This Week in Feminist History

Guest Post, · Categories: Feminist History

On September 4th in 1924…

Joan Aiken, an English writer of children’s alternative history and supernatural fiction, was born in Sussex, England. Her mother was a Master’s graduate from Radcliffe College, and her father was an American Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. Joan’s mother educated her at home until she was twelve, after which she attended Wychwood School for girls. She began writing at a young age, finished her first full novel at sixteen years old, and had her first short story published when she was seventeen. For six years in the 1940s, Joan worked for the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), where she met her husband Ronald Brown, with whom she had two children. After his death in 1955, she began working as an editor and writer for Argosy magazine, publishing many short stories during her time there. At the same time, she began writing children’s stories, including her first children’s novel, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, published in 1962. Following its publication she began to work from home full-time, writing both children’s books and thrillers. Over the course of her career, Joan wrote over a hundred books. Many were ghost stories or supernatural thrillers, including The Haunting of Lamb House, The Shadow Guests, and The Windscreen Weepers. She also wrote adult novels that were continuations of Jane Austen books, like Jane Fairfax and Mansfield Revisited. Her most popular and well-known books were from a children’s series known as the Wolves Chronicles. The books, which feature child protagonists, are set in an alternative Britain where James II was never deposed during the Glorious Revolution. Jane died in January of 2004, at the age of 79.

On September 5th in 1928…

… Indian classical dancer Damayanti Joshi was born in Mumbai, India. She grew up in the home of Leila Sokey, also known as Madame Manaka, who trained her in dance as a member of Manaka’s troupe. While touring along with the troupe through Europe, Damayanti learned how to dance Kathak, one of the ten major forms of Indian classical dance. (Katha is a style attributed to ancient northern Indians known as Kathakars, who were traveling bards.) Damayanti trained with many skilled dancers, including Shambhu Maharaj. She began well-known as a solo Kathak dancer, especially for adding nuances from other styles, such as Bharat Natyam. Damayanti was also the first person to wear a “Saree” while dancing a Kathak dance. Later in her career, she taught Kathak at several dance studios and was a guru to Bireshwar Gautam. She won several awards, and featured in a documentary and film. Damayanti died in September of 2004, at the age of 76.

On September 6th in 1795…

Frances Wright, a Scottish-born feminist, abolitionist, and writer, was born in Dundee, Scotland. Frances’ parents died when she was only three, after which her maternal aunt and grandmother raised her in England. She lived there until she was sixteen when she moved back to Scotland with her great-uncle. There she studied and began writing, finishing her first book by the time she was eighteen. As an adult, Frances was an avid speaker against organized religion, capitalism, and marriage. She was also a feminist who believed in equality in education, the emancipation of slaves, sexual freedom and birth control for women, and free public education. She disseminated her views through the Free Inquirer, a newspaper she founded, and books like Views of Society and Manners in America. That book lead to her return to the U.S., where she had previously visited. There, she became a social reformer. In 1825 she moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and founded the Nashoba Commune, the goal of which was educating and emancipating slaves. It was a small example of her full-scale plan, detailed in her tract, A Plan for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in the U.S. Without Danger of Loss to the Citizens of the South. Though it is sometimes remembered as an interracial utopian commune, that is a bit of a rosy way to look at it. The problem was that Frances’ goal wasn’t aimed only at freeing slaves, but rather at convincing Southern landowners that they could do so without losing money (heaven forbid). As a result, her plan involved slaves working on farms to buy their freedom, educate them there, and then transport them to independent settlements in Haiti and Liberia to be free there. In essence, the slaves at the community were still Frances’ property until they could buy themselves out, which means it was very problematic. The community collapsed after a few years, and Frances left it. Frances’ beliefs about slavery and the education of slaves were progressive at the time, especially compared to others in the South, but they were nonetheless very flawed. Frances continued speaking about abolition for most of her life. She died in December of 1852, at the age of 57.

On September 7th in 1860…

… American folk artist Grandma Moses was born Anna Mary Robertson in Greenwich, New York. She received intermittent education as a child growing up on her parents’ farm until she left at 12 years old to work as a hired girl. In 1887, she met and married Thomas Moses, and the couple began farming together. They lived first in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, and then moved to Eagle Bridge, New York. Her husband died in 1927, leaving Anna to work the farm on her own with her youngest son. Though Anna had enjoyed drawing as a child—using juice from grapes and berries to color—she didn’t become an artist until after her husband’s death. She began creating pictures using worsted-embroidery, then switched to painting when she began having trouble with her arthritis. In time she started making original paintings inspired by her childhood, including well-known works such as Apple Pickers (1940),  Sugaring-Off in the Maple Orchard (1940), Catching the Thanksgiving Turkey (1943), and Over the River to Grandma’s House (1944). She gave away most of her early paintings or sold them for low amounts. After an art collector named Louis Caldor saw and purchased all her remaining paintings and exhibited some of them at the Museum of Modern Art, though, she became more well-known in the art field. In October of 1940, she had a show of 35 of her paintings, after which she had her work shown throughout Europe and the U.S. in over 250 shows (a mix of solo and group exhibits). Historians and critics generally praise her work for the color, brightness and energy, and detail, though they also rather condescendingly label it as “American Primitive.” Grandma Moses had many well-known paintings over the years, many of which were and are still printed on Christmas cards. Anna wrote and published an autobiography, My Life’s History, in 1952. She died in December of 1961, at the age of 101.

