Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Irene of Byzantium: Empress, Regent, Empress Regnant, and Exile

Irene of Athens, empress consort, regent, and empress regnant of Byzantium (driven out of Constantinople, 31 October 802)

Born in Athens between 750 and 755, Irene Sarantapechaina seems to have been an orphan, though her Greek Sarantapechos family was a noble one--and there is no clear reason why the Byzantine emperor Constantine V decided that she would be the imperial bride of his son and heir, Leo, whom she married in December of 769. On 14 January 771 she gave birth to a son, who would become Constantine VI. 

A gold coin from Irene's reign
as empress regnant,
Irene of Byzantium would eventually become involved in the iconoclast controversy, a conflict that arose about the use of religious icons. While the old emperor and his son, who would succeed him as Leo IV, were both committed to the iconoclastic ("image breaking") position, rejecting the veneration of icons, Irene was an iconophile.

This became important when her husband, the emperor Leo IV, died in 780 and Irene became regent of Byzantium for her son, the ten-year-old Constantine VI. (Some sources claim that Irene invited Anthusa of Constantinople, now Saint Anthusa, to share the regency with her--Anthusa was Leo IV's sister.)

As regent, Irene sought stronger relationships with western Christendom, in particular with the emperor Charlemagne, proposing a marriage between her son and one of his daughters, Rotrude. (This projected alliance was later broken off.) She also had to deal with internal conflict, a plot intended to replace her son on the throne.

To address the iconoclast controversy, Irene summoned a church council to Nicaea in 787 (it is now known as the Seventh Ecumenical Council). The assembled bishops rejected iconoclasm and restored the veneration of icons. The council also reunited the eastern church with the western church, strengthening ties to the papacy.

While the young Constantine might have been expected to rule alone by the time he was age sixteen, Irene would not cede her political role. Despite a rebellion against her in 790, when her nineteen-year-old son was proclaimed sole ruler and she was banished, Irene was recalled from exile and once again proclaimed co-ruler, her title of empress restored to her.

Although the reasons for this reconciliation aren't clear, what is clear is that though the two were "reconciled," tensions remained. In the ensuing internal conflicts and conspiracies, Constantine had some of his enemies beheaded, cut the tongues out of others, and blinded still others.

He put aside his wife, Maria of Amnia, whom he had married in 788 (another alliance made by his mother); Maria of Amnia had given the emperor "only" daughters but no sons, so in 795 he sent her and their daughters (two, Euphrosyne and Irene) off to a convent and married his mistress, Theodate.

A tenth-century representation
of Irene
Constantine's rejection of his wife and his subsequent remarriage, which many viewed as adulterous, only contributed to the cause of his opponents. In 796, after the death of Constantine and Theodate's infant son, Irene moved against him. Irene had her son arrested and blinded (sheesh--family values, huh?)

From 797 until 802, Irene ruled alone, not as empress but as emperor--she used the title basilissa ("empress"), although she also employed the title "Irene the pious emperor." She once again established ties with Charlemagne, and in 802 there is some evidence that there was a marriage contemplated between the two.

But that was not to be. Irene was deposed in 802 and exiled, ending up on the island of Lesbos. She died there in 803--according to some accounts, she had been reduced to spinning wool in order to survive.

There is an extended about Irene by Lynda Garland posted at De imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors.*

Judith Herrin's Women in Purple: Rulers of Medieval Byzantium contains an excellent treatment of Irene ("Irene: The Unknown Empress from Athens") as well as a detailed examination of the life of the discarded Maria of Amnia's daughter (Irene's granddaughter) Euphrosyne ("Euphrosyne: A Princess Born in the Purple"), who was raised in a convent, became empress consort of Byzantium, then retired to a convent. 

*As of June 2023, the online encyclopedia is no longer online. Sigh. (If I've done the search on the Wayback Machine correctly, the entry on Irene is here.)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Angelica Kauffman, Prodigy and Painter

Angelica Kauffman (born 30 October 1741)

If yesterday's "prodigy," Anna Maria Mozart (1751-1829), was denied a career that would allow her to develop her manifest gifts, her near-contemporary, Angelica Kauffman, by contrast, was able to have a fulfilling and successful career.

Angelica Kauffman, self-portrait
Interestingly, both young women were recognized for their prodigious talents by their fathers, trained by their fathers, and toured with their fathers. 

Also of interest—while Angelica Kauffman is now known as a painter, she was a noted performer as well, and at one point, like Maria Anna Mozart, she was described as a singer comparable to the best Roman "virtuosi."

Born in Switzerland, Kauffmann accompanied her father, the painter Joseph Johann Kauffmann, as he traveled throughout Switzerland, Austria, and Italy, working as his assistant. From her mother, Cleophea Lutz, she learned languages, adding Italian, French, and English to her native German.

Her travels with her father, particularly in Milan, Bologna, Florence, Venice, and Rome, exposed her to great art and, in turn, introduced her to many who could appreciate her accomplishments. She excelled not only in portraits but, more unusual for a woman, history paintings (a prestigious and lucrative genre). In 1765, she was elected to Rome’s Accademia di San Luca.

In 1766, Kauffman moved to London at the encouragement of Lady Bridget Wentworth Murray, wife of the British ambassador to the Ottomon Empire. In London, Kauffman gained great popularity. She became a founding member of the Royal Academy, where she would exhibit regularly for eighteen years.

Shortly after arriving in London, she married a man variously described as an imposter or a bigamist, a "bogus" count named "von Horn." She was also the subject of scandal and rumor for her relationship to the aging painter Sir Joshua Reynolds. As Germaine Greer notes, the "price Angelica Kaufmann paid for being the rage was a very high one." She became a "slave to the fashion that she herself had created," her "unenviable economic situation" demanding that she paint quickly and that she did not "fail to please."

The parting of Hector and Andromache

Although she lived separately from her unfortunate "husband" (to whom she may not have been actually married, since he seems already to have had a wife), Kauffman married a painter, Antonio Zucchi, and returned to Rome. There she continued to paint, and she also continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy. She continued, as well, to receive numerous commissions.

Kauffman died in Rome on 5 November 1807. Her catalogue raisonné (that is, the comprehensive list of all her paintings, drawings, etchings, and reproductions [engravings] of her work) includes 800 works and some 1000 engravings.

Penelope with the bow of Odysseus

There are several good biographies, but I like Angelica Goodden's Miss Angel: The Art and World of Angelica Kauffman.

