Category Archives: Women’s history

Books History Women's history

From How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer by Sarah Bakewell

p. 150
Libertinism remained a minority pursuit, but a disproportionately influential one, because out of the libertins would evolve the Enlightenment philosophers of the following century. They gave Montaigne a dangerous yet positive new image, which would stick. They also spawned a less radical breed of salon socialites,: aphorists such as La Bruyere and La Rouchefoucauld whose Maximes gathered together brief, Montaignean observations on human nature:
At times we are as different from ourselves as we are from others.
The surest way to be taken in is to think oneself craftier than other people.
Chance and caprice rule the world.
And, as it happens, one La Rochefoucauld maxim provided a neat comment on Montaigne’s own 17th-century predicament:
We often irritate others when we think we could not possibly do so.

p. 174
According to Giovanni Botero, an Italian political writer living in France in the 1580s, the French countryside of that decade was so rife with thieves and murderers that every house was obliged to keep “watch of the vineyards and orchards: gates, locks, bolts and mastiffs’. Apparently Botero had not visited the Montaigne estate: there the only defender was a person whom Montaigne described as ‘a porter of ancient custom and ceremony, who serves not so much to defend my door as to offer it with more decorum and grace’.
Montaigne lived this way because he was determined to resist intimidation, and did not want to become his own gaoler. But he also believed that, paradoxically, his openness made him safer … Locks made a place look valuable, and there could be no sense of glory in robbing a household where one was welcomed by an elderly doorkeeper. Also, the usual rules of fortification hardly apply in a civil war, ‘your valet may be of the party that you fear’ … far better to win the enemy over by behaving with generosity and honour.
,, once travelling through a forest in a dangerous rural area, he was attacked by 15 to 20 masked men … “I owed my deliverance to my face and the freedom and firmness of my speech’… this was the kind of confrontation that could happen at any time, to any person, and Montaigne often wondered about the best way of dealing with it. Is it wiser to face up squarely to your enemy and challenge him, or should you curry favour by showing submission. Should you throw yourself on the aggressor’s mercy and hope that his sense of humanity will make him spare you? Or if that foolhardy?”

p. 179 “For Montaigne, all humans share an element of their being, and so do all other living things … ‘There is a certain respect, and a general duty of humanity, that attaches us not only to animals, who have life and feeling, but even to trees and plants. We owe justice to men, and mercy and kindness to other creatures that may be capable of receiving it. There is some relationship between them and us, and some mutual obligation’….
We owe other beings the countless small acts of kindness and empathy that Nietzsche would describe as ‘goodwill’ … Montaigne added this remark about his dog: “I am not afraid to admit that my nature is so tender, so childish, that I cannot well refuse my dog the play he offers me or asks of me outside the proper time.” He indulges his dog because he can imaginatively share the animal’s point of view: he can feel how desperate the dog is to banish boredom and get his human friend’s attention.”

p. 291 “Marie le Jars de Gournay, Montaigne’s first great editor and publicist … was a woman of extreme enthusiasm and emotion, all of which she uninhibitedly threw at Montaigne on their first meeting in Paris … her family, minor provincial nobles, lived partly in Paris and partly at the Picardy chateau and estate of Gournay-sur-Aronde, which her father bought in 1568. In adulthood, Marie took her last name from this estate. Such a right was normally reserved for sons, but it was typical of her to ignore this rule … By 1580, Marie was confined to a provincial world … she did what she could to educate herself using the books in the family library. By reading Latin works alongside their French translations, she gave herself the best classical ground she could. The result was a patchy knowledge, unsystematic but deeply motivated.”

