Tag Archives: Womens History Month

Women’s History Month 3, Five trailblazing ladies

Hi folks it is time for the latest in Tales of History and Imagination. We are still in Womans History Month, and still not wanting to use any of my long form pieces till the podcast is up I thought I would do five quick pieces involving remarkable women I haven’t seen written on this month by anyone else – well at least not as far as I am aware of?
So today’s tale, Five Trailblazing Ladies!

Who was the first black woman to win an Oscar you ask? Well that was Hattie McDaniel (10th June 1893 – 26th October 1952) for best supporting actor. The role was as ‘Mammy’, Scarlett O’Hara’s house servant in Gone with The Wind (the oscar was in 1940). Yes it is a troublesome role in a troubling film by today’s more enlightened standards, but Ms MacDaniel was the first… and sadly only black female oscar winner in an acting role till Halle Berry’s 2002 win as best actress for her role as Leticia Musgrove in Monsters Ball.
Hattie MacDaniel was also a trailblazer, in a path more frequently taken – as a blues singer hers was the first black, female voice beamed out across American airwaves with ‘I Thought I’d do it’ in 1927. She acted in over 300 films, but only got credited for 86.

Margaret Mitchell

Keeping with Gone With the Wind, the 1939 film was of course based on a 1936 novel America went crazy for, written by the journalist Margaret Mitchell (8th November 1900 – 16th August 1949). The novel went on to win a Pulitzer prize in 1937, and was written – in a life gives you lemons so let’s make lemonade moment – while Mitchell was off work with a broken ankle. I don’t know very much about Margaret Mitchell but I do know that as an author she courted controversy in her time, for things we would not be offended about now… or perhaps take offense for other reasons entirely. In one article she wrote about four of her home state of Georgia, USA’s hometown heroines

  • America’s first female senator Rebecca Latimer Felton (who would court controversy today for being rabidly white supremacist in her views).
  • Frontiers-woman Nancy Morgan Hart, who fought the British in the War of Independence
  • Cultural mediator between settlers and native tribes Mary Musgrove
  • and Lucy Mathilda Kenny, who cut her hair, rather Mulan-esque, and fought alongside her husband in the American Civil War under the name Private Bill Thompson.
    All rather shocking stuff for the time, heroines???

Turning to the skies, french aeronaut Sophie Blanchard (25th March 1778 – 6th July 1819) was the first woman to pilot a hot air balloon, in 1803. Married to fellow pioneering balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard, she did not let his untimely death in a ballooning accident put her off, in her lifetime making over 60 flights, and on occasion surviving some close calls. Napoleon Bonaparte was impressed with her flying skills so much he made her “Aeronaut of the Official Festivals”.
Unfortunately Sophie Blanchard was also the world’s first female death by aeronautical accident. In 1819, while shooting off fireworks for an appreciative crowd below, she accidentally set her balloon on fire and tumbled onto a roof far below. It is said she survived this but then slipped from the roof and died.

Someone whose derring do and love of heights, once climbing to a height of 8,848 Metres, did not take her life was Japanese mountain climbing legend Junko Tabei (22nd September 1939 – 20th October 2016). Already a highly thought of and experienced mountaineer, Tabei did what some misogynists believed impossible. In 1975 she became the first woman to climb Mount Everest, taking the same route traveled in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The climb was no picnic – at one point 6,300 metres up, the resting party were hit by an avalanche and had to dig themselves out. A few days later, on 16th May 1975 Junko Tabei reached the summit.

Finally, we all know the USSR were a force to be reckoned with. Laika the Russian dog beat NASA’s Ham the chimp into orbit- though sadly Laika died while up there. Yuri Gagarin beat Alan Shepard as the first man in space. American Sally Ride may have been America’s first woman in space in 1983 – but Valentina Tereshkova (b, 6th March 1937) holds the Official record (there is a very spooky recording by Italian brothers Archille and Giovanni Judica-Cordiglia that has been suggested may be radio communication with an earlier female cosmonaut, who may have burned up in the atmosphere- it is dubious) having orbited the earth 48 times in Vostok 6, from 16th June 1963. To date she is the only woman to have performed a solo space mission.
Valentina Tereshkova entered politics in the years following her mission, and still serves on The Duma till this day.