You could hardly hope for more than the material available at the Angelica Kauffman Research Project: detailed biography, catalogue, bibliography. There is a gallery of 83 paintings at the Art UK website, which you can access by clicking here.

Update, 30 October 2016: If you are interested in Angelica Kaufman, who became a member of the Royal Academy, you may be interested in Elizabeth Thompson, who was not so lucky. You can read her story by clicking here

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Maria Anna Mozart, the First Mozart Prodigy

Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart (died 29 October 1829)

The older sister of Wolfgang Amadeus, Maria Anna Mozart was born in Salzburg on 30 July 1751. 

A portrait of the child prodigy
Maria Anna Mozart, c. 1763
Although it's Wolfgang Amadeus who is now recognized as a musical prodigy, Maria Anna was also taken on musical tours of European cities, from London and Paris to Munich and Vienna, often receiving the top billing for her performances as a harpsichordist.

As Elizabeth Rusch notes, it was Maria Anna who was "the family's first prodigy," praised as "virtuosic" and a "genius."

Brother and sister toured together for three years--by Rusch's calculations, they performed in eighty-eight cities. 

In 1764, while their father was ill and needed quiet, Wolfgang is said to have dictated his first symphony, Maria Anna taking his dictation and serving as his copyist, though she is known to have been a composer herself, and Mozart mentions her work in letters to her. 

But at age eighteen, Maria Anna Mozart's touring days ended, her career effectively over. No longer a child, she was no longer accepted as a public performer. According to an account of Maria Anna Mozart in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, "from 1769 onwards she was no longer permitted to show her artistic talent on travels with her brother." Maria Anna conformed to social and paternal expectations, but she didn't marry until 1783.

After her husband's death in 1801, she worked as a music teacher.

None of her compositions survives.

There is a children's biography about Maria Anna Mozart, For the Love of Music: The Remarkable Story of Anna Maria Mozart, but no full-length biography for adult readers. You might enjoy Rusch's essay for Smithsonian, "Maria Anna Mozart: The Family’s First Prodigy," which I've quoted here, as well as this NPR story about a 2011 film about Mozart's "silenced sister," which you can access by clicking here. The film is called, simply, Mozart's Sister (there's a trailer at the NPR website). There are also quite a few novels about Maria Anna . . .

One of the resources I love to hate, as you will know if you've been following this year-long project, is the Encyclopedia Britannica. As you might guess, there is no entry for Anna Maria Mozart. The only mention of her comes in the article for her brother: "His mother, Anna Maria Pertl, was born of a middle-class family active in local administration. Mozart and his sister Maria Anna ('Nannerl') were the only two of their seven children to survive."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Charlotte Turner Smith and the Revival of the English Sonnet

Charlotte Turner Smith (died 28 October 1806)

Although she is now acknowledged as a key figure in the Romantic movement, important for reviving the English sonnet, Charlotte Turner Smith was largely forgotten until the twentieth century.

Charlotte Turner Smith, 1792
chalk portrait by George Romney
Born on 4 May 1749, Charlotte Turner was the daughter of a wealthy but improvident father.

In 1765, at the age of fifteen, she was married off to a wealthy but improvident husband, Benjamin Smith. 

About the whole arrangement Charlotte Turner Smith would later write that her father had turned her into a "legal prostitute."

Although she detested her husband, who proved to be not only improvident but uneducated, uninterested in his wife's intellectual pursuits, and violent, the couple had twelve children, the first born in 1766, the last in 1785. (Only two of Charlotte Turner Smith's children died in infancy, but just six would survive their mother.)

After her husband was arrested and imprisoned for his debts in 1783, Charlotte Turner Smith began the career that would continue until her death--she wrote and published a volume of poems, Elegiac Sonnets (1784). She had spent seven months in debtors' prison with her husband and negotiated his release with the success of her book. The book of poetry was printed at her own expense, her decision proving to be financially sound--with additional material, added periodically, the book went through nine more editions by 1800.

In the mean time, Smith fled to the continent with her husband after his release, hoping to avoid the debts he still owed. There she continued to write in order to support the family. In 1785 the two returned together to England, but by 1787 Smith left her husband.

She turned her attention to novels, since she believed that fiction would provide her more of an income than poetry. Her novels helped to establish the conventions of the Gothic tradition, though they also included political themes, particularly focusing on the legal and economic disadvantages of married women and on slavery, among other topics. (Her husband's family had West Indian plantations and had brought slaves with them into England.) She also involved herself in the cause of the French Revolution on behalf of the Republican cause.

In the years twenty years before her death, she published ten novels, then, when her fiction became less popular, a series of children's books and even history. 

Despite her efforts, she died in poverty.

Her contemporaries knew and valued her work--Samuel Taylor Coleridge credited her with reviving the English sonnet as a form, and Walter Scott praised her descriptions of the natural world. However, William Wordsworth's judgment proved correct: Charlotte Turner Smith was "a lady to whom English verse is under greater obligations than are likely to be either acknowledged or remembered."

By the time Wordsworth wrote about Smith, in the 1830s, her work had already all but disappeared. But it is now our great fortune to know that Charlotte Turner Smith and her work have been revived.

There are several affordable paperback editions of her Elegiac Sonnets and of her novels. Online, I like the texts available through the British Women Romantic Poets Project (access by clicking here). Her works are also available through Project Gutenberg and Google Books. 

Charlotte Turner Smith is buried in St John Churchyard, 
Stoke-next-Guildford, Surrey

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mary Sidney, Patron, Poet, Playwright

Mary Sidney Herbert, countess of Pembroke (born 27 October 1561)

Mary Sidney was the daughter of Sir Henry Sidney and his wife, Mary Dudley--as I noted just a few days ago, when I wrote about Sidney's niece, Mary Sidney Wroth, Mary Dudley was the sister of Guildford Dudley, who was briefly married to Lady Jane Grey just before she was maneuvered onto the throne of England (he was executed just before she was, on 12 February 1554), and of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, Queen Elizabeth's favorite.

Mary Sidney Herbert, 1595,
miniature portrait by Nicholas Hilliard
Well educated, Mary Sidney became a member of Queen Elizabeth's court in 1575, her father and her uncle, Robert Dudley, arranging for her marriage to Henry Herbert, earl of Pembroke. 

