Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Evelyn McHale - Most Beautiful Suicide

The photo was taken on May Day, 1947 at the bottom of the Empire State Building. Photography student, Richard Wiles, was across the street, and heard a loud crash. He rushed to the scene and took the photo four minutes after one Evelyn McHale jumped off from the Observation Deck. Like the movie said, the picture is sad, but it is simultaneously serene. It isn’t full of gore, and Evelyn looked as if she was sleeping. Her calm repose contrasted greatly from the grotesque wreckage of a bier she herself created beneath her.
Life magazine wrote at the time: “On May Day, just after leaving her fiancé, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale wrote a note. ‘He is much better off without me … I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody,’ … Then she crossed it out. She went to the observation platform of the Empire State Building. Through the mist she gazed at the street, 86 floors below. Then she jumped. In her desperate determination she leaped clear of the setbacks and hit a United Nations limousine parked at the curb.”

On May 1, 1947, Evelyn McHale leapt to her death from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Photographer Robert Wiles took a photo of McHale a few minutes after her death.
“I don’t want anyone in or out of my family to see any part of me. Could you destroy my body by cremation? I beg of you and my family – don’t have any service for me or remembrance for me. My fiance asked me to marry him in June. I don’t think I would make a good wife for anybody. He is much better off without me. Tell my father, I have too many of my mother’s tendencies.”

Read more from stories from the Empire State Building Observation Desk.

Obstetric Fistula - Ignored

It’s estimated that up to 3.5 million women currently suffer from fistulas , with somewhere from 50,000 to 130,000 new cases each year–and most of them go untreated. Because many of these happen in rural areas lacking health care providers, it’s difficult to get at exact numbers, and there is little push to obtain them. A woman quoted in Kristof and WuDunn’s “Half the Sky,”  an Australian gynecologist who has worked in Ethiopia for more than 30 years, notes that women with fistulas “are the women most to be pitied in the world…They’re alone in the world, ashamed of their injuries. For lepers, or AIDS victims, there are organizations that help. But nobody knows about these women or helps them.”

To support the World Wide Fistula Fund, click on the WWFF Logo ->> 

Oceanographer Marie Tharp

On February 2, 2009, thanks to Google Ocean , the ocean floor's topography was revealed for millions of people to see. Before that day, the 70 percent of the Earth's surface covered by water had been filled in by a cold blank blue, essentially ignored by an interface meant to encourage armchair exploration.
One of Google Ocean's features is the Marie Tharp Historical Map , which allows users to see the Earth transformed. Google's satellite pixels replaced the brush strokes of the 1977 World Ocean Floor Panorama Marie produced with her partner Bruce Heezen and the artist Heinrich Berann. Continents are rich ripe yellows, and the oceans are countless shades of blue; both land and sea darken as if bruised where mountains push through the skins of their plains.
No one had undertaken a close examination of the ocean floor until 1952, when Marie (working at Columbia University's Lamont Geological Observatory) began the arduous task of processing thousands of feet of soundings (sonar pings used to collect depth measurements in bodies of water) from the North Atlantic.

Interview: Irene Bedard

Since portraying Mary Crow Dog in the Television production of Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee, depicting the Wounded Knee Standoff, Golden-Globe winning Alaska Native actress has appeared in a vast segment of Hollywood’s finest productions. From her beloved character Suzy Song in Smoke Signals to her voice work in Disney’s Pocahontas, Bedard has proven that a Native actress can make it to the big screen and then some.

In July of 2012, Bedard co-starred in Colonial Williamsburg’s production of “The Beloved Woman,” with actor Wes Studi. During a rehearsal break, she took a few moments to speak with ICTMN about working with Studi, working as a Native actress and what’s to come in the future.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Amelia Earhart - Case Closed

Fred Noonan & Amelia Earhart
I have just finished "Amelia Earhart - Case Closed" by Mike and Marjie Markowski, the revised edition of the original work of Walter Roessler and Leo Gomez.

