Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Dear Marie Curie (1867-1934): Though you are most famous for the discovery of the elements Radium and Polonium, and awarded the Noble Prize, few of us realize that your remarkable achievement heralded the dawning of the atomic universe. As a daughter in the learned and cultured Sklodowska family you took an unexpected path in science, so few women of your day would have considered. You were determined to succeed beyond expectations because like most young women of your day you were prohibited a higher education in your native Poland, then controlled by Russia. Your quest for an education, so plainly denied, would have deterred many other women but you took up the challenge even when it meant studying in secret. Circumventing this setback you would one day carve your destiny in science and also pave the way for other women physicists by giving them jobs in your own research institute.
With only a dream and determination Marie Sklodowska planned to study at the Sorbonne in Paris but the problem remained that in order to prepare for university level course work there were no colleges open to women in Poland. So Marie attended science classes at a secret school for women called “the flying university,” so called because it did not have a campus and sessions were held in people’s homes in secret. Marie furthered her studies in physical science abetted by her cousin, Jozef Boguski, the director of the Warsaw Museum of Industry, who allowed her to do experiments in physics and chemistry on the weekends in the museum. Thus, Marie’s preparatory studies enabled her to attend the Sorbonne in Paris.
In 1891 Marie Sklodowska, arrived in Paris with plans to study to become a teacher at the Sorbonne. All that changed when she met and married a dashing young physicist, Pierre Curie, who was by then a noted scientist. Together they began working on radiation experiments researching a mysterious, invisible energy discovered by Henri Becquerel a few years earlier. This radiation emitted from uranium atoms propelled Marie to the top of the physics profession. She discovered two new elements which the Curie’s named Radium (after “radiation”) and Polonium (after Poland). In 1903, the Curie’s and Becquerel shared the Nobel Prize for physics.
The Curie’s close partnership was abruptly ended in 1906 when Pierre Curie was killed suddenly by a horse-drawn wagon and died. Marie stepped into his shoes and succeeded her husband as Head of the Physics Laboratory at the Sorbonne, becoming the first woman to teach there. Her prestigious position was challenged when a love affair with Paul Langevin, a close friend of Pierre’s was revealed in the newspapers. Marie’s reputation and career was nearly destroyed, but reinstated when she was awarded a second Nobel Prize in 1911.
Marie always championed people who suffered discrimination and in her laboratory she made a point of particularly hiring women and gave them their start in physics. Among these early pioneering women was her own daughter, Irene, who she tutored at home. During WWI, Marie and Irene took X-rays of wounded soldiers which located bullets and shrapnel for the surgeons albeit an invaluable medical tool today. After the war she toured the United States and raised money for the Radium Institute. Irene married Frederic Joliot and continuing in the Curie tradition they were joint recipients of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hale, Sarah Josepha, A Different Thanksgiving Story (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Sarah Josepha Hale: You were a Crusader in Crinoline and more than the Pilgrims, you gave us Thanksgiving. You also championed women’s rights, the advancement of women’s wages, better working conditions and the reduction of child labor and started the first day nursery. Sarah Josepha Hale was the Martha Stewart of the pre-Civil War era and as Lady Editor of the popular Godey’s Lady Book, a 19th Century magazine, she wielded a mighty pen from her editorial desk reaching a subscription list of over 150,000, the largest circulation of any monthly publication in the country. Hale was a woman determined to succeed at a time when a working woman of her stature was unprecedented.
Sarah Josepha Hale’s relentless handwritten letter campaign spanned a period of almost three decades in which she urged that Thanksgiving be declared a national holiday. With tireless zeal she penned thousands of editorials and wrote handwritten letters to prominent, citizens, governors and went right to the White House, addressing the issue to United States Presidents. She never gave up on her campaign which had roots in the country’s unification.
As the dark days of the Civil War divided the country into two armed camps Mrs. Hale’s editorials became more vigilant. who wouold listen to a lone woman with her persistent plea for "just one day of peace amidst the blood and strife"? Eventually she came to see the nationalization of Thanksgiving not only as a day for counting our blessings, but as a logical bond of union, one more means of drawing the sympathies of the country together. Year after year without typewriter Hale continued to pour out her handwritten letters, which were sent to influential people urging them to join in establishing Thanksgiving the last Thursday in November.
With the country gripped in the North and South divide, Mrs. Hale’s concept of unity finally caught the attention of one man in the White House. Prompted by a letter she had written to Secretary of State William Seward in 1863 President Lincoln recognized the urgency for unification and issued a proclamation appointing the last Thursday in November as a day of national Thanksgiving in America.
Sarah Josepha Hale succeeded at a time when there were few opportunities for working women to escape the drudgery of domesticity. In addition, like other women of her era, she had been denied a formal education but found refuge in her father’s library, self-educating herself. After her husband died, leaving her penniless, she wrote and published a novel, Northwood, which captured the attention of a Boston publishing firm. She was offered editorship of one of their periodicals in 1836 and at the age of 40, with five children to support, she left her home town of Newport, New Hampshire and moved to Boston to assume the post of Lady Editor. Running one of the most powerful magazines in the country did not escape critics, but she always explained that she was forced to hold down a job to feed her children.
Sarah Josepha Hale, as Lady Editor, was the arbiter of parlor etiquette, fashion, manners and intellect. As a journalist, lobbyist, career woman and crusader in crinoline she spoke her mind and succeeded where others had failed. A petite woman, she dressed in the crinoline style of the 1800s. However, even in this cumbersome attire and the restrains of society she championed numerous women’s issue bringing about a number of important improvements in the lives of women in the Victorian era. She was the first to advocate women as teachers in public schools. She demanded for housekeeping the dignity of a profession and put the term “domestic science” into the language. Sarah Josepha Hale was to prove to be unique exception of her times.
In addition, she helped to establish Vassar College, the first college for women. Hale was civic minded and among her credits she promoted the movement to preserve Mount Vernon as a National memorial and raised the money that finished Bunker Hill Monument. She was the author of some two dozen books and hundreds of poems, including the best known children’s rhyme in the English language, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
Sarah Josepha Hale stepped from the shelter of an early nineteenth century marriage untrained, unschooled and stepped forward to become the nation’s most celebrated Lady Editor. For her patriotic part in nationalizing Thanksgiving Day, we give thanks.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

GRAY, Eileen Pioneer in Modern Design (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Eileen Moray Gray: Celebrated for your pioneering style that proved highly influential in the Art Deco era, you became one of the foremost women in furniture design and architecture. Eileen Gray (1878-1976) was the one artist working in Britain who chose to develop her designs in the “new” material lacquer and later chrome, steel tube and glass furniture. Advantage in her favor she was born of wealthy Irish parentage and the stirrings of creativity had its roots in childhood when her father encouraged her artistic interests. A trip to Paris in 1900 to visit the Exposition Universelle further fueled her design ambitions. Eileen Gray was fired with creative ambition, a furniture designer and architect, a woman determined to succeed as a pioneer of the Modern Movement in architecture.
Eileen Gray spent her childhood in London and was the first woman to be admitted to the Slade School of Art where she took up painting in 1898 before undergoing an apprenticeship in a London lacquer workshop. While living in London Gray came across a lacquer repair shop in Soho where the owner showed her the fundamentals of lacquer work which had taken her fancy and later would become her métier. Upon moving back to Paris in 1902 she met Seizo Sugawara, who originated from an area of Japan that was known for its decorative lacquer work. She worked closely with Sugawara and quickly established herself as one of the leading designers of lacquered screens and decorative panels.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Gray became a major exponent of the revolutionary new theories of design and construction and worked closely with many outstanding figures of the modern movement, including Le Corbusier and J P Oud. Her circular glass E1027 table and red, rotund Bibendum armchair were inspired by the recent tubular steel experiments of Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus. Meant for lounging Gray’s Bibendum Chair was one of the 20th century’s most recognizable furniture designs with legs made of a polished, chromium plated, stainless steel tube. Its back/arm rest consists of two semi-circular, padded tubes encased in leather. The name Bibendum originated from the character created by Michelin to sell tires.
At end of WW l Gray returned to Paris and was commissioned to decorate an apartment in the rue de Lota for millionaire; Madame Mathieu Levy, a trendy, modern woman. During this time Gray created the Bibendum chair along with most of the furniture, carpets and lamps, and installed lacquer panels on the walls. The Bibendum Chair was hardly like anything ever seen before and its originality was quite amazing at the time. The Art Critics loved the chair and the apartment’s minimalism and reviews in papers and magazines exclaimed that the furnishings were a “triumph of modern living.” Until her death in 1976, Eileen Gray continued to work on both major architectural projects and on a number of smaller furniture designs. In 1973 Gray granted the worldwide rights to manufacture and distribute her designs to Aram Designs, Ltd. London.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