Mary Sidney Herbert, the countess of Pembroke, was long recognized for her role as an important literary patron: her home at Wilton House became for twenty-five years the gathering place of a coterie of important writers, including her brother, Sir Philip Sidney, as well as other key Renaissance poets and playwrights like Walter Raleigh, Edmund Spenser, Samuel Daniel, and Michael Drayton. In her role as literary patron, she was praised for her support by poets like Ben Jonson and John Donne. 

But her own work as a writer, widely recognized in her lifetime, was largely forgotten after her death and has only been recently "recovered"—even now her accomplishments are often denigrated (as "just" translation, for example). Her role in preserving and publishing her brother’s work has also been considered negligible—although, in many ways, it was through her efforts that Sir Philip Sidney was transformed into the Sir Philip Sidney, the quintessential Renaissance man and major figure in Renaissance poetry. 

I certainly never heard anything about Mary Sidney Herbert, either as the woman who "created" Sir Philip Sidney or as a writer, when I was an undergraduate. And I just checked the massive anthology I had while taking courses in graduate school (1972-76), the 1375-pages-long Tudor Poetry and Prose (1953)--in all those pages, there is exactly one selection from Mary Sidney Herbert, some 54 lines of a chorus from a play.

Despite what those few lines in what was then a standard anthology might suggest, the scope of Sidney's work is extraordinary. 

In her Antonius, Sidney refashioned a French play by Robert Garnier, his 1578 Marc-Antoine, not only translating it into English and refocusing attention on the subject (influencing both Samuel Daniel's Cleopatra and Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra), but introducing complex characterizations of Cleopatra and employing blank verse. Published in 1592 and republished as The Tragedie of Antonie, the play went through five editions in fifteen years.

Her literary output includes her translation of Philippe de Mornay's A Discourse of Life and Death, a meditation on death with a stoic theme, and of Petrarch’s The Triumph of Death, preserving the original's terza rima form. She also completed a short pastoral drama, "A Dialogue between two Shepherds," a competition in which each attempts to outdo the other in praise of Queen Elizabeth, here in the guise of Astraea.

An engraving of Mary Sidney Herbert,
countess of Pembroke
But Sidney's most significant accomplishment is her translation of the Psalms, a project she began in partnership with her brother. The two managed only forty-three poems before Philip Sidney's death--in completing the project, Mary Sidney employed such a range of forms and meters that at least one editor has concluded that "there is no collection of lyrics in English which uses such a wide range of metre."

In the 107 psalms she translates, Mary Sidney uses an incredible 128 different verse forms (Psalm 119 has twenty-two sections, so that accounts for the numbers). 

A 1599 presentation copy of the Sidney Psalter was prepared for Queen Elizabeth. This manuscript contains two additional poems by Mary Sidney, her dedication poem "Even now that care," addressed to the queen, and her elegy and apostrophe to her brother, "To the Angel Spirit of the Most Excellent Sir Philip Sidney." 

For an excellent biographical essay, posted at The Poetry Foundation website, click here. (The site has a complete bibliography, suggestions for further reading, and a few Sidney psalms.) You might also want to consult Margaret Hannay's biographical essay for The International Sidney Society. Her biography of Mary Sidney, Philip's Phoenix: Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, is excellent but very expensive. 

There are several affordable editions of her work, but I might suggest a Penguin volume that includes three early-modern English writers: Isabella Whitney, Mary Sidney, and Aemelia Lanyer: Renaissance Women Poets.

And one more thing: earlier this month I posted about Mary Sidney Herbert's niece, Mary Sidney Wroth (the daughter of her younger brother, Robert). Mary Sidney has another writing niece, much less well known: Elizabeth Sidney Manners, countess of Rutland--Sir Philip Sidney's only child. You will find three lyrics attributed to her in vol. 2 (1550-1603) of Donald W. Foster's Women's Works.

Oh, another one more thing--some scholars have argued that Mary Sidney is the "real" author of Shakespeare's plays. If somebody besides Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's plays, I vote for Mary Sidney. Just because.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mahalia Jackson, the Queen of Gospel

Mahalia Jackson (born 26 October 1911)

The daughter of Charity Clark and John Jackson, Mahalia Jackson was born in New Orleans and raised in a multi-generational home where she was surrounded by an extended family and by the music of artists like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.

Mahalia Jackson
After moving to Chicago as a teenager, in 1927, Jackson quickly went from singing in a church choir to singing professionally,. Although she was influenced by the Blues singers whose recordings she was familiar with in her childhood, Jackson refused to sing secular music. 

She toured and recorded throughout the 1930s and 1940s, but she also took less glamorous jobs--as a laundress and as a beautician, for example--before she became a "success." That came with her 1948 recording of "Move on Up a Little Higher" sold over eight million copies--fifty years later, in 1998, this recording was acknowledged with a Grammy Hall of Fame award.

Mahalia Jackson was the first gospel singer to perform at Carnegie Hall (in 1950) and, among many other musical "firsts," she was the first gospel performer to sing at the Newport Jazz Festival (1958).

In addition to her role as a musician, Mahalia Jackson was actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Despite death threats, she gave a concern in Montgomery in 1956 in order to raise money to support the bus boycotts, and she was a regular performer at events sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after its founding in 1957.

Most memorable, perhaps, was her 1963 performance on the occasion of the Poor People's March on Washington, 27 August. Five years later, in 1968, she sang at Martin Luther King's funeral. 

Mahalia Jackson at the 1963
March on Washington
Jackson died on 27 January 1972, just sixty years old. Unlike so many in the music industry, who died in poverty and obscurity, she died a wealthy and beloved figure. She also left a legacy that continues. 

You might enjoy Sonari Glinton's All Things Considered piece on Mahalia Jackson, "The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement." You can listen by clicking here. There are several excellent biographies, but, for right now, why not just enjoy the music? Here's a recording of "How I Got Over," the same song she sang, right before King delivered his address at the 1963 March on Washington. (There are many other wonderful performances available on YouTube.)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Renée of France, Duchess of Ferrara

Renée of France, duchess of Ferrara (born 25 October 1510)

The younger daughter of Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany, Renée of France was orphaned while still a young child--her mother died in January of 1514, when Renée was three, her father a year later, in January of 1515, when she was four. (Renée's older sister was Claude of France).*

Renée of France, c. 1520,
drawing by Jean Clouet
After her parents' deaths, Renée was raised at the court by Marguerite of Angoulême, the sister of Louis XII's successor, Francis I. Marguerite is a woman whom we have met before, noted both as a writer and for her sympathy for religious reform.

