Empress Theodora

Theodora (c.497-548) was born in Constantinople – modern day Istanbul. In her remarkable life she became probably the most powerful woman in Byzantine history. Little is known about her early years, and it is hard to sort fact from fiction in such a colourful story.

The daughter of a bear keeper at Constantinople’s hippodrome, Theodora was put to work there herself at an early age as an actress, dancer, mime artist and comedian. Performing for hundreds of spectators, by the age of 15 she was a successful performer. She was also (as most actresses of the time were) prostituted, and gave birth to her first child aged just 14. Continue reading Empress Theodora

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Mary Paley Marshall

Mary Paley grew up in a rose-covered country rectory in Northamptonshire, England. Her great-grandfather was the famous philosopher William Paley, who wrote Natural Theology. Unusually for the time Mary’s father, the Reverend Thomas Paley, did not see why his daughter’s education should stop at age thirteen. He taught her maths and science himself and encouraged her to take the new exam for women wanting to become teachers. Mary did so well in it that in 1871 she was offered a scholarship to study at Newnham College in Cambridge. Continue reading Mary Paley Marshall

Wangari Maathai and Her Canopy of Hope

Wangari (Muta) Maathai was born in 1940 in Kenya. In her Kikuyu culture women were storytellers and all humans had right to shelter and space. Like her grandmother-namesake she was known to be industrious and organized.

By the time she was born the native drink–millet porridge–had been replaced by the tea of the British colonialists. Her father was a mechanic and driver for a British settler and was tall and strong. He didn’t need a jack to change a tire on a car. The family cultivated a small farm a with soil so lush you could “almost feel the life it had.”  At the urging of her brother, she was sent to a Catholic school where she was first in her class. She enjoyed her schooling but in retrospect recognized that it served to undermine her own culture. Continue reading Wangari Maathai and Her Canopy of Hope

Zenobia – Warrior Queen

Zenobia was a 3rd century warrior queen who claimed she was descended from none other than Cleopatra. She is known for conquering Egypt and thwarting the Roman Empire.

Born in Palmyra in Syria, Zenobia’s given Roman name was Julia Aurelia Zenobia. It’s reported that as a child she learnt the riding skills which would serve her well in her warrior future. Continue reading Zenobia – Warrior Queen