CARSON, RACHEL Mother of Environmental Movement (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Rachel Carson: To you, society owes a measure of gratitude. In your book, “Silent Spring,” the first work to detail the dangers of pesticides and pollution you raised the alarm that the widespread of pesticides (and other chemicals) travel through the food chain, contaminate the environment, remain for many years in soils and waters, and accumulate in the human body. Although pesticide and chemical industries retaliated and mounted an intense publicity campaign against your findings, you remained steadfast, a woman determined to succeed in bringing the environmental message to the masses. As a scientist and activist you had a chilling vision and foresaw a time when “On the mornings that once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, wrens and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.”
Rachel Carson is credited with starting the modern environmental movement. She was not exactly opposed to the use of insecticides and chemicals, only their indiscriminate, widespread use. Carson noticed that the unchecked use of DDT was no longer effective in killing insects as they were slowly developing immunities to the poisons. However, the pesticides were killing other animals. She feared this would cause an extreme ecological catastrophe. Further she pointed out, “The sprays, dusts and aerosols now applied universally to farms, gardens, forests and homes have the power to kill every insert, the good and the bad, to still the song of the birds, end the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film and to linger on in the soil---all this, though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects.”
Although Carson’s writings were attacked by chemical manufactures who tried to dismiss her as an alarmist and the book drew threats of lawsuits she had sounded the alarm and the Silent Spring caught the attention of the government. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy set up a special commission, the Science Advisory Committee, to investigate her findings. She testified before congress and called for new policies to protect human health and the environment, and this set the stage for the first legislation regulating pesticides, and her activism led to a ban on the use of DDT.
The love of nature and the environment has its roots in Carson’s upbringing in the rural Pennsylvania community of Springdale, where she developed a love of nature. She studied biology and zoology in college and then went on to become the first woman to pass the civil service test for federal employment. In 1936, the Bureau of Fisheries hired her as a full-time junior biologist and she wrote several books on the environment, including Under the Sea Wind (1941) the The Sea Around Use (1951). The success of these books enabled Carson to leave the Bureau of Fishers in 1952 to pursue a full-time career in writing.
Carson said, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” Sadly Carson was battling breast cancer as she wrote the Silent Spring. She succumbed to the disease in 1964, after it became a best seller. Even today Silent Spring remains popular and influential. The name Rachel Carson, The Mother of the Modern Environmental Movement, would be proud to know that the US Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970. She is the namesake of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge near Wells, Maine a safe haven for wildlife and to protect the valuable salt marshes and establish sanctuary for migratory birds. In 1980, Carson was award the presidential Medal of Freedom.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

PERKINS, FRANCES: First Lady of Labor (c) by Polly Guerin

Dear Frances Perkins (Fannie Coralie Perkins 1882-1965): Fulfilling your destiny as a woman of social welfare and political action you overcame many of the restrictions and prejudices of your era and as an outstanding career woman you became an effective public official whose work profoundly changed the lives of Americans. You not only engaged in diverse social work but you committed yourself to the advancement of women, the concern for fair labor practices and the plight of working people, so it is no wonder that later in life you became the first woman, appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to serve in the cabinet. Typical of a woman determined to succeed beyond expectations you rose to the position of Secretary of Labor and served longer than any other Secretary of labor, from 1933 to 1945. Hail to you Frances Perkins, with your devotion to improving the plight of the working masses you are indeed recognized as the "First Lady of Labor."
Early on as Industrial Commissioner of New York State Perkins worked hard to improve work regulations and related social programs. She fought for laws to set minimum wages, expanded factory investigations, reduced the work week to 48 hours for women and facilitated minimum wage and unemployment insurance. American citizens owe a debt of gratitude to Frances Perkins, especially when they receive their social security checks each month. Most notable she contributed to the creation of the Social Security system through her role as chairwoman on the President’s Committee on Economic Security. A report issued by the committee laid the basis for the Social Security Act of 1935. When the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938 it was again Frances Perkins who had persuaded Congress to improve labor conditions and the well-being of workers. The law also established a minimum wage.
The current political arena would surely benefit from the services of a woman like Frances Perkins whose diligence and vision brought about necessary labor initiatives. As Secretary of Labor, appointed in 1933 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Perkins played a key role in writing New Deal legislation, which resulted in the National Labor Relations Act (1935), and the creation of the National Labor Relations Board which gave workers the right to collective bargaining. Perkins was a strong advocate for government intervention for the public good and brought to her office a deep commitment to improving the lives of workers. In 1945, after serving twelve years as Secretary of Labor during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency Perkins resigned and then joined the U.S. Civil Service Commission, an appointment by President Harry S. Truman.
Frances Perkins’ role as a political activist has roots in her belief that “poverty was preventable, destructive, wasteful and demoralizing.” Her hopes were focused on improving the quality of life for all and devoted most of her life to enhancing the public welfare. Early stirrings of political activism began when she took part in the women’s suffrage movement, marched in parades and gave street corner speeches. In 1910 w hen Perkins earned a master’s degree from pursued Columbia University Perkins she became head of the National Consumer’s League (NCL) where she lobbied for better working hours and improved working conditions.
A pivotal event that impressed Frances Perkins into political action was the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, where the building in which immigrant females worked lacked fire escapes and one newspaper account recorded that even the exit doors were locked. Along with the stunned onlookers she witnessed 146 sweatshop-factory workers leap to their deaths. She said it was “a never-to-be-forgotten reminder of why I had to spend my life fighting conditions that could permit such a tragedy.” This incident inspired Perkins to lobby harder on behalf of the workforce.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