After Marguerite married Henry of Navarre in 1527, she took the young French princess with her to the Château de Nérac, a favorite residence in Navarre. (The rebuilding of the castle in the French Renaissance style would be completed by Marguerite's daughter, Jeanne d'Albret, queen of Navarre.)

When Renée was eighteen years old, in 1528, she was married to Ercole d'Este (the son of Lucrezia Borgia) in order to strengthen the alliance between France and Ferrara. Although the Ferrarese court was "one of the most glittering in Europe," Renée's "Italian career" as the duchess of Ferrara was a disaster, husband and wife mismatched in the extreme. 

Renée remained entirely French in her language and her sympathies. Her slowness in acquiring "even a rudimentary knowledge" of Italian "remained steadily against her, keeping her, apart from any other consideration, a very isolated person in her own establishment." She "persistently refused to identify herself with her husband's interests," clinging "with stupid pathos" even to the French manner of dress.

Thus isolated, Renée turned to other pursuits, and her court at Ferrara became a safe haven for intellectuals like the classical scholar Olympia Morata, the poet Vittoria Colonna, and the French poet Clément Marot, and a refuge for French Huguenots. John Calvin visited Renée's court in 1536, and under his influence she was converted in 1540. In retaliation, Ercole dismissed and imprisoned members of his wife's household staff. 

Although she had been granted "exemptions" for her religious views by Pope Paul III in 1543, in 1554 she was brought before the Inquisition by Julius II. Ercole separated his wife from her children and imprisoned her. "We kept her shut up for fifteen days, with only people who had no sort of Lutheran tendencies to wait upon her," he wrote, adding, "We also threatened to confiscate all her property."

Renée of France,
portrait by Corneille de Lyon
In spite of all the pressures, Renée withstood her examination by the Inquisition, and a formal sentence was passed against her. She was condemned for heresy and again imprisoned by her husband. 

A week later, she recanted, however, and those whom she had formerly befriended did not rally to her defense in her time of need. Calvin's response was shocked: "What shall I say, except that constancy is a very rare virtue among the great of this world?" Olympia Morata said she was not surprised by the recantation, since she had always believed Renée's was a weak mind (une tête legère).

Renée lived apart from her husband after her release. In 1559, after her husband's death and estranged from her son Alfonso, she returned to France after thirty years in Ferrara, settling on her estates near Montargis.

During the wars of religion that raged after her return, she was besieged by her son-in-law Francis, duke of Guise. When he threatened to destroy the walls of her fortress, Renée replied that "she would herself mount the battlements and see if he dare kill a King's daughter."

Renée and Montargis withstood the siege, and in the religious persecution that followed, she offered a haven to French Huguenots "to her own constant peril." Under the circumstances, John Calvin, who seems to have been as "inconstant" as the woman whose inconstancy he had bewailed, resumed his friendship with Renée, and his correspondence to her indicates his recognition at last of her courage. 

This courage led her to write "imploring letters" to her son in 1569, protesting his persecution of those suspected of following reformed religion and to providing a haven for Huguenots again in the same year. But her son ignored her pleas, and, under threat, she was forced to send away those who had come to her for protection. She reportedly told the king's envoy that "if she had his sword in her hands, he would deserve to die, as a messenger of death."

Both her son and the French king attempted to take control of Renée's income and possessions. Her daughter Anna, by then wife of the duke of Nemours, recovered a document by which Louis XII, Renée's father, had given her a claim to her mother's independent Brittany, which she was forced to cede; "little by little," as one biographer notes, "all her lands were being taken from her":
Gisors and Vernon were given to the Duc d'Alençon, Caen and Falaise had been seized by Alfonso [her son] for debts, Chartres and Montargis were to belong to the Duchess of Nemours [her daughter Anna], but Renée was suffered to remain as a pensioner in her own castle. Her son Alfonso was furious and wrote the most bitter letters to his mother, whom he never forgave, for yielding any possible claim to [Brittany].
In 1572 Renée was in Paris for the marriage of Henry of Navarre, who would become Henry IV of France, and Marguerite of Valois. Lodging with her daughter Anna, whose Catholic husband was the duke of Nemours, Renée escaped the bloodbath of the St. Bartholomew massacre. 

She was escorted back to Montargis, all Huguenot services forbidden. There, "broken in health and spirit," she "ruled her great castle . . . in lonely state," "neglected and forgotten by her sons and daughters, on whom she had bestowed all that remained of her possessions." She dictated her last will and testament just before her death on 2 July 1575. In proudly listing her titles, she contrasted the state to which she had fallen with the state she had been born and raised to occupy:
We, Renée of France, Duchess of Chartres, Countess of Gisors, Lady of Montargis, widow and dowager of the late Monseigneur of good memory Ercole II of Ferrara, Daughter of the lady King Louis XII and the late Queen Anne, Duchess of Brétagne.
*This entry has been adapted from The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan).

And many thanks to Amy-Eloise for her correction (see below, comments)--her correct identification of an image in an earlier version of this post allowed for my correction here. The portrait she identified has been removed, and a second (correct) image of Renée of France has been added.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Isabel of Portugal: Duchess of Burgundy, Queen of Italy, Naples, the Germans, and Spain, Empress of the Holy Roman Empire

Isabel of Portugal, regent of Spain (born 24 October 1503)

Isabel of Portugal was the daughter of Manuel I of Portugal and his second queen, Maria of Aragon, who was the daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon. 

Isabel of Portugal in 1526,
at the time of her marriage
(Interestingly, Maria was the second of Isabella and Ferdinand's daughters to marry Manuel--Maria's elder sister, Isabel, had been married, first, to Afonso of Portugal, but after his untimely death just a year after their marriage, the young widow was married, much against her wishes, to Manuel, who was Afonso's uncle. And, by the way, after Maria of Aragon's death,  Manuel married his niece, Eleanor of Austria . . . So, yay for traditional marriage, I guess.)

Named after both her grandmother and her aunt, Isabel of Portugal was married to her cousin, the Holy Roman emperor Charles V, in 1526. (According to the terms of the marriage arrangement, Isabel's brother, John III of Portugal, married Charles's sister, Catherine of Spain, a woman whom we have met before.)

Through her marriage, Isabel gained a number of titles, some of them indicated in the heading of this post. She was the Holy Roman empress, the queen of the Germans, the queen of Italy, the queen of Spain, the queen of Naples and Sicily, and duchess of Burgundy. But she also gained another title: regent of Spain.

