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Showing posts with label feminist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label feminist. Show all posts

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Damn Girl-The Unsinkable Margaret Brown

Often known as 'Molly Brown', Margaret Tobin Brown was a turn of the century reformer, suffragette, and philanthropist, best known for her heroic behavior on the Titanic. She was never known as 'Molly' during her lifetime, and the name 'Molly', along with many of the tales about her, were circulated after her death. Using her work ethic, charm, and great wealth, Margaret helped create the juvenile court system, extend suffrage to her state of Colorado and the rest of the United States, rebuild post WWI France, and have a glittering stage career.

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Margaret
Margaret was born in Hannibal Missouri, the daughter of poor Irish immigrants. Her parents were both devout Roman Catholics, and as such, had six children. Firm believers in education, Margaret's parents insisted that all of their children go to school at least through the eighth grade. An eighth grade education, especially for women, was significant for the time, and instilled a love of learning in Margaret that would carry on throughout her life.

In late 1800s America people of all races were making their way out west. Immigrants who had dreamed of making their fortune in the New World found employment closed to them on the east coast due to their nationality, and headed west for land and work. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, people dreaming to make a fortune mining left the east in droves. Daniel Tobin, Margaret's brother, was one of them. He found success as a mine promoter, and in 1886, he sent for Margaret to join him. Margaret joined in him Leadville Colorado, and found a job working in a drapery store.

Margaret had grown up very poor. She'd had to leave school at age 13 to work in a tobacco factory making cigars. She hated living in poverty, and she wanted very much to take care of her parents through their elder years. This in mind, Margaret was determined to marry rich, and Leadville wasn't a bad place to find a rich husband. Leadville had a flourishing silver mine, and with the US government heavily invested in silver, it was a pretty lucrative business. A man could become a millionaire overnight depending on his finds. Margaret was looking for such a man. However, what she found was J.J. Brown.

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James Joseph 'J.J.' Brown
James Joseph (also known as J.J.) Brown, was a handsome, well educated, vivacious miner, and Margaret fell in love. J.J. had trained as an engineer and geologist, and was set up to become much more than a mere miner, but he had yet to make his fortune, and was far from wealthy. Though Margaret had some serious reservations about marrying him, she did, and the pair married in 1886, then moved to Stumpftown to be closer to the mines.

Though not rolling in money, Margaret and J.J. seemed to have been doing alright financially. While she still did her own housekeeping, Margaret was able to devote time to helping the wives and families of some of the less well off miners. She created soup kitchens, and engaged in other charitable efforts. She also helped establish the National American Women's Suffrage Association in Colorado, and became heavily involved in lobbying for women's suffrage. These early actions in Sumpftown set the tone for the rest of Margaret's life.

Margaret and J.J. had two children--Lawrence, and Helen. They moved back to Leadville after Lawrence's birth, and they were in Leadville when the Sherman Silver Act was repealed, starting the 'Silver Crash', and putting the financial future of the entire state at risk.

What the repeal of the Sherman Silver Act meant was that the US Government would no longer be buying silver at the same rate it had been. Previously, the government had been required to buy at least 4.5 million ounces of silver a month, and pay for them with paper money. This silver was then minted into silver dollars to back up the paper money. This act was meant to prop up the failing silver industry, but had failed. When it was repealed in 1893 there was a large surplus of silver, and the entire industry went into a panic. Many families like the Browns discovered that their money was now near worthless, and were plunged into poverty.

Luckily for the Browns, J.J. was a real smart cookie. He was the manager of the Little Johnny Mine, and he used his geology and engineering experience to find a way to shore up the walls of the mine so that the miners could delve deeper into the earth. Luckily for all involved, miners found what is, to this day, the largest vein of gold in the American West.

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The Brown family home at the time it was purchased. Molly
would later make extensive renovations.
Almost overnight, life for the Browns changed completely. The owners of the mine were so happy with J.J. that they gave him significant shares in the company, and the Browns became millionaires. The Browns bought a house in Denver, Margaret sent for her parents to join her, and began to establish themselves among the wealthy elite.

