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Not A Barbie Conference Guest Post: Keynote Speaker Dina Vargo

Today's post is from author and speaker, Dina Vargo.  Dina is the author of Wild Women of Boston, and we are honored to have her join us as our opening keynote speaker at the Not A Barbie Career and Empowerment Conference on April 8th.  To learn more about Dina, the conference, and our amazing Dinaimage(1).PNGworkshops, please visit




Boston’s history is filled with what I call “Wild Women.” There are countless female firebrands, matronly mavericks and rabble-rousing reformers throughout Boston’s history who could literally fill a book…or two…or three.


For example:

  • The first African American poet in America’s history? Check. Phyllis Wheatley.

  • The only Mayflower passenger to make her way to Boston? Mary Chilton is buried in King’s Chapel Cemetery.

  • The first African American female doctor and registered nurse? Double check. Rebecca Lee Crumpler and Mary Eliza Mahoney.

  • Writers of classic literature? Authors Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe both wrote and lived in Boston.

  • Looking for the leader of the campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday? Give thanks to Sarah Josepha Hale.

  • Searching for suffragettes? My vote goes to Julia Ward Howe, Lucy Stone and Maud Wood Park.

  • Teachers of the blind? Annie Sullivan taught Helen Keller after being educated at the Perkins School for the Blind in South Boston.


Nobel Peace Prize winners, scientists, doctors and nurses. Architects, composers and artists. Writers and teachers. Collectors and patrons. Entrepreneurs. Abolitionists. Reformers. Boston has many women to be proud of. There is a Boston Women’s Heritage Trail with no fewer than sixteen self-guided walks through almost as many Boston neighborhoods.


However, I like to think about the OTHER women, the women who don’t traditionally make the lists above. Their stories are no less remarkable. Like Elizabeth Murray and the Cuming sisters who were entrepreneurs in colonial Boston. Mercy Otis Warren did her job to galvanize the public in supporting independence from England in the run-up to the Revolutionary War. Sarah Parker Remond refused to be moved over one hundred years before Rosa Parks boarded a bus, and Kathrine Switzer ran her own “rogue” marathon in Boston.


Many of these women had a lot in common. None of them really set out to be mavericks—well, except for Isabella Stewart Gardner, who was a natural at thumbing her nose at Boston’s elite while they had no choice but to bow to her wishes. Most of these women found themselves in extraordinary circumstances and had the fortitude to meet their challenges head on. They by and large claimed no wish or need for the spotlight. One can picture Mary Brown Patten shrinking after being lionized in the newspapers after she piloted a clipper ship around Cape Horn in the stormiest of winter seasons. She died in practical anonymity, and she wanted it that way.


Others were concerned about not stepping out of proscribed boundaries; Mercy Otis Warren in part wrote anonymously because her writing would not have carried the weight that it did if people knew she was a woman. Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall put the leadership of the Audubon Society in the hands of men, knowing they faced the same problem as Mercy. And that was over one hundred years later! And our most modern of Boston’s wild women sits quietly by the sea, secure in the fact that she got her job as the nation’s first and only female U.S. Coast Guard lighthouse keeper because she was the best person for it. Have we come a long way, baby? There’s hope yet.


There are many other stories waiting to be told, and stories still being made every day. There’s so much to be learned and to be inspired by in taking a good look back to history. Look no further than our Congresswomen who all wore white to President Trump’s address on February 28th to signify they stood in solidarity for women’s rights out of respect and reverence for the suffragettes who led the fight for women’s voting rights. Those rights were hard won. Consider that the suffragettes started in earnest in 1848 at Seneca Falls and cast a vote for the first time in 1920. That’s a 72-year-long battle.


There are so many stories to share, so many stories worth knowing. I will be honored to do my part to bring a bit of inspiration and uplift via history at the Not a Barbie Conference next month.

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