history

  •  fayeschulman e100d

    The role of women in World War II was huge, from the Bletchley Park codebreakers to the brave nurses that took to the battlefield and saved lives by the thousands. Yet it’s only now that we’re discovering many of these stories. That includes the lives of four women we’ll be looking at today. Women who overcame the odds thanks to their bravery, smarts, and a unending determination. Seriously, these women’s stories are inspirational badassery on steroids that will have you shouting, "Why isn’t this a movie!?!"

    SO, LET'S GET STARTED!!

    *warning: This does get pretty intense and bleak in place…because.. well, it’s war.

    1. FAYE SCHULMAN: THE GIRL WHO WOULD NOT BE SILENCED

    faye schulman close up 66a6fFaye Schulman 

    When Faye Schulman was 22, her entire family was murdered in a liquidation of a Polish ghetto. Faye alone was spared, thanks to her skills as a photographer, which the Nazis took advantage of, forcing her to develop pictures of their atrocities—including the murder of her own family. Determined to make sure people knew what happened to her family, Faye secretly kept copies of the pictures. She then resolved to escape and do everything she could to fight the Nazi regime.

    Miraculously, Faye managed to escape and  joined a band of partisan fighters, made up of escaped prisoners of war. But the group wasn't convinced they wanted Faye's company, partly because she was the only woman, and also because she had no military experience—in addition to a fear of blood and guns. She was not exactly the ideal rebel fighter, but Faye refused to give in. She worked her ass off overcoming her fears, as she learned to shoot and train in combat, all in addition to becoming a self-trained nurse after realizing that the nobody in the group had medical training.

    faye schulman with her fellow resistance fighters ec452Faye with her fellow resistance fighters 

    Throughout her time with the partisans, Faye saved countless civilian and military lives thanks to her new medical skills. She also took part in dozens of missions and raids to slow down the Nazis progress and rescue Jewish people. However, Faye's greatest accomplishment was her photography. Over the course of two years, Faye took hundreds of pictures, developing them under blankets, and even burying her camera and film in the woods to keep them out of enemy hands. She was determined that people see the the atrocities being carried out and the resistance fighting back, saying:

    "I WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW THAT THERE WAS RESISTANCE. JEWS DID NOT GO LIKE SHEEP TO THE SLAUGHTER. I WAS A PHOTOGRAPHER. I HAVE PICTURES. I HAVE PROOF."

    After the war, her photographs helped the world understand the horrors of the Nazi regime and the unsung efforts of the resistance. She continued working as a photographer and speaking out about her war experiences.

    faye schulman with her camera d7972Faye with her camera that helped change the world

    2. NOOR INAYAT KHAN: THE SPY PRINCESS

    noor inyat khan 21a16Noor Inayat Khan

     

    In 1943, Noor Inyat Khan became the first female secret radio operator sent to Nazi-occupied France. It was an incredible achievement, which was somewhat lessened by two things: the average survival rate for the job was six weeks, and gentle, emotional children’s author Noor was the last person you’d expect to take on such a deadly role…and survive.

     

    Noor had a lot of things going for her that made her the perfect spy. She was ridiculously smart, bilingual, and easily adaptable, but she was also sensitive and emotional, scatterbrained, and a literal princess, thus making her a visible target to enemies. Furthermore, as a firm pacifist, Noor refused to lie or use any form of violence: two pretty fundamental skills for being a spy. So, it’s not surprising that British Intelligence wasn't desperate to get her out on the field. Then the Nazis occupied France, and everything changed.

    Having spent her childhood in the France, Noor was determined to do everything she could to protect its citizens. She did a complete 180, training hard and building her skillset. Soon, she proved to be one of the most whip-smart and focused people in the history of British Intelligence. 

    Meryl Cheers GifYes, Noor!!!

    In 1943, Noor arrived in Paris, but within days of her arrival, every other radio operator was captured by the Nazis, leaving her alone on enemy soil. 

