Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Friday, January 19, 2018

Dorothea and Gladys Cromwell: The Horrors of War

Dorothea and Gladys Cromwell, World War I nurses (died 19 January 1919)


Twins Dorothea and Gladys Cromwell were born in Brooklyn, New York, on 28 November 1886, the daughters of a wealthy businessman, Frederic Cromwell, and his wife, Esther Whitmore Husted. (Frederic had interests in railroad and gas companies "among other corporations"--he also was a trustee and then treasurer for Mutual Life Insurance of New York--while Esther was herself the daughter of a "well-known businessman and street railroad president of Brooklyn.")

Thus born into wealth and privilege, the twin girls were educated at Brearley School, a private school founded by Samuyel A. Brearley  and designed designed to "provide young women with an education comparable to that available to their brothers."

The sisters inherited a fortune after their father's death in 1887, purchasing an apartment in New York on Park Avenue. Gladys also began publishing poetry, despite the objections of her family, who thought that publication violated the family's privacy. Her poems appeared in Poetry magazine (1917, 1918), and she published a collection, The Gates of Utterance and Other Poems, in 1915.

In January 1918, Dorothea and Glady joined the Canteen Service of the Red Cross, sailing for France and the battlefields of the Great War. They were stationed at Chalon-sur-Marne and Verdun, serving in the canteen but also, apparently, as nurses.
American Red Cross canteen workers, 1918
(Gladys Cromwell, second from left; Dorothea, far right)

About their service in France, biographer Anne Dunne wrote:
For eight months they worked under fire on long day and night shifts; their free time was filled with volunteer outside service; they slept in “caves” or under trees in a field; they suffered from the exhaustion that is so acute to those who have never known physical labor; yet no one suspected until the end came that for many months they have believed their work a failure, and their efforts futile.
The inhabitants of Chalons reportedly regarded them as "the saints" and "twin angels," while those who worked with them "loved and admired" the sisters for their bravery and their "tireless and efficient labor." In October, the two requested a transfer to an evacuation hospital, where they would be able to work with American soldiers. Dunne notes that the two had already begun to exhibit "signs of mental breakdown," worn out by their work and shocked by the "horrors" of the conditions of the front.

Nevertheless, they decided to remain in France after the Armistice on 11 November 1918, and they returned to Chalons. But, urged by their brother, Seymour, to return home, they ultimately agreed to back to the United States, sailing on the SS La Lorraine on 19 January 1919, leaving from Bordeaux.

New York Times headline,
reporting deaths of
Cromwell sisters,
25 January 1919
That same night, according to later witnesses, the two went out onto the "windy, cold decks"  and briefly joined hands. They separated, and each climbed on the railing and then slipped off the boat and into the water. 

Although the ship turned around, and those on board searched for the Cromwell sisters, their bodies were not recovered until 20 March. Their brother, Seymour, refused at first to believe that his sisters had committed suicide--he believed that they had had missed the Lorraine and were traveling on another ship--but the Lorraine's captain reported that the two were not on board and that their luggage was in their room, as were suicide notes addressed to their Red Cross supervisor, their brother, their sister-in-law, and a friend. The letters confirmed their shared intention to end their lives.

Dorothea and Glady were buried in the Surennes American Cemetery in France, with the two being awarded the Croix de Guerre on 22 March 1919--the medal was an honor awarded to those who had performed heroic acts during a time of war.

The next year, on 13 March, the sisters were honored with the Médaille de la Reconnaissance française, the Medal of French Gratitude. It was awarded with «gratitude portée à toutes les initiatives individuelles ou collectives, qui se sont manifestées en France, chez les Alliés et dans le monde entier, pour venir en aide aux blessés, aux malades, aux familles de militaires tués au combat, aux mutilés, aux invalides, aux aveugles, aux orphelins et aux populations chassées et ruinées par l’invasion» ("gratitude for all the individual or collective initiatives, for those who have come forward in France, both with the Allies and throughout the world, to come to the aid of the wounded, the sick, the families of soldiers killed in combat, the disabled, the blind, the orphans and the populations driven out and ruined by the invasion").

