Annie Oakley: Contributor to the Feminist Ideals Today

The weapon that brought a bang to feminism

With the ever increasing wave of feminism arising this century, it is important to travel back in time and explore the life of one of the most distinguished American feminists: Annie Oakley. With her sharp shooting skills and her ideology that women are as independent as men, she believed women should be taught how to shoot and to be able to carry a gun with them for emergency protection. Oakley opened the door to future feminist movements in addition to her own. Through her social status and her ability to take on any male opponent, she proved that being a woman does not limit a person’s ability to hold any position in society or perform any activity.

Given name Phoebe Ann Moses, Annie Oakley was born in 1860 and suffered through a dramatic upbringing in which she experienced the loss of her biological father as well as her step-father, along with being sent away to a farm; she lived with a different family where she was forced to perform arduous labor both inside and outside of the household. 1 After years of being treated as a slave and being repeatedly abused on the farm, she returned home where she was then forced to pay her mother’s $200 monthly mortgage at the age of fifteen. She took to shooting game, which she had learned from her father at a young age, to sell to nearby hotels and marketplaces in order to meet the mortgage payment. After boasting for years about her shooting skills, she found herself invited to a challenge against one of the best shooters at the time, Frank E. Butler. When she shot against him, he was amazed at her skills and became fond of her after she won the challenge, and the two married shortly thereafter. The two traveled throughout the country and were invited to star in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. After performing with her husband and allowing him the main spotlight throughout their relationship, Annie eventually reached a turning point in which she had become the star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, known as the “Champion Markswoman,” and Butler, feeling inferior beside her, retired and became her manager. 2

After sixteen years of extensive travelling to many countries, and given the incredible opportunity to meet many famous individuals along with kings and queens, Annie and her husband decided to quit the show and retire to a relaxing life in Cambridge, Maryland. Although she retired at an early age, she wrote to the current president at the time, William McKinley, asking to be sent to the front line in the Spanish-American War, to which she received no response. Then, when World War I erupted, Annie offered to hold shooting lessons in order to help teach young men how to shoot properly without injuring themselves or their fellow soldiers; however, her offer was declined. Years later, she decided to make her comeback and begin to perform in shows, but after a car accident, and then a train accident in which she was injured along with her husband, she was too frail to do much, and the Butlers relocated to Annie’s hometown where she worked on her memoirs, which would be published and distributed throughout the country.

Champion Markswoman and Feminism Reformer
Champion Markswoman and Feminist Reformer | Courtesy of the NEH Foundation

Although there is still much debate today on whether Annie Oakley was truly an advocate for women’s equality in the United States or if she continued the “ladylike” expectations that were apparent in the country, it is clear that she was able to obtain a sense of belonging in what was a man’s world. She spent a large majority of her time helping to teach women how to shoot a gun safely, and it is estimated that she helped approximately fifteen thousand women to do so. Oakley is viewed as a complex woman today because she was seen as petite and fragile; however, she earned her place in society by her talent and ability to prove that she was just as capable, if not more, than any man at her time. In addition, her fame made her a public figure, which gave her power to stand up for other women at the time and produce a new image of women that had not been widely seen previously—that of independence. Contradictory to many beliefs, she did not politically take sides with other feminists of her time, but instead showed those around her that she possessed skills that were previously never demonstrated by a woman. 3 Oakley was very aware of her role in society, both in the United States and internationally, and made a point to be as feminine as she could be in order to show that even the most ladylike females are capable of doing tasks and performing “manly” activities. Along with being a sharp shooter, Annie took up riding a bicycle, which was also considered a “man’s sport” at the time, and made a point of showing that it should be acceptable for a woman to participate in sports and that these sports should not be confined to a specific gender. Oakley succeeded in making a name for women all across the world and proved to many countries that she traveled to that one’s gender makes no difference. She demonstrated that both genders are capable of participating in sports that had been male dominated in the centuries preceding her.  4

 

 

 

  1. Ron Soodalter, “Annie Oakley vs. Hearst’s Worst,” Wild West 27, no. 5 (February 2015): 30.
  2. Mary E. Virginia, “Annie Oakley,” Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2016, http://blume.stmarytx.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=88806878&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  3. Lisa Bernd, “Annie Oakley and the disruption of Victorian expectations,” Theatre Symposium 20 (2012): 42.
  4. Sarah Russell Cansler, “Annie Oakley, Gender, and Guns: The ‘Champion Rifle Shot’ and Gender Performance, 1860-1926,” Pursuit: The Journal of Undergraduate Research at the University of Tennessee 5, no. 1 (March 2014): 164.

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66 Responses

  1. I had no idea who Annie Oakley was until today and I’m glad I do now because a lot of the stuff she fought against is still going on today. It’s cool that she was able to prove that you can do anything a man can but still keep your womanhood. Great article by the way it was interesting and engaging throughout. I feel like I learned something new about an important part of history.

  2. I had no idea who Annie Oakley was until today, and I’m glad I know who she is. Although she never was considered a “feminist” she was still a very important female figure in the woman’s world. She proved to society that you could be feminine and still accomplish “manly” tasks. She is an inspiration to all women who want to prove themselves to the world (sadly we still have to prove our skills to be considered a professional/expert) and want to pursue a career that is male-dominated!

  3. Ann Oakley is quite the interesting individual, and I am glad I found an article about her. I never knew that she had a rough childhood, nor that said rough childhood would lead to a chain of events that caused her to become one of the greatest shooters. I’m also intrigued by how she continued to act in manners often considered feminine whilst doing tasks seen as manly for the time.

  4. The title of this article captivated me because I love to see women changing the world. I was glad I decided to read it, Anne Oakley reminds me of myself in some ways as far as doing things most would consider a “mans” activity but seeing how she put herself out there in competitions and seeing how she would teach other women shows just how dedicated she was to changing peoples views on certain activities like shooting. She seems like such a strong female and proved to many that women can do what men do too and the author did a good job of showing us how courageous she was.

  5. Such an informative and interesting article! Very captivating. Honestly I am unfamiliar with this side of Annie Oakley and wish I knew more. I knew she was a historical name for women in the young Americas. This article gave such great information about feminism. As well as the transition of more female involvement in the Americas. Because of this article it gave great insight into Annie Oakley and transition into feminism involvement with United States history. I loved reading your article. Great job!

  6. The name Annie Oakley was unfamiliar but once I read the article and saw the picture of her I remember learning about her in grade school. This article covers feminism in a different light. Although Annie wasn’t a labeled feminist she definitely proved some points about women. To this day women are always put down or are expected they are a “poser” when doing something a man would usually do. For example a women that is walking with a skateboard is immediately asked is she can kick flip or even know what an ollie is. Or a women that plays basketball is expected to be on a competitive team to have any “skills” while men can just hoop for fun, even listening to certain bands and wearing one of their shirts we are asked to name five songs from the band. These issues are still present but not as bad as they were. It is great to remember how Annie Oakley was one of the women who proved to men that she was skillful in something men wouldn’t expect a woman to be skillful in.

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