9 Quotes From Women Whose Scandals Changed History

Editor's Note:

If you’re stirred by these author quotes, amble down our archive for more.

March is Women’s History Month, but too often we stick to celebrating those whose accomplishments are relatively accessible and easy to appreciate, especially by today’s standards. The true rebels, trouble-makers, and outsiders can end up on the sidelines, right at the time when they should be lifted up as an inspiration to future trailblazers.

The following women occupied very different spheres in society, drawing their own vastly different conclusions regarding a woman’s role in the world — in many cases resulting in imprisonment, censure, or public humiliation. March provides us with a handy excuse to re-read and redeem these figures, in defiance of all those who’d prefer we forgot them entirely.

Emma Goldman, as quoted in the San Francisco Call, 1901
“I feel sure that the police are helping us more than I could do in ten years. They are making more anarchists than the most prominent people connected with the anarchist cause could make in ten years. If they will only continue I shall be very grateful; they will save me lots of work.”

Mae West, “Belle of the Nineties,” 1934
“It ain’t no sin if you crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don’t break any.”

Angela Davis, “Afro Images: Politics, Fashion, and Nostalgia” Critical Inquiry, 1994
“It is both humiliating and humbling to discover that a single generation after the events that constructed me as a public personality, I am remembered as a hairdo.”

Colette, Chéri, 1920
“I love my past. I love my present. I’m not ashamed of what I’ve had, and I’m not sad because I have it no longer.”

Nina Simone, I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone, 1992
“It was always Marx, Lenin, and revolution — real girl’s talk.”

Janis Ian, Society’s Child, 2008
“People got crazy. A radio station in Atlanta dared to put ‘Society’s Child’ in rotation, and someone burned the station down. Strangers walked up to me in restaurants and spit in my food. Sometimes, when I tried to walk onstage from the audience, a person would deliberately put out their foot to trip me. The mail I got spanned the gap between heaven and hell; one letter would thank me for bravely speaking out, the next would have razor blades taped to the envelope so I’d shred my fingers opening it.”

Gypsy Rose Lee, as quoted in American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, 2010
“H.L. Mencken called me an ecdysiast. I have also been described as deciduous. The French call me a déshabilleuse. In less-refined circles I’m known as a strip teaser.”

Renée Richards, No Way Renée, 2007
“I never wanted to be pigeonholed as a transsexual, and  I don’t want to be remembered solely as one who took on the world in behalf of her kind and won an important battle. I am first and last an individual. When I think of myself, I don’t think ‘transsexual.’ First, I am a doctor. If I have to characterize myself further, I am likely to say, ‘I am an old Blue.’ A Yale graduate. Why? Because transsexuality is something that happened to me; whereas, graduating from Yale and from the University of Rochester Medical School are things I made happen.”

Polly Adler, A House Is Not A Home, 1953
“What it comes down to is this: the grocer, the butcher, the baker, the merchant, the landlord, the druggist, the liquor dealer, the policeman, the doctor, the city father and the politician — these are the people who make money out of prostitution, these are the real reapers of the wages of sin.”