Women in History

Women have always played an important role in history. There were good women, bad women, destroyers of society and shapers. There were women who were unwillingly caught up in the events of history and those who made them happen. Some women were just downright interesting. This blog will post about them all. Requests are welcome.
We post twice a week. All asks are answered publicly unless otherwise indicated. Tag this blog with #historicwomenblog.
Frannie Lou Hamer 1917- 1977
Frannie Lou Hamer was born in Mississippi in the 20th Century, a time of intense racial discrimination in the South. Frannie was the youngest of twenty children and worked as a sharecropper, first with her family and then with her husband. Frannie and her husband, Perry, were unable to have children. While in surgery to remove a tumor, the doctor gave Frannie a hysterectomy without her consent. Frannie was outraged. Though she could no longer give birth, Frannie raised four adopted children. 
In 1962, Frannie registered to vote at a protest meeting where she met several civil rights activists. When she attempted to carry out this right, she and the 17 others who went to vote with her met opposition from law enforcement. She was fired from her job and driven from her home. She began working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She participated in and led acts of nonviolent civil disobedience and was often the victim of threats, arrests and violence. Frannie was even shot at.
Frannie helped found the Freedom Democratic Party and the National Women’s Political Caucus. She ran for congress, though unsuccessfully. In 1976, Frannie was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died the following year.  
In 1972, a unanimous resolution praising Frannie’s contributions to civil rights was passed in Mississippi. She received an honorary PhD from Howard University, among other humanitarian awards. 

Frannie Lou Hamer 1917- 1977

Frannie Lou Hamer was born in Mississippi in the 20th Century, a time of intense racial discrimination in the South. Frannie was the youngest of twenty children and worked as a sharecropper, first with her family and then with her husband. Frannie and her husband, Perry, were unable to have children. While in surgery to remove a tumor, the doctor gave Frannie a hysterectomy without her consent. Frannie was outraged. Though she could no longer give birth, Frannie raised four adopted children. 

In 1962, Frannie registered to vote at a protest meeting where she met several civil rights activists. When she attempted to carry out this right, she and the 17 others who went to vote with her met opposition from law enforcement. She was fired from her job and driven from her home. She began working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She participated in and led acts of nonviolent civil disobedience and was often the victim of threats, arrests and violence. Frannie was even shot at.

Frannie helped found the Freedom Democratic Party and the National Women’s Political Caucus. She ran for congress, though unsuccessfully. In 1976, Frannie was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died the following year.  

In 1972, a unanimous resolution praising Frannie’s contributions to civil rights was passed in Mississippi. She received an honorary PhD from Howard University, among other humanitarian awards. 

Elizabeth “Sissi” von Oesterreich  1837- 1898

Elizabeth von Oesterreich had a fairly informal childhood compared to most royals. She spent a lot of time in the countryside with her siblings, her parents had no official obligations to the royal court so her childhood was very easy going. 

In 1853, Sissi met Franz Joseph. Franz was meant to marry Sissi’s sister but he and Sissi fell in love. When Sissi was sixteen the two married but love faded from the relationship. Sissi was used to the life she lived in her childhood, when she was more independant. She was not happy with the strict protocol of the royal court. Her step mother and husband were heavily involved with opposing the revolutionary and separatist tendencies in the Habsburg empire. Sissi was unacquainted with these politics and had trouble adjusting to this life. Her mother in law tried to help Sissi and acted harshly. She took her children, sending Sissi into depression, and sent her away from her home as an invalid. 

When Sissi returned she was more confident in the politics of her country. She took control of issues involving Hungary, Austria’s neighbor. In 1867, she was crowned Queen of Hungary. As a gift for the coronation, Sissi was presented with a residence in Gödölló, where she and her husband began living. Sissi’s Austrian subjects felt neglected that the queen would live outside her first country. They dubbed the child she had in Hungary “the Hungarian Child” and said that if she had been a boy, Sissi would have named him after Hungary’s patron saint. 

