Self care is important, especially when one is involved in the social justice world. Statistics can be overwhelming, research for articles can be depressing, following the news can be discouraging, and to top it off you somehow get stuck watching a Holocaust movie.
There is no one way to kick these blues, and what may work for one may not work for another. When I find myself becoming despondent, I look to the past. As a student of history, I love stories of women who beat the odds, stand up in the face of opposition, and fight nail and tooth for what they believe. These women re-inspire me and remind me why I work for change.
Let me introduce you to Virginia Cowles.
Cowles was born into a wealthy family in 1912. She was privately educated, a debutant, and a socialite. Feeling stifled by the role she was forced to play, Cowles threw off the conventions of her class and moved to New York to become a reporter. She soon became bored with the trivial fashion and love assignments she was given, and so quit her post and set off to travel the world.
She submitted articles of her travels to the Hearst papers. She used her social connections to interview high status politicians, including the Italian minister for propaganda. Yet she wanted more. She persuaded a Hearst editor to send her to Spain to cover the civil war.
Cowles was determined to get the story from both sides. Female journalists were already under great suspicion for being spies, and traveling between the lines exposed Cowles to even greater danger. She was abandoned in Loyalist trenches by a sexist scientist during a mortar attack. She was held captive for three days in a Republican camp by a Soviet general. Still, Cowles jumped at every opportunity to go to the front.
Spain eventually became too dangerous, and Cowles returned to England for a summer, then immediately left for Germany. She attended and reported on Nazi rallies and meetings with Hitler. Europe was on the brink of war and Cowles was determined to cover it. She flew to Czechoslovakia the day before the borders closed. Trains were stopped, phone wires cut, and the American Embassy left a gas mask for her on her bed.
Soon, Cowles and two friends left to cover the Germans crossing the Czech border. They were intercepted in Oberplan by Gestapo, denounced as spies, and sentenced to death by firing squad at dawn. Right before dawn, an official from the Reich came and released them. Bold as brass, Cowles demanded not only an apology from the Gestapo, but also enough gasoline to return to Prague.
Virginia Cowles covered the entire Second World War, reporting from Germany, France, Russia, and Finland. She wrote for the Daily Telegraph, Chicago Sun, and Sunday Times, as well as Hearst Papers. Female correspondences were few, and all had to work harder, be more resourceful, and go farther than the men to prove themselves.
And Cowles did it all in heels.
(For more on female correspondents of WWII, I highly suggest The Women Who Wrote the War by Nancy Caldwell Sorel.)