Showing posts with label 19th century. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 19th century. Show all posts

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Damn, Girl-Madam C.J. Walker, Millionaire, Beauty Guru, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist

Born Sarah Breedlove, Madam C.J. Walker was a wildly successful business woman who overcame the Reconstruction Era limitations put on African Americans to become the first female millionaire. Part businesswoman, part philanthropist, part activist, Madam Walker and her company gave education and well-paying jobs to thousands of African American women, and left a legacy of education and self-sufficiency that still survives today.

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Sarah Breedlove
Sarah was born in December of 1867 in Delta, Louisiana on the same plantation her parents and elder siblings had been enslaved on. Sarah was the first of her family to be born free and grew up against the shaky and uncertain background of the post-Civil War South. Her parents, though technically free, were unable to leave the plantation because of a lack of funds and the "Black Codes", laws that restricted the movements of African Americans. They and their children kept working in the cotton fields, and Sarah was put to work helping them at a young age.

Though Sarah's mother, Minerva Breedlove, would have liked for her daughter to attend school, African Americans of the era were still not alloted all the rights of white Americans. Schools were segregated, and black schools were frequently burned, and teachers harrassed or killed. Furthermore, in 1873, the year Sarah would have started first grade, the Louisiana state legislature refused to fund public schools, and the schools in Sarah's parish, as well as many others, shuttered. Because of this, Sarah was unable to get a formal education, a problem Sarah would attempt to remedy throughout most of her life.

An unfortunate fact of Sarah's life is that she was never very lucky. This bad luck started off in 1873 when Minerva died. Sarah's father, Owen Breedlove, remarried, but he passed in 1875 when Sarah was only seven. The exact natures of their deaths are unknown, but it is supposed that they, along with many others, were carried off by the cholera or yellow fever epidemics that swept the South. The Breedloves died leaving six children orphans.

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Delta, Louisiana
It was difficult to find work in Delta, and so the family, one by one, left for Vicksburg, Mississippi, not far from where Sarah and her younger brother, Solomon, were living with their elder sister, Louvenia, and her husband, Jesse. Sarah's older brothers, unable to find work, gradually headed west to St. Louis, Missouri, leaving Sarah at the mercy of her brother in law. Jesse was a violent and abusive man who resented Sarah, and to escape him, Sarah married Moses McWilliams. She was only fourteen.

Sarah was notoriously tight-lipped about her past, and not much is known about her marriage with Moses. From Sarah's telling of it, it was a strictly pragmatic move on her part, born out of a desire for her own home rather than true love. Regardless, they had one child together, Lelia, who would be more or less the center of Sarah's life until her death.

Bad luck struck again, and in 1888, Moses died. Like with Sarah's parents, the cause of death has been lost to time, though the popular legend is that he was among the 95 victims of lynching in Mississippi that year. This claim is more or less refuted by A'lelia Bundles, Sarah's great-great-granddaughter, citing evidence that these claims originated from people who didn't know Moses, long after Sarah's death. There are other claims that Moses died in a work accident, but if there was any official documentation in the matter, it has been lost to history. Irregardless, he left Sarah a widow with a two year old child to support.

Sarah had been working as a laundress in Vicksburg, and she and Moses had been just barely scraping by. With the loss of Moses's income, there was no way Sarah could survive in Vicksburg, and there was no chance for improvement in Mississippi, so Sarah went to St. Louis to join her brothers.

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A'lelia would go on to become a major
figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Alexander, James, and Solomon Breedlove were all working as barbers when Sarah and Lelia joined them in 1889. At the time being a barber was a prestigious profession for an African American man, and Sarah's brothers enjoyed reasonable prosperity. Through familial association, Sarah was undoubtedly able to learn things that would greatly assist her in the haircare business later.

Finding a job was difficult, especially as a single mother. The only work Sarah was able to find was as a live-in-maid to a wealthy white family, a job that would not allow her to keep Lelia with her. Though it undoubtedly broke her heart, Sarah put Lelia in an orphanage, on the arrangement that Lelia would not be put up for adoption, and worked tirelessly for about a year until she had enough saved up to start her own business as a laundress. Lelia rejoined her, and she was able to send her daughter to school.

In 1894, Sarah married again, this time to John Davis, a ne'er-do-well who had a drinking problem and a bit of fluff on the side. Almost immediately, their marriage soured as Davis was brazenly unfaithful, and refused to work. He was brought up before the courts several times, which undoubtedly humiliated Sarah, who worked tirelessly to create a good reputation for herself and her daughter.

Not much is known about this second marriage, because, as with so much of the unsavory bits of Sarah's past, she attempted to have all mentions of it expunged. However, it is very telling that pair had to move several times, and in 1899, Lelia attended school only 23 times, despite the fact that she had attended school almost religiously the year before and would do the same after. By 1903, the pair had separated for good, and Sarah had begun seeing Mr. Charles Joseph Walker, an ad man and reporter for the local black newspapers.

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1904 World's Fair
In 1900, Sarah had, with the help of her church friends, started attending night classes. Sarah was ambitious, she wanted to move up in the world, and, having rubbed elbows with the middle class in church attendance, she was determined to become a respectable and affluent person in her own right. She just wasn't sure how to go about it.

Sarah attended the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, and there she attended meetings and lectures given by some of the most prominent black leaders of the day, including Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Their talk of civil rights and their determination to end lynching inspired Sarah, but she was very intimidated by them, due to her lack of wealth and appearance.

Like many women of the era, Sarah was going bald. Poor nutrition and lack of access to clean water for washing had led to a scalp infection, which had caused her hair to break off and caused her to develop bald spots. Sarah tried a multitude of remedies, and in 1903, Sarah found a solution, Annie Pope Turnbo's Miracle Hair Grower. Not only did this ointment help Sarah regrow her hair, but she also began to work as a door-to-door saleswoman for the company.

In 1905, Sarah moved again, this time to Denver. Lelia was at boarding school in Tennessee, and it was growing ever more difficult to make a living as a Turnbo Saleswoman in St. Louis. The market was oversaturated with Turbo products, and there was no real path to advancement for Sarah. However, rumors were that Denver was hell on the hair. So once again she packed her bags, and arrived in Denver with $1.50 in her pocket and a bag of hair products to sell.

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Annie Pope Turnbo would rebrand many times,
but her products eventually became known
under the name Poro.
Luckily, Sarah had family in Denver. Her sister-in-law and three nieces lived in the booming mine town, and Sarah was able to rely on her for support while she found her feet. Sarah found work as a cook in a boarding house and made friends with the local pharmacist, Edmund Scholtz.

Pharmacists at the time were just as much mad scientist as pill counters, and Scholtz helped Sarah analyze the ingredients of her Turnbo hair products so that Sarah could add and take away from the creams and create her business. Sarah likely took him up on the offer, and in 1905, she rented a small attic she used as a laboratory, mixing up hair remedies to try on herself and her nieces.