Books Feminism History Politics Women's history

Notes from The Kingdom of Women: Life, Love and Death in China’s Hidden Mountains by Choo Waihong

p. 120 The very existence of a woman-centric society in a sea of patriarchy that has inundated the whole world … calls into question the inevitability of human society involving as the male-dominant archetype. The Kingdom of Women has shown that it is possible to have an alternative model … forging a better environment in which a woman can e nurtured and fostered to reach her full potential as a complete, confident person ready to contribute as meaningfully as a man to society … the Mosuo model that puts the female at its centre without downgrading the male to purgatory appears to be a much better option. In a mad moment … I had a vision that I must have been a Mosou woman in a past life. How else could I make sense of the feeling of connectedness I feel in the midst of my Mosuo friends, never again having to fight against covert male chauvunusm in my previous law firms in Singapore or be as aggressive as the next man in an all-male network of lawyers in Los Angeles.”

p. 121. “Gumi … her direct maternal ancestor is Malaxshimi, whose clan is found today in the southern parts of Asia and on the islands of the Pacific as well as in Mongolia, Korea, India and Pakistan.”

p. “I became curious to find out where Zhaxi’s ancestors [a particularly prominent, popular, six-foot man] came from … his genes revealed that he was descended from the paternal clan ancestor of Sigurd, the dragon-slayer of Norse mythology. Here was a he-man from Lugu Lake who could trace his ancestry to the Vikings of Norway .. it might suggest why Zhaxi and his Musou brothers look so different from the Chinese and other ethnic minority groups in this part of the world.”

p. 147 “An axia pair may decide to go on meeting on a regular basis that progresses over time into a stable relationship, and this is when their affair is more open, with the ‘walking’ man not hiding his presence in front of the woman’s family … the male axia comes and goes openly, though still only at night “

p. 149 “the ‘nuclear’ family is a separate unit consisting of the grandmother and her children and all her matrilineal descendants’”

Books History Women's history

Notes from Ottonian Queenship by Simon Maclean

p. 1 “one of the features of the Frankish world in the 10th century which distinguishes it clearly from the 9th-century heyday of the Carolingian Empire. The Carolingian kings and emperors of the 9th century had always married social inferiors, usually aristocrats from families within their own kingdoms with whom they wished to strengthen an alliance. Some of these queens were powerful; some left little more on the historical record than their names. But after the end of the empire in 888, one of the strategies used by kings representing the new dynasties struggling to project themselves as authentically royal was precisely to seek marriage with women from more prestigious royal families in neighbouring kingdoms. A practice which had in the early 9th century been expressly forbidden by Carolingian rulers anxious to limit the size of the royal family became, in the 10th, a routine dynastic strategy.” The historian Richer of Rhems in the early 990s claimed it was a matter of principle.

p. 2 Richer’s comment on the appropriate status of West Frankish queens was certainly informed by the spectacular power of the Ottonian empresses of his own day, whose careers and posthumous reputations mark them out as some of the most famous queens in medieval history. The Byzantine princess Theophanu, widow of Otto II, was in effect the ruler of the kingdom in place of her inant son between her husband’s death in 983 and her own in 991 – such was her status that we have a document of 990 dated to the years of her reign as ‘Theophanius imperator’”… her mother-in-law the Empress Aldelheid, was not only Otto I’s second wife but also a daughter, sister, mother, and widow of kings. She presided over three generations of Ottonian power in east Francia and Italy before her death in 999.”

Books History Women's history

Notes from The Lives of Tudor Women by Elizabeth Norton

p. 97 “The London draper’s wife, Katherine Fenkyll, had her own views on the subordinate position of wives, which she made very plain. A few years after she was widowed, in 1499, her ‘familiar and old acquaintance’ Joanne Johnson, a wealthy widow, came to visit her on confidential business. It was, she admitted, a delicate matter, since she had agreed to marry a gentleman, Robert Long of Windridge, but there was the small matter of both her personal effects and her debts. She had, she believed, around £500 in goods, including furniture, plate, money and jewels, which Long was anxious to acquire as his own property on their wedding day. Nonetheless, the widow wanted to protect herself.  She agreed with Katherine, as well as two other friends, that they would hide away £300 of the goods, intending to ‘cloak and colour the same’ from her husband so that she ‘might give and have or otherwise bestow the same at her liberty and pleasure. Instead of acquiring his new wife’s fabulous jewels, Long therefore found himself liable for her existing debts of more than £200. This was a bad bargain, and he was furious, rushing to the courts … Joanna Johnson, however, as a wife, could not be sued in court independently of her husband.She got off scot free.”