It was in social circles that Margaret really shone. She was kind, outgoing, and charmed more or less everyone she met. She had a wide group of friends, and with the financial help of these friends, she set about seriously affecting change. During these early years in Denver, Margaret personally funded the local animal shelter for several years, successfully lobbied for the installation of public baths in courthouses, campaigned for city parks, and provided aid for the thousands of people living in the slums of Denver. She also raised money to build the St. Joseph's Hospital, and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Part of her new social circles brought Margaret into contact with the judge and reformer Benjamin Lindsey. Lindsey, formerly a lawyer, was deeply disturbed by the presence of children in adult prisons. A young boy, jailed for stealing bread, could be tossed into a cell with a man convicted of murder. Lindsey felt that this system wasn't productive towards the reforming goal of prisons, and set about lobbying for a juvenile court and prison system. As a mother and an advocate for children's rights, Margaret was right on board. She helped with fundraising and lobbying efforts, and in 1899 the Juvenile Justice System was put in place. This system is still the basis for the modern US Juvenile Justice System.
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Benjamin Lindsey
Margaret was still heavily involved in the suffragette movement. She was involved with organizing one of the first women's suffrage conventions, and in 1901 she became one of the first women to run for senate. She would run for Colorado senate three times--losing twice, and withdrawing from the third because of the advent of WWI. Though she never won a political office, Margaret affected serious political change.

After their move to Denver the passions between J.J. and Margaret began to cool. Margaret was heavily involved in society and reform work, and J.J. preferred to focus on mining. J.J. didn't care for society, and he certainly didn't care for his wife's political efforts. He didn't appreciate how often his wife was in the paper, and he didn't think she should be running for public office. In an attempt to rekindle old passions, the pair began traveling together in 1902. They went around Europe and Asia, and while the couple did seem to reconcile for a time, it was not to last. In 1909 they quietly separated, with J.J. moving to Arizona to continue mining.

Post separation, Margaret traveled more than ever. In 1912 she set off on a journey to Paris, Rome, and Egypt with her friends and daughter Helen. While in Egypt, she received a telegram from her son Lawrence. The telegram stated that Lawrence's son, Margaret's eldest grandson, was gravely ill, and would most likely die. Margaret promptly put herself on the next ship across the Atlantic, hoping to see her grandson one last time before he passed.

Unfortunately, that next ship was the RMMS Titanic . When the ship hit an iceburg on April 14th, Margaret was thrown from her bed. An experienced traveler, Margaret knew something was wrong when the engines stopped running. She asked a crew member what was wrong, but was assured that everything was fine. Margaret went back to bed, and was awoken later, and told to get her life saver.

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RMMS Titanic
Margaret very practically put on layers and layers of clothing. She grabbed some money, she got her lifesaver and went up on deck. She wasn't too keen on getting in a lifeboat herself, but she helped many other families into the lifeboats. When a crew member realized who she was, he bodily threw her over the side of the Titanic into lifeboat 6.

On the lifeboat, Margaret quickly set to work. The crew member with them was involved steering, and there were only two men on her boat. The air was a balmy 28 degrees Fahrenheit, (-2 degrees Celsius), and the water even colder. Many of the passengers were wearing only their nightclothes, so Margaret stripped off her layers, and passed clothing around. She directed the other women in rowing so that they would stay warm, and avoid being dragged into the wreckage. Margaret spoke four languages, and she put this to good use directing and comforting the women around her.

At 4:30 am Margaret's boat was picked up by the Carpathia. After getting on board, Margaret swiftly set to work fundraising for the people in the third and second classes. Many of the people in those classes were immigrants, just as Margaret's parents had been, and because of the 'women and children first' policy, many of the families had lost their main breadwinner, as well as all the money and goods they had brought with them to start a new life. She was concerned that they would all be refused entry at New York, and so she began asking her fellow first class passengers from the Titanic and the Carpathia for money to help the passengers.

