At the Visitors Center to the United States Capitol in Washington, DC, there is a statue of Helen Keller as a young girl, next to a water pump. The statue depicts the famous ‘eureka’ moment when she first connects the word water that her teacher was trying to teach her in sign language, to the water itself. This is the enduring image of Helen Keller, the little blind and deaf girl who learned how to interact in the world through the patience of her teacher and overcame her obstacles to eventually go to Harvard. All of which is true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
During the Second World War the UK’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) had around 50 agents who were female. A small number of these women became fairly well-known, the best examples of these are Violette Szabo, Odette Sansom- Hallowes, and Noor Inyat Khan.
Many of the other female agents can be considered as fairly unknown characters in our history. Some agents found a little fame after the war that had nothing to do with their wartime service for example Lorraine Adie Copeland, wife of CIA agent Miles Copeland, mother of Stuart Copeland and brilliant archaeologist.
This week’s post is written for us by Eileen Tull, who is directing a workshop of a play about Emilie du Chatelet’s life.
I’ve always been something of a history nerd. I come from a long line of history teachers, so I grew up watching Ken Burns’ documentaries, voraciously consuming books about historical figures, and enduring my father’s repetitive jokes about the battle strategies of the French. What most fascinated me, though, was the ever-evolving role of women in history, from Queen Elizabeth to Sacajawea to Carrie Nation to Eleanor Roosevelt.
As I grew up, I began to pursue my creativity passions: the theatre! Through my career, I have created a handful of theatrical projects stemming from history or relating to historical figures in some way.
Anne Bonny and Mary Read are two of the most well known female pirates who ever lived! They sailed the seas of the Caribbean, gaining a reputation for how fearsome they were.
Anne Bonny (then Cormac) was born in Ireland in 1702, while Mary Read was born in Plymouth around the same time (no-one knows the exact year she was born.)
Anne’s father was a wealthy man who had left his wife for her mother, who was a servant. When Anne was a child her father dressed her up as a boy and said that she was his nephew, to avoid the shame of having a child with a woman he wasn’t married to. Eventually, when Anne was a young child, their family left Ireland to travel to the ‘New World’: America.
*Trigger warning* Domestic Violence
Caroline Norton, came from a privileged and politically connected family, was a society beauty and was a celebrated writer of poetry.
After the death of her father in South Africa, her family became penniless and she was pressurised into a marriage to support her family. In 1827 she married George Norton who was the Tory MP for Guildford, but Caroline was a Whig who wanted social reform and was interested in improving the lives of factory workers. The pair were political opposites and did not get on with each other.
Zitkala-Ša (which means ‘Red Bird’), also known by the name Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, was a Native American writer, musician and activist. She was born on 22nd February 1876 on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Her mother was a Sioux American Indian, her father a white American who left the family when Zitkala was only young.
In 1884 Christian missionaries came to the reservation and took many of the children, including Zitkala, away from their home, traveling 700 miles to their missionary school. Despite her mother’s concerns, she allowed Zitkala to leave, at the age of 8, to attend White’s Manual Labor Institute in Indiana.
*Trigger warning sexual assault*
Marilyn Monroe conjures up different images for different people. Little known is the ingenuity behind the glamorous star, who owned a library of over 400 books, an IQ higher than Einstein and a knack for determining revolutions.
Championing civil rights, Marilyn used her fame to support the beginning of the end of discrimination. 1950s America saw extreme segregation, and black musicians were often faced with the brunt of it. Ella Fitzgerald, one such lady, found difficulty finding gigs in the late ‘50s. Marilyn called the Mocambo Club, being a fan of Ella’s herself, and told them if they hired Fitzgerald she would watch front row every time. Ella has stated since that Monroe was ‘ahead of her time’.