hearts are eternally wedded together."

Qiu Jin and Xu Zihua - China’s 19th Century Pioneering Feminists

 Female Friends in History Qiu Jin Enya's Attic Female Friends in History Xu Zihua Qiu Jin Enya's Attic

Writing and women’s issues were also at the core of the friendship that sprung up between Qiu Jin, China’s famed 19th century, cross-dressing, feminist revolutionary, and Xu Zihua, her close colleague and confidante.

The pair met as teachers at Nanxun Girls School in Zhejiang province and a firm friendship quickly formed.

Qiu Jin, a gifted poet, a fervent supporter of women’s rights, and an outspoken believer in ending the practice of footbinding would later note that in Zihua she had found her “zhī jǐ” (“an intimate friend,” or a reflection of oneself.)

In the summer of 1906, they left their teaching posts for Shanghai, and here set about publishing a magazine called Chinese Women's News. It was a radical female-positive and anti-Qing Empire publication that boasted articles on child education, Western-style health care, and economic self-sufficiency.

It had a short life, however, due to lack of funds, and after the magazine folded, the friends parted ways for a time.

Both met a year later on the eve of Qiu Jin’s ill-fated uprising against the Qing government. During that meeting, Qiu Jin asked her close friend to bury her beside the tomb of the Chinese folk hero, Yue Fei, on the bank of West Lake in Zhejiang, if the impending rebellion didn’t go to plan.

When, indeed, the uprising did fail and 33-year old Qiu Jin was arrested, tortured, and finally beheaded, her friend fulfilled her promise.  Together with another devoted pal, they removed Qiu Jin from her unmarked grave to the spot she had requested.

BUY: 100% Organic Tote Bag, Qiu Jin Quote: "Don't Tell Me Women Are Not the Stuff of Heroes"

Anne Bonny and Mary Read - Women Pirates Who Laughed in the Face of “Female Weakness”

Female Friendships in History Anne Bonny Mary Read Enya's Attic

Think "Thelma and Louise," except with pirate ships and Calico Jack instead of Brad Pitt!

Anne Bonny and Mary Read were pirate pals who, renowned for their ferocity and ruthlessness, completely quashed the 18th-century idea that women were too delicate for a life of daring.

Granted, they both posed as men most of the time, donning wide tunics and short trousers from which they swung their machetes, swords and a brace of pistols. They were also known to swear like – well, a couple of sailors – and for their much-admired ability to drink any man under the table.

When Mary Read’s ship was captured by Calico Jack, a pirate and the lover of Anne Bonny who sailed the high seas with him, the two women became firm friends.

Though Bonny’s crewmates were aware Bonny was a woman, Read kept her gender hidden and Bonny agreed to the secret. Eventually, Captain Jack’s jealousy over his lover’s friendship with the handsome, young privateer, Read, forced the truth out, and Read’s further affair with a shipmate assured him nothing was going on between the women.

He may have been wrong, though. Historians generally agree Bonny and Read were lovers as well as faithful friends.

Truth is, the women had a lot in common. Both were illegitimate and had been raised as boys at one time or another. Each also had a reputation for being bold and brutal, and for never backing down in a fight. When, in 1720, Calico Jack’s ship was finally apprehended by one of the governor’s vessels, it was Bonny and Read who fought until the bitter end, while the rest of the crew floundered or surrendered. 

Captain Jack was arrested and sentenced to death. Bonny and Read were also captured and sentenced to hang, but their executions were stayed when it transpired that both were pregnant. 

Read died in jail in early 1721, and Bonny's fate is unknown. Still, their reputation as two of the fiercest pirates to roam the oceans has gone down in history.

Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald - The Celebrity Friendship that Ignored Race Barriers

Female Friendships in History Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe

Ella Fitzgerald was an American jazz singer, renowned worldwide for the extensive range and rare sweetness of her voice.

Listening to her sing, it might seem she was always destined for greatness. But the ‘First Lady of Song’ attributes her big break to her good friend and Hollywood star, Marilyn Monroe.

When in 1955, Monroe learned that the then up-and-coming jazz singer couldn’t get a gig at the Mocambo, a famous L.A. nightclub and an important springboard for singers’ careers at that time, she used her star power to challenge the decision.

READ: 5 Ways Marilyn Monore Teaches Us to be Bold

She proposed to the owner that if he booked Fitzgerald she and her celebrity friends would come and sit at the front of the house for each performance.  

Fans and press flocked to see Monroe but were ultimately wowed by Fitzgerald’s singing. “I never had to play a small jazz club again,” Fitzgerald later said.

The two powerful artists remained friends for years and Fitzgerald never held back from acknowledging Monroe’s role in kickstarting her career. In an August 1972 interview with Ms. Magazine, she said, “I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt.”

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Blog Image: Summer's Day (1879) by Berthe Morisot


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