Many of the passengers from first class were reluctant to give money to help the survivors of the wreck. However, using her charm, Margaret wheedled money from some passengers, and strong armed the rest. She posted a list of passengers who had given money, and how much they had given, as well as a list of passengers who hadn't given money in public. Faced with donation or social ruin, all the first class passengers ended up donating money. Before they reached New York, Margaret had raised $10,000.
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Margaret presenting an award to the captain of the Carpathia
Upon arriving in New York, Margaret received a telegram that her grandson was fine. He wasn't dying, he was just lactose intolerant. Reassured that her family was fine, Margaret set about making arrangements for the survivors from the Titanic. She found living arrangements and contacts for all the survivors. She helped document the whereabouts of every survivor, and made sure that no one would be alone in their new country. She continued this work for about a year before she was recalled to Denver.

Margaret's actions in the aftermath of the Titanic made her internationally famous. Salacious gossip newspapers printed that her first words, upon setting foot on the Carpathia were 'Typical Brown luck, I'm unsinkable!'. Newspapers started to call her 'The Unsinkable Mrs. Brown'. Though these comments were meant to sting, Margaret thought they were hilarious. She became a Denver heroine, and in 1914 she was asked to mediate in the Ludlow miner's strike. The miners and their families, having saw her work with the survivors of the Titanic, and the Mexican War called on her for protection, and the Rockerfeller family (owners of the mine) saw her as an ally. Though violence did break out, Margaret managed to the Rockerfeller's to soften. She spoke out for the rights of the miners, and convinced the Rockerfeller family that they would look much better if they paid the miner's fairly.

After her experience on the Titanic, Margaret began spending more and more time back east, specifically in Newport Rhode Island. She became involved with the National Women's Trade Union, which not only advocated for universal suffrage, but for a minimum wage and an eight hour work day. Margaret traveled around the country, and wrote dozens of articles in favor of these causes. Margaret's passion and persistence earned her censure from the press, but she pressed on undeterred by literally anything. In her passion for reform, she once burst into the office of President Calvin Coolidge, dragging an Eastern European woman with her, and lectured the president on the virtues of her causes.

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Margaret at a Suffragette rally
When World War One started in 1914, Margaret was once again running for Colorado Senate. Though she was favored to win, she ended up dropping out of the race because her sister had married a German man. She turned her efforts to helping war torn Europe, first fundraising for ambulances, then driving those ambulances herself on the front lines. After the war ended, Margaret became involved with the efforts to rebuild France, and for her work with this she was awarded the French Legion of Honor.

When J.J. died in 1922 he neglected to leave a will. The Brown family went to war, with Lawrence and Helen taking Margaret to court for possession of the house in Denver, as well as J.J.'s wealth. Unwilling to fight with her family, Margaret moved to New York to pursue a career as an actress. She was quite successful, playing a leading role in L’Aiglon in both New York and Paris. She was a successful actress, and won awards for her work in that roles.

Margaret was getting on a bit. She was 53 when she took to the stage, and she continued to work there for another decade until she died suddenly of a brain tumor in 1932. She wanted to be buried in Denver, but because of the Great Depression she was buried in New York along her husband J.J.

Image result for molly brown tombToday, Margaret's main legacy is as the character of 'Unsinkable Molly Brown', but that isn't who she really was. Her real legacy is much more strong and meaningful. The juvenile court system she helped implement still stands, women have the vote, there is both a minimum wage and an 8 hour work day. In addition to these aforementioned achievements, Margaret is also the reason that having enough lifeboats for all passengers aboard a ship is compulsory. She also lobbied to change maritime law to say that families would be saved together, instead of women and children first. Margaret's house in Denver still stands, and is open as a museum. The animal shelter she helped fund is still open, and to this day she remains one of the great reformers of the turn of the century. Though she became unbelievably wealthy, Margaret never forgot her humble beginnings, and used her wealth and influence to help bring people (especially immigrants), out of poverty.

