Fearless Fannie

Welcome back to my blog and happy new year! I’m going to skip the usual apologies and promises to post more even though I hope to be better at posting this year and just jump right in. It’s the first WCW of 2017, so we’re going to start off strong with the incredible Fannie Lou Hamer.


Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer was born on October 6th, 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi, the youngest of twenty children in the Townsend family. Hamer began picking cotton at the age of six and dropped out of school before seventh grade to help her family full time with their plot on a sharecropping plantation. Hamer contracted polio when she was sixteen. Due to her physical challenges after catching the virus and her ability to read and write, Hamer was promoted to the position of book keeper. In her late twenties, Hamer married Perry “Pap” Hamer, one of the tractor drivers at the plantation.

The couple wanted but was unable to have kids; Hamer was told that a uterine tumor was affecting her fertility and that she needed to have it removed. During surgery and without her consent, the doctor performed a hysterectomy. Hamer was rightfully furious when she came out of the procedure, and after finding out how common the eugenic practice was, began to speak out against and raise awareness for what she coined “Mississippi appendectomies.” Now completely unable to have children, Pap and Fannie Lou adopted two daughters.

Hamer became active in the civil rights movement in 1962 when she attended a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) meeting about voting rights. The meeting inspired her to take a trip to a nearby city to register to vote with about twenty other students. However, the group was immediately barred from registering – except for Hamer and one man, who were given but failed a literacy test. On the drive back, the group was unlawfully stopped and harassed by police. No one was hurt, but the extreme difficulties Hamer faced over the course of the whole event inspired her to dedicate her life to advocating for desegregation and voting rights. Once home, the plantation owner that Hamer worked for kicked her and her family off the property; they struggled with debt and finances for several years after, which drove Hamer to add economic security for all to her advocacy list. Gaining in renown and protest inspiration, she and the SNCC travelled around the southern US for several months on a speech circuit. Hamer and a group of protesters made a stop at a café in Winona, Mississippi in 1963, and made a political statement by sitting at a whites-only counter. They were immediately arrested and were subject to many brutal beatings while imprisoned; injuries to her eyes, kidneys, and leg stuck with Hamer for the rest of her life. Following her release, Hamer’s reputation grew, and she became a national speaker for civil rights.

In 1964, Hamer founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDR) to oppose the pro-segregation democrats. The party struggled to gain support until later that year when Hamer ran for Congress; she lost, but put the MFDR in the national eye. At the Democratic National Convention in the same year, Hamer made a speech challenging the Mississippi representatives and advocating for integration. Her speech was so incendiary that President Lyndon B Johnson launched an emergency press release in an attempt to interrupt her broadcast. His plan backfired, as the excitement around the speech and interruption raised American interest in Hamer’s work. After the drama of the convention, Hamer returned to Mississippi, where she worked for over a decade organizing protests, training volunteers, helping with relief work, registering voters, and instituting agricultural co-ops and Head Start programs for low income families and children. One of Hamer’s trademark protest techniques was the use of hymns and spirituals to encourage marchers and spread hope for change.


Throughout the late 70’s, Hamer was widely recognized for her efforts. She was awarded honorary doctorates from four universities, received the National Sojourner Truth Meritorious Service Award, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Hamer passed away on March 14th, 1977 in Mound Bayou, Mississippi due to complications from cancer and hypertension. Inscribed on her tombstone is one of her most well-known quotes “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” said when asked why she continued fighting for equal rights when all the odds were stacked against her.

To learn more about the inspiring life of Fannie Lou Hamer, check out these PBS, American Public Media, History Channel, and Howard University pages. Additionally, you can find several albums of her top songs online. My personal favorite is her rendition of Wade in the Water (which unfortunately isn’t on YouTube), but she’s best known for This Little Light of Mine – both and all the rest are wonderful and I really hope you can take a second to listen.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!


