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The Phoneix of Mexico & The Bike Babe

Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana AKA Sor Juana

Born: November 12th, 1651   Died: April 17th, 1695

What she did: Writer and Nun

Facts:

  • 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.

Legacy:

  • 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 Kopchovsky  AKA Annie Londonderry

Born: 1870   Died: 1947

What she did: Biker Babe

Facts:

  • 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
    family.
  • 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.”

LEGACY

  • 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.
  • So remember, everyone; be a rebel. Ride a bike.

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