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Mary Seacole

Day 15: Mary Seacole
1805-1881
Nurse

Mary Seacole was born in Jamaica, the daughter of a Scottish soldier and free black woman. While living in the Caribbean, she acquired knowledge of herbal medicine which came in handy when the Crimean War broke out in 1853. Seacole set up a “British Hotel” behind the lines during the war, where she helped wounded soldiers and administered medicine for dysentery and cholera. In 2004, she was voted the greatest black Briton.

Her biography.com link is incredibly sparse so I’m going to give you the wikipedia link today. Also recommend checking out her book Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands which, although the accuracy has been questioned by some historians, is one of the first autobiographies of a mixed race woman.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Seacole

Helen Keller

Day 14: Helen Keller
1880-1968
Educator, Journalist

I think most people are familiar with the inspiring tale of young Helen Keller and the teacher Anne Sullivan, who helped Keller learn to communicate. However, I am much more interested in highlighting what Helen Keller did when she grew up. She was the first deaf and blind person to graduate from an American college (Radcliffe in 1904). She went on be an advocate for radical causes, including the rights of the disabled, women’s suffrage, birth control, and socialism. Thus, I think it is vital that rather than treating Helen Keller as a piece of inspiration porn (look at the poor blind and deaf girl overcoming adversity and learning to communicate!) we remember Helen Keller as a woman who took inspiration from the challenges of her disability to try to change the world.

http://www.biography.com/people/helen-keller-9361967

Frida KahloKahlo painting

Day 13: Frida Kahlo
1907-1954
Painter

Frida Kahlo is one of the most famous women artists. She is also considered one of the greatest artists to come out of Mexico. She was involved in a brutal bus accident at the age of 18 and the lifelong pain and trauma from that accident had a great influence on her work. She had a turbulent marriage with fellow artist Diego Rivera. Both Kahlo and Rivera were impassioned communist, even briefly allowing Leon Trotsky to stay in their home. Kahlo was a bisexual woman and had affairs both with men (including Trotsky) and women, famously including singer Josephine Baker and artist Isamu Noguchi. Frida Kahlo is most famous for her self portraits, which present an uncompromising, intense view of womanhood.

http://www.biography.com/people/frida-kahlo-9359496

Augusta Ada King

For anyone who thinks women don’t have a place in STEM:

Day 12: Augusta Ada King, Lady Lovelace
1815-1852
Mathematician, writer, computer programmer

Ada Lovelace was encouraged to study logic and mathematics from a young age by her mother– possibly to stop her from going down the path of her notorious father, the poet Lord Byron. She described what she did as “poetical science” and called herself an “Analyst and Metaphysician.” Through her impressive educational and social exploits, she befriended the top scientists and writers of her age. This included a mathematician named Charles Babbage, father of what was then known as an Analytical Engine. We now call it a computer. Lovelace developed a tremendous interest in this project and produced a set of notes (called “Notes”) which many consider the first computer program.

http://www.biography.com/people/ada-lovelace-20825323

Anne Hutchinson

Everyone who took APUSH at PSHS get your groans ready, here comes someone whose name you probably still remember because she was apparently the only woman worth mentioning in the first part of the textbook. Thanks, College Board!

Day 11: Anne Hutchinson
1591-1643
Puritan, preacher

Anne Hutchinson was a key figure in the so-called Antinomian Controversy in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Hutchinson hosted gatherings of up to 60-80 people in her home to discuss her ideas about justification by faith– God could bestow favor upon you directly because you were faithful. This was extraordinarily controversial not only because Hutchinson was a woman and women were not supposed to preach, but because the ideas she was preaching went directly against the orthodox view that you needed to perform deeds to achieve salvation. Hutchinson was banished from Massachusetts Bay and went to join Roger Williams in what would eventually become Rhode Island.

http://www.biography.com/people/anne-hutchinson-9348085

Mother Jones

Today starts the abbreviated profiles that will make up the rest of the month. I kind of wish I had done this woman earlier in the month because she deserves a much longer profile. HIGHLY recommend looking into her more.

Day 10: Mary Harris “Mother” Jones
c.1830-1930
Labor organizer, union activist, absolute badass

Mother Jones was a successful labor organizer for the Knights of Labor and United Mine Workers union. In 1903, Jones organized children who worked in mills and mines to march from Kensington, Philadelphia to Oyster Bay, New York (President Roosevelt’s hometown) to protest child abor. She was dubbed “the most dangerous woman in America” and thrown in jail for her involvement in a violent strike in West Virginia. Jones was undeterred by this setback and continued to organize workers. In my opinion, all of us who consider ourselves activists and proponents of direct action should take a great deal of inspiration from this incredible woman.

http://www.biography.com/people/mother-jones-9357488

Hurrem

Day 9: Hurrem
1502-1558
Consort, concubine, badass

So when you look this woman up, you will generally find her under the name the Europeans called her: Roxelana. However, since this project is all about reclaiming space and asserting voices, I insist on using the name given to her by the Ottomans, Haseki Hurrem Sultan. 

