In her footsteps: where trailblazing women changed the world

By | Category: Travel destinations

Ahead of International Women’s Day (8 March), discover the lives and locations of trailblazing women who changed the course of history

Where: Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Mothers of the Disappeared

Every Thursday in Buenos Aires, the Madres (Mothers) of Plaza de Mayo march around the square’s obelisk. Some wear handkerchiefs on their silver hair, some hold banners showing the faces of their missing children, others carry signs: ‘Ni olvido, ni perdón’ (We’ll never forgive, we’ll never forget) and ‘Memoria, verdad y justicia’ (Memory, truth and justice). They’ve been marching weekly since 1977, demanding justice for children who disappeared during Argentina’s military dictatorship. The nationwide nightmare of 1976–1983 began when a right-wing military junta overthrew Isabel Perón, president of Argentina. In the name of ‘national reorganisation’, the military government started rounding up guerrillas as well as journalists, students, writers and anyone suspected to stand in opposition to the regime. Human rights organisations estimate that as many as 40,000 people (known as desaparecidos, or the disappeared) were kidnapped by the military, thrown into clandestine detention and executed. The Madres originally united to seek information about the whereabouts of their children. Early on, it was dangerous to congregate in public: indeed, one of the founders, Azucena Villaflor, was captured and killed by the government. But as the disappearances continued, the Madres grew in number and in collective outrage. While some military leaders were later convicted of genocide, many of the Madres still don’t know what happened to their family members — and they go on marching every Thursday, demanding answers.

Plaza de Mayo is in downtown Buenos Aires, easily accessible by metro and bus and not far from the country’s presidential palace.

The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo protest every Thursday. Credit: Kaye Holland

Where: Val-Kill Cottage, Hyde Park, USA
Who: Eleanor Roosevelt

There’s nothing remarkable about disliking your mother-in-law. What is remarkable, however, is when it’s the impetus for building a house of your own on your husband’s family estate. As grand as their home in Hyde Park was, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) disliked ‘retreats’ to Springwood, chafing under Sara Roosevelt’s control. Luckily, there was room for both women on the 181-acre property. In 1924, with a lifetime lease from her husband, Eleanor and two friends built Stone Cottage as a residence. She named the area Val- Kill, a loose translation of the Dutch for waterfall and stream. 

Two years later the group erected another building to serve as the home of Val-Kill Industries, an idea Eleanor had for area farmers to earn extra income. Known more for her passion for human rights and her radical belief in women’s ability to do things than her interest in homemaking, Eleanor’s Val-Kill is basic in its interiors. Even so, the Roosevelts happily entertained friends, family, and world leaders there. At Val-Kill, Eleanor flourished, gathering like-minded people to discuss and solve social issues of the day. In 1936 Val-Kill Industries closed, its legacy living on as a model for New Deal recovery programs. Eleanor went on to remodel the big building into a home for herself. Val-Kill would be the only place she ever felt truly at home, as well as a base to host the dignitaries she worked with in her role at the UN.

Reproduced with permission from In Her Footsteps (Lonely Planet; out now)

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