Sissi was widely known for her beauty, and the time she spent on it. She was anorexic at times and spent three hours daily taking care of her long hair. While Sissi’s hairdresser took care of Sissi’s hair, the Monarch would study languages. During that time she learned three new languages. She tested many beauty products but preferred not to use them often, natural beauty was most valuable to Sissi. She slept without a pillow, believing this would help her maintain better posture. She bathed in olive oil and had face masks made from fresh fruit and other natural products to apply to her face daily. The beauty of the Queen made her very popular in Austria.

In 1870, Sissi withdrew from the public life. She lived quietly until 1898. While leaving Geneva, Sissi was attacked by anarchist Luigi Lucheni. He stabbed Sissi and ran. She did not die immediately but the assassination was successful. Sissi did not initially realize she was hurt because of her tight corset. She died on boat that was meant to take her from Geneva. Luigi was sentenced to life in prison, he was found hung in his cell in 1910- apparently a suicide. 

Sissi became a subject in pop culture in the fifties with Ernst Marischka's films. Sissi was featured in earlier films but not as the main character.  

historicwomen:

Sylvia Rivera 1951- 2002

Sylvia Rivera was an activist for LGBT rights, striving especially for trans inclusion in the movement. Sylvia was a veteran in the Stonewall Uprising. She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance and STAR

Sylvia, like many in the transgender community, overcame tremendous roadblocks on her way to activism. She was orphaned early in life, and started living on the streets with a community of drag-queens at the age of eleven. 

Though Sylvia spent much of her life living on the street and struggling with substance abuse, she never stopped doing all she could for LGBT rights. She worked especially for those excluded by the mainstream gay rights movement. 

The last five years of her life was where Sylvia made the greatest impact. She gave speeches concerning the Stonewall Uprising, appeared on documentaries and was even dubbed the Rosa Parks of the modern LGBT movement

Sylvia died at 50 of liver cancer and is still a respected founder of the modern LGBT movement. 

a-scandal-in-ephemera:

historicwomen:

Jeanne Duval 1820- 1862

Born in Haiti, Jeanne Duval traveled to Paris when she was twenty to become an actress. She found work in small cabaret clubs. It was when she was working in a theatre on Champs Élysées that she was spotted by the poet Charles Baudelaire.

Baudelaire saw Jeanne perform and was immediately enchanted. That night, he left a large bunch of red roses for her at the stage door. It was the beginning of a love affair that would last twenty years. Though Charles used Jeanne as his main inspiration, she was the subject of much criticism from his friends. Baudelaire was already in a downward spiral when he met Duval. He was spending his inherited fortune haphazardly on drugs and prostitutes. The literary circle of Paris still criticized Duval as the femme-fatale dragging the tortured poet to his inevitable demise.

“Jeanne, the black witch, symbolized his damnation; Appollonie, the white angel, his salvation.”

F.W.J. Hemmings, Baudelaire the Damned: A Biography, 1982 x

Jeanne was admired relentlessly by the poet. He was fascinated by Duval’s “exotic” appeal. Often, Jeanne would indulge Baudelaire’s maternal cravings. The poet’s infamous mommy-issues began with his father’s death and were magnified with his mother’s second marriage. It was all a part of the poet’s tortured persona. He remembered his relationship with his mother as "ideal, romantic .. . as if I were courting her." x

Jeanne took advantage of her lover’s longing for his childhood. She intentionally set their surroundings so Baudelaire could recall it. This was something no other lover had done for the poet. Through her, Baudelaire re-experienced the feelings of pity, despair, lust and betrayal that inspired his book, Les Fleurs du Mal. It was Jeanne who introduced Baudelaire to Laudanum, a liquid form of Opium. His addiction to the drug would last his entire life. The couple quarreled often and grew apart in the later years of their relationship. The two remained friends throughout their life, even after the affair. When they were both old and dying, Baudelaire helped Duval pay her medical bills.

