Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Beatriz Enríquez de Arana and Cristóbal Colón

Beatriz Enríquez de Arana (son born 15 August 1488)


A few words today about Beatriz Enríquez de Arana, about whom not much is known. She had a brief sexual relationship with Christopher Columbus, gave birth to his son, Fernando, cared for Columbus's elder son, Diego, and Fernando during their father's first voyage, did not claim the inheritance Christopher Columbus left her upon his death, and then died, in 1521 or 1536, take your pick--in either case, years after the explorer's death.

Beatriz Enríquez de Arana,
an imagined portrait,
from the Mary Evans Picture Library (UK)
And that is really pretty much it, as far as history is concerned. If you try to investigate further, you find odd contradictions--most sources indicate that Beatriz Enríquez de Arana was the daughter of Pedro de Torquemada and Ana Núñez de Arana, who were peasant farmers, but frequently this very same point is followed by noting that she was from a family of noble origins. What??? (It won't surprise you, perhaps, that Wikipedia juxtaposes these two points, but this site is far from alone.)

Nor will it surprise you that there is some "confusion," shall we say, about the duration of her relationship with Columbus, with some online sources indicating that their sexual relationship was short, ending after the birth of Fernando, and others suggesting that Columbus spent the last years of his life with her. Who knows?

But this much seems clear enough. Born about the year 1465 in the small village of Santa Maria of TrassierraBeatriz Enríquez de Arana moved with her mother to Cordoba after her father's death, and there received a certain amount of education from her grandmother and her aunt--she could read and write, uncommonly for women of her background.

There, in Cordoba, she met Columbus, who was seeking the support of the Catholic monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, for his proposed "enterprise of the Indies." Beatriz Enríquez de Arana gave birth to Fernando on 15 August 1488. 

Columbus seems to have left both of his children, Diego and Fernando, in the care of Beatriz Enríquez de Arana for the next few years while he campaigned to raise the money for his proposed venture. According to the biographical essay in Diccionario Biográfico Español of the Real Academia de la Historia (which seems to be the best online resource available), Columbus also left both boys with Beatriz Enríquez during his first voyage, in 1492. She seems to have been commended by the queen for her care for both boys.

When he returned to Spain in 1493, Columbus retrieved Diego and Fernando and took them with him to court. Beatriz Enríquez de Arana's son was made a page in the household of Prince Juan, and after his death he was transferred to the service of Queen Isabella.

Pilar Bartolomé, in her article on Beatriz Enríquez de Arana in El Día de Córdoba, indicates that there is no evidence that Columbus and Beatriz Enríquez met after 1493. After his return, Columbus did make sure she received a pension, however, and in 1502, as he is about to leave on his fourth voyage to the New World,  he instructs his older son, Diego, to care and provide for her, reminding him that she had cared for him as a mother:  "a Beatriz hayas encomendado por amor de mi, atento como tenías a tu madre."

An eighteenth-century engraving of
Christopher Columbus and his two sons,
Diego and Fernado, and, I kid you not,
"a woman"--no identification!

A great deal has been suggested about why Columbus never married Beatriz Enríquez--was it because of his own ambitions and her low social class? That his promotion to the rank of nobility barred their marriage? The possibility that her family had Jewish roots? There are no clear answers.

In a 1506 addition to his will, Columbus acknowledges his debt to Beatriz Enríquez, "mother of Fernando, my son"--and the fact that her pension has not always been paid--and wishes that she should be paid all that is owed to her, "that she may be able to live honestly, being a person to whom I am under a very great obligation." 

He adds, cryptically, that he does this as an act "of conscience," because "it lies heavily on my soul"--though what "it" is, he does not specify, saying, "The reason for it is not lawful to write here." (In the original: "Digo y mando a Diego mi hijo o a quien heredare [...] que haya encomendada a Beatriz Enríquez, madre de don Fernando, mi hijo, que la provea que pueda vivir honestamente, como persona a quien yo soy en tanto cargo. Y esto se haga por mi descargo de la conciencia, porque esto pesa mucho para mi ánima. La razón de ello no es lícito de la escribir aquí."

