England recently released a new ten-pound note, featuring beloved author Jane Austen. She will become the second woman only to the Queen to grace the front of an English bank note, which is clear evidence in her continuing fandom and the enduring interest in her work.
The author of the classics Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abbey published her work anonymously and did not claim notoriety until her siblings took it upon themselves to publish two previously unprinted books following her death. It was, therefore, not until the mid-19th century that she gained widespread notability. Continue reading Jane Austen
Elizabeth Freeman, first known as Mum Bett or Mumbet, was born around 1742 to African parents who were enslaved by Pieter Hogeboom in Claverack, New York. Hogeboom’s daughter Hannah married Col. John Ashley of Sheffield, Massachusetts, and Bett, most likely inherited by Hannah in 1758, moved to their household.
The story of her leaving the Ashley household varies. They state that Hannah, in an angry fit, tried to hit Bett’s younger sister Lizzie with a heated kitchen shovel. Bett, stood in the way and was hit instead, causing a deep wound. Bett left, and refused to come back. When Col. Ashley asked the law to bring back his “property,” Bett contacted lawyer Theodore Sedgwick. Stories recount that when Sedgwick inquired as to how she got the idea that she deserved to be free, she said “By keepin’ still and mindin’ things.” Continue reading Mum Bett and the Freedom Suit (Elizabeth Freeman)
Who was Catharine Montour? No one really knows. We know that she was an Iroquois woman with a white great-grandfather. We know that she lived in what is now Upstate New York sometime between 1710 and 1804. After that, the stories get confusing, but her legacy lives on.
Her grandmother was also named Catharine Montour, and history often conflates the two. Not to mention all the Noble Savage, or just plain savage, tales that grew up around the younger Catharine. Continue reading Catharine Montour
Mary Somerville was born in Scotland on Dec. 26, 1780, and had four supreme passions in her life: her family, equality for women, science, and birds.
Described as feminine in manner and appearance, as a girl she never cared for dolls. Her mother said she would have been content if Mary had “only learnt to write well and keep accounts which was all that a woman was expected to know.” Mary, however, had a talent for mathematics. She taught herself by listening in on her brother as he was tutored in geometry and by reading Euclid. Continue reading Mary Somerville: A Passion for Science
If I had a chance to have lunch with anyone living or dead I would most certainly chose to have it with Dora Jordan, one of Western history’s most famous comics who graced the British stage for forty years. Not only would she make me laugh, I would uncover some mysteries about her that have persisted for the past two hundred years.
Dora was born in Ireland to a pair of theater folks around 1761. It’s not known for certain if her father was a stagehand or an actor but it is known that when Dora was thirteen, he abandoned his family for a young actress and left them destitute. Fortunately, Dora took to the stage and acted until she was fifty-four, earning around one hundred thousand pounds (approximately 7 million dollars). Continue reading Dora Jordan
Jeanne Baret (or Barré or Baré) was the first woman to circumnavigate the world, but she was also a talented botanist with a passion for plants.
Jeanne Baret was born to a humble farming family in France in 1740. Not too much is known about her childhood, but at some point young Jeanne developed a keen interest in plants. As she grew older she learnt all she could about the healing properties of different plants and soon became a ‘herb woman’, treating people’s ailments with nature’s medicine. Continue reading Jeanne Baret
Elizabeth Raffald was a superwoman of her day; an author, innovator, investor and benefactor for the people of Manchester in the mid 18th century, just before industrialization gripped the town. From poor origins she rose to be a housekeeper at Arley Hall but on coming to Manchester in 1763 she began a formidable body of work to benefit the town. A vital and enterprising woman, her achievements were amazing in their scope and variety. Continue reading Elizabeth Raffald: The Original Domestic Goddess and Georgian Celebrity Chef
“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”
― Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
Mary Wollstonecraft was born on April 27, 1759; the second eldest in a family of seven. Alienated by her mother’s favour for her brother and her father’s abuse, she dedicated her life to writing. She became one of Britain’s most important radicals, whose work has changed the world. The work she is renowned for is Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), which proposed for the first time, equal rights for women. Continue reading Mary Wollstonecraft
Germaine de Staël made her reputation in at the end of the 18th century Europe as a writer whose charisma, wit and keen intelligence attracted politicians, philosophers, poets and artists. Her life spanned the Age of Enlightenment, French Revolution, Napoleon’s reign and the dawn of the Romantic era. She was a celebrated essayist, political agitator and novelist with a passion for theatre. Her politics so threatened Napoleon that he had her exiled from Paris.
Continue reading Germaine de Staël – the woman Napoleon feared
Phillis Wheatley was a poet and the first African American woman to have her work published.
Phillis Wheatley, as her name became, was born in West Africa (probably Senegal). Her African birth name is unknown to us now, because when she was only 7 years old she was kidnapped and shipped to America to be sold as a slave. The ship she sailed on was called The Phillis, from which she got her new name. The family she was sold to were the Wheatleys.
The Wheatley’s daughter taught Phillis to read and write, which was quite unusual for a slave. She was a quick learner; by the time she was 9 years old she had mastered English, by the time she was 12 she could handle Greek and Latin too! The Wheatley family encouraged her learning and she began to read all the books she could lay her hands on.
Continue reading Phillis Wheatley