International Women’s Day is a yearly event that takes place ever year on March 8 since 1909 to honor the women’s rights movement as well as bring attention to current and ongoing struggles women face all over the world. In the spirit of the day, I thought that this would be a good time to bring to light some of the amazing accomplishments of Bea, Rue, Estelle, and Betty. I was also inspired by a post I saw on Twitter this morning from Literary Hub, 10 Books to Read by Living Women (instead of these 10 by dead men), so I’ll also put on my librarian hat (do I ever take it off??) and do a little reader’s advisory by recommending some books that are written and inspired by each woman.
One of my favorite facts about Bea Arthur’s storied career is that she originated the role of the matchmaker, Yente, in the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof in 1964. Just two years later she won the Tony award for the role of Vera Charles in Mame. Before she found her way to the stage, though, she served in the Marine Corps Reserve during World War II. Of course Bea is also well-known for her groundbreaking role as Maude in the sitcom of the same name, but her legacy shines even brighter with the endowment she left to the Ali Forney Center in New York City to create a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. Like Betty, she also supported animal rights causes. Bea probably would never have thought of or described herself as a badass, but to me she epitomizes the word in her own unique way.
To read: Bea was outspoken and yet private at the same time, which is perhaps why she never wrote her memoirs. Her acting roles speak for themselves. She was also a feminist, and I think she would love the straightforward explanations of the history and goals of the movement in Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks.
Rue was born in Oklahoma and later majored in acting at the University of Tulsa, after which she moved to New York to continue her studies in 1956. I think that’s pretty remarkable for the time! She was clearly a small town girl with big dreams, and boy did she make them come true! Rue acted in many roles on the stage and screen, winning an Obie and an Emmy. Like Bea and Betty, Rue was also an animal rights supporter. In the 1990s, after her great success as Blanche, she even had her own clothing on QVC called A Touch of Rue.
To read: Rue’s autobiography, My First Five Husbands … and the Ones Who Got Away. Or, if you’re in more of a Blanche mood, I can think of nothing better than Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell!
Estelle’s career was just as extraordinary as the other Girls, but she is definitely best remembered as the sharp-witted but lovable Sophia. She won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for this role which, to fans of the show, needs no explanation. Married to businessman, Arthur Gettleman, in 1947 and the mother of two children, Estelle truly achieved a “have it all” life and career as an actress. Estelle was also an outspoken champion of LGBTQ rights and for AIDS awareness.
“Before [Golden Girls], every single older person was a mother or a grandmother. Now there are neighbors, secretaries and people who have jobs who are older people. You see roles they’ve never been allowed in before.”
To read: Estelle’s autobiography, If I Knew Then, What I Know Now… So What?. For Sophia, although this book deals with Irish-American characters, I think there are a lot of similarities to what she must’ve gone through immigrating from Sicily in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.
At 96 years young, Betty White is the only surviving Girl, and I think it truly goes without saying that she is beloved by everyone. While she is certainly well-known as Rose Nylund, long-time television viewers remember her from The Mary Tyler Moore Show as well as her many appearances on game shows throughout the 1960s and 70s. She even won an Emmy for Outstanding Game Show Host in 1983, and she has been inducted into the Television Hall of Fame as well as receiving a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. Oh, and she’s also the only woman to win Emmy awards in all performing comedic categories! Betty is also well-known for her love for animals and work on behalf of many animal rights causes and as a board member of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association for over 40 years. She is still acting on television and is a popular talk show guest.
To read: Betty loves to write! She’s published several of her own books, and she even won a Grammy for her recorded performance of If You Ask Me (and of Course You Won’t) in 2012. If you want to learn more about her career, try Here We Go Again: My Life in Television. To get into a Rose state of mind, I think Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin will do the trick.
Learn more about International Women’s Day here.