March 9 2012

Ladies for Liberty

Karin Agness

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a dinner party featuring John Blundell to hear more about his newest book, Ladies for Liberty: Women Who Made a Difference in American History.  He said he wrote the book because he noticed that American audiences were not aware of the many amazing women who fought for liberty and made a difference in that fight.  He selected 20 women (actually 22) to feature, choosing women who are no longer with us who held "pro-liberty, pro individual responsibility, free markets, private property rights and the rule of law" principles and had a major accomplishment.  He sought to include a wide range of women with little overlap.  Before you read the list, think of you who might include based on this criteria.  Some are well-known names, while others might be new to many.  Who made his list?  Here it is.

1. Mercy Otis Warren
2. Martha Washington
3. Abigail Adams
4. The Grimke Sisters
5. Sojourner Truth
6. Elizabeth Cady Stanton
7. Harriet Tubman
8. Harriet Beecher Stowe
9. Bina West Miller
10. Madam CJ Walker
11. Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane
12. Isabel Mary Paterson
13. Lila Acheson Wallace
14. Vivien Kellems
15. Taylor Caldwell
16. Clare Boothe Luce
17. Ayn Rand
18. Rose Director Friedman
19. Jane Jacobs
20. Dorian Fisher

The chapters on the women from the American Revolution reminded me of some of the women leading the Tea Party efforts today.  Although today women can and do run for office, many choose to fight for liberty in their respective communities by organizing causes and campaigns rather than seeking elective office.  I like this description of Mercy Otis Warren, who found a way to influence the decision-making process without holding elective office:

Mercy Otis Warren was to become the single most important woman of the Revolutionary era.  Not only did she stir patriotic fervor with her writings, she also counseled prominent leaders from John and Samuel Adams to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, influenced the Bill of Rights and, with her History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution, became the first woman to write a history of the United States.

I also want to share the story of Lila Acheson Wallace, who started Reader's Digest with her husband and died the richest woman of her time in America.  Blundell includes a number of stories about the influence of Reader's Digest on freedom around the world such as this one:

Hayek himself said on more than one occasion: "I thought it impossible to edit The Road to Serfdom to just a few thousand words, so imagine my surprise and my delight when they did such a good job!"

The extract in Reader's Digest was influential beyond the founders' wildest dreams.  It was this condensation that led a young British RAF officer named Antony Fisher to Hayek's office at the London School of Economics.  Fisher told Hayek he was in total agreement with the Digest condensation and wanted to go into politics and "put it all right."  Hayek counseled otherwise: set up an institute to make the case to the intellectual classes for a market-based society.  Their influence would prevail and the politicians would follow, he argued.

Fisher made a fortune factory farming chickens and in the mid 1950s he established the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, UK, to do just what Hayek had suggested.  Two decades later it provided the intellectual underpinnings for what became known as "Thatcherism" and was copied the world over.

Wallace was a successful businesswoman who ended up influencing politics by pursuing a business idea.  This woman certainly was a lady for liberty who made a difference!

If you don't know the story of all of the women on the above list, I would encourage you to read Blundell's book.

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