For those of you who don’t know a lot about the Ottoman Empire in the early modern period, the system worked like this. The sultan had several concubines with whom he would have sex until they had a son. Once a concubine had a son and became the mother of a prince, she would be removed from the harem and become devoted to her duties as a mother. When her son was sent off to be educated and rule his own area, she would follow him.

This changed with Hurrem. She was the favorite concubine of the sultan Suleiman I (Suleyman the Magnificent to the Europeans) and in a great breaking from tradition, he legally married her and she had multiple children, five sons and one daughter. Hurrem was extraordinarily intelligent and became an influential figure in Ottoman politics. She influenced Suleiman to murder his eldest son (by another woman), Mustafa, in order to further her own sons’ political careers. She also played a large role in encouraging the execution of Suleiman’s grand vizier Ibrahim, with whom she did not get along,

Hurrem engaged in a great deal of charity work which resulted in buildings that survive to this day and preserve her legacy. Perhaps most notable is the Haseki Sultan Complex, which contained a mosque, a soup-kitchen, a madrasa (a type of educational institution), and a women’s hospital. It was the third largest building in Istanbul, behind only the complexes of her husband and the sultan Mehmed I. This demonstrates just how important Hurrem was.

The period following Hurrem is known as the Sultanate of Women. During this nearly 130 year period, the women of the imperial harem exerted a tremendous amount of influence over their sultan and state policy. Many of the queen mothers effectively ruled the empire themselves while their sons were young.

To anyone interested in this topic, which I, at least, find really cool, I recommend the book The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire by Leslie Peirce.

Also, as of 12 March, I will be traveling for the rest of the month. However, I really want to make sure that there are still daily profiles. By necessity, they will not be nearly as long or in depth as the ones I’ve done so far this month. I’m thinking the name, a picture, the dates she lived, her main accomplishments, and a link to her wikipedia page (I know, I know, but it’ll be the easiest source to find). I hope to resume posts of this length on a weekly basis when I return because they’re super fun and have gotten a great response.

International Woman's Day

Since I decided to start this project, I have been vigorously debating who I would profile on March 8th. Obviously the woman who became the face of International Women’s Day would have to be pretty damn extraordinary. After some serious debate, I realized that on this wonderful day, no single woman could do. I briefly considered doing multiple profiles but that both seemed incredibly daunting and brought me back to the problem of having to choose certain individuals. Finally, I figured out how I could celebrate women’s history without profiling any woman in particular:

Day 8: Origins of International Woman’s Day

When asked to describe the point of International Women’s Day, the incomparable Gloria Steinem said “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” I am inclined to agree with Ms. Steinem in this case (as I hope I have demonstrated through my profiles so far this month) but I think it is of the utmost importance to remember that International Women’s Day DID start with a particular group of women, a group that is pushed to the margins of history for more than just their gender: working class women.

The timeline of what would eventually become International Women’s Day generally starts in 1908, when a group of about 15,000 women took to the streets of New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and the vote. The next year, the Socialist Party of America declared that a National Woman’s Day would be celebrated across the country on 28 February in remembrance of of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

In 1910, at the second International Conference of Working Women, German Socialist Luise Zietz and German Marxist Clara Zetkin proposed that there should be a single day each year where women across the world would be celebrated and encouraged to press their respective governments for their rights. The idea was taken up with enthusiasm, and International Woman’s Day (singular at the time) was born.

International Women’s Day was first celebrated on 8 March in 1914, most likely because it was a Sunday. Notably, on 8 March 1914, there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage that culminated in the arrest of Sylvia Pankhurst. International Women’s Day has been celebrated on 8 March since.

This is, of course, a very condensed, brief history, but the broader point that I am trying to make is that International Women’s Day has intensely political origins. Do not get me wrong, I am all for women coming together and spending a day a celebrating all their sisters. It warms my heart that the UN puts so much effort into coming up with annual themes that celebrate the beautiful, diverse women that populate our planet. However, I firmly believe that to erase the working class origins of International Women’s Day is ahistorical and problematic.