Charles recognized the importance of marrying a woman with the ability to govern. In a letter to his brother, he noted that marrying Isabel of Portugal was "the only sure way of securing stability in the Spanish kingdoms in his absence." 

When Charles was forced to leave Spain for the empire, he appointed his wife as his regent, a role she fulfilled admirably. The Cortes recognized her position on 27 July 1527; she served as regent from 1529 until 1532.  She was personally involved, as well, in the education of her two children, Philip, born in May 1527, and Mary, born in 1528. Charles returned to Spain in April 1533, and when he left again in April 1535, Isabel was regent once more. 

But after Isabel's early death in 1539, at the age of thirty-six (she died after giving birth to a child, her sixth, a stillbirth), Charles had difficulty in finding a suitable replacement for her. Historian Andrew Wheatcroft describes the emperor as "hamstrung" because he "could find no one to replace her effectively." He would not "countenance the appointment of any of his male kin whom he judged inadequate to the role," nor any female "unless she was married, widowed, or old enough to be widowed."

A portrait by Titan, from 1548,
after Isabel's death
Ultimately Isabel's eldest son, Philip II, was old enough to act his father's behalf; Charles appointed him to act as his representative in Spain in 1543. 

In the same year, Philip married his first cousin Maria Manuela of Portugal, the eldest daughter of John III of Portugal (Philip's maternal uncle) and Catherine of Spain (his paternal aunt). By 1545, Maria had given birth to a son and heir, Carlos, and had died. In 1554, when Philip left Spain for his second marriage, this one to Mary Tudor, queen of England, he turned to his sister Joanna of Castile to act as regent of Spain in his place.

There is no biography of Isabel of Portugal. You can find references to her in biographies of Charles V and of her son, Philip, but I like Andrew Wheatcroft's The Habsburgs: Embodying Empire, quoted here, because he focuses quite deliberately on the Habsburg strategy of using female family members as regents. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

The First National Women's Rights Convention

The National Women's Rights Convention (23 and 24 October 1850)

Earlier this year, we looked at the two-day convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. (If you missed those posts, click here and here.) Less well known is the first National Women's Rights Convention held in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850.

Harriot Kezia Hunt
addressed the National
Women's Rights Convention
on the medical education
of women
About 300 people had attended the Seneca Falls Convention, which famously approved the Declaration of Sentiments. Two years later, there were 1,000 attendees for the first of what would eventually be twelve national conferences. (The tenth took place in 1860--the conventions were suspended during the years of the Civil War, the eleventh held in 1866. A gathering in Washington, D.C. was called the "twelfth National Convention" was held in January 1869.)

Many of the prominent organizers and speakers at the first convention--including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott--were still active in the 1869 gathering. Over nearly two decades, the issues remained the same: equal wages, access to education, access to work and careers, property rights, marriage rights, and, always, voting rights. Susan B. Anthony would later say that it was reading the text of the speech given by Lucy Stone that drew her to the suffrage movement.

Speakers included the abolitionist and suffragist William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass. (You can see the entire program and read the speeches by clicking here.) Interestingly, however, while one of the major themes of this first convention was opening the medical profession to women, physician Elizabeth Blackwell, who, she says, has "read through all the proceedings carefully," had deep reservations--"I feel a little perplexed by the main object of the Convention--Woman's Rights."

While Blackwell does express "respect and sympathy" and says she is prepared to do what she can, she also is clear that her "energy" is reserved for other causes. There were certainly deeper criticism and outright mocking from members of the press and the public. I thought I'd include here a section from the New York Herald's convention coverage, the paper's summary of "the actual designs of that piebald assemblage called the Women's Rights Convention":
1. abolish the Bible;
2. abolish the constitution and the laws of the land;
3. reorganize society upon a social platform of perfect equality in all things, of sexes and colors;
4. establish the most free and miscellaneous amalgamation of sexes and colors;
5. elect Abby Kelley Foster President of the United States and Lucretia Mott Commander-in chief of the Army;
6. To cut throats ad libitum [at their pleasure];
7. To abolish the gallows.
What struck me about this list, so fearful of women's "designs," is how closely it resembles Pat Robertson's view of feminism, from a 1992 fundraising letter (he was running for President). The "feminist agenda," he claimed, was not about equal rights: "it is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

Those women! Always wanting stuff, like equal rights. 

Lucy Stone, with a quotation from the
speech she made at the 1850 convention

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Trobairitz Sing of Love

The Trobairitz, female troubadours (22 October 1071)

William IX, duke of Aquitaine and the most famous troubadour, was born on 22 October 1071. Because we know so little about the women poets, known as the trobairitz, who followed in this tradition, I've used his birth date as the occasion to write about them.

(By the way, in addition to being a renowned knight and a great poet, William seems to have been a despicable man, known as "one of the greatest deceivers of women." And his granddaughter was a woman we've met before, Eleanor of Aquitaine.)

Beatriz, countess of Dia,
from a French manuscript,
thirteenth century
The trobairitz all lived and wrote in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Occitania, which included parts of southern France, Italy, and Spain. (See the map, below.) The word derives from the Provençal word "trobar," meaning "to work" or, in the sense of poets (troubadour as well as trobairitz), "to make."

There is very little extant information about these aristocratic women who composed the music, wrote the verses of the lyrics, and then performed them. The names of twenty survive, although only nineteen of these names are linked to specific poems--and only two trobairitz, the Countess of Dia and Lombarda, have more than one poem attributed to them.

Among the surviving lyrics in the tradition of fin' amors, or courtly love, the sex of the writer may not always be clear, so the number of songs attributed to the trobairitz varies from twenty-three to forty-six. 

Their names? Tibors, Beatriz of Dia, Almucs de Castelnau, Iseut de Capio, Azalais de Porcairages, Maria de Ventadorn, Alamanda, Garsenda, Isabella, Lombarda, Castelloza, Clara d'Anduza, Bieris de Romans, Guillelma de Rosers, Domna H., Alais, Iselda, Carenza, and Gormonda de Monpeslier. 

I've taught these poems to a number of students over the years. Their favorite? By far the lyric of Tibors (b. c. 1130):
Sweet handsome friend, I can tell you truly
that I've never been without desire
since it pleased you that I have you as my courtly lover;
nor did a time ever arrive, sweet handsome friend,
when I didn't want to see you often;
nor did I ever feel regret,
nor did it ever come to pass, if you went off angry,
that I felt joy until you had come back;
nor . . . 
I remember many wonderful class discussions about the effect of the final, incomplete line--is the poem a fragment? Is the speaker's mouth stopped by a kiss? Or?