ROOSEVELT, Eleanor: First Lady of the World (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Eleanor: In the words of President Harry S. Truman you were indeed the “First Lady of the World,” a humanitarian, civic leader, champion for the poor and women, at home and abroad, through the United Nations that you helped to develop. Looking at you portrayed in early pictures, a rather Victorian young girl looks out wistfully from the photo unaware that her concern for the oppressed would become her trademark, nor would anyone have expected you to evolve to such heights of accomplishment as a humanitarian benefactor. Despite obstacles thrown in your path you were a woman determined to succeed beyond the restraints imposed as the daughter of an affluent New York family and became one of the most important women of the 20th century.
With your marriage to your handsome distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had embarked on a political career, you evolved from society wife tending the household and five children and unwittingly entered the world of politics. Activism was so inbred in your concern for the oppressed and when Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the navy during World War I, you volunteered for the Red Cross and became an active member of the women’s suffrage movement. Eleanor once said, “A woman is like a tea bag-you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water,” and her activism attests to this edict.
However, Franklin Roosevelt’s ambitious career in politics was altered irrevocably in 1921, when a bout with polio left him crippled. Despite therapy Franklin’s physical activity was extremely limited and temporarily halted his brilliant career expectations. To the fore came Eleanor his constant and faithful companion. It was Louis Howe, Franklin’s political mentor, who urged Eleanor to become vocal in the Democratic Party so that the name Roosevelt would not be forgotten. Could this shy, society bred young woman rally to the task? Indeed, she did making speeches and political appearances, and discovered that she could segue into this new role and had a liking for politics.
In time Eleanor became an old hand at politics and her steadfast encouragement enabeled Franklin Roosevelt to return to politics and win the governorship of New York (1929-1933). In this role Eleanor became the “good wife” behind Franklin, acting as his political surrogate, speaking on his behalf to the American people and relaying their concerns to him, but most significantly she always gave her input as well. When FDR was elected to the presidency, Eleanor realized that as a president’s wife she was expected to concern herself merely with social issues. However, these were unusual times and the Great Depression and FDR’s “New Deal” program offered her opportunities to rise to the forefront of the administration.
Since Roosevelt was incapacitated he depended on Eleanor to go out into the trenches, so to speak, and find out firsthand about the national condition, observations that he could not make. Eleanor proved to be a great source of comfort and inspiration to the nation. She toured the country extensively and with her nurturing sensitivity she observed the poverty-stricken country side, city slums, prisons and even insisted on visiting inside a coal mine. She became the first activist first lady and she urged swift action to change conditions that she considered intolerable. With press conferences and her daily column in the nation’s newspapers she kept the public aware of White House politics, in particular the New Deal.
With her vivid descriptions of the country’s dreadful conditions, she persuaded FDR to create the National Youth Administration (NYA) to provide financial aid to students and job training for young men and women. Her contribution to the Roosevelt era was marked by innovative measures to foster a better America. She also worked closely with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Her power to right an unjust situation was notable. You may remember that she resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution in protest to their preventing singer Marian Anderson from performing at Constitution Hall.
After the United States entered World War II; Eleanor took off overseas. She channeled her energies into the war effort and as assistant director of the Office of Civilian Defense, she visited U.S. troops abroad, provided visible comfort to wounded service men in England, the Caribbean and the South Pacific, which boosted morale. When Franklin died in office in 1945, Eleanor thought that she would retire, but her career was not over. Although she have garnered international respect and admiration as First Lady she took on another challenging role and became a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. In 1948, she drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirmed life, and equality internationally for all people, regardless of race, creed or color. This document would become her greatest legacy.
THANK YOU FOR INSPIRING WOMEN TO TAKE UP THE GAUNTLET OF CHALLENGE AND BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS, “A woman is like a tea bag-you never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hildegard von Bingen: 12th Century Visionary (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Hildegard von Bingen: You have been called by your admirers “one of the most important figures in the history of the Middle Ages,” and “the greatest woman of her time.” Known as Saint Hildegard and Sibyl of the Rhine you were a Christian mystic, German Benedictine abbess, visionary and elected magistra by your fellow nuns in 1136. You were truly a woman ahead of your time determined to succeed in a medieval universe where few women would have dared to tread. You were a composer of Gregorian chants, a playwright, poet, and scientific pioneer in the fields of healing, herbal medicine and botany. Hildegard, who had the will of a modern feminist, has emerged from the shadows of history as a forward-thinking pioneer of the holistic approach to medicine and a prophetic warning that elements could turn against us. Similarly today we speak of nature turning against us if we do not protect it.
Instilling the world of a cloistered existence began in early childhood. Hildegard was the daughter, the tenth child of a noble German family and as was the custom of the time, her parents gave her to the church when she was eight years old. She was sent to live with Jutta, a holy hermit/nun, the sister of a count whom Hildegard’s father served as a knight, at the Benedictine monastery at Mount S. Disibode to be educated. When Hildegard was eighteen, she became a nun. However, during her youth she experienced visions but kept them secret. When Jutta died, Hildegard replaced her as the mother superior.
After becoming mother superior, Hildegard had a vision that she should spread the knowledge of her visions instead of keeping them secret. She devoted the years from 1140 to 1150 to writing them down, describing them and commenting on their interpretation and significance. After recording her visions with the aid of a monk, her writing and letters became popular and the abbey overflowed with the arrival of novice nuns. People of all classes wrote her for advice, and one biographer called her “the Dear Abby of the 12th Century. After a power struggle in 1150 with the abbot who wanted Hildegard to remain at Disibode, she moved her nuns to a location near Bingen, and founded a monastery for them completely independent of the monastery. She oversaw its construction, which included, innovative at the time; water pumped through pipes and advocated regular exercise, singing and musical instruments. She refused to allow the church to treat women as subservient to men, and she rejected negative stereotypes of evil seductresses, and taught that woman was indeed created in the image and likeness of God.
As her abilities as a doctor and natural healer spread the crowds gathered at the doors of the visionary for a miracle healing. While Hildegard was working on books on medicine, Scivias and Causae et Curae (Cause and Cure and Physica, as well as numerous other writings about herbalism, she was also writing hymns and some of her songs were apparently known in Paris by 1148. This was the period in which Hildegard collected her songs as symphony of harmony and heavenly revelation. One of her works as composer, the Ordo Virtutum is an early example of liturgical drama. Musicologists credit her with the invention of opera and recognize her as a Gregorian composer.
Hildegard wrote and spoke extensively about social justice, about freeing the downtrodden, about the duty of seeing to it that every human being, made in the image of God, has the opportunity to develop and use the talents that God has given him, and to realize his God-given potential. Around 1158 Hildegard began to write Liber vitae meritorum (Book of Life’s Merits), a book of moral instruction. Unheard of for a woman to do so, over the next thirteen years Hildegard, the visionary preacher, also began a series of travels to men’s and women’s monasteries and to urban cathedrals to preach religious and secular clergy. She died in 1179 and her oeuvre leaves 90 songs, numerous books and surviving works of more than 100 letters to nobles, popes, bishops, nuns and emperors.
The recent release of the film “VISION,” written and directed by Margarethe von Trotta, a Zeitgeist Films attests to the fact that the Cult of Hildegard is finding new admirers along with the nuns who revered her teachings and continue to live in the Rhineland. The film’s release exalts the diverse accomplishments of Hildegard von Bingen, the Benedictine nun, portrayed by Barbara Sukova, who presents her character with complete conviction and unfaltering devotion. For more information about the film:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Dear Countess Constance Georgina de Markievicz: Suffragette, Socialist, Soldier--your pedigree ranked among the finest of the old Gaelic aristocracy, yet your heroic deeds and amazing ascendency as a national heroine blazed across the Irish skies in the momentous years of the early 20th Century. I met you in Sligo, Ireland several years ago when I attended the Yeat’s Society poetry conference and learned all about your exploits when I visited Lissadell, your family’s country mansion, county Sligo. Legend has it that you were a beautiful, headstrong girl who rode fast horses over the thousands of acres on the estate owned by your father Sir Henry-Gore Booth. You were presented at the court of Queen Victoria and dubbed the darling of the Dublin Castle set. It all seemed like an idyllic fairytale. Born to power and privilege you could have remained isolated from the trials and tribulations of the common man, the dreadful conditions of tenant farmers, but your destiny led you to become ‘The Countess of Irish Freedom.’
Gore-Booths were known as model landlords in Sligo but as a young girl Constance was overcome by the destitute conditions of her father’s tenants and high rents they paid and she asked her father, Sir Henry, for an explanation. With nothing of consequence coming forward from her father she vowed that one day she would make amends for her family’s deeds. She said much later in life that her activities were, ‘only a small atonement for her ancestors’ sins in plundering the Irish people.
Constance’s upbringing in such an atmosphere of despair and neglect of the common people forged a compassion for the lives of the poor dispossessed Irish families and it impressed upon her mind the inequities of society. Constance reminisced in later life, “We lived on a beautiful, enchanted West Coast, where we grew up intimate with the soft mists and the colored mountains, and where each morning you woke to the sound of wild birds, no one was interested in politics in our house. Irish history was also taboo…” A frequent guest to their estate was a young W. B. Yeats who later in a poem spoke of Constance and her sister Eva as, “Two girls in silk Kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle.”
Despite all the trappings of social privilege Constance was not aspiring to the ornamental life of a “society beauty,” and she became weary of aristocratic privileges. Hoping to carve out a life of her own she had ambition to become an artist and went to London to study at the Slade School and later in Paris she attended the Julian school. It was there in Paris that she met and married, Count Casmir Dunin Markievicz, an artist from a wealthy Polish family. This union was short lived and they separated amicably. The course of her life was now heading in a totally different direction. In 1907, Constance first became known to British intelligence for her role in helping to found Na Fianna Eireann, a nationalist scout’s organization whose purpose was to teach young boys in military drill and the use of firearms. These youths would later become the volunteers during the Easter uprising.
A head strong and inspired activist Constance became active in the Irish suffragette movement and joined Maud Gonne’s women’s group, Inghinidhe na hEireann. By 1911, she was now an executive member of both organizations and went to jail for the first time for her part in a demonstrations against the visit of George V. Her compassion for the poor was evident in the 1913 lockout when she ran a soup kitchen to provide food for the worker’s families. The Citizen Army drilled regularly and one soldier remarked, “She was lovely in uniform. I can remember seeing her marching at the head of the Citizen army with James Connolly and Michael Mallin at a parade one Sunday afternoon. My God, she was it!” THE EASTER RISING
As WWI began, Constance was in the center of social and political upheaval that was building in Dublin. On the 25th of April, 1916, the pressure cooker exploded in the streets of Dublin and war soon erupted in the streets of the capital. While most women in the movement participated in the Rising as nurses and messengers, Countess Markievicz, who had joined Connolly’s Citizen Army, was second in command to Michael Mallin in St. Stephen’s Green, and was active in a fighting capacity throughout the week.
Mallin and Markievicz and their men held on to Stephen’s Green for six days, finally giving up when the British brought them a copy of Patrick Pearse’s surrender order. They were taken to Dublin Castle and Constance fully expected to be executed. As she prepared to die, alone in her cell, she heard the firing squad put one bullet in the heads of Patrick Pearse, Thomas Clarke and Thomas MacDonagh. At her court martial she declared, “I did what was right, and I stand by it.” The verdict in her case was: “Guilty, Death by being shot,” but General Maxwell commuted this to life in prison, “Solely on account of her sex.” Always the fiery revolutionary she told the officer who brought her the news, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” Constance was released from prison during the General Amnesty of 1917.
Her heroic endurance during several prison terms stand her as an Irish heroine of unprecedented recognition. In the general election, December 1918, Countess Markievicz became not just the first woman ever elected to the British Parliament, but as Minister for Labour, the first Cabinet Minister in Europe. A month later she became sick and died in a public ward at Sir Patrick Dunn’s hospital. Throughout her life the Countess had intentionally risked her life for the common people. In tribute to her courage, daring and sacrifice as many as 300,000 turned out and lined the streets of Dublin for the funeral of the Countess of Irish freedom.