Sources
Molly Brown Biography
Mrs. Margaret Brown
Meet Molly Brown
Molly Brown
Margaret 'Molly' Brown

Friday, September 22, 2017

Damn, Girl-Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft was an Enlightenment writer, philosopher, and reformer best known for penning The Vindication of the Rights of Women--one of the first, if not the first book on feminism. Throughout her life she petitioned for education reform for women, and was politically involved in both France and England--quite unusual for a lady of her era.

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Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary was born in 1759 to Edward John Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Dixon. Her grandfather had been a successful weaver, but her abusive father had squandered away the family fortune on his unsuccessful attempts to become a gentleman farmer. He moved his family all over England and Wales in his attempts, giving Mary a chaotic upbringing. This, combined with the way Edward bullied his wife, would later inform Mary's distaste for marriage.

When she was 19 years old Mary left home against her family's wishes to become a lady's companion to a Mrs. Dawson in the resort town of Bath. She worked for Dawson for three years before having to return home in 1781 to take care of her sick mother.

Elizabeth died in 1782, and Mary moved in with the Blood family, where she met her lifelong friend Fanny. A few years after helping her sister escape from her abusive husband, Mary, Fanny, and her sisters Eliza and Everina opened up a school in the Dissenter community in Newington Green. The Dissenters believed in combining reason with religion, which appealed to Mary.

Image result for mary wollstonecraft schoolMary's experiences teaching led her to write her first book Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: With Reflections on Female Conduct in the More Important Duties of Life. Mary's own education had been scattered and sporadic, but she was very well read. Her own experiences combined with the poor prior education of her students made her realized the inequality inherent in the education of boys and girls. This is a theme she would later write about in her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

Shortly after starting their school, Fanny married, and left for Portugal. She was soon pregnant, and in early 1785, Mary boarded a ship to Portugal to care for her. Mary wasn't overly fond of Portugal, and she certainly didn't like it any better when Fanny and her daughter died in childbirth. She went back to England to find her school in shambles, and the school closed the next year.

Mary then moved to County Cork, Ireland to serve as a governess for the Kingsborough family. While the children adored her, Mrs. Kingsborough didn't, and Mary was sacked after ten months, leaving her with a distinct distaste for domestic life. Mary moved back to London, and started her life as a writer.
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Joseph Johnson
A year later, in 1788 Mary's publisher, Joseph Johnson, took her on as an editor and translator for his magazine Analytical Review. She was a frequent contributor of articles, but it wasn't until 1790 when she published A Vindication of the Rights of Man that she started to gain notoriety.

A Vindication of the Rights of Man was Mary's irate response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. Edmund Burke was a member of parliament who had supported the American revolution, but argued in favor of a monarchy in France. Mary, didn't like his ideas or his hypocrisy, and she published her work, first anonymously, but she put her name to it on the second printing.

Reaction literature became a common theme in Mary's life. When she wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, it was in resnse to Rousseau's Emile.  Emile argued that a woman's role was to support the men in her life, and should be educated for that role. Education was a pet topic of Mary's, and she really let Rosseau have it. In A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary argued that not only are women equal to men, but that the miseducation of women caused them to be unhappy, and to inflict misery on their families and servants. This book was shocking to Georgian England, but remains a staple of feminist literature to this day.

Later that year, Mary went to France to observe and write about the Revolution. While there, she met Charles Imlay, an American writer and frontiersman. She loved him a lot more than he loved her, and though they had a child--Fanny--together, and she became his common law wife, he left her in 1795, and Mary returned to England.

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In England she met William Godwin, and their affair was much happier. They married after Mary fell pregnant for the second time, this time with her daughter Mary, who would go on to write Frankenstein. Unfortunately, ten days after the birth of her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft died from complications with her pregnancy.

A year later William released the first biography written about Mary Wollstonecraft. Unfortunately, it was not well received. Details about Mary's personal life, her child born out of wedlock, her long term affair with Imlay and Godwin before they were married scandalized 18th century audiences, and for a long time the scandals of her life eclipsed the genius of her literary work. It wasn't until the 1900s that people began to reexamine her work, and she was accepted for the literary genius she was.

