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

Bicycles and Women’s Emancipation

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.”

Susan B. Anthony, 1896

For a little fun today, let’s look at something simple that made a big impact of the freedom of women – the bicycle! By the 1890s, bicycling had become very popular in the United States as well as in Europe, and women weren’t going to be left out of the fun. Bicycles allowed women more freedom of movement out of their own neighborhoods and into the world at large. They could go farther in less time and it was much cheaper to maintain than a horse!

Susan B. Anthony said in an interview with the New York World in 1896, that the bicycle “has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” Francis Willard, president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, even wrote a book about how she learned to ride a bicycle later in life.

But, for a woman to be truly comfortable on a bicycle, not to mention safe, their clothing needed to be modified. In the 1970s when bell-bottoms became popular, we used to put rubber bands around our ankles to keep our pants legs from getting tangled up in the gears. I can’t imagine trying to ride with long skirts.

“Her miserable style of dress is a consequence of her present vassalage not its cause. Woman must become ennobled, in the quality of her being. When she is so, . . . she will be able, unquestioned, to dictate the style of her dress.”  Lucy Stone

So in the 1890s, “Bloomers”, or Turkish trousers, which had come and gone from fashion in the 1850s, made a comeback. This was an outfit that included full trousers gathered at the ankle with a short dress over them. (Although not developed by Amelia Bloomer, she advocated them in her magazine The Lily.)

Around the same time there was a movement toward more rational dress for women, due in part to the unhealthy nature (not to mention extreme discomfort) of corsets. Bloomers were soon displaced by an even more “radical” getup – rationals.

“Woman will never hold her true position, until, by a firm muscle and a steady nerve, she can maintain the RIGHTS she claims . . . but she cannot make the first move . . . until she casts away her swaddling clothes.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Were increased freedom of women on bicycles and the corresponding change in dress in part responsible for a move toward women’s liberation, or were they the result of it? It’s an interesting question, but there will always be those who, even when they accept a new found freedom will try to control it. Women were cautioned not to develop the “bicycle face” and warned that their vocal chords were changing because of bicycle riding, making women loud talkers with harsh voices.  Check out this long list of don’t’s for women cyclists at Brainpickings.org, including such things as the following:

“Don’t chew gum. Exercise your jaws in private.”

“Don’t try to ride in your brother’s clothes ‘to see how it feels.’”

“Don’t scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run.”

Sigh. . . Enjoy your freedom ladies. It was hard fought for and not every woman in the world has the same freedoms today. The fight isn’t over!

A Few Great Resources About Women’s History

I’ve recently “Liked” some new Facebook pages related to History, some specifically about Women’s History, and through these have discovered some wonderful resources that I want to highlight.

Is Mise – on Facebook

Is Mise is a Facebook page “By, For, and About Women” managed by Tracy Livingston a cultural anthropologist. She has wonderful posts and I highly recommend “liking” her page if you are on Facebook.

Century of Action: Women Get the Vote

One of the websites I found through Is Mise is the “Century of Action: Women Get the Vote“, the website of the Oregon Women’s History Consortium.

When the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in 1920, many women had been voting for quite a while. Fifteen states had given women full suffrage and others had received the right to vote in various types of elections. One hundred years ago, in 1912, the women of Oregon won the right to vote. In honor of this event, the Oregon Women’s History Consortium has been formed to “lead the centennial celebration of woman suffrage and to promote women’s history beyond 2012.” At their website you can find information about the long fight in Oregon, the women who spear-headed that fight, documents, and current news and events.

Homefront Heroines: The WAVES of World War II

During WWII, women did countless jobs to free men to fight. We often think about Rosy the Riveter and women who went into the workforce for the first time, but women also went into the military for the first time in jobs other than nursing. Homefront Heroines: The WAVES of World War II is a documentary film about the women who volunteered for service in the Navy during the war. At the website and blog for the film, you can find wonderful exhibits, pictures, and stories of these women as well as a trailer for the movie to be released in August 2012. They have both a Facebook page and a website.

The Zinn Education Project

If you’ve never read Howard Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States, it is well worth the time. In the book, Zinn looks at our history from a different perspective than the typical history book and tells the stories of people whose voices are often not heard. The Zinn Education Project is primarily targeted toward using Zinn’s book in the classroom, but it’s website contains many resources which will be of interest to anyone interested in United States history. You can explore by theme or time period and narrow the target audience to a specific age group. This site is not limited to women’s history, but we are certainly represented there. They also have a Facebook page.

National Women’s History Museum

I’ve mentioned the National Women’s History Museum before, but I wanted to remind you of it. If you are on Facebook, be sure to “Like” their page. They frequently have posts of the “Today in History” type specifically related to women.

Just a little nugget from this week – During the Revolutionary War, Thursday April 26, 1777 was the day that Sybil Ludington rode all night on horseback to warn local troops that the British were attacking. Her father was a colonel in the militia and she was barely sixteen, but she rode all night covering roughly 40 miles. She accomplished her mission and the men gathered together the next morning to fight. Paul Revere covered less distance and was memorialized in a poem, but Sybil was just a girl helping out her dad.

Actually, there are a couple of statues of Sybil and she has her own stamp, but I had never heard of her. There are so many things we weren’t taught in school!

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