Badass Woman #4: ImeIme Umana

ImeIme UmanaIn January, ImeIme Umana was elected the first Black woman president of the Harvard Law Review.

A law review is a scholarly journal focusing on legal issues. The editors of the Harvard Law Review are 92 students who are selected on a mostly competitive basis, and then the editors all vote on which editor will be president. The law review president is basically the highest position a student can hold at Harvard Law School — and the Harvard Law Review is one of the most prestigious law journals in the world, with the largest circulation of any law review.

Past presidents of the Harvard Law Review include Barack Obama, who was the first Black president of the law review in 1990. Read more ›

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Badass Woman #3: Phyllis Frye

Phyllis Frye sits behind the bench in a judge's robe.In 2010, Phyllis Frye became one of the first two openly transgender judges in the United States. She currently serves as an Associate Judge for the City of Houston Municipal Courts.

Phyllis was born Phillip Frye around 1950, a time of very rigid gender roles. Phillip didn’t understand why his body didn’t match his brain, why he wanted to be in the Girl Scouts instead of the Boy Scouts, why he wanted to wear dresses. And he thought he was the only person who had these types of feelings. As a teenager, he got caught trying on his mother’s dresses, but covered it up with lies.

In college, he married a woman and they had a son, and Phillip later joined the Army. He continued to dress in women’s clothes in secret, until his wife caught him. He underwent numerous therapies that didn’t “cure” him, and Phillip’s wife eventually divorced him. He got kicked out the Army and tried to commit suicide. Read more ›

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Badass Woman #2: Mary Two-Axe Earley

Mary Two-Axe EarleyHere’s another Badass Woman I’d like to tell you about. Mary Two-Axe Earley was a Mohawk from Canada who fought for the rights of Aboriginal women.

Mary Two-Axe was born on the Mohawk reserve of Kahnawake, Quebec, in 1911. She grew up there and in North Dakota, and when she turned 18, she moved to New York City, as many Mohawks did at the time.

In Canada, the Indian Act (first passed in 1876) determines who legally has status as a native person in Canada. Those who have status are often referred to as “Status Indians,” and they are recognized under federal law and have access to certain government programs and services. Read more ›

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Badass Woman #1: Viola Desmond

Viola Desmond on a Canadian stampOne of my friends has been posting 100 days of Badass Women on Facebook, so I’m stealing his idea to write about a few of my favorite Badass Women, starting with Viola Desmond in honor of Black History Month.

Viola Desmond was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1914. She started out as a schoolteacher, but she really wanted to be a beautician when she grew up. Unfortunately, beautician training in Halifax wasn’t open to Black women, so she traveled to Montreal, Atlantic City, and New York for training. She came back to Halifax and opened her own hair salon, as well as founding The Desmond School of Beauty Culture, where Black women could train to be beauticians. Desmond also started her own line of beauty products. This was at a time when women, much less Black women, did not generally have the opportunity to become entrepreneurs.

On November 8, 1946, Desmond was on a business trip when her car broke down in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. She had to wait a day for the necessary car parts to be available, so she decided to go watch a movie to pass the time. Desmond didn’t know the theatre was racially segregated, so she tried to buy a ticket for the main floor section. However, Blacks were only allowed to sit in a segregated balcony upstairs. She was told she could only buy the balcony ticket, which she did. But then she went to sit in the main floor section anyway. Read more ›

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