Final Woman’s history month post next week, though hardly the last time I will post about a powerful female lead this year. Next week I’m also thinking about starting a weekly poll…. We need some more noise here people, in teaching parlance we call this too much TTT (teacher talk time) let’s get some noise happening! 🙂
As always, please share my posts round, like and comment.

Originally published 22nd March 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow.


Women’s History Month 2: Mary Anning, The Carpenter’s Daughter

Hi folks, happy Womens History Month! I had something completely different planned for this week, but the mass shooting in Christchurch a. necessitated a change of subject and b. took me completely out of the headspace to write anything other than angry, anti fascist invectives. I was planning to write on Tamar of Georgia (1166 _ 1213) a true girl power heroine who does not get discussed enough – but this is history, and history is problematic. Tamar, a christian ruler, fought off an invasion from, then in turn invaded the Seljuk Turks. How do you write that in the wake of the murder of 51 Muslim New Zealanders here? Do I really want some mouth-breathing fascist taking my post as a dog whistle? Absolutely not. Sorry Tamar, we’ll return to you later.

A quote from John Donne’s Meditations has been stuck in my head all day. I am shocked, and horrified, and heartbroken for the families of the deceased. I don’t often buy into nationalistic rhetoric, but make no mistake, we are a diverse nation of many colours, religions (or lack of) and back stories. You take on them you take on all of us.

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.” – John Donne.

Now, on another note, repeat after me….

“She sells seashells by the seashore,
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure
So if she sells seashells on the sea shore
Then I’m sure she sells seashells.” – Terry Sullivan.

Mary Anning (May 21 1799 – March 9 1847) was an English fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist. Our understanding of the Jurassic era (approx 201 – 145 million years ago) owes a huge debt to Ms Anning and her work. She lived, and worked near the Blue Lias (layered limestone and shale) cliffs at Lyme Regis, Dorset.
Among her achievements Anning was the first to identify an Icthyosaur skeleton, found several early Plesiosaurus, the first Pterosaur found outside of Germany, and helped lead public understanding towards the concept that animals could go extinct- something thought heretical by many at the time, as it implied God was imperfect, if things could…. well…. go the way of the dinosaur.
Mary Anning should have been a superstar of the 19th Century scientific community, but she was shunned, largely, as – first it was a boys’ club and second, Anning was a dissenter – a protestant who believed church and state should be kept separate, and had nothing to do with organized Anglican religion. After her death she began to get some of the recognition she deserved- prompting Charles Dickens to write of her, in 1865

“The carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it”

In 1908 Terry Sullivan wrote the tongue twister above, in her honour. In 2010 the Royal society listed Anning as one of the 10 British women who most influenced the history of science.

So… expanding on Dickens’ Messianic appellation, Mary Anning was born in 1799 to cabinetmaker Richard Anning and his wife Mary aka Molly. They grew up in a house near the water, which regularly flooded in bad weather. The same rough, stormy weather which regularly flooded their home however also uncovered many ancient monsters in the cliffs nearby. Aged 15 months she was nearly killed at a travelling horse show when an oak tree her family were watching under was struck by lightning. She was one of 10 children born to Richard and Molly, but only one of two who made it to adulthood.

Anning grew up in wartime. The outbreak of the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars kept many British holidaymakers away from the continent. Europe’s loss was Lyme Regis’ win – it became a holiday hotspot. With many visitors over the summer months, opportunities for extra money abounded, including hunting through the fossil rich cliffs for specimens to sell to holidaymakers. In the dangerous winter months, when the cliffs were tempest tossed, and landslides a regular occurance – Richard, Mary and her brother Joseph would brave the weather in search of dinosaurs. On one trip an ailing Richard, already deathly ill with tuberculosis, tumbled over a cliff, sustaining critical injuries. Richard’s death led to 11 year old Mary leaving school to work full time as a fossil hunter to support the family.

By the 1820s, Mary Anning had firmly taken the helm of the family business. She established a shop, and had become a leading expert paleontologist; autodidactically no less. She closely recorded all of her findings, though she would only be published once by the boys club. Anning also maintained close ties with several leading male scientists, who often shared her ideas – without crediting her. Of note, she sold a full icthyosaur skeleton to King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony, when he visited her shop. However throughout the 1830s Anning fell upon hard times. Britain’s economy fell into a slump, and luxuries like dinosaur bones fell out of favour with the middle class. Marred also by poor financial decisions, Anning was at risk of being sent to the poor house. At the urging of Mary Anning’s friend William Buckland, the British government granted her a modest pension for the rest of her life – in recognition of her many significant scientific discoveries.

