Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Elisabeth of Luxembourg: She Was Queen Regnant . . . Sort of . . .

Elisabeth of Luxembourg (born 28 February 1409)

Elisabeth may or may not have been born on 28 February--there is a great deal of ambiguity, and it's interesting that even the date of a princess's birth is not necessarily recorded. But this is a date that has been traditionally accepted as her birthday, and so, for the purposes of this daybook project, I am using today's post to recognize Elisabeth of Luxembourg.

While her exact date of birth may be disputed, what is indisputable is that she was the daughter of Sigismund of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor, and his second wife Barbara of Cilli, herself a woman of political skill and accomplishment who acted as regent of Hungary on behalf of her husband during his absences.

Elisabeth (left) and her mother Barbara Cilli
c. 1440
The only child of Sigismund, who was the king of Hungary and Bohemia in addition to his late-in-life role as Holy Roman Emperor, Elisabeth should have succeeded to the thrones of the two kingdoms following her father's death in 1437--Sigismund had certainly expected her to become queen in her own right.

In fact, as early as 1411, Sigismund had extracted a promise from the estates of Hungary recognizing his daughter's hereditary right to succeed him. (Sigismund had become king of Hungary only by marriage--his first wife, Mary of Hungary, had been the queen regnant of Hungary).

In 1422, at the time of her betrothal to the Habsburg Albert II, duke of Austria, the marriage settlement refleced Elisabeth's status as heir presumptive to both Hungary and Bohemia (Sigismund inherited the crown of Bohemia in 1419, though he wasn't yet acknowledged as king). While Sigismund and the Habsburgs thus successfully negotiated the terms of the treaty, the agreement was not popular among the nobility in Hungary or Bohemia.

In 1437, realizing his death was imminent, Sigismund compelled the diet of Bohemia to accept Elisabeth and Albert as his heirs. And yet, after her father's death, Elisabeth's hereditary rights were ignored. Her husband was recognized as king in Hungary, with Elisabeth relegated to the role of queen consort, though it was noted that Albert could govern only "with her consent and approval." Whatever that might have meant in practice, Albert's rule did not last long--he died in 1439.

With Albert's death, there was something of a problem in Hungary: Elisabeth and Albert had "only" produced two daughters, leaving the succession in some doubt--and, clearly, if Elisabeth's own hereditary rights were not recognized after her father's death, it is not likely that her daughters' rights would be recognized after the death of her husband. 

But the widowed queen was pregnant. Under the circumstances, Elisabeth ruled temporarily in Hungary as de facto regent, though not officially recognized as such, and in 1440, when the council of Hungary gathered, members selected Ladislaus of Poland as king. In Bohemia, Frederick V was chosen as king, to follow Albert II. The pregnant queen left the capital.

A sixteenth-century sculpture
of Elisabeth as queen of Hungary,
from the Hofkirche (Court Church),
Innsbruck, Austria
Elisabeth, however, took the crown of Hungary with her when she left Buda, so Ladislaus couldn't be crowned--and in February, she gave birth to a son, also named Ladislaus (later called "Ladislaus the Posthumous"). In May, using the Hungarian crown, she had her son crowned king of Hungary. She went to war with Ladislaus, and the two ultimately met to negotiate a settlement--but Elisabeth died in 1442, just thirty-three years old. 

After Ladislaus's death in 1444, Elisabeth's son Ladislaus was recognized as the king of Hungary. In 1453 he was finally recognized as king of Bohemia.

Elisabeth's elder daughter, Anne, was duchess of Luxembourg in her own right. Her younger daughter, Elizabeth, became the queen of Poland by marriage--but after her brother Ladislaus's death, she claimed the thrones of Hungary and Bohemia for herself. While she did not become queen, her sons eventually inherited those titles, her son John becoming king of Hungary, her son Vadislaus II king of Bohemia. 

And then they went to war with one another . . . Sigh.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leser v. Garnett: The Nineteenth Amendment (and Women's Suffrage) Challenged

Leser v. Garnett (decided 27 February 1922)

Although the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States--the amendment affirming that women had the right to vote--was ratified on 26 August 1920 (actually, the amendment's ratification was certified on that date), the constitutionality of the amendment was challenged, the case winding up in the Supreme Court.

The Court's opinion, delivered on 27 February 1922 by Justice Louis Brandeis, summarized the origins of the case:
On October 12, 1920, Cecilia Streett Waters and Mary D. Randolph, citizens of Maryland, applied for and were granted registration as qualified voters in Baltimore City. To have their names stricken from the list Oscar Leser and others brought this suit in the court of Common Pleas. The only ground of disqualification alleged was that the applicants for registration were women, whereas the constitution of Maryland limits the suffrage to men. Ratification of the proposed Amendment to the Federal . . . Constitution, now known as the Nineteenth, . . . , had been proclaimed on August 26, 1920. . . . The Legislature of Maryland had refused to ratify it. The petitioners contended, on several grounds, that the Amendment had not become part of the Federal Constitution. 
The plaintiffs disputed the constitutionality of the Nineteenth Amendment on three principle "grounds": that the power to amend the Constitution did not cover this amendment "because of its character"; that several states had ratified the amendment despite the fact that their state constitutions prohibited women from voting; and that, in particular, the ratifications of the states of Tennessee and West Virginia were were invalid because they were adopted without following the rules of legislative procedure in place in those states.

In its decision, the court addressed, and responded to, each objection in turn. The Court's response to the first objection reveals the fears of Leser and his fellow plaintiffs: "The argument is that so great an addition to the electorate, if made without the State's consent, destroys its autonomy as a political body." The Court refutes this argument by referring to the Fifteenth Amendment (while noting that the state of Maryland had rejected that amendment, granting the right to vote to former slaves--or, at least, to male slaves).