A second book by Gladys Cromwell, Poems, was published posthumously. Dunne's biographical essay is at the end of this collection.

I first came across a reference to the Cromwell sisters in Vivien Newman's They Also Served: The Forgotten Women of the First World War, a good introduction to the numbers of ways women participated in the war.

In order to commemorate the one-hundredth year anniversary of the First World War, Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery (now a National Historical Landmark), began the publication of biographies those who fought in WWI and who were interred at the cemetery. Although Gladys and Dorothea are not buried there, biographies of both women are included, and a cenotaph erected in their family's lot now commemorates their lives and deaths. To read their entries in the "Biographies of World War W Veterans," click here. An essay by Jeff Richman, "A Twin Tragedy," is also posted at the Green-Wood site (available by clicking here).

If you have access to the New York Times archives, the disappearance and deaths of the Cromwell sisters is widely reported there, useful primary-source accounts of the tragedy. The 1919 Expository Times, while reviewing Gladys Cromwell's posthumous publication, also includes biographical information

Updated 24 October 2018: To remove uncredited images and to add reference to Green-Wood Cemetery project commemorating World War I veterans, including the Cromwell sisters.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Eleanor of Provence, Queen and Regent of England

Eleanor of Provence, queen of England (married 14 January 1236)


Eleanor of Provence was one of the four daughters of Berengar, count of Provence, and his wife, Beatrice of Savoy--born around the year 1223, Eleanor was the second of the sisters. Her elder sister, Margaret, was born in 1221; following Eleanor's birth was Sanchia, born c. 1228; and Beatrice, born c. 1231.

Notably, these four sisters would all become queens. Margaret of Provence was married to Louis IX of France in 1234. As queen of France, Margaret was the daughter-in-law of a powerful female politician, Blanche of Castile. Margaret's marriage to the French king in 1234 raised the profile of the remaining daughters of the count of Provence and his wife.

This head, in the Muniment Room of
Westerminster Abbey, is believed to
represent Eleanor of Provence,
c. 1250s
Sanchia of Provence (died 1261) was married in 1243 to Richard, earl of Cornwall. Although he was an English prince (the second son of King John), Richard was elected as king of the Germans in 1256 and, a year later, as king of the Romans (though he made only four trips to Germany before he suffered a debilitating stroke in 1271). 

Beatrice (died 1267), who inherited Provence from her father, was married to Charles I of Anjou (Louis IX's brother) in 1246. According to one story, when she and her husband were in Paris for a Christmas gathering in 1254, when all four sisters and their spouses were together, Queen Margaret refused to seat Beatrice with the sisters who were queens--because Beatrice was not a queen. Charles promised to make Beatrice a queen--he kept his promise by invading and conquering Sicily. He became king of Sicily in 1266, making Beatrice the queen of Sicily on 12 February of that year. She enjoyed her title only briefly, dying in September 1267. 

As for Eleanor, she was the second of the sisters and the second of the four daughters to marry. She was only twelve when she was married to to the twenty-eight-year-old King Henry III of England, at Canterbury Cathedral on 12 January 1236. 

A romantic story exists that Henry's younger brother, Richard, earl of Cornwall (he would later marry Sanchia, the third sister), who had visited Savoy on his way to fight in the Holy Land, extolled the beauty of Eleanor to his brother, causing the king to abandon his negotiations for a marriage with Joan, countess of Ponthieu and decide to marry Eleanor instead. 

A manuscript illustration of
the marriage of Elanor of Provence
 and Henry III, king of England
Widely recognized for her beauty, her education, and her courtly accomplishments--she wrote poetry--Eleanor was beloved by her husband and heartily disliked by the people of England, in particular Londoners. The fact that she brought no dowry with her did not help her reputation.