p. 100 “At the end of the Tudor years, in 1604, the aristocratic Eleanor, Lady Fettiplace, compiled a book of more than 200 recipes, complete with her marginal notes and amendments indicating that she had tried and tasted them herself. Inexperienced housewives of sufficient means could also make use of published texts, with Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife being particularly influential in the early 17th century. He considered that the first step to gaining a profound understanding of cookery was to ‘have knowledge of all sorts of herbs belonging to the kitchen, whether they be for the pot, for salads, for sauces, for servings, or for any other seasonings, or adorning. This the young wife should learn through her own labour and experience. She must know what to sow in her garden, and when to sow it.”

p. 102 “In 1511, two years into the reign of King Henry VIII, the widow Dame Katherine Fenkyll arrived at the Guildhall in London, accompanied by a young man named Henry Lenton … she confirmed before witnesses that she had taken him on as an apprentice… Two years later, Katherine Fenkyll returned again to the Guildhall, this time with Raynold Love in tow, who had also come to learn a trade from her.”

p. 103 “There was normally nothing in the way of legality to stop women taking the Freedom too – but very few did. One draper who, in 1570, arrived in the company’s hall with a female apprentice, seeking her Freedom, was turned away…This case caused much murmuring, since many in the company suspected that the woman did indeed have the right to be enrolled – but it was not a trend they wanted to encourage. Indeed, only 73 women are known to have been enrolled as apprentices in 16th-century London, among the many thousands of men… Girls could sometimes have their apprenticeships secured by charitable institutions: the destitute Margaret Gyllam, for example, who had been a patient at London St Thomas’s Hospital, was sent after her discharge to learn needlework and button-making with one John Delow and his wife in 1564.

p. 118 “Many of the more modest buildings occupied a small area of just one small room, before rising precariously high above the street. At ground level, there was usually a shop of some kind; on the floor above a hall, and then sleeping quarters higher still. Those people who were lucky enough to have a small yard squeezed into their property’s tiny footprint could keep the privy a reasonable distance from the main living quarters. For others, with no outside space, there was only the attic, leaving residents with a long trek upstairs to answer the call of nature. The inhabitants of these poorer dwellings though, did have one advnatge over the residences of their social superiors: the single chimney stack running up through the house, like a spine, allowed fireplaces in every room. .. a well in the yard behind the house meant that the well-to-do had a private water supply, rather than relying on the nearest street pump or conduit.”

p. 320 “The London hospitals not only took in women: they were staffed, in many respects, by women. Elizabeth Collston, possibly the wife of St Bartholomew’s hospital porter, was employed for more than 25 years as its matron, from 1597. She held a position of some authority, being in charge of all the women and children, as well as overseeing most of the female staff. The matron also took delivery of necessaries brought to the hospital, such as blankets and clothing for the inmates. The role of matron seems to have attracted capable, dedicated women. The first known matron was a widow named Rose Fisher, first appointed as a ‘sister’ of the hospital in 1551.. She was a no-nonsense woman, prepared to get her hands dirty. In 1552, for example, an order was given that all the ‘very feeble and sick’ inmates should eat in her presence, ensuring that she could monitor their sustenance. She also supervised the making of bed coverings for patients and the interrogating of pregnant inmates as to the father of their children, as well as being entrusted with money, collecting in bequests from charitable benefactors.”

p. 321 “Some forms of paid work could be a form of charity in themselves, and in this respect elderly women were often employed by their parishes to undertake work such as nursing care. One Mistress Peirson was paid by the parish of St Botolph’s in London to oversee the maid’s gallery in the church: she remained in office for at least 20 years and even after she had become blind… Older women, too, could find employment in the parish as ‘searchers,’ who were deputed by the parish clerk to view the bodies of the newly dead and make an appraisal of the cause … readily known to be susceptible to bribery and induced with ale, making their judgements hazy.”

