A Midnight Frolic & More Than Someone’s Wife

Name: Gertrude Ederle

Birth: October 23, 1905   Death: November 30, 2003

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.”

Professional Time

  • 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.

LEGACY

  • 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.

decorative-line-break-29

Name: Martha Gellhorn

Born: November 8, 1908    Death: February 15, 1998

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

A Rebel by Nature & A Bilingual Lit Queen/Nazi Resistance Fighter

Sorry that this is a week late! I thought I had set it to auto post. I am the worst! ~Kelley

Name: Ana Mendieta

Birth: November 18, 1948  Death: September 8, 1985

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.

Work

  • 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,[14] 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.

Legacy

  • 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).[42]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.

decorative-line-break-29

Name: Mildred Fish Harnack

Birth: September 16, 1902     Death: February 16, 1943)

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.

LEGACY

  • 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.

The Cemetery Angel & The Queens of the Sydney Underworld

Who They Were: 

Kate Leigh (1881-1964 107 convictions)

Tilly Devine (1900-1970 204 convictions)

What They Did: The Queens of the Sydney Underworld

KATE:

  • 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.

TILLY:

  • Matilda Mary Devine born 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.[16] 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?”

THE FEUD:

  • 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.

Together

 

Ruth Coker Burks

Who was she: the Cemetery Angel

Dates: 1958/1959-Present

  • 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.

LEGACY

  • 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.

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.

A Spieling, Slicing Singer & the Titty Defense

I AM SO SORRY THIS IS A WEEK LATE ~Kelley

Peggy Lee

Born: May 26, 1920    Died: January 21, 2002

What she did: Actress

Facts:

  • 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.

 

Phryne (FRY-KNEE)

Born: 371 BC    Died: January 21, 2002

What she did: Courtesan

Facts:

  • 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.

Hollywood’s Dahling & A Furious Lesbian

First here is the chart of Actresses and their relationship from this time.

the-chart-conflict-copy-4

Tallulah Bankhead

Born: January 31, 1902     Died: December 12, 1968

What she did: Actress

Facts:

  • Tallulah was born on January 31 st , 1902 in Huntsville Alabama on her parent’s second wedding anniversary. Her father was from a political family and active in the Democratic Party and became the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
  • Three weeks after Tallulah was born, her mother died from sepsis. This apparently ran in the family because Tallulah’s mother’s mother also died after giving birth. On her death bed, Tallulah’s mother told her sister-in-law to take care of Tallulah’s older sister but that Tallulah would always be able to take care of herself.
  • Tallulah was baptized next to her mother’s coffin.
  • Devastated by the loss, Tallulah’s father was largely unable to care for his children. They were primarilyraised by their paternal grandmother.
  • Tallulah was considered a homely child and overweight. Because of this, she was overshadowed by her traditionally attractive sister.
  • In an effort to get attention, Tallulah got creative. She learned to sing,
    cartwheel, dance, recite literature, do imitations, and perform. When that didn’t work, she threw epic tantrums and held her breath until her face turned blue. To combat these tantrums, her grandmother would throw a bucket of water on her.
  • As a child, Tallulah was sickly and had chronic bronchitis which resulted in a husky voice.
  • Later, Tallulah would say her first performance was for the Wright brothers when her Aunt hosted them at a party. Tallulah imitated her kindergarten teacher and won a prize, awarded to her by the Wright brothers.
  • As Tallulah and her sister got older, they were becoming harder for their grandmother to handle. So, in 1912, when Tallulah was 10, she and her sister were enrolled in a covenant school. Tallulah began to mature into a beautiful southern belle and while her sister married at 16 Tallulah decided to pursue an acting career.
  • When a magazine called Picture Play ran a beauty contest that would award winners a trip to New York and a part in a movie, Tallulah submitted her photo.
  • However, she forgot tosubmit her name and address with it. When the magazine announced the winners, they included Tallulah’s picture with the tagline, “Who is she?”
  • Tallulah only found out she was a winner when she saw this in the magazine.
  • Winning the contest turned out to be a non-starter. She went to New York, had a minor part in the movie Who Loved Him Best and was paid $75 for the work.
  • However, she did fall in love with New York and decided to stay. She moved into the Algonquin Hotel which was the it spot for the artsy elite and found a home as a member of the Algonquin Round Table.
  • When Tallulah moved to New York, her father warned her to stay away from alcohol and men. She later remarked, “He didn’t say anything about women and cocaine.”
  • While partying with the Algonquin Round Table, Tallulah didn’t drink, but she indulged in cocaine, and pot. She would say that “cocaine isn’t habit-forming and I know because I’ve been taking it for years.”
  • At parties, Tallulah would introduce herself saying, “I’m a lesbian, what do you do?”
  • It was this and her general quippyness that gained her the reputation as one of the great wits of Manhattan.
  • Tallulah had roles in a variety of silent movies and on the stage, including being in Footloose.
  • Despite being praised for her acting, nothing she was cast in really took off. After 5 years in New York, Tallulah decided to broaden her horizons and moved to London in 1922. When she left for London on the SS Majestic, a crowd of fans gathered on the pier to see her off.
  • Tallulah found success in London, appearing in a ton of plays and performing in They Knew What They Wanted, a show which won the 1925 Pulitzer Prize.
  • She gained a reputation for spinning straw into gold when it came to the plays she was in. She wrote of one instance where she saved a show from disaster on opening night. “In the second act, I came on carrying a monkey. On opening night, the monkey went berserk. He snatched my black wig from my head, leaped from my arms and scampered down to the footlights. There he paused, peered out at the audience, then waved my wig over his head. The audience had been
    giggling at the absurd plot even before this simian had at me. Now it became hysterical. What did Tallulah do in this crisis? I turned a cartwheel! The audience roared. After the monkey business, I was afraid they might boo me. Instead I received an ovation.”
  • Enjoying her success, she bought a Bentley and would drive around London.
    Unfortunately, she was terrible with directions and would call a cab to find her when she got lost and have the driver lead her home while she followed in her Bentley.
  • After 9 years in London, Tallulah decided to take on Hollywood.
  • While in Hollywood, Tallulah hosted ‘boundary free’ parties. Probably to spice things up because she thought making movies was boring as hell. She once asked producer Irving Thalberg, “How do you get laid in this dreadful place?” Irving replied, “I’m sure you’ll have no problem. Ask anyone.”
  • Tallulah must have taken his advice because she was a very sexually liberated lady. She had relationships with many notable women including Greta Garbo, Billie Holiday, Alla Nazimova, Hattie McDaniel, and more. Tallulah also had romantic relationships with men and was married to actor John Emery from 1937 to 1941.
  • After their divorce, she told a reporter, “You can definitely quote me as saying there will be no plans for a remarriage.”
  • When it came to talking about her sexuality, Tallulah was very open. She never used the word bisexual.
  • In 1931, Tallulah starred in a movie called Devil and the Deep in which she received top billing over Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, and Charles Laughton, which was kind of a big deal. However, Tallulah was looking for more than the $50,000 she was paid. She would say “Dahling, the main reason I accepted the part was to fuck that divine Gary Cooper!”
  • Unfortunately, Tallulah contracted a VD she claimed was from George Raft and had to have an emergency hysterectomy.
  • She almost died during the 5 hour surgery and weighed only 70lbs by the time she left the hospital. Before being discharged, she told her doctor, “Don’t think this has taught me a lesson.”
  • After recovering, Tallulah returned to Broadway. Then, a little movie called Gone with the Wind popped on the scene and Tallulah was one of the first choices for the leading role of Scarlett O’Hara. However, they felt that Tallulah at 36 was too old to play the role of 16-year-old Scarlett.
    • Tallulah was, however, offered the role of a sex worker in
      the film, which she politely turned down.
  • Instead, Tallulah performed in the play The Little Foxes as the lead character, Regina.
  • Her performance won her Variety’s award for Best Actress of the Year and was featured on the cover of Life magazine. Tallulah described it as “the best role I ever had in the theater.”
  • When Bette Davis played the role of Regina in the film version, she modeled her performance after Tallulah’s.
  • In 1944, Tallulah started in her most successful film; Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. Her role in this won herthe New York Film Critics Circle award. When she accepted the award, she said, “Dahlings, I was wonderful!”
  • Tallulah was also politically active. She heavily campaigned for Harry Truman’s 1948 reelection and is credited with significantly helping him get elected. She was even invited to sit with Truman during his inauguration.
  • Also in 1948, the Kinsey Reports were released. These were two reports on human sexuality; one devoted to male sexuality and the other to female sexuality. The Kinsey reports were pretty controversial as they expressed the idea of the sexual spectrum and of the female orgasm.
    • Tallulah remarked on the Kinsey Reports, saying, “I found no surprises in the Kinsey report. The good doctor’s clinical notes were old hat to me. I’ve had many momentary love affairs. A lot of these impromptu romances have been climaxed in a fashion not generally condoned. I go into them impulsively. I scorn any notion of their permanence. I forget the fever associated with them when a new interest presents itself.”
  • Tallulah’s sexuality, and relationships with both men and women won her a place in the Hays Committee’s “Doom Book,” which was a list of 150 actors who were seen as immoral or unsuitable for the public.
  • Tallulah knew what was up because she called the code’s namesake Will H. Hays, “a little prick.” Tallulah was listed at the top of the Doom Book under the heading “Verbal Moral Turpitude.”
  • Though she was living an intense lifestyle which consisted of heavy drinking, sleeping pills, sexy finger quotes ‘scandalous’ relationships, and 150 cigarettes per day, Tallulah continued performing through the 50s and 60s. She was in movies, plays, on television, and the radio.
  • One of her later notable performances was as Blance DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. She was tight with Tennessee Williams. However, her performances were originally too campy and Tennessee Williams said she was “the worst I have seen.”
  • Tallulah revised her performance and Tennessee Williams said, “I’m not ashamed to say that I shed tears almost all the way through and that
    when the play was finished I rushed up to her and fell to my knees at her feet.
  • The human drama, the paly of a woman’s great valor and an artist’s truth, her own, far superseded, and even eclipsed, to my eye, the performance of my own play.” So basically, she rocked it so hard that even the playwright was
    like, ‘I could never even imagine this majesty from my own fucking play.’
  • On December 12 th , 1968, Tallulah died of double pneumonia which was complicated by a combination of emphysema, malnutrition, and the flu.
  • Allegedly, her last words were a request for codeine and bourbon.
  • Tallulah was buried in Saint Paul’s Churchyard near Chestertown, Maryland.