Although she lived in poverty, Beatriz Enríquez de Arana never claimed her inheritance after Christopher Columbus's death. 

Although Ferdinand Columbus writes a biography of his father (1536-39)--and mentions Columbus's well-born Portuguese wife--he includes no mention at all of his own mother. 

I've linked here to the most credible sources for information on the life of Beatriz Enríquez de Arana. If you look at biographies of Christopher Columbus, her name is not to be found (at least not in most of the ones I have been able to check).

As an interesting note, while writing this post, I came across Doris Weatherford's 2015 "The Lack of Historical Curiosity about Women" (a not surprising piece), but found she had some great information about Christopher Columbus wife, who also mainly goes unmentioned. 

She's just finished reading Laurence Bergreen's 2012 Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504, published by Penguin and a New York Times bestseller, and on page 8, she's already noticed a serious problem with the book: 
. . . 2012 certainly is recently enough for question marks on gender to appear in the bubble over every writer’s head, and yet we have men appear on the scene as though other men bore them. Which brings me back to page eight, where the author refers to Ferdinand Columbus, son of the great mariner, with no mention of a mother. I confess I learned something here, as I had thought that Diego was Columbus’ only child.
According to Weatherford, Bergreen "doesn’t bother with dates or locations for either [Columbus's] wife or son." Nor does she name Columbus's wife. But Weatherford herself fills in a great deal:
Bear with me while I explain. I began my Milestones: A Chronology of American Women’s History (1994) with this entry for 1492: “Christopher Columbus uses maps obtained from his mother-in-law in his historic voyage. A widow, Dona Isabel Moniz carefully preserved maps, logs, and other useful items that had belonged to her husband. Columbus also benefits from the experience of his late wife, Filipa Prestrello e Moniz. She not only explored dangerous waters with her father, but also made valuable geographical drawings that her widower, Columbus, will use."
An imagined portrait of
Filipa Pestrello e Moniz.
In her piece, Weatherford also mentions other women associated with Columbus, including Dona Ines Peraza de Garcia,  goboernadora, or governor, of the Canaries, with whom Columbus spent time during his second voyage, and many indigenous women. It's well worth a read!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Luisa de Medrano, the First Female Professor

Luisa de Medrano (born 9? August 1484)


Born in Atienza (Guadalajara), Spain, some time in August 1484--on 9 August, according to some sources--Luisa de Medrano was one of the doctae puellae (learned young womenfavored by Isabella of Spain, who attracted and supported a number of such well-educated women to her court. (Women like Beatriz Galindo, about whom I have already posted.)

In Juan de Pereda's Sibyls of Atienza,
the face of the sibyl on the left has been
identified as belonging to Luisa de Medrano
Medrano was the daughter of Diego López de Medrano and Magdalena Bravo de Lagunas.

Her paternal family was one of the "Twelve Lineages of Soria," a chivalric military order established in the Middle Ages.

Little biographical information is available in English, and my Spanish is more than a little rusty, but the bare outlines of Lucia de Medrano's story emerge nonetheless. 

After Luisa de Medrano's father and grandfather were killed during the campaign to conquer Granada, at the battle of Gibalfaro (1487), her mother and her eldest sister, Catalina, were established at the court of Isabella of Castile. The rest of the Medrano children--eight of them, including Luisa--were likely to have been too young to have served at court, but seem to have joined other noble children, including those of the Spanish monarchs.

Medrano received an extraordinary humanist education, probably tutored by a professor associated with the University of Salamanca. According to an account of her life in El Mundo, Medrano may have been present at the reception for Christopher Columbus, celebrating his return from his first voyage, and she is likely to have met Beatriz Galindo.

In 1508, when she was twenty-four years old, Luisa de Medrano addressed scholars at the University of Salamanca. The event was noted by the rector of the university, Pedro de Torres: "Ad 1508 die 16 novembris hora tertia legit filia Medrano in Catedra Caconum" ("on November 16, 1508, at the third hour, read the daughter of Medrano").