On September 8th in 1895…

Sara García, a Mexican actress from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, was born in Veracruz, Mexico. She was one of eleven children, but the only one that survived to adulthood, and when she was five years old, her mother died of typhoid fever. She worked as a teacher for some years in her early adulthood, teaching art a Catholic school for girls. Upon finding out a company was filming a movie nearby, she took some screen tests and got a contract as an extra. Her several appearances as an extra lead to a career in theater; first in minor roles and then in more prominent parts with the Compañía de Comedia Selecta, Mexico’s top theater group of the time. Her theater career took her across Central America, during which time she met and married her husband and gave birth to their daughter. (They divorced in 1923, and Sara spent the rest of her life living with Rosario González Cuenca, who was her assistant, business manager, and allegedly her lover.) Her full-time movie career didn’t begin until 1933 when she was 38. After that, she starred in over 148 films. Her first major, starring role was in Así es la Mujer (“That is How a Woman Is”) in 1936. Most of Sara’s parts in movies were as mothers and grandmothers, and she starred with the top Mexican cinema stars of the time. In 1940, she was cast as an old woman in the film Allá en el trópico (“There in the Tropics”), a role she secured in part donning a wig and having her teeth removed. From that point on, she was “la Abuelita de México” or Mexico’s Grandmother. After that she often starred with famous actor Pedro Infante, usually as his grandmother, but in general, she co-starred with the whole of Mexico’s movie stars during the 40 years of her career. Sara died in November of 1980 at the age of 85.

On September 9th in 1923…

… Greek journalist, translator, and author Rosita Sokou was born in Athens, Greece. When she was in high school, Rosita began to write reviews of the movies and plays she saw with her grandfather. After graduating from school, she went to the Institut Français, where she learned French, and the British Council, where she studied English. She also attended the State School of Fine Arts, and the Vassilis Rotas Drama School, all while working as a teaching and translator. Though she started her career as a film critic, she soon expanded to theatre criticism and other columns and was one of the first women journalists in Greece. For four years she lived in Italy with her husband but had trouble adjusting to working in the Italian media. She returned to Greece with her daughter and began working for several papers. In 1967, a military dictatorship took over the country. In protest against the suppression of the press, the editor she worked for, Eleni Vlahou, closed all her papers and moved to England. Rosita struggled to keep herself and her daughter afloat, but she and one other colleague were the only people who didn’t sue Eleni for lost wages. Rosita worked her way back up to writing for newspapers, during reviews of theatre and ballet and open columns. She became a well-known local celebrity in the early days of TV by appearing on a panel show and hosted her own TV show as well where she invited people into her home and chatted with them on film. Rosita also translated many works by well-known authors and wrote her own play, as well as several books. She is still alive today, living in Athens with her daughter and two grandchildren, and teaching Theatrical History at the “Melissa” Drama School.

On September 10th in 1882…

Fola La Follette, a women’s suffragist and labor activist, was born in Madison, Wisconsin. Her mother was Belle Case La Follette, a lawyer and suffragist, and her father Robert La Follette was a liberal politician. She attended Wisconsin Academy, followed by the University of Wisconsin, after which she went on to act on stage for ten years. During her acting career, she appeared in plays like The Scarecrow by Percy MacKaye, and Bluffs, by Leo Ditrichstein. She also met and married playwright George Middleton, though she kept her maiden name. (Good for her!) Fola had been active in the women’s rights movement from a young age, thanks to her mother, but it was when she combined the movement with her acting career that she grew in influence. She performed in plays like How the Vote was Won and gave speeches on behalf of the movement. Her performances presented an image of the movement that was more realistic than the comedic way they were often portrayed in the media at the time. Fola was also involved in the labor movement when garment industry workers went on strike in New York. She picketed with them and spoke about their cause, using her celebrity to bring attention to the cause, as well as convincing her politician father to intercede on their behalf. Critics referred to Fola and her compatriots mockingly (at the time) as the “mink brigade.” This was because police would hesitate to arrest them due to their status, and they would use that to support the workers. On top of everything else, Fola formed an actors’ union, Actors’ Equity, alongside other actors. She also helped her father with his presidential campaign and was a contributing editor to the family’s progressive magazine. She died in February of 1970, at the age of 87.

Amy is a former literature major with a penchant for the past and a tendency to wonder why popular history involves so many boring white men. She lives in Connecticut where she has too many books, several cats, and lots of tea. She often wishes there was a way to look like snapchat filters in real life.


3 Responses to “This Week in Feminist History”

  1. CleverManka says:

    Still not over REMOVING ALL HER TEETH

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