Lillian Cannon, Famous American swimmer in training at Cape Gris-Nez for an attempt to swim the English Channel, wishes Gertrude Ederle good luck before Ederle starts her swim. (Daily News photo)
What she did: First Women to Swim the English Channel
Gertrude was born in New York City, NY on October 23 rd , 1905 to German immigrants as the third of 6 children.
Her father, Henry taught her to swim in New Jersey where the family had a summer cottage.
When they returned to New York City in the winter, Gertrude kept practicing, swimming in horse troughs.
The Amateur Hour
Well Gertrude took to swimming like a fish to water and she began to train with the Women’s Swimming Association (WSA).
Beginning at 12-years-old, Gertrude trained at the WSA’s small indoor pool for $3 a year (about $85 in today’s money) Though the pool was small, the WSA is known for training competitors including Ethelda Bleibtrey, Charlotte Boyle, Helen Wainwright, Aileen Riggin, Elanor Holm, and Esther Williams.
The WSA was kind of a big deal at the time. The ‘front crawl’ or freestyle stroke was actually developed there.
At the time, swimsuits for women were undergoing a revolution, evolving from the full-body dresses of yore to the more traditional style we know today. Still super conservative and included stockings, but a significant improvement from a drowning-inducing-frock. This made swimming more accessible (AKA possible) for women and competitive swimming saw a surge in popularity.
The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) was being pressured to recognize women’s swimming as a legitimate sport. In 1919, WSA director, Charlotte “Eppy” Epstein asked the AAU to “allow swimmers to remove their stockings for competition as long as they quickly put on a robe once they got out of the water.”
Famous swim coach L.B. Handley volunteered at the WSA. He was also one of Gertrude’s early coaches. He’s known for developing new and more efficient swimming techniques including the ‘American front crawl’ which involved taking fewer breaths, thus leading to less resistance.
Stockings or no, Gertrude became such a skilled swimmer she would have certainly been burned as a witch in years past.
The same year she joined the WSA, Gertrude set her first world record in the 880 yard freestyle, making her the youngest world record holder in swimming.
Gertrude first realized her skill in long-distance, open water swimming in 1922 when she was only 15-years-old. Gertrude entered the Joseph P. Day Cup, a 3 ½ mile race in New York Bay.
Before this race, her longest race had only been 220 yards.
She blew everyone’s bloomers off by beating U.S. champion Helen Wainwright and British champ Hilda James, along with 51 other contestants. I couldn’t find what she placed overall though.
Gertrude continued leaving everyone in her wake as she set 8 more world records, 7 of which were in ONE YEAR.
From 1921-1925, Gertrude held 29 national and world records.
In 1924, Gertrude swam in the Summer Olympics in Paris.
There she won a gold medal as part of the 4×100 meter freestyle relay. Her
and her team, comprised of Euphrasia Donnelly, Ethel Lackie, and Mariechen Wehselau, set a new world record of 4:58.8.
During the 1924 Summer Olympics, Gertrude also earned two bronze medals in the 100 meter and 400 meter freestyle.
That year the American team brought home 99 medals and was met with a ticker-tape parade when they returned home.
Gertrude would later say that “her failure to win three golds in the games was the biggest disappointment of her career.”
Now, with 3 Olympic medals and dozens of world records under her swim cap, Gertrude was ready to go pro.
In 1925 Gertrude swam 22 miles from Battery Park to Sandy Hook which took her 7 hours and 11 minutes, a record that would stand for 81 years. However, this was just, as her nephew described a “midnight frolic” and “warm-up” for her crowning moment.
The English Channel is a body of water that separates Southern England from Northern France. It varies in width, but most swimmers start at the Straight of Dover which is about 20 miles wide (or if you’re
99% of the world, 33 km.)
Many people had attempted the swim, but only 5 had completed it by this
time. According to Dover.uk.com, 10 people have died while trying to complete the swim (starting in 1926.)
Creepy side note, while I was reading about the recorded deaths, at least 3 of people were only a few miles away from the coast when they died.
Endurance-swimming was really hip at the time and Gertrude was ready for a new challenge. Originally, Gertrude was going to swim with another WSA swimmer, Helen Wainwright, but she had to back out at the last minute due to an injury.
Gertrude decided to continue, alone. She trained with swimmer Jabez Wolffe who had attempted the Channel swim 22 times. Wolffe was also kinda sexist and commented that women may not be capable of making the swim.
During trainings, Wolffe kept telling Gertrude to slow the fuck down because she would never make it at her quick pace.
Apparently, learning from a 22-time failure didn’t work out, because when Gertrude made her first attempt, Wolffe got her disqualified by telling another swimmer to pull her out of the water.
Wolffe thought she was drowning, but she was actually resting and Gertrude was pissed. It has understandably been speculated that the bitter, sexist, 22-time failure sabotaged Gertrude.
Well, Gertrude began training with Bill Burgess, a swimmer who had successfully completed the Channel swim in 1911.
At this time, Gertrude’s peers were attempting the swim themselves. 3 days before Gertrude attempted the Channel again, Clarabelle Barret made an attempt but got lost in some fog and was officially declared missing. She was found, but had to quit only 2 miles from the finish.
One year later, on August 6 th , 1926, Gertrude set out from Cape Gris-Nez in France at 7:08 a.m.
She was coated in olive oil, lanolin, and Vaseline in an attempt to help keep her warm. She also wore a two piece swimsuit, which is still a controversial move for competitive swimmers today.
During her swim in the bitterly cold water, she encountered squalls which left Burgess urging her to get out of the water.
Gertrude was like, fuck that, and kept going. Her father and sister were riding in the boat with Burgess and were also like fuck that and urged Gertrude to go on.
Apparently, Gertrude’s father had promised to buy her a new roadster if she finished and during her swim, he would call out to remind her and motivate her.
To protect her eyes from the salty water, Gertrude used motorcycle goggles that were sealed with paraffin to keep them water-tight.
14 hours and 31 minutes later, 20-year-old Gertrude completed her 35 mile swim at Kingsdown Kent.
This made her the 6 th person ever to complete the swim and the 1 st woman to do so! Not only that, she beat the previous record by 2 hours!
However, the long exposure to the cold water left Gertrude with hearing loss. I also read that she already had bad hearing due to measles as a kid, but either way the cold water didn’t help.
Gertrude’s father had bet Lloyd’s of London that his daughter would succeed and subsequently won $175,000 (Almost 2.5 million in today’s money.)
A butcher by trade, Gertrude’s father gave out free frankfurters to his whole neighborhood to celebrate.
When Gertrude returned to Manhattan, she received a ticker-tape parade attended by some 2 million people.
Gertrude was bombarded with book and movie deals along with marriage proposals. She toured North America, was in a movie, met President Coolidge, had a vaudeville career and more but all of this took its toll and she suffered a nervous breakdown in 1928.
In 1933, she also fell down her apartment steps and twisted her spine.
One reporter remarked, “Her recover was slow, and undoubtedly more difficult than any swim she ever made.”
Gertrude’s hearing loss helped her identify with children with the same disability and she later taught hearing-impaired children to swim.
By 1940, she was nearly completely deaf. Gertrude never married and passed away peacefully on November 30th, 2003 at 98 years old.
Gertrude was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965
Her “midnight-frolic” swim from Battery Park to Sandy Hook was renamed the Ederle Swim in her memory.
In Disney’s The Princess and the Frog Gertrude’s name appears in a newspaper article being read by Eli “Big Daddy” La Bouff.
Name: Martha Gellhorn
Born: November 8, 1908 Death: February 15, 1998
GELLHORN IN 1946, THE YEAR SHE DIVORCED ERNEST HEMINGWAY.
GELLHORN IN 1978.
GRAHAM HARRISON /REX/SHUTTERSTOCK
GELLHORN ON ASSIGNMENT IN ITALY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR.
Archive: Martha Gellhorn – Kinfolk
What she did: War Journalist
Martha Gellhorn was born on November 8, 1908, in St. Louis MO. To
Edna Fischel Gellhorn, and George Gellhorn.
Her father and maternal grandfather were Jewish, and her maternal
grandmother came from a Protestant family.
Martha’s father was a doctor in St. Louis with progressive notions and her mother, whom she adored, was a suffragist and social reformer who sometimes took her daughter with her to rallies and protests.
Her father pulled her out of a convent school when he discovered the
nuns were teaching female anatomy with a textbook that had its
pictures covered and transferred the girl to a progressive
coeducational school of which her mother was a co-founder.
Martha began her journalism career when she dropped out of college
to pursue it in 1927.
Her first article was published in the New Republic.
She continued writing for The New Republic until she eventually became a crime reporter for a local newspaper in Albany.
By 1930, Martha wanted to be a foreign correspondent, to do that she
went to France for and worked in Paris at the United Press. Martha got
to Europe by writing a brochure for the Holland American Line in
return for passage on their ship. 3
She also became active in the pacifist movement and later published a book titled ‘What Mad Pursuit’ of her experiences. She later came to regard this novel as embarrassing.
She fell in love with her first husband here Bertrand de Jouvenal they married, or at least presented themselves as husband and wife; it was not clear whether he had successfully divorced his previous wife.
They returned to St. Louis in 1931. (Divorced in 1933)
In 1931 at a party in Washington, DC she had a chance meeting with Harry Hopkins, a social worker. After much talk of their work she eventually joined his team when he started the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.
This team would travel to parts of the country hit hardest by the Depression and report back. The narrative portrait that was painted from these missives of what Americans were enduring to President Roosevelt.
They did not report facts and statistics but lives of people dealing with what was going on. It was real and raw.
At 25, Martha was the youngest person on the reporting team, she received travel vouchers and $5 a day to go from town to town.
