Sunday, September 10, 2017

Mother, dancer, wife, spy: the real Mata Hari

As the centenary of Mata Hari’s execution approaches (15th October), there are signs of renewed interest in her story.

Here is an article by Julie Wheelwright in the Guardian:
Since her execution on the outskirts of Paris almost a century ago, the Dutch exotic dancer Margaretha “Gretha” MacLeod – universally known as Mata Hari – has been synonymous with female sexual betrayal. Convicted by the French of passing secrets to the enemy during the first world war, MacLeod’s prosecutors damned her as the “greatest woman spy of the century”, responsible for sending 20,000 Allied soldiers to their deaths. MacLeod’s status as both a foreigner and a divorcee, who was unrepentant about sleeping with officers of different nationalities, made her a perfect scapegoat in 1917.

Read more here:





Who Was Julie d’Aubigny - aka Mademoiselle Maupin?

From OZY comes this interesting post on 
How many duels do you think you could fight in a single day? A glimpse at one badass French swordswoman in action offers a possible answer: three. After attending a royal ball dressed as a man, and romancing and then kissing another woman on the dance floor, she was challenged by three men. She proceeded to take them on one by one, and to best all three.

“Most of the more astonishing events happened before she was 20.” While researching Goddess, [Kelly] Gardiner visited every known location of one of d’Aubigny’s most notorious exploits and pored over primary sources for information about her wily subject. What she found: a woman who flouted social convention, class, gender, marriage and the law.
Read more here @ Kelly Gardiner's website and also an interview here @ NPR
Read more about Julie d’Aubigny @ wikipedia

How the British treated 'hardcore' Mau Mau women

From the University of Cambridge:

New research on the treatment of 'hardcore' female Mau Mau prisoners by the British in the late 1950s sheds new light on how ideas about gender, deviancy and mental health shaped colonial practices of punishment.
The research, published in the Journal of Eastern African Studies, was conducted by Gates Cambridge Scholar Katherine Bruce-Lockhart and is the first study to make use of new material on a camp in Gitamayu used to hold "hardcore" female detainees.
Bruce-Lockhart is interested in the treatment of "hardcore" Mau Mau women in the final years of the Emergency Period, one that was marked by uncertainty, violence and an increasing reliance on ethno-psychiatry.
From 1954 to 1960, the British detained approximately 8,000 women under the Emergency Powers imposed to combat the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya. The majority of female detainees were held in Kamiti Detention Camp and its importance has been widely acknowledged by historians.

‘Merely Nuns’? Exploring Female Agency in Hospitaller Houses in the Middle Ages - Museum of the Order of St John

Blog post by Nancy Mavroudi, Museum Assistant, Museum of the Order of St John, on women in the Hospitallers:

If we were to generalise, we would probably say that Hospitaller women were primarily wealthy, noble women, from aristocratic or powerful families who, in many cases were even forced to join the Order by their families for spiritual benefits – the Order’s blessing for the family. However, although popular, such generalisations are not always accurate. To start with, there is evidence that many women joined voluntarily, simply because they so wanted. Joining a community of Sisters could bring about a change in their lives in which they themselves might have found comfort – especially given that, as discussed in further detail below, the Order could potentially be a more privileged and safe space to be.
Read more here at Museum of the Order of St John.

See also: Hospitaller Women in the Middle Ages - abstract @ Cambridge University Press

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Forgotten Language That Only Women Once Knew

Ever had the sneaking suspicion that women speak in different tongues? If you were a Hunanese peasant woman in 20-century China, there was a kernel of truth to the old joke. Inside a hilly, remote village of Jiangyong County, unschooled women and girls developed a mysterious system of writing called Nüshu to express their innermost thoughts and passed around favorite songs, prayers, traditional tales, birthday letters and wedding congratulations to each other in coded script.

The communications were hidden in plain sight from the men, who largely disregarded Nüshu — which means “women’s writing” in Chinese — as frivolous, not bothering to learn a word.

Similar female scripts arose in Japan and Korea too, but only Nüshu bore a certain mystique. When women died, they had their favorite works burned or buried with them. So we don’t know exactly when Nüshu began, but we know that women were using the script around 200 years ago, when girls weren’t expected to go to school and long before they received any formal education. 

read more here @ OZY


Last Days of Freedom For Anne Frank

"Not being able to go outside upsets me more than I can say, 
and I'm terrified our hiding place will be discovered 
and that we'll be shot," she wrote in her diary in September 1942.

The Jews in hiding had withstood bombs, near-starvation, two break-in attempts, and the many privations of their helpers during over two years in hiding, and the suspense had begun to take its toll. They were pale and malnourished from life without sun, but they were alive.

And then, on August 4, 1944, everything changed.

read more here @ Mental Floss



Saturday, June 24, 2017

Women in the Medieval World

Modern portrayals of medieval women tend toward stereotypical images of damsels in distress, mystics in convents, female laborers in the fields, and even women of ill repute. In fact, women’s roles in the Middle Ages were varied and nuanced, and medieval depictions of womanhood were multi-faceted. Illuminating Women in the Medieval World, on view June 20 –September 17, 2017 at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, reveals the vibrant and complex medieval representations of women, real and imagined, who fill the texts and images within illuminated manuscripts, Art Daily said.


Illuminating Women in the Medieval World will be on view June 20 through September 17, 2017 at the J. Paul Getty Museum. The exhibition is curated by Christine Sciacca, former assistant curator of Manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum, now Associate Curator of European Art, 300-1400 CE at The Walters Art Museum. A richly illustrated book, Illuminating Women in the Medieval World, will be published by Getty Publications to complement the exhibition.

read more here @ PanAmerican

Side Note: I was lucky to have a preview of the booklet accompanying the exhibition. It is a beautifully illustrated work, with carefully selected manuscripts to enhance each chapter which is depicted in the exhibition. We have topics covering the ideals of womanhood (christian saints and martyrs), "warnings" on behaviour (adultery, wantoness), daily life (courtship, marriage, childbirth, death), women in the arts (artists and illuminators), and finally a small section on the renewed interest in women of history.



Bone-Sniffing Dogs to Hunt for Amelia Earhart's Remains

Following on from Women of History: Chasing Amelia Earhart, comes this update on the search for missing aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, and her co-pilot, Fred Noonan:
But the mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart may be as close as it’s ever been to being solved. An expedition organized by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) sets sail on June 24 from Fiji. On board will be a team that’s proved astonishingly adept at locating human remains—specially trained forensic dogs.
The expedition’s destination is Nikumaroro, an uninhabited island some 1,000 miles north of Fiji. The members of TIGHAR have devoted the last three decades to testing what they call the Nikumaroro hypothesis—that when Earhart and Noonan couldn’t find Howland, they landed on Nikumaroro.


read more here @ National Geographic

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Rediscovering the Story of Egeria - 4th Century Female Pilgrim

Egeria was a young woman who decided to make the trip of a lifetime and go to the Holy Land. But what inspired her to make that journey and walk half of the world all alone?

She was born in beautiful green Galicia and grew up surrounded by pagan stories and sacred sites related to pagan traditions. The people in this area have always known about magic and pagan rituals. Thus, Christianizing Galicia was a very slow process. In fact, even now many people of this North-West part of Spain believe in witchcraft and supernatural creatures.

It is likely that Egeria was still a young woman when she decided to change her life. Her incredible story was forgotten for seven centuries. Much of the information about her has been lost, but there is still a part of the text written by her hand which allows one to have some insight into her thoughts.

read more here @ Ancient Origins (30th October 2016)
read also here @ Women of History - Etheria (10th February 2008)