LEGACY

  • The Issac Schiffman Building where Tallulah was born is not a historic landmark and there is a marker erected to commemorate the site of her birth.
  • Tallulah has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
  • Tallulah wasn’t just a phenomenal actress, but her openness with sexuality and relationships with women was revolutionary for the time. Tallulah lived her life out loud and apologized for nothing. She crafted herself into a legend and said, “I don’t give a fuck what people say about me, so long as they say something.”

 

Mercedes de Acosta

Born: March 1, 1892 or 1893    Died: May 9, 1968

What she did: American poet, playwright, novelist, and “the greatest starfucker ever.”

Facts:

  • She was born in New York City on March 1, 1892 or 1893.Her father, Ricardo de Acosta, was born in Spain and later emigrated to Cuba, then to the United States. Her mother, Micaela Hernández de Alba y de Alba, was also Spanish and reportedly a descendant of the Spanish Dukes of Alba.
  • Mercedes attended elementary school at the Covenant of the Blessed Sacrement on West 79th Street in Manhattan where Dorothy Parker was a classmate.
  • Mercedes, along with her parents and siblings, lived in New York City on fashionable Forty-seventh Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, where their neighbors included such personalities as former President Theodore Roosevelt, and the William Vanderbilts.
  • Mercedes’s parents often took part in the genteel, social activities of the neighborhood.
  • Mercedes was involved in numerous lesbian relationships with Broadway’s and Hollywood’s elite and she did not attempt to hide her sexuality; her uncloseted existence was very rare and daring in her generation.
  • She was notorious for walking the streets of New York in mannish pants, pointed shoes trimmed with buckles, tricorn hat, and cape. Her chalk white face, deep-set eyes, thin red lips, and jet black hair slicked back with brilliantine prompted Tallulah Bankhead to call her Countess Dracula.
  • In 1916 she began an affair with actress Alla Nazimova.
  • In 1917, Mercedes established a long-time relationship with the famous dancer Isadora Duncan.
  • In spite of her desire for other women, in 1920 she contemplated marriage to Abram Poole, a wealthy portrait painter, whose family was in the Social Register. But when he proposed, she balked. “I couldn’t make up my mind,” she wrote. “As a matter of fact I was in a strange turmoil about world affairs, my own writing, suffrage, sex, and my inner spiritual development.”
  • Mercedes did eventually marry Abram in 1920.They divorced in 1935. Undoubtedly contributing to her turmoil was meeting the young, attractive, and ambitious actress Eva Le Gallienne just three days before Mercedes’s marriage. Soon after her honeymoon, she began a five-year romantic relationship with the actress.
    • While Le Gallienne toured around the country in 1922 in the play Liliom, she mailed to Mercedes 3 or 4 letters daily. Mercedes wrote two plays for Le Gallienne, Sandro Botticelli and Jehanne de Arc. After the financial failures of both plays they ended their relationship.
  • In the 1920s, she was a figure in both the city’s “high society” and its drag clubs and speakeasies. “These were years guided by the spirit of the New,” she wrote of this period; “We were on fire with fire, with a passion to create and a daring to achieve.”
  • An early feminist, Mercedes advocated, along with her friend and lover the dancer Isadora Duncan, the elimination of uncomfortable and restricting fashions for women; while other women were lacing themselves into corsets, Mercedes was often seen wearing trousers.
  • Over the next decade she was involved with several famous actresses and dancers including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Ona Munson, and Russian ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina. Additional unsubstantiated rumors include affairs with Pola Negri, Eleonora Duse, Katherine Cornell, and Alice B. Toklas.
  • An ardent liberal, Mercedes was committed to several political causes. Concerned about the Spanish Civil War, which began in 1936, for example, she supported the Republican government that opposed the Nationalist faction.A tireless advocate for women’s rights, she wrote in her memoir, “I believed…in every form of independence for women and I was…an enrolled worker for women’s suffrage.”
  • She also became a vegetarian and, out of respect for animals, refused to wear furs.
  • In 1931, soon after she moved to Hollywood, she met Greta Garbo. For the next 12 years, they had an unpredictable relationship. At times Garbo would shower Mercedes with flowers and gifts. Mercedes became so enamored that she pasted photos of Garbo into her Bible. They vacationed together, sunbathed in the nude, and lived together for a time in 1932.
    • She even convinced Garbo to visit her tailor and get a pair also, the two caused a great commotion on Hollywood Boulevard. “GARBO IN PANTS!” the headlines exclaimed. “Considering what walks down Hollywood Boulevard now,” Mercedes wrote in 1960, “it seems strange that Greta and I should have caused such a sensation.”
  • According to Acosta’s longtime friend Ram Gopal, “Once Mercedes met Garbo, all she did was dream of Garbo.” But Garbo was afraid of having her life exposed.
  • As their relationship developed, it became erratic and volatile with Garbo always in control. The two were very close sporadically and then apart for lengthy periods when Garbo, annoyed by Mercedes’ obsessive behavior, coupled with her own neuroses, ignored her.
  • In any case, they remained friends for thirty years during which time Garbo wrote Mercedes 181 letters, cards, and telegrams. About their friendship, Cecil Beaton, who was close to both women, recorded in his 1958 memoir, “Mercedes is [Garbo’s] very best friend and for 30 years has stood by her, willing to devote her life to her”.
  • At times Garbo would shower Mercedes with flowers and gifts. Mercedes became so enamored that she pasted photos of Garbo into her Bible. They vacationed together, sunbathed in the nude, and even lived together for a time in 1932. Garbo occasionally asked Mercedes to do some shopping for her and even enlisted her aid in finding places to live, both in Hollywood and in New York.
  • At one point, when Garbo was being particularly aloof, Mercedes engaged in a love affair with another screen goddess: Marlene Dietrich.
    • Though Dietrich was married, it did not prevent her from showering Mercedes daily with bouquets of roses and carnations.
    • When Dietrich was setting off for Europe, she wrote, “It will be hard to leave Hollywood now that I know you.” She mailed Mercedes dozens of letters and telegrams, always signing off with love and kisses and saying, “I kiss your beautiful hands and your heart.”
    • Mercedes wrote a poem for Marlene that read:

For Marlene, Your face is lit by moonlight
breaking through your skin soft, pale, radiant.
No suntan for you glow. For you are the essence
of the stars and the moon and the mystery of the night.

  • After Cecil Beaton accompanied her to the theater one night in 1930, he wrote in his diary that he sensed people looking at him and questioning why he associated with “that furious lesbian.” She often boasted of her sexual prowess, saying “I can get any woman from any man.”
  • There was perhaps justification for Alice B. Toklas’s observation, “Say what you will about Mercedes de Acosta, she’s had the most important women of the twentieth century.”
    • Even though these women included Isadora Duncan, Eva Le Gallienne, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich, she is usually portrayed as something of a perverse psychopath.
  • Mercedes published three volumes of poetry in the early 1920s, had several plays staged, and wrote various film treatments, but none of these brought her the success she sought.
  • In the early 1930s Mercedes developed an interest in Hinduism and was encouraged to seek out Indian mystic Meher Baba when he arrived in Hollywood.
  • For several years she was captivated by his philosophy and methods and he often gave her advice about ways to address her problems.
  • Later, she studied the philosophy of Hindu sage Ramana Maharishi who introduced her to yoga, meditation, and other spiritual practices she hoped would help ease her suffering.
  • In 1938, she met Hindu dancer Ram Gopal in Hollywood. They immediately established a rapport and became close lifelong friends. Later that year they traveled to India to meet Maharishi.
  • Mercedes immigrated to Paris, where she lived during the 1950s. By 1960, Mercedes had returned to New York, destitute and in poor health.
  • After a life surrounded by fame, glamour, and wealth, Mercedes spent her last years in loneliness and poverty. She suffered a variety of illnesses later in life, requiring several painful surgeries, and was forced to sell her diamonds to pay her medical bills.
  • In 1960, when Mercedes was seriously ill with a brain tumor and in need of money, she published her memoir, Here Lies the Heart. While the book is often considered the great lesbian “kiss-and-tell” memoir, Mercedes was careful to avoid directly specifying the sexual nature of her relationships.
  • But its implied homosexuality resulted in the severance of several friendships with women who felt she had betrayed their sexuality.
    • Garbo ended their friendship at this time, she her on the sidewalks of New York and refused to see Mercedes even when she was on her death bed.
    • Eva Le Gallienne in particular was furious, denouncing Mercedes as a liar and stating that she invented the stories for fame. This characterization is inaccurate since many of her affairs and relationships with women, including that with Le Gallienne, are confirmed in personal correspondence. When a friend found a gold wedding band in Eva’s attic some ten years after Mercedes had died and asked what it was, Eva snatched it away, threw it down a well outside her home, and grumbled, “It was from Mercedes.” If Le Gallienne was in a room and heard Mercedes name mentioned, she would storm out of the room in disgust. Le Gallienne told everyone that she thought the book should have been called “Here the Heart Lies and Lies and Lies.” Le Gallienne never forgave Mercedes.
    • An exception to this was Marlene Dietrich, who continued to correspond with her and loved the book.
    • According to critic Patricia White, “If she craved being seen, MdA was more careful about what she said than she is given credit for. She wrote a name-dropping memoir, but for something attacked for exaggeration, it barely alludes to homosexuality”.
  •  When she died in 1968 she was penniless and living in a tiny, two-room apartment in New York City. She is buried at Trinity Cemetery in New York City.
  • Mercedes has usually been described disparagingly, dismissed as a “notorious lesbian” who was a dishonest nuisance to her lovers and who consistently “stalked” Garbo.
    • Garbo’s biographers, for example, assess their relationship from Garbo’s perspective in which Garbo is fundamentally blameless in their difficult relationship, a perpetual victim of Mercedes’s alleged irksome behavior. But Robert A. Schanke, Mercedes’s recent biographer, attempts, on the basis of extensive research, to provide an accurate picture of her.
    • She was, Schanke acknowledges, flawed and imperfect, a complex woman who impaired several of her relationships and failed to achieve her professional and romantic aspirations. But he reveals her to have been an exceptionally lively, intelligent, and dynamic person who had many devoted friends.
    • She was, he argues, a brave lesbian of her times and a person of integrity who remained kind and loyal to most everyone with whom she crossed paths. He suggests that the many denigrating portrayals of her may derive from the deep homophobia of her generation.
  • Nevertheless, Karen Swenson, a Garbo biographer, and Schanke identified and corrected significant errors in Mercede’s account. While the memoir was initially unsuccessful, it was rediscovered in the late 1960s and widely read in the underground gay community. In spite of its inaccuracies, it is now recognized as an important contribution to gay and lesbian history.
  • Her poetic work consists mainly of three books published during her life: Moods (prose poems) (1919), Archways of Life (1921), and Streets and Shadows (1922).
    Composer Joseph Hallman memorialized Mercedes in the song cycle “Raving Beauty” for flute, harp, cello, and soprano.