The Art of Arte

It’s been another couple weeks of absence in favor of my grades, but I’m here again so let’s do this! Happy Women in History Crush Wednesday! About a month ago now, my friend Rummel Medina suggested that I look up this “really awesome feminist painter from the 1600’s,” and I wasn’t disappointed. Today’s leading lady is one of the earliest recorded popular female artists in European history, and while we don’t know many specifics about her, several of her public and legal papers still survive today, giving us some insight into her life. Introducing this week’s WCW, Artemisia Gentileschi.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Artemisia Gentileschi

Born on July 8th, 1593 in Rome, Italy, Gentileschi was the daughter of accomplished painter Orazio Gentileschi. Not much is left in regards to her childhood, but at the age of seventeen Gentileschi began painting under the instruction of her father. Around this same time, one of Orazio’s friends and colleagues, Agostino Tassi, who often spent time at the Gentileschi’s house to socialize with Orazio, raped Gentileschi. Because Tassi refused to marry Gentileschi following the assault, Orazio pressed charges, and an investigation that cost Gentileschi her local reputation and resulted in her being further violated for evidence began its long trial, the transcripts for which can still be read today. Tassi was convicted and imprisoned, but was released quickly; within a year of his release, Orazio again often hosted him at their house as a close friend. A month after the trial, the pregnant Gentileschi married Pietro Antonio di Vicenzio Stiattesi.

Gentileschi’s career as a painter took off following the trial, as she moved to Florence and turned to art as her main form of expression. In 1613, she completed her first portrait (below) of her most painted subject, Judith, and gained massive renown for it and the many paintings that followed. By 1616, Gentileschi became an official member of the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts, an honor few women of the time received. Cosimo de’ Medici, of the Italian banking family, was Gentileschi’s first patron and played an integral role in boosting her reach – by the late 1620’s she had worked on commissions for likes of King Philip IV of Spain and Queen Henrietta Maria of France. Following an illustrious run of paintings of scenes and other events, Gentileschi retired to Naples in order to focus on self-portraits.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Artemisia Gentileschi

Many art historians have speculated that while initially Gentileschi felt destroyed by her rape trail, she also felt some alleviation from social expectations, which inspired her paintings. Using chiaroscuro techniques, Gentileschi often painted female protagonists in biblical history; as few else chose such subjects, some consider her choices as her rebellion against the norm of topics with the hopes of finding her own strength in her heroines. Influences from her colleague Caravaggio can be found in many of her works, as they often worked together. Gentileschi became well known for her depictions of violence of dark, tumultuous color schemes, both of which were considered uncharacteristic of paintings by women.

The exact date is unknown, but Gentileschi died sometime between 1652 and 1653 in Naples. Little is known of her life following her retirement, but some of her self-portraits and a series of works about David and Bathsheba made during that time can still be seen today. So much can be taken away from our limited knowledge about the life of Gentileschi and what’s left of her collected works, chiefly, in my opinion, that it is possible, it is important, to be brave even at the darkest points in our lives. With every one of her paintings, Gentileschi portrayed that females are strong as hell (which coincidentally is one of my favorite catchphrases from the show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).

To learn more about Artemisia Gentileschi’s arduous rise within the patriarchal world of Renaissance art, check out these bio., Art History Archive, Brooklyn Museum, and Britannica articles.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

The Lady

Happy Wednesday! I’m really excited about today’s Women in History post, as today we’ll focus on one of my biggest inspirations. I first learned about this woman briefly in the summer world geography class I was in before freshman year; when we were released that day I went home and immediately got on the computer to research her for hours. The first biography I ever read by choice was about her. Even now, I have a poster of Shepard Fairey’s “Freedom to Lead” print up on my wall, a constant reminder to strive for the good and rights of my fellow humans. Let’s get started, before I get too gushy about how amazing I think she is; this week’s WCW is Aung San Suu Kyi.

I lied – quick side note first. If you’re at all familiar with Suu Kyi, you probably know that her efforts have been focused on the people and country of Burma or as it’s known today, Myanmar. Before we get going too far, I need to clarify that I’ll be referring to the country as Burma, as that is what Suu Kyi prefers it to be called (explanation at 2:48 here). I understand that it’s globally accepted as Myanmar, but for this post, we’re calling it Burma. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi was born on June 19th, 1945 in Rangoon, Burma to an extremely politically involved family; her father, General Aung San, was the prime minister of British-held Burma then led the Burmese independence movement, and her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, was the diplomatic ambassador to both India and Nepal. After General Aung San’s assassination in 1947, Khin Kyi, Suu Kyi, and her two siblings moved to India, where Suu Kyi attended Methodist East High School. Following graduation, Suu Kyi studied politics at Lady Shri Ram College until her graduation in 1964, then moved to the University of Oxford to earn a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics at St Hugh’s College by 1969. Suu Kyi met Dr. Michael Aris during her time at Oxford, and the two wed in 1971 and later had two sons. For the next three years, she worked as a budgetary writer for the United Nations. In 1985, Suu Kyi enrolled in a research program at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, graduating with a masters’ of philosophy in 1987. In order to take care of her mother, who had suffered a stroke, Suu Kyi moved back to Burma in 1988 – upon seeing the state of nation, which was brutally run by a military junta, Suu Kyi reentered the political sphere as a voice for basic human rights and freedoms.

