Icons in Women's History - Virginia Woolf

Megan Ortiz

“But for women, I thought, looking at the empty shelves, these difficulties were infinitely more formidable.”


Virginia Woolf’s seminal essay, A Room of One’s Own, was published in 1929, nine years after the ratification of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. It is still widely taught in college English classes across the country today, and for what purpose? Should not a change of law be all that women need to feel like their voice matters in the face of formidable difficulties?


Woolf begs us to closely examine the empty shelves of women. As she, and many before and after her have demonstrated, putting pen to paper in terms of the law only accomplishes so much. There lies a shift in social consciousness that must occur in order for policies to truly matter in the way they were intended. She brings to the forefront of the psyche the things women need to use their minds to their full capacity by practicing exactly what she preached: extensive use of her own mind.


As women, and humans, we still examine our empty shelves daily. Woolf inspires me to use my passion as a means to an end, even in times where the end is uncertain. The only certain way to make a better end for women is to engage the mind and show the world what we are made of, to step to the plate every day and work for exactly the things they said we could not do. For even if they continue to say we cannot, we must know that we can. It is not our place to demean others to bring ourselves up, but it is our place to put in the hard work to ensure those after us continue to work hard and with passion, in a setting where women are allowed to let their minds flourish, filling up the empty shelves.


“But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile.”