Friday, September 24, 2010

FULLER, MARGARET Women's Rights Advocate (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Margaret Fuller: You were a woman before your time and international acclaim followed with your book, “Women in the Nineteenth Century”(1845), which recognized your enormous knowledge of literature and philosophy and command of language in which the rights of women as independent and rational beings is defended. An American journalist and women rights advocate, you counted among your interests the American transcendentalism movement. Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli, (1810-1850) is better known by the name Fuller, because this was her pen name by which Americans knew her. She was fueled with incredible determination to succeed, yet Fuller’s notoriety and her bravado shocked Americans.
Fuller was a brilliant conversationalist, respected for her intellect and learning. In 1839, she began overseeing what she called “conversations” on various topics, primarily for women, discussions meant to emancipate women from their traditional intellectual subservience to men. She was a spellbinding conversationalist and held her women only “conversation classes,” in Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s West Street bookstore in Boston. The famous series of conversations was planned for attendance by twenty five women committed to thirteen weeks of conversation, from noon to two once a week. Fuller derived a steady income from these conversations for five years which enabled her to pursue her other literary interests.
Margaret Fuller’s oeuvre was on the forefront of intellectualism. She was a close friend with intellectuals in Boston and Concord, particularly Ralph Waldo Emerson and was one of the few women who could command Emerson’s interest and respect. After visiting Emerson by invitation for three weeks in 1836 she became acquainted with many transcendentalists including Bronson Alcott, who invited her to teach at this innovative Temple School in Boston, which in the end lapsed in financial failure. This event propelled Fuller in another direction.
Although Emerson was at first somewhat put off by Margaret’s plainness, however, with time he came to consider her a most engaging personality, an intellectual and at times extremely entertaining. A mutual alliance of admiration was formed and from 1840 to 1842 she served with Emerson as editor of The Dial, a literary and philosophical journal for which she wrote many articles and reviews on art and literature. Perhaps the most significant journalistic contribution to the Dial was an article in 1843, her essay entitled, “The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men, Woman versus Women, in which she called for women’s equality.
Margaret Fuller’s literary achievements attracted Horace Greeley, the celebrated newspaper owner and editor. He was enormously impressed with Fuller’s “Summer on the Lakes in 1843, so much so that he offered her a job that most women would never have dreamed of. In 1844 Fuller relocated to work as literary critic for the New York Tribune becoming the first literary critic in any American newspaper, this at a time when journalism was considered unfitting employment for a woman. In this role she became more aware of social deprivations becoming interested in prison reform prostitution, suffrage rights for women, slavery abolition, and the status of minorities. In 1845, as foreign correspondent for the Tribune, Fuller traveled to Europe and sent back feature articles.
During her European journalism stint this spirited young woman embarked on another major segment of her life and proclaimed herself a citizen of Italy. During the Revolution of 1848 and during the siege of Rome by French forces, Fuller assumed charge of one of the hospitals in the city. She fell in love with Marchese Giovanni Angelo d’Ossoli, a petty nobility and a fellow revolutionary, and they had a child, a son Angelo. In 1850, when the revolution failed, they decided to sail to America. It is said that she was carrying the manuscript of a book on the Italian Revolution and letters from Emerson. Sadly the ship went aground in a storm off of Fire Island, New York and Fuller, Ossoli and Angelo drowned when the ship went down. Although this event cut short Margaret Fuller’s life, her intellectual legacy lives on to challenge and inspire other women.
Book: Read MEN, WOMEN, AND MARGARET FULLER, by Laurie James, Golden Heritage Press, Inc. (1990)

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Dear Lillian Nordica: As celebrated as your life was acclaimed on the international opera stages you never lost sight of your modest Maine roots. Nordica’s fabulous life from her frugal upbringing to her career as an opera star is a significant portrayal of a woman determined to succeed. Demonstrating courage, independence of spirit and compassion, Nordica’s valuable contribution to the world of music is an inspiring story. Even opera aficionados today never cease to marvel at her accomplishment as America’s first international diva.

As American as Apple pie, Nordica was born Lillian “Lillie,” Norton in Farmington, Maine on December 12, 1857 in a small farmhouse built by her grandfather. She was the sixth daughter of Amanda Allen and Edwin Norton. Lillian’s mother was the family’s motivator who was full of ambition for her family. At home the entire family sang but Lillian was not the favored daughter. The family pinned its hopes on Wilhelmina, her older sister, who had studied at the New England Conservatory. However, fate would play its hand in Lillian’s life. When Wilhelmina caught typhoid fever on a visit to cousins in Farmington and died the family’s hopes of fame and fortune were dashed.
Stunned by the death of her daughter, Amanda went into two years of mourning but Lillian’s lilting voice caught her ear and Amanda seemingly revived spontaneously to focus on Lillian as the family’s rising star. Lillian began her vigorous vocal training in Boston at the New England Conservatory, and then she gave recitals throughout the United States and England, while barely in her teens. Accompanied by her devoted mother, Lillian studied further in Milan. Her obsession for patient study of languages and opera scores sets an example for aspiring students today. The Nordica stage name was bestowed by San Giovanni, an Italian maestro, convincing her that a plain sounding name would not appeal to European opera-goers. The adopted name was Giglia Nordica, (Lily of the North) but she soon became known as “Madame Nordica” or simply as “Nordica”.
As Madame Nordica Lillian made her debut at Brescia in 1879 where she sang Violetta in La Traviata and went on to high honors showered with bouquets by adoring fans. Later engagements included ten secondary roles at the Imperial Opera in St. Petersburg, Russia. Nordica’s magnificent voice of liquid purity carried her triumphantly throughout Europe. The year 1882 marked her Paris opera debut as Marguerite in Faust. Nordica became the leading prima donna of the Paris season and couturiers named a new color and a new cloak, “la Nordica.” And at last she was treated like royalty and coming from frugal stock she fully appreciated the elaborate concert gowns fashioned by Worth of Paris, the fine jewelry and accolades. It is suggested that her costumes, stage jewelry and opera scores will be of great value to future singers as models for the many operatic roles for which they were designed and worn.
Nordica’s impressive voice which gave a hint of her dramatic soprano. She was the first American woman asked to sing at the Beyreuth Festival in Germany in 1894 and would create of the role of Elsa for Cosima Wagner’s production of Lohengrin. German opera houses were then open to her and there was a great surprise that an American soprano could sing Wagnerian roles. With her big, agile, soprano voice her repertoire included Brunnhilde in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Tristan und Isolde. In New York her Bel Canto style rivaled that of Melba, Patti and Caruso, and her frequent stage partner at the Metropolitan Opera House was the cultured Polish tenor Jean de Reszke. Nordica’s rare dramatic gift combined with an exceptional range and magnificent power and with a charming persona represented everything fine in vocal art.
Nordica’s private life had a hint of the dramatic but with mostly disappointing consequences. Nordica married three times. Her first husband, Frederick Allen Gower, a second cousin, didn’t even like opera and almost jeopardized her career. This disastrous liaison ended when she became a widow under mysterious circumstances. For all her discipline when it came to singing, by her design when it came to romance she was less fortunate. She married for a second time, divorced and married again to a man who wooed her with emeralds.
In 1913, Nordica embarked on a recital tour to Australia. She nearly missed the ship leaving Sydney on her return, and that proved to be fatal mistake. Her untimely death came as a result of a shipwreck in the South Seas. Nordica became seriously ill with pneumonia and her sweet voice was hushed at Batavia, Java on May 10, 1914.
Great details about her operatic life and sad personal life are chronicled in the “Yankee Diva, Lillian Nordica and the Golden Days of Opera” written by Ira Glackens, (1963). Lillian Norton was never forgotten by Farmington, Maine. The townspeople bought the farmhouse where she was born and opened the Nordica Homestead Museum where many artifacts from her extraordinary career are displayed. Location: 116 Nordica Lane, Farmington, Maine 04938-5664. Telephone: 207.778.2042.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