Suu Kyi began her work by giving public speeches against the government’s inhumane treatment of the Burmese citizens and soon caught the attention of authority figures suspicious of her growing following. On September 27th, 1988 she founded the National League for Democracy (DNL) based on the principles of Buddhist teachings and the nonviolent protests of Mahatma Gandhi, in the hopes of increasing her presence in regards to human rights and the freedoms possible with democratic governments. Ten months later, Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for “her treasonous speeches,” beginning her twenty-one year stretch as a political prisoner; between 1989 and 2010, Suu Kyi spent a little over fifteen years total under house arrest. For this first offense, she was released in less than a year, in time to run in the Election of 1990, the first democratic style election ever in Burma. At first, the election went extremely well for Suu Kyi, as the DNL won a majority of the seats in parliament and she looked to be the leading prime minister candidate. However, upon seeing these results, the junta nullified the election and again placed Suu Kyi under house arrest until 1995 for “undermining community peace and stability.” While detained, Suu Kyi was awarded the Sakharov and the Nobel Peace Prizes in 1991, which one of her sons had to collect for her because she was imprisoned. Between arrests in 1996, Suu Kyi was traveling with a group of NDL leaders and members when a violent 200-man assault rained down on them, killing several and injuring more. Suu Kyi and members of the NDL were punished for this episode, and Suu Kyi spent the next several years in and out of house arrest – starting in 2003, her sentence was simply renewed annually. Throughout the mid 2000’s, the United Nations attempted to intervene in favor of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, at one point even issuing an updated Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it was not accepted by the Burmese government. Finally in November of 2010, after much negotiation between the junta and leaders from around the world, all political prisoners in Burma were freed.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Aung San Suu Kyi

With Suu Kyi back and stronger than ever, the junta grew nervous. In 2010, legislation was passed that made anyone one with a criminal background or anyone related to a non-Burmese bloodline ineligible to run for prime minister, effectively barring Suu Kyi from office. In response, the NLD didn’t register as a party that year as an act of solidarity. The legislation remained in 2011, but the party reregistered and Suu Kyi set her goals on being elected into a parliamentary seat. In May 2012, she accomplished this feat, and was sworn in on the 2nd of the month. During this term, Suu Kyi was able to take her first trip out of Burma since 1988, and so visited her family and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and also made a stop in Norway to give her acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize. Later that year, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, becoming the first person to win it for their efforts while imprisoned. Suu Kyi was also awarded many honorary degrees, doctorates, and fellowships from universities across the globe.

This is not generally the norm, but as Suu Kyi is still politically active, we’ll touch on really recent events. I originally meant to put out this post in November, when the Burmese elections were being held, but I’m glad I didn’t, because now I can somewhat talk about how things turned out. The Burmese government has changed since 2011 – the military rule has greatly reduced its autocratic rule, and the government is now more civilian-run than it has been in the last half century. However, the legal requirements are still in place, so Suu Kyi couldn’t run for president, but she re-won her seat in parliament. As of this moment, over half of the seats in parliament are held by the NLD, making Suu Kyi the opposition leader. For more about the results, check out this BBC article.

To learn more about Aung San Suu Kyi’s revolutionary life, check out these bio., Famous People, Britannica, and CNN posts. Additionally, a movie about Suu Kyi titled “The Lady” came out in 2012 – I’ve yet to see it, but from the looks of the trailer it seems intense and fairly accurate. I’ll try to get a hold of and review it soon, but if you beat me to it, let me know what you think! Speaking of “The Lady,” before we finish, let me quickly explain that title. Up until about 2010, even mentioning Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma could get you in heaps of legal trouble, so people would refer to her as “The Lady” to avoid punishment. And that’s a wrap!

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

Braveheart Blunders

Welcome to my newest series: history-related film, television, and musical reviews! I’ve noticed that we as the viewing public tend to believe what we’re shown, which is a fair way to learn, but sometimes motion pictures and productions don’t cover the whole or even correct story. I hope this will be fun and interesting content matter – connecting the entertainment of today to that of times long since passed. Lets begin!