Sources
Wollstonecraft, Mary
Mary Wollstonecraft-Stanford
Mary Wollstonecraft-Biography
Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797
Mary Wollstonecraft-"A Speculative and Dissenting Spirit"
Mary Wollstonecraft-Britannica



Thursday, August 3, 2017

Damn, Girl-Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Wilding Davison is one of the most famous British Suffragettes. She was outspoken, volitle, and completely fearless She became a public symbol of the Suffragette movement after martyring herself for her cause. Though she never saw women achieve suffrage in her lifetime, her contribution to women's rights in turn of the century England was enormous.


Image result for emily wilding davisonEmily was very well educated. She attended both London College and Oxford, but, as women were unable to earn a degree in that time, she never took a degree. She was employed as a private teacher when she became involved with the suffragette cause. Not long after, she quit her job to become an activist full time.

Passive and peaceful resistance is not a protest tactic Ms. Davison would have understood. She had no qualms about resorting to violence to achieve her ends, and more than once she attacked male political figures. She was arrested no less than seven times over the course of three years, and she is known to have broken into Parliament at least three times.

What Emily is best known for (aside from her death), was her behavior in prison. Suffragettes of the time would often go on hunger strike to protest the fact that they had not been classified as political prisoners. Emily took this to the extreme. On two separate occasions she was released from prison early because of her antics. Eventually, the prison wardens got sick of women going on hunger strike, and decided to force feed them by putting a tube down their throat. To avoid this and protest the force feedings, Emily barricaded her prison door with furniture. The prison guards then thought it would be a good idea to fill her cell with icy water (wtf?). The door eventually broke down, and Emily successfully sued her captors.

The moment she will always be known for, however, is the moment of her death. At the 1911 Epsom Derby Emily became a martyr for her cause. During one of the races, Emily jumped in front of a horse belonging to King George V. She was struck by the horse, and died four days later.

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An image of Emily being hit by the horse.
Whether or not Emily's plan was to commit suicide or not has been debated since long before she was cold in the ground. Both sides have good arguments. On the one hand, Emily had bought a return train ticket, she left no suicide note, and she had plans to attend a suffragette rally later that day. On the other hand, Emily had often said that her cause needed a martyr to rally around, and this was, by no means, the first time she had attempted to martyr herself. She had jumped off an iron staircase while in prison just a few months prior to her death. And while suffragettes certainly rallied around her after her death, her demise did little to inspire public sympathy. She was widely regarded as a madwoman for some time, and public sympathies were more with the horse and jockey than with her.

Though her tactics were extreme, and though the leadership of her own organization often disagreed with her, you can't deny Emily Wilding Davison's passion for her cause. She was ready to die for Women's Rights, and die she did. She's remembered today as one of the bravest English suffragettes, and, along with Emmeline Pankhurst, is honored as the mother of the women's suffrage movement.

Sources
BBC History
History Learning Site
Biography.com
Epsom and Well History Explorer
Parliament

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Damn, Girl-Chevaliere d'Eon de Beaumont

The Chevaliere*, or Chevalier, depending on who you ask, d'Eon was one of the most colorful figures of the 18th century. Assigned male at birth, and named Charles Genieveve Louisa Auguste Andre Timothee de Beaumont, the Chevaliere is notable for her service in the french military, for being a spy, and for coming out as a female, and living as Lia de Beaumont in the latter part of her life. She was a free mason, a champion fencer, a lawyer, a decorated war hero, and a celebrated author.

Image result for Chevalier d'eonIt was 1755 and, no surprise, the French were scheming. Relations with England were growing uneasy, and King Louis was attempting to put his cousin on the Polish throne. The Russian Empress, Elizabeth, refused to meet with any French ambassadors, and the French government was actively working against itself. It was this environment that the Chevaliere first got her start.