Eleanor was attended in England by a number of her Savoyard relatives, and her devoted husband granted them influential and lucrative positions in government--and for this reason, she (rather than Henry) was the target of resentment, unrest, and friction. (She was also blamed for tax increases.)

The fact that one of these influential Savoyards was her uncle, William, did not help matters either--he had been involved in the negotiations over Eleanor's dowry, which had resulted in no money accompanying her to England--only the promise of some money that never materialized.

Together the couple had five children, the eldest of whom, Edward (b. 1239), became King Edward I following the death of Henry in 1272.

Despite resentment and outright hostility. Henry left his queen as regent of England in 1253 when he launched a military expedition in Gascony. (He named his brother, Richard, as co-counsel, not as co-regent.) Her insistence on collecting taxes and fines, intended to help fund her husband's war efforts, caused even more resentment.  

Her role as regent was limited, however; early in 1254, she left for Gascony with her son, Edward, to seal the peace her husband had won--the young prince was to be married to Eleanor of Castile, the daughter of Alfonso of Castile, Henry's opponent in Gascony. 

In 1264, the queen was the flashpoint in one of the most serious rebellions during Henry's reign, known as the Second Barons' War--her barge was attacked by Londoners as she left the Tower, Eleanor pelted with mud and rotten vegetables. A failed attempt at arbitration by the French king left Eleanor in France, with Henry returning to fight to subdue his recalcitrant barons.

But things went horribly awry at the battle of Lewes, with the king, his brother, Richard of Cornwall, and Prince Edward all taken prisoner. The barons ordered Eleanor to join her husband in captivity. Instead, she began plotting an invasion of England to come to his defense. 

Another manuscript illustration of Henry and Eleanor.

By the fall of 1264, she had a significant force ready on the Flemish coast, but she was trapped there by bad weather for several months. Without money to pay her troops, she was unable to retain them. But early in the next year, Edward escaped his imprisonment, raised his own army, and defeated the barons, restoring his father to power. Eleanor rejoined him in November of 1265. 

Having regained the throne, Henry concentrated on securing the hard-won peace. Increasingly ill, he named his son as Steward of England (though Edward would leave on crusade in 1270) and focused on his spiritual health and his religious devotions. 

After King Henry III's death in 1272, the dowager queen remained briefly at court, caring in particular for her grandchildren, but after the deaths, in 1274 and 1275, of her grandson, Henry, and two daughters, Margaret and Beatrice, she retired to the convent of Amesbury. She died there in 1291.

Letters from and to Eleanor of Provence, queen of England, can be found at Epistolae: Medieval Women's Latin Letters, accessed by clicking here. The Epistolae site also includes a very good biographical essay. There is also a brief entry on Eleanor in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The most complete treatment is Margaret Howell's Eleanor of Provence: Queenship in Thirteenth-Century England.

For a wonderful biography of all four sisters from Provence, see Nancy Goldstone's Four Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled Europe


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Oprah Winfrey: "Their Time Is Up"

Oprah Winfrey, winner of the Cecil B. DeMille Award (7 January 2018)


In accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes ceremony, Oprah Winfrey related something of the story of Recy Taylor, a black woman kidapped and raped by six white men in 1944 in Alabama. 

Winfrey accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award,
7 January 2018
Her rapists were never arrested, and two grand juries refused to indict. Taylor died ten days ago, on 28 December 2017, just short of her ninety-eighth birthday.

About Taylor, Winfrey concluded,
She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.
Their time is up.
Winfrey's comment might well applied to the virtually every woman I've written about in this blog. As Winfrey herself noted earlier in her speech, a story like Taylor's "transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace."   

Recy Talor, 2011
The documentary The Rape of Recy Taylor was released on 8 December 2017, three weeks before her  death.

For the full text of Winfrey's speech, click here.

Update: Oprah's speech has been posted on YouTube. To view it in its entirety, click here.