A Perfect Piece of African Sculpture & A Convent Burning Opera Singer

Gladys Bentley

Born: August 12, 1907     Died: January 18, 1960

What she did: Harlem Renaissance Entertainer

Facts:

  • Gladys was born in Pennsylvania. Her father George was American and her mother, Mary, was Trinidadian. Unfortunately, hers was not a happy childhood.
  • The eldest of 4 children in a low-income family, Gladys struggled. It didn’t help that Gladys’ mother wished she had been a boy.
  • Gladys wrote later in her life, “When they told my mother she had given birth to a girl, she refused to touch me. She wouldn’t even nurse me and my grandmother had to raise me for 6 months on a bottle before they could persuade my mother to take care of her own baby.”
  • This rejection made Gladys resentful towards her brothers and she hated the idea of a man touching her.
  • From a young age, Gladys didn’t conform to gender norms of the day. She wore boys’ clothes, had a crush on a female elementary teacher, and didn’t behave in a ‘lady-like’ manner.
  • She wrote, “It seems I was born different. At least, I always thought I was.”
  • Disturbed by their daughter’s lack of dress-wearing, Gladys’ parents took her to doctors because y’know, this was clearly a medical issue. Gladys was later diagnosed with “extreme social maladjustment.”
  • This toxic home life drove Gladys to run away to Harlem when she was 16 years old in 1923.
  • Gladys had a natural talent as a pianist and blues singer. She quickly found work as a performer, especially in speakeasies which were popular during prohibition.
  • She started out recording 8 tracks of music for $400.
  • Then she heard that a local gay bar, Harry Hansberry’s Clam House, was looking for a male pianist. Already perfectly comfortable wearing suites, Gladys began playing there dressed as a man under the stage name Barbara “Bobbie” Minton. She started out at $35 a week and went up to $125 due to her success.
  • Her act became so popular that the bar was renamed “Barbara’s Exclusive Club” after her stage name.
  • Gladys then began performing at the Ubangi Club on Park Avenue where she created her own musical revue with a chorus of 8 male dancers all in drag. She started making enough money she was able to afford a $300/month apartment on Park Ave along with servants and a nice car.
  • Gladys’ signature look was a white tuxedo and white top hat. Her acts included overt sexuality and her deep voice appealed to audiences across the sexual and racial spectrum.
  • In her songs, she would call out misogyny and sing about sexual relationships, including her own with women.
  • By 1933, Gladys was headlining at prominent nightclubs and theaters including the Apollo.
  • Her skill didn’t go unnoticed. Langston Hughes wrote of Gladys:
    • “For 2 or 3 amazing years, Miss Bentley sat and played piano all night long with scarcely a break between the notes, sliding from one song to another, with a powerful and continuous underbeat of jungle rhythm. Miss Bentley was an amazing exhibition of musical energy- a large, dark, masculine lady whose feet pounded the floor while her fingers pounded the keyboard- a perfect piece of African sculpture, animated by her own rhythm.”
  • In 1932, Gladys publicly married a white woman during a civil ceremony in New Jersey. We don’t know who the woman was or much about their marriage.
  • When Gladys tried to take her show to Broadway in 1933, the owners of the Clam House club she had been playing at sued her, saying that their club had been built around Gladys’ music and that they had a 5-year contract with Gladys’ and her performances.
  • This led to a Supreme Court battle as Gladys tried to take more control over her career. Despite the suite, Gladys moved her act to Broadway. Unfortunately, her raunchy performances caused people to complain and the police began locking the doors of places she performed.
  • This forced her to move back to Harlem where she performed at the Ubangi Club for 3 more years before it closed in 1937.
  • The decline of prohibition was great for everyone, but it resulted in the decline of Harlem speakeasies which hurt Gladys’ career.
  • She moved to southern California where she played at gay nightclubs and was billed as “America’s Greatest Sepia Piano Player” and the “Brown Bomber of Sophisticated Songs.”
  • What hurt her more than the end of prohibition was the government’s increasing criminalization of LGBTQ+ people. Due to federal laws, Gladys had to carry a special permit to be allowed to perform in her signature suites.
  • Then in the 1950s U.S. senator Joseph McCarthy came on the scene.
    • McCarthy was an infamous fear monger who was super popular
      during the Cold War era when everyone was waiting for Russia to Nuke the United States.
    • McCarthyism, the practice of accusing people of treason, being a communist, or whatever else you felt like, was named after him.
    • During this time, people were being accused of having communist sympathies or being traitors to the United States.
    • It didn’t take much to become accused of something. Being a black lesbian who wore suites made Gladys a target.
  • Gladys suddenly began wearing dresses and married a man whom she only knew for 5 months.
  • She claimed she had been ‘cured’ of her lesbianism by taking female hormones and undergoing an operation.
  • They divorced later and the dude later denied he and Gladys were ever married.
  • On January 8th , 1960 at the age of 52, Gladys died unexpectedly from Pneumonia in her Los Angeles home.
  • Just before her death, she had been ordained as a minister, but never got her official paperwork.

LEGACY

  • Gladys was challenging societal norms of gender, sexuality, and entertainment from day 1. Her masculine attire and public relationships with women in a time when being ‘out’ was dangerous and unaccepted.
  • Gladys never attempted to ‘pass’ as a man but displayed an energy of ‘black female masculinity’ that challenged her audience’s views on race and sexuality.

 

Julie d’Aubigny aka La Maupin

Born: 1670    Died: 1708

What she did: Sword-slinging opera singer, and larger-than-life bisexual celebrity of 17th-century France.

Facts:

  • Julie d’Aubigny was born in France around 1673. She was the only child to a secretary to King Louis XIV’s Master of Horse, Count d’Armagnac, one of France’s great nobles.
  • After first living in the riding school at the Tuileries Palace in Paris (where she learned to ride and take care of horses), she then moved with the court to the opulent Palace of Versailles in 1682.
  • While her father worked in King Louis XIV’s luxurious court, Julie d’Aubigny grew up in less-glamorous quarters, namely, the Great Stables.
  • Julie excelled at fencing from a very early age and her father chose to educate his only child alongside the young boys. It was while training alongside the court pages that her love for dressing up as a boy first began.
  • In 1687, the Count d’Armagnac took her for his mistress when she was barely fourteen years old.
    • He then had her married to Sieur de Maupin of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and she became Madame de Maupin (or simply “La Maupin” per French custom).
    • Soon after the wedding, her husband received an administrative position in the south of France, but the Count kept her in Paris.
  • She soon ran away to Marseille with her fencing instructor, Séranne.
  • While travelling and performing in these impromptu shows, La Maupin dressed in male clothing but did not conceal her sex. She was already so skilled with the sword at this point in her life that audiences sometimes would not believe that she was actually a woman.
    • When one drunken onlooker proclaimed loudly that she was actually a man, she tore off her shirt, providing him ample evidence to the contrary.
  • On arrival in Marseille, she joined the opera company run by Pierre Gaultier, singing under her maiden name.
  • Eventually, she grew bored of Sérannes and became involved with a young woman a local merchant’s daughter.
  • The merchant, desperate to separate the two, sent his daughter to a convent
  • La Maupin followed, entering the convent as a postulant.
  • In order to run away with her new love, she stole the body of a recently dead nun, placed it in the bed of her lover, and set the room on fire to cover their escape.
  • Their affair lasted for three months before the young woman returned to her family. La Maupin was charged in absentia—as a male—with kidnapping, body snatching, arson, and failing to appear before the tribunal. The sentence was death by fire.
  • La Maupin left for Paris and again earned her living by singing.
  • In Villeperdue, still wearing men’s clothing, she was insulted by a young nobleman. They fought a duel and she drove her blade through his shoulder.
  • The next day, she asked about his health and found out he was Louis-Joseph d’Albert Luynes, son of the Duke of Luynes. Later, one of his companions came to offer d’Albert’s apologies.
  • She went to his room and subsequently they became lovers and, later, lifelong friends.
  • After Count d’Albert recovered and had to return to his military unit, La Maupin continued to Rouen.
  • There she met Gabriel-Vincent Thévenard, another singer, and began a new affair with him. Together they returned to Paris and on their first day there, while Julie was visiting her old lover d’Armagnac to convince him to arrange a pardon for her little indiscretion in Provence, Thévenard auditioned for the Opéra, and was hired immediately.
  • His condition was that Julie also be allowed to audition and the Opéra reluctantly agreed, so by the age of 17 she found herself a member of one of the world’s greatest musical companies.
  • She debuted as Pallas Athena in Cadmus et Hermione by Jean-Baptiste Lully the same year.
  • She performed regularly with the Opéra, first singing as a soprano, and later in her more natural contralto range.
  • The Marquis de Dangeau wrote in his journal of a performance by La Maupin given at Trianon of Destouches’ Omphale in 1701 that hers was “the most beautiful voice in the world”.
  • Due to Mademoiselle de Maupin’s beautiful voice, her acting skill, and her androgynous attire, she became quite popular with the audience, although her relationship with her fellow actors and actresses was sometimes tempestuous.
  • She famously beat the singer Louis Gaulard Dumesny after he pestered the women members of the troupe She responded by ambushing him, pushing a sword in his face, and demanding a duel. When he refused (on the grounds that he was a wimp), she beat him with a cane, stealing his snuffbox and watch. The next day, she caught him complaining that he had been assaulted by a gang of thieves. She called him a liar and a coward, threw his watch  and snuffbox at him.
  • She also fell in love with Fanchon Moreau, another singer who was the mistress of the Grand Dauphin, and tried to commit suicide when she was rejected.
  • Her Paris career was interrupted around 1695 when she kissed a young woman at a society ball and was challenged to duels by three different noblemen. She beat them all but fell afoul of the king’s law that forbade duels in Paris. This entertained Louis XIV so much that he pardoned her from any punishment. and even though the king had pardoned her (musing that the law governed men, but didn’t say anything about women). She fled to Brussels to wait for calmer times.
  • There, she was briefly the mistress of Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria. Their relationship did not last too long. Apparently the Elector was a bit nonplussed when she stabbed herself onstage with an actual dagger.
  • From there she went to Madrid. She found herself working as a maid to a Countess Marino, whom she resented so much that one night before a grand ball she dressed the Countess’s hair with radishes so that everyone but the Countess could see them.
  • She performed for the court at Versailles, appeared once again in most major Opéra productions, and introduced the Italian idea of the contralto voice to France.
  • She and Thévenard remained best of friends until her retirement, although they also had some infamous spats, and one evening on stage she bit his ear so hard he bled.
  • In 1703 she fell in love with Madame la Marquise de Florensac, the “most beautiful woman in France” so beautiful that she too had had to flee to Brussels for several years because the Dauphin was obsessed with her.
  • The two women lived, according to one account, in perfect harmony for two years, until de Florensac died of a fever when Julie was 31.
  • She retired from the opera in 1705 and took refuge in a convent, probably in Provence, where she is believed to have died in 1707 at the age of 33. She has no known grave.
  • She was technically married throughout all of that. Don’t worry if you forgot about it, sounds like she did too.