Sarah would later claim that the idea and recipes for her products would come to her in a dream, but this can be easily dismissed as self-aggrandizing nonsense and was about par for the course in Sarah's attempt to sugarcoat her past. Without the contributions of Edmund Scholtz and Annie Turnbo, Sarah would never have gotten anywhere.

She continued to sell Turnbo hair products, as well as other soaps and cures made up by local companies. By 1905, Sarah had saved up enough to quit her cooking job, and she set up a hair salon, giving hair treatments and selling products first Ms. Turnbo's, then her own. Though she still took in washing two days a week, she began to make money off her own business.

Sarah had still been seeing Charles Walker, though, given the distance, their relationship was likely more "off again" than "on again". However, in late 1905, he joined Sarah in Denver, and they were married on January 4, 1906.
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Sarah's first product line included three products. The
'Wonderful Hair Grower' was one of them.

Charles was a businessman as well, and he joined ship. Though their relationship would end up as tumultuous as Sarah's previous relationship, he made two major contributions to Sarah's business. He suggested that she add a mail-order element to her business model, and he suggested that she rebrand her products as "Mrs. C.J. Walker". Sarah took these ideas and ran with them. She hired her daughter and nieces to run the mail-order arm of her company and branded her products under the name "Madam C.J. Walker", a name invoking all the refinement of a French salon.

Though she was selling well in Denver, Sarah wanted to expand. Against her husband's protests, she left Lelia in charge of the mail-order side of business and went on a sales and lecture tour of the Rocky Mountain and Southern states to gain brand recognition, promote her "Walker Method" of grooming, and increase sales. She began to advertise in prominent black newspapers, taking the extraordinary leap of using pictures of herself for her before and after shots in advertisements. This lent her extra credibility because then, as now, advertisers would often use pictures of two completely different people in their before and after pictures.

Her business was growing to an almost unmanageable point, so Sarah decided to move from Denver which, while a good city, was not the bustling trade hub Sarah needed. In 1907, Sarah moved her company to Pittsburgh, a major transport hub that would drastically reduce Sarah's shipping costs. Sarah opened up a factory and started making her products on a wider scale.

Most importantly, while in Pittsburgh Sarah opened up the Lelia College of Beauty Culture to train the thousands of "hair culturists" that sold her products. In this school, Sarah not only taught sales strategies but also taught how to give hair treatments and how to dress hair. Her goal for her hair culturists was that they would not only sell products, but also sell the women they served on a lifestyle of cleanliness and style. Sarah firmly believed that being clean and well-groomed was as much a secret to success as hard work, and she wanted to spread her secret to as many of her sisters as she could.

Sarah was a devout woman, and her faith informed her business practices. The churches she belonged to stressed charitable action, and Sarah believed that it was her duty to not only do charity but to also raise her employees up with her and give them the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. Sarah's school gave African-American women the skills they needed to start their own businesses and paid well enough that the children of her employees were able to attend school, something still rare for the era.
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After shuttering in 1981, Sarah's manufacturing plant became
the 'Madam Walker Theatre'

Throughout her career, Sarah employed more than 10,000 black women, and their average pay was between $15 and $40 a week, about $430--$1,148 in 2019 currency. She extended this pay level to not only her skilled saleswomen but to her less skilled factory workers as well. Sarah was known for being a good and generous employer throughout her life.

Pittsburgh was never the intended final resting place of Sarah's business, and in 1910, she moved to Indianapolis where she incorporated. Indianapolis was, at the time, the crossroads of America, and contained a thriving black business community. She opened another factory there, as well as another beauty school, and started to rake in the cash.

The year of her move to Indianapolis Sarah "divorced"¹ Walker. He had never been content being her subordinate, and had been unfaithful to Sarah. He attempted several times to counterfeit her products but was never successful. Though she was no longer technically "Mrs. C.J. Walker", Sarah kept the name because it was inextricably mixed up with her brand.

Sarah stopped personally overseeing her company in 1913, leaving operations to be managed by Lelia. She turned her attention to philanthropy, giving generous sums to the YMCA, retirement homes, convalescent homes, and orphanages. She sponsored at least six students at the Tuskegee Institute and provided scholarships for several black women to attend schools of higher learning. She made charitable giving a part of her company culture and encouraged her employees to get involved in charity. Upon her death, Sarah willed two thirds of her net worth to charity, including giving the NAACP the $5,000 ($143,622 in 2019 currency) they would need to stay afloat during the Great Depression.

Not content to remain a philanthropist, Sarah took up activism as well. Sarah had had strong political opinions since her encounters at the 1904 world fair not a decade before. As a prosperous woman, Sarah felt she finally had something to bring to the table. She joined the NAACP, and helped organize the "Silent Protest" of 1917. She encouraged her employees to get involved on a local level.

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The Villa Lewaro, in Harlem. Sarah took the name for her
home from the name of her daughter, Lelia Walker Robinson
Interestingly, Sarah clashed with the most influential civil rights leader of the time--Booker T. Washington. Sarah's usage and promotion of the hot comb--an early hair straightener--caused Washington to accuse her of attempting to whitewash black women. This combined with the perceived frivolity of the beauty industry caused Washington to dismiss Sarah as a business leader, despite the fact that she frequently sought his approval. However, as Sarah grew more influential and inspiration in black business circles he grudgingly gave her his respect.

Sarah moved to New York in 1914 with the intention to rest. A life of struggle and stress had left Sarah with hypertension and nephritis. Sarah's version of "rest" wasn't very restful, however, and she continued her activism and philanthropy. In May of 1919, she died of kidney disease.

If we're talking about people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, Sarah Breedlove Walker is foremost among them. Where so many people who claim to be "self-made" have come from incredibly privileged backgrounds, Sarah started with nothing and through hard work and determination, she pulled herself out of poverty to create a company that would not only give her daughter a better life, but would also create a better life for her thousands of employees, and their children. Sarah's determination to lift up her community has left an immeasurable impact on the African American community



¹We put "divorced" in air quotes, because when Sarah went to divorce Charles, she discovered that she had never gotten around to divorcing John Davis, which meant Sarah had been living as a bigamist for four years.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.


More on Similar Topics



Sources
On Her Own Ground: the Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker by A'lelia Bundles
Madam C.J. Walker: Inventor, Entrepreneur, Millionaire by Mary N. Olounye
Madam C.J. Walker-Biography
Madam C.J.Walker-Official Website
Madam C.J. Walker-National Women's History Museum
Madam C.J. Walker-Encyclopedia Britannica
Madam C.J. Walker's Philanthropy
Madam C.J. Walker-Archbridge Institute
Madam C.J. Walker-The History Chicks
Currency Conversion

 

Friday, March 1, 2019

Damn, Girl-Mary Walker, Civil War Surgeon

Dr. Mary Walker was a remarkable woman. She was one of the first female doctors in the United States, and served as an army surgeon on the front lines during the Civil War. A dedicated reformer, Mary advocated for universal suffrage, abolition, dress reform, and temperance. She organized a relief system for the wives of wounded soldiers, and wrote two books. She remains, to this day, the only woman to have won the Medal of Honor.