Portrait by Manet

This is not to say that she didn’t inspire his poetry, but what some are starting to suspect is that the relationship was extremely one-sided… and it was never actually consummated. It’s hard to say for sure, seeing as some sources say she outlived Charles, while other contemporaries (like Nadar) claimed they saw her years after her supposed death. She did have syphilis and so did he. But few 19c Parisians didn’t have it. Some scholars try to link the two with that, and I think it’s a little flimsy.

Let’s be fair— Charles could have very well said they’d slept together, since she was a courtesan (and an actress), and no one would have been able to know, for certain. Nobody would have contested it, even if Duval did. And why would she? In spite of his reputation as a dandy and eventual standing as an immoral poet, he was a known art critic who associated with artists who made money, or were part of moneyed families.

He wrote a novella loosely based off her, and himself. It predated Les Fleurs du mal by about ten years. And while I love Baudelaire an obscene amount, I wouldn’t put it past him to fantasize about— and then write about— a woman he’d never had sex with, just because he wanted to and was either in love with her, or in lust with her.

It’s like Manet and Victorine Meurent. Fun to speculate about, and Jesus, did Baudelaire’s mom hate the ‘Black Venus,’ but that doesn’t automatically mean that she was really his mistress in all senses of the word. It is, of course, entirely possible. History remembers her that way. But there are some gaps in records and hearsay.

Asta Nielsen 1881- 1972

Known as the “first great international star,” Asta Nielsen was a Danish silent film actress. Asta was born in poverty and raised by a single mother. Asta went to theater school in her teens. At the age of 18, Asta had a child. Despite the stigmata against unwed mothers at the turn of the century, she refused to marry the father. According to Asta:

 “Having a child seems incredibly important to me; but having a husband not at all so.” x

In 1902 Asta began acting professionally in Denmark and in 1910 she was in the movie The Abyss. This film marked the beginning of serious acting for Asta and for film. Typically silent films featured exaggerated movements and expressions- Asta’s naturalness ushered in an era of dramatic filmmaking.

After taking the stage in Denmark Asta moved to Germany. There she took on a plethora of roles, from esteemed heroines to society girls to androgenous roles. Asta was known for her lewd dancing, something that would cause many of her films to be banned or mutilated by censors in the United States.  

One of Asta’s most thought provoking roles was her film Hamletin which Asta plays the role of Hamlet. While a woman playing a role written for a man was important, the actress added another twist when she played Hamlet as a woman disguised as a man. This is possibly one of the most original interpretations of the play, one that puzzled many contemporaries. It would probably be criticized even today. Scenes between Hamlet and Horatio, and Hamlet and Fortinbras are clearly coded as gay. Asta’s performance ignites very modern thoughts about gender perception and sexuality. 

Like many silent film performers, Asta retired with the introduction of the talkie. She returned to stage acting and wrote an autobiography. She began a fruitful literary career at the age of 65. At 86 Asta directed her first film. She spent her later life until her death traveling with her third husband and writing. 

Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna 1779- 1826

Born in Germany as Princess Louise of Baden, Elizabeth Alexeievna married the grandson of Catherine the Great, Alexander I. Catherine paired the couple but they had chemistry and fell in love shortly after meeting. When Elizabeth wed, she learned Russian and changed her name. She had to start adjusting to Russian court life. 

Elizabeth experienced understandable amounts of culture shock. Her life in the court became very unhappy. Catherine was disappointed in her for not producing a son before her death. When Catherine died and Paul I came to power, Elizabeth was even more distressed. She avoided the court whenever possible and her marriage began to decay. It was not until five years into Elizabeth’s marriage that she had a child- and it was from an affair. The baby girl died soon after her birth and Elizabeth’s lover left the country. 

In 1801, Elizabeth’s husband conspired to kill his father, Paul I. She was present during the assassination and supported Alexander’s efforts. After the murder, Alexander took the throne but he lived with a guilty conscience. He became indifferent toward Elizabeth, though she encouraged him to leave behind the trauma of the murder and take care of Russia. Elizabeth’s husband made an effort to have meals with her and was civil toward her in public but the love had left the relationship. Both had affairs at this point in the marriage. Elizabeth had another daughter, probably from an affair, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Alexandrovna. She put all her affections toward this child but she soon died as well. After this death, Elizabeth and Alexander lost hope for having children. Elizabeth died suddenly of heart failure at the age of 47 when traveling to meet her mother-in-law. 