"Case Closed" investigates the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan off Howland Island in July 1937.  However, unlike many other tomes that focus on Amelia's many aviation achievements, this book seeks to focus on the events that led up and contributed to that fateful day.

When we think of Amelia Earhart we tend to visualise a young daring girl setting off on a grand adventure, and who vanished off the face of the earth.  However, the truth is rarely as fanciful; and "Case Closed" seeks to dispel some of the myths surrounding this extraordinary woman and her exploits.

"Case Closed" leads us through the life and aviation achievements of Amelia - and touches briefly upon those of her predecessors.  We also learn of the personalities of Amelia and those surrounding her - and how these may have impacted upon decisions later made concerning her final flight. And we also learn that a series of events - each on its own probably not significant - together resulted in tragic consequences.

The authors look at a number of important issues that ultimately impacted on the final flight.  We learn of:

  • Amelia's choice of plane in the Lockheed Electra - most of her other ventures were in the single-engine Vega;
  • Amelia's crash on 20th March 1937 on her first attempt - an incident which resulted in damage to her Lockheed Electra and constant mechanical problems;
  • the non-participation of half her original crew in the second attempt - both Paul Mantz and Harry Manning decided not to accompany Amelia and Fred;
  • the decision to travel west-east rather than the usual east-west route;
  • adverse weather conditions affecting the Electra, navigation and pilot;
  • the decision not to take all necessary forms of communication on the final leg, whilst communication between both navigator and pilot was most basic;
  • "jet lag" and fatigue affecting both Fred and Amelia which resulted in both experiencing navigational errors and poor decision-making
What "Case Closed" confirms is that Amelia and Fred did not survive the attempt and vanished, somewhere near Howland Island, on the final leg of their journey. What I appreciated in this work was the efforts of the authors to offer a critical assessment of events leading up to that fateful day and to offer constructive analysis rather than look at events through rose-coloured glasses.

But let there be no mistake - in no way do the authors disparage the character and achievements of Amelia and Fred; rather they seek to show that both were human with all the frailties of humanity.  Their disappearance was a tragedy and loss to the world of aviation.  

Recent news articles on Amelia Earhart that have been featured on Women of History:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Amelia Earhart - Lost Evidence?

From CNN:
CNN reported Sunday that a 1937 photo may be key in finding, with certainty, the final resting place of Earhart as well as her navigator Fred Noonan, and their Lockheed Electra plane – which all disappeared famously during a doomed attempt at an around-the-world flight in 1937.

Eric Bevington, one of the officers who first set out to find her in 1937, wrote a letter to the magazine’s editor more than 50 years after the first search for Earhart. He still was alive, living in the South of England, and said he had saved his old documents from the inaugural expedition.

In the endless search of historical documents, Gillespie said the group uncovered records that showed a British man named Gerald Gallagher found human bones, a piece of a man’s shoe, a piece of woman’s shoe and a box for a sextant, which is a navigational device, on Gardner Island in 1940. Suspecting it was Earhart, Gillespie said the remains were examined by a British colonial service doctor named David Hoodless who dispelled the theory saying the bones belonged to a stocky male, and the sextant was a mariner’s sextant, not aeronautical.

See also:

Iran: Women Banned From University Programs

From Ynet News:
Universities in Iran have announced that dozens of academic programs in the coming year will be "single-gender," which effectively means they will be exclusively offered to men, the Telegraph reported Monday.

Iran's most celebrated human rights campaigner, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, has urged the UN to probe the reform, claiming that the real agenda was to reduce the proportion of female students to below 50% – from around 65% at present – thereby weakening the Iranian feminist movement in its campaign against discriminatory Islamic laws.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mary Toft - Bunnies In The Oven

From the Wellcome Library:
In November 1726, a woman named Mary Toft was at the center of a public debate that included some eminent physicians of the day. Mary Toft became known as the Surrey Rabbit Breeder, based on the account that after a series of miscarriages, she began to give birth to rabbits. This continued in the presence of a Swiss anatomist connected with the court of George I, Nathanael St. Andre. St. Andre published A Short Narrative of an Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbets, and other pamphlets and broadsides followed. Toft came to London, where, after the 17th rabbit 'birth', many became convinced the matter was a hoax. Toft then confessed and St. Andre apologized.