Image result for mary walkerMary was born in Oswego New York on November 26, 1832 to the unusual Alvah and Vesta Walker. (Alvah is the father.) Mary was the youngest of seven children--six girls and one boy. Mary's parents were eccentric for the times. They believed in sharing the work equally, and Alvah could often be found doing household chores. They allowed their daughters to dress however they liked, not forcing them into the restraining corsets and long skirts of the time, which both rightfully believed squished a girl's internal organs. To cap off the unusual Walker family, their home was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Alvah had an interest in medicine, and a sizeable library of medical texts. Alvah and Vesta encouraged Mary to read as many of the medical books as she liked. Both of the Walkers were big believers in education, with Vesta being a school teacher. All of their children were educated through primary school, and all of the daughters went into teaching at one point in their lives.

Mary worked briefly as a teacher, and in 1855 she entered and graduated Syracuse Medical School. Her course at Syracuse was only 39 weeks--three semesters of thirteen weeks each, which seems an almost irresponsible amount of training to give a doctor today, but was standard for the time. Mary chose Syracuse because it admitted women, and because it was known for its non-quackery. In an era where bloodletting and leeches were still common practices, Syracuse focused on more homeopathic remedies, and modern innovations.

After graduation she married her classmate Albert Miller in an unusual ceremony where the bride wore pants, struck the 'obey' clause from her vows, and refused to take her husband's last name. Mary and Albert set up a practice together, and seemed to have been quite successful, with Mary treating the women and children, and Albert the men. Mary began to write about dress reform, and to present medical evidence in favor of this at important conferences. However, in 1859 this all ground to a halt when Mary discovered that Albert had been cheating on her. Mary tossed Albert out, and travelled to Iowa, where it was easier for women to obtain a divorce. Though it took several years, Mary eventually divorced Albert, and began life anew.

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Mary, wearing her controversial bloomers
costume.
After the First Battle of Bull Run,  Mary decided to join the Union Army Medical Corp. She had nothing tying her down--Albert was long gone, her solo practice was a bust, and she had no children. Mary believed that she had a lot to offer as an army surgeon, so she went to Washington DC to ask for a commision.

Unfortunately, the Union Army wasn't accepting female surgeons, or female anything really. Frustrated, Mary decided not to let a lack of pay stop her from doing what she wanted. She instead started volunteering as a nurse at the Patent Office Hospital, working under Dr. J.N. Green. Sources differ about what happened at this point. Some sources say that Dr. Green desperately need an assistant surgeon, and Mary filled that role. Others say that she did basically everything but surgery--dressing wounds, running errands, and entertaining patients. Whatever she did, Mary impressed Dr. Green so much that he recommend that she be given a commission.

This recommendation was, of course, ignored, and Mary briefly went back to medical school in order to boost her credentials. She graduated from Hygeia Therapeutic College, and started volunteering in hospitals up and down Virginia.

Mary was very outspoken about her opinions on how the war should be run. She published editorials suggesting that, in order to boost flagging enlistment numbers, former criminals could be enlisted, and even offered to serve as their surgeon. This gained the attention of war secretary, Edwin M. Stanton, who was definitely not going to create a regiment of former felons, and definitely didn't appreciate a lady having ideas. He gave Mary a posting, if not a commission or salary, to serve as an assistant surgeon with the 52nd Ohio Regiment in Tennessee.

This was on the front lines, and there Mary faced a bit of difficulty. Wandering around a battlefield in skirts and petticoats was a terrible idea, and Mary had never been fond of dressing in typical Antebellum clothing anyways. In fact, she had been arrested several times for dressing like a man, and was frequently harassed for wearing a bloomer costume. On the front lines, Mary abandoned all pretense of dressing like a woman, instead donning a uniform, and making herself a green sash that denoted her as a member of the medical corp.

Mary caused a bit of trouble with the 52nd with her, then, unconventional medical practices. An opponent of amputation, Mary felt that surgeons often rushed the decision to amputate, and that most wounds would be better treated by homeopathic remedies (like bandages and medicines) then amputation. When the male surgeons wouldn't listen to her, she talked directly to the patients, urging them to refuse amputation.

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In her later years, Mary almost
exclusively wore men's clothing.
Unsurprisingly, Mary faced a great deal of misogyny with the Ohio 52nd. Though her commanding officer, George H. Thomas, didn't care that she was female, the male surgeons cared very much. They didn't believe that she was capable of performing her duties as a surgeon, and even arranged a medical 'review' for her skills, which they then failed her on. Despite this, Mary refused to resign, and her commanding officer did not dismiss her. When the other surgeons refused to give her patients, Mary turned to treating civilians.

Deep in Rebel territory, Mary was treating the wives and children of Confederate soldiers, many of whom were in hiding from the Union army. She is reputed to have taken supplies from Union stores in order to treat the unfortunates displaced by the war. It was during this time in 1864 that she was captured by the Confederacy.

Now, there is some debate as to why Mary was captured. Some sources claim that it was because she was wearing men's clothing while being a Union soldiers, but other sources, including US Government Agencies, claim that it was because she was spying for the Union. In 1865 a federal judge put on the record that Mary had been a spy for General Sherman's army. Despite this record, there's some debate over whether or not Mary was up to espionage. However, this historian would like to posit that, while treating Confederate civilians, Mary would have several excellent opportunities for intelligence gathering.

After being captured, Mary was sent to Castle Thunder Prison in Richmond. Castle Thunder was nicknamed 'the Southern Bastille', and not without reason. While in prison, Mary was treated abysmally. She was given only moldy bread and maggot ridden rice. She contracted bronchitis, lost an unhealthy amount of weight, and had to deal with fleas and bedbugs. Her eyesight was permanently damaged by the gas burning lamps in the prison. She would remain at Castle Thunder for four months.

After being released Mary was celebrated far and wide for her heroics in war, even meeting President Lincoln. Edwin Stanton still denied her request for a commission, but she was given $432.26 in backpay, and was officially put on the US Army payroll. She was dispatched first to a women's military prison, then to an orphanage. When the Civil War ended in 1865 Mary was discharged from the army.

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Mary's habit of wearing a top hat did not endear
her to the rest of the suffragettes.
Even after being discharged, Mary continued to lobby for a commision. President Andrew Johnson was in favor of this promotion, but military officials refused to give Mary a commision, fearing that if they gave one woman a commision, all the women would want commissions. Instead, President Johnson gave Mary the Congressional Medal of Honor, making her the only woman to this day to be awarded the honor.