MORGAN, Anne Tracy Morgan's War (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Anne Tracy Morgan: Your name is synonymous with power and financial advantage but you were destined to become a woman determined to succeed beyond the boundaries of the social upper crust set. Born to privilege in 1873, you were the youngest of four children of John Pierpont Morgan, who had made an immense fortune in banking and whose bank (now JPMorgan Chase & Co.) is still a global financial services firm. Anne grew up in a wealthy household with servants and received a private education with most summers spent traveling abroad. She would discover, however, philanthropic ways to use her wealth that very few privileged women of her time would have considered. She became a dynamic leader in Anne Morgan’s War rallying up American women volunteers for relief work in France during and after World War I.
As a youthful debutante Anne enjoyed the finer things in life but her life took an important departure in her 20s when she came under the influence of women from New York’s intellectual circles. In this arena of enlightenment Anne worked to address women’s social issues and focused attention on plight and needs of working women. She served as a volunteer factory inspector and established a clubroom in the Brooklyn Navy Yard so that workers could receive nutritious meals. In 1903, she became part owner of the Villa Trianon near Versailles, France, along with decorator/socialite Elsie de Wolfe and theatrical/literary agent Elisabeth Marbury. The Villa Trianon, abandoned by the French royal family after the Revolution of 1848 was the ideal setting to separate her from her domineering father and pursue her own interests.
At the start of World War I, Anne was in France and she saw the terrible effects of war and was horrified by the carnage and wartime destruction. With an innate character of philanthropy Anne wanted to help the victims. She returned to the United States to collect food and clothing and relief packages to assist the devastated regions. She financed the work with her inheritance and with contributions from other Americans. Anne even persuaded Henry Ford to donate Model T ambulances. Setting such an example Anne was the leader and inspiration, and hundreds of American women left comfortable lives at home to volunteer in the devastated regions of France.
Anne Morgan rallied potential volunteers and donors on speaking tours across the United States, and employed the power of documentary photography and silent film to foster a humanitarian response to the plight of French refugees. With haunting views of ruined French towns, decimated agricultural fields and livestock, public buildings, railways, bridges, schools and factories, portraits of refugees and pictures of American volunteers at work---these images tell a little known, but important story of American volunteerism during World War I. THE WOMEN’S ENCAMPMENT
Anne financed the Chemin des Dames, an encampment for women in the courtyard of the ruined seventeenth-century Chateau de Blerancourt, which served as the base of operations for the American Committee for Devastated France which she created with her friend, Anne Murray Dike. Anne Morgan with her commanding presence and social prominence took the lead in fund raising, while her colleague Anne Murray Dike, trained as a physician, organized activities in the field. The group established headquarters in Blerancourt, less than forty miles from the front living in barracks and working long hours. The American Committee provided vital services to revitalize life in a region considered by many to be beyond redemption. After the war, Anne donated the property to the town of Blerancourt, and founded a museum documenting the history of French-American cooperation.
When the Second World War again brought devastation to northeastern France, including Anne Morgan’s beloved Blerancourt, she took action again and formed the American Friends of France and the Comite Americain de Secours Civil, its French counterpart. Her generosity and benevolence did not go unnoticed. In 1932, Anne Morgan became the first American woman to become a commander of the French Legion of honor and the first woman to be honored with a marble plaque in the Court of Honor at the Hotel des Invalides, near Napoleon’s tomb in Paris. ANNE MORGAN’S WAR; REBUILDING DEVASTATED FRANCE 1917-1924 is on view at The Morgan Library & Museum 225 Madison Ave. through November 21, 2010.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mitchell, Margaret, Gone With The Wind Fame and Black Atlanta (c) by Polly Guerin

Dear Margaret Mitchell: We all remember you as the celebrated Pulitzer Prize author of “Gone With The Wind,” the epic novel about the Civil War and Reconstruction but you were a woman determined to succeed in a place that most women of your time would never had considered entering. Your public life revolved around your life as a novelist, but your role as a benefactor only surfaced years after your demise and revealed your extraordinary involvement with Atlanta’s African American community. As expected of any Jazz Age debutant flapper, Margaret Mitchell was no wall flower and joined the newest dances introduced to Atlanta’s younger set. However, as a result of her concerns about Black Atlanta she was ostracized from the Junior League.
Margaret Mitchell’s involvement with the African American community began when she was a 19-year-old debutante. She was working on several projects with Atlanta's Black community and being a proper Junior Leaguer, whose mission was community service; Margaret chose to work in the city’s Black clinics. It was a remarkable move considering that it was a time when segregation was the law of the land and the Ku Klux Klan regularly held rallies. Obviously her work with the Black clinic was the reason that she was rejected from the conservative Junior League.
Margaret Mitchell’s exposure to the black community no doubt also sharpened her sensitivities about old Atlanta and the battles the Confederate Army fought there. She grew up listening to stories of the Civil War that she heard first from her parents and great aunts and later from Confederate veterans who regaled the girl with battlefield stories. Such a background fueled her imagination as did the fact that the ancestry of the Mitchell family was not unlike the O-Hara’s of Gone with the Wind. Gone With the Wind was published in June 1936 and became an equally famous motion picture starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable.
With these two successes Margaret Mitchell became an international celebrity and a celebrated Atlanta citizen. It is no doubt this notoriety brought her to the attention of Dr. Benjamin Mays, the new president of the historically black Morehouse College. He may or may not have known about Margaret Mitchell’s former involvement with the Black community, the question is mute; her celebrity had put her in the limelight. In 1941, when he realized that some of his promising students needed funds to put them through school and with fund raising on his mind it appears that Margaret was the first person he approached. She agreed to an anonymous donation of $80, enough at that time to put a student through one year of school. Dr. Mays later wrote Margaret a letter describing the impact her gift had on its young recipient. So moved by this disclosure she made arrangements to make the same contribution on a regular basis. Again, Dr. Mays agreed to keep the scholarship fund a secret, even for many years after her death.
The fund’s donor, Margaret Mitchell so long kept a secret, was revealed when Dr. Otis Smith, the first African-American in the state of Georgia to be certified as a pediatrician told the story to the Margaret Mitchell House, in Atlanta. Despite years of work as a teacher, shoe shiner, and field hand when he had been a first-year student at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., he told Dr. Mays he simply had no more money to continue his studies. Dr. Mays sent him back to Nashville and said cryptically, “Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll take care of it.”
Although Dr. Smith’s tuition and fees were completely paid; it was 35 years later (Margaret Mitchell had long ago died in 1949, struck by a speeding car while crossing the intersection of Peachtree Street) before Dr. Mays revealed the source of the gift, one of about 40 to 50 Margaret Mitchell had made to African American medical students. So our dear Margaret Mitchell, of Gone With the Wind Fame, was a determined woman who succeeded as an enlightened Southerner. She championed the Black community in Atlanta in other ways and also supported the early effort to desegregate the city’s police department. To quote Mitchell, “I want peace; I want to see if somewhere there isn’t something left in life of charm and grace.”

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

WOLFE, CATHARINE LORILLARD A Great Philanthropist By Polly Guerin

Portrait of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe (1876)
by Alexandre Cabanel

Dear Catharine: It is said that more women have backed the founding of museums then men and this truism certainly applies to you, a woman determined to succeed in promoting the role that museums could play in presenting art to the public. Your largesse as a great American philanthropist and art collector is legendary. When the Metropolitan Museum of Art was incorporated in 1870 by a group of businessmen, you were the only woman among the 106 founders. Although you gave large amounts of money to other institutions your most significant gifts were two bequests to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, leaving your large collection of 140 paintings to the museum, along with an endowment for its maintenance.
The bequest of Lorillard’s art collection gave the Metropolitan its first significant representation of the kinds of paintings that appealed to the general public. The Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Wing displayed popular paintings including, Rosa Bonheur’s painting, “The Horse Fair” (1853). Other star attractions included Ludwig Knaus’s “Holy Family,” and Jules Breton’s “Procession of Pardon in Brittany.” The large crowds flocked to see “Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children, Georgette and Paul” painted by Auguste Renoir (1878), acquired by the Museum in 1907. INTEREST IN LIVING ARTISTS
While she was seriously expanding her own collection, Lorillard had a particular interest in living artists. A life-long supporter of Grace church, she also left a substantial bequest to be used for some form of “women’s work”. In 1896, a club bearing Catharine Lorillard Wolfe’s name was established by the Rector William Reed Huntington in New York, and Mrs. Newell, wife of the Rector of the Episcopal Church in Paris. The Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club was founded with the mission to promote and advance the artwork of women. Today the mission is the same. Annual juried exhibitions to honor talented women artists are held at the National Arts Club in New York City.
From early life Catharine cultivated a fine and discriminating taste for art. Wolfe’s father John David Wolfe was a real-estate developer, who had given labor and money for the advancement of the New York Historical Society, and was one of the founders of the American Museum of Natural History, and its first president. Her mother Dorothea Anne Lorillard was partial inheritor of the Lorillard fortune and Catharine, who had inherited her father’s noble qualities, would continue their philanthropic activities. Catharine was an only child (1828-1887) and her fine mind was broadened by extensive travel in many countries.
Catharine Lorillard Wolfe was an outstanding supporter and always had a large number of beneficiaries including the Newsboy’s Lodging House and Industrial School (an outgrowth of Charles Loring Brace’s movement to help care of New York’s homeless children; she financed archaeological missions, including one that unearthed Nippur and she was also involved with the American Museum of Natural History, which her father had helped to found. She gave large amounts of money to institutions such as Grace Episcopal Church and Union College and her generosity attesting to her great philanthropy continued throughout her lifetime.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