Books History Women's history

Notes from Women and Political Insurgency: France in the Mid-Nineteenth Century by David Barry

p. 51 “The evidence about women arrested in June 1848 confirms in detail what contemporary writers say in general terms about accessory roles, but also reveals that some female participants plated a determined and assertive role … Forty of the 118 women convicted on the list in register F 2585 are known to have plated what may be termed a primary role in the June Days: specifically they built barricades, appeared armed on them, fired on troops from barricades or windows, sounded the alarm by ringing the local steeple bell, and organised the defence of their own quarter, including inciting men to battle. Undoubtedly some of these militant women were acting on political motives, and a few had a past history of insurgency. A 76-year-old veteran of previous revolutions, Veuve Anne-Marie Henry, a retired dressmaker, led women in the fighting on the barricade of Rue des Trois-Couronnes in Belleville. Described by the historian Pierre Dominique as ‘an old virago’, Veuve Henry demanded arms at the Mairie de Belleville with the dry ‘Kill and assassinate’. She threatened to stab those who dismantled the barricades, exclaiming ‘There they are, the brigands who took down the barricade, kill them.’ And declared that, had she had her knife to hand, she would have plunged it into their stomachs. In particular, she designated the home of a chandler named Lhomme for attack. A wood-carver, Elisabeth Guibal, of the Faubourg St Antoine, who had been wonded in the shooting on the Boulevard des Capucines on 23 February, lost her claim to a state pension when it was discovered that during the June Days she had run around the streets carrying a sabre, smashing gunshop windows in order to steal arms. Arrested on 25 June, Guibal was denounced by her whole neighbourhood for being constantly at the barricades of the Faubourg St Antoine, and attempting to terrorize the tenants of the quarter into joining the rebellion by threatening to set their houses on fire. … Augstine Falaise, a young piano-teacher of the Place des Vosges, (then still referred to as the Place Royale) tore up a pavement in the Rue du Temple with her two cousins, in Febrary 1848, for which action they earned the nickname Depauvesues; in June the three women helped erect barricades in the Rue Jarente and Rue du Val Ste Catherine, their radical affiliations leading many later to testify against them. Another woman with a revolutionary past who may well have participated in the June Days before evading arrest and disappearing for two years was Louise Bretagne, the veteran of 1830 and 1832. In 1848 she was living in the Rue Mouffetard and working as a washerwoman and was reported to be very poor and frequently drunk.
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Books History Politics Women's history

From Our Hidden Lives: The Everyday Diaries of a Forgotten Britain 1945-48 (ed) Simon Garfield

p. 74 Thursday 9 August, 1945, Edie Rutherford, (43 at the end of the war, a proud and sometimes sanctimonious housewife in Sheffield, married to a timber merchant and football fanatic, eager for news from her native South Africa,… delighted with the Labour government despite everything).
“Japan gets her second atomic bomb. How many more before she wakens? I brought up the subject of the new bomb at work yesterday. Horror of its power if definitely the chief reaction …All at work commented on the cost of this atomic bomb research and remembered the howl that always goes up if 2/6d weekly is suggested for adding to old-age pensions. We live in a mad world.”

p. 375 Wednesday 2 April , Maggie Joy Blunt, 1947 (a lyrical and talented writer in her mid-30s living in a cottage by Burnham Beeches, near Slough, eager to leave her job as a publicity assistant in a metals company, frustrated that she can’t put her public school and university training to better use) – she’ through the diaries trying to write an 18th-century biography, she eventually died as a retired bookseller, no book recorded).
“Sarah, of tolerant, liberal outlook, living in a very conservative, well-to do-country district where everyone grumbles as they do here, obtained via her MP a ticket for the House one evening and sat in the Members’ Gallery. Heard Eden and Shinwell and said it was very interesting, but thought they wasted too much time talking for the sake of it and on schoolboy backchat.”

p. 443 Tuesday, 2 September 1947 Maggie Joy Blunt
“We none of use really understand what it’s all about, what the Government is doing for the future. They are criticised for being in too much of a hurry, trying to impose their ideals too rapidly, yet future generations may bless their little hour of power.
Smallness of plaice. Fishmonger explained that young shoals were being netted instead of thrown back. “Soon the North Sea will be dry of fish – that’s what will happen.”

p. 455 Monday 6 October Maggie Joy Blunt
Last week, an article by Easterbrook in the Northern Chronicle on ‘Britain is Being Poisoned’ – our rivers polluted and creatures in it killed off by man’s carelessness. Now an RU book on man-eating tigers (by Jim Corbett) in which the author says that this magnificent beast is being threatened by extermination.; Man is a slovenly, careless, greedy creature allowed to live in a miraculously wonderful world, which he won’t appreciate.”