To the second, the Court argued, "the function of a state legislature in ratifying a proposed amendment to the Federal Constitution, like the function of Congress in proposing the amendment, is a federal function derived from the Federal Constitution; and it transcends any limitations sought to be imposed by the people of a State."

Finally, while responding in some detail to the arguments about Tennessee and West Virginia, the Court noted that the "question raised may have been rendered immaterial by the fact that since the proclamation the legislatures of two other States — Connecticut and Vermont — have adopted resolutions of ratification."

The decision was unanimous.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mary Whiton Calkins: Denied a Degree

Mary Whiton Calkins (died 26 February 1930)

Although she could not study psychology formally at Harvard University, Mary Whiton Calkins not only became a psychologist, she eventually became the first woman president of the American Psychological Association.

Born in 1863, Calkins graduated from Smith College with a degree in classics and philosophy. Her later interest in psychology led her to pursue courses at Harvard--where she faced opposition because the presence of a woman in the classroom would obviously be much too disruptive.

Although she could not register formally as a student, she enrolled in classes at the Harvard Annex (which became Radcliffe College) and, ultimately, was allowed to sit in on regular Harvard psychology classes.

She began attending lectures in 1890, and in 1892 was--grudgingly--admitted to Harvard as a "guest." She completed coursework, exams, and research needed for a doctoral degree.

Her dissertation, "An Experimental Research on the Association of Ideas," was presented in 1895 to a committee that included the noted scholar William James, and although members of the committee unanimously approved, Harvard refused to award Calkins a Ph.D.

In 1902, she and three other women who had done graduate work at Harvard were offered doctoral degrees from Radcliffe College. Calkins refused. As Jacy L. Young reports, this effort was
followed in 1927, by a petition to Harvard by thirteen prominent alumni, including of psychologists R. M. Yerkes, E. L. Thorndike, and R. S. Woodworth, requesting that Calkins be granted her degree. Asserting that there was no adequate reason to do so, the university once again refused Calkins a doctoral degree. Efforts to have Harvard grant Calkins her degree posthumously continue to this day. In 2002, psychologist Karyn Boatwright and her students at Kalamazoo College petitioned Harvard to grant Calkins her degree, and established a website, Justice for Mary Whiton Calkins, to gather support for that effort.
Calkins published books on both psychology and philosophy. After her 1905-6 term as APA president, Calkins was elected to the presidency of the American Philosophical Association in 1918.

Jacy Young's excellent profile of Calkins, from Psychology's Feminist Voices, gives an overview of her life and work in addition to providing a bibliography and a list of resources for further reading.

For a podcast about Mary Whiton Calkins from York University's This Week in the History of Psychology, click here.

Update, 2016: The petition of the Kalamazoo College students has now been archived, but in 2016, students at the University of British Columbia have taken up the cause:
In 2002, psychologist Karyn Boatwright and her students at Kalamazoo College petitioned Harvard to grant Calkins her degree. And again in 2005 the Society for the Psychology of Women, a division of the American Psychological Association, urged Harvard to recognize Calkins’ for her efforts. Harvard’s response in all cases has been no.
The psychology students will be adding their voice to those who have fought on behalf of Mary Whiton Calkins and they will ask Harvard to grant her a degree posthumously. Their ultimate goal is to acknowledge Calkins’ determination and her contributions to both psychology and philosophy so that she may be an inspiration to all people struggling for equality.
Update, 2018: I notice that a petition to Harvard in support of the granting of a degree was also posted on garnered few signatures, however, and is now closed.

Update, April 2018: One more effort to on Mary Whiton Calkins's behalf--
I saw your article on Mary Whiton Calkins not receiving her Ph.D. from Harvard. The Calkins Family Association, a national genealogy group, is having its triennial reunion in Chicago April 27, 2018. We too are signing a petition to be mailed to Harvard demanding they finally bestow upon Mary W. Calkins her rightfully earned degree. You may find us on Facebook where our petition letter is posted.
Thank you,
Nanette Armstrong, CFA President 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Eliza Haywood and Mothers of the Novel

Eliza Haywood (died 25 February 1756)

Born about the year 1693, Eliza Heywood was one of the most popular and prolific writers of her time--about her first novel, Love in Excess, David Oakleaf observes that it is "the spectacularly successful first novel of a spectacularly successful novelist." Following its 1719-20 serial publication, Haywood produced a novel "on average every three months" throughout the 1720s.

An engraving of Haywood,
All this was accomplished while Haywood was still active in her first career, acting. She had begun her career on the stage in Ireland in 1715. Within two years she was in London, ultimately ending up at the Haymarket Theatre, where she worked with Henry Fielding.

By the end of the decade, she was not only collaborating on an adaptation of his work (The Opera of Operas was a musical version of Fielding's play about Tom Thumb, Tragedy of Tragedies) but writing her own original plays, A Wife to be Left and Frederick, Duke of Brunswick-Lunenburg

In the following decades, Haywood wrote criticism (her Companion to the Theatre, first published in 1735, went through seven editions in twenty years), essays, conduct books, political histories and satire, translations, and a monthly periodical, The Female Spectator, which appeared from 1744 to 1746.

In this first periodical to be written by a woman for women, Haywood, in the guise of distinctive literary personae, discussed marriage, education, and child-rearing, among other topics of interest to her female readers. She was working on a second periodical for women, The Young Lady, at the time of her death. According to Oakleaf, in the last issue of The Young Lady, Haywood apologizes to her readers, saying that "she is too ill to continue writing."