After being discharged, Mary took up work as an activist and reformer. She had some experience with this, having run a relief society for the mother's of wounded soldiers during her time at the Patent Office Hospital. Unaccompanied women who had come to see their wounded sons or husbands were rarely able to find lodging, and Mary organized a society that arranged places for those women to stay. She also, on several occasions, went over enemy lines to retrieve wounded sons or husbands for distraught women.

Upon realizing that the many nurses who had served during the war had received no pay during the war, or pension after, Mary took up their cause, and by 1872 had browbeat Congress into giving the nurses a pension of $20 a month, despite the fact that she herself would not be successful in getting a pension for another two years.

Mary was also active in the suffrage movement, specifically in the area of dress reform. She was arrested several times before and after the war for wearing men's clothing, and was quite proud of the fact. She gave lectures about the negative health effects of constrictive clothing. Because of this she was quite controversial, and other suffragettes didn't want her associated with the cause.

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Mary's Medal of Honor
Mary also took up her pen, publishing two books, Hit in 1871, and Unmasked: or the Science of Immorality in 1878. Both books argue for equality in a marriage, and for temperance and universal suffrage, but it is in Unmasked where Mary really hits hard. In a book as bitingly relevant today as it was when it was written, Mary puts forth the theory that if women could control their sexual urges, men could too. She argues that marriage should be a contract between social equals, and that just because a couple was married didn't mean they were allowed to rape each other.

In 1874, Mary was finally given a pension of $8.50 a month. However, in 1917, her Medal of Honor was rescinded in an act of congress that took medals away from 911 individuals. The reasoning behind this was that the Medal of Honor could only be earned if the wearer had served in combat, which Mary hadn't. Continuing to wear the medal was a misdemeanor, but when a soldier came for her medal, Mary told him that he could take it over her dead body. She wore her award every day until her death.

In 1880 Alvah Walker passed, leaving Mary his farm. Mary spent the rest of her life there, traveling between New York and Washington DC, lecturing and agitating for change. In 1919 she had a fall on the steps of the US Capitol, and died shortly after.

After her death, her family crusaded tirelessly to have her Medal of Honor restored. In 1977, they were successful, and Mary's medal was officially restored to her by President Jimmy Carter. Today, it is on display in the Pentagon.


More on Similar Topics



Sources
Amazing Women of the Civil War: Fascinating True Stories of Women Who Made a Difference by Webb Garrison
Women of the Blue and Grey by Marianne Monson
Mary Walker-National Parks Service
Meet Dr. Mary Walker--the Only Female Medal of Honor Recipient
Dr. Mary E. Walker
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
Dr. Mary Walker and the Medal of Honor
Mary Walker-Biography
Mary Edwards Walker
Mary Edwards Walker: Doctor American Civil War Women

     

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

How the Bernadottes Came to Sweden

What do Napoleon, the son of a French lawyer, and being kind to prisoners of war have to do with the Swedish monarchy? Significantly more than you would think. In 1810, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte was elected Prince Royal of Sweden, and eight years later became the founding king of the dynasty that rule Sweden to this day, proving that, contrary to what Michael Palin said, sometimes you do vote for a king.

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Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, the hero of our tale.
To understand the Bernadotte's rise to power, you have to understand late eighteenth century Europe. In the summer of 1789, Louis XVI, an absolute monarch from a long line of absolute monarchs attempted to solve his financial issues using the nominal democratic system France already had in place. This went poorly, and resulted in the common people calling for a new constitution, taking the Bastille, forcing Louis and his family from their opulent home in Versailles, and culminated in a lot of very wealthy and important people losing a very important appendage to the guillotine. "What does this have to do with the price of meatballs in Sweden", you ask? Well, the act of dethroning and de-heading Louis, scion of the long and noble line of Bourbon, sent a shock across Europe. After all, if the French monarch could be thrown out of power, and a 'democracy' instituted in less than two years, were any of the other absolute monarchs of Europe safe?

With the English kicked out of their American colonies, and the French monarchy quite literally headless, it seemed that the age of the 'enlightened despot', or the benevolent philosopher dictator was coming to an end. This was particularly worrying to the Swedish king Gustav III who was a great admirer of Marie Antoinette. He was a little more politically savvy than Louis XVI, and he survived his initial summoning of the Riksdag--or the (at the time) nominal Swedish democratic system. However, he made enemies, and bit a bullet Abraham Lincoln style  in 1792.

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Gustav III
Gustav III left his throne to his thirteen year old son, Gustav IV, or Gustav Adolf. The years in which Gustav IV's uncle served as regent were the best of his reign. Gustav Adolf grew into a paranoid and arrogant king, which lead to him losing Finland, Pomerania, and the Aland islands. He was forced to abdicate, and handed the throne to his uncle, Charles XIII.

Charles XIII wasn't so much the best choice for king as he was the only choice for king. The House of Vasa had been struggling since the abdication of Queen Kristina in 1654, and Charles had only tenuous claims to the throne himself. Furthermore, Charles was childless and a bit senile. It was clear to Charles and the ruling class of Sweden that if they wanted to continue to have a monarchy, they would have to elect somebody. The year was 1809.

Now, the 'election' of a monarch wasn't an uncommon thing, the Vasa's themselves had been elected. In cases where a royal line was dying out without an heirs, or in the case of creating an entirely new country, the nobility of a country would take a look at all the princes of Europe, and see who they liked. This sort of thing had been happening since medieval times, and in the tumultuous world of nineteenth century Europe, it was nothing to balk at.

Two distant cousins of Charles XIII were nominated as heirs, but one was an idiot, and the other died. There was a whole host of unsuitable candidates for Crown Prince of Sweden, and a significant portion of the Riksdag were sick of it. They wanted a successful monarch, someone who wasn't an idiot who would lose Finland. And who was more successful than the plucky young Corsican ruling France?

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Bernadotte again
There was no way in hell that any self respecting Swede was going to invite Napoleon to be their king--they were an independent country after all. But maybe one of his brothers, or one of his Marshals, the military geniuses who had won Napoleon his vast empire.

Enter Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. A commoner from Southern France, he ran away from his apprenticeship as a lawyer at age eighteen to join the French army. Like Napoleon, he had used the chaos of the French Revolution to rise rapidly through the ranks, eventually becoming a general. He supported Napoleon on his campaigns, eventually being made the French Minister of War, a Marshal, and then the Prince of Ponte-Corvo, a small principality in Italy.

Bernadotte was an attractive candidate for a number of reasons. He was a proved general, a proved administrator, and he already had an heir. He was extremely popular in Sweden, having received and made peace with Swedish officers independently of Napoleon's commands. He was also unemployed, which was very convenient for the Swedes.