See also the 18th century manuscripts from the Wellcome Library

And from The Curious Case of Mary Toft:
In September 1726, news reached the court of King George I of the alleged birth of several rabbits to Mary Toft (1703-1763) of Godalming, near Guildford, in Surrey.

Toft was a twenty-five year old illiterate servant, married to Joshua Toft, a journeyman clothier. According to reports, despite having had a miscarriage just a month earlier in August 1726, Mary had still appeared to be pregnant. On September 27th, she went into labour and was attended initially by her neighbour Mary Gill, and then her mother in law Ann Toft. She gave birth to something resembling a liverless cat.

The family decided to call on the help of Guildford obstetrician John Howard. He visited Mary the next day where he was presented with more animal parts which Ann Toft said she had taken from Mary during the night. The following day, Howard returned and helped deliver yet more animal parts. Over the next month Howard recorded that she began producing a rabbit's head, the legs of a cat, and, in a single day, nine dead baby rabbits.

Howard sent letters to some of England's greatest doctors and scientists and the King's secretary, informing them of the miraculous births.

The Daylight Gate

Pendle: a place synonymous with witches and Britain's most notorious diabolism trials. The candle-passing parlour game says, if it dies in your hand, you've a forfeit to give. If you're going to write a book about famous witches, it had better fly.

Winterson's novella is set in 1612, during the feverishly paranoid reign of James I. It describes the plight of a group of paupers, mostly women, accused of evil practices and tried at the August assizes. In the previous decade, the gunpowder plot almost did away with the king. Heresy is his obsession. Author of the instructive Daemonologi, he is, as Pendle's local magistrate puts it, "a meddler". In this fraught climate disfigured elderly ladies aren't safe, alchemists can be arrested for creating mechanical beetles, and Catholics are thumb-screwed. "It suits the times to degrade the hoc est corpus of the Catholic mass into satanic hocus pocus," notes William Shakespeare, who features briefly, and not preposterously, in Winterson's book.

Queen Victoria's Bad Boy Bertie

Perhaps no Prince of Wales in history has been less trusted — or more spied upon — than the boy everyone knew as Bertie. 

When he attended a military summer camp, at age 19, the future King Edward VII was surrounded by minders: two stern Grenadier officers, a colonel and a general. He even had to share a general’s quarters.

Happily, however, they had not thought to lock Bertie’s bedroom window. So, one night, the heir to the throne wriggled out, made a beeline for the camp prostitute — one Nellie Clifden — and triumphantly lost his virginity.

Nor did it help that the birth of her son and heir was difficult: the baby was exceptionally large, and Victoria — at 4ft 11in — exceptionally small. Afterwards, she was dogged by post-natal depression for nearly a year.

Bertie, named after his father, was tossed to a wet-nurse — a woman called Mrs Brough, who later murdered her own six children in a fit of madness. 

So needy was Victoria for Albert’s love that she had little affection to spare for her second child. In any case, she thought Bertie was ugly — ‘too frightful’ and also ‘sadly backward’.

A royal wedding, she decided, presented the perfect solution: it would not only remove the presence of her irksome son but also stop him lusting after loose women. Bertie must wed the unprepossessing Alexandra.

Desperate to please her, he did precisely as he was told. But as I will reveal on Monday, far from taming him, marriage would turn Bertie into a world class womaniser, who justly deserved his nickname ‘the Prince of Pleasure’.

Excerpts from "Bertie: A life of Edward VII" by Jane Ridley

Unusual "Royal" Aztec Burial

Mexican archaeologists say they have found an unprecedented human burial in which the skeleton of a young woman is surrounded by piles of 1,789 human bones in Mexico City's Templo Mayor.

Researchers found the burial about five meters (15 feet) below the surface, next to the remains of what may have been a "sacred tree" at one edge of the plaza, the most sacred site of the Aztec capital.