She started in Gaston County, North Carolina, where she interviewed the families of mill workers and sharecroppers. She saw more poverty, syphilis, slow starvation, and utter despair than anything her life up to then could have prepared her for.
Her reports are real and moving portraits of people who were struggling beyond all hope and yet too proud to go on relief. She admired their grit, and wept for them, and shook with rage. All of this comes through in the writing, which was being sent by Hopkins, without Martha’s knowledge, to Eleanor Roosevelt as well as FDR.
Eleanor encouraged her husband to talk to her and so it came about that Martha was invited to dinner at the White House to share stories of who and what she had seen. This dinner became an open invitation to visit anytime and tell them both more not just from the depression but all the people she would meet.
Nearly a year into her post Martha was fired for inciting a riot among unemployed workers in rural Idaho.
After the incident Eleanor wrote to say that she was welcome to live at the White House until she could find her feet again. Martha accepted and stayed in what would later be named the Lincoln Bedroom, helping Eleanor answer sheaves of mail from people in dire straits.
Martha saw Eleanor as a private hero and began using her time at the White House to use her voice and considerable energy to expose the suffering she had seen and give it a broad, loud platform.
The resulting book, thrown off in a few short, burning months, became The Trouble I’ve Seen, a collection of four novellas that was praised far and wide. According to the Saturday Review of Literature, it seemed to be “woven not out of words but out of the tissues of human beings.” It made Martha the literary discovery of 1936.
By chance while vacationing in Florida that same year with her family she happened to run into a famous author Earnest Hemmingway.
The author was reading his mail and the two practically ran into each other. She was 28 at the time, he was 37. He had recently published some of his major novels so was a huge deal at this time. They began an affair even though he was still married to wife #2 at this point.
When he told her he was heading to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, she decided to go too. She came to Madrid in the spring of 1937 carrying a single knapsack and $50, to cover the war for Collier’s Weekly .
Like many writers and artists of her generation, including Hemingway, Martha sympathized passionately with the democratically elected socialist government of Spain in its fight against the fascist generals led by Francisco Franco. Her Spanish dispatches, “revealed a gift for unflinching observation and unforced pathos” and “were much better than Hemingway’s” wrote Marc Weingarten in theWashington Post.
“In Barcelona, it was perfect bombing weather,” Gellhorn wrote,
describing Franco’s bombers closing in on Republican territory in
November of 1938, as quoted by Lyman. “The cafes along the Ramblas
were crowded. There was nothing much to drink; a sweet fizzy poison
called orangeade and a horrible liquid supposed to be sherry. There
was, of course, nothing to eat. Everyone was out enjoying the cold
afternoon sunlight. No bombers had come over for at least two hours.”
When the Spanish fascists won the war in 1939, she was crushed.
“Nothing in my life has so affected my thinking as the losing of that
war,” she wrote in a letter to her friend Hortense Flexner, according to
Weingarten. “It is, very banally, like the death of all loved things.”
Hemingway demanded absolute loyalty, and while history likes to say Hemingway nurtured her as a correspondent however people seem to have forgotten that he also tried very hard to ruin her.
After they had been together for six years, the war in Europe escalated and Collier’s sent Martha to London, to cover the aftermath and how the people were responding after the Blitz. Hemingway complained of being abandoned, he sent her a note, “Are you a war correspondent or wife in my bed?” In his mind she could not be both.
A little background: His first wife, Hadley Richardson, had no career,
and Pauline Pfeiffer had very quickly stopped being a journalist for
Paris Vogue to be Mrs. Hemingway instead.
Martha was an utterly different sort of woman who would not be bullied into doing something she didn’t want to do. She also resented the publicity she got just for
being his wife. “Why should I be a footnote to somebody else’s life?” she bitterly asked in an interview, pointing out that she had written two novels before meeting Hemingway and continued writing for almost a half-century after leaving him.
They quarreled, both so intense and passionate that they sometimes frightened each other. Both had terrible tempers. “Ernest and I really are afraid of each other, each one knowing that the other is the most violent person either one knows,”she wrote to Flexner. Martha often felt like relationship were putting on some type of performance and she began to wonder if she were happiest at war.
She felt that War made more of her and marriage made less, she hypothesized, that is was because there was no fear in it. In marriage the fear came from within. “Because when you agreed to ‘polish all the edges and keep [your] voices low’ you sometimes lost yourself as you knew yourself, on the inside.”
Martha and Hemingway married in November of 1940. Soon after, she took him along to Hong Kong so she could write for Collier’s about the Chinese Army’s retreat from the Japanese invasion.
In 1944 Hemingway, livid with Martha for choosing her work yet again, offered his byline to Collier’s, the paper Martha was writing for. At the time, each magazine or newspaper could send only one correspondent to the front, and Collier’s chose the bigger name and went with Hemmingway, leaving Martha with essentially no marriage anymore and no credentials to go report.
Martha did find a way back to Europe, it was on a munitions barge loaded with amphibious transport craft and dynamite headed for England.
For the D-Day invasion Hemingway had a place on an attack transport, the Dorothea L. Dix, while Martha was to be left on shore to watch as he stole her thunder and byline.
Instead, Martha slunk along a dock, the night before D-Day Operation Neptune was in full swing. Some 160,000 Allied troops on nearly 5,000 vessels were being launched across the Channel toward Normandy, in the largest amphibious assault the world had ever seen.
She didn’t really have a plan, but when military personnel approached her, she flashed an expired press badge, pointed at the largest thing in view—a white hospital barge with a red cross on its side—and said she was there to interview nurses. She was shocked that she got waved through.
Martha boarded, knowing that if anyone happened upon her she would be arrested immediately. She found a restroom with a locking door and set up camp on the floor in one corner. When the barge began to move, after midnight, she had a hip flask that she drank out of while she contemplated everything that could go wrong. She could be captured and expulsed, the barge could be blown up, or she could reach her goal. Which might have been the most terrifying scenario of all.
At dawn, hungover, she let herself out of her self-made prison to see the cliffs of Normandy and the mind-boggling spectacle that was D-Day.
Thousands of destroyers, battleships, attack vessels, and transport ships comprised the allied sight of the fight that day; the sky was a violent mirror, with airborne divisions raining down thousands of bombs simultaneously.
Amid this otherworldly chaos, no longer caring about personal or professional consequences, Martha learned that her hands—any hands—were needed. The vessel by chance was the first hospital ship to arrive at the battle.
When a landing craft would pull alongside, she would fetch food and bandages, water and coffee, and did whatever she could to help including some interpretation. When night fell, with a handful of doctors and medics she went ashore on Omaha Beach—not as a journalist but as a stretcher bearer— she flung herself into the icy surf that was brimming with corpses, following just behind the minesweepers to recover the wounded.
Martha labored with the team all night, she got blisters on her hands, her mind and heart seared with images of pain and death she would never forget.
Later she would learn that every one of the hundreds of credentialed journalists, including her husband, sat poised behind her in the Channel with binoculars, never making it to shore. Hemingway’s story soon still appeared in Collier’s.
Hemingway’s story appeared too, with top billing.
Even though she had been on the beach, and the truth was written in the sand (so to speak) there were 160,000 men on that beach and one woman. Martha.
In 1945, Martha left Hemingway, walking out after an argument at London’s Dorchester Hotel. She was the only one of Hemingway’s wives to leave him, and he never forgave her. “His hatred of her was a terrible thing to see,” one Hemingway biographer noted. She left, she said, because he was jealous and bullying.
Martha chose to stay in Europe and became one of the first journalists on hand when the Dachau concentration camp was liberated in April 1945. “Behind the barbed wire and the electric fence,” she wrote of her visit to Dachau, “the skeletons sat in the sun and searched themselves for lice. They have no age and no faces; they all look alike and like nothing you will ever see if you are lucky.”
After World War II, Martha adopted a son in Italy and raised him, largely on her own, in Mexico and other countries, where she supported herself with a string of articles for women’s magazines.
Later she covered the Six-Day War in the Middle East and the conflicts in Vietnam and Nicaragua. As always she continued to tell the stories of others, those “sufferers of history” whose lives, she believed, were our direct responsibility, she wrote vividly, with fire and indignation, trying to shake the larger world awake to the truth of mutuality: that what affects one affects us all. For beneath the battle statistics lay people.
There was no “other” in Martha Gellhorn’s world, and there was no “later.” Only us. Only now.
At the age of 81, the United States invasion of Panama. It was only when war came to Bosnia that she gave it a pass.
“Too old,” she said. “You have to be nimble for war.”
Martha’s war correspondence was collected in The Face of War in 1959. She always focused on ordinary foot soldiers and civilians, ignoring the generals.
Her peacetime journalism was collected in The View From the Ground in 1988.
Martha sometimes took criticism from political conservatives, who painted her as a left-leaning dilettante whose writing was often didactic and sentimental. Others criticized her vivid journalism as being, stylistically, too much like fiction and her terse fiction as being, stylistically, too much like journalism.
But her longevity and the compelling pull of her life story overrode such criticisms. A heroine to generations of young women correspondents for her fight to get equal treatment and a place on the front lines with male colleagues, she was also a romantic figure for her wartime relationship with one of the century’ most famous writers and her subsequent rejection of him.
She worked until she couldn’t, went to war until her body couldn’t take the strain, wrote until blindness encroached. Like Hemingway, she chose suicide when things grew too dire.
She was 89 and had been given a terminal cancer diagnosis. Only recently had she stopped swimming and snorkeling. Right up to the end she was thinking about traveling—a trip to Egypt, perhaps, to get a long look at the pyramids.
“I want a life with people that is almost explosive in its excitement,” she wrote,“fierce and hard and laughing and loud and gay as all hell let loose.”
Just 28 when she took on her first war and in her early 80’s when she took on her last, Martha covered virtually every major conflict of the 20th century.
