Category Archives: Blog

800px-Salem_witch2 by Joseph Baker

“Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History”—What Does That Mean?

Laurel Ulrich was perplexed that she couldn’t find much information about Puritan women. As a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, she was writing a seminar and then an article on early American women. She wanted to let people know that there were other women instead of just the witches. In her article, she wanted to stress that we need to pay attention to the invisible women and wrote “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

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She wrote that in 1976. Nearly twenty years later, a journalist called her up and asked if she could use that quote. Ulrich said yes and soon got asked by others if they could to print that phrase on t-shirts. “Sure! Send me a t-shirt,” Ulrich replied. It was then that the phrase turned into a slogan and phenomenon. It’s been seen on bumper stickers, quilts, coffee mugs, and used by organizations. (Sometimes without her permission.) People interpreted it a variety of ways, and it was used quite differently than she intended. However, she took an interest in the different views of the phrase and saw why people used it the way they did.

So Ulrich decided to write a book called Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History which explores why some women are remembered and why some are not, how they’re remembered, what has been done for them to be remembered, and what we can do. The book centers around three feminist writers—Christine de Pizan of France who lived in the fifteenth century, American Elizabeth Cady Stanton who lived in the nineteenth century, and Virginia Woolf of England who lived in the twentieth century. Though these three women lived in different time periods and places, they were concerned with the way women were viewed. Ulrich reflects on their lives while branching out to many other women who made a mark on history. I learned about women I hadn’t heard of and new information on subjects I already knew about it.

For example, I knew about Rosa Parks, but didn’t know there were other women before her who refused to give up their seat on the bus, but a journalist decided that she was the best candidate. Since she came from a conservative background, her actions would make a bigger impact.  Lots of times it’s the way people are presented that help them make history. Ulrich points out that it depends on what you mean by “well-behaved.”

Some daring women were almost not remembered—it took years and multiple efforts to publish an early biography of Harriet Tubman. How many other women need biographies? There are just so many women that are waiting for their stories to be told! At an authors’ conference discussing her book, Ulrich said “History is a dialogue between present and past….What we bring to it is our questions and our concerns. If some women are invisible in history it’s because for some reason that link between the present and past has been broken.”

It’s interesting to note that Ulrich doesn’t really discuss royalty—and that is actually quite refreshing! Ulrich uses a huge spectrum of women. From Joan of Arc being a controversial figure to Mormon polygamist wives who were career women and to the extreme 1970s to milkmaids’ contributions to society and back to us in modern times, your eyes will be opened and you will want to get out there and discover stories—including family stories. The importance of writing your own personal history also stands out.

Ulrich succeeded in writing as she put it a “feel good book.” (It’s already being used as a  future reference for this writer!) Her last chapter is powerful. It includes another woman, Jill Portugal, who owns a small t-shirt business. Her t-shirts say things like, “Ignore Celebrities” and “Anti-Porn Star.” Though she’s up against an industry that makes billions, her motto is brilliant: “Taking over the world one shirt at a time.”

Ulrich says, “If well-behaved women seldom make history, it is not only because gender norms have constrained the range of female activity but because history hasn’t been very good at capturing the lives of those whose contributions have been local and domestic.”

The last statement Ulrich makes has three valid points about how people can make history—the last being the most important. “Well-behaved women make history when they do the unexpected, when they create and preserve records, and when later generations care.”

823px-Unknown_maker,_French_-_Woman_Reading_to_a_Girl_-_Google_Art_Project

 

Pictures: Salem Witch by Joseph E. Baker, A Fair Puritan by E. Percy Moran,  and photograph of woman and child reading taken by unknown photographer

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The Aunt Who Saved Her Niece : Princess Elisabeth of France

French Revolution. What comes to mind?
Madam Guillotine,  Marie Antoinette, and sink me–The Scarlet Pimpernal. The 1982 film adaption of the book made me laugh so hard. I was also in awe. Did such heroes exist?

There were those who smuggled nobles into other countries. The films shows that Marie-Antoinette and Louis’s son survived and was taken from their prison to a safer place.

Wrong.

The sole survivor was the king and queen’s daughter, Marie-Therese. who clung on to some hope that maybe her brother and mother who were taken away had survived.

I can’t believed I went on for years not knowing about her–or her aunt Elisabeth, the king’s sister.  Elisabeth made sacrifice after sacrifice for the royal family–refusing to marry or take other available routes that would take her out of the country. She endured violent attacks with them and even posed as the queen to buy her sister-in-law more time during one ambush. It’s little wonder that Marie-Antoinette and Louis counseled their children to listen to their aunt.