History was not kind to Eliza Haywood, however--while Defoe and Fielding were lionized as "fathers of the novel," writers like Haywood were forgotten. As Kirsten T. Saxton reminds us, however: 
. . . Eliza Haywood was a key player in the history of the British novel, and a leading figure in a brilliant and competitive London literary scene that included Johathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, Henry Fielding, and Samuel Richardson. She came resoundingly to fame in 1719 with the publication of her first novel, Love in Excess, or the fatal enquiry, which, until the publication of Samuel Richardson's Pamela in 1740, was one of the three most popular works of eighteenth-century English fiction, an honor it shared with Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Gulliver's Travels (1726).
But now, after decades of work by feminist scholars, Haywood's writing is once more available to interested readers. You can find free digitized versions at various sites like Project Gutenberg or Google Books, and free or very low-cost reprints are available through Kindle Books.

There are many high-quality, relatively inexpensive editions available as well, which include excellent biographical information and critical analyses. I recommend the edition of Love in Excess by David Oakleaf (quoted above). And among the dozens of short stories, novellas, and novels, I recommend The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, which is also available in a terrific paperback edition.

Although it's a bit pricey, Patricia Meyer Spacks's Selections from the Female Spectator offers an excellent introduction to the periodical literature of the eighteenth century, an assessment of Haywood's role as writer and publisher, and a wonderful sampling of Haywood's journalism. (Used copies are also available!)

For a critical assessment of Haywood, I recommend Kirsten T. Saxton and Rebecca P. Bocchicchio's The Passionate Fictions of Eliza Haywood: Essays on Her Life and Work.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Arcangela Tarabotti: Anger and Indictment

Arcangela Tarabotti (born 24 February 1604)

"Arcangela" Tarabotti inhabits the kind of all-female world that Christine de Pizan imagines as a safe space for women. Tarabotti is a Benedictine nun, living in the convent of Sant’Anna in Venice.* But she’s not there because she wants to be. In the opening passage of Paternal Tyranny, she tells us who has put her there and why:
Men’s depravity could not have devised a more heinous crime than the wanton defiance of God’s inviolable decrees. Yet day in and day out, men never cease defying them by deeds dictated by self-interest. Among their blameworthy excesses, pride of place must go to enclosing innocent women within convent walls under apparently holy (but really wicked) pretexts. 
Men “force women to dwell in life-long prisons, although guilty of no fault other than being born the weaker sex. . . .” The man whom she indicts--the man who has enclosed this angry young woman in a convent, which she compares to being buried alive--is her father.
Paternal Tyranny,
retitled La Semplicita Infannata,
published after Tarabotti's death
Born Elena Cassandra Tarabotti, the eldest of nine children, Arcangela has spent most of her life physically confined by the time she writes Paternal Tyranny. Tarabotti inherited a disability from her father, a limp, which enabled him to make her disappear, for all practical purposes. As her editor Letizia Panizza notes, Tarabotti’s lameness gave her father a reason for deciding she was “unmarriageable, fit therefore only for the convent”—although the “same condition had not prevented him from marrying.”

Tarabotti was first sent to the convent of Sant’Anna as a boarder when she was eleven, but she was forced to remain there after she reached marriageable age. With no way out, she became a Benedictine nun, in 1623, when she was nineteen.

The three monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience determined the way she would live inside the walls of the convent for the rest of her life. She died in 1652, just four days after her forty-eighth birthday. The additional Benedictine vow of stability meant that she would not only remain inside the same convent for life but also that she would remain inside its walls after her death—the vow of stability required her burial inside the walls of Sant’Anna.

Thus, for Tarabotti, the all-female world of the convent, forced upon her, became both a prison and a tomb.

But her life in the convent did provide her the opportunity to educate herself, and it allowed her to become a writer. Denied a more conventional role as a mother, Tarabotti referred to her literary productions as her children. She calls Paternal Tyranny her “first offspring,” and she asserts its legitimacy—it is her “true offspring”—even while she acknowledges that it will be dismissed as “the offspring of a deranged mind.”

In a preface addressed to her readers, published in the 1643 Convent Life as Paradise, Tarabotti mentions having completed Paternal Tyranny, and in the same volume her printer advises the reader that he will soon be publishing it. Despite her hopes and his confidence, however, the work did not appear. As an indication of the many difficulties she faced in trying to get her work published, Tarabotti ultimately decided to rename her firstborn, and Paternal Tyranny became Simplicity Betrayed.

Despite her problems getting her "first born" into print, she published her Convent Life as Paradise in 1643, her Antisatire in 1644, a collection of letters in 1650, and a defense of women, Women Are of the Human Species, in 1651, the year before her death. The renamed Paternal Tyranny was eventually printed, in 1654, two years after Tarabotti’s death. Even then, it was published not in Italy but in Leiden, and not under Tarabotti’s name but an anagrammatic pseudonym, Galerana Barcitotti.

Tarabotti's first published work,
Convent Life as Paradise,
a more politically and socially
acceptable work than Paternal Tyranny
Tarabotti's Paternal Tyranny is a blazing indictment of male dominance in all its forms. She exposes “fathers” in all their manifestations—and their overwhelming hypocrisy. “What liars you men are!” she rails, “You cruel, inhuman men, forever preaching that evil is good and good is evil.” Men “glory” in their strength while they “wage war among [themselves], killing one another like wild beasts.” “This”—that is, killing one another—is “where [their] strength lies.”

She writes out of her situation but does not focus on her own situation. Instead she condemns all fathers like her own (and there are plenty of them) who similarly enclose their daughters against the daughters’ wishes, denying them what she regards as their God-given free will and forcing them to live as perpetual prisoners. Nothing is worse than the “utter barbarity of fathers against their own daughters,” she writes, although they “veil their baseness with lying phrases.” 

Fathers deceive their daughters by saying “they would only too gladly bestow generous dowries on them, but they could never be sure that their daughters would be happy . . . for so many untoward events could befall them, of which this evil world is only too full.” But all this is “pretense and open prevarication,” words pronounced by a “lying, flattering tongue.”