Castelloza, from a French manuscript,
thirteenth century
Students also love the debate between Almucs de Castelnau and Iseut de Capio and the beautiful chanson by Bieris de Romans addressing her female beloved, Lady Maria.

I have quoted the lyric by Tibors, above, from Meg Bogin's bilingual anthology, The Women Troubadours

There are also many recordings available, and a great number of performances online, like this one or this one.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the Lamp--Who's "Shrieking Aloud in Her Agony"

Florence Nightingale (departs for the Crimea, 21 October 1854)

There is perhaps no more unlikely spokeswoman for the horrors of nineteenth-century views of “true” womanhood than Florence Nightingale.* I say “unlikely” because I am assuming that many, if not most, readers are like me and still associate Nightingale with the carefully sanitized biographies they read when they were children. 

Florence Nightingale, c. 1860
Although I’ve been madly consuming newly published women’s biographies and histories during the last twenty years or so, Florence Nightingale remained “the lady with the lamp,” a saintly figure, the sheltered and pampered daughter of a wealthy English family who sacrificed marriage and motherhood in order to devote herself to ameliorating the sufferings of others. 

I am embarrassed to admit that, aside from dim memories of childhood books, the only clear image I had of Florence Nightingale came from the 1936 film The White Angel, starring the dark-haired Hollywood beauty, Kay Francis. It wasn’t until a very few years ago that I stumbled on the “real” Florence Nightingale and her angry, agonized essay, “Cassandra.” 

I should have known better, of course—the hint that there was something more to be known about Nightingale’s life was right there, all along, in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. “Among your grandmothers and great-grandmothers,” Woolf writes, “there were many that wept their eyes out. Florence Nightingale shrieked aloud in her agony.” Woolf adds a footnote here—“See Cassandra. . . .” But I had read past Wolf’s signpost, completely overlooking it. 

Once I heeded Woolf’s command (her use of the imperative, “See”!) and read “Cassandra,” I was forced to reassess my childish views of the saintly “the lady with the lamp.” 

Nightingale’s angry “Cassandra” was written before she was able to realize her goal of dedicating her life to meaningful work—it was written, in fact, when she was in the midst of the blackest despair. Born in 1820, the young Nightingale seemed to conform to the expectations of her family and her class, but when she was not yet seventeen, she experienced a kind of religious vision. 

She later described this moment of awakening: “On February 7th, 1837, God spoke to me and called me to His service.” By the time she entered her twenties, still not sure what service God might have called her to, she rejected what she called the “useless trifles” of women’s lives. “What is my business in this world and what have I done this fortnight? I have read the ‘Daughter at Home’ to Father and two chapters of Mackintosh; a volume of Sybil to Mamma. Learnt seven tunes by heart. Written various letters. Ridden with papa. Paid eight visits. Done company. And that is all,” she wrote. 

She feared the emptiness of this kind of life—“I see . . . so many of my kind who have gone mad for want of something to do.” Expected to marry, Nightingale found no relief for her despair in the “conversation of all these good clever men” that should, she was told, “be enough” for her. “Why am I starving, desperate, diseased on it?” she wondered. 

She ultimately rejected marriage—to be married, she wrote, “would seem to me like suicide.” Equally objectionable was the kind of philanthropic do-gooding, visiting the poor and the sick, that was appropriate for women of her class. In 1845, she announced to her family that she had decided to become a nurse, but she had to overcome years of opposition before she could devote herself fully to her calling. Florence Nightingale was finally able to leave home in 1853, after her father settled the sum of five hundred pounds a year on her. (The parallel with Woolf here--a woman needs five hundred pounds a year and a room of her own--is uncanny.)

“Cassandra” was written between 1850 and 1851, just before those years of opposition ended. Although the first-person narrator of “Cassandra” is never identified with Nightingale herself, it is hard not to read the essay as a reflection of Nightingale’s own life—that is exactly what Woolf does, for example. 

The title of the essay alludes to the Greek Cassandra, to whom the god Apollo gave the gift of prophecy—but with the curse that no one would believe her prophecies. Although there is no reference at all to Cassandra in the body of the essay, the impassioned writer still seems to see herself as a prophet who is ignored. Is she also, like her Greek namesake, cursed? Is she doomed know what should be done but forever unable to do it? 

Following her suggestive title, Nightingale begins her essay with an epigraph adapted from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, an opening that certainly seems to emphasize the view that the writer sees herself as a prophet. The gospel opens with a reference to John the Baptist, introduced by a quotation from Isaiah: “I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” In Nightingale’s variation of the gospel verse, the “wilderness” of Isaiah becomes the “crowd” of nineteenth-century society: “‘The voice of one crying in the’ crowd.” 

But make no mistake—although she may occupy a space in nineteenth-century society, the narrator of the piece regards herself as isolated and deprived. She is “wandering alone in the bitterness of life without.” She writes that “such an one” might be tempted simply to sleep away her suffering like so many who “are not yet awake.” But “one alone,” like Nightingale, one who is both awake and “prematurely alive” to her suffering, “must wander out in silence and solitude.” She is fully alive and, like Cassandra, fully aware of the “evil” that others refuse to see, “and yet [she] has no power to discover the remedy for it.” 

Nightingale confronts her readers with a bitter question: “Why have women passion, intellect, moral activity—these three—and a place in society where no one of the three can be exercised?” In the first section of her deeply religious yet deeply despairing essay, Nightingale addresses fathers and mothers who consign their daughters to “the monotonous events of domestic life.” Denied any outlet for their passions, the daughters of these fathers and mothers “must act the farce of hypocrisy, the lie that they are without passion,” and find themselves trying, in vain, “to subdue the perpetual day-dreaming, which is so dangerous!” 

Nightingale believes that the dangerous fantasies filling young women’s minds are produced by the complete lack of any meaningful “interest” in their lives. And yet, even as she writes out of her suffering, this desperate voice crying out in the wilderness does not reject her suffering—in fact, as Nightingale observes, a life of suffering is far better than a life without it, for “out of nothing comes nothing. But out of suffering may come the cure.” 