She said Tuesday that when the Mayas interred sacrifice victims with royal burials, they were usually found as complete bodies, not jumbles of different bone types as in this case. And, except for special circumstances, the Aztecs, unlike other pre-Hispanic cultures, usually cremated members of the elite during their rule from 1325 to the Spanish conquest in 1521.

Lady Anne's Great Books of Record

A three-year study into a set of manuscripts compiled and written by one of Britain's earliest feminist figures has revealed new insights into how women challenged male authority in the 17th century.

Dr Jessica Malay has painstakingly transcribed Lady Anne Clifford's 600,000-word Great Books of Record, which documents the trials and triumphs of the female aristocrat's family dynasty over six centuries and her bitter battle to inherit castles and villages across northern England.
Lady Anne, who lived from 1590 to 1676, was, in her childhood, a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Her father died when she was 15 but contrary to an agreement that stretched back to the time of Edward II -- that the Clifford's vast estates in Cumbria and Yorkshire should pass to the eldest heir whether male or female ­- the lands were handed over to her uncle.
Following an epic legal struggle in which she defied her father, both her husbands, King James I and Oliver Cromwell, Lady Anne finally took possession of the estates, which included the five castles of Skipton, where she was born, Brougham, Brough, Pendragon and Appleby, aged 53.

Manchester Female Reformers At Peterloo Massacre

From the Guardian:
The Peterloo massacre  on Monday 16 August 1819 - 193 years ago tomorrow - took place when a peaceful crowd, assembled to demand the reform of Parliament, was attacked by armed soldiers and yeomanry, leading to many deaths and injuries. The events of the day have been the subject of many books, novels, prints and poems, but the role of women has often been overlooked.

As the reform movement gathered momentum in the spring of 1819, women stepped onto the public stage, setting up Female Reform Societies  in a number of towns. Blackburn women led the way. On 5 July the Female Reformers, described as "very neatly dressed for the occasion", and each wearing a green favour in her bonnet or cap, attended an outdoor public meeting, at which they presented a Cap of Liberty made of scarlet silk to the chair, John Knight.

At least 18 people were killed on the field or died later of their injuries, of whom four were women. These were Margaret Downes – sabred; Mary Heys - trampled by cavalry; Sarah Jones – truncheoned on the head by special constables; and Martha Partington, – crushed to death in a cellar. Of the 654 people listed as being injured, 168 were women.

Mary Pearcey - Jill The Ripper?

It’s true that while many theories about the killer’s identity have emerged over the years, some of them more implausible than others (Lewis Carroll of “Alice in Wonderland” fame?), the police only had four actual suspects—all male. But after a witness said she saw the fifth Ripper victim, Mary Kelly, hours after she was murdered, the chief inspector in the case suggested it might have been the female killer escaping in Kelly’s clothing. Later proponents of this “Jill the Ripper” theory suggest that a midwife (possibly an abortionist) would have had the anatomical knowledge usually attributed to the Ripper, and would have had easy access to her female victims. 

As the theory goes, the most likely suspect may be Mary Pearcey, who was convicted and hanged in 1890 for the murder of her lover’s wife and child—and who had used a method similar to the Ripper’s to commit the crime.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History

Environmental journalist Florence Williams says that "Breasts are bellwethers for the changing health of people.”

It was after reading a news article about the effects of chemicals on breast milk that Florence set out to  investigate the natural and unnatural history of breasts.
Her book presents the findings of her forensic investigation of the evolutionary, social, sexual and historical knowledge on breasts.

They are, says Florence Williams, author of new book 'Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History', "bikinied, bared, flaunted, measured, inflated, sexted, YouTubed, suckled, pierced, tattooed, tassled and in every way fetishised".

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Danish Royal Affair

In 1769 the German outsider, Johann Struensee, arrived in Copenhagen as the physician and companion to the deranged Christian VII. By the end of that year he had not only made great political strides in a country that had the most complete absolute monarchy left in Europe, but had also become the lover of the queen, George III’s youngest sister, Caroline Mathilde. With her agreement, and the acquiescence of the king, Struensee took over the running of the state and attempted to transform Denmark into a model of enlightened absolutism. Struensee and Caroline Mathilde had a daughter; radical reforms multiplied; chaos mounted; enemies massed; violence and tragedy ensued.

Now, thanks in part to the surge of popular interest in Scandinavia, the first film to tackle the story has been released. A Royal Affair stars Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen. 

It is a beautiful film, tonally taking its cue from the historical epics of Luchino Visconti. Like these, it builds tension to gathering disaster with visual clues. The director, Nikolaj Arcel, is creditably true to the facts. At no point does he seriously deviate from the historical record. But this is a feature film not a documentary attempt to recreate the past and, like every historical fiction, it is therefore also necessarily a portrait of the present. 

La Malinche - Heroine or Temptress

A small army of Spaniards left Cuba in February 1519 on eleven ships headed for the Mainland. The expedition was led by Hernán Cortés who had been Secretary for the Spanish invasion of Cuba led by Diego Velasquez Cuellar. Velazquez had massacred the native warriors, burned their leader, Chief Hatuey, alive, and secured the island and its people as a Spanish colony. 

The point of the expedition led by Cortés, therefore, was to accumulate as much gold as possible, by trade or otherwise, and to capture slaves. After a resounding Spanish victory over the native warriors of Tobasco, the local High Chief told Cortés of the golden city called "Culua." There, he said, a river of gold ran into Montezuma's beautiful City In A Lake Near the Sky. 

To speed Cortés and his soldiers on their way, the huey tlatolani also handed over a number of slave girls to the Spaniards. One of these, baptized as "Marina", had her own reasons for invading the capital of the Aztecs. This woman, now known as "La Malinche", used her great intelligence, her quick mastery of Spanish, and Cortés and his soldiers to conquer Mexico.

Non-Fictional Accounts of La Malinche:
Feminism, Nation & Myth: La Malinche edited by Amanda Nolacea Harris
La Malinche: The Mistress of Hernan Cortes, From Slave to Goddess by Rodrigue Levesque
La Malinche in Mexican Literature: From History to Myth by Sandra Messing Cypress

Fictional Accounts of La Malinche:
The Treasure of La Malinche (Vols 1 & 2) by Jeffry S Hepple
Feathered Serpent: A Novel of the Mexican Conquest by Colin Falconer
Malinche: A Novel by Laura Esquivel

For more on La Malinche see:
La Malinche from Wikipedia

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Historic Chocolate

Although these chocolate traces aren’t the oldest to our knowledge, preceded by beverage vessels found in excavations of Gulf coast sites of the Olmec culture which have dated back to 1,500 BC, they do date back to about 500 BC, long before archeologists thought any culture was cooking with chocolate. According to the anthropology institute, “this indicates that the pre-Hispanic Maya may have eaten foods with cacao sauce, similar to mole,” a sauce common to modern Mexican cuisine that often has chocolate in it. The primary piece of evidence that supports this theory is that the traces were found on a plate, and not a bowl or a grinding apparatus: ”This is the first time it has been found on a plate used for serving food,” archaeologist Tomas Gallareta said . “It is unlikely that it was ground there (on the plate), because for that they probably used metates (grinding stones).”

Women Excavate Metropolis

After 22 years of male only excavation teams, women have recently joined ongoing excavation works in the ancient city of Metropolis in İzmir’s Torbalı town within the scope of a new project lead by the Turkish Labor Institution (İŞKUR).

Six women had been working on the project and had been nicknamed “Metropolis’ Angels”. According to Aybek excavation organizers and participants were really content with the participation of those women. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mary Louise Rasmuson

From the New York Times:

Mary Louise Rasmuson, who joined the Women’s Army Corps when it was formed during World War II,  rose to be its director under two presidents and later found a new life as a civic leader and philanthropist in the young state of Alaska, died on Monday at her home in Anchorage. She was 101.

In 1948, the corps was renamed and made a permanent part of the Army. Women were not allowed in combat roles, but their responsibilities gradually increased. They became aircraft mechanics, trained men in sending code, rigged parachutes and worked as cryptologists in the cold war. Mrs. Rasmuson spent four years in Europe as an Army adviser before President Dwight D. Eisenhower named her director of the corps in 1957. President John F. Kennedy reappointed her in 1961.