Fathers are only too happy to shut their daughters away and forget about them. And then Tarabotti observes: “He would never think, of course, of shutting himself up among monks, even if he were beaten black and blue. . . . [H]e preaches withdrawal and chastity for the ones he compels to enter. At the same time, footloose and fancy-free, he strives to enjoy every possible delight, drowning himself in a thousand vices.”

Her condemnation of fathers extends to the “fatherland” and to the fathers who govern Venice—they “defile” Venice, complicit in this “hideous iniquity of immuring women against their will.” They act solely out of “political expediency”—state authorities are complicit in the sacrifice of women in the economic and political interests of their families.

Tarabotti also condemns priests—in their roles as “fathers”—as well as the institutional church itself, controlled by those “holy impeccable fathers, gathered in the sacred consistory,” and the Fathers of the Church, like St. Jerome, who provided the theoretical framework for women’s “inferiority” and warned about the “dangers” they pose to men.

She condemns all male-dominated social institutions, in fact. Men conspire to deny women an education—“So shameless are you that while reproaching women for stupidity you strive with all your power to bring them up and educate them as if they were witless and insensitive.” Men deny women the legal rights they have “usurped over them so presumptuously.” And women have no economic rights whatsoever, defrauded of their rightful inheritances and denied any share in family wealth.

Tarabotti also suggests that men may act because they are afraid of women, recalling the Amazons: “Are you afraid of women in our world multiplying? What cowards!” But she cannot find strength or comfort in this memory of fearsome, warrior women: “These are no longer the times of the brave Amazons, who discreetly killed their male children so as not to be their subjects,” she admits. There is an “intricate labyrinth enclosing [women],” and Tarabotti can find no way out.

A biography of Tarabotti is available online, from the University of Chicago's Italian Women Writers website; to read it, click here. The entry for Tarabotti offers a complete bibliography and access to digitized editions of her texts in Italian.

Letizia Panizza's English translation of Paternal Tyranny is an amazing read--I can't recommend it enough. You will never forget Tarabotti's distinctive voice. Or her anger.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Isabelle of France, Saint and Princess

Isabelle of France (died 23 February 1270)

Another saint today, Isabelle, the daughter of Louis VIII of France and Blanche of Castile, a woman whom we will meet next month. Isabelle's brother was Louis IX, who would himself be named a saint, St. Louis.

A nineteenth-century copy
of an original sculpture,
Church of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, Paris
Born in 1224, Isabelle was a contemporary of the subject of yesterday's blog post, Margaret of Cortona (1247-97), though the circumstances of their birth could hardly have been more different. Margaret was the daughter of a farmer, Isabelle a princess, the only daughter of the French king. Her brothers were kings and counts.

Well educated, Isabelle refused to marry, even when pressed to do so, instead deciding to remain a virgin consecrated to God. Devoted to the Franciscans, she wanted to establish a monastery of the Order of Poor Ladies of St. Clare of Assisi, and construction was begun just outside Paris in 1256. When it was completed in 1259, it was known as the Monastery of the Humility of the Blessed Virgin, at Longchamp, for nuns to be known as "sisters of the humble order of servants of the most blessed virgin Mary."

But rather than following the Rule established by St. Clare, Isabelle had a special rule devised for the nuns of her community, and although she herself never lived within the cloister, she followed the rule within her own home in Longchamp.

Isabelle died on 23 February 1270 and was buried in the church of the monastery she founded. Isabelle was canonized in 1696. Her monastery was closed at the time of the French Revolution and remained empty until it was eventually torn down in 1857.

For an excellent biography and analysis, see Sean L. Field's Isabelle of France: Capetian Sanctity and Franciscan Identity in the Thirteenth Century. A biography of Isabelle was written by Agnes of Harcourt, abbess of Longchamp, in the 1280s; Field's edition, The Writings Of Agnes Of Harcourt: The Life of Isabelle of France and the Letter on Louis IX and Longchamp, makes available "what is probably the first biography of one woman by another in French."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Saint Margaret of Cortona, "A Second Magdalene"

Margaret of Cortona (died 22 February 1297)

                           Saint Margaret of Cortona,
               detail from a late thirteenth-century painting,
                      Museo Diocesano, Cortona, Italy
A wild and spoiled child, a willful and "dissolute" young woman, Margaret of Cortona left home at the age of seventeen in order to live as the mistress of a wealthy young man.

She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, but her lover, the child's father, was murdered. A distraught Margaret tried to return home, only to find that her father would not receive her.

She then devoted her life to prayer and penance, finding a home among the Franciscans. Her son eventually became a friar, Margaret joining the Third Order of Saint Francis, a lay penitential order devoted to a life of poverty, prayer, and penance.

In 1277 Margaret of Cortona experienced the first of a series of visions of Jesus, who addressed her first as la poverella, ultimately as "my child." Among her many works on behalf of the poor and unfortunate, she helped to establish a hospital for the impoverished and sick in Cortona and gathered together a group of dedicated nurses to work in the hospital.

Margaret of Cortona was canonized in 1728.

The Franciscan Institute has published a biographical/devotional book, The Life and Miracles of Saint Margaret of Cortona (1247-1297)--while not a scholarly work, it may still be of interest for its treatment of Margaret of Cortona's life. This is the best of quite a number of devotional appreciations of the saint. You may also be interested in Saint Margaret of Cortona, a novel by the great French writer and Nobel Prize winner (in Literature, 1952) François Mauriac.

The Basilica of St. Margaret's, Cortona

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Nina Simone: To Be Young, Gifted, and Black

Nina Simone (born 21 February 1933)

Today would have been the late Nina Simone's eighty-second birthday. Singer, songwriter, composer, performer, and civil-rights activist, Simone and her distinctive voice are unforgettable. So take some time today for listening to her music. If you don't have the vinyl or the CDs (okay, I'm old) or the mp3s, then check out a few of her memorable performances on YouTube, including this version of "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black," accompanied by a wonderful gallery of images, and this live performance of "Mississippi Goddam" from 1965.

