Judy Cox, Rebellious Daughters of History, 2021, Redwords, 9781912926947, £10, pp128
Reviewed by Lorna McKinnon
Where can we look to see the seedlings of the ideas we hold today in terms of the struggle for women’s liberation, for the liberation of all, for the abolition of slavery, and for an end to the atrocities of war? There are more people constituting these seedlings than we could possibly imagine. But if and when we dig deep through history, we will find endless examples of inspiring, leading women at the front of these battles for liberation. I say ‘dig deep’ because more often than not, these women, their contributions and their struggles, have been buried, ignored or written out of history. ‘Rebellious Daughters of History’ pays tribute to these women, bringing their stories to life.
Originating from some posts on her Facebook page, Cox began writing about rebellious women from history during the first lockdown in March last year, sparking long and engaging discussions about other women fighters for justice and liberation who could be pulled out and researched. All of this culminated and transpired into these inspiring pages.
I read about women Black Panthers fighting systemic racism in the US. I learned from labour movement leaders, anti-war and women’s rights campaigners, Ella May Wiggens and Mary Heaton. From Glasgow-born rent striker, suffragette and communist, Helen Crawford, to Pritilata Waddedar, Bangladeshi campaigner against British colonialism, all of these rebellious daughters are evidence that in every part of the world, in every pocket of struggle and throughout all periods of history, there has always been women at the front. There have always been women who stood up for unpopular issues that are now celebrated, women who refused to stay in their ‘place’, and even when it was the most challenging, women who fought for their principles and changed ideas.
They fought not only for themselves but for women and workers everywhere, rallying against the system that breeds injustice and inequality. They didn’t just want bread, they fought for roses too. As Cox herself says: ‘It’s not a book about women who fought for their own rights, but those who were part of a fight to change the system’. This is a key argument in the book: that class struggle has been integral to the victories that have been won by women in the fight for a better world, and it still is.
In conversation with Cox, she reminded me of an important point to take away from my reading: That this tribute is merely the beginning. Each of these women deserves a whole body of research detailing their stories. The rebellious daughters of today can take inspiration from these pages to carry out that research but also to fight in the struggles we face in the here and now.
Lorna McKinnon is a music teacher and member of the Socialist Workers’ Party in Glasgow.