Whether it is history class or literature, we rarely read about women of color and the fantastic things they have accomplished. Of course, to some extent, we know a little about them. We know their names, but we do not know of the things they have achieved. Being a literature student and a woman of color, I always wondered why I never saw women like me in any books—neither in texts nor scriptures.
If there ever was a brown girl character in a novel or movie, they always portrayed her as a damsel in distress or a woman in dire need of saving. It angered me because the brown women I’ve known personally were some of the most resilient ones. With a mind as sharp as a knife and a heart as hard as a stone, they have conquered the world with wisdom and clarity. But unfortunately, some of their most significant achievements go unnoticed by mainstream media and history too.
Often, people don’t consider them important enough to discuss or write about. I have compiled a list of the four most affluent women of color in history who paved the way for women like us to follow our dreams.
Fatima Al-Fihri: affluent Muslim woman in history and founder of the world’s oldest university
Fatima Al-Fihri, the founder of the world’s oldest university, was born in the year 800AD. There have been many secrets revolving around her; not much is known about her early life. During the years of her life, Fatima was often known as the “mother of boys.” Perhaps the reason why was because she taught a lot of boys under her supervision. After the demise of her father and husband, Fatima inherited a large sum of money. With that money, Fatima decided to build a mosque called Qarawiyyin, which later turned into a university.
The University of al-Qarawiyyin was established in the year 859. Both UNESCO and Guinness World Record recognized it for being the first degree-granting academic institution in the world. To study a wide range of subjects, students worldwide traveled to attain their degrees from the University of al-Qarawiyyin. Some of the various subjects taught were languages, astronomy, and natural science.
Fatima-al-Fihri has studied at the University of al-Qarawiyyin. This was the kind of university considered one of the major intellectual centers in medieval times. She was well-educated, affluent, and a woman who wished to improve the community. Indeed, it was a nightmare for all those who did not prefer their women to be educated.
One of the main reasons why Fatima-al-Fihri is such an inspiration to not only Muslim women but to women of all races, religions, and age is because she did something that was not done before. Fatima-al-Fihri waited for no one to rescue her or to change her life. She did what she had to do and followed her dreams of starting an educational institution. She had, indeed, left behind a legacy.
Federica Montseny: anarchist, writer, and the first Spanish woman to hold a cabinet post
“But we must create in each person, a sense of responsibility, in order that each one of us can have the right to enjoy all rights.”– Federica Montseny
Federica Montseny was introduced to the world of politics at an early age. Her parents ran their own publishing company after editing La Revista Blanca, which was an anarchist journal. Federica spoke on women’s emancipation when she contributed her articles to various other platforms other than anarchists’ journal. During the Spanish Civil War, she worked towards the same cause for women’s emancipation in the Republican Government as a health minister.
Federica was successful in legalizing abortion and implementing sex education along with family planning. In 1942, she was imprisoned, and in 1944, she was released upon the liberation of France. Federica supported the Spanish anarchist until she died. She wrote various articles throughout her life. However, in 1987, she published Mis Primeros cuarenta años (My First Forty Years), her autobiography. One of Montseny’s most inspiring things is that she was a lone woman in the all-male world’s Spanish politics. She did what most women were afraid to do in the past.
Being a minister, she improved orphanage conditions, attempted to regulate abortion safely, and created rehabilitation schools for prostitution. She paved the way in politics for women who were to come after her. Federica Montseny was and still is an icon of inspiration to all those women who aspire to pursue a career in politics.
Harriet Tubman: a woman who fought for liberty and the first woman to lead combat assault
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”– Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman was born and raised in Maryland’s Eastern Shore as a slave. In the place where she grew up, people often dismissed the fine line between freedom and slavery. It was not uncommon for families in the Maryland Eastern Shore to include family members who were both enslaved and free. John Tubman, who was Harriet’s husband, was a free black man living his life peacefully. However, she did not attain freedom until 1849 – when she fled to Pennsylvania.
Harriet’s husband refused to escape with her and remarried after her departure. Over the next decade of her fleeing, Harriet would often return to Maryland, but it was only to rescue individuals held captive for slavery. That is how she earned her nickname “Moses” because she left a single passenger behind in none of her journeys. The work she did was not easy. There was a fear of her being caught. She put her life on the line to rescue the innocent, and in the year 1850, the slaveholders placed a bounty for whoever caught her. Severe punishments were imposed on those individuals who assisted her to escape in any way.
Despite all of that, Harriet Tubman fought for the right to freedom and did the right thing. She was not afraid of the wrongdoers, nor was she afraid of someone coming after her. She fought for justice, and now, she is a source of inspiration for all those women who are threatened for speaking the truth. If she can do it, living in an era of no rights for the minorities, why can’t you?
Bilquis Edhi: a woman who provides homes for the homeless
“Death will come at an appointed time. So don’t be afraid of it.”– Bilquis Edhi
Bilquis Edhi‘s career is as a professional nurse and one of the most inspiring impactful philanthropists. Due to her active social work, she was given the nickname of “The Mother of Pakistan” Working at the Bilquis Edhi Foundation, various Pakistani services are run with her charity organization’s sponsorship, including emergency service and a hospital in Pakistan. The Bilquis Edhi foundation has saved more than 16,000 unwanted babies or children abandoned by their parents.
Being a young woman who was not so good in studies, Bilquis Edhi pursued a nursing career and did a nursing training course. It was a foundation started by her husband. But together, Bilquis and Abdul Sattar Edhi provided aid to the minority and the underrepresented members of the society. Her work and her charity organizations have been severely impactful in assisting victims of natural disasters or war.