Mel Gibson’s 1995 classic Braveheart, while an Oscar-winning cinematic master-piece, is considered one of the most inaccurate historical epics to date. I watched this film a while ago now, and while I found it entertaining and enjoyed it for its artfully cinematography, its historical mistakes were obvious. There are some minor anachronisms, like costuming and some character timelines, and complete fictions, like the practice of primae noctis and some character interactions, but I’d like to focus on the two nonfictional battles that were inaccurately portrayed in the film.
Braveheart Blunders

Firstly, the Battle of Stirling. In the film, the battle takes place on a grassy plain. The geography is entirely wrong, which makes for most of the events of the battle being entirely fictitious. The real Battle of Stirling took place at a bridge that was so narrow and structurally unsound that only a couple English cavalrymen could cross it at a time. The English troops outnumbered the Scots like in the movie, but instead of the Scots defeating the English via cleverly placed pikes, the Scots won by waiting for the English to slowly cross the bridge and then ambushing them. After defeating the English that had crossed the bridge, the Scots charged the remaining troops on the other side, who were at a disadvantage because the Scots were attacking from higher ground. English reinforcements around Stirling Castles soon retreated, leaving the Lowlands in the hands of the Scots. True to both history and the film, this battle was a major win for the Scots is accredited to the leadership of Andrew Moray and William Wallace.

Next up, the Battle of Falkirk. Just like in the film, the loss of this battle took a huge toll on Scottish rebellion. However, the details of the battle differ in three major ways. In the movie, the start of Wallace’s failure occurs as his allies abandon him, but in reality desertion was by his own cavalrymen as they were overwhelmed by the size of the English cavalry. Secondly, archery indeed dominated this battle, but unlike the nonstrategic firing of the film, the superior technology and accuracy of the long bow by conscripted Welsh archers was what ultimately defeated the slingshot attacks of the Scots. Finally, the betrayal of Wallace by ally Robert the Bruce during the battle is also wrong; Robert initially criticized Wallace for rebelling against the English and then strongly supported his military campaign, but didn’t actually directly have anything to do with the Battle of Falkirk. Following the battle in real life, Wallace managed to flee to a nearby forest for a short period of time before being captured, and then, as likewise in the movie, he was tried and executed.

To conclude, the general message of William Wallace as a notable military leader during the Scottish fight for independence from England in the thirteenth century is present in the film Braveheart, but the means by which the story is told and the details involved are extremely flawed. Nearly every detail is a dramatization or complete fiction, filling the film with inaccuracies. In my opinion, Braveheart should solely be viewed for entertainment purpose, as there exists little historical fact to be drawn from it, especially in regards to specific battle.

Thanks, and be heard!


The Quaker Who Never Quaked

It’s the first Wednesday of the year and you know what that means – today’s another Women in History Crush Wednesday! Earlier this week you may have noticed that the Google doodle featured a group of women with a “votes for women” sign, and if you didn’t notice it then, you may notice now that the same cartoon adorns the top of this article. At the front of the pack stands our woman of the week holding a banner with her motto “deeds not words,” which we’ll touch on later. Now, without further ado our first WCW of 2016, Alice Paul.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Alice Paul

Born on January 11th, 1885 in Mt Laurel, New Jersey, Alice Paul was raised on her family’s farm in Paulsdale. I don’t generally mention the ancestors of our WCWs, but Paul was related to some big names, including William Penn, John Winthrop, and one of the founders of Swarthmore College. Raised a Hicksite Quaker, Paul grew up following a tenet of equality, which taught that men and women were equal in every sense of the word. This principle, along with the women’s suffrage meetings that Paul attended with her mother during her childhood, spurred the interest in equal rights-based activism that she carried with her for her whole life.

Paul graduated high school at the top of her class, then in 1905 earned a degree in biology from Swarthmore College. For the next two years, she conducted graduate work at the New York School of Philanthropy (presently the Columbia School of Social Work) while pursuing another degree, this time in sociology, from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1907, Paul moved to Birmingham, England to study social work and gain experience as a case worker at the Woodbrooke Settlement. While in England, Paul befriended leaders of the British suffrage movement Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst, and from them learned radical activism, an extreme form of protest that includes using approaches from non-violent picketing to window smashing in order to be heard. It was with the Pankhursts that Paul began living by “deeds not words,” as to her this meant to actually work for the cause instead of just talking about it. When Paul returned to Pennsylvania in 1910, she brought these lessons with her and with them reinvigorated the American suffrage movement.