Class is a very tricky thing for women’s historians. You’re already tackling the issue of gender– for so much of history women’s voices were considered so unimportant that, even when they did produce records of their existence, it was usually only through sheer luck that those records were kept for future historians to find. For poor women, these problems are even more intense. Lack of access to education meant lower literacy rates, the need to work long, grueling hours meant that they didn’t have time to produce the kind of sources elite women left behind, and the double oppression of their gender and their social status meant that few people were interested in writing about them or preserving their legacy. In my opinion, this means that it is urgent that we amplify these women’s voices when we get the chance. International Women’s Day is something that they left behind. Don’t let history take that away from them.

Timeline of International Women’s Day because I left quite a bit out: http://www.internationalwomensday.com/About

Unsinkable Molly Brown

Today’s woman was headstrong, badass and, dare I say it… unsinkable.

Day 7: Margaret “Molly” Brown
1867-1932
Philanthropist, activist, socialite

Molly was born to Irish immigrants in Hannibal, Missouri. Even though she had always talked about marrying a rich man, when she met and fell in love with J.J Brown, a mining superintendent, inn 1886, she married for love. The two struggled financially until gold was struck at one of J.J’s mines– the couple, now extremely well off, moved to Denver, where Margaret Brown became a prominent socialite.

Brown used her new-found status to help others, never forgetting where she came from. Notably, she raised money to help Judge Ben Lindsey’s quest to help destitute children and establish a separate court system for young offenders.

In 1912, while visiting France, Brown got news that her grandchild was sick and decided to cut her trip short and hop on a ship heading back to the US– this ship was the Titanic. I doubt I need to go into the details of what happened (we have a handy Leonardo DiCaprio movie for that). Brown made it on to one of the few life boats and survived the ship’s sinking and, afterwards, raised a significant amount of money (even before the ship that rescued them made it to shore!) to help less wealthy survivors. Her story made headlines and history, and she is remembered as the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” despite the fact that no one called her Molly during her lifetime.

Now Brown had both status and fame, which she used to further the philanthropic causes about which she was passionate. She ran for the US Senate in 1914 (6 years before most women could vote), but ended her campaign when WWI broke out so she could travel to France to work with the American Committee for Devastated France. She was eventually awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French government for her efforts.

Thus, although popular culture and memory has painted “Molly” Brown as a brash, comical character who happened to achieve fame due to her involvement with the Titanic, the real Margaret Brown was so much more than that.

Today’s recommendation for celebrating women’s history: Think about how completely erasing women’s voices and contributions is not the only way we silence them. Margaret Brown is just one of many women who history remembers more as a character than a person.

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Today’s profile comes a bit late in the day for two reasons that explain most things behind my life: laziness and indecisiveness. In what is maybe the world’s greatest problem, there are just too many badass women to profile and not enough time. Finally, I decided that I’ve been a bit 20th century heavy so I wanna take a step back a few hundred years.

Day 6: Christine de Pizan
1364-c.1430
Author, Poet, Women’s rights activist

Many people call Christine de Pizan the first feminist. I have a few qualms about applying the term feminist to anyone around before the word came into use (pedantic Sophie is pedantic) but if I were going to do it with anyone, Christine de Pizan would be an excellent choice. She was writing about and campaigning for issues that women today are still fighting for… except she was doing it nearly 600 years ago.

De Pizan was born in Venice but emigrated to France at a young age to be with her father, the court astrologer to Charles V. He made sure that his daughter received a full humanist education regardless of her gender, meaning that she learned Greek, Latin, and a wide variety of other subjects that most women of her age were not exposed to.

She married and had three children, but her husband died tragically (allegedly of the bubonic plague), leaving de Pizan to figure out how to care for her family alone. She turned to writing to earn an income.

Christine de Pizan produced a large body of work, but she is best known (rightfully, in my opinion) for her works on women’s rights. She directly challenged the misogynistic writers of her day, such as Jean de Meun, author of the Romance of the Rose, which portrayed court women as crafty seductresses and nothing more. In edition to openly challenging de Meun for his work, de Pizan wrote her best-known piece, La cite des dames (The Book of the City of Ladies), which many have argued to be an early feminist text. In this book, de Pizan details the building of a symbolic city that honors the achievements of women throughout history and challenges misogynistic stereotypes of them, such as those laid out by de Meun. Inside this city, women would be safe from the attacks of men.

After the French defeat in the Battle of Agincourt, Christine de Pizan chose to retreat from public life and enter a French convent. She wrote little more from this point. However, her work proved enormously influential.

To celebrate women’s history today, I leave you with a quote from de Pizan that I think still holds true. Also, it’s quite funny. Ponder it, as well as the continuity between the Christine de Pizan’s struggle and our own fight for gender equality.

“Thus, not all men (and especially the wisest) share the opinion that it is bad for women to be educated. But it is very true that many foolish men have claimed this because it displeased them that women knew more than they did.”

-Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies

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