The official Nina Simone website is here, where you can find a biography and complete discography. For a sampling of her music, I like this anthology, The Tomato Collection.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Angelina Emily Grimké: Abolitionist and Suffragist

Angelina Emily Grimké Weld (born 20 February 1805)

Before the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and before Susan B. Anthony began working with Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the suffrage movement, the political activists Angelina Grimké and her older sister, Sarah, dedicated themselves to the pursuit of social justice.

Born to a slave-holding family in South Carolina, Angelina Grimké resisted the values of her family and her class. As a child, she noted the violence inflicted on the bodies and minds of the slaves around her and reacted strongly to their suffering.

She also demonstrated her strength in her convictions; when she was thirteen, she found that she was unable to take the pledge required for her as part of the Episcopalian confirmation, and she refused to participate.

She converted to Presbyterianism, then to Quakerism. By 1829 she had decided she could no longer live in the slave-holding South and joined Sarah in Philadelphia, where she began attending anti-slavery meetings.

William Lloyd Garrison's publication of one of Grimké's letters in The Liberator in 1835 launched her public career in the abolitionist movement. 

Grimké frequently spoke to crowds of both men and women, and in so doing, violated a sense of "appropriate" female behavior. In 1838, she addressed a state legislative committee in Massachusetts, not only speaking against slavery but in support of women's right--and obligation--to oppose injustice: “I stand before you,” she said, “on behalf of the 20,000 women of Massachusetts whose names are enrolled on petitions [which] relate to the great and solemn subject of slavery.”

Grimké was the first woman in the United States to address a legislative body. As historian Gerda Lerner notes, “It never occurred to [Grimké] that she should abide by the superior judgment of her male relatives or that anyone might consider her inferior" for being a woman. 

After she married Theodore Weld in 1838, Grimké's public visibility declined, although her personal commitment never flagged. She died in 1879.

Angelina Grimké's An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South (1836) is available through Project Gutenberg by clicking here.

In 1837, Catherine Beecher replied to Grimké in An Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism with Reference to the Duty of American Female, arguing against women's participation in the abolitionist movement. As "subordinate" creatures, women are "out of their place" if they attempt to take an active role--they should leave the arguments to men.

Grimké's 1838 Letters to Catharine Beecher is a series of essays addressing Beecher's objections. In Letter XI, "The Sphere of Man and Woman as Moral Beings the Same," Grimké turns her attention from a focus on abolition to equality between the sexes, an argument and analysis she continues in the twelfth essay.

In Letter XII, "Human Rights Not Founded on Sex," Grimké writes, "When human beings are regarded as moral beings, sex, instead of being enthroned upon the summit, administering upon rights and responsibilities, sinks into insignificance and nothingness. My doctrine then is, that whatever it is morally right for man to do, it is morally right for woman to do." The differences between men and women are not due to different natures or abilities, but to social expectations and norms:
man has been converted into the warrior and clothed with sternness and those other kindred qualities, which in common estimation belong to his character as a man, whilst woman has been taught to lean upon an arm of flesh, to sit as a doll arrayed in "gold, and pearls, and costly array" [1 Timothy 2:9], to be admired for her personal charms, and caressed and humored like a spoiled child, or converted into a mere drudge to suit the convenience of her lord and master. Thus have all the diversified relations of life been filled with "confusion and every evil work" [James 3:16]. This principle has given to man a charter for the exercise of tyranny and selfishness, pride and arrogance, lust and brutal violence. It has robbed woman of essential rights, the right to think and speak and act on all great moral questions, just as men think and speak and act; the right to share their responsibilities, perils and toils; the right to fulfill the great end of her being, as a moral, intellectual, and immortal creature, and of glorifying God in her body and her spirit which are his. Hitherto, instead of being a help meet to man in the highest, noblest sense of the term as a companion, a co-worker, an equal, she has been a mere appendage of his being an instrument of his convenience and pleasure, the pretty toy with which he wiled away his leisure moments, or the pet animal whom he humored into playfulness and submission. Woman, instead of being regarded as the equal of man, has uniformly been looked down upon as his inferior, a mere gift to fill up the measure of his happiness. In "the poetry of romantic gallantry" [here Grimké is quoting Beecher's Essay], it is true, she has been called "the last best gift of God to man" [Paradise Lost 6.19];  but I believe I speak forth the words of truth and soberness when I affirm, that woman never was given to man. She was created, like him, in the image of God, and crowned with glory and honor; created only a little lower than the angels—not, as is almost universally assumed, a little lower than man. . . .*
For an online biographical essay about Angelina and Sarah Grimké by historian Carol Berkin, click here. For a biography and analysis, I suggest Gerda Lerner's The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women's Rights and Abolition.

Update, 21 January 2023: Keri Greenidge's The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in America has appeared on a number of "notable books" lists for 2022. Described as a "stunning counternarrative of the legendary abolitionist Grimke sisters that finally reclaims the forgotten Black members of their family." For more, here is Michael Jeffries's New York Times Review.

*In quoting from Grimké's letter, I have added the sources of her quotations and regularized the spelling, punctuation, and capitalization of the nineteenth-century original.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Eleanor of Aragon, Queen and Regent

Eleanor of Aragon, queen of Portugal (died 19 February 1445)

Women faced numerous difficulties when they were left as regents for their children (usually, but not always, their sons). As we have already seen, many women functioned exceptionally well and were grudgingly, if not enthusiastically, accepted as regents, but for some, a regency was more difficult, frequently complicated by their foreignness. (Isabella of France and Catherine de' Medici are two women we have already met whose foreign backgrounds were the source of suspicion, resistance, and vilification.)