Mary Anning died, 9th March 1847, of breast cancer.

Originally posted March 17th 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow. Edited 2020… except for the poetry.

Women’s History Month! Mary Cassatt’s ‘In the Loge’

Hi folks, about time I posted something new I think? My technical issues with broken tablets have been sorted – I have picked up a Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 which does all I need to write on here. Note this week there are no Photoshopped, cartoonized pictures as I am including some bona fide art, and it seemed a shame to mess with it.
A quick word, a few weeks back I did outline the basics of the story of the Profumo affair – then Woman’s history month happened and I thought “great, Christine Keeler was such a fascinating character!” I won’t spoil the story to those of you who don’t know it, but the Police tweeting about a female police officer running a Japanese internment camp in World War 2 made me second guess myself a little. I then got a little distracted with Leaving Neverland (cause, let’s face it either you were caught up in it, or caught up in telling people how you weren’t going to watch it earlier this week right? Ok maybe just me?)

THEN I scribbled down a piece on how Mary Cassatt’s (May 22, 1844 – June 14, 1926) 1878 painting “In the Loge” captured an element of the zeitgeist of Modernism- the artistic movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where an industrialising, urbanizing world in flux began to challenge traditional ideas, became more self- referential, and began to believe the world is what we choose to make of it. Art became more about capturing the mood of the occasion, and interested in reflecting a modern world where it was increasingly important to be out and about so as to see and be seen. My interest in the painting, a lady modelled on her sister, Lydia, peers across the theater with her binoculars (she is at the opera house, where Parisians go to see and be seen) clearly not at the stage but at someone out of our view- another attendee. In the background a man with binoculars is ogling her as intently as she is ogling her subject.

At the time of my first exposure to this painting, an Art History lecturer told an 18 year old me, the painting caused an uproar because- how dare a woman set her gaze on another – women are to be looked at, and not to be the lookers. I don’t think pervy guy in the background is held up to such scrutiny. We ourselves sandwich poor Lydia by staring at the painting from the other direction. We may have stopped by that same day to see a Manet street scene, where generally people are there to be seen – unless we came across Olympia, a reclining nude who, unnervingly eyeballs us back, having caused a similar outcry, or taken a Lydia-esque stop at a Degas, to watch the ballerinas- who definitely were to be seen, and not to gaze.

This painting should beg questions of anyone either angered with, or flummoxed by the anger towards a recent Gillette commercial- How far the world in general has come, but how little some of us have changed. I had a whole bit on how in this time women were making steps towards independence- the industrial revolution led to then record numbers of women entering the workforce – admittedly often in poorly paid jobs – from teaching to heavy work like being ‘hurriers’ in coal mines, from factory workers to the ‘hawkers’ (sorry for a possibly derogatory term these days) selling goods in bars and footpaths, often pictured in paintings by fellow impressionists Manet, Degas, and other men – but not so much our heroine Mary Cassatt- as someone of a gender which typically was less accepted gazing where she saw fit, most of her snapshots of Parisian Modernism are in the confines of the opera house… It seems to me sometimes progress can find itself waylaid by the silliest of squabbles.

Where this one hit speed wobbles a little, in the wee small hours last night I am having a bit of a look online for some more info on Cassatt, and the ‘Gillette ad’ reaction to her painting… Now I believe my art history lecturer. I can imagine the backlash, who in this age can’t? Did the internet come through with some crazy statistics about the backlash? In a word, no. I believe this has much more to do with finding a pothole in the information superhighway than it never happening. At some point I will take myself down to the Auckland University library, dig out a book on Mary Cassatt, and go old school on this. Expect some foot marked addition to this post some time. How far the internet has come, how little some parts have changed?

For your enjoyment I have posted Mary Cassatt’s In the Loge. I haven’t posted Manet’s Olympia, sooner or later I will piss off someone on a forum and I could see them reporting this post for posting nudity or something and I may as well save myself the bother, but she is worthy of both seeing and being seen.

Mary Cassatt, self portrait.

Oh I have a complete piece on Tamar, Golden age ruler of Georgia to drop Friday, and plan to FINALLY record some podcast scripts tomorrow night.

Published March 13th 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow.