Happy International Women’s Day!

Today, March 8, is celebrated as International Women’s Day across the world. As with many other holidays, it has evolved over time in its meaning and means of celebration. Initially, the day had a political purpose promoting the rights of women, particularly working women, demanding suffrage, and celebrating accomplishments. This is still true in many countries, although in some places the focus is simply an occasion to express love and appreciation of the women in our lives.

Maasai women rally for International Women's Day in Tanzania in 2013, by Thomson Safaris (source)

Maasai women rally for International Women’s Day in Tanzania in 2013, by Thomson Safaris (source)

The earliest observance was in the United States on 28 February 1909 in remembrance of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union strike of 1908. The next year, at a women’s conference in Denmark, a proposal for an International Woman’s Day was put forth and agreed upon. Although no official date was decided at the time, on 19 March 1911 over a million people demonstrated across Europe promoting equal rights and suffrage for women.

The date for International Women’s Day wasn’t uniformly fixed as March 8 until 1914. That year in Germany, the marches were focused on women’s suffrage, which they finally won in 1918. This poster urges women to join the fight. It’s English translation is as follows: “Give Us Women’s Suffrage. Women’s Day, March 8, 1914. Until now, prejudice and reactionary attitudes have denied full civic rights to women, who as workers, mothers, and citizens wholly fulfill their duty, who must pay their taxes to the state as well as the municipality. Fighting for this natural human right must be the firm, unwavering intention of every woman, every female worker. In this, no pause for rest, no respite is allowed. Come all, you women and girls, to the 9th public women’s assembly on Sunday, March 8, 1914, at 3pm.”

International Women's Day poster from Germany 8 March 1914 (source)

International Women’s Day poster from Germany 8 March 1914 (source)

In 1917, International Women’ Day demonstrations were particularly effective in Russia. Held on the last Sunday in February (March 8 on the Gregorian calendar) women marched in St. Petersburg calling for an end to food shortages, czarism, and World War I. The slogan was “Bread and Peace” and touched off the February Revolution. Although it lasted less than a week, it resulted in the abdication of Czar Nicholas II and paved the way for the October Revolution later in the year.

In many countries, particularly in the east, the day is an official holiday including time off from work. In others women receive flowers and gifts similar to Mother’s Day. In 1975, the United Nations began sponsoring the day, and since 1996, they have proposed a theme for each year. This year, 2015, the UN theme is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity. Picture it!”, highlighting the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995.

Afghan girls sing at a celebration of International Women's Day in 2002 (source)

Afghan girls sing at a celebration of International Women’s Day in 2002 (source)

The overall theme for 2015 for International Women’s Day is “Make it Happen” – for greater awareness of women’s equality, for more women in senior leadership roles, for fairer recognition of women in sport, for equal recognition of women in the arts, for growth of women owned businesses, for increased financial independence of women, and for more women in science, engineering, and technology. You can follow on twitter @womensday and use the hashtag #MakeItHappen to join in the discussion.

Commemorating International Women's Day in Cameroon, 2006

Commemorating International Women’s Day in Cameroon, 2006 (source)

What are your plans? Will you join in the celebration? Let us know in the comments.


Menses Madness: Menstruation Myths and the Medieval Mindset

Today, I am pleased to welcome Karen Harris and Lori Caskey-Sigety, authors of “The Medieval Vagina: An Hysterical and Historical Look at All Things Vaginal During the Middle Ages.”

Beware the woman in red.

Beware the woman in red.

Blood, which the warrior/hunter man of ancient times associated with injury and death, took on a paradoxical quality in women. This blood meant life, though this may not have been widely known in medieval times. What was known was that menstrual blood was a powerful and toxic substance, laden with an evil, magical quality. As with many other aspects of life, the object of a society’s fear and ignorance became the subject of myths and legends which, of course, did nothing to advance scientific and medical inquiry. These stories and legends served only to perpetuate the idea that womanly blood held sinister magic, thus reinforcing the wide held belief that all females should be handled with suspicion and kept in a subservient role.

We can trace back much of the misconceptions about menstrual blood back to the first century writings of Pliny the Elder, a man who claimed to have a deep understanding of the female body. His ideas, as crazy as they seem today, were viewed as indisputable facts for centuries. He claimed that contact with menstrual blood could wreak all sorts of havoc including cause rust on bronze and iron objects, drive dogs mad, turn wine sour, kill off hives of bees, cause unripe fruit to fall from the trees, turn sharp blades dull, and shrivel seedlings.

Always an enterprising philosopher, Pliny even proposed harnessing the poisonous power of female menses for the greater good. He suggested that menstruating women stroll around the farmers’ field stark naked, using their evil, bloody power to kill off the destructive worms, beetles, mice, and moths. This idea, he claimed, was taken from unnamed ancient writings he once read in which plagues of insects were banished by hordes of menstruating women who did nothing more than walk through the streets with their skirts hiked up to their waists.

Pliny the Elder can’t be blamed for all of the falsehoods that surrounded menstruating women in medieval times. There were certainly plenty of other myths and rumors circulating that supported the idea that menstrual blood was powerful magic. Menstrual blood was thought to be corrosive in nature; therefore it could eat through a man’s penis if he were tempted to engage in sexual intercourse at an inappropriate time of the month. Another popularly held belief was that if a couple had sex while the woman was on her period, the resulting child would be dim-witted, puny and red-headed. Menstruating women were blamed for cases of medieval Sudden Infant Death Syndrome for it was thought they could poison a sleeping infant with just their mere proximity.

Working in the fields takes on a very different meaning after reading Pliny.

Working in the fields takes on a very different meaning after reading Pliny.

Medieval medical lore was concerned not only with the existence of menstrual discharge but the quantity of it as well. Too much or too little monthly flow was to blame for a range of problems. A heavy flow, for example, could drown a man’s seed and lead to stillborn babies or malformed fetuses. Light or absent periods could cause a woman to become too masculine, flat-chested and barren. This was seen as such a pressing problem that numerous medical texts of the Middle Ages devoted pages to remedies that could bring on menstrual bleeding, although some scholars contend that these recipes could also be viewed as euphemisms for contraception or drug-induced abortions. If a medieval woman sought to induce menstruation, she was advised to drink any one of a variety of concoctions such as rue, savin and hyssop, figs, garlic seeds, St. John’s wort, myrrh, Shepard’s purse, or Bishop’s weed. If that didn’t work, these same ingredients could be made into a pessary and inserted into the vagina. Saffron and hazelnuts were also used to make pessaries. With all of these, very specific directions were carefully outlined to ensure success. Rue, for example, could be safely consumed in the evening but could be deadly if drank in the morning.

Monthly bleed, at least from a Christian standpoint, was seen as a curse bestowed on all females as punishment for Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Every drop of menstrual blood was a reminder that all women, beginning with the very first woman, are untrustworthy, manipulative liars. The folklore and myths that sprang forth from this attitude only served to foster the misogynistic beliefs of the day.

Men have always been rather skittish when it comes to womanly bleeding and this is especially true of the medieval man. Menstruation was eyed with fear and disgust and these attitudes transformed into myths and misconceptions. And in keeping with the prevailing beliefs of the time, these misconceptions contained more than a hint of misogyny. Menstruation, rather than being viewed as a requirement for procreation or tangible proof of fertility, was seen as a byproduct of the sinister, evil ways of the woman.


Karen Harris is a college instructor by day and a writer by night. Writing offers Karen a chance to dabble in her other areas of interest, including history and science. She has written numerous freelance articles and feature stories for publication. She is a hobby farmer, environmental volunteer, and advocate for volunteer firefighters.

Lori Caskey-Sigety started writing in 1991. She hasn’t stopped. Her writing includes blogs, book reviews, essays, lyrics, plays, poems, and puppet shows. Lori has authored two poetry books, and her other works have appeared in Wildfire Magazine, Orlo, Indiana Libraries, and Public Libraries. She is an artist, college instructor, librarian, and musician.

The Medieval VaginaIn the Middle Ages much like today, the vagina conjured fear and repulsion, yet it held an undeniable allure. In the Medieval Vagina, the authors explore this paradox while unearthing medieval myths, attitudes and contradictions surrounding this uniquely feminine and deeply mysterious organ.

What euphemisms did medieval people have for the vagina? Did medieval women use birth control? How was rape viewed in the Middle Ages? How was the vagina incorporated into literature, poetry, music, and art? How did medieval women cope with menstruation? The Medieval Vagina delves into these topics, and others, while introducing the reader to a collection of fascinating medieval women – Pope Joan, Lady Frances Howard, Margery Kempe, Sister Benedetta Carlini, and Chaucer’s Wife of Bath – who all shaped our view of the medieval vagina.

The Medieval Vagina takes a quick-paced, humorous peek into the medieval world; a time when religious authority combined with newly emerging science and medicine, classic literature, and folklore to form a deeply patriarchal society. It may have been a man’s world, but the vagina triumphed over oppression and misogyny.

You can find more information about the book, interviews and guest blog posts at Snark Publishing and the book itself on Amazon. Interested in the Kindle version, click here?


Wandering the Halls of History – On a Personal Note

Christine de Pizan lecturing men!

Christine de Pizan lecturing men!

I’m not a historian and don’t pretend to be. That may not be a wise statement to make on a history blog, but it’s the truth and I don’t necessarily believe it’s a disadvantage here. While the occasional author has popped in to comment about a woman she has written about, I think most of you are interested amateurs like I am. We know women have played a significant role throughout history, but for various reasons they haven’t gotten the recognition that they deserve. So this intrigues us, or angers us, and we seek out information or at least take note of it when we see it.

The Beginning

While I’ve always loved history, this venture began when I started collecting materials for a class I wanted to teach on the history of science and mathematics. Not long after that, health problems forced me to stop teaching and I never got to teach the class, but ended up with all these resources.

Also as a result of the end of my teaching career (at least in public schools), I ventured into the world of internet marketing. Well that didn’t last long. The people who make money that way are, as a rule, the people teaching others how to make money on the internet or affiliate marketers who sell other peoples products. Neither of which I could put my heart into. However, I learned a lot about websites, blogging, and especially WordPress that has helped me. (Although, wordpress.com has made blogging so easy now that you shouldn’t let lack of knowledge keep you from starting one if you want. Shoot me an email if I can help.)

So one day I decided to combine the two and start a blog about women in history. Actually, there were a couple of other blog attempts, but this is where I ended up about a year and a half ago.

Restored Stoa in Athens. (Photo: Adam Carr, Wikipedia)

Restored Stoa in Athens. (Photo: Adam Carr, Wikimedia Commons)

Wandering the Halls

To be honest, I’ve struggled with the idea that I needed to be an expert to write about this topic. There are many blogs and Facebook pages run by people who are experts and it can sometimes be a little intimidating. I’ll begin to get a handle on a particular subject, for example women’s suffrage, and something else will grab my attention which I just have to read about. So I’m off on a tangent pursuing my latest interest.

I was happily maintaining the Facebook page for “Saints, Sisters, and Sluts” and I kept coming across great posts about ancient Egypt, so I started the “Ancient History Lovers” page. Then I was watching a documentary with Bettany Hughes about the ancient Minoans when she mentioned a female archaeologist named Harriet Boyd, so of course I had to read about her. You get the idea. In fact, finding interesting posts for Facebook has sometimes caused my frustration, because there just isn’t enough time to read about all the fascinating subjects and people that I encounter.

I’ve decided to call this “Wandering the Halls” syndrome. Smile It’s like wandering the halls of a great museum and learning little bits and pieces about ancient peoples or great artists, and never seeing the “whole picture.” But all those little pieces, I believe, enrich our lives.

Some halls are more complete than others. (Photo: Adam Carr, Wikimedia Commons)

Some halls are more complete than others. (Photo: Adam Carr, Wikimedia Commons)

Where to From Here?

Is this a problem? It could be, but I don’t think it has to be. When I was teaching I always considered myself more of a facilitator than a teacher. It’s an approach that isn’t always appreciated in public schools, but I started in adult education. As a rule, adults learn better the more control they have over the learning environment. Providing resources, motivation and a little guidance can lead to some of the best results.

I love to see someone discover things themselves. And if they go on to become an expert, that’s great! But, if they are also afflicted with “Wandering the Hall” syndrome, then I’ve found a kindred spirit.

I decided that I’m comfortable being a “Jill of all trades, mistress of none.” Many of the most interesting women I’ve learned about were because someone else mentioned them to me. That is what I want this blog to be about; information that intrigues people and makes them want to learn more. I hope I’ve done that at least for some.

Please Comment

As I said, some of the most interesting people I’ve learned about were mentioned to me by others. I would love to have more dialogue on the blog. Which of these women interest you? Can you add interesting information about them? Do you like them, dislike them, etc.? Disagreement is welcome, politely of course.

