Woman in Obscurity
While researching my novel, The Woman in Red, I kept coming across references to an English woman who was by Giuseppe Garibaldi’s side when he signed the peace treaty to unite Northern and Southern Italy in the 1800s.
But my research never mentioned her name. I didn’t know who this woman was and, embarrassingly, I glossed over her. I didn’t learn her story.
It wasn’t until I came across this article that I found the mysterious woman’s name: Jessie White Mario. Aka “Hurricane Jessie” — Italy’s first war correspondent.
Beyond Women’s History Month
We spend 31 days celebrating women’s stories and achievements and talking about the role women have played in shaping our history, which is nice, but, really, are 31 days enough?
Every day we should learn about women’s achievements. Sometimes it alters our present perception of history, like discovering the remains of a Viking warrior actually belonged to a woman. Sometimes it opens up opportunities for our present or future, like witnessing a current event such as what would have been the first all-female spacewalk.
It is our duty as women, as Bookwomen, to advocate for others.
In Jessie White Mario’s case, she had heard about the French and Austrian atrocities occurring in Italy. It wasn’t until she attended the Sorbonne in the 1850s that she became passionate about the Italian cause. Not only did Jessie join the movement, she was the only woman in the room among the unification leaders, often playing the referee. Hence her nickname “Hurricane Jess.”
During the unification wars, she worked as a battle nurse. At night, she wrote articles for the London newspapers, keeping the world informed of the Risorgimento. She went on to record the stories and biographies of those involved. If it wasn’t for her, much of the history of the Italian Unification would be lost.
But learning about Jessie and telling her story during Women’s History Month is only one part of our responsibility.
As we leave March behind, the best thing we can do — all year long — is to continue to learn, read, and share these stories.
Advocating for Women’s Stories
Devour, not just read, any and all literature written by women and about women. Fiction or nonfiction, any and all genres.
Support women’s work. Seek out articles that explore women’s roles in history. Find stories that celebrate women’s accomplishments. Demand them from teachers, publishers, TV networks, and magazines.
Champion women’s stories. Whether it is through works of fiction or memoirs, poetry or graphic novels, be the person others can turn to. Help them to learn about new and interesting women in the literary world. Be that person who shares the best stories of women crushing it in their respective fields.
Share what you learn. In this age of social media, we are capable of sharing more than just cat videos. Use the technology we’ve been given to be a beacon of knowledge and to bolster women who are breaking down barriers. But sharing isn’t just about clicking “like” and re-posting on Facebook. It’s about sitting down and listening to live people, especially our elders.
Listen to the women who have come before us. Talk to those who have lived the history we talk about and the history we don’t talk about. Because our history isn’t just about the women who went big. It’s about the women who made the quiet differences in the world around them.
Teach what you know. Tell younger generations that they can make a difference. Show young women that they can be leaders. By teaching those younger than us about those who have come before them, they’ll understand how far we have come and how far we can go.
Paying it Forward
As Bookwomen, one of our greatest strengths is that we are storytellers and story lovers. We are the ones who carry the stories into the next generation. It is up to us to make sure that we move those stories forward, whether it be through storytelling or by encouraging teachers to include more women in their curriculum with toolkits from the Women’s History Museum.
Together we can move forward in preserving women’s stories so that we can make sure that women like Jessie White Mario aren’t forgotten.
Diana Giovinazzo is the co-creator of Wine, Women and Words, a weekly literary podcast featuring interviews with authors over a glass of wine. She is a board member with the LA chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. Keep an eye on her website for her debut novel, The Woman in Red. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @dianagauthor.