The Chevaliere was sent with the French diplomatic mission to Russia under the guise of a lowly secretary. The truth of her mission, however, was much more complex than that. d'Eon was there as part of le Secret du Roi--Louis' secret spy agency that was so secret, most of the French government didn't know about it. At the time of the Chevaliere's service, the group was dedicated to helping Louis put his cousin on the Polish throne, essentially giving France control of Poland. d'Eon's mission was to get the good will of Empress Elizabeth. There was just one problem, the Empress refused to see any of the French diplomats.

So the Chevaliere and the people back in Versailles put their heads together, and came up with a brilliant idea. d'Eon would be disguised as a woman, and infiltrate the court of the Empress that way. The idea was that Empress Elizabeth would be more open to speaking with a female French diplomat. They were absolutely right.

Seven years later the Seven Years War is going poorly for France. d'Eon left Russia to serve as a dragoon in the French army. She was the Secretary to the French ambassador, and she must have been very helpful at the peace talks between France and Britain, because she was later awarded the honor of the Order of St. Louis, which, I have been told, is a big deal.

After being decorated, d'Eon was sent to London to assist the current French ambassador to England, the Comte de Guerchy. Unfortunately, the pair did not get on. d'Eon's overspending, and her insubordination made her a liability, and she was recalled by the French government in 1763.

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Had the Chevaliere returned to France as ordered, she most likely would have been thrown in the Bastile or worse. That was an unattractive option for d'Eon, so she decided to blackmail the French government. d'Eon was still a member of le Secret du Roi, and was in possession of certain sensitive information. Since the end of the Seven Years War the French had given up their ambitions in Poland, and were working towards an invasion of England. The Chevaliere threatened to expose the duplicity of the French government if they didn't assign her a pension, and let her live in peace.

The French government was, understandably, a tad uneasy about this arrangement, and were delaying their decisions. To hurry them up, and show that she meant business, the Chevaliere published her first tell-all book, filled with secret correspondence she had received as a spy. She promised that more would follow.

France quickly acquiesced to her demands, and d'Eon became an overnight celebrity. Her book was incredibly popular, but it was the mystery surrounding her gender that really had the English people hooked. See, the Chevaliere continued to dress up in women's clothes, even after quitting the court of Empress Elizabeth. She maintained a sense of mystery about her gender, to the point where people made bets about whether or not she was a boy or a girl. d'Eon herself refused to say.

After fifteen years in England, France reached out an olive branch. d'Eon would be allowed to return home on the condition that she assume the role and appropriate clothing of her gender. the Chevaliere jumped on the opportunity, and went back to France.

However, the transition was difficult for her. She wanted to keep her dragoon's uniform as a symbol of political power, and to maintain the same amount of political influence that she had before. The French government wasn't too keen on this. Several times she was forceably dressed in female clothes, and her political opinions were consistently ignored. She was, essentially pushed to the side, and in 1785 she moved back to England.

d'Eon was able to live off her pension for a while, but in 1789 the French monarchy was abolished, and the Chevaliere was left without a source of income. To support herself, she gave swordsmanship exhibitions, wearing her Cross of St. Louis, and branding herself as an Amazon. The English people welcomed her back with open arms, but as the Chevaliere grew older she grew increasingly more isolated. When an injury made her stop fencing in 1796 she moved into a flat with another old woman, and rarely left her home after.

Image result for Chevalier d'eonAfter her death it was, of course, discovered that the Chevaliere possessed male genitalia. This news, of course shocked the world. Most people believed the Chevaliere to be female, and there had even been court cases that confirmed this, the most convincing argument being that the Chevaliere said she was female.

And there is a large amount of evidence saying that the Chevaliere truly identified as a woman, and that it wasn't a guise she adopted for social and diplomatic purposes. The Chevaliere experienced a religious awakening in her later life, and affirmed that not only did she believe herself to be a woman, but that God had told her she was a woman.

Historian's today waver about d'Eon's sexuality, but d'Eon knew d'Eon best. If she said she was a woman then she was a woman, and while today's gender politics are very different from gender politics of the past, the fact remains that d'Eon identified as a woman, and that identity should be respected.