While working for her doctorate in social work at the University of Pennsylvania, which she completed in 1912, Paul served as the leader of the Washington D.C. chapter of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. On March 3rd, 1913, Paul and fellow activist Lucy Burns organized the largest parade the nation’s capital had ever seen – over eight thousand women marched to the White House advocating for the right to vote. Though the parade was initially peaceful, groups of onlookers soon began physically attacking the suffragettes, while police stood idly by. The conflict didn’t hurt the suffrage campaign but rather strengthened it, acting as justification for the necessity of the movement.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Alice Paul

After several years with the NAWSA, Paul felt in 1916 that she needed to increase the pressure on policy makers and so founded firstly the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in order to lobby for suffrage, and secondly the National Women’s Party to maintain presence picketing at the White House. Many of these “Silent Sentinels” were arrested over their eighteen month stint for obstructing traffic, although there is speculation that some arrests were made out of frustration because the women were “bothering President Wilson during wartime.” Paul herself spent seven months in jail, during which she organized several hunger strikes and wrote about the abusive treatment of older suffragettes within the prison, the latter of which helped gain public support for the movement. Finally in 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed and ratified, and women were allowed to vote in the United States.

Following her success with women’s suffrage in the US, Paul went back to school and received three law degrees, then spent several decades traveling to Europe and South America to advocate equal rights. Beginning in 1923, Paul worked on an amendment for absolute gender equality, first known as the Lucretia Mott Amendment, then the Equal Rights Amendment, and sometimes referred to during the mid twentieth century as the Alice Paul Amendment. Though she and others worked on passing this document for over fifty years, such an amendment has yet to be ratified and added to the Constitution. In 1938 she founded the World Women’s Party, which often worked with the League of Nations for including gender equality in their agenda. Additionally, Paul led a successful campaign to include a sexual discrimination clause to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paul continued speaking out about equality internationally until well into her eighties.

 “I think if we get freedom for women, then they are probably going to do a lot of things that I wish they wouldn’t do. But it seems to me that it isn’t our business to say what they should do with it. It is our business to see that they get it.”

Paul died on July 9th, 1977 in Moorsetown, New Jersey. Eight years later, the Alice Paul Institute was founded to honor her and the equal rights movement. To this day, the institute runs programs to teach young women how to be leaders, as well as acting as a museum of women’s history.

To learn more about Alice Paul’s incendiary life, check out these National Women’s History Museum, History Channel, and Alice Paul Institute pages. Paul’s perseverance and dedicated work ethic in regards to equal rights remain as something to admired, and personally I’m in awe of and inspired by her scholarly achievements and success politically.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

Guess Who’s Back, Back Again

It’s been a couple months now since I last posted…my apologies for the unexpected hiatus. But thanks to a friendly reminder from Juan Duenas, I’m back! I’ve kept busy with my research – I have a couple dozen articles ready to publish, and will start sharing them with you starting tonight. I know I have some catching up to do; I promise to finish some of the things I started last year, it may just take some time. This year, we’ll continue learning about women in history and discussing current events in the political world, especially as the presidential debate draws closer, but we’ll also embark on adventures with museums exhibits, historical inaccuracies in movies, women in politics and positions of power globally, and some European history. I’m excited to share what I’m learning with you, stick around for an intellectually expansive 2016!

Two Spooks, One Stone

Happy Wednesday and welcome to the third day of our Halloween countdown! Today’s post will cover both this week’s Woman in History Crush and the 13 Days of Halloween; the first bit will be the actual history, and the latter will follow with how it ties to the holiday. This week’s WCW is Queen Mary I of England, and our spooky subject is the legend of Bloody Mary.
Women in History Crush Wednesdays - Mary I of England

Mary Tudor was the daughter of Henry VIII of England and Catherine of Aragon, born on February 18th, 1516 in Greenwich, England. While Mary was recognized as the first child of Henry, she was declared illegitimate when Henry divorced Catherine on the grounds of incest. A quick refresher on King Henry VIII: he was the monarch who separated England from the Roman Catholic Church and into the Anglican Church mostly in order to divorce Catherine because she hadn’t borne him a male heir, and ended up marrying five other women but had only one male heir, Edward VI, to show for it. After being illegitimatized, Mary was made Princess of Whales as a formality, but Henry never intended for her to gain the thrown.