The nature of this event isn't clear--Medrano may have read a lesson, perhaps on Latin or even canon law, or she may have actually have taken up a position, likely for the year 1508-09, following the departure of the scholar Antonio de Nebrija. In either case, Medrano is regularly cited as the first (known) female professor at a European university.

A further tribute was offered by the Italian scholar Lucio Marineo Sículo, who taught at the University of Salamanca (1484-96), in a 1514 letter to Luisa de Medrano: 
Ahora es cuando me he convencido de que a las mujeres, Natura no negó ingenio, pues en nuestro tiempo, a través de ti, puede ser comprobado, que en las letras y elocuencia has levantado bien alta la cabeza por encima de los hombres, que eres en España la única niña y tierna joven que trabajas con diligencia y aplicación no la lana sino el libro, no el huso sino la pluma, ni la aguja sino el estilo.
[Now I have been convinced that Nature did not deny women intelligence ("wit"), because in our time and through you it can be proven that in letters and eloquence you have raised yourself head high above the heads of men, that in Spain you are unique, a young woman who works with diligence and application not in wool but in the book, not with the spindle but the pen, not the needle but the stylus.*]
In a will written in 1527, Magdalena Bravo de Laguna, Luisa de Medrano's mother, notes her daughter's recent death. If she died in 1527, Luisa de Medrano was just forty-three years old. 

Medrano is said to have written poetry and philosophy, but if so, none of her work has survived.  

Today an institute of secondary education in Salamanca is named for her, the Institute of Lucia de Medrano. The Luisa de Medrano International Prize, named in her honor, is awarded by the Instituto de la Mujer, Castilla-La Mancha. In announcing the name of the prize, the awards committee noted that Medrano was "the first female professor of a European university." 

Logo for the prize named in honor of
Luisa de Medrano

*Sorry for any inaccuracies in my translation!

There is a brief biography in Spanish (click here), as well as a novel, María López Villarquide's La catedrática.







Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Labor Organizer "Mother Jones": "Pray for the Dead and Fight Like Hell for the Living"

Mary Harris Jones, "Mother Jones," Labor Organizer and Activist (baptized 1 August 1837)


Union membership is at an all-time low in the United States--today just 10.7% of American workers belong to unions, compared to 50 years ago, when nearly a third of American workers were union members. 

 Ewan McGaughey, 'Do corporations increase inequality?' (2015)

So today's post is about Mary Harris Jones, schoolteacher, dressmaker, community organizer, union activist, and all-around ass-kicker. 

Mary Harris Jones,
"Mother Jones"
Born in Cork County, Ireland, Mary Harris was baptized on 1 August 1837--her exact date of birth is not known, but the Cork [Ireland] Mother Jones Commemorative Committee celebrated the 175th anniversary of her birth in 2012. 

(Some sources suggest Mary Harris was born in 1830, with the Encyclopedia Britannica offering a precise date, 1 May 1830. If you've been reading this blog, you know how shabbily the EB treats women, so it's amazing they have an entry on Mary Harris Jones at all, no matter what they decide about her date of birth.)

Mary Harris migrated to Canada with her family at some point during the Great Famine (1840-49) though, again, dates are not certain, with some sources suggesting that her arrival in Canada was during the 1850s. Once there, Mary Harris could get an education, which she did at the Toronto Normal School. 

Mary Harris worked as a teacher, moving to the United States in 1859, when she began teaching in a convent in Michigan. But Harris found the convent "a depressing place" and moved to Chicago, where she worked as a dressmaker, and then to Memphis, where she again taught. 

In 1861 in Memphis she married George Jones, an ironworker and member of the National Iron Moulders Union. After her marriage, she again turned to dressmaking, setting up her own shop, and she gave birth to four children.

But in the yellow-fever epidemic of 1867, Mary Harris Jones lost her husband and her children--three boys and a girl, all under the age of five. As Jones later recalled, “the rich and the well-to-do fled the city" while the poor died: “One by one my four little children sickened and died. . . I sat alone through nights of grief. No one came to me. No one could.”