    But Noor stuck it out, knuckled down, and to everyone’s surprise, she fucking nailed it! She ran an entire radio network solo, intercepting messages and passing along vital intel, all while constantly on the run from the Nazis. When the British offered to evacuate Noor, she refused. Twice. Despite the danger, she wouldn’t leave her post unprotected. The sweet, gentle princess that nobody thought would last a week had proved herself to be a badass with bravery and intelligence beyond comparison.

    Clapping GifI'm just so damn proud

    Five months after Noor started her work, someone blew her cover and she was imprisoned by the Nazis. But in typical Noor fashion, she wouldn't let that stop her doing her work. Within hours of her capture, she snuck out her cell and leapt across rooftops to freedom.

    Sadly, the escape attempt didn’t work. Noor was caught and dragged back to her cell where she underwent intense interrogation, which turned into merciless beating. Still, she said nothing. Noor was kept shackled and starved in solitary confinement, her only contact being the soldiers who beat her on a daily basis. This was Noor's life for 10 months.

    noor 0f408

    Eventually, Noor and three other agents were transferred to Dachau, where they were to be executed. While the other agents were quickly beheaded, Noor was kept alive for one more day of torture in a final attempt at collecting information. She refused to give up any information, so on the 13th September 1944, Noor was executed.

    The last words of the woman that defied so many and saved even more:

    "LIBERTÉ!"

    noor inyat khan in uniform eda22

    3. SUZANNE SPAAK: MOTHER OF THE RESISTANCE

    suzanne spaak 12e3cSuzanne Spaak

    Suzanne was one of those women who was born to be a mom. As a proud mother of two, she lived for her children and filled their Paris home with laughter and love. And then World War II hit. Suddenly, the world wasn’t so bright. Suzanne's home had been invaded and all around her, families were being torn apart by the Nazi regime.

    Finding it increasingly difficult to do nothing, this housewife and mother joined the French Resistance in 1942. Other members of the resistance weren’t thrilled by the addition of a housewife and mother with no military experience. At best, she would be a failure. At worst, another body to them to clean up. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

    Suzanne was fearless. She refused to back down from any assignment, and when operations went tits up, it was Suzanne coming up with intelligence solutions to save the day. And she never stop proving the resistance wrong. Determined to get as many Jewish people to safety as possible, Suzanne risked everything to get ration cards and fake IDs for families. Using her motherly influence, she firmly reminded Paris’s religious elite and hospitals that they were morally bound to protect and house those in need. In other words, could they please get their shit together, do their damn job, and start housing Jewish refugees?! (Basically "do your homework" on a whole new level!)

    Suzanne wasn’t done, though. She helped lead an operation to save more than 60 Jewish children who had been marked for deportation. Hiding several children in her own home, Suzanne risked her own family's lives. Not only that, but she convinced others to do the same until all 60 children were saved. 

    Michelle Obama GifI mean, just the definition of a badass mom

    In 1943, Suzanne sensed that her arrest was imminent. She stayed calm (again, mom skills!) and passed along names of all the children and families she had yet to save, ensuring her work could continue. Suzanne was arrested and in 1944, she was executed. Her legacy lives on, and thanks to her, countless Jewish children and families escaped Paris alive.

    4. NANCY WAKE: THE FEARLESS MOUSE

    nancy wake cc50cNancy Wake, taking better pictures than you since 1942

     

    Nancy was a constant thorn in Hitler’s side. A glamorous, gun-toting spy with buckets of smarts and sass, she was soon number one on the Gestapo's most wanted list.

     

    Born into poverty in New Zealand, Nancy showed her steely determination from a young age. She stubbornly worked to make something of herself, training as a journalist and eventually marrying a Frenchman and moving to Paris. There, Nancy was forced to watch in horror as her newfound home was taken by the Nazis. She immediately moved into action. Working as a journalist, she’d witnessed Hitler’s rise firsthand. Once, on a trip to Vienna, Nancy had seen Hitler's Brownshirts mercilessly beat men and women in the streets. 

    Nancy knew one thing—she sure as fuck wasn’t letting that shit happen—not in her home! So she risked it all and joined the French Resistance, working as a courier and also rescuing RAF pilots. She sheltered them and at night got them across the border and the fuck out of dodge.

    nancy wake with gun 94a39

    Nancy was nicknamed "the White Mouse" for her ability to run rings around the Gestapo, but unfortunately, they soon caught up with her. The game of cat and mouse was over, and the Gestapo were all set to capture Nancy…but then she got word of the imminent arrest. She kissed her husband goodbye and went on the run, never seeing him again. The Nazis raided their home and tortured her husband, eventually killing him after he refused to disclose her whereabouts.This infuriated Nancy, and made her more determined. She later said:

    "IN MY OPINION, THE ONLY GOOD GERMAN WAS A DEAD GERMAN, AND THE DEADER, THE BETTER. I KILLED A LOT OF GERMANS, AND I AM ONLY SORRY I DIDN’T KILL MORE."

    Nancy traveled to Britain, where she became a Special Operations Executive. She trained in guerrilla warfare and eventually returned to France. In Englad, she lead thousands of Resistance fighters in successful battles to reclaim occupied towns. She raided supply lines, cut train lines, and once cycled over 300 miles in 70 hours to replace lost wireless codes! Basically, Nancy did everything she could to piss off the Nazis and stop their progress. She even claimed to have killed an SS with her bare hands!

    By the end of the war, Nancy was the most decorated Allied woman, dripping in medals from multiple countries. But she shrugged it off, sold the medals, and lived comfortably off the cash for the rest of her life, saying:

    "There’s no point in keeping them… I’ll probably go to hell and they’d melt anyway."

     

     

    This was really interesting! Where can I find out more?Well, let's break it down for each of the ladies:

    Faye Schulman: Faye has continued to talk about her experiences during WWII, and you can find an amazing video of Faye doing just that HERE!

    Noor Inayat Khan: There a few really great books on Noor, one of these is Spy Princess by Shrabani Basu. I think it does a really good job of showing Noor as a full person.

    Suzanne Spaak: We haven't read it yet, but Suzanne’s Children: A Daring Rescue in Nazi Paris by Anne Nelson came out recently. So fingers crossed, guys!

    Nancy Wake: You are really spoiled for choice here! Russell Braddons' Nancy Wake is an easy popcorn read on her (in fact several people in the Amazon comments initially thought it was a novel…). There's also a docu-drama on Nancy (the whole thing may currently be on YouTube…just saying)

    This post originally appeared on F Yeah History and is reprinted here with permission.

    Top photo: Faye Schulman

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  • cat 33667
    During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a time when electric streetcars shared the road with mounted riders, horse-drawn carriages, and streetcars pulled by teams of horses. Many interesting animal stories have come out of this brief period of crossover between horsepower and the rise of the modern machine. Naturally, the bulk of these stories feature horses, but one of the most bizarre accounts I have found involves not equines, but felines. According to the September 6, 1893 edition of the Edinburgh Evening News, 19th century cats in the city of San Francisco had “grown so big and so numerous as to constitute a nuisance and a menace.” The cause of their enormous size? The introduction of electric streetcars!

    Introduced to San Francisco on April 27, 1892, the SF & SM Railway (San Francisco and San Mateo Railway) was the city’s first electric streetcar system. According to Walter Rice at the Virtual Museum of San Francisco, the line ran from the “Union Ferry building at the foot of Market Street” via a circuitous route all the way to 30th Street. Electric power for the streetcars was supplied by “General Electric dynamos” and the motors were powered by “coal fired Corliss type stationary steam engines.”

    railwaycar 40968San Francisco and San Mateo Electric Railway Car, 19th Century.

    There was no electricity in the rails themselves, yet the 1893 Edinburgh Evening News reports that each evening, when the cars stopped running for the night, cats from all over the city would congregate at the tracks and lick the rails – with what some might call electrifying results. As the article relates:

    “Carefully selecting a suitable spot on the rail, the cat will lick the rail and then lie down upon it a few minutes. Pretty soon he will roll over and will stand with all four feet upon the rail and with wild eyes, arched back and distended tail, will yowl and dance, and amuse himself for an hour at a time.”

    horses 9d3beA Horsecar and an Electric Streetcar, New York

    So bizarre was this nightly occurrence that an “expert electrician” was consulted on the subject. The electrician’s opinion? The Edinburgh Evening News reports:

    “…he could not imagine what the cats could get out of the rails, but whatever it may be, the cats of the city are said to be attaining an enormous size, unheard of before, and to keep themselves in wonderful condition.”

    catstory 3b4fdEdinburgh Evening News, Sept. 6, 1893. (©2015 British Newspaper Archive)

    Is there any truth at all in this strange story? I really do not know. However, as someone born and raised in the California Bay Area, common sense tells me that if the cats congregated at the tracks at all, it was likely to curl up on them and absorb some residual warmth. San Francisco can be quite chilly in the fall and winter. As for cats yowling, dancing, and growing to an enormous size as yet unheard of in the 19th century? I’ll let you be the judge. 

    This piece was originally published on MimiMatthews.com and is reprinted with permission.

    top photo: Hissing Cat from Darwin’s Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, 1872.

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  • emma df768

    From the Regency era to the end of the 1860s, there was no fashion accessory as versatile and ubiquitous as the shawl. Available in all weights of fabrics, including silk, lace, muslin, and cashmere wool, and priced for all budgets, shawls graced the shoulders of women in every strata of society. They were no less well-represented in art and literature of the day. Shawls were referenced in the novels of such literary luminaries as Elizabeth Gaskell and William Makepeace Thackeray. They were also featured in countless portrait paintings, draping the figures of fashionable 19th century ladies of every age.

    portrait of olimpia c582osiowa 1818 1820 c5bc9Portrait of Olimpia Losiowa, 1818-1820

    The lightweight Empire-style gowns of the Regency era provided little protection against the elements.  As a result, shawls and wraps were a practical necessity. In Jane Austen’s novel Emma (1815), Miss Bates insists that her mother wear a shawl when she goes visiting. Miss Bates and her mother are not wealthy by any means. For them, the shawl as an accessory is purely utilitarian. As Miss Bates explains to her guests:

    I made her take her shawl—for the evenings are not warm—her large new shawl— Mrs. Dixon’s wedding-present.—So kind of her to think of my mother! Bought at Weymouth, you know—Mr. Dixon’s choice. There were three others, Jane says, which they hesitated about some time.

    portrait of an unknown woman by alexander molinari 1800 517ddPortrait of an Unknown Woman by Alexander Molinari, 1800

    For those ladies of means, a shawl could be as fashionable as it was eminently practical. The 1806 edition of La Belle Assemblée describes the current fashion in shawls as follows:

    Large shawls of silk or mohair were also much worn, and in various shapes; some in the form of a flowing mantle, appending from the shoulders, with a hood; others à la Turque; others again square.  But the most elegantly simple style of either the shawl or Egyptian mantle that arrested the fancy, were those of plain or japanned white muslin, with a large Egyptian border of deep green, in tambour or embroidery.

    a variety of wearing shawls in early 19th century france lithograph 1802 1814 768x658 c7f33A Variety of ways of Wearing Shawls in early 19th century France, Lithograph, 1802-1814

    The fashion in shawls changed little over the years. A plain background with a variegated border was still the ideal. The 1812 issue of La Belle Assemblée reports that for winter dress fashions:

    …a fine cashemire [sic] shawl, with brown background, and richly variegated border, is generally thrown over the dress, in which is united both comfort and elegance.