Most importantly, he had been kind to the right person back in the day. Baron Otto Morner was about to become the brother-in-law to the Swedish Chancellor, and he was a big fan of Bernadotte. Bernadotte had been a major player in the Battle of Lubeck, during which Bernadotte and the French had roundly kicked Prussian and Swedish ass, but, like, nicely. Bernadotte captured a contingent of Swedish soldiers, and was so nice to them that Otto Morner was still a huge Bernadotte stan four years later. While in Paris, Morner brought the proposition to Bernadotte, who was incredulously flattered.

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Jean's wife, Desiree Clary. She and Napoleon
used to date.
There was a lot going against Jean Baptiste Bernadotte however, and he knew it. He didn't speak Swedish, he wasn't Lutheran, and all of this was seemingly happening behind Napoleon's back. Napoleon and Jean Baptiste had never been great friends, and they certainly weren't bosom friends at the time, but Bernadotte said that the religion and the language thing could be fixed easily, and that, should Emperor Napoleon and King Charles agree, he would be happy to have his name up for consideration.

There was a hiccup. Morner hadn't been acting entirely officially. He was just a lieutenant, not an ambassador. An ambassador had, in fact, been sent to Napoleon, asking him on his opinion on who should succeed Charles XIII. Napoleon had backed King Frederick VI of Denmark-Norway, hoping to unite Scandinavia under a friendly flag. When he found out that Jean Baptiste had been offered the position, he wasn't crazy about Bernadotte being on the Swedish throne, but he loved the idea of a Frenchman on the throne. He went to his ex-stepson, Eugene, the Viceroy of Italy, and offered the position to him. Eugene refused. Napoleon decided to, well, not support Bernadotte, because if Bernadotte failed it would be embarrassing for Napoleon, but he wasn't not not supporting Bernadote.

Jean Baptiste discussed it with his wife, and after getting Napoleon's 'do it if you want', formally submitted his name for consideration. Baron Morner was an enthusiastic hype-man, campaigning for Bernadotte much like how modern pundits campaign for elected officials. Though there was a significant faction in favor of Frederick VI, and King Charles still wanted to elect his idiot cousin, Jean Baptiste was elected unanimously.

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Some of today's Bernadotte's.
Pictured: King Carl Gustav XVI, his daughter,
Crown Princess Victoria, and her eldest child,
Princess Estelle.
There were a few hurdles that had be overcome before Jean Baptiste could become Prince Royal, however. He had to become a Lutheran, that was non-negotiable. He also had to promise not to give any Swedish posts to Frenchmen, and allow Charles XIII to adopt him. Jean acceded, and took the name Charles John, becoming king Charles John XIV, or Carl Johann XIV to the Swedes.

The new Charles was good to his word, and any worries of a French takeover of Sweden were assuaged for good in 1813 when Charles and Swedish forces joined the sixth coalition to fight against Napoleon. Charles was Crown Prince for about eight years, from 1810 to 1818. During this time, he conquered Norway, and unified Sweden and Norway again. By the time he became King, he had thoroughly won over his new people.

Jean Baptiste Bernadotte's legacy lives on today in the ruling family of Sweden. The current king, Carl Gustav XVI is the great, great, great, great grandson of Jean Baptiste. When Carl Gustav's daughter, Crown Princess Victoria, becomes Queen Regnant, she will be the eighth Bernadotte monarch.

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 Sources
Bernadotte: Napoleon's Marshal, Sweden's King by Alan Palmer
Karl Johann XIV-King of Norway and Sweden
Charles XIV, King of Sweden and Norway
The Bernadotte Dynasty
The House of Bernadotte
Charles John XIV, King of Sweden and Norway
         

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Bass Reeves, the Fiercest Lawman in the Old West

Widely considered to be the inspiration behind the fictional Lone Ranger, Bass¹ Reeves lived a larger than life existence of adventure hunting criminals in the old west. One of the first African-American Federal Marshals, Reeves caught more than 3,000 outlaws, all without sustaining a single gunshot wound, or being able to read.

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Bass Reeves, sporting a truly epic
moustache.
Born in 1838, Bass spent the first few years of his life enslaved in the newly minted state of Arkansas. He and his family were owned by William Reeves, a wealthy farmer and popular southern politician. William Reeves eventually decided to relocate to Texas, and Bass was assigned to be a valet to Reeves' son, George. When George went off to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War in 1861, Bass went with him.

Bass' time serving with the Confederacy was brief. Though dates are unsure, it is generally agreed upon that in some point between 1861 and 1862 Bass escaped after an altercation with his master during a card game. From Texas, Bass fled to Indian Country, the land that would later become the state of Oklahoma.

While in Indian Country, Bass became friendly with members of the Seminole, Cherokee, and Creek Nations, learning their languages, tracking techniques, and fighting for the Union with them.

Bass was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and when the war ended in 1865 he married, bought a farm in Arkansas, and proceeded to have ten children. Bass was a successful farmer, but he was more well known for his skill with languages and knowledge of Indian Country. In 1875 he was made a deputy US Marshal, and charged with the responsibility of cleaning up Indian Country.

Indian Country at the time was a pretty lawless place. Because it wasn't under the authority of any state government criminals could only be prosecuted by the federal government, and could only be chased down by federal authorities. While tribes were allowed to organize their own law enforcement, they only had jurisdiction over Native Americans, leaving white and black criminals the responsibility of the harrassed and understaffed US Marshals.

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Isaac Parker, the 'Hanging Judge'. Parker earned
this epitaph from the many criminals he sentenced
to the noose during his vigorous efforts to rid the
West of crime.
In May of 1875 Isaac Parker, later known as 'the hanging judge' was put in charge of a portion of the west that included Indian Country. He authorized the hire of some 200 deputies, and Bass Reeves was one of the top picks. From there he set out on a more than 30 year career that would see him become one of most famous lawmen of the Old West.

Life as a U.S. Marshal was busy. Bass would spend weeks away from his family, hunting down outlaws. When he finally caught his man, Bass would return to the courthouse at Fort Smith. He would spend a few days with his family back in Arkansas, then head back out.

Bass was at something of a disadvantage when it came to crook catching, because, as a former slave, he had never been taught to read. Because of this, he had to have warrants read to him. Bass would memorize the contents of several warrants before heading out on a manhunt. These manhunts could last months, giving Bass ample time to forget the contents of the warrants, but Bass was a sharp cookie. Despite the fact that he had to rely on his memory, he never brought back the wrong man.

There were times when Bass even used his illiteracy to his benefit. It was well known that Bass couldn't read, and there were several instances of Bass being captured by outlaws, and asking them to read him a letter from his wife before they shot him. Bass would take advantage of their moment of distraction to draw a gun on them, and take them in.