All too soon the royal family was taken to the Temple Tower. They endured unfair trials and living conditions grew worse.  the king was executed and little Louis was taken to a separate cell. Marie-Antoinette was taken away and also executed, but Elisabeth and Marie-Therese only knew the king’s fate. However, I believe Elisabeth knew her sister-in-law was dead and had a strong feeling her nephew was slowly dying. Marie-Therese had the best chance of surviving.

The Heroic Aunt

The heroic aunt. Elisabeth de France by Vigee-Lebrun.

 
When it was just Elisabeth and Marie-Therese in the cell, Elisabeth comforted her niece. She was an example of piety and
Marie-Therese later said much of her survival was due to prayer. Elisabeth showed and advised her niece on how to groom herself, keep the cell as clean as possible, and how to handle the guards. It was just a matter of time before Elisabeth was taken away and was prepared to die a martyr. Marie-Therese would not find out what happened to her aunt, mother, and brother till much later. The information that her aunt watched around twenty-five nobles executed before her and was purposely saved for last would be withheld.

Marie-Therese was eventually freed and taken to Vienna in 1795 for safety.

The sole survivor. Portrait of Marie Thérèse of France by Heinrich Furger.

The sole survivor. Portrait of Marie Thérèse of France by Heinrich Furger.

She would go on to help royal refugees and raise troops against Napoleon dubbed her the “only man in the family.” She worked hard to preserve the memory of her family. The following comment about her aunt needs to be remembered.”I feel I have her nature . . . [she] considered me and cared for me as her daughter, and I, I honored her as a second mother.”
I hope I have some of Princess Elisabeth in me. Her story sticks out to me. In times of tough decisions, I have thought of my growing niece and my desire to be a good example. The thought points me in the right direction. I love my nieces and nephew. I’m honored when my brothers and their wives let me watch over their kids. Princess Elisabeth is a wonderful role model.  Her story is inspiring because it can make us think of ways we can be more loving toward our families.

 

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Poet Profile: Rachel Bluwstein

Rachel Bluwstein was born on September 20, 1890 in Russia. She lived in Ukraine, Palestine, France, and Israel. She was a Zionist pioneer and a Renaissance woman of sorts. She drew, painted, worked in agriculture, taught school, and is remembered for her lyrical, yet right-to-the-point poetry.

With with friend, Avraham Cahanowitz

With friend, Avraham Cahanowitz

For thousands of years, Hebrew poetry was dominated by males. The last known Hebrew woman poet was Deborah, a judge in ancient Israel.  Due to illness, Rachel lived in isolation toward the end of her life. She kept some correspondence and saw people here and there, but for the most part felt very lonely.  She died in 1931 at age 40 and is considered the “founding mother” of Hebrew poetry written by women. Many of her poems have been set to songs.  Her Michal poem will be in my book:

“Michal”

“And Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David

And she despised him in her heart”

Michal, distant sister, time’s thread has not been severed,

time’s thorns in your sad vineyard have not prevailed.

Still in my ear I hear the tinkling of your gold anklet,

the stripes in your silk garment have not paled.

Often I have seen you standing by your small window

pride and tenderness mingling in your eyes.

Like you I am sad, O Michal, distant sister, and like you doomed to

love a man whom I despise.

(1927, Israel. Translated by Robert Friend; taken from her book Flowers of Perhaps.)

 

It’s somewhat poetic justice that Rachel the Poetess, the founding mother of modern Israeli poetry, identified with the woman who married the sweet psalmist of Israel.

What do you think of that, David?

 

Photos gathered by deror_avi on wiki commons

 

Phillis Wheatley

Poet Profile: Phillis Wheatley

 April is a very busy month with unique happenings and such! April is also National Poetry Month. I think it is very appropriate to post something about one of our nation’s first female published poets.

 

Phillis Wheatley grew up a slave but soon became treated like a member of the Wheatley household. It became evident that she was intelligent and had a great knack for learning and craved freedom.

She began writing poetry at twelve. She did write a poem praising King George III, but as time went on, she became involved in the American cause and wrote poetry praising General George Washington instead. The general made a point to meet her and looked forward to know someone “so favored by the muses.”  Her patriotic poetry proved to be great morale and became an advocate for freedom.

“God has implanted a Principle which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.”