Twelve Rooms of the Nile

“To speak the names of the dead is to make them live again.” –The Book of the Dead

There is no more apt way to introduce celebrated poet and short-story author Enid Shomer’s debut novel, The Twelve Rooms of the Nile. While Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale really did both travel through Egypt before they became the luminaries known to history, only in Shomer’s richly envisioned world did their journeys come to a crossroads, and did their lives become intertwined and their souls deeply connected. Shomer supplements rigorous research with vivid imagination, so that by the end of this novel, it will be difficult to fathom how Flaubert and Nightingale became the people we remember them as today without this story having taken place.

Enid Shomer won the Iowa Fiction Prize for her first collection of stories and the Florida Gold Medal for her second. She is also the author of four books of poetry. Her work has appeared in The New YorkerThe AtlanticThe Paris Review, and many other publications. She lives in Tampa, Florida.

Marilyn by Lois Banner

MARILYN: The Passion and the Paradox - Hers was a life lived fully and ambitiously, and cut short tragically; this much we all know is true. But beyond the public persona that Norma Jeane Mortenson put forth, do we really know all that much about the reality behind Marilyn Monroe’s storied thirty-six years on this earth? 

Upon the fiftieth anniversary of Monroe’s death, feminist and historian Lois W. Banner presents us with a new, all-encompassing study of the star’s tumultuous life and mystery-sodden death.  Through her lens, we see a very different Marilyn Monroe—not merely a blond bombshell nor a fragile victim—but someone she reveals as a radical, an intellectual, someone with a deep interest in spirituality, and one of the most important women of the 20th century.  

Lois Banner was a founder of the field of women's history and cofounder of the Berkshire Conference in Women's History, the major academic event in the field. She is the author of ten books, including her acclaimed American Beauty and most recently MM–Personal, which reproduces and discusses items from Marilyn's personal archives. In addition to her books on Monroe, Banner is a major collector of her artifacts. She is also a professor of history and gender studies at USC and lives in Southern California.

Lois Banner on youtube:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Myth: Women & Children First

From the Boston Herald:

According to a recent study by two Swedish economists, that brand of gallantry is not only dead, it was buried at sea long ago.

Keen to test humanity’s capacity for selflessness in times of scarcity and duress, the students of the "dismal science" reviewed survival data for some of history’s worst shipwrecks.

What they found was that women and children were only half as likely as crew members and captains to survive maritime disasters.

Instead of "women and children first" and "the captain must go down with the ship," the rallying cry seemed to be "every man for himself," the authors wrote.

Economists at Uppsala University have turned on its head the idea that women and children are attended to first by investigating 18 shipwrecks that occurred between 1852 to 2011.  Two of the most famous examples of sinking ships, Titanic and Lusitania, were also taken into account.

Other than the Titanic, where three times more women than men survived the disaster, the study finds that the captain, his crew and male passengers were generally saved more often than women and children.

In fact, crew members were 18.7 percent more likely to get out alive than everyone else on board.

And from Newser:
If you ever find yourself on board a sinking ship, you'd better hope you're an adult male. Researchers from Sweden looked at 18 of the most disastrous shipwrecks and found that women and children are far less likely to survive compared to their male counterparts, the Los Angeles Times  reports. What's worse, captains and crew members had higher survival rates than all passengers, shattering the notion that captains must go down with their ship. In fact, there is no maritime law that requires captains to remain aboard their sinking vessel.
Crew members fared the best, with a survival rate of 61%, followed by captains at 44%. Men were the next most likely to survive (37%), then women (27%) and lastly children (15%). Researchers say men and crew members have greater knowledge of the ship, making it easier for them to get to life boats—and they aren't as keen to sacrifice themselves as some may believe. But don't let this distort your sense of history. There were some exceptions to the rule, including the famed Titanic voyage, in which women's survival rate was three times higher than other disasters.