Interestingly, middle-class women like Nightingale do have rooms of their own. In “Cassandra,” Nightingale focuses her attention on the “drawing rooms” of Victorian homes where women live out much of their daily lives. The drawing room is a feminized space, although men do join women there at times during the day, after dinner, for example. But men’s lives and work are carried on outside this domestic space, whereas women must spend their lives at home, confined to such rooms. 

In the second section of “Cassandra,” Nightingale shows how arid a desert the drawing room is. She accomplishes this by putting an imaginary man into the reality of this woman’s world: “If one calls upon a friend in London and sees her son in the drawing-room, it strikes one as odd to find a young man sitting idling in his mother’s drawing-room in the morning.” She carries her imagined scene further—“But suppose we were to see a number of men in the morning sitting round a table in the drawing-room, looking at prints, doing worsted work, and reading little books, how we should laugh!” 

But why, why, she asks, would this be so funny: “Now, why is it more ridiculous for a man than for a woman to do worsted work and drive out every day in the carriage? Why should we laugh if we were to see a parcel of men sitting round a drawing-room table in the morning, and think it all right if they were women?” 

The answer, Nightingale suggests, is that women are “never supposed to have any occupation of sufficient importance not to be interrupted.” It is their “duty,” in fact, to be always ready, prepared to give up anything, at any moment, for “every trifler” who is “more selfish than themselves.” Women may be wasting their time on nonsense and trivialities in the drawing room, but that is only because they are always at someone else’s disposal—apt at any moment to be called away from whatever they are doing. 

“Women never have half an hour in all their lives . . . that they can call their own, without fear of offending or of hurting some one,” she writes, and “[s]o women play through life.” Their time “is of no value”; instead they “are taught from their infancy upwards that it is wrong, ill-tempered, and a misunderstanding of ‘a woman’s mission’ (with a great M.) if they do not allow themselves willingly to be interrupted at all hours.”

And so, to fill those numberless hours while they are waiting to be interrupted, women occupy themselves by “sitting in the drawing-room, saying words which may as well not be said.” They write letters to their friends. They busy themselves with needlework projects of varying kinds. They may play music or draw, but not seriously—such occupations are “only used by her as an amusement (a pass-time, as it is called).” 

The only escape from this stultifying routine, aside from the daydreaming that worries Nightingale, is marriage, but she rejects this as a plausible occupation for women. “Marriage is the only chance (and it is but a chance) offered to women for escape from this death; and how eagerly and how ignorantly it is embraced!” But women will find nothing in marriage but sacrifice—indeed, a “woman must annihilate herself” in marriage, Nightingale concludes. A wife must dedicate herself completely “to the vocation of her husband; she fills up and performs the subordinate parts in it.”

A man “gains everything by marriage”—a woman, nothing. “The intercourse of man and woman—how frivolous, how unworthy it is!” she writes. “Can we call that the true vocation of woman—her high career? Look round at the marriages which you know. The true marriage—that noble union, by which a man and woman become together the one perfect being—probably does not exist at present upon earth.” 

In her despair, Nightingale encourages women to wake up. As she nears the end of her essay, she addresses them directly, sounding not unlike Christine de Pizan addressing all womankind--present and future--at the end of The Book of the City of Ladies. “Awake, ye women, all ye that sleep, awake!” Nightingale writes, imploring women to think of accomplishing more than “nursing the infants, keeping a pretty house, having a good dinner and an entertaining party.” 

In rejecting marriage and traditional “family values,” Nightingale knows that she is challenging the fundamental institutions of her society. In the end, knowing that her analysis of these institutions might be rejected or attributed to a “womanish” tendency to “complain,” she takes a radical move, co-opting her critics by recalling the example of Jesus: “Was Christ called a complainer against the world?” she asks.

Nightingale builds to her radical conclusion by teasing out the implications of her question: “People talk about imitating Christ, and imitate Him in the little trifling formal things, such as washing the feet, saying [H]is prayer, and so on; but if any one attempts the real imitation of Him, there are no bounds to the outcry with which the presumption of that person is condemned.” 

In rejecting notions of “true womanhood” that limit women to their constricted lives inside the family and their subservience to family interests, Nightingale reminds her readers of Jesus’s own rejection of his birth family—his mother, his brothers—and his substitution of a “true” family: “Who is my mother? And who are my brethren? Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother and sister and mother” (Nightingale is paraphrasing Mark 3:33 and 3:35). But Nightingale knows how dangerous redefining “family” is for a woman: “But if we were to say that, we should be accused of ‘destroying the family tie,’ of diminishing the obligation of the home duties,” she observes. 

The final section of “Cassandra” shows us a dying woman, speaking to those who will mourn her and who will lament the “good” that she “might have done.” The dying woman knows that, in fact, her “talent” and her “gifts” will be missed—the world will “be put back some little time” by her death. But those losses have already occurred. Her physical death, in fact, is less than her real death, “which has taken place some years ago,” when she had “to sacrifice” her own individual gifts, which might have changed the world, to “conventionality.” 

The picture Nightingale paints of this dying woman is bleak: “My people were like children playing on the shore of the eighteenth century. I was their hobby-horse, their plaything; and they drove me to and fro, dear souls! Never weary of the play themselves, till I, who had grown to woman’s estate and to the ideas of the nineteenth century, lay down exhausted, my mind closed to hope, my heart to strength.” The bitter truth is that the dying woman is freed only by her death; “Welcome, beautiful death!” she cries. 

Several years after her return from the Crimea, in 1860, Florence Nightingale suffered a physical collapse. Like so many women, she was prescribed complete bed rest. As Monica Baly and H. C. G. Matthew write in their Oxford Dictionary of National Biography essay on Nightingale, her collapse may have been the result of a recurrence of the debilitating Crimean fever she had suffered in 1856, although it may also have been a cardiac problem of some sort. Others have suggested a calculated psychosomatic component to Nightingale’s illness, that it was perhaps “psychoneurosis with a purpose,” a “protective” mechanism by means of which Nightingale could avoid her family and devote herself to her work. 

The specific causes of Nightingale’s illness weren’t critical to its treatment, however, because whatever the source, the prescription for the peculiarly female diagnosis of hysteria was the same. As Baly and Matthew note, the “accepted medical wisdom was that excessive mental exertion on the part of a woman was unnatural and would lead to breakdown: the standard treatment was complete rest and quiet. Florence Nightingale took to her bed or couch because the doctors ordered it. . . .” 

