Important Women

Reblog: For the Record

While this may not be a blog post per se it is something that is important enough to share: Jennifer Aniston‘s response to the speculations about her personal life, published this Tuesday by the Huffington Post. This goes beyond one celebrity being fed up with the media – it speaks about how society in general values and objectifies women.

Take a moment and listen to what she has to say:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/for-the-record_us_57855586e4b03fc3ee4e626f

Feature: Portrait – Dorothy Richardson

Depending on the literary circles you find yourself in you may or may not have heard of Dorothy Richardson, but I’ll hazard the guess that most of you haven’t read her.

Dorothy was born in Abingdon on May 17th, 1873. Before her 23rd birthday she had lost her mother to suicide and her father went bankrupt – young Dorothy moved to Bloomsbury to work as receptionist and assistant in a dental office. During the next decade she associated with several writers, european exiles and political radicals – including the Bloomsbury group – becoming a supporter of feminism, socialism and vegetarianism. During this time she had a brief affair with H. G. Wells, getting pregnant by him and suffering a miscarriage. This seemingly gave her the final push toward becoming a writer, and between 1908 and 1914 she published several reviews, essays and journalistic pieces in the Saturday Review, as well as two books on the Quaker movement.

In 1915 she published Pointed Roofs, the first part of her literary masterpiece The Pilgrimage, and became one of a very small group of authors – along with Proust, Joyce, Woolf and Faulkner – who forever changed the literary scene by creating modernist literature.

Richardson’s The Pilgrimage was the first literary work to be described as stream of consciousness writing – though the author herself objected to the term, preferring to call it “inner monologue'”, and even said her work wasn’t a novel at all. In 1923, Virginia Woolf said that Richardson “has invented, or, if she has not invented, developed and applied to her own uses, a sentence which we might call the psychological sentence of the feminine gender.” and today The Pilgrimage is considered a feminist classic as well as one of the first modernist novels.

The semi-biographical work spans 13 novel-length parts, published with decreasing frequency from 1915 until 1967, when the final unfinished part she had been working on up before her death was published. It features a protagonist (modeled after Richardson herself) uncomfortable with the established femininity of nineteen century England, who explores the city whilst also crafting her own identity somewhere between the feminine and masculine, using the posibilities offered by the big city to further her cause.

For years, Richardson supported both herself and her husband, Alan Odle – a bohemian artist 15 years younger than her – mainly on freelance work for periodicals.

Feature: Portrait – Iaia of Cyzius

Iaia of Cyzius – also known as Marcia Varronis – was a Roman painter and ivory carver active sometime in the around 100 BC.

Not much is known about her. Pliny the Elder mentioned her in his writings and she was one of 106 women featured in De mulieribus claris (aka On Famous Women – the first collection in Western literature devoted solely to biographies of women) written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the 14th century.

Iaia was born in Cyzius and remained unmarried her entire life (Pliny states she remained a virgin, but let’s be realistic here – he couldn’t have known that and neither can we). She was known for her portraits of women, including a self portrait created with the aid of a mirror and a large panel painting of an old woman.

Aside from ivory engraving and regular painting, Iaia specialized in encaustic painting – a technique where color pigment is mixed with hot wax, which allows the artwork to be both painted and sculpted at the same time – applying the hot wax with a cestum (a sort of spatula) and brushes. The technique was used at the time to color marble sculptures and produce paintings on wooden panels.

Reportedly, Iaia’s hand was faster than that of any other painter and this, as well as the high quality of her works, ensured that she was paid more than most other celebrated painters of the time.

Sadly, no works attributed to her survives to this day.

Feature: Portrait – Irene Morgan, Sarah Keys, Claudette Colvin

This week’s installment of my important women series unusually holds three women. It was not my intention to begin with, but as I was researching the one I initially chose the two others appeared on my radar. Since all three of them did more or less the same thing I figured one post for all of them would have to suffice. Please do not see this as them not being important enough to get their own entry – they are – see it as a bonus.

NAACP

I’m sure all of you have heard the name Rosa Parks, but perhaps you aren’t aware that there were several other black women (and one man) who did pretty much the same thing, long before she did.

Irene Morgan

In 1944 Irene Morgan, 27-year old mother of two, was on a Greyhound bus headed for Baltimore when she refused to move to the segregated section. Interstate bus travel was supposed to be non-segregated, but certain states still enforced segregated seating within its borders – a practice which caused several problems as passengers could be rearranged during their travel, possibly several times.

In Middlesex County in Virginia, Morgan refused to abide by the local laws and the bus driver stopped the bus and summoned the Sheriff. When he tried to arrest her, Irene Morgan first tore up the arrest warrant and then she kicked the Sheriff in the groin. With the Sheriff nursing his family jewels, the Deputy tried to pull Irene off the bus, so she fought him as well. She was convicted, pleading guilty to resisting arrest but refusing to plead guilty to violating Virginia’s segregation law. She was fined $100 dollars and appealed her case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. This resulted in a landmark 6-1 ruling in 1946, when the Supreme Court ruled that state law enforcing segregation on interstate buses was illegal.

But in the south, states refused to follow the ruling.

Sarah Keys

On August 1st in 1952, WAC private Sarah Keys sat in the white section on a Carolina Trailways bus pulling into Roanoke Rapids in North Carolina. A new driver took the wheel and demanded private Keys to give up her seat to a white Marine and move to the colored section of the bus. Keys refused.