Gender identity aside, d'Eon was an amazing woman. She was a talented and capable diplomat, and excellent writer, and a colorful person.

*A note on pronouns: since the Chevaliere maintained that she was a woman for most of her life, I have used feminine pronouns to refer to her here. No one would know the gender of the Chevaliere better than the Chevaliere herself, and on while the Chevaliere hasn't appeared to me in a dream saying that she prefers she/her pronouns, it is reasonable to assume that female pronouns are the appropriate pronouns to use when writing about her.

Sources
Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont
d'Eon, the Fresh Face
Charles, chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont
The Incredible Chevalier d'Eon, Who Left France as a Male Spy, and Returned a Christian Woman
The Chevalier d'Eon

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Damn, Girl-Sojourner Truth

Image result for sojourner truthSojourner Truth is one of the legendary activists that America all too often forgets about. Active during the nineteenth century, Truth was a respected abolitionist and feminist, whose public speaking skills were absolutely legendary. She was a 'radical' of the time, and lobbied for not only abolitionism and women's rights, but prison reform and an end to capital punishment. Not only that, Sojourner had guts. She escaped her cruel master, and successfully sued a southern family to get her son back from slavery. She repeatedly protested segregation of Washington DC streetcars by sitting in a section reserved for whites, despite having been thrown from the streetcar. This woman worked tirelessly her whole life to see positive changes in the world.


Sojourner was born Isabelle Baumfree to a Dutch speaking couple who belonged to a Dutch speaking white man in New York state. Her date of birth was not recorded because racism, but it's guessed that she was born in the late 1790s. She was bought and sold a grand total of four times, and had five children before leaving* her master with the help of a local abolitionist family. This same family later helped her with the law suit that would return custody of Sojourner's son, Peter, to her.

After her escape Sojourner moved to New York City where she joined a cult and worked as a domestic servant. This inspired her to go west and become an itinerant preacher, and at age 52 she changed her name to 'Sojourner Truth'. As a preacher, Truth was introduced to Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, who convinced her to speak out about abolitionism. She soon began championing women's rights as well.

Image result for sojourner truthSojourner spoke at hundreds of gatherings. She was a charismatic and persuasive speaker. She's best know for her moving 'Ain't I a Woman' speech given at a women's conference in Akron, Ohio. This speech is the first example of inter-sectional feminism--showing how women were not equal to men, and how black women were not equal to white women.

To appropriate a lyric from Lin Manuel-Miranda, Sojourner was non stop. She started her activism career at 52, and in the time between that and her death forty years later she not only lobbied for an end to slavery, but she:

  • Recruited young African-American men for the Union army
  • Provided supplies for said army
  • Consulted with the Freedmens' Bureau in Washington DC 
  • Lobbied for an African-American colony in the west so that freed slaves could become self-sufficient  
  • Protested segregation
  • Assisted in helping freed slaves get settled on lands in Kansas
  • Continued to fight for women's suffrage 
She eventually settled in Battle Creek Michigan with her daughter, and continued to fight for equality until she died of old age. 


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Bust of Truth located in the US Capitol. She
was the first African American woman to be
honored in this way.
Sojourner Truth was the inter-sectional feminist we all wish we were. She fought bitterly with Frederick Douglass to make suffrage for black women, as well as black men, a priority. She pointed out the discrepancies in how white women versus how black women were treated. Sojourner Truth didn't pull punches, and that's one of the reasons she was such an influential woman. She said what she meant, no matter if white or male feelings would be hurt. She understood that racism and misogyny were closely related, and she did her utmost to correct both of those problems.


*You'll notice I said 'leaving', not 'escaping'. Sojourner left in 1827, when, by New York law, she should have been emancipated. Her then master, John Dumont, claimed that she still owed him work. Sojourner wasn't having that, and she walked off one morning with her infant child Sophia.


Sources
History.com Biography
Biography.com
National Women's History Museum
National Parks Service Biography
Blackpast.org
Sojourner Truth Memorial
Architecture of the Capitol