‘Badass Women’s History’ Event Highlights Brave Women

Photo by Steve Fallon

Encouraging female students to be “badass women,” Dr. Ellen Ross, professor of history and women’s studies, provided students with insightful, less frequently discussed examples of brave and brash women of history during her lecture, entitled "Badass Women’s History." This lecture, sponsored by the Women’s Center, served as a part of Ramapo’s Women’s History Month, also referred to as “Herstory Month.”

“The concept was badass women who generally are not making it into our mainstream history textbooks. It’s my hope that a lot of the stories and identities and the names that you’re going to be hearing tonight are not going to be familiar,” Kat McGee, assistant director of the Center for Student Involvement and coordinator of the Women’s Center, said.

Presenting her gallery of badass women, Ross covered women from Bertha Bracey, a Quaker who was active in rescuing refugees from Nazi oppression, to Ella Baker, famous for her behind-the-scenes work on prominent African American civil rights organizations and on to more contemporary women such as Dollie Burwell who fought for justice against environmental racism.

“History is full of these remarkable women and they make the statement that women have the same capacity as men — they have not been spending the history of human civilization in the kitchen,” Ross said.  

Ross’s list also included people who dealt with issues of gender identity. Renee Richards is a transgender woman who was assigned male at birth, and underwent her transition while becoming a successful ophthalmologist and tennis player. Jack Garland, also known as “Babe Bean,” who lived during the late 1800s and early 1900s and was assigned female at birth, was considered badass at the time for cross-dressing, although today Garland might be considered to be transgender.

“Badass women are found everywhere — you’re some of them, your friends are some of them and they’re liberally sprinkled throughout the population. In anybody’s lifetime they will have a badass incident or period of their life,” Ross said.

The lecture was concluded with the story of “Peggy,” a 23-year-old friend of Ross’s daughter, who came out as a lesbian in high school. Although the incidents were small, Peggy dealt with bullying after coming out, to the point where her car was vandalized. Peggy is labeled as a badass woman because she never faltered in expressing her sexuality.

“She is a reminder,” said Ross, “of how much hearty, strong, courageous, persistent behavior women are capable of on an almost daily basis.”