As a female-run company, we at Milla & Co. know that not only is the future female: the past and present are filled with powerful women. Women throughout history have always played vital roles in transforming our culture through language.
In recognition of International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting four of our favorite pioneering female translators. These women utilized a mastery of language to shape literary traditions, pursue social justice and change the course of history!
Constance Garnett: (England, 1861 – 1946)
“Russian fever” is a term referring to the massive demand for Russian literature among Western European readers throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. English writers in particular were enthralled by the style and mastery of their Russian counterparts, and the woman responsible for this pop culture sensation was Constance Garnett.
A sickly and shy child, Constance found her calling in her late twenties after a Russian émigré and friend gifted her a Russian-English dictionary. Constance embarked on an ambitious first project: a translation of A Common Story, by Ivan Goncharov. Drawn to the emotive language and deep social and political content of Russian literature, Constance went on to translate seventy one volumes of Russian literary works.
She is near-singularly responsible for introducing English-speaking audiences to such novelists as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov, among many others. Bolshoe spasibo, Constance Garnett!
Sacagawea (America, 1788 – 1812)
Often depicted as a guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition, Sacagawea’s greatest contribution to the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase was her skills as a translator and mediator between the expeditioners and Native Americans.
Sacagawea was born a member of the Lemhi Shoshone tribe, in the area now known as Lemhi County, Idaho. As a young teenager, Sacagawea was kidnapped and sold to a Quebecois trapper as his “wife.”
When her husband was hired as a translator for the Lewis and Clark expedition, it was Sacagawea whose translation efforts made the difficult journey possible. She spoke English, Hidatsa and Shoshone, allowing the party to successfully communicate their peaceful intentions to the Native American tribes they encountered along their journey. Her intimate knowledge of the environment, including edible and medicinal plants, proved invaluable throughout the expedition. It is no surprise that Sacagawea has since been recognized as an American symbol of women’s bravery and leadership.
Anne Dacier (France, 1654 – 1720)
In an age in which women were rarely well-educated, Anne Dacier was recognized as the foremost classical scholar of her time. Her translations included works of Aristophanes, Anacreon and Plautus, but it was her prose translations of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey that earned her the greatest acclaim throughout France and Europe.
Educated by her father, the French humanist Tanneguy Lefèbvre, Anne showed an early genius for Latin and ancient Greek. After moving from her home in the Loire region of France to Paris, Anne earned employment as an editor of the Delphin Classics. She developed unique philosophies of taste and language, and was a fierce defender of the superiority of the classics and fought against their censorship.
Anne Dacier’s incredible efforts to preserving and celebrating ancient literature in Europe continue to be cherished. She proved a shining example of why women deserve a place at the table in higher education, and made a lasting mark on the traditions of literature, architecture and art.
Lydia Callis (America, Present)
Advocate, ASL Native and Owner of LC Interpreting, Lydia Callis is our pick for the most present day influential person working in translation in America.
Lydia gained notoriety in 2015 when footage of her interpreting for Mayor Bloomberg’s Hurricane Sandy press conferences went viral.
“I was surprised by the fact that the hearing community was looking at me as if I was performing for them,” Lydia described in an interview, “And I had that moment… when I realized that sign language is a novelty to the hearing community.”
Through Lydia’s company, she provides interpretation services and advocates understanding for the unique methods that the deaf community use to express themselves. Facial expression, body language and posture are all important tools to express meaning with ASL, and Lydia seeks to both increase awareness of ASL and create opportunities for inclusivity.
We’d like to recognize all of the incredible women (and men!) who are working to bridge the communication gaps between cultures, today and everyday. As our world grows increasingly international and multilingual, we can only expect to enjoy more opportunities to share and uplift diverse voices. Happy International Women’s Day!