LUCE, Clare Boothe An Extraordinary Life (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Clare: Talented, wealthy, beautiful, socialite, a Congresswoman, ambassador and spouse of magazine magnate Henry R. Luce of Time-Life-Fortune, WHEW!, the zeal in which you pursued each one of these careers is nothing short of remarkable, a woman determined to succeed, and indeed you did!!! More astonishing is the fact that you became equally famous in each of the individual careers becoming an icon of woman’s achievement on its highest scale. One of your famous quotes, “Male supremacy had kept women down. It has not knocked her out,” explains in part your remarkable ability to pursue each task vigorously. Although your roles in politics, journalism and diplomacy stand alone as the pinnacle of your diverse careers, many of us know you for the play “The Women”.
It’s a legendary satire on the idleness of wealthy wives and divorcees which opened at the Barrymore Theatre in New York City, December 26, 1936. The play may have been received coolly by the critics, but among the public it was immensely popular and ran for 657 performances, toured the United States and 18 countries. While it is true that most of us do not have servants, this tale about women’s leisure pursuits, excesses of living the high life and for whom blowing money on luxury goods is their main pursuit, seems all too apropos to describe the unfulfilled lifestyle of some women of a certain age.
Where does inspiration come from? To the creative mind it’s in every situation, but you have to listen. Legend has it that some gossip Clare heard in a nightclub powder room inspired her Broadway hit that was wittily adapted for the screen in M-G-M 1939 film, THE WOMEN. This catty, clever all female film centers on a group of high-society women who spend their days at the beauty salon and haunting fashion shows. While some critics may say the play/movie is outdated there are similarities in high society today. The pampered Park Avenue princesses include the venomous Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford) who gets her fangs into the husband of sweet, happily wedded May Haines (Norma Shearer) while scandalmonger Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell) lets the cat out of the bag at the beauty salon. Available on DVD, The Women, is really all about men.
After a divorce from George Tuttle Brokaw Clare joined the staff of Vogue, as an editorial assistant and later when Clare became associate editor of Vanity Fair she began writing short sketches satirizing New York society called “Stuffed Shirts.” Clare was not only an able editor but an attractive one and she traveled with the cognoscenti in café society and intellectual social circles. She soon met Henry Robinson “Harry Luce, the world renowned publisher, as well as founder of Time magazine and the business periodical Fortune. (He would later found Life magazine and Sports Illustrated). They fell in love, and married in 1935, just one month after Harry divorced his wife of 12 years, with whom he had two sons. Sadly, the union of Harry and Clare, which lasted 32 years, was childless, but Clare did have a daughter Ann Clare Brokaw from her first marriage.
The marriage between Clare and Harry was fortuitous as it linked two formidable personalities in journalism, but less familiar is Clare’s wartime journalism. After the beginning of World War II, Clare traveled to Europe as a journalist for Harry’s publication Life magazine and wrote a vivid account of her four-month visit in her first non-fiction book, Europe in the Spring (1940). Documenting her observations she attributed the war in part to “a world where men have decided to die together because they are unable to find a way to live together.” She and Harry toured China and reported to Life the status of the country and interviewed high ranking generals as well as world leaders including Chiang Kai-Shek and Jawaharlal Nehru. However, Clare considered her war reportage as ‘time off’ from her true vocation as a playwright.
With such a background in international affairs, in 1942 Clare ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives representing the Fourth Congressional District of Connecticut, on the Republican ticket. During her tenure she was a strong advocate on military issues. On Christmas Day 1944, she visited American troops in Italy, and returned to Congress advocating immediate aid to Italian war victims. During her second term, Clare was instrumental in the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission. She once said, “They say women talk too much. If you worked in Congress, you know that the filibuster was invented by men.” RETIRING YEARS
In 1947, after her House term expired, Clare wrote a series of articles describing her conversion to Catholicism, which were published in McCall’s. This inspiration stemmed from the death of her daughter Ann, a nineteen-year-old senior at Stanford University, who was killed in an automobile accident. Overwhelmed by this tragedy Clare had gone into a depression and did not want to run for reelection to the House stating she wanted to return to writing. In 1964 she and Harry, who had retired as editor-in-chief of Time would spend most of the next few years at their vacation home in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1981, Clare came into the limelight again when President Ronald Reagan appointed Clare to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, on which she served until 1983.
Clare Boothe Luce's life was chiseled like a brilliant diamond, she had however lived a multifaceted life with equal fame and accomplishment in each facet. Sadly, Clare Boothe Luce died of a brain tumor at the age of 84.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gerda Wegener Remembering The Danish Painter (c) by Polly Guerin

Though nearly forgotten in the history of female artists it is high time that you should be rediscovered for your playful art and strength of character. An internationally renowned Danish painter Gerda Wegener amazes by her prolific oeuvre as portraitist, graphic artist and purveyor of deluxe editions of erotic stories. Although Gerda’s career relied on her phenomenal talent, perhaps even more shocking was her notorious diligence and the advantages of an unusual marriage which opened up notoriety on a more sinister scale. It was at an art opening at the gallery of Leonard Fox, Ltd. on Madison Avenue in New York City where I found that Gerda’s works were delightful, charming, provocative and surprisingly shocking eroticism imbued with an Art Deco sensibility.
When Gerda arrived in Paris in 1912 she was accompanied by her husband Einar Wegener, also a painter, who she married in 1904. It was the perfect environment for emerging artists, but the city had entered into a period of unprecedented upheaval. There was public outcry against certain art and music. Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloe and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps were among the public targets and even riots. The young Gerda, on the other hand, took Art Deco by storm with her adventurous spirit and superb artistry, winning numerous awards as well as commissions for portraits of Parisian society women. The French State even decorated Gerda with a Legion d’Honneur for her art.
Gerda was not only a rare talent she was industrious and productive. Her illustrations appeared in La Vie Parisienne, Vogue, Le Rire and La Baionette, and other premiere fashion and political journals of the day. Her artistic portrayals of fashion could be seen plastered on walls, but most notably her erotic scenes, inspired by the Art Deco movement probably found their way into the trenches of World War I. She became a very popular among the cognoscenti and sought economic success living a life of passionate pursuit of her art.
Gerda was no shrinking violet but was a dynamic personality fueled by an ambition to acquire the bourgeoisie ambiance and trappings of society. Together with her husband Einar, she was part of the Parisian artist scene, living a life with decadence sex and fashion. Her expensive apartment and studio was in the fashionable quartier Tour Eiffel and at their summer home on the banks of the Loire she would stage parties for two thousand invited guests. It is sad to realize that despite her prolific career and all these extravagances, in the end she died in poverty and obscurity.
In the 1930s transformation surgery was risky and at an experimental stage. Her husband, Einar Wegener, a known transsexual, liked to disappear into the streets of Paris in one of his costumes. In female guise as “Lili”, at first he cross-dressed as a favor to Gerda, who needed a female model to pose for one of her portraits. After cross-dressing Wegener became convinced he had another personality---a female one. Urged by this realization he traveled to Germany for sex reassignment surgery and afterwards went by the name Lili Elbe. Lili lived a double life in Paris attending parties, balls and socials as Lili, and gained many admirers. Sadly Lili passed away from complications after her fifth operation. However, Gerda had supported Lili throughout her transition, but the King of Denmark declared the Wegeners’ marriage null and void in 1930.
Gerda was not without admirers and along came a suitor that would rescue her and begin a new stage in her life's story. She subsequently married an Italian air force officer and diplomat, Major Fernando Porta. By all estimates they were an enviable couple, romantic and wildly in love, and moved to Morocco, settling in Marrakech and Casablanca. The marriage lasted about 8 years. She returned to Denmark in 1938, but this time her work was largely out of fashion. Although she died impoverished and largely forgotten her story comes to life in the international best seller, The Danish Girl, a novel by David Ebershoff. The novel is being developed for the screen and Nicole Kidman will be playing the role of Einar/LiLi and Charlize Theron will the playing the role of Gerda.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