If you’ve read this far into my little tangent, thank you. The next post will be about another interesting woman. I think I know which one, but you never know what hall I might turn down! Laughing

Any thoughts?

Any thoughts?


We Reached 5000 Views – Thank You!

We are very excited to have reached the 5000 views mark. It was slow going to begin with, as it probably is with most blogs, researching, reading, motivating myself to write, etc. But then, as you know if you’ve read our About Us page, I reconnected with a friend from years past, although I won’t say how many years :-) Susan Abernethy brought expertise in an area of history that I know little about, as well as encouragement for me to stay the course and keep writing. Over the last couple of months, our readership has grown and we have connected with many other readers and writers. Thank you!

In celebration, we want to highlight some of our favorite posts in case you missed anything, and perhaps add a few notes along the way. Please comment and feel free leave a link to your own blog if you like. Thanks so much for all the support.

European Women’s History
Having reconnected with Susan Ozmore after many years, she put out a message she was looking for someone to share in the writing of a blog on Women’s History. I had been a history buff since the age of fourteen, studied History in college and made it a hobby of mine for all these years. So I said to myself, why not? I had no clue if I could even write! Susan graciously added me to the blog and I began my first post on Emma of Normandy, a medieval queen of England. Well, people really liked Emma!

So began the time travel through medieval England. Not only has it been fun to write about these women but just researching them is a blast. One of the most popular posts has been about Edith of Wessex, the Queen of Edward the Confessor of England. She came from a powerful family, even more powerful than the King of England himself. She was an astronomer and spoke many languages. Edith seemed to capture people’s interest.

Edith of Wessex

Another popular woman was Empress Maud, The Lady of the English. She was the daughter of King Henry I, married the German King Henry V and was the mother of King Henry II. She was never crowned Queen of England but she fought long and hard to claim the crown, causing a period of civil war called The Anarchy. Her first husband was much older than she was and her second husband was eleven years younger. She was forced to escape from a castle during the civil war and walk across the frozen Thames River to get to safety. And another medieval queen, the wife of her opponent for the throne, raised an army and chased her away from London before she could be crowned.

My very personal favorite is a woman I found by doing research on other women.  She is Aethelflaed, the Lady of the Mercians and the daughter of King Alfred the Great.  She was bold because she built and fortified towns in Mercia against attacks from Vikings.  She was extraordinarily courageous, leading armies against the Vikings, causing them to surrender in fear.  When her husband died, the Mercian Council trusted her so much, they named her their ruler without question.  I find her to be magnificent.

Aethelflaed – Lady of the Mercians

In a subject close to my heart, I wrote a series on the six wives of King Henry VIII of England called Divorced Beheaded Died, Divorced Beheaded Survived.  These six women are so varied and had such different stories.  Some were lucky and some weren’t.

King Henry VIII

I love the fascinating stories of all these women.  I’m looking forward to researching and writing about many more adventures from medieval times to the present day.

Mathematicians, Scientists, and Activists
While I tend to be a little less focused than Susan Abernethy, I’ve mainly written in two categories. My original intention was to write about women in science and math and two of my favorites are Lise Meitner and Emmy Noether. I like what I know of the character of both women. Lise Meitner really should have received a Nobel Prize for her work on nuclear fission, but because of politics was denied. In spite of this, she was able to remain friends with the primary person involved and go on and live a full life. Emmy Noether was brilliant. She worked with some of the most brilliant mathematicians and scientists of her day, including Einstein, but she was forced to flee Germany in 1933 because she was Jewish.

Lise Meitner

Women’s Rights and Suffrage
The other area that most of my posts fall into is women’s rights. I’ve written about the beginnings of the suffrage movement in the US, including some of the main players such as Susan B. Anthony, but I’ve also written about a couple of women who are not as well known, but definitely paved the way for women. One of these is Mary Ann Shadd, the first African American woman publisher in the US and the first woman publisher in Canada. Among other things, she was a staunch abolitionist who spoke out against slavery in her writings.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary

The other is Fanny Wright. Fanny endured a lot of harrassment and abuse when speaking in public for women’s rights during a time when mixed audiences were considered “promiscuous meetings.” She paved the way for women who would publicly speak out against slavery and for suffrage.

Fanny Wright

If you’ve read about these women, check under Series. We’ve grouped some posts together to make it easier to read on one subject.

We are enjoying the entire experience – learning, connecting with other bloggers and readers, but most of all sharing what we have learned, and there’s always more to learn.

Thanks for sharing the journey with us!

Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention

“Father what is a Legislature?
A representative body elected by people of the state.
Are women people?
No my son, criminals, lunatics, and women are not people.
Do legislators legislate for nothing?
Oh no; they are paid a salary.
By whom?
By the people.
Are women people?
Of course, my son, just as much as men are.”
(Are Women People? by Alice Duer Miller)

The more I read about the women’s suffrage movement the more I stand in awe at what the many woman who went before us accomplished against great odds. They educated themselves and spoke out at a time when it was considered inappropriate at best and scandalous by many. They were arrested, went on hunger strikes, and in the case of Emily Davison died after being run over by a horse. Many had the support of fathers or husbands who agreed with them and supported them, but others opted not to be constrained by the bonds of marriage.

The women who fought for the right to vote in the United States and Great Britain were as varied as women are today. They were Atheists and Quakers, school teachers, writers, speakers, and housewives. Many of them were abolitionists. There were harsh disagreements between them about what the goals were and how they could be achieved. For many the original goal wasn’t even the right to vote, but simply the right to be seen as equal before the law in things such as property rights.

It is difficult to say when the women’s suffrage movement began. One landmark event, however, was the Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, held July 19 – 20, 1848. According to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s own account it was organized on short notice. Lucretia Mott and her husband were visiting the area and five women met for tea – Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann McClintock, Martha Coffin Wright, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Jane Hunt. Together they decided to hold a convention and placed an ad in the local newspaper the next day, July 14, 1848.

Lucretia and James Mott – Lucretia was an eloquent speaker at the convention. James presided over the second day.

Prior to the convention Stanton, with help from the other women, drafted a Declaration of Sentiments based on the Declaration of Independence, declaring that “all men and women are created equal.” Attached to this was a list of grievances. The Convention would take place over two days, the first of which would include only women where the Declaration of Sentiments would be discussed one paragraph at a time and modified as necessary. The second day, men were invited to attend. Ironically, Lucretia Mott’s husband, James, was asked to moderate the meeting on the second day because it was considered inappropriate for a woman to preside over a meeting with men in attendance.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

During the discussion of the second day, the only resolution to cause much dissent was the ninth, added by Stanton.

Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.

Even Lucretia Mott thought it shouldn’t be included. Most were concerned that it would detract from the other resolutions that they believed were more reasonable. The tide turned when Fredrick Douglass rose to speak. He was an eloquent speaker and convinced the crowd that the country would be better off if women were involved in the political sphere as well as social and religious affairs. The resolution passed.

In spite of the passage of all the resolutions, there were undercurrents of disagreement and discontent. Of the 300 attendees, only 100 signed the Declaration. Word got back to Stanton in the following days of the condemnation of the convention from various pulpits, even though the convention had been open to comments from the floor. Newspapers published opinions from both ends of the spectrum. As contentious as the feminist movement in recent times has been you can imagine the reaction they received in a time when women were in many ways considered the property of the men in their lives.

Over the next seventy years, there would be many disagreements between the women and men involved in this fight. The fight to achieve the vote for African-American men after the Civil War, would cause division, some feeling that the two causes must be separated or risk losing the right for black men. When it became clear that the resistance in Congress to women’s suffrage was too strong, the issues were separated and the Fifteenth Amendment passed giving African-American men the right to vote. Another major disagreement would be over the approach, fighting for the right one state at a time or pushing for a constitutional amendment. Ultimately, each of these things occurred.

Some consider the Seneca Falls convention a minor event in the history of suffrage. Women had been working in small local groups for women’s rights for years. Two years later, in 1850, the National Women’s Rights Convention organized by Paulina Wright Davis and Lucy Stone would draw women from across the country. Seneca Falls may only be symbolic, but regardless the movement was on its way.

There are many women who contributed to women’s rights in general and suffrage in particular over the years. Most of the women at Seneca Falls wouldn’t live to see the Nineteenth Amendment pass. In future posts I want to look at women in this earlier generation, but also at some of the women who brought the dream to fruition here in the US and also in Great Britain.

To see the entire Declaration of Sentiments click here.
Read more about the suffrage movement here.

Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times by Alice Duer Miller
A People’s History of the United States
by Howard Zinn
Eight Years and More by Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull by Barbara Goldsmith