Eleanor of Aragon,
Detail from the Altarpiece of St. Vincent

That's the case for Eleanor of Aragon, queen consort of Edward (Duarte) I of Portugal. Her Aragonese connections may have useful for Portugal in forging a crucial political alliance, but these same foreign interests were problematic for Eleanor when she attempted to govern as regent. 

As a queen consort, Eleanor gave birth to nine children (five of whom survived infancy, including the requisite sons, Afonso and Ferdinand). At his death in 1438, Edward named his wife as regent for his successor, the Infante Afonso, an appointment that was affirmed by the ruling Portugues cortes (assembly). 

Although she was supported by the terms of her husband's will and by the nobility, there was deep-seated suspicion of Eleanor because of her Aragonese ties. A riot in Lisbon was the result of her confirmation as regent, suppressed by her Aragonese brother. Although efforts at compromise continued, the cortes eventually turned to the duke of Coimbra, the dead king's brother, appointing him as sole regent. 

By December of 1440, Eleanor was forced into exile. She died in Toledo, but she was buried alongside her husband at the monastery of Batalha.

The Dominican convent of Batalha,
the burial place for members of the
Portuguese royal house of Aviz

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate

Toni Morrison (born 18 February 1931)

Today is Toni Morrison's birthday. Her many honors include a Presidential Medal of Freedom (2012), recognition with the French Légion d'honneur (2010), the Pulitzer Prize (1988), and, as noted in the headline of this post, a Nobel Prize in Literature (1993).

Morrison at a 2008 tribute to Chinua Achebe
and his Things Fall Apart
Among her most well-known novels are The Bluest Eye (1970), Beloved (1987), and, most recently, Home (2012).

The best way to celebrate Morrison's birthday is, of course, to read one of her novels--she herself recently described her reading (or rereading) of The Bluest Eye on The Colbert Report. It was a wonderful interview--funny and insightful--and you can watch it by clicking here.

You can read Morrison's Nobel lecture and listen to an audio recording of the lecture by clicking here. The Nobel site also includes biographical and bibliographical information, as well as excerpts from her work and a photo gallery.

Update: Toni Morrison died on 5 August 2019.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ruth Rendell, the Right Honorable Queen of Detective Fiction

Ruth Rendell (born 17 February 1930)

Okay, there are many great women writers of detective fiction, any number of whom could be called "queen" (Rendell's friend and colleague, P. D. James, who died on 27 November 2014, was often called "the queen of crime," for example), but Ruth Rendell was appointed Commander of the British Empire, named a life peer, and sits in the House of Lords as the Right Honourable Baroness Rendell of Bahbergh. So, in my book, the "queen of detective fiction" is an appropriate title.

If you haven't yet read any of Rendell's Detective Wexford novels, now is the time--the series began in 1964, with the publication of From Doon with Death. Over the course of nearly fifty years, she has published twenty-four Wexford novels to date, the last one (so far!), No Man's Nightingale in 2013.  

Here's to many more--birthdays and Wexfords. 

Update: Ruth Rendell died on 2 May 2015, shortly after the publication of Dark Corners. In the end, No Man's Nightingale was the last Wexford novel.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Juliana of Nicomedia, Virgin Martyr

Juliana of Nicomedia (martyred 16 February 304)

First mentioned in a fifth-century martyrology attributed to St. Jerome, Juliana of Nicomedia is the daughter of a pagan father, Africanus. Juliana was martyred during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. Her father had arranged for her marriage to an influential senator, a marriage Juliana resisted because she had secretly converted to Christianity and wished to remain a virgin. Juliana was arrested, tortured, and finally beheaded.

Circumstantial details in the accounts of Juliana's martyrdom vary. In some accounts, Juliana refuses to marry unless her new husband will convert to Christianity, which he refuses to do. Her martyrdom is also at times said to have occurred not under Diocletian but under the Emperor Galerius Maximianus. 

And accounts about where her remains are also vary--her body is said to have been removed from Nicomedia by a noblewoman and taken to Italy--either to Campania or to Pozzuoli, a town near Naples, then moved to Cumae (also near Naples). A letter from the sixth-century Pope Gregory the Great about Juliana's remains suggests that they were--or that he believed them to be--in Naples. 

However, a thirteenth century document survives that purports to be an eyewitness account of the removal of her remains to Naples. According to another tradition, Juliana is buried now in the north of Spain, in Santillana del Mar ("Santillana is a contraction of Santa-Juliana"), in an abbey that is a thousand years old.

A tomb that is said to be St. Juliana's,
in Santillana del Mar
The Old English poet known as Cynewulf (c. 8th-9th century) composed a 731-line narrative poem telling the story of Juliana's martyrdom, which introduces Juliana this way:
There was a certain wealthy man of noble kind,
a mighty count. He ruled over guard-cities, ever defending
that ground and holding hoarded treasure in the city of Nicomedia.
Often he earnestly and by duty sought an idol, heathen-worship
over the word of God. His name was ascribed as Eleusius
and he had a great and renowned authority.
When his mind began to yearn after the virgin Juliana
curiosity broke him. She bore in her soul the holy troth,
eagerly intending that her maidenhood would be preserved
for the love of Christ, pure from any sin.
To read the entire poem in a modern English translation, click here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Susan B. Anthony, Founding Mother

Susan B. Anthony (born 15 February 1820)

Abolitionist, suffragist, and social reformer, Susan Brownell Anthony campaigned tirelessly for the betterment of others. Early in her life, she was involved with her family's anti-slavery and temperance activities. She began her work on behalf of women's rights after she met Elizabeth Cady in 1851. She worked for more than fifty years to secure the vote for women--when she died on 13 March 1906, there was still more than a decade ahead for the campaign for women's suffrage.

In my last year of teaching, I listened as a young woman explained why she hadn't been in class for a week, why she didn't have her assignments complete, and why she couldn't possibly finish her work when it was due. 