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Bass Reeves
Bass was bold and imposing, standing at 6'2, but he was also a master of disguise. A famous story recounts how he disguised himself as a bum, dressing himself in rags and a hat riddled with bullet holes. He came up to a homestead belonging to the mother of two outlaws Bass was hunting. He spun a sad story about how he was being hunted by the marshals, and how they had shot the hat right off his head. Sympathetic, the woman let Bass into her home, and suggested that he should team up with her two sons. Bass agreed, and when the two outlaws came home Bass agreed to join them. However, when everyone was asleep Bass handcuffed the two brothers together. When they woke up the next morning they were angry, but Bass still managed to haul them back to Fort Smith, despite being pursued by the men's irate mother.

When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Bass found himself abruptly out of a job. Marshal duties were taken over by the new state government, who did not allow African Americans to serve. Bass joined the Muskogee Police Department, and spent two years as a beat cop. Legend says that there was never a single crime on his beat.

In 1909 Bass was diagnosed with Bright's Disease. He died a few months later in  January of 1910. 

Bass was one of the most effective lawmen of the time. He caught over 3,000 criminals, and it is notable that of that number, he only ever had to shoot fourteen of them. He is widely considered to be the inspiration behind the popular cartoon character, the Lone Ranger, though this has never been confirmed. Either way, Bass remains an Old West legend.


¹Pronounced with a short 'a', like the fish, not with a long 'a' like the musical instrument.

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Sources

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Statue of Liberty Was a Completely Useless Lighthouse for Sixteen Years

A gift from the French government to assure the United States that they were, in fact, still friends, the Statue of Liberty was never meant to be a lighthouse. Still, for the first sixteen years of its American life, Liberty Enlightening the People served as a lighthouse, 'helping' to guide sailors into the New York Harbor. Or something like that.

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Statue of Liberty Lighthouse, 1890.
As mentioned, the statue wasn't supposed to be a lighthouse, but when the idea was posed to Frederic Bartholdi, the statue's designer, he seized on the idea with enthusiasm. A statue that not only held a torch, but held a torch that lit up and literally guided people to safety was pretty cool, and everyone else agreed, especially when it was proposed that the statue would be illuminated by the newfangled electric light.

The Statue of Liberty was the first lighthouse in the United States to be lit with electricity, with all other lighthouses running off old fashioned kerosene lamps. However, Bartholdi's original design didn't include any convenient places to shine lights out of, save for the lady's tiara. Bartholdi and his engineers (noted among them, Gustav Eiffel) set to finding a creative solution, or two.

Bartholdi's first idea was to install flood lights along the ledges of the torch. This would cast a bright light out to sea, illuminating the way for passing vessels. This idea, however, worked too well, and was rejected because it was feared that the light would blind sailors, and cause shipwrecks. Instead, windows were cut into the torch, and electric lights were placed inside, lighting the torch from within.

The lights were initially powered by a steam electricity plant and dynamo generator at no cost to the United States government. While the United States were thrilled to have a cool statue, they weren't too keen on paying for the lighting costs. Part of the illumination agreement was that the power plant and first week of illumination would be donated by the American Electric Light Manufacturing Company. The statue was lit up on November 1, 1886. A week later, it was dark again.

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Statue of Liberty today
Soon after going dark, President Grover Cleveland made the Statue of Liberty the problem of the Lighthouse Board. The Lighthouse Board weren't too happy with this assignment, given that the statue was expensive, difficult to light, and did no actual good as a navigational aid. There was no amplifying lense in the torch, which meant that the light was very weak. Proponents of the lighthouse claimed that the light could be seen for 24 miles out to sea. In reality, the light didn't make the 8 miles to Manhattan.¹

The first and only lighthouse keeper, Albert E. Littlefield, was hired in December of 1886. Littlefield was chosen because of his expertise with electricity, and under his care the lights kept shining for sixteen years. Though he made improvements that made the lighthouse less expensive, the Statue of Liberty was still a huge drain on Lighthouse Board resources, and it ceased to serve as a lighthouse on March 1, 1902.



¹For those who aren't lighthouse aficionados, a good lighthouse can be seen 30-40 miles away

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Sources
Statue of Liberty Lighthouse
Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty, NY

Friday, February 1, 2019

Damn, Girl-Ching Shih the Terror of South China

One of the most feared pirates of the nineteenth century, Ching Shih¹ and her Red Flag Fleet terrorized the South China Sea until 1810, when she gracefully retired after having been elevated to the nobility, and negotiating a pardon from the Qing government for herself, her husband, and most of her men. She was one of the most successful pirates of all time, but she's barely known outside of the country of her birth.

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Contemporary depiction of Ching Shih
Probably born in 1775, Ching Shih originally hailed from the Guangdong province in southern China. As is typical for most women of this era, very little is known about Ching Shih's life up until her marriage. All that is known about her is that she was working as a prostitute in a floating brothel when she caught the eye of notorious pirate lord, Zheng Yi.²

There are a couple stories about how these two became a couple. The first one being that Zheng ordered his men to raid the brothel, and spirit Ching Shih away. The other story is that Zheng simply asked her to marry him, and Ching agreed on the condition that she would share in the leadership of the fleet. Whatever the truth, in 1801 Ching and Zheng were married, and they shared in command for several years.

When she was married to Zheng, Ching helped him to unite several small pirate bands into a much larger federation they called the Red Flag Fleet. At their largest, the fleet had more than 70,000 men, and 1,200 ships--significantly more ships than the pitiful Chinese navy.

Unfortunately, Zheng died in 1807, leaving Ching a widow in a precarious position. She was the head of a large fleet of rowdy ne're-do-wells, and she needed to consolidate her power quickly. She did this by recruiting her husband's former advisors, and becoming intimate with her husband's second in command, and adopted son, Cheung Po Tsai.

The relationship between Cheung Po Tsai, Zheng Yi, and Ching Shih is mysterious, complex, and a little headache inducing. Zheng Yi and Cheung Po Tsai were very close, close enough that Zheng  adopted Cheung. They were also lovers. Ching had also adopted Cheung, and they would later marry, and have at least one child. The affair was incestous to say the least, and lecherous imaginations can spend many a happy hour imagining what the trio got up to when all parties were still living.

Image result for cheung po tsai
Cheung Po Tsai. Like any pirate worth
their salt, it is rumored that he hid large
amounts of treasure in a cave.
With Cheung Po Tsai, Ching really started to consolidate her rule. She brought even more pirates into her fold, and she began to keep 'order' on the seas with a very strict set of rules. Sailors who went ashore without leave had their ears cut off. Pirates caught stealing booty were beheaded.Villages who paid tribute to the fleet were considered under Ching's protection, and anyone who raided or plundered a protected village was beheaded.

Particularly progressive were Ching's rules regarding the treatment of female captives. Men were required to keep all pertinent body parts in their pants on pains of death so far as female captives were concerned. Sexual assault resulted in the man in question being beheaded. Consensual sex resulted in the man being beheaded, and the woman being thrown overboard. Pirates could marry a captive, and the woman would be made a full member of the fleet. Captives nobody wanted to marry were set ashore.