Portrait by Vladimir Borovikovsky

Asker carolmrtns Asks:
This tumblr was the best thing I've found this week. Thank you for doing this. <3
historicwomen historicwomen Said:

Thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoy it. 

crowdraws:

Julie d’Aubigny for ednapontellier

Since you run a blog about women in history, I thought the notorious 17th century swashbucking bisexual opera singer could be the right choice. :D The texture kinda got out of hand, but I liked it - I hope it isn’t too funky!

Caterina van Hemessen 1528- 1587
Caterina van Hemessen was a Flemish Renaissance painter and one of the earliest woman painters who have extensive documented work. She is credited with being the first artist to paint a self portrait in front of an easel, as pictured above. 
Caterina was taught to paint by her father. She became a very successful artist in her time, among her patrons was Queen Mary of Hungary. Her famous self portrait was made when Caterina was twenty years old. She became the teacher of three male students because of her good position with the guild of St. Luke. 
Mary the Queen of Hungary greatly admired the artist and she became Caterina&#8217;s main patron. When she returned to Spain, she invited Caterina to join her. Caterina and her husband went to Spain, the Queen died two years later and left Caterina with a healthy pension. Caterina was mentioned in Guicciardini&#8217;s Description of the Low Countries as one of the living women artists. There are no paintings by Caterina after the date 1554, which has led many experts to believe she stopped painting when she married. 

Caterina van Hemessen 1528- 1587

Caterina van Hemessen was a Flemish Renaissance painter and one of the earliest woman painters who have extensive documented work. She is credited with being the first artist to paint a self portrait in front of an easel, as pictured above. 

Caterina was taught to paint by her father. She became a very successful artist in her time, among her patrons was Queen Mary of Hungary. Her famous self portrait was made when Caterina was twenty years old. She became the teacher of three male students because of her good position with the guild of St. Luke. 

Mary the Queen of Hungary greatly admired the artist and she became Caterina’s main patron. When she returned to Spain, she invited Caterina to join her. Caterina and her husband went to Spain, the Queen died two years later and left Caterina with a healthy pension. Caterina was mentioned in Guicciardini’s Description of the Low Countries as one of the living women artists. There are no paintings by Caterina after the date 1554, which has led many experts to believe she stopped painting when she married. 

Mary Read 1690- 1721

Mary Read was a pirate who was active in the early 18th Century. Mary was born to the widow of a sea captain. Her mother dressed her as a boy in order to get more money from Mary’s grandmother. Mary took the role of “boy” into her adult life, she liked the freedom and adventure.

Mary became a soldier and a sailor. When working for the British in Holland, she fell in love with a flemish soldier. She revealed to him that she was a woman and they married. Her husband met an early death, so Mary decided to hitch a ride to the West Indies. The ship Mary was on was attacked by pirates and she made the decision to align herself with the criminals. She went from pirate ship to pirate ship, and then worked for the British government for a while. Mary mutinied the government ship to become a pirate again and eventually found herself on board with Anne Bonny.  

Mary had yet to reveal her womanhood to Anne when Anne first tried to seduce her. After Mary revealed herself, the seduction continued and the two became an inseparable duo. They were the toughest on the ship and had a reputation throughout the high seas. Bounty hunters were sent out to find the ship and in October of 1720 they were attacked. Mary Read and her lover were the only two in the crew who were sober enough to fight. They held their ground for a while but were no match for the bounty hunters, especially when their only back up was a bunch of drunken criminals.

At their trial, Bonny and Read pled the belly. Since a pregnant woman could not be hung, both women were spared that fate. The men of the crew were all swiftly sentenced to execution. Mary was never free again, she died in prison from a fever.