On February 15, 1998, she committed suicide in London apparently by swallowing a cyanide capsule
What she did: Cuban American performance artist, sculptor, painter and video artist who is best known for her “earth-body” artwork.
Ana Maria Mendieta was born into a middle-class family in Havana on Nov. 18, 1948.
Her father, Ignacio, was a prominent political figure who ran afoul of Fidel Castro’s government; her mother, Raquel, was a chemistry teacher.
At age 12, Ana and her 14-year-old sister Raquelin were sent to the United States by their parents to live in Dubuque, Iowa through Operation Peter Pan, a collaborative program run by the US government and the Catholic Charities.
Ana and her sister were among 14,000 children who immigrated to America on their own in 1961.
Ana’s first two years in the United States consisted of constantly moving from place to place. The sisters were able to stay together during this time due to a power of attorney signed by their parents mandating that they not be separated.
When she and her sister were sent to Iowa, they were enrolled in a reform school because the court wanted to avoid sending them to a state institution.
When Ana studied English in school, her vocabulary was very limited. In junior high school, she discovered a love for art.
In 1966, Ana was reunited with her mother and younger brother; her father joined them in 1979, having spent 18 years in a political prison in Cuba for his involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Ana was first a French major and art minor, but when she transferred to the University of Iowa, she was inspired by the avant-garde community and the hills of Iowa’s landscape.
She earned a BA and MA in painting and an MFA in Intermedia under the instruction of acclaimed artist Hans Breder.
In college, Mendieta’s work focused on blood and violence toward women. Her interest in spiritual and religious things and primitive rituals developed during this time.
She has said that she faced a great deal of discrimination in art school. After graduate school, Ana moved to New York.
Through the course of her career, Ana created work in Cuba, Mexico, Italy, and the United States.
Her work was somewhat autobiographical, drawing from her history of being displaced from her natal Cuba, and focused on themes including feminism, violence, life, death, identity, place and belonging.
Her works are generally associated with the four basic elements of nature. Ana often focused on a spiritual and physical connection with the Earth. Ana felt that by uniting her body with the earth she could became whole again: “Through my earth/body sculptures, I become one with the earth … I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body. This obsessive act of reasserting my ties with the earth is really the reactivation of primeval beliefs … [in] an omnipresent female force, the after image of being encompassing within the womb, is a manifestation of my thirst for being.”
During her lifetime, Mendieta produced over 200 works of art using earth as a sculptural medium.
Ana Mendieta’s art was sometimes violent, often unapologetically feminist and usually raw.
She incorporated unusual natural materials like blood, dirt, water and fire, and displayed her work through photography, film and live performances.
“Nothing that she did ever surprised me,” Mendieta’s sister, Raquelín, told The New York Times in 2016. “She was always very dramatic, even as a child — and liked to push the envelope, to give people a start, to shock them a little bit. It was who she was, and she enjoyed it very much. And she laughed about it sometimes when people got freaked out.”
As an immigrant, Mendieta felt a disconnect in the United States. The trauma of being uprooted from her Cuban homeland as a girl would leave her with questions about her identity and make her more conscious of being a woman of color.
These questions would echo in her work, which explored themes that pushed ethnic, sexual, moral, religious and political boundaries. She urged viewers to disregard their gender, race or other defining societal factors and instead connect with the humanity they share with others.
In 1978, Ana joined the Artists In Residence Inc (A.I.R. Gallery) in New York, which was the first gallery for women to be established in the United States.
During that time, Ana was also actively involved in the administration and maintenance of the A.I.R. In an unpublished statement, Ana noted that “It is crucial for me to be a part of all my art works. As a result of my participation, my vision becomes a reality and part of my experiences.”
At the same time, after two years of her involvement at A.I.R. she concluded that “American Feminism as it stands is basically a white middle class movement,” and sought to challenge the limits of this perspective through her art. She met her future husband Carl Andre at the gallery when he served on a panel titled, “How has women’s art practices affected male artist social attitudes?”
Her resignation in 1982 is attributed, in part, to a dispute instigated by Andre over a collaborative art piece the couple had submitted. In a 2001 journal article, Kat Griefen, director of A.I.R from 2006–2011, wrote, The letter of resignation did not site any reasons for her departure, but a number of fellow A.I.R. artists remember the related events. For a recent benefit Ana and Carl Andre had donated a collaborative piece. As was the policy, all works needed to be delivered by the artist. Edelson recalls that Andre took offense, instigating a disagreement, which, in part, led to Mendieta’s resignation. Even without this incident, according to another member, Pat Lasch, Ana’s association with the now legendary Andre surely played some role in her decision.
In 1983, Mendieta was awarded the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome. While in residence in Rome, Mendieta began creating art “objects,” including drawings and sculptures. She continued to use natural elements in her work.
Silueta Series (1973–1980)
The Silueta Series (1973–1980) involved Ana creating female silhouettes in nature—in mud, sand, and grass—with natural materials ranging from leaves and twigs to blood, and making body prints or painting her outline or silhouette onto a wall.
When she began her Silueta Series in the 1970s, Ana was one of many artists experimenting with the emerging genres of land art, body art, and performance art. The films and photographs of Siluetas are in connection with the figures surrounding her body.
Ana was possibly the first to combine these genres in what she called “earth-body” sculptures. She often used her naked body to explore and connect with the Earth.
Ana’s first use of blood to make art dates from 1972, when she performed Untitled (Death of a Chicken), for which she stood naked in front of a white wall holding a freshly decapitated chicken by its feet as its blood spattered her naked body.
In a slide series, People Looking at Blood Moffitt (1973), she pours blood and rags on a sidewalk and photographs a seemingly endless stream of people walking by without stopping, until the man next door comes out to clean it up.
Mendieta also created the female silhouette using nature as both her canvas and her medium. She used her body to create silhouettes in the grass; she created silhouettes in sand and dirt; she created silhouettes of fire and filmed them burning. Untitled (Ochún) (1981), named for the Santería goddess of waters, once pointed southward from the shore at Key Biscayne, Florida. Ñañigo Burial (1976), with a title taken from the popular name for an Afro-Cuban religious brotherhood, is a floor installation of black candles dripping wax in the outline of the artist’s body.
Through these works, which cross the boundaries of performance, film, and photography, Mendieta explored her relationship with a place as well as a larger relationship with mother Earth or the “Great Goddess” figure.
Many have interpreted Mendieta’s recurring use of this mother figure, and her own female silhouette, as feminist art. However, because Mendieta’s work explores many ideas including life, death, identity, and place all at once, it cannot be categorized as part of one idea or movement.
Claire Raymond argues that the Silueta Series, as a photographic archive, should be read for its photographicity rather than merely as documentation of earthworks.
Photo etchings of the Rupestrian Sculptures (1981)
As documented in the book Ana Mendieta: A Book of Works, edited by Bonnie Clearwater, before her death, Mendieta was working on a series of photo-etchings of cave sculptures she had created at Escaleras de Jaruco, Jaruco State Park in Havana, Cuba.
Her sculptures were entitled Rupestrian Sculptures (1981)—the title refers to living among rocks—and the book of photographic etchings that Ana was created to preserve these sculptures is a testament to the intertextuality of Ana’s work.
Clearwater explains how the photographs of Ana’s sculptures were often as important as the piece they were documenting because the nature of Ana’s work was so impermanent. Ana spent as much time and thought on the creation of the photographs as she did on the sculptures themselves.
Ana returned to Havana, the place of her birth, for this project, but she was still exploring her sense of displacement and loss, according to Clearwater.
The Rupestrian Sculptures that Ana created were also influenced by the Taíno people, “native inhabitants of the pre-Hispanic Antilles,” which Mendieta became fascinated by and studied.
Ana had completed five photo-etchings of the Rupestrian Sculptures before she died in 1985. The book Ana Mendieta: A Book of Works, published in 1993, contains both photographs of the sculptures as well as Mendieta’s notes on the project.
Body Tracks (1982)
Body Tracks (Rastros Corporales) are long, blurry marks that Mendieta’s hands and forearms made as they slid down a large piece of white paper during a performance heightened with pulsing Cuban music.
In 1979 Ana presented a solo exhibition of her photographs at A.I.R. Gallery in New York.She also curated and wrote the introductory catalog essay for an exhibition at A.I.R. in 1981 entitled Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists of the United States, which featured the work of artists such as Judy Baca, Senga Nengudi, Howardena Pindell, and Zarina.
Ana Mendieta died on September 8, 1985, in New York after falling from her 34th-floor apartment in Greenwich Village’s 300 Mercer Street, where she lived with her husband of eight months, minimalist sculptor Carl Andre, who may have pushed her out the window.
She fell 33 stories onto the roof of a deli.
Just prior to her death, neighbors heard the couple arguing violently. There were no eyewitnesses to the events that led up to Ana’s death.
A recording of Andre’s 911 call showed him saying: “My wife is an artist, and I’m an artist, and we had a quarrel about the fact that I was more, eh, exposed to the public than she was. And she went to the bedroom, and I went after her, and she went out the window.”
In 1988, Andre was tried and acquitted of her murder. During three years of legal proceedings,Andre’s lawyer described Ana’s death as a possible accident or suicide.
The judge found Andre not guilty on grounds of reasonable doubt.
The acquittal caused an uproar among feminists in the art world, and continues to remain controversial to this day.
In 2010, a symposium called Where Is Ana Mendieta was held at New York University to commemorate the 25th anniversary of her death.
In May 2014, the feminist protest group No Wave Performance Task Force staged a protest in front of the Dia Art Foundation’s retrospective on Carl Andre. The group deposited piles of animal blood and guts in front of the establishment, with protesters donning transparent tracksuits with “I Wish Ana Mendieta Was Still Alive” written on them.
In March 2015, the No Wave Performance Task Force and a group of feminist poets from New York City traveled to Beacon, New York to protest the Andre retrospective at Dia: Beacon, where they cried loudly in the main gallery, made “siluetas” in the snow on museum grounds, and stained the snow with paprika, sprinkles, and fake blood.
In April 2017, protesters at an Andre retrospective handed out cards at the Geffen Contemporary with the statement Carl Andre is at MOCA Geffen. ¿Dónde está Ana Mendieta?” (Where is Ana Mendieta?). This was followed by an open letter to MOCA Director Philippe Vergne protesting the exhibit from the group the Association of Hysteric Curators.
In 2009, Ana was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Cintas Foundation.
Ana Mendieta’s estate is currently managed by the Galerie Lelong in New York City. The estate is also represented by Alison Jacques Gallery, London.
In 2018, The New York Times published a belated obituary for her.
The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York hosted Ana’s first survey exhibition in 1987.
Since her death, Ana has been recognized with international solo museum retrospectives such as “Ana Mendieta”, Art Institute of Chicago (2011); and “Ana Mendieta in Context: Public and Private Work”, De La Cruz Collection, Miami (2012).In 2004 the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., organized “Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance”, a major retrospective that travelled to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, and Miami Art Museum, Florida (2004).
Ana’s work features in many major public collections, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva; and Tate Collection, London.
Name: Mildred Fish Harnack
Birth: September 16, 1902 Death: February 16, 1943)
Mildred (top row, second from the left) acting silly with family and friends (1917) – Courtesy of the UW Digital Collections Center.
Mildred studied literature at UW-Madison (1923). – Courtesy of the UW Digital Collections Center.
Mildred and Arvid moved from the US to Germany (1930). – Courtesy of the UW Digital Collections Center.
Commemorative stamp for Mildred Harnack and her husband Arvid issued by Deutsche Post of the GDR
What she did: Nazi Resistance Fighter
Mildred Harnack was born on September 16 th , 1902 in good old Milwaukee, WI as one of four children to German-American parents. She grew up in a large population of German immigrants and grew up learning how to read, write, and speak in both German and English.
In 1919 her family briefly moved to Washington, DC but Mildred returned to Wisconsin in 1921 to attend university. She studied English literature and was a skilled writer. Her stories and poems were published in the Wisconsin Literary Magazine and she eventually became an assistant editor for the magazine.
In 1925, Mildred earned her Bachelor of Arts in English and then her Masters in English in 1926. While working and studying at the university as a lecturer on German literature, she met German jurist Arvid Harnack and the two were wed.
Mildred eventually left her job at the Wisconsin Literary Magazine before moving to Baltimore, Maryland where she taught English at Goucher College.
In 1929, Mildred and Arvid moved to Germany where Mildred worked on earning her doctorate at the University of Giessen.
Then, in 1930, she moved to Berlin and studied at the University of Berlin where she also worked as a lecturer in English and American literature and as a translator. She also worked with the American Student Association, served as president of the American Women’s club, and was secretary of the Berlin chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
In 1932, Mildred was fired from her teaching position for being a foreigner and a woman. I’m assuming this was under the same act that removed Jews from government service.
Without a job, she and Arvid joined other academics on a tour of the United States and Soviet Union. Mildred had become interested in Communism and its potential as a solution to poverty.
Mildred and Arvid had a lot of connections in Germany and in 1937 they began inviting friends over to chat politics. While most people today can’t get through a single meal without bringing up politics, at the time this was incredibly dangerous as saying anything negative about the government could get you arrested.
Then, Germany and the Soviet Union officially went to war. Mildred and Arvid would not stand by.
That group of friends coming over for political discussions became the Red Orchestra, a Nazi resistance group helping the Soviet Union. They came up with the name because they named their secret radio transmitters after musical instruments.
From 1940 through 1941, the Red Orchestra supported the Soviets by transmitting messages to Soviet fighters that revealed information about the Nazi air force, planned attacks, the number of planes, how much fuel they had, and even where they were storing chemical weapons.
Mildred helped send information to the Soviets regarding Operation Barbossa which was the planned Nazi invasion of Russia so the Nazis could repopulate Russia with Germans and use the Russians as slaves. Mildred also worked to recruit others for the resistance, working as a contact between her husband, other members of the Red Orchestra, and Soviet agents.
In the midst of all of this, Mildred also managed to earn her doctorate!
Unfortunately, because Nazis ruin everything, they discovered who was behind the Red Orchestra. I read in one account that they captured a Soviet spy who revealed their identities and in another the Nazis decoded a message from them.
However it happened, Mildred, Arvid, and 116 other members of the Red Orchestra were arrested.
In December of 1942, after a four day trial, Mildred and Arvid were found guilty of espionage. Arvid was sentenced to death and hanged on Christmas Eve of the same year.
Initially, Mildred was sentenced to 4 or 6 (history) years in a prison camp. However, this was not good enough for Hitler, who refused to endorse her sentence. On his orders, she was retried and sentenced to death.
Mildred spend her last month in prison reading, and translating works of poetry.
On February 16 th , 1943, at 42 years old, Mildred was beheaded. Her last words were “I have loved Germany so much.”
This made Mildred the only American woman executed on Hitler’s orders.
After Mildred was executed, her body was turned over to Hermann Stieve, an anatomy professor at Humboldt University who then dissected her to study the effects of stress on the menstrual cycle.
This next part I’m quoting straight from Wikipedia because it’s so creepy:
“After he was through, he gave WHAT WAS LEFT to a friend of hers.”
Mildred was buried in Berlin’s Zehlendorf Cemetery, making her the only member of the Red Orchestra whose burial site is known. However, the headstone in Zehlendorf Cemetery bears both her name and Arvid’s.
Mildred is celebrated in Wisconsin on her birthday, September 16th.
Though she’s not very well known, Mildred is remembered as a hero.
There is a book available on Amazon called Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra which looks pretty fucking amazing.
What They Did: The Queens of the Sydney Underworld
Kate Leigh Mugshot
Kate was born on 10 March 1881 in Dubbo, New South Wales, the eighth child of Roman Catholic parents Timothy Beahan, and his wife Charlotte.
Her childhood and teenage years included childhood neglect, time in a girls’ home at age 12, and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy; her daughter Eileen May Beahan was born in 1900.
Leigh married James Ernest ‘Jack’ Leigh in 1902. He was an illegal bookmaker and petty criminal.They separated in 1905 when he was imprisoned for assault and robbery.
Following his trial, Kate Leigh was convicted of perjury and for being an accomplice to the assault, after being accused of lying under oath to protect her husband; her conviction was overturned on appeal.
The marriage broke up soon after the trial, though they were not divorced until 1921.
Kate earned income, variously over these years, as a sly-grog trader (speakeasy/saloon owner), drug dealer, and as a madam.
She became a major New South Wales (NSW) underworld figure, and has been referred to as its “Queen of the Underworld.”
From 1919 to 1955 Leigh’s main enterprise was the highly profitable sly-grog trade, which ensued after the NSW State Parliament legislated for six o’clock closing of drinking establishments.
At its peak, Leigh ran at least twentyish bootleg outlets. Although she made much of her fortune from the illegal sale of alcohol, Leigh is reported to have never drunk (or smoked).
Leigh also exploited the passage of the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act 1927 in NSW by providing lucrative illicit criminal distribution networks for the high-demand cocaine it criminalised.
Leigh derived from her supplies from a corrupt network of doctors, dentists, chemists, and sailors, and amassed considerable wealth from the activity. These activities—the defense of these business turfs—and ongoing feuds with rival organised crime leaders in NSW led Leigh to be a prominent figure in Sydney’s brutal razor gang wars of the 1920s and 1930s.
The NSW Police also intensively policed incoming vessels for overseas cocaine suppliers in 1938-9, but it was naval transit restrictions associated with the World War II that led to devastating interruptions of Leigh’s overseas cocaine supply.
Leigh was personally involved in violence, though she was never convicted of any such offense. On 27 March 1930, she shot and killed John William “Snowy” Prendergast when he and other gangsters broke into her home at 104 Riley Street, East Sydney. She was not indicted for the killing, or for shooting Joseph McNamara (in the crotch) nearby in Liverpool St, Darlinghurst on 9 December 1931.
However, Leigh was imprisoned on drug-related charges. In July 1930, Leigh’s house at 104 Riley Street was raided by a NSW drug squad. Leigh was found in possession of cocaine and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.
Through alleged personal connections throughout officialdom, she continued business throughout the 1930s and 40s despite frequent police raids and a mass of minor convictions.
She was charged on 107 occasions and was sent to prison on 13 occasions.
Appearing in courtrooms with flamboyantly expensive clothes and diamonds, her wealth was legendary.
When appearing in court, Kate would wear diamond rings on every finger of both hands. During her heyday, Kate Leigh owned and operated more than thirty different sly grog hotels at different locations in inner Sydney that generated thousands of pounds in profit annually.
Leigh was undoubtedly one of Sydney’s wealthiest women during the 1930s and 1940s but the Taxation Department sent her into bankruptcy in 1954 for unpaid income tax and fines dating back to 1942.
In 1955 the NSW government changed the law to allow legal hotels to serve alcohol until 10 P.M., an act that virtually killed off the Sydney sly-grog trade and put purveyors such as Leigh out of business. Leigh was famously quoted in the Australian media as stating “The bloom has gone off the grog”.
At the time of her death, aged 83, Kate Leigh was living in virtual poverty in a small room above one of her old illegal hotels. was financially dependent on her nephew, William John Beahan,who ran a mixed business in the shop in the downstairs part of the premises.
She suffered a severe stroke on 31 January 1964 and was rushed to hospital. She died on 4 February 1964 at St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst, and her funeral was held on 7 February and was attended by over 700 mourners.
The press remembered the wily woman not only for her crimes, but for her patriotism and generosity to the poor.
Matilda Mary Devineborn the daughter of bricklayer Edward Twiss, and Alice Twiss in Camberwell, London.
In 1915, she and many English and Australian women were found working as prostitutes and thieves.
At 16 she married an Australian serviceman, James (Jim) Edward Devine, on 12 April 1917 at the Sacred Heart Church, Camberwell, London.
The couple had one son, born at Camberwell in 1919.
Her career in prostitution began when she was a teenager and continued after she was married.
She and many English women were usually found soliciting on the wide footpaths on The Strand, at night. From 1915 onwards to 1919, she spent time at Bow Street Court and Lock Up for prostitution, theft and assault.
When Jim returned to Australia she followed him back on the bride ship Waimana, arriving in Sydney on 13 January 1920.
Her son stayed in London and was brought up by her parents.
Both Tilly and Jim Devine rapidly became prominent illegal narcotics dealers, brothel owners and crime gangs members in the Sydney criminal milieu.
Devine became infamous in Sydney, initially as a prostitute, then later as a brothel madam and organised crime entrepreneur.
The NSW Vagrancy Act 1905 prohibited men from running brothels; it did nothing to stop women with criminal gangs’ support and bribes to the police from running criminal enterprises.
Historian Larry Writer has noted that the Devines ran diversified operations. Elite “call girls” were available for politicians, businessmen and overseas guests of significance, while “tenement girls” were young working class women who resorted to casual prostitution to supplement their drug spendings, clothings and meagre earnings during times of Australian criminal and narcotic culture, absence of a comprehensive welfare state and unemployment. Older female prostitutes, “boat girls”, catered to itinerant sailors or working class-men.
Devine’s wealth was legendary, although it was all earned from crime. She owned much real estate in Sydney, many luxury cars, looted gold and diamond jewellery and travelled by ship in first class staterooms.
Much of her wealth was also used to pay bribes to the police sectors, and fines for her criminal convictions that spanned fifty years. Devine faced numerous court summons and was convicted on 204 occasions during her long criminal career, and served many jail sentences in the New South Wales jail, mainly for prostitution, violent assault, affray and attempted murder. She was known to the police to be of a violent nature and was known to use firearms.
Tilly and Jim Devine’s marriage was marred by domestic violence. On 9 January 1931, Jim was charged at Central Police Court with the attempted murder of his wife after a heated argument at their Maroubra home. As Tilly ran out of the house, Jim fired a number of shots at her in a similar way to the murder of George Leonard Gaffney in 1929.
Tilly escaped unscathed, the only damage being one of her brand new stilettos – the left one. Their terrified neighbours called the police resulting in Jim being arrested and charged over the incident. He was later acquitted, on 16 January 1931, because Tilly refused to testify.
The Devines separated in the early 1940s and were finally divorced in January 1944. Shortly after Tilly separated from Jim, long time criminal associate, Donald Alexander Kenney, known as ‘Skinny Kenney’, became Tilly’s lover and stand-over man.
Tilly married for the second time on 19 May 1945 to ex-seaman and returned serviceman Eric John Parsons.
She famously shot Parsons in the leg after an argument only months before they were married. This shooting occurred at her other Sydney residence: 191 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst. The house was almost opposite the notorious Tradesman’s Arms Hotel. It was at this hotel that Devine met Eric Parsons.
She was arrested by police and charged with the shooting, but was acquitted at trial. They were happily married for 13 years until Eric Parsons died of cancer on 22 November 1958.
Tilly was known as one of the most violent criminals in the game. She’d set fire to a policeman, pulled apart a mans face with a razor and generally slashed to ribbons any John who tried to cross her. Bitch. Was. Scary.
BUT Tilly wasn’t a one trick stab pony, she was a real renaissance woman (be it of the criminal variety) and along with her talent for violence and brothel running, she moved into the illegal booze trade.
Although Devine was one of Sydney’s wealthiest women in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, by 1955, the Taxation Department ordered her to pay more than £20,000 in unpaid income tax and fines sending her close to bankruptcy.
In 1953 Devine boasted to the media, “I am a lucky, lucky girl. I have more diamonds than the Queen of England’s stowaways – and better ones too!”
She sold off her last brothel in Palmer Street, Darlinghurst in 1968, and died two years later.
Devine was famous for flamboyant acts of generosity, and also for her violent feud with criminal vice rival Kate Leigh. Devine was charged by the famous Sydney Detective Frank Farrell on many occasions, and their feud lasted for 30 years.
Devine had suffered from chronic bronchitis for 20 years, and died of cancer, aged 70 at the Concord Repatriation Hospital in Sydney on 24 November 1970.
Her funeral service was held at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Darlinghurst.
She was cremated at Botany Crematorium, now known as Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park, on 26 November 1970 with Catholic rites by her married name, Matilda Mary Parsons.
Her funeral service was poorly attended and her death went virtually unnoticed by Sydney’s media and population and it was said that very few people openly mourned her death. The only public eulogy offered to Devine was given by the then police commissioner Norman Allan who said: “She was a villain, but who am I to judge her?”
Tilly and Kate physically fought one another on numerous occasions and their respective gangs conducted pitched battles in Eaton Avenue and Kellet Street, King’s Cross in May and August 1929.
Katie and Tilly both operated gangs to mange their businesses and, ‘take care’ of their enemies.
With both women now firm rivals, their gangs knew their enemy; attacking each other on sight with razors, after Sydney outlawed guns.
Huge fights of with gang members cutting the living shit out of each other, became a common sight on Sydney’s streets.
This ceaseless violence became known as: The Razor Gang Wars
But the violence wasn’t limited to street fights, here are just some of the delightful things Katie and Tilly did to each other:
Ransacked each other businesses
Set fire to each other’s businesses
And ordered rival gang members to be disfigured
Oh and there was that one time that there was a shoot out at Tilly’s home and her husband shot Kate’s right hand man in the face.
The war didn’t just play out via stabbings, shootings and slashing. Oh no, Kate and Tilly had one HUGE weapon they liked to break out: PR
Along with killing and mutalation, Kate and Tilly both used public relations to destroy each other in the papers.
Kate loved a good bit of PR, you see, she wanted to be seen as Sydney’s Jovial mother figure.
Sure she might have shot and killed a couple of guys, but really, underneath it all, she was just a nice lady who happened to run a criminal empire.
In fact it wasn’t even difficult for Katie to become a beloved (if terrifying) criminal.
While Tilly was famously slashing John’s and dousing policemen in petrol, Kate was making a very public show of donating some of her ill gotten gains to poor children and hosting Christmas for the cities poverty stricken families. .
In one newspaper write up of Kate’s crimes, the journalist took time to note that the detective followed Kate while she was: ‘Bound on a noble errand of supplying food to unemployed’
There was no way that Tilly was letting Kate be the public’s favourite and so she went all in, tearing apart her rivals image.
Tilly played up her English roots in a bid to appear classy, often bought up Kate’s childhood abuse (to try and illustrate how rough Kate was) and of course, Tilly was more than happy to trash her rival to any journalist she could find, saying:
‘I’m not like Kate Leigh anyway. I might drink and have a run in with the police now and then, but I don’t take dope, and no one can say I have ruined young girls. Kate Leigh does all this’
By the early 1930s police were hot on Tilly and Kate’s heels, after yet another series of armed brawls between their gangs had terrorised Sydney.
As the net closed, Tilly fled home to England for several years; Kate wasn’t so lucky.
After a series of raids, Kate was arrested, spending the next few years locked up.
Obviously Kate being Kate, she owned prison; inviting the wardens wife for tea and pretty much ruling over the inmates.
But when she was released Kate found herself in a very different world, with drugs and illegal boozing now completely off Sydney’s streets.
Luckily Kate managed to keep her brothel businesses running and therefore could remain one of Sydney’s wealthiest citizens.
Tilly also landed on her feet, once more back in Sydney and operating her chain of brothels.
Then in the 1940s Kate and Tilly did the impossible, they called a truce.
By now all their friends were dead or in jail, both women truly only had each other.
That didn’t stop them from continuing to constantly tear each other a new one in the press.
Ruth Coker Burks
Who was she: the Cemetery Angel
NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 20: Ruth Coker Burks attends 6th Annual Broadway Sings For Pride Concert at JCC Manhattan on June 20, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic)
25-year-old Ruth had been spending a lot of time at the local hospital visiting
her friend who was fighting cancer. As like every visit before, she passed a door covered in a red bag that read “Don’t Enter. G.R.I.D” or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency.
The door was never opened, and even the nurses seemed afraid to enter.I t was 1984 in the heat of the AIDS crisis. There was a lot misinformation, fear, and homophobia surrounding this mysterious illness that was rapidly taking the lives of more and more young, otherwise healthy gay men.
Ruth, who had a gay cousin, was curious about the illness and the patient on the other side of the red door.
She asked the nurses, whom she had gotten to know well over her many visits, about the patient. They warned her, “Don’t you dare go in that room, he’s got the gay disease. We don’t even know what it is. Don’t you go in there.”
At the time, no one knew how AIDS spread which is probably why the nurses wouldn’t bring the patient’s food into this room. Ruth could see trays of food piled up outside of the man’s door, trays he was too weak to retrieve, and she could see the nurses drawing straws to see who would have to go in and check on him.
Ruth recalled that she wasn’t sure what made her enter the room. Maybe it was her maternal instincts as a young mother or perhaps it was curiosity. Whatever it was, Ruth felt compelled to see the patient everyone was so terrified of.
Lying in the bed was a man named Jimmy and it was clear that he was dying. Ruth asked Jimmy if there was anything she could do for him to which Jimmy asked for his mama.