Mary resided at Ludlow Castle in Whales for most of her youth and young adult life. There, she was educated and excelled at singing and linguistics. As Henry’s wives came and passed and more daughters were added to the lineage, Mary grew angry at both her father and her half-sisters, most notably her first sister and eventual successor, Elizabeth I. With Henry spending most of his time in search of a male-rearing wife for himself, he didn’t devote much of his time to arranging a marriage for Mary. One or two were discussed, like the dropped proposal from Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, but Mary did not marry until 1554, when she wed Philip II of Spain.

Like her mother before her, Mary had problems with childbirth. She didn’t marry Philip until her late thirties when the period of safe birth had already passed, but this didn’t stop her from trying to have children, to no avail. Twice, Mary subconsciously willed herself into a false pregnancy, a pseudocyesis, and when it was announced to the people of England that no child existed, her humiliation and stress nearly killed her. Mary eventually gave up on trying to conceive, saying that her inability to reproduce was caused by her toleration of heretics.

Following Henry’s death in 1547, the only male heir was the son of Henry’s third wife Jane Seymour, Edward VI. He took the throne at the age of nine and ruled until he was fifteen, when he died from terminal illness. After his death, his mother seized control of the throne for nine days, until Mary, the rightful heir, gained control. Mary led a five year reign over Catholic England, gaining her nickname “Bloody Mary” when she persecuted Protestants. During the largest persecution that she ordered, some three hundred Protestants were captured and burned at the stake for their religious dissent of Catholicism. Other than the religious aspects of her reign and her overturning of the edict that declared her a bastard child, Mary did little to change or influence the English government or nation.

On November 17th, 1558, Mary died from either ovarian or uterine cancer, along with that year’s strain of influenza. Her half sister Elizabeth, who she had imprisoned due to suspicion of treason, succeeded her rule. Today, we only really remember Mary’s rule when discussing those of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Now to the legend. Due to television and movies, Bloody Mary has taken a more definite story line within the past century – a person looks into a mirror in a poorly lit room at night and repeats “bloody Mary” thrice, and a ghostly and extremely malicious woman, presumably a Mary, appears in the mirror or as an apparition and physically maims or kills the speaker. However, this isn’t how the legend has always been, and is definitely not how it began.

13 Days of Spooks: Two Spooks, One Stone

As far as I could find, the earliest records of mirror-based (not including a broken mirror) superstitions date back to the late eighteenth century. A commonly held belief was that if a young woman walked up to a mirror backwards, candle in hand, then turned and gazed into the mirror, the face of her future spouse would appear. But if she looked for too long, the devil or a demon would appear. The story altered as it was passed from generation to generation, until the common story of today began circulating at teenage parties in the late 1970’s. Youths attempted to summon the ghost of any woman killed in a malicious manor, generally who held some resemblance to the woman in the Spanish legend of La Llorona, by chanting either “bloody Mary,” “I believe in Mary Worth,” or “I stole/killed your baby, Mary.” This last one may sound unfamiliar; it relates back to Mary I’s pseudocyesis, as it aims to provoke the spirit by bringing up her failure to have a child. Regardless of what incantation is used, the basic outline of the story remains the same, making it one of the most popular urban legends.

To learn more about the scandalous life of Mary I of England, check out the English History, bio., and Tudor History sites, and for more about Bloody Mary, go to this About or Wikipedia page. I’ll also informally cite my European History class (thanks again, Coach Patterson!) for my understanding of the Tudor family, as we recently discussed their lineage.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays and the 13 Days of Halloween countdown!

Be heard!

The Spook That Counts

🎶On the second day of Spook-mas, a haunting gave to meeee a taboo number in western countingggg🎶

Man, I wish Halloween carols were a thing, but that’s beside the point. The second day of 13 Days of Spooks covers one of the most feared numbers in western civilizations, the number thirteen. For this post I’m generally referring more to superstition surrounding the number, but real fear, specifically when discussing dates (i.e. Friday the 13th), is a real thing called paraskevidekatriaphobia.

