In 1795, English writer Mary Wollstonecraft, internationally known for her defense of women’s rights, went on a journey to Scandinavia that helped her pull herself from the depths of despair and produce one of her finest works.

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Joan of Arc, Countess Emilia Plater, Wonder Woman: Singular women placed on a pedestal, carefully arranged and served on a silver platter of inimitable exceptionalism, meant to be admired for their sacrifice, but not duplicated. These are the flawed foundations of the stories of “heroic” women that have helped insure that the concept of the women warrior remains an anomaly more akin to a fictional superhero than an accepted reality.

Tucked away in the church cemetery of a southern Swedish village is the gravestone of a civil servant who died in 1902. It would go unnoticed as the average grave of an ordinary man were it not for one remarkable feature: the shining silver medal embedded and encased in glass within the gravestone. All but forgotten and facing the scrap heap, the gravestone symbolizes the overlooked beauty and value of everyday history.

While the stories of history’s first female doctors of philosophy are inspiring, they also highlight the galling realities of women’s centuries-long struggle to obtain equal educational opportunities and professional and intellectual respect. Seen as a whole, they have the power to light a fire beneath armchair inspiration and provoke similarly bold and progressive action.

From Art Nouveau theatrical poster to a Japanese art gallery, a unique serpent bracelet designed by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha for French actress Sarah Bernhardt has coiled its way through more than a century of history – disappearing, reappearing, and intertwining itself with an eclectic group of extraordinary people.

“During her lifetime, [Queen] Margrete held numerous titles. The least important of these were the ones she gained at birth and through marriage. Those she earned demonstrated an unprecedented display of respect and trust independent of her relationship to any man.”

Excerpted from “The Lady King Who United Medieval Scandinavia“.

In an age when wealthy Americans visited Europe either to sell off their daughters in marriage to titled men or to buy up European culture and historical heritage, Edith Wharton and Natalie Clifford Barney went there in search of gender and intellectual equality. They found it in France.