women in history

Wednesdays for Women: Cleopatra and Elizabeth Taylor

I want to bring back Wednesdays for Women! I miss getting to research and learn about great historical women each week. This one, admittedly, is less research based, but I was on an antiquities kick after reading Claudius the God (Robert Graves is one of my favorites), and stumbled over the old three hour Cleopatra movie with Elizabeth Taylor. I was surprised to see Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar (not necessarily the first 60’s star the mind jumps to at the thought of masculine strength and nation founders), but sexy Rexy didn’t disappoint. Equally interesting was Elizabeth Taylor’s wardrobe throughout the movies. The ’60s take on Egyptian hats is kind of ridiculous (even more ridiculous than most 60s hats in general), but seeing all of them is kind of like watching a fire–they’re so strange you can’t really stop looking. Without further ado: the style of Cleopatra!
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Wednesdays for Women #3: Amelia Bloomer

With the throes of NYFW engulfing us almost like carbon monoxide (you can hardly breathe, but my isn’t it a drowsy sort of pleasant?), I thought it only fair for this Wednesday’s woman to be at least vaguely associated with America and fashion. And although the namesake article of clothing doesn’t fit into the 1970s aesthetic that seems to be de rigueur for anyone with legs this week (save, of course, Jeremy Scott and his baby dolls), it still may be worth our attention.

Amelia_J._Bloomer_-_History_of_IowaAmelia Bloomer, who lent her name to the mid-Nineteenth-century-next-best-thing-to-trousers, is the feminist Episcopal Saint (but really) who began the newspaper, The Lily, after attending the famous Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. Originally a temperance journal (slow down thar, pardner), it grew into a biweekly liberation document, heralding moralism and mostly, women’s suffrage. Though relatively short-lived, given her position as editor and publisher of the periodical, she was the first woman to own, operate and edit a news vehicle for women (the prototype to Anna Wintour? ). Though distribution of this document waned, her ideas only became more radical (for the time- and for Iowa), and she recommended that women dress “suited to her wants and necessities. It should conduce at once to her health, comfort, and usefulness; and, while it should not fail also to conduce to her personal adornment, it should make that end of secondary importance.” A tall order, no (that really just makes me yearn for Yves)?8a66b696fffb23105d85fd0550ff9f9d

But her views weren’t conceptualized until 1851 when Libby Miller donned her more utilitarian suit, borrowed from womenswear in the East. These flouncy pants which tied at the ankles could be worn with a vest or dress and were undoubtedly far more rational than the Victorian styles they regularly had to contend with. Both Bloomer and Elizabeth Cady Stanton became avid supporters of the new garment, however, Bloomer’s pre-existing circulation gave her a wider reach in projecting her excitement. She became a devout supporter of the pants (adopting them as her every day garb), and eventually one of her stories was picked up by the New York Tribune, bringing it to popular culture and calling it’s women adherents “bloomers.” However, the harassment these women suffered in response to the new trend was too much (gamergate, anyone?), causing Amelia to recant under the auspices of “crinoline” by 1859.

It would take almost another hundred years (and another enterprising Amelia) before women would begin to regularly wear pants. blog-rm-2-bloomers

Wednesdays for Women #1: Bertha Benz

Call it the prying of destiny, but I am intrigued by exceptional and eccentric women.* I seem to unwittingly scout them out like a puppy on yesterday’s undies– if there is one to be found in the vicinity, the endeavor will inevitably end in my unconscious salivation. What starts as an innocent peruse of Huff Post unravels into the riveting tale of The White Mouse and her gestapo-stumping schemes, a 5-million franc bounty, and the bicycle ride from Hell. I can hardly look for suitable covers of Gene Krupa and Anita O’Day’s “Tea for Two” before I’m thrust head-first into the American tragedy of the Beale family, a Palm Beach modeling gig gone awry and the dilapidated East Hampton home of numerous opossums, raccoons, cats, and, most notably, a mouldering mother riddled by the fear of burglary.

Beset by such a burden, I have decided to unencumber myself in the only way we bloggers know how. Thus, using primarily Wikipedia as a source (and pictures I DO NOT OWN**), I will share some of these weird and wonderful stories of awe-inspiring women with you, beginning with our titular hero, Bertha Benz.

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Now you may be whispering to yourself (like a maniacal villain), “Benz, Benz… I feel like I’ve heard that name before,” and in this case, you would be right. The “Benz” you associate with Mercedes (no connection to the Count of Monte Cristo), began with none other than the husband to our Bertha. But before we come to the car which forms the second object of salivation mentioned in this post (see below for a model “Ford” to frame the third), there was a unmarried trollop in the Grand Duchy of Baden investing in the hottest inventor on the market. While that may be a large exaggeration, it is true that the unmarried Bertha (Ringer, as it were) invested a large sum of her own money into the workshop of Karl Benz, and his vision of a motorwagen. This money made it possible for Benz to patent the first automobile, not to mention the real great American pastime (and subject to German law, after they were married she no longer retained an investing power to her money; after all, she had a husband to take care of that while she saw to their five children).

Nevertheless bored with nappies, Bertha decided to invent the modern marketing industry and the brake lining all in one fateful afternoon. Without telling her husband or the authorities (*gasp*), she decided to take the new motorwagen out for a spin– but not one of the short trial runs they had hithero engaged in– Bertha decided to drive 66 miles with two of her sons to visit her mother. Or could her plans be more sinister…

A considerable number of people in 1882 had never seen a car. Thus, on her dawn to dusk moto-cruise, she did things like clean a fuel pipe with a hatpin and insulate a wire with her garter (#justgirlythings), not to mention her various stops along the way, exposing her life’s investment to the general public. By the time she reached her mother’s house, she had caused quite a buzz over her new decidedly-not-a-Radio-Flyer wagen, and she had become the first person to “drive an automobile over a real distance” (for all the Kerouac haters out there, this is where you pin the blame). Her marketing stunt also garnered a great deal of publicity, which helped to create a commodified demand for the new invention. Investment Genius, Test Driver Extraordinaire, McGyver-prototype Inventress, and Marketing Wizard- need I say more?

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*It’s not that I have anything against exceptional and eccentric men (*cough Harrison Ford*), there’s just a 99.9% less chance that I will become one with the passing of time.

**so don’t link back to me, link to the link I’ve linked to- respect where it’s due, right? Speaking of which, the featured first image can be found here.