Jones returned to Chicago, opening another dressmaking shop, sewing clothing for the wealthy of the city. But during the Great Fire of 1871, she once again lost everything. At this moment of great loss, Jones found the Knights of Labor, the first great union organization in the United States, founded in 1869. 

Mary Harris Jones transformed herself into "Mother Jones"--and dedicated herself to the labor movement. She traveled throughout the country, organizing strikes, giving speeches, railing against injustice. When asked about her home, she replied, "Wherever there was a fight." 

(It may be that Jones herself first suggested she was born in 1830--she was small, just five feet tall, and chose to dress all in black. She may have been exaggerating her age in order to amplify her role as the fierce, white-haired mother-figure, "Mother Jones.")

She spent the next fifty years fighting. As Sarah K. Horseley notes in her biographical essay on Mother Jones: "From the late 1870s through the early 1920s, Jones participated in hundreds of strikes across the country. Living by the philosophy, 'wherever there is a fight,' she supported workers in the railroad, steel, copper, brewing, textile, and mining industries."

Mother Jones in Seattle, 30 May 1914

In 1902, Mother Jones was called "the most dangerous woman in America" at her West Virginia trial for violating an injunction that banned striking miners from meeting to organize. According to District Attorney Reese Blizzard, "She [Jones] comes into a state where peace and prosperity reign ... crooks her finger [and] twenty thousand contented men lay down their tools and walk out." 

Jones's actions spanned decades and movements:
In addition to organizing laborers in the western US, Mother Jones helped found the Social Democratic Party (1898) and the Industrial Workers of the World (1905) and published articles in the International Socialist Review. . . . 
. . . Jones often demanded that the government address social injustice. She organized children textile workers to march on President Roosevelt’s home in 1903. Four years later she secured a Congressional inquiry into the fate of Mexican revolutionists imprisoned in America. In 1914, the Colorado militia massacred twenty women and children in a miners’ tent colony in Ludlow, Colorado. Jones persuaded President Wilson to insist that the owners and workers arrive at a truce.
Jones was not a participant in the suffrage movement--which she regarded as a movement of well-to-do women, giving them something to do, and distracting from the serious economic issues faced by working women: “the plutocrats have organized their women. They keep them busy with suffrage and prohibition and charity.” 

As for Jones, she fought with and for working women, organizing miners' wives to block strikebreakers, supporting young female mill workers who were demanding better wages, and agitating to change child labor laws. But Mother Jones believed that women should be wives and mothers rather than workers--and thus fought for better wages for men, arguing that "working men deserved a wage that would allow women to stay home to care for their kids."

As for issues of race, she built labor movements that "bridged racial and ethnic divisions," condemning white supremacists in union organizations, working on behalf of African-American miners, and arguing that Mexican and Italian immigrants should be included in unions. As the Mother Jones Museum notes in its essay "Who Was Mother Jones?":
When an African-American woman, impressed with Mother Jones [sic] commitment to their cause, suggested she would kiss Jones’ skirt hem in gratitude, Jones replied, “Not in the dust, sister, to me, but here on my breast, heart to heart.”
For her political actions, Jones was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned more than once--at age 82, she was sentenced to twenty years, though she was released from prison after serving 85 days. 

Although she slowed down after 1920, Mother Jones never quit. In fact, she was back in court in 1924, accused of libel, slander, and sedition, she made an appearance at a dressmakers strike in Chicago in the same year, and she published her autobiography in 1925.

Mary Harris Jones--Mother Jones--died on 30 November 1930. She may have been a hundred years old--or perhaps "just" 93. She was buried in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois. 

Whether you approve of her politics or not, you have to admire this spirit: "I'm not a lady, I'm a hellraiser." 

Agitation the greatest factor for progress - Mother Jones
Mother Jones, c. 1910

I've linked (above) to Eliott J. Gorn's 2002 biography, Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America.  For a shorter read, you may like the entry on Mary Harris Jones from the Gale Encyclopedia of U. S. Economic History, available here.