A Drag Queen Scorned & The Drag Mother

Sorry for the late blog! Things have been a bit  crazy lately! I know i missed The Dinner Party last week 2 but that will be up tomorrow no worries!

 

Sylvia Rivera

Born: July 2nd, 1951     Died: February 19, 2002

What she did: Self-identified drag queen who fought tirelessly for transgender rights, as well as for the rights of gender-nonconforming people.

Facts:

  • Sylvia was born as Ray Rivera, on July 2nd, 1951 in the Bronx, New York and lived most of her life in or near New York city; she was of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent.
  • She was abandoned by her birth father José Rivera early in life and became an orphan after her mother committed suicide when Sylvia was 3.
  • Sylvia was then adopted and raised by her Venezuelan grandmother, who voiced her disapproval not only of Rivera’s mixed background that made her skin darker than she preferred , but also of her behavior, which was deemed too effeminate for a boy.
  • Sylvia began to wear makeup in fourth grade.
  • Sylvia was bullied at home and at school, she shaved her eyebrows and wore makeup to school beginning in fourth grade, and was mocked and called faggot by classmates in sixth grade leading her to abandon formal education.
  • At 10 years old she left home and began life as a sex worker, hustling near Times Square. On the streets, specifically 42nd Street in New York, she found an eclectic tribe of sex workers, street queens (as poor trans youth, some of whom performed sex work and/or were homeless, then identified themselves), drag queens, and members of the gay community.
  • She gave herself the name “Sylvia Rivera” in a ceremony attended by some fifty of her friends and peers.
  • Rivera and her peers were regularly beaten up by cops, johns, or even each other. Rivera would eventually serve 90 days on Riker’s Island, sent to a cellblock kept for perpetrators of “gay crimes”.
  • Sylvia’s activism began during the Civil Rights Movement and continued through the movement against the Vietnam war and second-wave feminist movements.
  • Rivera didn’t care about labels and definitions, throughout her life she referred to herself as a ‘half sister,’ a ‘drag queen,’ or a ‘transvestite.’
    • Her attitude on her fluid identity further strengthened her position as a radical activist in the mainstream gay movement.
  • One day, as Sylvia was hustling on 42nd, she spotted an older black queen — Marsha P. Johnson — who she was immediately drawn to.
  • Marsha ended up inviting Sylvia out for a spaghetti dinner, and took her under her wing, teaching her how to apply her makeup and the rules of the street.
    • The pair remained friends for the rest of their lives, and participated in many of the most significant early gay liberation struggles.
  • She said she was a regular patron of the Stonewall Inn and was present On June 28th, 1969, when the Stonewall Inn was raided, Sylvia was 17.
    • At the time of the incident, Rivera was there with her close friend and fellow activist Marsha P. Johnson.
    • This became the StoneWall Riots, when gay men, lesbians, bisexual people, drag queens, street people and trans people rose up against what started as a routine raid by the police.
    • The incident resulted in five days of rioting, patrons of the bar, the greater gay community, homeless youth, African Americans, and Puerto Ricans protested…and won.
    • The protests contained: hurled barricades, broken windows, firebombs, cries of “occupy—take over, take over,” ”Fag power,” and “Liberate the bar!”
    • Rivera stated that she had told her comrades as the riots began, “I’m not missing a minute of this.” “It’s the revolution!” She emphasized this fact in other interviews. “We were the frontliners. We didn’t take no shit from nobody […] We had nothing to lose.”
    • Sylvia Rivera would always be quick to redress those who thought she threw the first Molotov cocktail at the historic Stonewall riot on June 28, 1969. “I have been given the credit for throwing the first Molotov cocktail by many historians, but I always like to correct it,” she said in 2001. “I threw the second one. I did not throw the first one!”
    • Regardless of the degree of her participation in the frenzy that took place at the Stonewall Inn that night, Sylvia laid low for a few months afterward for unknown reasons.
  • When her friend, Marsha P. Johnson, told her about meetings of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), she jumped at the chance to become involved in the activity emerging in the aftermath of Stonewall.
  • Despite Sylvia’s enthusiasm to be involved in these newly formed activists groups, such as the GLF and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) that would split from the GLF, from the beginning her identities as a street worker, drag queen, poor, and a Latina were troubling to the largely white, middle-class activist groups
  • She challenged the way the predominantly white gay and lesbian community approached activism from a middle class perspective.
  • Rivera wanted their activism to be more progressive, to include in their fight the rights of transgender individuals, including people of color, the homeless, and the incarcerated.
  • Her experiences made her more focused on advocacy for those who, in her view, mainstream society and the assimilationist sectors of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities were leaving behind.
  • She fought for herself but most importantly for the rights of people of color and low-income LGBT people.
  • As someone who suffered from systematic poverty and racism, Rivera used her voice for unity, sharing her stories, pain, and struggles to show her community they are not alone.
  • She amplified the voices of the most vulnerable members of the gay community: drag queens, homeless youth, gay inmates in prison and jail, and transgender people.
  • In 1970, Rivera and Johnson co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) and later a home called STAR House. STAR offered services and advocacy for homeless queer youth, and fought for the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York. SONDA prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, credit, and the exercise of civil rights.
  • She was banned from New York’s Gay and Lesbian Community Center, after she destroyed a desk in the lobby, enraged because she felt the center did not address the needs of transgender homeless youths who slept in front of it.
  • Rivera had supported the passing of the Gay Rights Bill in New York, which would bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, because it had originally included support for the transgender community.
    • But by the time the Gay Rights Bill passed in New York in 1986, 17 years after Stonewall, language denouncing gender discrimination had been removed. “They have a little backroom deal without inviting Miss Sylvia and some of the other trans activists…The deal was, ‘You take them out, we’ll pass the bill,’” she said in 2001.
    • She felt the community she and her trans siblings had fought for all these years at Stonewall and beyond, been arrested for and beaten for, had sold them up the river. When she discovered this, Sylvia’s response was: “Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned.”
  • She also stopped working with the GLF and GAA and the gay rights movement in general after three or four years because the organizations began to both publicly denounce and ignore her.
  • She would return some 20 years later for the 25th anniversary of Stonewall, asked to participate by the pride parade’s organizing body. “The movement had put me on the shelf, but they took me down and dusted me off,” she said in 1995. “Still, it was beautiful. I walked down 58th Street and the young ones were calling from the sidewalk, ‘Sylvia, Sylvia, thank you, we know what you did.’ After that I went back on the shelf. It would be wonderful if the movement took care of its own.”
  • At the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally in New York City, Rivera, representing STAR, gave a brief speech from the main stage in which she called out the heterosexual males who were preying on vulnerable members of the community.
  • Rivera espoused what could be seen as a third gender perspective, saying that LGBT prisoners seeking help “do not write women. They do not write men. They write to STAR.”
  • At the same event, she got onstage amidst boos from the crowd. “I had to fight my way up on that stage…people that I called my comrades in the movement literally beat the shit out of me,” Rivera would say later. speech amid boos and shouts and starts her “Y’all Better Quiet Down,” speech, stating, “You go to bars because of what drag queens did for you, and these bitches tell us to quit being ourselves!” “You all tell me, go and hide my tail between my legs. I will no longer put up with this shit. I have been beaten. I have had my nose broken. I have been thrown in jail. I have lost my job. I have lost my apartment. For gay liberation, and you all treat me this way? What the fuck’s wrong with you all? Think about that!”
  • After the rally, Rivera broke down, disbanded STAR, and left activism for two decades. Sadly, she still continued to struggle with homelessness and drug addiction.
  • Her impact was not in vain, and her lifelong activism ensured that the “T” was placed in the LGBTQ rights movement.
  • In May 1995, Rivera tried to commit suicide by walking into the Hudson River.
  • Save an extensive interview to gay journalist Randy Wicker in which she discussed her suicide attempts, Johnson’s life and death, and her advocacy for poor and working-class gays made homeless by the AIDS crisis.
  • In the last five years of her life, Rivera renewed her political activity, giving many speeches about the Stonewall Uprising and the necessity for transgender people, including drag queens and butch dykes, to fight for their legacy at the forefront of the LGBT movement.
  • She traveled to Italy for the Millennium March in 2000, where she was acclaimed as the “mother of all gay people”.
  • In early 2001, after a service at the Metropolitan Community Church of New York referring to the Star of Bethlehem announcing the birth of Jesus, she decided to resurrect STAR as an active political organization (now changing “Transvestite” to the more recently coined term “Transgender,” which at that time was understood to include all gender-nonconforming people).
  • STAR fought for the New York City Transgender Rights Bill and for a trans-inclusive New York State Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act. STAR also sponsored street pressures for justice for Amanda Milan, a transgender woman murdered in 2000.
  • Rivera attacked Human Rights Campaign and Empire State Pride Agenda as organizations that were standing in the way of transgender rights. On her deathbed she met with Matt Foreman and Joe Grabarz of ESPA to negotiate transgender inclusion in its political structure and agenda.
  • Rivera died during the dawn hours of February 19, 2002 at St. Vincent’s Hospital, of complications from liver cancer.
  • Activist Riki Wilchins noted, “In many ways, Sylvia was the Rosa Parks of the modern transgender movement, a term that was not even coined until two decades after Stonewall”.