GLADYS EMMA PETO, Story Book Illustrator (c) By Polly Guerin

Storybook Illustrator Art Deco Era

Dear Gladys Peto: I came upon your delightful illustrations in children’s books where every picture changed the way I would look at the Art Deco era of childhood imagery. Each page is a charming adventure with stylized flowers pressing their fanciful image throughout, story after story of adventures of young girls as never portrayed before. Although you were well-known throughout the United Kingdom in the 1920s and 1930s it’s time to introduce you to American audiences for you were one of the greatest artist of your time. So popular were your illustrations during the ‘30s that it was ‘in fashion’ to wear a Peto dress, printed, of course, with your identifiable designs. Your style was in such demand that you often worked as a costume and set designer for the theater and the transition of your designs from storybook to stage put the spotlight on your unique oeuvre.
Peto’s work remains appealing today for a whole new generation of admirers. Its unique and inventive Art Deco style, which critics say was ‘clearly influenced by Aubrey Beardsley,’ captures something magical of the world of childhood. As an illustrator of books for children, she is in a class all of her own creative genius and she wrote some of the stories herself introducing a yesteryear of happy romps through childhood. Peto’s images draw the reader to the curious world of sullen young girls with slender limbs, exquisitely dressed as if going to a party, immaculate and poised as if on the brink of some mischief or adventure. Her oeuvre was extensive. In advertising art Peto is best known for illustrations for the infant formula, Ovaltine, as well as a host of other well known products featured in magazines and seen everywhere on posters.
Peto’s fame was spreading into other product areas. Her illustrations were proving so popular that in 1929, the pottery company R H & S Plant Ltd., manufacturers of porcelain and china at the Tuscan Works in Longton, England, produced an adorable range of children’s nursery ware decorated with her artwork. Tea sets, mugs, plates and bowls featured her adorable characters imprinted with sayings such as “Dance just as I do, If you can, the Fairy says to Little Anne.” Peto’s reach into the lives of children took further claim with several ‘handkerchief books’ produced to depict her artwork. These charming publications contained six square children’s handkerchiefs made from Irish linen, and covered subjects such as school time, nursery rhymes and Alice in Wonderland.
(1890, Maidenhead, Bershire-1977, Northern Ireland.) Peto did not come from a long line of artists, she was the first in her family. After attending Maidenhead High School and art classes in town, she headed off to London to study at the London School of Art. She took up a daring career path and became a successful commercial artist. Her design style and fashionable imagery caught on and the story book artist was born. Later, in the 1920s she married Cuthbert Lindsay Emmerson, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, and traveled with him to Malta, Cyprus and Egypt. Her travels are strongly reflected in drawings, paintings and writings from this period, and in her travel books, such as “The Egypt of the Sojourner,” published by J.M. Dent in London for their Outward Bound Library.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Celia Thaxter American Poet by the Sea (c) by Polly Guerin

Celia Thaxter in her island garden painted by Childe Hassam

Dear Celia Thaxter: I discovered the incredibly beauty of your poetry inspired by your life on Appledore, one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire, when I visited so long ago. Your island garden so painstakingly maintained by the Portsmouth Horticultural Society brings to mind the patience and endurance of a woman whose love for the minutest detail of nature found its way into your poetry and also your watercolors and ceramics. Every flower, leaf, bug, slug, sandpiper, seabird and the mighty gray rocks were your friends and blossomed into poems of joyful recognition for their amazing contribution to a life well lived by the sound of the sea.
At first glance the Isles of Shoals seems very sad, stern and bleak, but to you Appledore, where you lived, it was enchanting. You perhaps ascribe your poignant poetry to the sound of the sea to the fact that people forget the hurry and worry and fret of life after living there awhile, and, to the imaginative mind, all things become a dreamy tableau of never ending beauty. The eternal sound of the sea on every side seemingly wears away the edge of preoccupation with the mainland; sharp images become blurred and softened like a sketch in charcoal and tranquility takes over the senses.
By Celia Thaxter: As happy dwellers by the seaside hear In every pause the sea’s mysterious sound, The infinite murmur, solemn and profound, Incessant, filling all the atmosphere, Even so I hear you, for you do surround My newly-waking life, and break for aye About the viewless shores, till they resound With echoes of God’s greatness night and day. Refreshed and glad I feel the full flood-tide Fill every inlet of my waiting soul; Long-striving, eager, hope, beyond control, For help and strength at last is satisfied; And you exalt me, like the sounding sea, With ceaseless whispers of eternity.
Celia reminisces “All flowers had for me such human interest, they were so dear and precious. I wondered how every flower knew what to do and to be; why the morning-glory didn’t forget sometimes, and bear a cluster of elder-bloom, or the elder hand out pennons of gold and purple like the iris; or the goldenrod suddenly blaze out a scarlet plume, the color of the pimpernel, was a mystery to my childish thought. And why did the sweet wild primrose wait till after sunset to unclose its pale yellow buds; why did it unlock its treasure of rich perfume to the night alone? Few flowers bloomed for me upon the lonesome rock; but I made the most of all I had, and neither knew of nor desired more. Ah, how beautiful they were!” (From “Among the Isles of Shoals, by Celia Thaxter, 1873, J.R. Osgood publisher)
Life on the Isles of Shoals, in its remote and pristine beauty vividly colored Celia’s poetry and prose. As I witnessed this sea-locked vista I can tell you that the landscape of the Isles of Shoals has changed little since the time when Thaxter lived there. First as daughter of the lighthouse keeper on White Island Lighthouse and then later on Appledore where her family had the finest island hotel which became an intellectual and literary Mecca drawing artists like Willam Morris Hunt and Childe Hassam to the Shoals as well as well known authors. The burden of caring for her brain-damaged child, Karl, and an invalid husband, Levi, must have weighted heavily on her and would surely have been enough to discourage any writer, but Celia was committed to her role as a poet. She wrote with quiet passion of the place and land that she loved most and gave poetry readings daily throughout the summer season at Appledore.
Celia Thaxter (1835-1894) reputation as the most popular of America’s women poets far surpassed many other poets’ names better known today. Yet Celia’s fame began to wane around 1894 but is regaining its place with new legions of followers today who have come to appreciate her poignant sentiments. And now I leave you with an excerpt from Celia Thaxter’s poem “Land-Locked.”
O Earth! Thy summer song of joy may soar
Ringing to heaven in triumph. I but crave
The sad, caressing murmur of the wave
That breaks in tender music on the shore.

Posted by Polly Guerin at 8:37 AM 0 comments go to:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Corrie Ten Boom's Risky Business (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Corrie: I often wonder what I would do in the wake of Germany’s invasion of Holland in 1943. Would I protect my friends who were being persecuted because of their faith? Would I step up to the plate and save Jewish people I did not even know? Would I risk my own life to facilitate their escape? These are questions I ask myself, but you did not even consider questioning your benevolent behavior and took a great risk to help Jewish people and you paid dearly for doing so. In the hallmark of remarkable women, determined to succeed, you leave a legacy of unparalleled bravery.

