Thanks to the ease of email, sitting down and hand-writing an actual letter has fallen out of style. But we have to admit there’s something truly powerful about putting pen to paper in an effort to change the world. Below you’ll find a list of some of our favorite correspondences and open letters… and one we hope you’ll add your name to, too!
1. Nellie Bly
“Nellie Bly” was a pioneer of investigative journalism who would go on to write about the plight of working women, as well as a famous exposé on the brutal conditions at a New York women’s asylum. But Elizabeth Cochrane began her career under a different pseudonym: In response to a misogynistic article titled “What Girls Are Good For” in her local paper, Elizabeth sent in a blistering rebuttal under the name “Lonely Orphan Girl.” The paper’s editor was impressed and ran an ad trying to find her. When Cochrane arrived at the office and owned her letter, she was offered her first writing job.
2. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A vital text of the Civil Rights Movement, this open letter was written by Martin Luther King, Jr. during his time in a Birmingham jail in 1963. He wrote it in the margins of a newspaper — the only paper he had available — and gave bits and pieces of it to his lawyers to take back to the movement’s headquarters to assemble. The letter defends nonviolent resistance to racism and includes the famous line, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
3. Nelson Mandela
During his more than 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela wrote many letters. Some, such as a call to arms against apartheid in 1980, were read aloud in public. Others were meant just for his family, such as the many letters to his wife and children. Mandela was released from prison in 1990, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, and was inaugurated as the first democratically elected president of South Africa in 1994. You can read many of his letters, as well as journal entries and collected doodlings, in his book, Conversations with Myself.
4. Eva Tolage
When we first met Tanzanian teen Eva Tolage, she had just written a letter to President Obama. Eva wrote about the challenge of hunger, water, electricity, and corruption. She wrote about the challenges of being a girl. At the UN Summit later that year, President Obama actually responded to Eva, saying “Today, I say to Eva and hundreds of millions like you, we see you. We hear you. I’ve read your letter and we commit ourselves as nations as one world to the urgent work that must be done.” But Eva didn’t stop there: She rallied her classmates at Mlowa school to write a letter to their local leaders last year, asking for water and sanitation facilities to be provided at their school. (And she’s even written another letter to President Obama!) What an amazing example for students and activists everywhere!
And now we have a letter that we’d like you to sign. It’s an open letter to world leaders, asking them to prioritize girls’ education. 130 million girls around the world are out of school — that is unacceptable. When girls get an education, they are less likely to become child brides, less likely to contract HIV, and they have greater economic opportunities for the rest of their lives — which is good for everyone. On March 8, ONE members will deliver this open letter to their representatives and senators to let them know we want them to prioritize girls’ education. Stand with ONE and add your name here.