On Columbus Day, 5 Women Who Deserve a National Holiday More Than He Does

Every year, the federal government officially recognizes 10 holidays. The inclusion of Columbus Day amongst them has long been controversial, due largely to Columbus's habit of systematically murdering and maiming the Indians he met — he was fond of making his Native American captives wear their own severed hands as necklaces, for example, and forcing their children into sex slavery. Also, he didn't discover America

Equally notable, though, is that of the three individuals honored by their own federal holiday, none are women. These five women all did worlds of good for their country, and we’d argue that they’re more deserving of federal holidays than Columbus.

Columbus Day

Every year, the federal government officially recognizes 10 holidays. The inclusion of Columbus Day amongst them has long been controversial, due largely to Columbus's habit of systematically murdering and maiming the Indians he met — he was fond of making his Native American captives wear their own severed hands as necklaces, for example, and forcing their children into sex slavery. Also, he didn't discover America

Equally notable, though, is that of the three individuals honored by their own federal holiday, none are women. These five women all did worlds of good for their country, and we’d argue that they’re more deserving of federal holidays than Columbus.

Sacajawea

If we’re going to honor pioneering American explorers, why not go with Sacajawea? A member of the Lemhi Shoshone, she accompanied Lewis and Clarke on their expedition to the Pacific coast as both an interpreter and a guide in 1804. Historians suggest that the mere presence of a Native American woman on the expedition helped reassure locals that the voyage was being undertaken with peaceful intent. In addition, when a boat filled with supplies nearly capsized in the Missouri River, it was Sacajawea who leapt into action and recovered tools, books and Lewis and Clarke’s journals, without which most of the historical record of the journey would have been lost.

Harriet Tubman

At the age of twelve, Tubman, who had been born into slavery, refused to help restrain a slave who’d went to a supply store without permission. The slave’s overseer responded by throwing a two-pound metal weight at the slave; it hit Tubman in the head instead, and she suffered debilitating brain injuries for the rest of her life as a result. This didn’t stop her, however, from escaping slavery and rescuing around 300 slaves as a conductor for the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, she worked as a spy for the Union Army, and leading an additional 700 slaves to freedom during the Combahee Ferry Raid. Sounds like she deserves a holiday to us.

Susan B. Anthony

Anthony is most famous today for her efforts on behalf of women’s suffrage, but she got her start as an abolitionist. Her women’s rights newsletter, The Revolution, was the first of its kind, and originally voiced support for African American as well as women’s suffrage. However, when black Americans were granted the right to vote in 1870, Anthony devoted herself fully to the cause of women’s suffrage. She was arrested and charged for voting in the 1872 presidential election, and while the judge found her guilty, but the case brought national attention to her and her cause. She died in 1906, but her lifelong efforts paid off fourteen years later, when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified and women were granted the right to vote. Today, Wisconsin public schools celebrate Susan B. Anthony Day on her birthday, February 15th, as does the state of Florida. She also has an occasionally-minted coin. 

Helen Keller

Keller is most famous for overcoming deafness and blindness as a child, but it’s rarely mentioned that she was also a radical anti-war suffragist and humanitarian. Keller, a card-carrying Socialist for much of her political career, met every American President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson and in 1920, and became one of the founding members of the American Civil Liberties Union. Also, she’s reportedly responsible for introducing the Japanese Akita dog to American shores, which alone should merit a federal holiday. Jimmy Carter proclaimed June 27th, 1980 Helen Keller Day, but that was only good for one year.

Rosa Parks

 As popular culture has thoroughly documented, Parks attained national attention in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white passenger. Although the driver, in ordering her to do so, was acting in violation of city law, Parks was nonetheless arrested. (Contrary to popular belief, the act of civil disobedience was planned, and Parks had already been an activist for years.) This led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by a young baptist minister named Martin Luther King, wherein black residents of Montgomery refused to ride the buses until the city’s Jim Crow laws were lifted (as 75 percent of the bus’s regular passengers were black, this was a serious economic blow to the transit company). The boycott lasted just over a year, at which point the city’s segregation laws were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and buses throughout Alabama were integrated.