"I have activism fatigue," she said. Her participation in various campus "social justice activities" meant she was just so tired and run down she had to take a break and rest. She thought her excuse was good.

It was not.

When I heard it, I thought about Susan B. Anthony's lifetime dedication and lifelong service.

She never quit work to complain that she suffered from "activism fatigue."

A tribute to Anthony: Women leave
"I voted" stickers on her tombstone

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Today is V-Day

Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues, and V-Day

The overwhelming response to productions of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues led in 1998 to the establishment of V-Day
On Valentines Day, 1998, Eve, with a group of women in New York City, established V-Day. Set up as a 501(c)(3) and originally staffed by volunteers, the organization's seed money came from a star-studded, sold out benefit performance at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, a show that raised $250,000 in a single evening.
V-Day's mission is simple. It demands that violence against women and girls must end. To do this, once a year, in February, March, and April, Eve allows groups around the world to produce a performance of the play, as well as other works created by V-Day, and use the proceeds for local individual projects and programs that work to end violence against women and girls, often shelters and rape crisis centers. What began as one event in New York City in 1998 today includes over 5,800 V-Day events annually.
Performance is just the beginning. V-Day stages large-scale benefits and produces innovative gatherings, films and campaigns to educate and change social attitudes towards violence against women.*
As the V-Day website says, "The 'V' in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine, and Vagina."** 

Check out the website, and if you can't find a production near you, you can buy the book! (And performances of many of the monologues from a wide variety of productions are posted on YouTube.)

Update, 14 February 2018: Today is V20, the 20th anniversary of V-Day. Along with its companion group, One Billion Rising, "the biggest mass action to end violence against women in human history," the theme of both V-Day and One Billion Rising is "Rise. Resist. Unite."

Have a strong day, resisters!

Update, 14 February 2021: Eve Ensler has recently changed her name to "V."

*The website has changed a great deal over the years--this is the language from the site in 2015, when this post was first published.

**As of 2021, the "V" in "V-Day" stands for "Voices, Victory, Valentine, and Vagina."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Isabella d'Este, "la prima donna del mondo"

Isabella d'Este, marchesa of Mantua (died 13 February 1539)

Let Your Highness, I beg of you, keep a tranquil mind and attend wholly to military affairs, for I intend to govern the state with the help of these magnificent gentlemen and officials in such a manner that you will suffer no wrong, and all that is possible will be done for the good of your subjects. And if anyone should write or tell you of disorders of which you have not heard from me, you may be certain that it is a lie, because, since I not only give audience to officials but allow all your subjects to speak to me whenever they choose, no disturbance can arise without my knowledge.
--Isabella d'Este, marchioness of Mantua, to her husband,
Francesco Gonzaga, 30 June 1495
Isabella d'Este was widely praised by her contemporaries--for the poet Niccolò da Corréggio, she was, quite simply, "the first lady of the world" (la prima donna del mondo).

Isabella d'Este was the daughter of Eleanor of Naples and Ercole d'Este, duke of Ferrara.* Today, she may be best known for Karen Essex's historical novel, Leonardo's Swans, or for her dealings with Leonardo da Vinci--details of which appear in many Leonardo biographies. Although her life provides ample material for fiction, and although she was one of the most acquisitive collectors of art and artists, Isabella is also an impressive politician, diplomat, and ruler.

Titian's portrait of Isabella d'Este,
c. 1534-36
(painted when Isabella was in her 60s--
Titian offered a flattering, idealized image)
In 1480 Isabella, not yet six years old, was betrothed to Francesco Gonzaga, son and heir of the marquis of Mantua, strategically located between the rival cities of Milan and Venice. She was married to Gonzaga in 1490, and just a year later, Isabella found herself entrusted with the government of Mantua during her husband's absence.

Among the responsibilities she assumed was maintaining good relationships with both of her powerful neighbors. She also faced the usual task of producing an heir; by the end of 1492, in addition to her administration of Mantua, she had given birth to a child--unfortunately, rather than the desired son, the baby was a girl. 

Isabella was called upon again in Mantua when her husband, as captain-general of the Venetian army, joined the combined forces of Spain, England, and the Holy Roman Empire determined to drive the invading French out of Naples. According to her biographer Julia Cartwright, "she took up the reigns of government . . . and administered affairs with a prudence and sagacity which excited the wonders of grey-haired councillors." 

After Charles VIII retreated from Naples, Francesco returned briefly to Mantua, but by January of 1496 he was once more in command of the Venetian army, leaving Isabella again in control.

To improve her understanding of affairs of state, she added architecture, agriculture, and industry to her on-going humanist studies. During her husband's absence she also gave birth to her second child, another daughter, in July; again, she was disappointed, more disappointed than her husband, who assured her that "if ever a father had reason to be satisfied with his daughters, it was he." 

Despite his eight years of service to Venice, Francesco Gonzaga was dismissed from his position as captain-general in 1497, ostensibly for his French sympathies. In an effort to regain his position, he offered to surrender his wife and children to Venice as hostages, but his offer was rejected.

Aside from the insult to her husband, Isabella suffered another loss as well, with the death of her young sister Beatrice, the wife of Milan's Ludovico Sforza. Isabella set about reconciling her husband and her brother-in-law, and when Charles VIII died in 1498 and Louis XII announced his intention of pursuing his claim to the duchy of Milan, their reconciliation seemed inevitable.

Under this threat, Ludovico Sforza renewed his alliance with the Holy Roman Empire, and Francesco Gonzaga was offered military command of their combined forces, a post he ultimately accepted despite his hope to regain his position of captain-general of Venice, which had allied itself with the French. In 1499 the French invaded, and Lodovico Sforza was forced out of Milan. Francesco Gonzaga immediately offered his services to Louis XII, though Isabella persisted in her allegiance to her sister's husband and offered refuge to Milanese fleeing the French. But after Ludovico's capture by the French in 1500 at the battle of Novara, she turned her attention to cultivating the victors. 