Legacy

  • Metropolitan Community Church of New York, New York’s queer youth shelter is called Sylvia’s Place in her honor.
  • The Sylvia Rivera Law Project is dedicated “to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence”.
  • In 2005, the corner of Christopher and Hudson streets was renamed “Sylvia Rivera Way” in her honor. This intersection is in Greenwich Village, the neighborhood in New York City where Rivera started organizing, and is only two blocks from the Stonewall Inn.
  • In 2015 a portrait of Sylvia Rivera was added to the National Portrait Gallery.
  • In 2016 Sylvia Rivera was inducted into the Legacy Walk.

“I left home at age 10 in 1961. I hustled on 42nd Street. The early 60s was not a good time for drag queens, effeminate boys or boys that wore makeup like we did. Back then we were beat up by the police, by everybody. I didn’t really come out as a drag queen until the late 60s. when drag queens were arrested, what degradation there was. I remember the first time I got arrested, I wasn’t even in full drag. I was walking down the street and the cops just snatched me.

People now want to call me a lesbian because I’m with Julia, and I say, “No. I’m just me. I’m not a lesbian.” I’m tired of being labeled. I don’t even like the label transgender. I’m tired of living with labels. I just want to be who I am. I am Sylvia Rivera. Ray Rivera left home at the age of 10 to become Sylvia. And that’s who I am.”

 

Marsha P. Johnson

Born: August 24, 1945     Died: July 6, 1992

What she did: Transgender Woman and LGBTQ Activist

Facts:

  • Marsha was born August 24, 1945 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. She was one of 7 children born to her working class parents, Malcolm and Alberta.
  • As a child, Marsha attended an African Methodist Episcopal Church and was a devout Christian throughout her life.
  • By the time she was 5, Marsha began wearing dresses. She was teased and harassed by neighborhood boys, causing her to dress as a boy again.
  • Marsha was also sexually assaulted as a young child by a 13-year-old boy.
  • Once Marsha graduated from high school in 1963, she got the fuck out. With nothing but $15 and a bag of clothes, Marsha eventually found her way to Greenwich Village, New York, where she worked waiting tables.
  • Even though in 1950, New York downgraded sodomy from a felony to a misdemeanor, rampant criminalization of LGBTQ people was common. They weren’t allowed to dance in public, bars were banned from serving them, and cross-dressing was illegal.
  • When she first arrived in New York, Marsha alternated between using her birth name and going as Black Marsha.
  • She worked as a sex worker and was arrested frequently, later saying she stopped counting after her 100th arrest.
  • She was living in a high risk environment, working in seedy hotels and was even shot. She would frequently sleep under tables in the Flower District of Manhattan.
  • Marsha later changed her name to Marsha P. Johnson, saying the P stood for “pay it no mind.” This was like her catchphrase when people questioned her about her gender. One time, she used the phrase on a judge who thought it was funny and released her.
  • Marsha also performed as a drag queen. Because she couldn’t afford to purchase clothing and accessories, Marsha got creative. Remember the tables she would sleep under in the Flower District? Those tables were used for sorting flowers and she would decorate her hair with the extras, which became part of her signature look.
  • Marsha would also dress in flowing robes, shiny dresses, red plastic
    high heels, and bright wigs because she was born to stand out.
  • She performed with a few different drag groups including Hot Peaches and The Angels of Light.
  • In 1975, Marsha was photographed by Andy Warhol as part of his “Ladies & Gentlemen” Polaroid series.
  • The Stonewall Inn was the only gay bar in NYC where dancing was allowed.
  • To protect the Stonewall Inn against Lilly Law, Alice Blue Gown, and Betty Badge (also known as undercover cops), patrons were greeted by a bouncer who inspected them through a peep hole to see if they recognized them or if the patron “looked gay.”
  • Staff would also stow away extra liquor behind secret panels so they could get back up and running quickly after a raid.
  • The Stonewall Inn also bribed the cops to tip them off if there was going to be a raid.
  • When raids did occur, the police would line up patrons and inspect their IDs. Anyone without an ID, dressed in drag, women NOT wearing 3 pieces of feminine clothing, or anyone they fucking felt like, would be arrested.
  • Female police officers would also take patrons dressed as women to the bathroom and ‘verify their gender.’
  • At 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969 9 police officers approached the Stonewall Inn and shouted “Police! We’re taking the place!”
  • There were two undercover cops already in the bar, gathering evidence and, when they gave the signal, backup came. People tried to escape but the police had barred the exits.
  • During the raid, some of the officers began sexually assaulting the women while frisking them. Some people were released by the police, but instead of getting the fuck out, they stood outside and a crowd began to form.
  • Between 100-150 people gathered and some began taunt the cops by performingor saluting the cops sarcastically.
  • As the cops began loading people into patrol wagons, there were shouts from the crowd of “Gay power!” and others sang “We Shall Overcome.” Tensions mounted between the police officers and the growing crowd and finally exploded when a woman being arrested tried to escape and was beaten with a baton. Some allege this was Storme DeLarverie, including Storme herself. Storme was a lesbian who frequented the Stonewall Inn and a gay rights activist. She recalls she shouted at the crowd “Why don’t you guys do something?” Finally things boiled over and the police’s attempts to control the crowd only antagonized them more.
  • The police retreated inside the bar, completely overwhelmed by the crowd. In response, the crowd tried to bust into the bar and set it on fire. The officers managed to escape and the fire was extinguished. The crowd eventually grew into 1,000s and the uprising lasted until July 1 st .
  • The Stonewall Uprising was not the beginning of the gay rights movement, but was certainly a watershed moment that resulted in mass awareness across the country and encouraged members of the LGBTQ to mobilize. It sparked the birth of the Gay Liberation Front, the first group to publicly advocate for gay rights.
  • The Stonewall Uprising also gave birth to the first pride parade which was held on the 1 year anniversary.
  • After the Stonewall Uprising, Marsha teamed up with her friend and fellow uprising participant, Sylvia Rivera. Together, they founded the organization Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR, a group dedicated to helping homeless youth and trans women of color.
  • Marsha was also a member of the Gay Liberation front and attended the first pride parade.
  • In 1970 Marsha and fellow Gay Liberation Front members staged a sit in at New York University after the school canceled a dance that was sponsored by gay rights organizations.
  • Marsha and Sylvia were notable presences at gay rights events. Unfortunately, just as today, there was discrimination within the LGBTQIA community and Marsha and Sylvia felt the impact of that when they were banned from the 1973 pride parade. The gay and lesbian committee putting on the event weren’t going to allow drag queens at the march.
  • Marsha and Sylvia responded by marching in front of the fucking parade which is the level of defiant and salty I aspire to be. The march produced one of the best known photos of these powerful besties.
  • When Marsha and Sylvia established the STAR House, a shelter for gay and trans youth, a shelter they paid for with money they made as sex workers, Marsha became known as the “drag mother.” So basically she became the mother figure for these kids who didn’t otherwise have supportive families.
  • The shelter provided clothes, food, and support to the youths it housed.
  • Though Marsha was an avid activist, she was still struggling just to live. She suffered her first mental breakdown in 1970 when she walked up and down Christopher Street, the same street the Stonewall Inn was on, naked. She would sometimes lash out and become aggressive. She called this side of her, Malcolm, which was her birth name. When she slipped into this persona, she would act masculine and aggressive.
  • She struggled her whole life with homelessness, engaging in survival sex, and mental illness.
  • As a marginalized person, she didn’t receive much help.
  • In 1992, shortly after the pride parade, Marsha’s body was found floating in the Hudson River. While the police originally ruled it as a suicide, her friends insisted that she was not suicidal and noted the fact she had a massive wound in the back of her head. Sylvia was one of the people who argued against the suicide ruling, saying she had Marsha had made a pact to “cross the river Jordan (aka the Hudson River) together.”
  • Witnesses came forward and reported they had seen Marsha being harassed by thugs and using homophobic slurs with her. There were also reports of a man who bragged at bars that he had killed a drag queen named Marsha.
  • Despite ALL OF THIS, the police refused to look further into the case because it involved “a gay black man.”
  • Marsha was cremated and her ashes were spread out over the Hudson River.
  • In November 2012, activist Maria Lopez got the NYPD to re-open the case as a potential homicide. Marsha is remembered as a vivacious activist who worked so hard and did so much with so little.

From Slave to Soldier and The Most Dangerous Spy

Sorry this is a day late! The long holiday weekend got me all mixed up + being sick did not help at all. Thank you for reading! 🙂

Cathay Williams

Born: September 1844      Died: 1893

What she did: The first African-American woman to enlist in the Army

Facts:

  • Cathay Williams was born in Independence Missouri in September of 1844.
  • She was a slave. Her father was a free man, but her mother was a slave.
  • Growing up, Cathay worked as a house slave on the Johnson plantation outside of Jefferson City, MO.
  • When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Union soldiers occupied the city.
    • At this time, the Union viewed captured slaves as “contraband” and many were forced to serve in the military serving as cooks, nurses, and other support roles.
  • At 17 years old, Cathay was forced to serve in the 8th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
    • During her time with them, Cathay marched with the 8th Indiana through Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia.
    • She also witnessed African-American men serving as soldiers. When the Civil War ended, Cathay was working at Jefferson Barracks.
  • Cathay decided to officially join the U.S. Army in 1866.
    • There was just one little problem; women were not allowed to serve in the military.
    • To get around this small technicality, Cathay created the perfect alternate male persona. Cathay Williams enlisted in the U.S. Army under the name, William Cathay.
    • After passing what was certainly a very casual medical exam, Cathay enlisted for a 3-year engagement and was assigned to the 38th United States Infantry Regiment.
    • This made her the first African American woman to enlist in the United States Army and the only one we know of who served in drag.
  • During her service, Cathay contracted smallpox and was hospitalized. Cathay rejoined her unit in New Mexico when she recovered.
  • Unfortunately, a combination of the bout of smallpox, New Mexico heat, and physical strain of her service led to frequent illness. After being hospitalized MULTIPLE TIMES, a doctor finally noticed she was a woman.
  • The doctor notified the post commander and Cathay was subsequently honorably
    discharged on October 14th , 1868 after two years of service.
  • After her discharge from the military, Catahy joined the Buffalo Soldiers. The Buffalo Soldiers were a group of African American soldiers who primarily served on the western frontier after the American Civil war. They primarily went after thieves, rustlers, and protected those traveling west.
  • Cathay bounced around a bit and eventually married, but the marriage ended poorly after the son of a bitch stole money and a team of horses from her.
    • Cathay promptly had him arrested.
  • Cathay held a few positions, including as a cook and a seamstress. In fact, it was while working as a seamstress that the word got out about Cathay’s story.
  • A reporter from St. Louis had heard rumors of her service and interviewed her. Her story was published in the St. Louis Daily Times on January 2nd , 1876.
  • Between 1889 and 1890, Cathay entered the hospital for some health issues. She applied for a disability pension based on her service. Although there was precedent for granting a pension to female soldiers, Cathay was denied.
  • In 1893, Cathay’s health issues escalated. She suffered from neuralgia and diabetes which required for all of her toes to be amputated meaning she had to walk with a crutch for the rest of her life. We don’t know when she died, but it’s likely it was soon after her disability claim was denied.

LEGACY

  • Over 400 women (that we know of) served in the Civil War disguised as mile soldiers, but Cathay was the first African American woman to enlist in the U.S. Army and was the only known female Buffalo Soldier.
  • Cathay felt the call to serve and wouldn’t let a silly little think like patriarchal bullshit stand in her way.

Virginia Hall

Born: 1906     Died: 1982

What she did: The Most Dangerous Spy of All, aka The Limping Lady

Facts:

  • Virgina was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of Barbara Virginia Hammel and Edwin Lee Hall. 
  • Beneath her passion for leading was a streak of independence and self-confidence.
  • She went to the prestigious Radcliffe College and Barnard College (Columbia University),where she studied French, Italian and German (and became fluent in all also learning some Russian).
  • She continued her studies in Paris and at the Konsularakademie in Vienna, where she earned a diploma in economics and international law.
  • With help from her parents, she traveled the Continent and studied in France, Germany, and Austria.
  • Finally she landed an appointment as a Consular Service clerk at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, in 1931.
  • She grew restless and having ambition sought to join the diplomatic corps, which had very few women at the time.
  • In 1932 when she accidentally shot herself in the left leg while hunting birds in Turkey. After gangrene set in, Virginia lost a portion of her left leg, just below the knee.
  • Virginia learned to walk with the prosthetic limb, which she nicknamed “Cuthbert.”
    • This was a clunky appendage made of painted wood with its aluminum foot, weighed more than 7 pounds. It was attached by leather belts wrapped around Virginia’s waist.
  • The State Department had strict rules against employees with disabilities joining the diplomatic corps, and Virginia was furious when she was barred from testing.
  • Her preferred career path was blocked, and she resigned from the Department of State in 1939. Thereafter she attended graduate school at American University in Washington, DC.
  • She joined the Ambulance Service before the fall of France but after the Germans rolled through Paris in June 1940, her and a friend fled on a bike taking turns on the handle bars, she insisted on pedaling too despite her leg.
  • She retreated to London and when a vacancy opened at the US War Department, and she accepted a position as a code clerk.
  • Prime Minister Winston Churchill had just established the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to “set Europe ablaze” which sent her back to France in August 1941.
  • The SOE recruited Virginia to be its first woman resident agent in France. Using forged documents, false names, and working undercover as a reporter for the New York Post, Virginia established in August 1941 a headquarters in the Haute Loire Department between the cities of Toulouse and Lyon.
  • Her mission, code-named Geologist-5, was to provide SOE with information on Vichy France, including reports on political developments, economic conditions, and the popular will to resist.
  • Virginia went beyond her charter and proved adept at recruiting spies. She grew her agent network, code-named Heckler, into an important logistical hub.
  • Heckler, first on the ground, was centrally located. Virginia became an expert at support operations—organizing resistance movements; supplying agents with the money, weapons, and supplies; helping downed airmen to escape; offering safe houses and medical assistance to wounded agents and pilots.
  • She also developed a specialty: planning and executing jailbreaks. One of her agents, a local doctor named Jean Rousset, established an asylum for the mentally ill to provide medical support and hide escapees until safe passage from France could be found.
  • Being the nerve center made Virginia a Target as well. According to Dr. Dennis Casey of the U.S. Air Force Intelligence Agency, the French nicknamed her “la dame qui boite” and the Germans put “the limping lady” on their most wanted list.
  • Lyon’s Gestapo chief, Klaus Barbie, who never knew Virginia’s true name or nationality, caught wind of her activities and was reported to have said, “I would give anything to get my hands on that limping Canadian Bitch.”
  • Of the more than 400 SOE agents ultimately sent to France, 25 percent didn’t return—many were executed on discovery—others survived brutal torture or were shipped to concentration camps.
  • With so many networks rolled up, Virginia became a more important source and conduit for information. When Virginia heard a French network in Paris codenamed Gloria was desperate to send reports and microfilm of German naval facilities to SOE London, she agreed to help.
    • She didn’t know that the leader of Gloria had been captured, tortured, and ultimately killed and that the Abwehr (German Intelligence Agency) controlled his organization. The Abwehr sent its agent—a Catholic priest turned informant, Abbé Robert Alesh—to courier tampered microfilm to Heckler’s drop at Dr. Rousset’s office.
    • Virginia didn’t trust the abbé and sensed the coming danger: agent networks were collapsing all around and both the Abwehr and Gestapo were closing in.
    • In September 1942, she sent a message to London: “My address has been given to Vichy . . . I may be watched . . . my time is about up.”
    • The Gestapo began a concerted focus on Lyon, where they noted a spike in escaped prisoners, sabotage efforts, and disappearances of downed pilots, much associated with the “Limping Lady.”
    • Barbie captured many of the HECKLER operatives in the ensuing months, Hall escaped the country in the knick of time.
  • Hall knew she had to leave immediately and narrowly escaped by train from Lyon to Perpignan, then walked over a 7,500 foot pass in the Pyrenees to Spain, covering up to 50 miles over two days in considerable discomfort.
  • Before making her escape, she signalled to SOE that she hoped Cuthbert would not give trouble on the way. The SOE, not understanding the reference, replied, “If Cuthbert troublesome, eliminate him”.
  • After arriving in Spain she was arrested by the Spanish authorities for illegally crossing the border, but the US Embassy eventually secured her release.
  • Virgina wanted to return to France however, the British refused her request, because she was too well-known to the Gestapo.
  • After working for SOE for a time in Madrid, she returned to London in July 1943 where she was quietly made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
  • Virginia joined the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Special Operations Branch in March 1944 and asked to return to occupied France.
  • The OSS promptly granted her request and landed her from a British MTB in Brittany (her artificial leg having kept her from parachuting in) with a forged French identification certificate for Marcelle Montagne. Codenamed “Diane”, she eluded the Gestapo and contacted the French Resistance in central France.
  • Hall disguised herself as a plump, elderly woman with a limp, changed her walk to a shuffle, and had the fillings of her teeth re-done to match French dentistry.  Hall took up the persona of Marcelle Montagne, a farmhand in a the small village of Crozant in central France where she tended cows, made cheese and assisted the farm owner.
  • While appearing to be a local peasant, she collected vital intelligence about German troop movements, established contacts with the resistance and radioed London. She also sold cheese to soldiers as a cover for collection. She would they relay information back to London sometimes using a bicycle to get power.
  • Despite her operational security and solid cover, she was interrogated and several local farmers were killed—their heads placed on spikes as a demonstration of what would happen if they were found collaborating with the enemy.
  • Seeing the increased risk of being discovered, Hall radioed London that “the wolves are at the door,” and fled to the town of Cosne, near Paris. Once there, she realized Cosne was a valuable operating base leading up to and after D-Day and set to work immediately.
  • She mapped drop zones for supplies and commandos from England, found safe houses, and linked up with a Jedburgh team after the Allied Forces landed at Normandy.
  • Allied troops overtook her small band in September. With the Germans beginning a retreat, Hall worked her way back to the Haute Loire, where she organized several thousand Maquis, blew up bridges, and conducted other sabotage operations to support the Allies’ D-Day invasion.
  • During a two-month period in mid-1944, Hall sent 37 intelligence reports, oversaw 27 parachute drops of material for the French resistance, coordinated the efforts of 1,500 resistance fighters, oversaw innumerable attacks resulting in more than 170 Germans killed and 800 captured, managed dozens of acts of sabotage that disrupted German logistics and reinforcements, and integrated a joint SOE-OSS operational team into her area of operations.
  • She was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the only civilian woman in the Second World War to do so.
    • She refused all but a private ceremony with OSS chief Donovan—even a presentation by President Truman. By this time Virginia had joined the CIA and thought the publicity would blow her cover.
  • After the war, Virginia, because she spoke Italian fluently, she was dispatched to Venice, where for several years she collected and transmitted economic, financial, and political intelligence with special emphasis on the Communist movement and its leaders.
  • She then worked for the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE), a CIA front organization associated with Radio Free Europe.
  • In 1950, Hall married former OSS agent Paul Goillot when she had met in france, but he had arrived after D-Day and found no Germans to help fight as most of the resistance groups disbanded as they troops pulled out.
  • After the war, the 40-year-old Hall was eager to remain in the intelligence business. In 1951, she joined the Central Intelligence Agency.
  • She began working as an intelligence analyst on French parliamentary affairs. She worked alongside her husband as part of the Special Activities Division.
  • One of a handful of relatively senior women in the clandestine service, she worked in various elements of CIA until her mandatory retirement in 1966 at the age of 60.
  • Virginia Hall left no memoir, granted no interviews, and spoke little about her overseas life—even with relatives.
  • Virginia Hall Goillot died at the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Maryland, on 8 July 1982, aged 76.

Legacy

  • Hall was posthumously inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 2019.
  • In 2006, the CIA hung an oil painting of Hall that depicts her inside a barn in southern France in 1944, using a suitcase radio powered by an automobile generator and bike parts to transmit messages to London.
  • Recently, the CIA also named a training facility after her called, “The Virginia Hall Expeditionary Center.”
  • She has had several book written about her one that may soon become a movie.

The Dinner Party – Wing 2 – Part 2

This is part 2 of the series on The Dinner Party By Judy Chicago. I will be splitting this into 2 parts as it gets a bit long I noticed with the first one. Please enjoy!

I do shorten what is on the website to make it slightly more readable in our format here.

The photos and all information in this post are from the Brooklyn Museum. (Copyright © 2004–2019 the Brooklyn Museum.)

Link to Website: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/home

TDP_Curatorial_Overview_TDP-new_542px

Wing One blog here.

Wing Two – Part One here.

Wing Two

Christianity to the Reformation

The Dinner Party: Wing Two

Petronilla de Meath
(b. circa 1300, Meath, Ireland; d.1324, Kilkenny, Ireland)Petronilla de Meath was the first Irish woman to be burned at the stake for the crime of heresy. She served as a maid to Lady Alice Kyteler, one of the earliest women to be accused of witchcraft.

In Kilkenny, Ireland in 1324, Lady Alice Kyteler, along with her son and ten others, became one of the earliest targets of witchcraft accusations, centuries before the more famous rash of witch trials in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. She was charged by the Bishop of Ossory with a wide slate of crimes, from sorcery and demonism to the murders of several husbands. Lady Alice was believed to have illegally acquired her wealth through magical and devilish means.

To extract her confession, the bishop ordered the torture of Lady Alice’s maid and confidante, Petronilla de Meath. Petronilla claimed that she and her mistress applied a magical ointment to a wooden beam, which enabled both women to fly. She was then forced to proclaim publicly that Lady Alice and her followers were guilty of witchcraft.

With the help of relatives, Lady Alice used her connections to flee to England, taking with her Petronilla’s daughter, Basilia. Lady Alice’s followers, including Petronilla, remained behind. Some were convicted and whipped, but others, Petronilla included, were burned alive at the stake. This was not the first recorded sentence of death by burning for heresy, but was the first known trial to treat women practicing witchcraft as an organized group. Petronilla serves as an emblem of the many women tried and convicted of witchcraft during the Middle Ages.

Petronilla de Meath at The Dinner Party
Petronilla’s place setting employs many of the most familiar symbols of witchcraft from both Petronilla’s time and today, including the broomstick incorporated into the illuminated letter “P” on the front of her runner.

The interlacing patterns on the front and top of the runner are based on Celtic motifs drawn from The Book of Kells, a book of illuminated manuscripts dating to the 9th century. On the back of the runner there is a horned form, representing the goat that was worshipped by many covens, or groups of witches. The red cords lining the black front edge echo the red witch’s garter, which signified higher rank in the coven.

The plate also incorporates other symbols of witchcraft, including a bell, a book, and a candle. The cauldron represents both the Great Mother, to whom witches pay honor, and the meeting place of covens. The flames that “envelop the center of the plate are a terrible inversion of the sacred fire that once burned in honor of the Goddess…” (Chicago, A Symbol of Our Heritage, 78).

Christine de Pisan
(b. 1364, Venice, Italy; d. 1430, Poissy, France)Christine de Pisan (Christine de Pizan) was a medieval writer and historiographer who advocated for women’s equality. Her works, considered to be some of the earliest feminist writings, include poetry, novels, biography, and autobiography, as well as literary, political, and religious commentary. De Pisan became the first woman in France, and possibly Europe, to earn a living solely by writing.

De Pisan was raised at court in Paris with her father, Thomas de Pisan, the astrologer and secretary to King Charles V of France. In 1380, de Pisan married Etienne du Castel, a nobleman from Picardy. He was an unusual husband for the time in that he supported her educational and writing endeavors. When he died in 1390, de Pisan was only in her early twenties. After receiving attention from patrons in the court for her poetry and love ballads dedicated to her husband, she decided that rather than remarry she would support her three children and newly widowed mother through her writing. While she was still establishing herself as a writer, de Pisan also transcribed and illustrated other authors’ works.

Her own writing, in its various forms, discusses many feminist topics, including the source of women’s oppression, the lack of education for women, different societal behaviors, combating a misogynistic society, women’s rights and accomplishments, and visions of a more equal world. De Pisan’s work, though critical of the prevailing patriarchy, was well received, as it was also based in Christian virtue and morality.

Le Dit de la Rose (The Tale of the Rose), 1402, was a direct attack on Jean de Meun’s extremely popular Romance of the Rose, a work about courtly love that characterized women as seducers, which de Pisan claimed was misogynistic, vulgar, immoral, and slanderous to women. She later published Letters on the Debate of the Rose as a follow-up to the controversial debate.

Although de Pisan’s work was primarily written for and about the upper classes (the majority of lower class women were illiterate), her writing was instrumental in introducing the concept of equality and justice for women in medieval France. De Pisan lived the majority of her life in relative comfort, and in 1418, she entered a convent in Poissy (northwest of Paris), where she continued to produce work, including her last poem Le Ditie de Jeanne d’Arc (Song in Honor of Joan of Arc), 1429.

Christine de Pisan at The Dinner Party
Christine de Pisan is represented in her plate as an abstracted butterfly form painted in swirling, vibrant hues of red and green. Chicago describes the form as having “one wing raised in a gesture of defense, to symbolize her efforts to protect women” (Chicago, The Dinner Party, 86).

The runner is done in tones from the same color palette, and jagged flame-like forms adorn the edges. The wavy, colorful pattern is characteristic of Bargello needlepoint, also called “flame stitch” or “Florentine stitch,” thought to have originated in medieval Italy. According to Chicago, this design, which appears to be encroaching on the plate, represents the suffocating Renaissance-era constraints on women (Chicago, The Dinner Party, 86).

On the front of the runner, embroidered on the illuminated capital “C” in her name, is a scene based on an illuminated manuscript in which de Pisan presents a volume of her work to the queen of France.

 

Isabella d’Este
(b. 1474, Ferrara, Italy; d.1539, Romagna, Italy)Isabella d’Este (Gonzaga) was a powerful and well-educated political figure, humanitarian, patron of the arts, and mother of seven. Known as “The First Lady of the Renaissance,” she was related to nearly every ruler in Italy either by birth or marriage.

D’Este was the oldest of six children born into the ruling family in Ferrara, Italy. Her parents believed in schooling their daughters equally to their sons, and she received an education not frequently afforded women. At sixteen, she could speak and translate Greek and Latin and had a variety of musical talents, including singing, dancing, and playing the lute. She could also engage in intellectual debates with ambassadors.

In 1490, d’Este married Francesco Gonzaga, the fourth marquis of Mantua, and thus became the marchioness. When he was captured as a prisoner of war in 1509, d’Este became the acting regent of Mantua. She secured the loyalty of her people and was able to successfully control the military, eventually negotiating the release of the ailing Gonzaga. D’Este was known for a non-confrontational approach to foreign policy. She kept the support of her people by defending Mantua against French attacks in 1527 and offering aid and comfort to refugees. Gonzaga was often jealous of d’Este’s popularity, and due to this conflict, d’Este traveled to Rome to spend time in the court of Pope Leo X, where she met and became a patron of many artists.

In 1519, Gonzaga died and their son Federigo II officially became marquis of Mantua. At age nineteen he was too young to rule, and d’Este acted as regent. Soon after he took power, he was persuaded by popular support to request that his mother return as head of Mantua. With her authority, she positioned Mantua as a duchy, or sovereign territory, which advanced her son’s title to that of duke.

D’Este was a great patron of the arts, supporting painters such as Mantegna, Titian, and da Vinci, all of whom she commissioned to paint her portrait. She transformed Mantua into a cultural center by converting the ducal apartments into a museum. She invited writers, artists, and poets to her home to exchange ideas and corresponded frequently with a variety of prominent figures, letters that now provide us with a rare woman’s point of view on Renaissance Italy. During her time as ruler, d’Este also funded an ongoing school for girls.

In 1529, as the result of an exchange of property during her husband’s life, d’Este became the official ruler of Solarolo, a small region of Romagna that she ruled as a city-state. There, she oversaw an active government until her death in 1539.

Isabella d’Este at The Dinner Party
The plate, painted in gold, white, and royal blue, is characteristic in its color palette and motifs of the popular Urbino majolica ceramicware, created in factories that d’Este supported. The gold sections of the plate are raised, providing the structural framework for the design. The plate highlights Renaissance artistic innovations, including the use of perspective, horizon lines, and vanishing points. These techniques, popular in antiquity, were revived in the Renaissance and were used to create three-dimensional and realistic works. These artistic ideals are represented by the colonnade in the center of the plate, which has a vanishing point that makes it appear to recede into space.

The runner is designed like a royal banner, complete with tassels, shields, and fleur-de-lys, patterns reserved for the ruling classes. The insignia on the back of the runner was derived from the d’Este crest. The tassels reference the similarly ornamented gowns shown in many Renaissance portraits.