To understand the mystery of the number thirteen, it’s important to understand the role of the number twelve. In the mathematics and sciences of early civilizations twelve was considered the perfect number – it fits into endless descriptive categories and shapes, there are twelve months, twelve hour days and twelve hour nights, and so on. The number is prominent in religion too, with twelve Olympians in Greek and Roman mythology, twelve sons of Odin in Norse mythology, twelve Imams of Muhammad in Islam, twelve petals in the Anahata Chakra in Hinduism, twelve apostles and the twelve days of Christmas in Christianity, and the celebration of bat mitzvah at age twelve in Judaism. Twelve, for some unexplained reason, basically holds tremendous universal power.

So what makes thirteen spooky? Because twelve was so perfect and thirteen immediately followed, it was somewhat viewed as wicked, a catalyst of the perfection. Religion again played a role in creating importance for the number; in the ancient Persian civilization, followers of Zoroastrianism observed Sizdah Be-dar, which fell on the thirteenth day of the Iranian year, as a day when evil’s presence was at its’ strongest, and at the Last Supper in Christianity, Judas Iscariot was the thirteenth guest at the table and ultimately betrayed Jesus. Astrologically, early monks believed a year with thirteen full moons instead of the more common twelve indicated bad luck, as the additional moon threw off the planning of religious festivals.

13 Days of Spooks: The Spook That Counts

Superstition of the number isn’t isolated to ancient and early civilizations, however. In many European and North American hotels, floor numbering skips from twelve to fourteen, and gates at some airports follow suit, to avoid the existence and sequential bad luck of a thirteenth number. Also, numerous movies have been made related to the thirteenth day of events and Friday the 13th, generally in the genre of horror, so some people naturally assume it holds scary characteristics. Some people even go as far as to take days off work when Friday the 13th’s occur.

Thirteen isn’t all bad though. In the ancient Aztec culture, the numbers seven and thirteen were actually considered mathematically perfect like twelve, to which most of the civilization’s ruins can attest. Thirteen is also lucky in Chinese culture, where bad luck is instead attributed to the number four. How you feel about the significance of thirteen and other numbers is directly related to your cultural origins, and for now, thirteen remains a spooky number in America.

Thanks so much for reading! You can find more about the history of thirteen on History Channel and Wikipedia. Tomorrow we’ll continue with our 13 Days of Spooks, and, as tomorrow is a Wednesday, a Woman in History Crush post is in store, so stick around!

13 Days of Spooks

As you may have noticed, it is the month of October or as I like to call it, the month of spooks. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I thought it would be fun to learn more about the history of some of the traditional aspects of the holiday. Thus, this is day one of the 13 Days of Spooks, a countdown to the 31st. Today’s spooky topic: All Hallows Eve and the origins of Halloween.

Beginning in the first century, the Celts lived in present-day Ireland and northern France, and celebrated their new year on the first of November. Called Samhain (pronounced sow-een), the festival marked the end of summer, a time of harvest and rounding up of livestock, and the beginning of winter. Additionally, as it was an observance of the coming of a new year, the festival was held to honor the lives of those who had died within the year.  The belief was that during Samhain, ghosts and other supernatural beings were allowed to mingle with the living before their journey to eternal rest; people sought to appease the spirits with sacrifices of animals and crops to Celtic deities, and lit bonfires to guide ghosts to the land of the dead.

13 Days of Spooks: All Hallows Eve and the Origins of Halloween

Around 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had seized control of most Celtic territories, and over the course of its’ half century reign mixed Roman traditions with those of the Celts. The Romans observed two fall celebrations: Feralia, an October commemoration of the dead, and Pomona, an early November harvest festival honoring the goddess of the same name. Aspects of these festivals, including bobbing for apples, were added into Samhain’s repertoire of activities, which influence how we celebrate today.

It was during the mid sixth and seventh centuries that Samhain experienced drastic change. Early Christian missionaries, appalled by the pagan holiday, were instructed by Pope Gregory I in 601 to consecrate traditional worship ceremonies in the name of Christ, instead of completely doing away with native celebrations. Following this order, missionaries taught that the supernatural creatures of Celtic lore, specifically fairies and ghosts, were demonic and were sent to earth directly by the devil, and that catering to them would result in an eternity in Christian Hell. This change in perspective gave the holiday the sort of creepy air that we enjoy today.