Within a month of Ludovico's defeat, Isabella gave birth to a son, Federico, and his birth gave the marchioness and her husband an opportunity to make a conciliatory gesture to the French. Accordingly, Isabella solicited Cesare Borgia  to act as one of her son's godfathers.

As Cesare continued his conquests in Italy, Isabella grudgingly welcomed his sister Lucrezia as her brother's bride and, once more governing Mantua on her husband's behalf, negotiated with Cesare over the betrothal of her son Federico to Cesare's daughter. Through a continuing series of detailed letters, she also kept her husband advised about political matters.  

The situation in Italy shifted radically after the death of Pope Alexander VI in August of 1503, and his son Cesare Borgia lost his Italian conquests almost as quickly as he had gained them. Isabella, meanwhile, remained in Mantua, still acting as regent for Francesco, who fought first for Julius II, leading the papal army against Bologna, and then for Louis XII, helping conduct the siege of Genoa. Isabella herself was invited to France in 1507 by Louis and Anne of Brittany; despite her renowned love of travel, it was a trip she could not take.

As Cartwright notes, Isabella's continued presence in Mantua was "urgently required" during Francesco's absences. Her role became even more critical when the pope and the French king combined forces in 1508 to attack Venice. Francesco was part of the defeat of Venice at the battle of Cannæ on 14 May, but on 9 August he was taken prisoner. Louis XII and Maximilian demanded her son, Federico, be sent to them as a hostage, in exchange for her husband's freedom. 

Isabella objected strongly, calling the demand "a cruel and almost inhuman thing for any one who knows the meaning of a mother's love," but despite his mother's "deliberate and unchanging" opposition, Federico became a hostage for his father's good behavior after all. Julius II eventually negotiated Francesco Gonzaga's release on 10 July 1510 on the condition that Federico be sent Rome where he would be the hostage of the pope instead of the Republic of Venice. Isabella's son became a papal favorite, accompanying Julius II everywhere; "O Madonna!" one of Isabella's correspondents wrote from Rome, "you have indeed a rare son, and I think you will find more comfort in him than in anything else in the world."

Leonardo da Vinci's chalk drawing
of Isabella d'Este, c. 1519
(an oil portrait was never completed)
His imprisonment had taken a toll on Francesco Gonzaga's health, and he was forced to give up his military career, retiring to Mantua where, as Cartwright indicates, "he depended more and more on his wife" who had an increasingly large part "in the management of public affairs." Isabella's Latin teacher, Mario Equicola, wrote to her brother that "everything is referred to Madonna, and not a leaf is allowed to stir without her knowledge and consent."

Beyond Mantua, Isabella attempted to effect the reconciliation of her brother, the duke of Ferrara, to Julius II. When that effort failed and the threat of war loomed again, a "congress" met in Mantua in 1512, where Isabella "displayed her usual tact and ability in the conduct of negotiations"; she knew, "above all, how to govern others without ever allowing her influence to appear." 

While her husband remained in Mantua over the course of the next few years, Isabella travelled widely throughout Italy, visiting Milan, Rome, and Naples. She was back in Mantua by the end of 1518, however, as Francesco grew increasingly ill. On the morning of 29 March 1519, he drew up a will naming Federico as his successor, with Isabella to act as his "guardian and advisor" until the young man reached the age of twenty-two; he died late the same day.

When Pope Leo X considered making the twenty-year-old Federico his captain-general in 1520, he hesitated, wondering how Mantua could be governed in the young man's absence. The answer, of course, was Isabella, who was once more to guide Mantua after her son took up his new position. But once Federico returned to Mantua and took up the administration of his state "in his own right," he "rarely referred things to her or asked her advice."

No longer needed in Mantua, Isabella decided to travel; she was in Rome, for instance, when it was sacked by imperial troops in 1527. She had fortified the Palazza Colonna, where she was in residence, offering shelter and protection to ambassadors from Mantua, Ferrara, Urbino, and Venice. It was, one biographer notes, "almost the only building in all of Rome to escape serious damage in the terrible sack." In 1528 she was in Ferrara for the marriage of her nephew Ercole to Renée of France, Louis XII's daughter, and in 1529 she travelled to Bologna for the meeting between Pope Clement and the newly elected Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.

She was there for more than the spectacle of the emperor's coronation, however: she intended "to promote the interests of the Gonzaga family," "to help her brother Alfonso in his effort to keep Ferrara an Este duchy," and to "use her influence to have her nephew Francesco Sforza confirmed in his Milan duchy." Her efforts were successful, and the new emperor traveled to Mantua immediately following the events in Bologna; there, on 8 April, he changed the status of Mantua, creating a new duchy, and Isabella d'Este's son became the first duke of Mantua. 

With this success, mother and son were reunited, and when Federico travelled to Montferrat in 1531, where his marriage to Margherita di Montferrat was celebrated, Isabella "once more administered the State in her son's absence." This was the last occasion she took "any active part in public affairs," her biographer Julia Cartwright notes. Isabella continued to travel, as her health permitted, with one last visit to Ferrara in 1538, her birthplace, before her death on 13 February 1539. 

There is an excellent account of Isabella d'Este in Leonie Frieda's The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women, Power, and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance, 1427-1527. But for a detailed, full-length biography, I recommend Julia Cartwright's two-volume Isabella d'Este, Marchioness of Mantua, 1474-1539: A Study of the Renaissance, first published in 1903. You can read the book through Google Books: for volume 1, click here; for volume 2, click here. You can also purchase print-on-demand copies via Amazon. 

For an analysis of Isabella d'Este's political role, see Sarah D. P. Cockram's recent Isabella d'Este and Francesco Gonzaga: Power Sharing at the Italian Renaissance Court.

*This post has been adapted from The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan).