What the treatment of two of history’s original “nasty women,” Mary Hays and Mary Darby Robinson, can tell us about how society has long consigned outspoken women to infamy or obliteration.
How the dangerously powerful words of two of history’s original “nasty women,” Olympe de Gouges and Mary Wollstonecraft, were silenced, suppressed, and nearly lost to history.
When the son-in-law of POTUS 2 John Adams used the valuable government position he had gained through nepotism to help a Venezuelan friend start a revolution against Spain, he threatened a precarious peace between America and Spain, and endangered the lives of unsuspecting American citizens. Two centuries later, it’s a salient reminder of how nepotism and politics can be a disastrous combination.
Junk history is embodied perfectly in a recent viral meme that portrays a nineteenth-century Persian princess with facial hair alongside the claim that 13 men killed themselves over their unrequited love for her. While it fails miserably at historical accuracy, the meme succeeds at demonstrating how easily viral clickbait obscures and overshadows rich and meaningful stories from the past.
More than a century after he received it, Karl Hultberg still wears his civil service medal with pride. In life, he only had a week to enjoy it, so someone decided that, in death, he should wear it in perpetuity.
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.
A true visionary doesn’t claim to be a visionary. A genuine leader doesn’t require an authoritative title. Margrete Valdemarsdatter of Denmark asserted neither prerogative, and yet her vision for a unified Scandinavia and her ability to realize and effectively lead that union make her one of history’s most important rulers.