But, while she spent the next twenty years as an “invalid,” seeming to accept her role as patient, Nightingale didn’t entirely follow doctor’s orders. She refused to give up her work. She knew that, without work, a woman’s isolation and inactivity would destroy her. And so, for the twenty years she spent in her “sickroom,” Nightingale carried on with her work, reporting on sanitation in India, involving herself with the training of midwives, recommending improvements in hospital design, and supporting reform in English workhouses. 

After the death of her mother in 1880—in other words, after some twenty years—Florence Nightingale rose from her bed, left her sick room, and re-entered the world. She certainly wasn’t as vigorous as she had been, nor was she actively involved in government service. Although she may have been “increasingly out of touch” with developments in public health care, she lived another thirty years . . . 

Conventionally dated to 1852, Florence Nightingale’s “Cassandra” was privately published in 1860, in the second volume of her Suggestions for Thought to Searchers after Religious Truth. It was not widely available until 1928, when it appeared as an appendix to Ray Strachey’s The Cause: The History of the British Women’s Movement. Nightingale’s essay is available in Myra Stark’s Cassandra, an Essay by Florence Nightingale. The text is also available in Mary Poovey's Cassandra and Suggestions for Thought by Florence Nightingale.

The 1936 film starring Kay Francis as Florence Nightingale, The White Angel, is not currently available on video or DVD, but you can occasionally catch it on Turner Classic Movies. I still enjoy it whenever it's broadcast.

There are many excellent biographies of Nightingale, but you might start with the materials available online at the website of the Florence Nightingale Museum.

Most of all, though, follow Woolf's command: "See Cassandra!"

*This post has been adapted from Reading Women's Worlds from Christine de Pizan to Doris Lessing: A Guide to Six Centuries of Women Writers Imagining Rooms of Their Own.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lydia Maria Child, Social Reformer and Political Activist

Lydia Maria Francis Child (died 20 October 1880)

Born  on 11 February 1802, Lydia Francis should be remembered today for much more than her "Over the River and Through the Woods" Thanksgiving poem.*

Lydia Maria Child, 1870
The daughter of David Convers Francis and Susannah Rand, Lydia Francis was educated at home in Medford, Massachusetts, then at a local "dame school"--a private school where girls received a primary-level education and "necessary" female skills like sewing and embroidery--and, then, at a women's seminary. (By contrast, her brother got a Harvard education.)

After her mother's death, Lydia was sent to live with a sister and trained to be a teacher. The years she spent with her sister in Maine also introduced her to an impoverished community of Abenaki and Penobscot Indians, awakening in her an awareness of the dire situation faced by Native American peoples. 

After a brief stint at teaching, she moved back to Massachusetts. At age nineteen, she renamed herself "Maria" (she didn't like the name Lydia) and began her real education with her brother, who introduced her Homer and Milton and challenged her to write.

Her first novel, Hobomak: A Tale of Early Times, was completed in six weeks and published in 1824--set in Salem, it told the story of a young Puritan woman who scandalized her family and community by marrying an Indian, with whom she had a child. (Double scandal--the novel's heroine later married a second time, an Episcopalian!) The novel's themes, which challenged racial and religious views, ensured its success and Francis's celebrity. Lydia Maria Francis was just twenty-two.

In 1824 Maria Francis also opened a school and, two years later, began publication of a bi-monthly magazine for children, Juvenile Miscellany, the first periodical for children in the United States. She would continue to write and publish--novels, biographies, poetry, guides to housekeeping and child-rearing, and histories--throughout her lifetime. 

In 1828 she married David Lee Child, a man whose political and social activism corresponded with and extended her own. By 1831 she was involved with the abolition movement. Perhaps her most significant work was published in 1833, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, a history of slavery in the United States.

She joined the American Anti-Slavery Society, working alongside Lucretia Mott, and in 1840 became the editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard. In her anti-slavery fiction, like the novel The Quadroons, published in 1842, ten years before Uncle Tom's Cabin, she exposed the realities of slavery to those who did not read anti-slavery pamphlets or anti-slavery periodicals. Child also edited Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, first published in 1861.

Nor did she forget her interest in the plight of the American Indians. She detailed white atrocities against native populations in The First Settlers of New-England: or, Conquest of the Pequods, Narragansets and Pokanokets: As Related by a Mother to Her Children, and Designed for the Instruction of Youth (1829) and, still working on the issue forty years later, An Appeal for the Indians (1868).

Her work in the abolition movement also involved her in the struggle for women's rights. Although she published a number of books for women that focused on domesticity (she published The Frugal Housewife the year after she married), she also wrote to support women's equality. 

In addition to publishing a series of biographies of notable women, her two-volume The History of the Condition of Women in Various Ages and Nations was published in 1835, then revised and republished ten years later as Brief History of the Condition of Women, in Various Ages and Nations. Her Letters from New York, also filling two volumes, included editorials on the topic of women's rights. As she argued, 
That the present position of women in society is the result of physical force is obvious enough; whosoever doubts it, let her reflect why she is afraid to go out in the evening without the protection of a man. What constitutes the danger of aggression? Superior physical strength, uncontrolled by the moral sentiments. If physical strength were in complete subjection to moral influence, there would be no need of outward protection. That animal instinct and brute force now govern the world, is painfully apparent in the condition of women everywhere. . . . 
This sort of politeness to women is what men call gallantry--an odious word to every sensible woman because she sees that it is merely the flimsy veil which foppery throws over sensuality to conceal its grossness. So far is it from indicating sincere esteem and affection for women, that the profligacy of a nation may, in general, be fairly measured by its gallantry. This taking away rights and condescending to grant privileges is an old trick of the physical force principle, and with the immense majority, who only look on the surface of things, this mask effectually disguises an ugliness which would otherwise be abhorred. The most inveterate slaveholders are probably those who take most pride in dressing their household servants handsomely and who would be most ashamed to have the name of being unnecessarily cruel. And profligates, who form the lowest and most sensual estimate of women, are the very ones to treat them with an excess of outward deference. . . .
Along with Lucretia Mott, she knew and worked with women we have met before, including Angelina Grimké and Margaret Fuller

Many of Child's works are available online through Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive. There is a detailed biographical essay posted at The Poetry Foundation website--Deborah Clifford's biography is followed by an extended bibliography of primary sources and a great list of material for further reading, including biographies of Lydia Maria Child.

*Written for Thanksgiving and published in her 1844 collection of children's verse, Flowers for Children, the poem was set to music by an unknown composer and is now commonly regarded as a Christmas song.