Ruth walked to the nurses and asked if they could call Jimmy’s mother. They replied, “That man’s mother’s not coming. He’s been here six weeks. Nobody is coming.” Though they weren’t hopeful, the nurses gave Ruth the mother’s phone number anyway.
When Ruth called, Jimmy’s mother first hung up.
Well, no one hangs up on Ruth Coker Burks, so she called back and said “If you hang up on me again, I will put your son’s obituary in your hometown newspaper and I will list his cause of death.”
This caught the woman’s attention long enough for her to say “I don’t have a son. My son died years ago to me. He was a sinner. I don’t know the man who’s there but when he dies, don’t call me back.”
The nurses wouldn’t help. The mother wouldn’t help. So Ruth did the only thing she could. She went back into Jimmy’s room, not knowing what she was going to say.
But when Ruth took Jimmy’s hand, he looked at her and said, “Oh mama, I knew you’d come.”
Ruth recalled that Jimmy started sobbing, but he was so dehydrated, he couldn’t even produce tears. Ruth stayed with Jimmy for 13 hours until he finally passed away.
A little more backstory, Ruth was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1958/1958, as Frances Ruth Coker Burks after her grandmother.
As a child, Ruth’s mother was under long-term hospitalization for tuberculosis and Ruth’s father acted as her primary caregiver until he died when Ruth was 5.
This left Ruth’s mother struggling to be a parent while managing her illness.
Ruth credits this too-tragic-for-Disney childhood for giving her an incredible sense of empathy.
For generations, members of Ruth’s family had been buried in Files Cemetery, dating all the way back to the 19th century.
Ruth’s mother had a plot in the same row as her brother (Ruth’s uncle.) However, the two got into an argument and Ruth’s mother bought 262 grave spaces to ensure the uncle and his extended family couldn’t be buried with the rest of the family. Those 262 plots were left to Ruth and she had no fucking idea what she would ever do with them.
It took a lot of phone calls before Ruth was able to find a funeral home that would take Jimmy’s body.
When she did finally find one, WHICH WAS 70 MILES AWAY, they said they would only cremate him.
They sent Jimmy’s ashes back in a cardboard box. Ruth had to use a cookie jar for an urn. Then, no cemetery would take him.
Ruth used one of the 262 plots and buried Jimmy. She couldn’t find anyone who would dig the hole or anyone to say a prayer, so Ruth took her daughter, who was so little she still had a binky, and dug the grave herself and said a prayer.
Fearing townspeople would deface the grave, she buried Jimmy on top of her father’s grave.
This may have been a one off act of extreme kindness, but word got around about Ruth’s deed. Then the phone calls started.
Ruth began getting calls from others suffering from AIDS who needed help. Ruth recalled, “Word got out that there was this kind of wacko woman in Hot Springs who wasn’t afraid. They would tell them, ‘Just go to her. Don’t come to me. Here’s the name and number. Go.’ I was there hospice. Their gay friends were their hospice. There companions were their hospice.”
Referrals came in from all over, including rural hospitals all over Arkansas. Ruth began taking patients to appointments, helping them get financial assistance when they could no longer work, helped them get access to medications, and provided general emotional support.
Getting medicine for patients was particularly difficult since a lot of pharmacies flat out refused to carry them.
When her patients died, they would leave Ruth their unused medications. Ruth would stockpile these meds to use for patients who couldn’t get access.
As a Real Estate Agent, Ruth couldn’t finance everything herself and relied on donations. She partnered with drag clubs and gay bars to host fundraisers to raise money.
Ruth said, “They would twirl up a drag show on Saturday night and here’d come the money. That’s how we’d buy medicine, that’s how we’d pay rent. If it hadn’t been for the drag queens, I don’t know what we would have done.”
When her patients would die, Ruth would always contact their families to try and get them to claim their bodies. They were rarely compassionate and would even pray at her. Yes. AT her. Ruth continued burying her patients on her family’s plot. She would bury them over existing graves, again to discourage vandalism. When her daughter was old enough, she would help Ruth, carrying her own spade while Ruth would carry a post digger.
Of the thousands of patients Ruth cared for, she buried just over 40 on her family’s plot. Because of the care and support Ruth provided, her patients lived longer than the national average life expectancy. This caught the attention of a little organization called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who sent researchers to investigate.
During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Ruth worked as a consultant for AIDS education!
So, what did Ruth get for all of her incredible work?
Her community and church shunned her. When she tried to tell people what was happen to try and raise the alarm, they wanted no part of it. One prominent doctor told her, “I will tell you here and now, I will never have an AIDS patient in my office.”
Ruth was on the finance committee of her church and asked if she could use one of the Sunday school classrooms at the church for support meetings once a month. The minister of the church said, in front of everyone, “Surely, you aren’t talking about bringing THOSE people into this church are you?”
Ruth collected herself and responded like a lady, saying “Oh no. I’m not talking about bringing THOSE people into this church. Instead, I’d like to walk THOSE people across your new $30,000 lawn and into your new $300,000 home, and sit their asses on the $40,000 dollars-worth of new furniture this church just bought you! That’s what I’d like to do with THOSE people.”
When the medical community began pulling their heads out of their asses and attitudes towards AIDS began improving, Ruth worked as a fishing guide and funeral director in Florida.
In 2012, Ruth suffered a stroke and had to relearn how to talk, read, feed herself, write, and do other everyday task. She believes the stress from caring for AIDS patients contributed to the stroke.
She moved back to Arkansas to be closer to her family and also because her health insurance dropped her after her stroke.
In 2013, she heard about 3 foster children who were removed from school due to rumors that one might be HIV-positive. I imagine, like an old grizzled cop, she said “I’m getting too old for this shit,” before she began advocating for the kids. She appeared on TV as an HIV advocate.
Naturally, her community shunned her and the funeral home she had worked at, who basically said when you’re better you can come back, rescinded their job offer. Also, no one else would hire her.
A local Walmart allegedly destroyed a chair she had sat in there after finding out about her HIV advocacy. Remember. This is 2013.
In 2016, Ruth along with other HIV/AIDS advocates were honored at New York City’s Pride Week by non-profit group Broadway Sings for Pride.
Ruth is also working on creating a memorial for AIDS victims and turning Files Cemetery into a garden.
Jimmy’s story and those of the thousands of people Ruth helped were not unique. Imagine all of the people who didn’t have anyone to claim and bury their bodies.
While HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence like it used to be, it’s still a serious issue that affects a disproportionate number of black, Latino, and LGBTQ+ community members.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 15% of people infected with HIV don’t know it which is why it’s important to use protection and get tested every 3 months if you’re sexually active.
As for Ruth? She’s currently working on a memoir of her story and working on a film based on her life and book.
In 2017, Rose McGowan wrote and directed an unauthorized short film titled Ruth inspired by Ruth’s work.
She still cares for the graves in her family plot and advocates for better care for HIV/AIDS patients. The cemetery has become a pilgrimage site for those affected by the crisis and a place for them to remember those they lost and say good bye, even if they aren’t buried there.
Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana AKA Sor Juana
Born: November 12th, 1651 Died: April 17th, 1695
What she did: Writer and Nun
200 Pesos Mexicanos
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz via Wikimedia Commons.
Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana was born in on November 12th, 1651, and died on April 17th, 1695.
Juana was the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish father and Creole mother. Her maternal grandfather owned property in Amecameca and Juana spent her early years living with her mother on his estate, Panoaya.
Juana was a voracious reader in her early childhood, hiding in the hacienda chapel to read her grandfather’s books from the adjoining library. She composed her first poem when she was eight years old.
By adolescence, she had comprehensively studied Greek logic, and was teaching Latin to young children at age 13. She also learned Nahuatl, an Aztec language spoken in Central Mexico, and wrote some short poems in that language.
At age eight, after her grandfather’s death, she was sent to live in Mexico City with her maternal aunt. She longed to disguise herself as a male so that she could go to University but was not given permission by her family to do so.
She continued to study privately, and she was a harsh teacher she cut her hair thinking it should not be adorned with hair and naked of learning.
At 16, was presented to the court of the Viceroy Marquis de Mancera, where she was admitted to the service of the Viceroy’s wife where she entertained nobles with her poetry and works of theater.
When she was 17, the Viceroy assembled 40 members of the University of Mexico to test her intelligence. They questioned her on topics such as mathematics, philosophy, literature and history, and were astounded by her genius. “In the manner that a royal galleon might fend off the attacks of a few canoes” words of the vicroy after the event.
Her reputation and her apparent beauty attracted a great deal of attention. She received many marriage proposals. However, Juana had no desire to marry, wishing instead to continue her studies; the only logical path for her therefore was to become a nun.
Juana entered the Convent of the Discalced Carmelites of St. Joseph, where she remained for a few months. In 1669, at age 21, she entered Convent of the Order of St. Jérôme, where she would remain until her death.
She lived very comfortably. Her ‘cell’ was an apartment maintained by servants and slaves and she had a huge personal library containing various scientific, mathematical and musical instruments, works of art and some 4,000 books.
Sor Juana’s enduring importance and literary success are partly attributable to her mastery of the full range of poetic forms and themes of the Spanish Golden Age, and her writings display inventiveness, wit and a wide range of knowledge. Juana employed all of the poetic models of her day, including sonnets and romances, and she drew on wide-ranging—secular and nonsecular—sources. Unlimited by genre, she also wrote dramatic, comedic and scholarly works—especially unusual for a nun.
Sor Juana’s most important plays include brave and clever women, and her famous poem, “Hombres necios” (“Foolish Men”), accuses men of behaving illogically by criticizing women. Her most significant poem, “Primero sueño” (“First Dream”), published in 1692, is at once personal and universal, recounting the soul’s quest for knowledge.
Though accomplished, Sor Juana was the subject of criticism by her political and religious superiors.
When her friends, the Viceroy Marqués de la Laguna and his wife María Luisa, Condesa de Paredes (the subject of a series of Sor Juana’s love poems), left Mexico in 1688, Sor Juana lost much of the protection to which she had become accustomed.
In 1690, a letter of hers which criticized a well-known Jesuit sermon was published without her permission by a person using the pseudonym “Sor Filotea de la Cruz.” Included with her letter was a letter from “Sor Filotea” (actually the Bishop of Puebla, Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz) criticizing Juana for her comments and for the lack of serious religious content in her poems.
Sor Juana’s reply, the now famous Respuesta a Sor Filotea has been hailed as the first feminist manifesto, defending, among other things, a woman’s right to education. Her fervent reply was the subject of further criticism, and the Archbishop and others demanded that she give up any non-religious books or studies.
She continued to publish non-religious works, among them several villancicos (a poetic form typically sung as a religious devotional for feasts of the Catholic calendar) about St. Catharine of Alexandria, written in a more feminist than religious tone.
Controversy surrounding Sor Juana’s writing and pressure from those around her, including her confessor Núñez de Miranda, resulted in Sor Juana’s forced abjuration. During this time, Sor Juana was required to sell her books as well as all musical and scientific instruments. Sor Juana responded by devoting herself to a rigorous penance, giving up all studies and writing.
Within her own lifetime, two out of three volumes of her ‘Complete Works’ were published, and she even edited some of the later editions.
Within the posthumous volume we find her first biography, which was based largely on her own words.
This version of her life draws upon the well-established narrative of the saint who, having gained fame and fortune, decides to give it all up for a life devoted to Christ. Her Profession of the Faith, which has been used as evidence of her ‘persecution’, was actually rather tame in comparison with those of other nuns, and was key in demonstrating her pious transformation and presenting herself as worthy of sainthood.
Sor Juana’s agency in deciding how her work and own image were presented should not be underestimated. Few writers in the early modern period – men or women – had this privilege, and many did not live to see their writings in print.
It seems that we must believe that a woman suffered in order for her to be awarded iconic status. But this means we are killing heroines rather than celebrating their achievements. Why is the only acceptable strong female character one who has been recast as a victim?
In 1695, a plague hit the convent. On April 17, after tending to her fellow sisters, Juana died from the disease around the age of forty-four.
There is a vast amount of scholarly literature on Sor Juana in Spanish, English, French, and German.
An important translation to English of a work by Juana Inés de la Cruz for a wide readership is published as Poems, Protest, and a Dream in a 1997 Penguin Classics paperback, which includes her response to authorities censuring her.
Arguably the most important book devoted to Sor Juana, written by Nobel Prize laureate Octavio Paz in Spanish and translated to English in 1989 as Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden).
Tarsicio Herrera Zapién, a classical scholar, has devoted much of his career to the study of Sor Juana’s works.
Dr. Theresa Yugar who has written her Master’s and Doctoral theses on Sor Juana, wrote Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Feminist Reconstruction of Biography and Text, a book in which she discusses the life of Sor Juana through a feminist lense and analyzes Sor Juana’s La Respuesta and El Sueño.
Sor Juana is pictured on the obverse of the 200 pesos bill issued by the Banco de Mexico and also appears on the 1000 pesos coin minted by Mexico between 1988 and 1992
Annie was born in Latvia in 1870 the third of 5 children.
In 1875, when she was 5-years-old, she immigrated to the United States with her
They settled in a tenement in Boston.
In 1887, when Annie was 17, her father died, followed by her mother two months later. Annie’s oldest sister was already off and married, so she and her 20-year-old brother Bennet were left to take care of their two younger siblings, Jacob (10) and Rosa (8).
The following year, Annie married peddler, Simon Kopchovsky and they lived in the same tenement she grew up in, along with Bennet and her two younger siblings. Together, Annie and Simon had three children, Bertha, Libbie, and Simon Jr.
Annie made a living selling advertising space for Boston newspapers while her husband studied the Torah and peddled his wares.
Now, during this time, bicycling was all the rage.Bicycles offered simple,
independent transportation, to women in particular. They also helped pave the way for less restrictive clothing for women.
Naturally this made bikes very controversial.
One writer for the Sunday Herald in 1891 wrote, “I think the most vicious thing I ever saw in all my life is a woman on a bicycle-and Washington is full of them. I had thought that cigarette smoking was the worst thing a
woman could do but I have changed my mind.”
This and more is what made the bet between two Boston men so crazy. In 1894, the two men bet $20,000 that no woman could travel around the world on a bicycle in 15 months.
Or maybe the bet was made up by Annie. No one knows.
No one knows why Annie was chosen. Actually, the fact she was a Jewish woman in a time where anti- Semitism ran rampant, makes it even crazier that she was chosen.
Also, she had never ridden a bike until a few days before the journey.
Whatever the reason, on June 25th 1894, the married mother of three set out on her journey from Boston amidst a crowd of 500 onlookers.
Clad in a dress, she rode a 42lb ladies Columbia bicycle that had a placard attached advertising Londonderry Lithia Spring Water for which she was paid $100. As part of the ad deal, Annie also agreed to go by Annie Londonderry. This also concealed her identity as a Jew (anti-Semitism sucks.)
In September Annie arrived in Chicago, covering about 985 miles. During her journey, she lost over 20 pounds.
Understandably, Annie almost called it quits on the whole thing. This may have been partly due to the fact she was riding a bike that weighed almost 50lb.
She traded that behemoth in for a men’s bike that weighed half as much. The bike was sponsored by a local company called Sterling Cycle Works and had no brakes.
She also switched to wearing bloomers and later a men’s riding suit.
Knowing that she wouldn’t make it to San Francisco before winter and the inevitable Midwestern snowfall, Annie left Chicago and began riding back East to New York.
She only had 11 months left to complete her journey.
When she arrived in New York in November, she hopped on a ship that took her to France. As soon as she landed on France’s north coast, Annie faced her next obstacle; bureaucracy! Customs confiscated her bike and money while the French newspapers wrote about how ugly she was.
After everything was finally sorted out, she set out from Paris to Marseille.
Annie paid her way riding through France by selling advertisement space on her bike and clothing. She would also give lectures about her trip, embellishing the story with tales of near-death experiences and accidents.
Though she played up the drama of her travels, she did encounter hardships. She suffered an injury to her foot which required her to prop her injured foot up on the handlebars as she rode.
Now, Annie was a savvy traveler. The bet didn’t specify how many miles she had to bike. She just had to get around the world. So, she hopped a ship from France to East Asia! She did stop in Egypt, Sri Lanka, and Singapore before riding through China.
By March, she was in Japan. She took a ship from Japan to San Francisco on March 23.
Annie then spent the next 6 months biking across the United States, witnessing the majesty of the southwest, the grand Great Plains, and the bean fields of the Midwest.
At one point, she was almost killed by a runaway horse and wagon and broke her wrist when she crashed into a bunch of pigs.
While traveling across America, Annie would engage in local bike races and proved to be an accomplished cyclist, despite having never ridden one until shortly before she started on her journey.
Finally, on September 12, 1895, Annie arrived in Chicago, completing her journey in just under 15 months. She collected her $10,000 prize and went back to Boston.
Annie later wrote of her exploits in the New York World and the headline read,
After her historic bike trip, Annie leveraged her celebrity by selling photos, autographs, and other souvenirs. She continued to write of her adventures and moved with her family to New York City.
In one article, Annie described herself as the “New Woman.” This was a feminist idea that arose in the late nineteenth century describing a woman seeking radical change and who pushed the envelope of what it meant to be a woman in a male-dominated society.
Annie wrote, “I am a journalist and a ‘new woman,’ if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do.”
Unfortunately, Annie would never know the same level of fame that her historic ride brought her. She died in relative obscurity in 1947.
In 2007, her great-nephew, Peter, published Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry’s Extraordinary Ride.
A bicycle-themed performance called SPIN featured a song called “The Ballad of Annie Londonderry” about her.
There was a 26 documentary called The New Woman- Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky which premiered in February, 2013 and won the award for Best Documentary at the DC Independent Film Festival.
Annie truly embodied the spirit of the ‘new woman.’ She was a bike riding, pants wearing, independent, self-sufficient, badass.
Peggy was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota.
After her mother died when Peggy was four, her father married Minnie Schaumberg Wiese but later left home, leaving Peggy’s care entrusted to a stepmother who physically abused her.
Norma headed for Hollywood after she graduated from high school in 1938.
With her she took $18 in cash and a railroad pass she had borrowed from her father.
Although she got a brief singing engagement at the Jade Room, a supper club on Hollywood Boulevard, she made little impression on the film capital, and she was reduced to working as a waitress and as a carnival spieler at a Balboa midway.
Deciding to try her luck nearer home, she found work as a singer over radio station WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota.
The manager, Ken Kennedy, christened her Peggy Lee.
Her prospects for a career brightened when she moved to Minneapolis, where she sang in the dining room of the Radisson Hotel, appeared on a Standard Oil radio show, and sang with Sev Olsen’s band.
Peggy broke into the big time when she became a vocalist with Will Osborne’s band, but three months after she joined the group it broke up in St. Louis, and she got a ride to California with the manager.
It was at the Doll House in Palm Springs, California that Peggy Lee first developed the soft and “cool” style that has become her trademark.
Unable to shout above the clamor of the Doll House audience, Miss Lee tried to snare its attention by lowering her voice.
Quote from Discovering Great Singers of Classic Pop
Chatting and laughing, clanging cocktail glasses, the audience was louder than the band, as Peggy Lee tells the story. It was 1941, at a swanky club in Palm Springs called the Doll House. Lee was booming out her songs, but nobody seemed to care much about hearing her. Then she got a thought. For the next tune, whose title she doesn’t recall, she lowered her voice to a hush, quieter than the crowd, and the audience started settling down and listening. Apocryphal or not, the story nicely dramatizes the inverted emotional physics at work in Peggy Lee’s singing. By reducing how much she gives her listeners, she increases how much they get.
There, she was noticed by bandleader Benny Goodman.
According to Peggy, “Benny’s then-fiancée, Lady Alice Duckworth, came into The Buttery, and she was very impressed. So the next evening she brought Benny in, because they were looking for a replacement for Helen Forrest. And although I didn’t know, I was it. He was looking at me strangely, I thought, but it was just his preoccupied way of looking. I thought that he didn’t like me at first, but it just was that he was preoccupied with what he was hearing.”
She joined his band in 1941 when the band was at the height of its popularity, and for over two years she toured the United States with the most famous swing outfit of the day, playing hotel engagements, college proms, theater dates, and radio programs.
Much of her present success Miss Lee credits to her apprenticeship with the big bands. “I learned more about music from the men I worked with in bands than I’ve learned anywhere else,” she has said. “They taught me discipline and the value of rehearsing and even how to train…. Band singing taught us the importance of interplay with musicians. And we had to work close to the arrangement.”
In 1942 Lee had her first No. 1 hit, “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place”, followed by “Why Don’t You Do Right?” which sold over 1 million copies and made her famous. She sang with Goodman’s orchestra in two 1943 films, Stage Door Canteen and The Powers Girl.
In March 1943 Lee married Dave Barbour, a guitarist in Goodman’s band. Peggy said, “David joined Benny’s band and there was a ruling that no one should fraternize with the girl singer. But I fell in love with David the first time I heard him play, and so I married him. Benny then fired David, so I quit, too. Benny and I made up, although David didn’t play with him anymore. Benny stuck to his rule. I think that’s not too bad a rule, but you can’t help falling in love with somebody.”
When she left the band that spring, her intention was to quit the footlights altogether and become Mrs. Barbour, fulltime housewife. In March, 1943, Peggy Lee married Dave Barbour, the guitarist in Goodman’s band; shortly thereafter she left the band. After her daughter, Nicki, was born in 1944, Peggy Lee and her husband worked successfully on the West Coast.
It’s to Mr. Barbour’s credit that he refused to let his wife’s singing and composing talent lay dormant for too long. “I fell in love with David Barbour,” she recalled. “But ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’ was such a giant hit that I kept getting offers and kept turning them down. And at that time it was a lot of money. But it really didn’t matter to me at all. I was very happy. All I wanted was to have a family and cling to the children. Well, they kept talking to me and finally David joined them and said ‘You really have too much talent to stay at home and someday you might regret it.'”
She drifted back to songwriting and occasional recording sessions for the Capitol Records in 1947, for whom she recorded a long string of hits, many of them with lyrics and music by Lee and Barbour, including “I Don’t Know Enough About You” (1946) and “It’s a Good Day” (1947).
With the release of the US No. 1-selling record of 1948, “Mañana”, her “retirement” was over. In 1948, Lee’s work was part of Capitol’s library of electrical transcriptions for radio stations. An ad for Capitol Transcriptions in a trade magazine noted that the transcriptions included “special voice introductions by Peggy.”
Following the completion of her contract run with Capitol, Miss Lee was signed by Decca Records where she remained for six years, returning to Capitol in 1958. At Decca, Lee produced the quintessential recording of “Fever,” perhaps her greatest recording and certainly one of the top songs to emerge from the early Rock N’ Roll period.
In 1948 Lee joined vocalists Perry Como and Jo Stafford as a host of the NBC Radio musical program The Chesterfield Supper Club. She was a regular on The Jimmy Durante Show and appeared frequently on Bing Crosby’s radio shows during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
In 1950 Peggy Lee made a first, brief screen appearance in Paramount’s “Mr. Music,” starring Bing Crosby.
In 1953 she played a featured role opposite Danny Thomas in Warner Brothers’ remake of the early Al Jolson talking picture, “The Jazz Singer,” and won praise from a critic of the “New York Wolrd-Telegram and Sun” for “a very promising start on a movie career” as “a poised and ingratiating ingenue.”
Her performance as a despondent and alcoholic blues singer in “Pete Kelly’s Blues” (Warner Brothers, 1955) won her a nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In the 1955 balloting conducted by the Council of Motion Picture Organizations, moviegoers voted her the “Audie” statuette.
She provided speaking and singing voices for several characters in the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp (1955), playing the human “Darling” (in the first part of the movie), the dog “Peg”, and the two Siamese cats, “Si and Am”.
In 1957, she guest starred on the short-lived variety program The Guy Mitchell Show.
Critic George Hoefer of “Downbeat” magazine has called her “the greatest white female jazz singer since Mildred Bailey,” and Leonard Feather in “The Encyclopedia of Jazz” (Horizon, 1960) has described her as “one of the most sensitive and jazz-oriented singers in the pop field.”
Miss Lee won the 1946 polls as best female vocalist of both “Metronome” and “Downbeat” magazines, wisely read by jazz buffs, and the 1950 citation as “the nation’s most popular female vocalist” from “Billboard,” a trade magazine of show business.
A frequent performer on television, she sang on the Thursday night “Revlon Revues” over CBS-TV in 1960, and has appeared on televised musical variety shows starring Perry Como, George Gobel, Steve Allen and Bing Crosby. In March, 1960 she undertook a straight dramatic role in “So Deadly, So Evil” on the “General Electric Theater” over CBS-TV.
In September, 1962 Miss Lee reached what she has called the “high spot” in her career when she was selected to appear in Philharmonic Hall of New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, an auditorium usually available to those whom the management considers as serious artists. Miss Lee conducted research for, and wrote a program called “The Jazz Tree,” tracing the origins and development of jazz as a native American art form. Originally scheduled for December, 1962, the booking was postponed until March, 1963 to give Miss Lee enough time to perfect her presentation.
This perfectionist approach to her programs is typical of Miss Lee. She polishes and perfects every aspect of her performances – her special coiffures, her costly wardrobe, her lighting, her entrances and exits, and her musical arrangements.
Her perfectionism may derive from her association with Benny Goodman, who always demanded the best from his performers. Rejecting the improvisatory approach of most jazz singers, Peggy Lee plans every detail of her delivery in advance, including even the movement of her hands.
This perfectionism has taken its toll of her health on several occasions; she was hospitalized with virus pneumonia in July, 1958 and in November, 1961. As a result, Miss Lee has reduced her schedule, confining her public appearances to six weeks each year in New York and Las Vegas, a few television shows, and one or two charity benefits.
Lee continued to perform into the 1990s, sometimes confined to a wheelchair.After years of poor health, she died of complications from diabetes and a heart attack on January 21, 2002, at the age of 81.
She was cremated and her ashes were buried in a bench-style monument in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Born: 371 BC Died: January 21, 2002
What she did: Courtesan
by José Frappa. Phryne is depicted baring her breasts before the jury.
PHRYNE by Jean Alexandre Joseph Falguière
Phryne at the Poseidonia in Eleusis by Henryk Siemiradzki, c. 1889. Phryne is shown naked, preparing to step into the sea.
Phryne, was born as Mnesarete in around 371 BC in Ancient Greece.
Though her birth name was Mnesarete, she was given the nickname Phryne which meant “toad.” This was partly because she had a yellowish complexion and because this was a common nickname given to sex workers.
Phryne was a sex worker living in Athens. She was known for her exceptional
beauty, so she was very successful.
Her beauty inspired a variety of artworks. During a festivals, Phryne would let down her hair and walk naked into the ocean. It is said that this inspired the artist Apelles to create his painting Aphrodite Anadyomene which depicts the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite’s birth from the sea.
Sculptor Praxilteles used her as the model for his sculpture Aphrodite of Knidos
ONE THE FIRST NUDE STATUES OF A WOMAN FROM ANCIENT GREECE. This was a big deal because the art world was dominated by heroic male nudity at the time. The nudity was so controversial at the time that the city of Cos that originally commissioned it refused to take it. However, the city of Knidos bought it and it
became such a popular tourist attraction, the entire city managed to pay off its debt.
Phryne was the model for more of Praxilteles’ sculptures, including one that depicted Eros, the Greek version of cupid, and one of Phryne herself that was made of SOLID FUCKING GOLD and placed in the temple of Delphi.
When philosopher Crates of Thebes saw the gold statue, he called it “a votive offering of the profligacy of Greece.”
Phryne made bank as a sex worker and model. She was apparently so rich that after the walls of Thebes were destroyed by Alexander the Great in 336 BC, she offered to pay to rebuild them on one condition; that the walls be inscribed with the message “Destroyed by Alexander, Restored by Phryne the Courtesan.”
However, the city rejected her offer because the idea that a woman, let alone a sex worker, could rebuild the walls that a powerful man destroyed, was emasculating to the male leaders of the city.
Most of what we know of Phryne is from writer Athenaeus (Athen-aus). He wrote of her once: “Phryne was a really beautiful woman, even in those parts of her person which were not generally seen: on which account it was not easy to see her naked; for she used to wear a tunic which covered her whole person, and she never used the public baths. But on the solemn assembly of the Eleusinian festival, and on the feast of the Poseidonia, then she laid aside her garments in the sight of all the assembled Greeks, and having undone her hair, she went to bathe in the sea.”
Sometime during her life Phryne faced a capital criminal charge. We don’t know what she was charged with, but some records suggest it was impiety, or a lack of reverence for the gods.
Her defender was the great orator Hypereides who was also one of her clients.
Now, in ancient Greece, beauty was likened to favor from the gods. If you were born beautiful, you must be blessed.
So, when things weren’t looking good for her, Hypereides removed Phryne’s robe and basically told everyone to look at her breasts.
Not wanting to be smited by the gods, the judges acquitted Phryne.