Then in 609, Pope Boniface IV declared All Martyrs Day in March to honor Christian martyrs, which later Pope Gregor III moved to November 1st and renamed All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day. The church also added the November 2nd observance of All Souls Day in the year 1000 in a further attempt to completely replace Samhain with a church-sanctioned celebration of the dead. So by the eleventh century, two Catholic holidays were meant to end Samhain –  instead of letting the tradition die, Celtic people celebrated All Hallows Eve, which perfectly coincided with the customary beginning of Samhain. Over time, All Hallows Eve became Hallows Eve, then Halloe’en, and finally Halloween.

More information about the origin of my favorite holiday can be found on the History Channel and American Folk Life Center websites. Tomorrow will follow with day two of our Halloween countdown, check it out if you dare.

In the Spirit of Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Another Wednesday, another Woman in History Crush! This past Monday, the U.S. observed the Columbus Day holiday. At this point in time, Columbus Day is highly controversial, as it celebrates a man who as we now know was terrible to the indigenous people of the Americas, one of his most noted cruelties being basically starting the enslavement and trade of captive Native Americans in the late 15th century. Within the last few years, many activist and university groups have protested the observance of Columbus Day, and the city of Seattle in Washington now celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead. So in the spirit of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, today’s WCW is Lyda Conley.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Lyda Conley

Born in 1869 in Ohio, Eliza Burton “Lyda” Conley was of mixed European and Wyandot descent. For clarification, the Wyandot tribe originates from the St Lawrence Valley region in Canada, and shares some similarities with the Iroquois tribe. Conley grew up on a sixty five acre farm in Kansas with her three older sisters, with whom she remained close throughout her adult life. In 1902, Conley graduated from the Kansas City School of Law, and became the first woman admitted to the Kansas bar.

Before we get too far into the main court case of Conley’s career, it’s important to understand a brief history of the Kansas Wyandot tribe. Starting in the mid-1850’s, some Wyandot members accepted U.S. citizenship. The tribe’s land holds were soon divided among only the newly declared citizens, so the tribespeople who didn’t become citizens migrated to Oklahoma both to retain land and because they were forced to do so as non- citizens during the carrying out of the Indian Removal Act. While tribal structure suffered with the parting of ways, the Wyandot held continued legal authority over the communal burial grounds, the Huron Indian Cemetery. But in 1906, the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma approved the sale of the cemetery to the United States government without holding a vote for the descendants of the tribe in Kansas City.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Lyda Conley

When Conley and her sisters found out about the deal made without half the tribe’s consent, they were enraged, and vowed to protect the land their ancestors were buried in from development. The sisters immediately built a structure on the burial grounds in which they lived and stood guard with muskets and “no trespassing” signs. In 1907, Conley petitioned to the Kansas District U.S. Circuit Court for injunction against the sale authorization. Following rejection in the Circuit Court, Conley appealed the case to the Supreme Court. During the appeal, Conley was the first female Native American lawyer admitted to speak directly before the Court. The Court supported the rulings of the lower courts, but this didn’t discourage Conley or her sisters. The three women advocated and gained support for their cause, preserving native lands with native peoples, in women’s clubs and small organizations. Around 1913, Conley was actually arrested for shooting a policeman who attempted to remove her from the cemetery. This publicity was what their cause needed; it attracted the aid of Senator Charles Curtis (later Vice President under Herbert Hoover), who three years later introduced legislation to Congress to turn the cemetery into a protected park. Curtis’ bill passed, and the cemetery was safe from urban developers.

The Conley sisters continued acting as guardians over the burial grounds after gaining its’ legal protection, and would provide food for the birds and squirrels inhabiting the park. In 1937, while fending off people from the cemetery, Conley was again arrested, this time for disturbing the peace. Conley served ten days in jail for her sentence, and then was virtually forgotten about until her death on May 28th , 1946. Following her death, Conley was buried alongside her ancestors at the Huron Cemetery.

Despite several years of American history courses in school, I’ve learned more about Native Americans in history this week than ever before. I was inspired to read up on the lives and accomplishments of notable indigenous people after reading the article about Seattle that I mentioned earlier, which is how I learned about Lyda Conley. I think Conley’s story is inspirational; she believed in the preservation of her tribe’s lands and culture so fervently that she took both unconventional and common approaches to advance her cause, and continued appealing and fighting for it until a change was actually made.

There isn’t much recorded history about Lyda Conley, especially between 1937 and 1946, but to find out more, check her out these GroupThink, and Wikipedia articles.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays! I should soon be posting my thoughts about both the last GOP and yesterday’s Democratic debates, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.

Be heard!