The Ten Boom family was renowned clock and watch masters and Corrie was one of the first women trained as a clock smith, who repaired and improved clocks in Haarlem, Holland where the Ten Boom family lived and were highly respected citizens. Corrie recalls, “Life was so peaceful then when I was growing up in Haarlem. I helped out in my father’s clock repair shop on the bottom floor of our home. Our family was well-liked in our neighborhood. I even taught bible class and started several girls’ clubs that became popular in Holland. It was a peaceful and idealic time, but it drastically changed with the German invasion.”
In 1837, Willem Ten Boom founded a clock and watch shop which later passed onto his son Casper, and then to his daughter Cornelia Ten Boom, generally known as Corrie Ten Boom (1892-1983). Casper Ten Boom was a well-liked watch repairman and often referred to as “Haarlem’s Grand Old man.” Their home called Beje (short for Barteljorisstraat) was a happy place where a cultured and religious family and their faith inspired them to serve both the Church and Society at large.
During World War II, their home Beje became a refuge, a Hiding Place for fugitives and hunted people who were sought by the enemy. By protecting people, father Casper and his daughters Corrie Ten Boom and Elizabeth ten Boom, called Betsie risked their lives. Their undaunted faith led them to hide Jews, students who refused to cooperate with the enemy, and members of the Dutch ‘underground’ resistance movement. The Beje accommodated these refuges until it was ‘safe’ to smuggle them to other families and thereby saved a great many lives.
After the German invasion of Holland in 1943 life began to change dramatically for the Jewish people. Every week there was something they couldn’t do. They lost their jobs, or their businesses were taken away; they were banned from public places; and they were denied food. Jewish men were sent away and never heard of again. Some Dutch people became unkind to their Jewish neighbors because the Germans gave them special privileges, but our family, and many others, knew that we had to help those being targeted. Corrie recalls, “We dedicated their lives in Christian services and our home was ‘an Open house’ for anyone in need of help. Our house, Beje, became a symbol of refuge during WWII. We built a safe room in the wall of our house and even though the Nazis would search hard, they never found the Jews who were hidden there.”
Corrie recalls, “I had been sick for several days with a bad case of the flu, but I was awakened by screams and the sound of feet rushing toward my room. At first I thought that it was one of the drills we had practiced to hide Jews. But this time , February 28, 1944, it was German soldiers raiding our home, looking for Jewish people that they had heard we were hiding. I leaped from my bed to help our guests hurry into the secret space that had been built inside a wall in my room. Once they were safely hidden, I pretended to be asleep but the soldiers rushed into my room. They wanted to know where the Jews were, but neither my sister, Betsie nor I, would tell them. We were slapped and hit by the soldiers. Blood tricked down our swollen faces, but we were willing to die than tell where they were.”
After the family was betrayed and the Gestapo raided the house they arrested six members of the family. The Nazis plundered the place, knocked down walls but could not find the Jews. However, they did find enough written material and food cards to send the Ten Boom family to prison. During the next hours about 30 friends, who came to the Beje unaware of the betrayal, were also arrested and taken to Ravenbruck concentration camp. The sister’s ordeal there was sustained by their unwavering Christian faith. They recited the Bible from memory and throughout their incarceration they helped other prisoners to renew their faith and take comfort in the words that would lift up their burden. Corrie’s sister Betsie died at Ravenbrook as did Casper (84), Christiann (24). Willem (60) died shortly after the war.
Corrie survived the horrors and deprivation of Ravenbruck concentration camp and when the war was over, she wrote a book, “The Hiding Place,” detailing the Ten Boom family saga. Corrie travelled around the world and encouraged everyone she met with the message that Jesus Christ is Victor over all and everything, even the misery of the concentration camp. Her family home, Beje is again an “Open House,” a living museum memorial to the Ten Boom family of Haarlem, who lived as Christians. The museum keeps alive the spiritual heritage of the family as an inspiration for everyone to learn and savor the truth, the true meaning of a Christian faith. The Ten Boom Clock and Watch shop has been partly restored in the setting of that time period and a watchmaker carries out this meticulous work of repairing watches on the spot in the shop today.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Zelda Fitzgerald Painter and Linguist (c) by Polly Guerin

Dear Zelda: So much noteriety has focused on the life you led with your husband, the celebrated author F. Scott Fitzgerald that you were seemingly cast in his shadow without the rightful recognition you deserve as an independent woman determined to succeed.

Christened the original flapper, your zany cavorting with Scott fed the scandal sheets with regularity. Friends and acquaintances were awe struck by your storied antics. You flouted convention but underlying your unbridled demonstrations was an unprecedented craving for attention, and something to call your own: painting and writing.
Perhaps that is why you had such urge to excel and as a child took ballet lessons. Later in life trying to claim something of your own you at age 27 you indulged in ballet with wild and unrelenting pursuit. Yet your role as an artist is one of your finest achievements. The watercolor paintings which you produced were well executed subjects that were charming, whimsical and sometimes absurd, but definitely worth discussing here. Zelda was a creative talent who was a dedicated artist, the one artistic expression that she practiced throughout her life. When the Fitzgerald’s moved to Paris in 1924 they became part of a circle of artists including Constantin Brancusi, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso. It is at this time that Zelda began painting in earnest. Subject matter reveals her appreciation for landscape and flowers, and her unique and wonderful sense of fantasy and theatricality. A large group depicts fairy tales and reveals dynamic reinterpretations of traditional children’s stories. Zelda’s paintings are primarily from the 1930s and 1940s. These works were exhibited once in a New York Gallery in 1934 but were exhibited mostly in private showings. After Scott died in 1940, she created a sentimental series depicting places in New York and Paris. Rediscovering Zelda and her paintings began with a 1974 exhibition at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. Later an exhibition of Zelda’s painting was circulated to museums across the United States under the auspices of International Artists, Washington, D.C.

You were a born original linguist. Many of your words and phrases found their way into Scott’s novels. These examples are a mere smattering of the breath of your contribution. In the conclusion of Scott’s “This Side of Paradise, the soliloquy of the protagonist Amory Blaine in the cemetery is taken directly from your personal journal. When you gave birth to your daughter, Frances “Scottie” Fitzgerald, you exclaimed, “I hope it’s beautiful and a fool---a beautiful little fool.” In “The Great Gatsby,” the character Daisy Buchanan expresses the same for her daughter. In the 1930s Zelda created some her best work, including the only novel, “Save Me the Waltz.” Your originality deserves kudos not given to you during your lifetime.

One need only refer to your undisciplined childhood that set the stage for outrageous adult behavior. Spoiled by a doting mother, Minerva “Minnie” Machen no doubt contributed to your willful conduct. Born in Montgomery, Alabama, Zelda Sayre (1900-1948) had a prestigious lineage starting with her father Anthony Dickinson Sayre who was a justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama. The Sayre’s were a prominent southern family with relatives in the United States Senate, and a Montgomery newspaper editor. Despite this staid background during Zelda’s childhood she developed a distinct appetite for attention and scandalized conventional society by dancing the Jazz Age Charleston and fueled rumors that she swam nude by wearing a flesh colored bathing suit. Those were just a smattering of her antics that shocked Montgomery social circle. Always, her father’s reputation saved her from scandal. No wonder she stood out, southern women of the time were supposed to be delicate, obedient and accommodating.

There was no excuse for her scandalized behavior, but the more flamboyant her antics the more she fueled the gossip mongers in docile Montgomery society who were in for another surprise. At a country club event where she performed, “Dance of the Hours” for the social set the handsome first lieutenant, F. Scott Fitzgerald entered her orbit of entertainment. Courtship swiftly followed, but she only agreed to marry him once his first novel, “This Side of Paradise” was published. It is a known fact that Scott had ransacked Zelda’s diaries and letters for story and novel material and had used verbatim excerpts in his novels. Zelda had a natural talent for writing and Fitzgerald’s penchant for lifting works, written by Zelda, became routine. In fact Zelda was engaged in writing of her own but there was the touchy matter of by-line consideration. Often, therefore, Scott’s name appeared for publication, as his name was known to the reading public and would garner higher fees. There is no doubt, however, that Zelda had certain literary gifts. In the winter of 1928-1929 Zelda completed a series of stories for College Humor, and Scott signed his name to many of them. Zelda’s “the Girl with Talent” and “The Girl the Prince Liked” were inevitably drawn from her natural talent and original voice. She helped Scott write the play The Vegetable, but when it flopped the Fitzgerald’s found themselves in debt, so Scott wrote short stories with a frantic pace, but became burned out the depressed.

After the success of “This Side of Paradise,” Zelda and Scott became New York celebrities. The couple embodied the fun, exhuberance, and glamour of the 1920’s but their wild behavior and drunkenness led them to be evicted from both the Biltmore and Commodore Hotels. Their social life was flooded with alcohol and to their delight the New York newspapers had a field day reporting their escapades. They became the icons of youth and success. "Flappers," a term Scott Fitzgerald coined to refer to a new breed of modern, independent woman, was inspired in large part by the freethinking, strong-willed Zelda. Scott himself named the decade the "Jazz Age," when Flappers and their swains frequented speakeasies during prohibition home to drinking, dancing and swinging to the sounds of the Jazz Age

Sadly after a lifetime trying to succeed Zelda was driven to the heights of physical exhaustion. The histrionics and drama of Zelda’s life, and her grueling routine to become a ballerina resulted in a nervous breakdown in 1930. Zelda’s health slowly deteriorated and she was diagnosed as schizophrenic, thus spending 18 years of her life in and out of institutions. Despite her illness she spent the majority of her days painting. One wonders what amazing works of art she might have created had she not died tragically in a hospital fire at the age of 48.