 

Elizabeth R.
(b. 1533, London, England; d. 1603, London, England)Queen Elizabeth I, or Elizabeth R, as she referred to herself, was a revered English queen, and a member of the Tudor family, who ruled over a period of English history often referred to as “The Golden Age.” Ascending the throne at a time when England was in religious conflict and economic hardship, Elizabeth earned her country’s respect as a bold and independently minded ruler, who successfully lifted England out of its troubled state.

As queen, Elizabeth quickly set out a plan to stabilize England following years of conflict under turbulent and controversial rulers. Religion quickly became one of the new queen’s primary concerns. Years earlier, King Henry had severed England’s ties with the Catholic Church so that he could obtain a divorce. Following, Mary I, a Catholic, also known as “Bloody Mary,” re-established Catholicism as the state religion and during her reign, persecuted many Protestants. The English public welcomed Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne, and she reinstated Protestantism in 1559. She is heralded as a champion of religious freedom and tolerance, although there is evidence that she persecuted Catholics in an effort to establish a Protestant state.

During Elizabeth’s rule, the British Empire prospered politically and economically, expanding westward as the first British colonists arrived in America in the mid sixteenth century. In 1588, England finally defeated the Spanish Armada, ending a decades-long threat from Spain, a country attempting to retain its dominance as a world power. The victory increased her popularity with her people and caused economic growth during the relative period of peace.

The literary, performing, and fine arts flourished during Elizabeth’s reign as well, with countless artists, such as Nicholas Hilliard, and playwrights, such as William Shakespeare, benefiting from the court’s patronage.

Although revered by her people and courted by suitors, Elizabeth never married. Despite her father’s lifelong reservations about a woman occupying the throne, Elizabeth’s arrival ushered in a new era in British royal history. She quickly and consistently proved herself to be a powerful and intelligent ruler and an inimitable symbol of female strength. Her nearly half-century reign ended officially with her death in 1603.

Elizabeth R. at The Dinner Party
An expert in determining her own representation in art, Elizabeth often commissioned artists to paint portraits of her in sumptuous costumes. Those same portraits, created while Elizabeth was at the height of her reign, inspired her place setting. The Queen’s elaborate dresses are suggested in the undulating folds depicted on the plate, and the regal deep blues, purples, and reds are reminiscent of the colors typically used in her portraits. The plate is adorned with an embroidered fabric ruff, the lace edges reminiscent of the high, stiff collars Elizabeth wore. A “cloth of gold” placed over the ruff recalls the famous “Field of the Cloth of Gold,” an event in which Elizabeth’s father met with Francis I of France and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, to negotiate a treaty. For the three weeks of the meeting, the monarchs had ostentatious tents made of gold cloth set up in a field.

The runner includes feather and floral patterns stitched in blackwork, a form of textile decoration in which outlines of flowers and leaves are interspersed with geometric patterns. This intricate embroidery was popular on costumes during Elizabeth’s reign and can be seen in portraits of the queen.

Elizabeth’s royal signature is the basis for the illuminated capital letters “E” and “R” in her name on the front of her runner, referring to Elizabeth as she referred to herself, “Elizabeth R.” The elaborate and snaking “R” was used by the Queen after her name; it stood for “Regina,” which is Latin for queen. Elizabeth’s name is embroidered in her own inimitable penmanship. Just as she refused to give up any self-control during her lifetime, Elizabeth personally introduces herself to The Dinner Party guests in her own exquisite hand.

 

Artemisia Gentileschi
(b. 1593, Rome Italy; d.1652/3, Naples, Italy)Our blog about her here. 🙂

Artemisia Gentileschi was an early Italian Baroque painter, and the only female follower of Caravaggio, whom she worked with in Italy in the early 17th century. Her innovative compositions and focus on Biblical heroines set her apart from her male contemporaries and have lead to the celebration of Gentileschi as a painter with a uniquely female perspective.

Gentileschi was born in Rome, the daughter of celebrated painter Orazio Gentileschi. As a young girl, she served as an apprentice to her father, learning the skills of a professional painter. When her father recognized that she had advanced beyond his training, he hired the painter Agostino Tassi to further her painting skills. In 1612, Tassi raped Gentileschi, an event now inextricably linked to her name. After a lengthy and painful trial, Tassi was found guilty and jailed for eight months. This event had a tremendously negative impact on Artemisia Gentileschi’s reputation, and the artist suffered from gossip that branded her a promiscuous woman.

Soon after the trial, Orazio Gentileschi arranged a marriage for his daughter, after which she moved to Florence, Italy, where she earned the generous support and patronage of the Medici duke, Cosimo II. In 1616, she was the first woman to be accepted into the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts, where she continued her artistic education. During this period, Gentileschi was held in high esteem by both the royal court and scholars, eventually establishing a much-heralded relationship with the astronomer, philosopher, and physicist, Galileo.

She and her husband had two daughters, both of whom eventually became painters. When Gentileschi and her husband separated, she became the head of her own household, enjoying a freedom and independence known to few of her female contemporaries. She and her daughters frequently moved in Italy for career opportunities and to accommodate patronage that included the Medici family and King Charles I of England. In 1641, Gentileschi relocated to Naples where she lived out the remainder of her life. While Gentileschi was a recognized painter in her lifetime, after her death a great deal of her work fell into obscurity and was often attributed to other followers of Caravaggio or to her father.

Art historian Mary Garrard notes that Artemisia Gentileschi “suffered a scholarly neglect that is unthinkable for an artist of her caliber” (Garrard, Artemisia Gentileschi, 3). Only now, in light of recent academic activity, has Gentileschi become recognized for her retelling of biblical stories from the perspective of a woman.

Artemisia Gentileschi at The Dinner Party
Judy Chicago celebrates the link between Artemisia Gentileschi and her often-painted subject, Judith, by repeating the place setting’s color palette. Additionally, the sword image that pierces the first letter “A” of “Artemisia” is the same as that of the “J” in Judith’s illuminated letter, signifying each woman’s physical and emotional strength. The illuminated letter “A” on Gentileschi’s runner is comprised of an artist’s paintbrush and palette, representing her life as an artist.

The plate is surrounded by rich and luscious velvet fabric, modeled on the costumes of Gentileschi’s female subjects. The gold fabric references the color in Gentileschi’s paintings, which became known as “Artemisia gold,” and was often associated with the artist. Chicago explains that this fabric nearly engulfs the plate, representing the safe, protective environment that Orazio Gentileschi attempted to create for his daughter (Chicago, A Symbol of Our Heritage, 82). Underneath the velvet there is fabric decorated in a repeating Baroque-style pomegranate motif, indicative of the time period in which Gentileschi painted. This stenciled motif was modeled on “bizarre silk,” a popular style in the seventeenth century in which pattern was overlaid on pattern, creating a repetitive and unique design.

The butterfly image of Gentileschi’s plate demonstrates the chiaroscuro technique, made famous by one of the artist’s masters, Caravaggio. Chiaroscuro uses a dramatic play of light and dark to convey a theatrical quality to the painting and was popularized during the Baroque period. The “twisting and turning form” on the plate serves also to represent the “extraordinary efforts required of any women of [Gentileschi’s] time who desired to become an artist” (Chicago, The Dinner Party, 97).

 

Anna van Schurman
(b. 1607, Cologne, Germany; d. 1678, Wieuwerd, Netherlands)Anna Maria van Schurman is readily considered the most highly educated woman of the 17th century. She questioned the role that women should play in Dutch society, and her determination to receive an education, along with her achievements, made her stand out from other women of her time. Her radical belief that women should be educated to receive an education, not just for a professional purpose or for employment, was controversial and differed from other 17th century arguments for the education of women.

Van Schurman received a strong classical education from her father. Considered a child prodigy, she could freely read and translate both Latin and Greek by the age of seven and had learned German, French, Hebrew, English, Spanish, and Italian by age eleven. She also studied art and became a distinguished artist in the fields of drawing, painting, and etching, though few examples of her art exist today.

At the age of 29, after years of advocating for women’s education, van Schurman was invited to attend the University of Utrecht as the first female student. The administration required that she sit behind a curtain in class, as they believed she would distract the male students. She graduated with a degree in law—the first female graduate.

Van Schurman spent much of her adult life writing on the importance of equal education for women, publishing the majority of her works in the 1640s and 50s. In her book Whether the Study of Letters is Fitting for a Christian Woman, published in 1646, she stated that anyone with ability and principles should be allowed to be educated. She believed women should receive an education in all subjects, so long as it did not interfere with their domestic duties.

She actively published articles detailing the ways in which women’s brains functioned as effectively as men’s, and the damage that occurred to women’s abilities if they were only considered capable of being wives and mothers.

Anna van Schurman at The Dinner Party
Anna Maria van Schurman’s plate is painted with many thin lines, referencing popular Dutch etchings of the 17th century. Chicago chose an abstracted butterfly form for the plate, a symbol of “Anna’s valiant efforts on behalf of women’s rights” (Chicago, The Dinner Party, 100).

The colors of the plate, shades of orange, complement the colors of the runner, which is embroidered in a style that was common in 17th century Holland. Young girls practiced these tiny stitches on samplers, which were meant to teach them the virtues of womanhood, such as docility and obedience. The needlework represents the educational limits of van Schurman’s Dutch counterparts (Chicago, Embroidering Our Heritage, 176) and shows how girls were forced to “think small” during this period (Chicago, The Dinner Party, 83).

The runner is patterned on early stitch samplers; on the back is an embroidered flower basket, a common motif in Dutch samplers that signified renewal. The rabbit, also a sampler motif, represented timidity. These images of domesticity are offset by the embroidered angels flanking van Schurman’s name, which reflect her role as a religious leader.
Van Schurman, in her writings and her life, fought the idea that women should be confined to domesticity. One of her famous quotes is embroidered across the top of the runner:

Woman has the same erect countenance as man, the same ideals, the same love of beauty, honor and truth, the same wish for self-development, and yet she is to be imprisoned in an empty soul of which the very windows are shuttered.