Feministory: The Great Witch Hunt(s)

adventures in feministory

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out last week, and it’s pretty safe to say that most of the universe has witches (and wizards) on the brain. The blockbuster success of the Harry Potter franchise is not all that surprising, though, considering that humans have been obsessed with witchcraft both real and imagined for millennia. One of our favorite things to do throughout history has been to accuse social outliers of one form or another of being witches, whatever exactly that means. Usually it has meant “making me and mine totally uncomfortable and disrupting the status quo and thus inviting persecution, torture, and death upon yourself as a witchy-type person.” 

So let’s break that down a little bit. You know those stickers that say, “Well-behaved women rarely make history”? Well, they also rarely get into the history books without getting called a witch at some point along the way. Go figure. This week, I’ve rounded up some historical figures of varying degrees of renown who would, according to their detractors, have fit right in at Hogwarts with Hermione, Ron, and Harry. 

Rachel Carson


Many have heard of Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book Silent Spring was a game-changer in the use of DDT and other toxic chemicals in the treatment of water, plants, and even people as insect repellent. She died seven years too early to see her environmental work reap political benefits, but she is the reason DDT was banned in the 70s by the U.S. government, and Silent Spring remains essential environmentalist reading in this country and abroad. So, let’s add this up. Woman? Check. Trying to change massive American industry (chemical engineering)? Check. Mentions nature in her argument? Check. CONNECTION TO OCCULT: OBVIOUS, said her opponents. Her book was called “sinister,” and the pesticide industry called her “a hysterical woman,” “a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature.”

My guess for Rachel? Ravenclaw. Clever, brave under pressure, independent thinkers. 

Taslima Nasrin


Taslima Nasrin is a Bangladeshi physician, writer, and feminist icon who is currently blacklisted in her home country, and has had fatwas (a price on her head) in several others. She has never stopped writing, and has gained a following in the last two decades while she has lived in exile. After the publication of her first book, Shame, posters went up around Bangladesh that said, “Taslima Nasrin is a filthy, nasty witch, a bitch, a sinner, a sex-lover, a prostitute, an anti-religious and anti-Islam atheist! All are warned to stay far away from this filthy woman.” 

Taslima would be a Gryffindor for sure. Bravery, distrust of authority, and an insatiable desire for truth-telling in the face of corrupt, dangerous adversity. 

Joan of Arc


No talk of historical with-hunts would be complete without mentioning Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d’Arc; Frenchwoman, voice-hearer, army-leader, Church-defier, literal latter day saint. (That is, it took the Catholic Church a few centuries to decide she was NOT a satanic demon child and was in fact a martyred saint.) Joan was burned at the stake in 1431, at the age of 19. 

Joan would have been a Hufflepuff, I think. Hard workers, compassionate, and loyal to the death. Although she probably killed a bunch of English knights, and might not be too welcome at Hogwarts. Maybe Beauxbatons for her, after all…

There are many, many more women through the ages that have been labeled witches for their rabble-rousings. Tell us some of your favorites in the comments! (Hogwarts House guesses encouraged, though not required.) 

by Katie Presley
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Katie Presley is a writer and editor currently based on the East Coast (help, how did this happen??). She's been with Bitch in one form or another since 2010, when she started as a New Media Intern, and most recently served as Bitch's first and only Music Editor, from 2016-2017. Past resume lines include Assistant Producer for All Songs Considered at NPR Music, panelist on Pop Culture Happy Hour, and bylines at NPR and Ms. Katie is also a doula and herbalist, and writes a blog on herbal medicine, "The Herbal Apprentice." She also co-founded the first full-spectrum doula organization in Texas, The Bridge Collective. She is also a late-comer to being a Dog Person, but currently lives with four cats. 

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6 Comments Have Been Posted

Witches R Us

Hey, this is great! I'm sure we could add other amazing women to the list. But, of course, as soon as I typed that, my mind went blank!

The first woman hanged during

The first woman hanged during the Salem Witch Trials was Bridget Bishop - a woman who was labeled very "scandalous" by her Puritan peers. She wore bright colors, fought in public with the three husbands she had married throughout her life, and owned her own property, including a tavern and an apple orchard. Her brash behavior and independence made pointing the finger at her as one of the Devil's minions very easy to do.

English queen consorts

I *think* Anne Boleyn was accused of witchcraft, though it wasn't among the charges brought against her leading to her execution. Maybe it was more prevalent in the court gossip/culture at the time?

Another Queen Consort, Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV, was accused by her husband's brother Richard III of witchcraft after Edward's death and Richard's ascension, and Elizabeth's mother Jacquetta was accused in 1469 and acquitted in 1470 during Edward's reign. This was all very tied up in the War of the Roses and more than likely had much to do with Elizabeth's marriage as a commoner to the king, and the resulting rise in power of her family. Suffice to say the 15th century was a confusing mess for pretty much anyone involved. Maybe a better medievalist than I can supply more information...?

Feminist History + Harry Potter = AWESOME!

Thanks so much for this article! Way to start my day!

However, I'd have to say I don't like the House guess for Joan of Arc so much. It's true that Hufflepuffs are supposed to be loyal and hardworking but when the Sorting Hat is sat on the heads of the new students, the reader pretty much knows to not stress about remembering who that kid was who went to Hufflepuff. I'd think Joan of Arc would definitely be a Gryffindor! Though you do have a great point, that because she is French born she'd likely be a Beauxbatons student ;)

I recently wrote a little excited piece about why Harry Potter's not just a children's story on opensalon.com


You know, I started to put her as a Gryffindor, but Gryffindors go and SEEK their adventure, and she didn't seek hers. It came to her, and she acted bravely under the circumstances. Like Neville!
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to spend more time thinking about this, by the way!

But Neville is a Gryffindor

But Neville is a Gryffindor too! He may be rather meek at the start of the series, but he's a Gryffindor through and through.

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