Happy Wednesday! I have quite a bit to cover in this post…bear with me.
Since it is the first Women in History Crush Wednesday of the school year, today’s post is dedicated to the two teachers that got me to this point – Mrs. Bruder and Coach Patterson. I had Mrs. Bruder for AP Lang last year, and I owe any writing ability I have to her and her lessons. Without her, I don’t think I’d even enjoy writing enough to have a blog. Coach Patterson was my AP World History teacher sophomore year, and she is now my AP European History teacher. I’ve always been interested in history, but Coach’s passionate lectures about the stories of the past have inspired me to base my future goals on a history education. If you awesome ladies are reading this, thank you so much for all you’ve taught me and how you’ve helped me grow. You rock!
Next, it’s Women’s Equality Day! Today marks the 95th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women in America the right to vote. If you want to learn more about the women’s suffrage movement that began in Seneca Falls, head over to the National Women’s History Museum online exhibit for a complete history. Also, there’s a neat “7 Women of Color Who Fought for Gender Equality” article for today by the American Association of University Women celebrating some of the women who’ve helped get us to this point.
Finally to Women in History Crush Wednesday. For the past two days in my European History class, we’ve been refreshing on early medieval history in order to better grasp the course’s curriculum, which covers from the Renaissance of the 14th century to the global economic crash of 2008. Our discussion about Byzantine emperor Justinian led me to today’s WCW, Empress Theodora, remembered as early western civilization’s most influential woman.
Theodora is believed to have been born at some point between the years 497 and 510 (the only record of her life is from the works of Procopius, who wrote about her after her death, and therefore dates are not entirely accurate). Early in her childhood, Theodora’s mother encouraged her to become an actress, then a prostitute and mistress, a career from which she bore one daughter (who soon died) and later retired to become a wool-spinner. In the early 520’s, Theodora and Justinian fell in love, and after Justinian’s uncle, Emperor Justin, changed the law which forbid actresses to marry aristocracy, the couple married in 525.
When Justinian claimed the throne in 527, Theodora became his most valuable adviser. Theodora assisted him in decision making for numerous cases, most notably that of the Blues and the Greens, in which Theodora convinced Justinian to stay and protect his rule in Constantinople against the threat of a rival political faction, despite his other advisers telling him to flee the city. Theodora’s sheer intellect and influence over political policies has brought many historians to speculate that she actually ruled Byzantium – she is accredited in almost all laws passed while she was empress, led correspondence of the empire’s foreign affairs, and little legislation was passed by Justinian following her death. However, it is more widely believed that the two acted as a team, complementing each other and helping in the other’s weaker areas.
As one of the first rulers to recognize women’s rights, Theodora had a hand in the creation of laws that granted women property rights after divorce, gave mothers custody rights of their children, forbid the killing of adulterous wives, and prohibited sex trafficking by closing brothels and replacing them with convents. Additionally, by 533, Theodora ended the persecution of Monophysite Christians within the empire, and provided several excommunicated observers of the sect with safe locations.
Theodora served as empress for twenty one years, then died in 548 due to either gangrene or cancer. While she was one of the most powerful female leaders of early world history and basically ruled as Justinian’s equal, you probably won’t hear of or learn much about her, even in college courses, because the history we learn was written in early patriarchal societies. History has traditionally been recorded by men; when given the choice between Justinian and Theodora, who do you think they’d most likely write about?
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays! And
at this point I hope you enjoy ed the rest of Women’s Equality Day!