It has often been said that actions speak louder than words. However, actions coupled with the written word can last even longer.
Both of the women I have chosen for this month’s blog hail from unique backgrounds. Blessed with good educations, they exhibited courage in the face of tyranny, and both followed the Muslim faith.
And, although separated by several decades, they both drew inspiration for writing while living in Paris, France.
Isabelle Eberhardt was born in Switzerland in 1877 and from her teenage years showed a strong interest in the history of North Africa. Extremely competent in languages, she spoke French, Russian, German, and Italian, and later became fluent in Arabic as well.
In addition to languages, Isabelle had a talent for writing and became published by the age of eighteen. After the success of her first written piece, she began to focus her writing on the culture of North Africa, even though she had never been there. Two years later, after several more pieces were published, she journeyed with her mother to Algeria. Together, they chose to live outside the European quarter, and thus alienated themselves from the French population.
When her mother died a few months later, Isabelle decided to convert to Islam and remain in Algeria. She soon began to dress as an Arabic man in order to freely roam throughout Northern Africa to explore the culture. When her funds ran out, she left for Paris to write about French colonialism.
She eventually returned to Algeria, met an Algerian soldier and married him, and continued to write. For the next several years she studied Islam, wrote for newspapers advocating the theme of decolonization for North Africa, and traveled widely.
At the age of twenty-seven, in 1904, while renting a small mud house with her husband, a flash flood struck the area and Isabelle was killed. Many of her previously unpublished manuscripts were made public after her death and she was eventually regarded as a force of literacy action in the decolonization movement.
It would take Algeria another fifty-eight years before the country achieved independence from France.
Noor Inayat Kahn was born ten years after Isabelle Eberhardt died, but she was also a champion against political oppression.
Born in Moscow to a Muslim-Indian father and American mother, Noor Inayat Kahn initially moved with her family to London. Soon, the family relocated to Paris where Noor received much of her education and became fluent in both English and French.
She started her writing career penning children’s stories, but when France fell to the Nazi occupation in 1940, Noor escaped to England. There, she joined the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and trained to become a wireless operator.
Her mastery of dual languages made her an asset and she was quickly recruited to become a special agent. She would go on to spend two years as an active member of the French Resistance transmitting messages to the British.
In October of 1943, she was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to solitary confinement in a German prison. One year later she was transferred to the Dachau concentration camp and executed by a firing squad.
She was thirty years old.
Both Isabelle and Noor left their mark on the world through their writings, their courageous acts against political domination, and by being strong young women.
It helps to remember that good people exist in all parts of the world, regardless of religious and ethnic diversity.
Strong women might come from a variety of backgrounds, but they are united by their passion of trying to make this a better world for others.
Thank you to Harley Gamble who shared Isabelle’s story with me.
And, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE BLOG! Strong Women in History is starting its 5th year with over 600 followers in 64 different countries. Give the blog a birthday present by sharing it with a new friend and telling them to become a follower, too.
You can catch me also on Twitter @LHsittig, my website at www.lindasittig.com, and Amazon: www.amazn.com/1940553024. I am currently hard at work finishing my second novel, Last Curtain Call, which features a strong female protagonist caught up in the violent coal mining strike of 1894, and was inspired by the life of a real woman.