As idyllic as some of her policies were, Ching was still undeniably a pirate, and pirates are notoriously bloodthirsty. In addition to all the beheadings, Ching was noted for giving violent ends to targets who resisted her. Villages that submitted to her fleet immediately, and paid tribute, were spared and protected. Villages that resisted saw their homes burned, their men killed, and the village leader nailed to the dock by his feet, and beaten to death. Sailors on captured ships were given the option to join the fleet, or be beaten to death. More than one captured captain committed suicide rather than have to deal with being captured by the Red Flag Fleet.

Ching was a major shipping disruption in the area, and the Qing government wanted to see her gone. Unfortunately, the Chinese navy of the time was composed of repurposed merchant ships unsuited to combat. They went so far as to enlist the help of their foes, the British and Portuguese, but they were unable to capture Ching.

Come 1810, things were starting to change. While Ching and the Red Flag Fleet were still dominating the seas, there was a new metaphorical sheriff in Beijing, and he was frighteningly competent at hunting pirates. As several big name pirates began to fall, the Imperial government offered amnesty to any pirates who laid down their swords. After watching their friends be captured and executed, Ching and Cheung decided to take them up on the offer.

Cheung was initially sent to handle negotiations, but was unsuccessful. When talks stalled, Ching walked unarmed into the governor's office in Guangdong with a posse of seventeen, also unarmed, pirates. When negotiations where completed, Ching had gained clemency for all but 400 of her pirates, of which only 126 were executed. In addition to keeping their lives, they were also allowed to keep their ill gotten gains. Ching and Cheung retired especially handsomely. Both were raised to the nobility, and Cheung was made an officer in the Chinese navy.

Image result for chinese junk ship
Chinese junk ships, the type of ship Ching used.
Negotiations almost stalled when the governor required that the pardoned pirates kneel before him in homage. The pirate masses definitely weren't going to kneel in front of the governor, so the governor reduced his requirement to just the leaders, Ching and Cheung. This was a pretty non-negotiable point on the part of the governor, but Ching and Cheung weren't too keen on the humiliation. To satisfy the pride of all parties, they convinced the governor to dissolve the adoption that made Ching Cheung's mother, and had the governor marry them. At the end of the ceremony, the couple traditionally knelt in thanks to the officiant, neatly solving the kneeling problem.

After negotiation her retirement from piracy, Ching returned to Guangdong. She and Cheung had one son, and after Cheung died Ching opened a casino/brothel. She lived to see her son grow up, and her grandchildren be born. She died in 1844 at the age of 69.


¹It should be noted that there are multiple spellings for all of the names mentioned in this narrative.
² Ching Shih was not Ching's birth name, it literally means 'Widow of Cheng' (Zheng).


More on Similar Topics





Sources
Ching Shih, the Former Prostitute Who Became the Greatest Pirate Who Ever Lived
Meet Ching Shih: the Prostitute Turned Pirate Who Banned Rape in Her 50,000 Man Fleet
Ching Shih Pirate Biography and Facts
Ching Shih
Ching Shih (1775-1844)
Ching Shih: From Prostitute to Pirate Lord
Cheung Po Tsai and Ching Shih: Pirate Monarchs
Cheng I Sao
Cheng I Sao, Female Pirate Extraordinaire

Friday, June 29, 2018

Damn, Girl-Sisi of Austria-Hungary

Known to her family as 'Sisi', Elisabeth, Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, remains one of the most Romantic (the capital R is on purpose) and tragic queens in history. Married to her cousin at only age sixteen, Elisabeth was thrust into a life of strict etiquette and heavy media scrutiny. Deeply unhappy, she wandered Europe for more than three decades searching for peace.

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Elisabeth on her wedding day.
Elisabeth was the fourth child of Duke Maximilian in Bavaria and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria. Ludovika and Maximilian were cousins, and were almost constantly at loggerheads with each other. Maximilian was something of a free spirit--preferring to roam Bavaria disguised as a commoner, playing the zither in taverns for public amusement. Maximilian also had several affairs, and had a distinct distaste for life in Possenhofen--the castle where Elisabeth and her siblings grew up. Though Maximilian seemed to have dislike Possenhofen, he didn't dislike his children. He would frequently take them on long nature expeditions, lasting weeks at a time. Due to this, and her mother's disbelief in an extensive education, Elisabeth's education was fairly unsettled, and she did not have the  education she would later need to rule.

From all accounts, Elisabeth's childhood at Possenhofen was idyllic. She played with her siblings, avoided her lessons, wrote poetry, and rode horses. However, all of that changed in 1853 when Elisabeth was 15.

Western Europe at the time contained many more countries than it currently does. At the final dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the Empire split in 360 smaller states. Many of those states banded together to form the German Federation in 1815. The German Federation was a loose collection of states presided over by the Austrian Emperor. Elisabeth was born into Bavaria--the third biggest of these German Federation states, and the direct neighbor of the much larger Archduchy of Austria.¹

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Europe 1854, note the closeness of Bavarian and the
Austrian Empire
The archduke of Austria, Franz Joseph, was single, not opposed to mingling, and was the most eligible bachelor in Europe. Princess Ludovika was Franz Joseph's aunt, and she, along with Archduchess Sophie, Franz Joseph's mother, hatched a plan to marry Franz Joseph to Elisabeth's older sister, Helene. When Ludovika took Helene to meet the emperor, she had Elisabeth accompany them, presumably so she could set Elisabeth up with an equally enticing gentleman.

The plan was perfect--one trip, two marriages. However, Ludovika and Sophie didn't take Franz Joseph's feelings into mind. In a rare occurrence of love (or lust, if you're feeling cynical) at first sight, Franz Joseph informed his mother that he would not be marrying Helene, but that he would be marrying Elisabeth, and that was that. He proposed to Elisabeth after only a week.

Elisabeth, of course, accepted, and the couple announced their engagement on August 19, 1853. The fact that Franz Joseph was 23 to Elisabeth's 15, and that the couple were cousins doesn't seem to have mattered much to the parties involved. Franz Joseph loved Elisabeth, and one didn't tell the emperor no. It is, however, difficult to ascertain the depths of Elisabeth's feelings for Franz Joseph. Any hesitations she may have had aside, the couple was married in the April of the next year.

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Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna. 
Adjustment to the Imperial Court at Hofburg was difficult for Elisabeth. Etiquette was draconian, recalling the strict rules in place at Versailles. Particularly the rules about dressing irked Elisabeth. Court etiquette stated that the Empress could wear a pair of shoes only once before giving them to a lady in waiting. Gloves had to always be worn. There was a strict system of precedence, and a great deal of activities Elisabeth had previously enjoyed were deemed 'unseemly'. Elisabeth crossed swords with her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie over this more than once, particularly after the birth of Elisabeth's children.

In the view of the archduchess, Elisabeth's role was to provide heirs and look pretty, nothing more. This rankled Elisabeth, who had some interest in governing, particularly with the Hungarian part of the empire. However, Elisabeth's distaste for etiquette, and reticence at public gathering pushed her to the fringes of power, and isolated her at court.

This isolation, combined with a lack of freedom made Elisabeth deeply unhappy. Furthering her unhappiness was the fact that upon their births her first three children were taken away from her, and she was allowed little contact with them. She and Franz Joseph had three children in the first four years of their marriage, with two surviving to adulthood. These children--two daughters and a son--were raised by a staff of servants and the archduchess Sophie.

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Probably the most famous of Elisabeth's
portraits, this dress was later the inspiration
for the 'Think of Me' dress in the 2004
'Phantom of the Opera' movie.
Elisabeth was a private person with a distaste for crowds and invasions of her privacy. Unfortunately for her, Elisabeth lived at a time when more people in Europe were literate than ever before, and European press was becoming a bigger and bigger industry. Royal reporting became the newest craze, with presses constantly cranking out articles and pamphlets about what Elisabeth ate, wore, and did.  (and who she allegedly did) This only increased Elisabeth's feelings that she was in a sort of gilded cage, and imprisoned. Though she was much beloved by the masses, and she was welcomed everywhere she went, Elisabeth believed that she was viewed as a curiosity, once comparing herself to a dancing monkey.

Despite her distaste for it, Elisabeth discharged her duties as empress with great aplomb. She was, as mentioned, much loved by her people, and with good reason. She was known for personally interacting with her subjects, and taking time to speak with the people in front of her. She frequently would visit hospitals, a lady in waiting in tow, and would hold the hands of and converse with the patients.²

What Elisabeth is best known for, of course, is her legendary beauty. With wide dark eyes, and eighteen inch waist, and ankle length hair, Elisabeth was considered one of the most beautiful women of the era. Numerous paintings and sculptures were done of her, with, according to her husband, only a few coming close to actually capturing her good looks.

Elisabeth spent hours on her beauty routine. She would spend hours exercising, applying various compresses and ointments, and spent three hours having her hair done each day. While having her hair done, Elisabeth studied, learning Greek, Latin, and Hungarian.

As might be expected from a couple with an eight year age difference, who'd known each other a week before making a lifetime commitment, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph's marriage was less than congenial. Franz Joseph viewed Elisabeth's dislike for public duty as childish, and Elisabeth found Franz Joseph dull and humorless. Both had numerous extra-marital affairs.

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A portrait of Elisabeth featuring her
famous hair.
Though she was a beautiful woman, Elisabeth was not a healthy woman. She suffered from depression, and exhibited all the signs of what we now recognize as anorexia. She ate little, at times only living off raw milk and oranges. She exercised obsessively, spending hours in a gym she'd had specially set up for her. She had a morbid fascination with death, and frequently remarked that insane people were the only ones who made sense. Her depression combined with her eating disorder took a great toll on Elisabeth, and unsurprisingly in 1862, Elisabeth had a nervous breakdown.

After her nervous breakdown, Elisabeth began to travel extensively, often spending more time outside of Austria than in it. She took long cruises on the royal yacht, sailing around the Mediterranean and western Africa. Elisabeth tried to keep a low profile while traveling. She wasn't making or receiving state visits, she was traveling for herself, often under an assumed name or auxiliary title. She eventually purchased land on the island of Corfu, and began to build a castle there.

In 1866 Elisabeth returned to her husband, and began putting pressure on him to treat with the Hungarians to make them an equal part of the country. Elisabeth was successful, and in 1867 the Austro-Hungarian Compromise was passed, granting Hungary equal status with Austria, and allowing them a greater degree of sovereignty. It is unknown exactly how much Elisabeth had to do with the passing of the compromise, but it is known that following the compromise Franz Joseph forbade her from interfering in politics ever again. Franz Joseph couldn't have been too angry, however, because the couple's fourth child was born in 1868.

Image result for Elisabeth empress of Austria and queen of Hungary by Georg Raab
Elisabeth at her coronation as Queen of Hungary
For some time Elisabeth's life was more or less uneventful. She was allowed to raise her last child, Marie Valerie, and they were quite close, Elisabeth taking her daughter with her on her travels. Though she and Franz Joseph didn't stay reconciled, the couple seemed to have been on amiable terms. And in 1890 Elisabeth was able to persuade Franz Joseph to allow Marie Valerie to marry the archduke of Austria-Tuscany, a man Marie loved despite his lack of dynastic connections.

While ostensibly a happy occasion, the engagement of Marie Valerie to her archduke dug up some bad feelings in the family. Crown Prince Rudolf, Elisabeth's third child, and heir to the throne, had been pressured into marrying a Belgian princess nearly a decade earlier, and seeing his younger sister get to marry for love rankled him. On January 30, 1889 he was found dead in a hunting lodge along with his mistress, having apparently shot her then himself.

Elisabeth went into deep mourning after the death of her son. She gave away her jewels, and dressed in black for the rest of her life, much in the same way Queen Victoria had been doing since 1861. She wandered Europe listlessly and without purpose.

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This is the last photograph of Elisabeth, taken
shortly before she died.
In 1898 Elisabeth found herself in Geneva, Switzerland. She was there visiting a friend when on September 10 she was stabbed by anarchist Luigi Lucheni³ in front of a hotel. Luigi had stabbed Elisabeth with a small file, and Elisabeth had initially thought that he'd punched her until one of her ladies noticed the blood on her dress. Though they called for a doctor, Elisabeth soon died.

Today Elisabeth is remembered as a romantic figure--the beautiful empress who never wanted to be empress. Though her story was undeniably tragic, it must be remembered that she could wield great power when she wanted to. Her actions in the Austro-Hungarian Compromise contributed a great deal to Hungary's later independence from the empire. Given her huge impact with just one issue, it is easy to imagine just what she might have done had she been allowed to properly rule.



¹It is worth noting that while Austria may have been classified as an Archduchy in the context of the German Federation, it retained its status of an Empire due to it's possession of the Kingdom of Hungary and associated territories.
²This, along with many other parts of Elisabeth's life have led to many comparisons between her and  Princess Diana.
³Luigi Lucheni didn't have anything against Elisabeth personally, he just hated the ruling class. He hadn't even come to Geneva for Elisabeth, he'd come to assassinate Prince Henri of OrlĂ©ans. However, Prince Henri had canceled his visit at the last minute, and Luigi, not wanting to waste the trip, decided to assassinate Elisabeth instead.

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Sources
"The Anorectic Empress: Elisabeth of Austria." by W. Vandereycken and T. Abatzi
Elisabeth, Empress Consort of Austria
The Tragic Austrian Empress Who Was Murdered By Anarchists
Sisi Museum
Empress Sisi
Elisabeth, Empress of Austria