In response, the driver emptied the bus and transferred the passengers to another vehicle, preventing private Keys from boarding. Keys was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, and fined $25 after spending the night in jail. Refusing to accept the verdict, Sarah Keys brought the case to the attention of the NAACP. The resulting court battle lasted three years, and was brought to the Interstate Commerce Commission who ruled that the Interstate Commerce Act prohibited segregation:

“We conclude that the assignment of seats on interstate buses, so designated as to imply the inherent inferiority of a traveler solely because of race or color, must be regarded as subjecting the traveler to unjust discrimination, and undue and unreasonable prejudice and disadvantage…We find that the practice of defendant requiring that Negro interstate passengers occupy space or seats in specified portions of its buses, subjects such passengers to unjust discrimination, and undue and unreasonable prejudice and disadvantage, in violation of Section 216 (d) of the Interstate Commerce Act and is therefore unlawful.”

The ruling was made public one week before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus.

Claudette Colvin

On March 2nd 15 year old Youth NAACP-member Claudette Colvin was heading home from school on a Capital Heights bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She was sitting at the front of the colored section, but when the bus became too full she and the rest of the people in her row were ordered to give up their seats to the standing whites. This was in accordance with the local segregation laws, but Colvin refused to get up. Even when police came to the scene, the 15 year old student refused to move, and she was carried off the bus and arrested, reportedly yelling ‘He has no civil right…this is my constitutional rights…you have no right to do this.’

Colvin and four others from the bus were involved in the resulting court case, which went to the U.S. Supreme Court on November 13, 1956. The Supreme Court came to the conclusion that bus segregation in Montgomery was unconstitutional, and a week later they ordered Alabama to end all bus segregation.

After the incident, Colvin was deemed a troublemaker. She was not considered as suitable as Parks to serve as a front figure for the NAACP, which is why everyone has heard of Rosa Parks and not of Colvin, who was the true catalyst for the ruling.

Claudette dropped out of college largely because of how she was treated in her community and eventually moved from her home town to Bronx. She stayed in New York – working as a nurse and never marrying, raising her two sons alone – and still lives there today.

Feature: Portrait – Hedy Lamarr

HedyLamarr

Many will have heard of Hedy Lamarr – she was considered the most beautiful woman of film, had one of the most controversial film roles of the 30s and she was reportedly the inspiration for Anne Hathaway’s version of Catwoman. Not as many will have heard of the other side of this remarkable woman – the inventor and mathematician. She and her colleague George Antheil laid the ground work for frequency-hopping spread spectrum, which is the basis for the spread-spectrum communications technology we use pretty much daily in the form of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Lamarr was born Hedwig Kiesler to Jewish parents in Vienna on the 9th of November 1914. In the late 1920s she was discovered as an actress by German producer Max Reinhardt. After her theater training in Berlin she returned to Vienna and started working in the film industry. It was there she met and married military arms merchant Friedrich Mandl. A very controlling husband, Mandl took Hedy along to business meetings and keeping her more or less locked up at their castle home Schloss Schwarzenau, where according to Lamarr herself both Hitler and Mussolini attended parties. These business meetings and conferences introduced Lamarr to the idea of applied science, and was the start of her scientific interest. What she overheard during those meetings would spur her scientific efforts at the start of the second world war.

Finding her situation unbearable, she eventually escaped to Paris where she met talent scout Louis B. Mayer. On his insistence she changed her name to Hedy Lamarr and on her arrival in Hollywood in 1938 Mayer promoted her as the world’s most beautiful woman. This was the start of a Hollywood career that would span two decades and 25 films.

When World War II began, Lamarr wanted to use her scientific interest and the information she overheard during Mandl’s business meetings to thwart the plans of Nazi Germany. She began investigating ways to bypass jamming and detection of radio controlled torpedos. After several years of working by herself she brought in avant-garde composer George Antheil to the project, and together they devised an invention which hopped between 88 frequencies. The U.S. Military were not interested – they thought Hedy would do more for he war effort by promoting war bonds – and the invention was forgotten for twenty years. Then, during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, it was used by U.S. ships to during the blockade.

It wasn’t until 1997, however, that Lamarr was recognized for her research when the Electronic Frontier Foundation honored her with a special ‘Pioneer Award’ and she became the first woman to receive the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award. A year later, Wi-LAN Inc. acquired 49% of the patent for an undisclosed sum and thanks to that we now have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology, among other things.

In 2014, Lamarr and Antheil were inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame.

Feature: Portrait – Murasaki Shikibu

First out in my series of women who should be more known is Lady Murasaki Shikibu – author of the earliest known modern novel, Genji Monogatari, or The Tale of Genji.

Murasaki

The Tale of Genji is not an unknown work by any stretch of the imagination – it is considered a Japanese classic and a very important work – but here in the western world few have heard of it and I think it is well worth noting that the first modern novelist in recorded history was a woman. The novel itself is divided into three parts, consisting of 54 chapters in total, and it curiously ends in mid-sentence (scholars have debated if the ending is actually the intended one or if there may be parts missing). Many different versions of the book exists, some with small differences and later editions with extra chapters written by other authors, but the original has unfortunately been lost to time.

Lady Murasaki was an author and poet born somewhere around the year 973 AD in Japan and in the early 11th century she entered the service of Empress Shōshi as a lady-in-waiting. Her true identity remains uncertain. There exists no portraits of her and no literary descriptions, and the name Murasaki comes from one of the major characters in her novel. It is believed she may have been Fujiwara Takako – a lady-in-waiting mentioned in a court diary in 1007, but no one knows for sure. She died somewhere between 1014 and 1025.

Besides The tale of Genji, she is attributed authorship of The Diary of Lady Murasaki – a diary written in three distinctly different parts and Poetic Memoirs, a collection of 128 poems.