    And for the spring dress fashions:

    …over these is thrown, in elegant drapery, a long Indian shawl of the scarf kind, the colour of the palest Ceylon ruby, the ends enriched by a variegated border…

    portrait of a young lady in a red dress with a paisley shawl by eduard friedrich leybold 1824 768x967 d707aPortrait of a Young Lady in a Red Dress with a Paisley Shawl by Eduard Friedrich Leybold, 1824.

    Throughout much of the 19th century, cashmere (or Kashmir) shawls were at the forefront of elegant fashion in scarves and wraps.  Made from the wool of the sheep in the Kashmir region of India, they were as luxuriously soft as they were warm. In William Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair (1848), Amelia Sedley’s brother Joseph brings her back two white cashmere shawls from India. These shawls are much coveted by Becky Sharp. Thackeray writes:

    When Rebecca saw the two magnificent Cashmere shawls which Joseph Sedley had brought home to his sister, she said, with perfect truth, ‘that it must be delightful to have a brother,’ and easily got the pity of the tender-hearted Amelia for being alone in the world, an orphan without friends or kindred.

    portrait of carolina frederica kerst by charles van beveren 1830 768x926 a8b56Portrait of Carolina Frederica Kerst by Charles Van Beveren, 1830.

    As the century progressed, ladies' fashions evolved. Skirts grew bigger and so did sleeves. Waistlines lowered, and instead of a single petticoat, a lady now wore several. One might expect shawls and wraps to have become less popular. Women were surely warmer now in all their layers. However, as a fashion accessory the shawl continued to be as vitally important to a woman’s dress as it ever had–and those shawls and wraps from India still reigned supreme.

    In Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South (1855), Margaret Hale is asked to model her aunt’s collection of “beautiful Indian shawls.” Gaskell writes:

    [Margaret] touched the shawls gently as they hung around her, and took a pleasure in their soft feel and their brilliant colours, and rather liked to be dressed in such splendour— enjoying it much as a child would do, with a quiet pleased smile on her lips.

    a lady in a white dress and shawl before a viennese landscape by ferdinand georg waldmc3bcller mid 19th century 36b85A lady in a white dress and shawl before a Viennese landscape by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, mid-19th century

    The shawls in North and South had been given to Margaret’s aunt upon her marriage and were now being given to Margaret’s cousin, Edith, upon hers. A generation had not diminished their value. As one guest says whilst admiring them:

    Helen had set her heart upon an Indian shawl, but really when I found what an extravagant price was asked, I was obliged to refuse her.  She will be quite envious when she hears of Edith having Indian shawls. What kind are they? Delhi? with the lovely little borders?

    portrait of elizabeth wethered barringer by federica de madrazo 1852 f3791Portrait of Elizabeth Wethered Barringer by Federica de Madrazo, 1852

    Shawls and wraps are well represented in all the works of Charles Dickens, from the “pinched bonnet and poor little shawl” of Miss Flyte in Bleak House (1852) to the grand aspirations of Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations(1860). In the latter novel, Pip relates a conversation with Herbert which gives us some insight into the continuing popularity of the Indian shawl:

    "I think I shall trade," said [Herbert], leaning back in his chair, "to the East Indies, for silks, shawls, spices, dyes, drugs, and precious woods.  It’s an interesting trade."

    "And the profits are large?" said I.

    "Tremendous!" said he.

    I wavered again, and began to think here were greater expectations than my own.

    portrait of fanny holman hunt by william holman hunt 1866 1867 724x1024 a615cPortrait of Fanny Holman Hunt by William Holman Hunt, 1866-1867

    By the 1870s, the popularity of the cashmere shawl was in decline. This had less to do with the dictates of fashion and more with global politics and famine. As Sir Walter Roper Lawrence writes in his book The Valley of Kashmir (1895):

    The shawl industry is now unfortunately a tradition—a memory of the past. The trade received its deathblow when war broke out between Germany and France in 1870, and I have been told by an eye-witness of the intense excitement and interest with which the Kashmiri shawl-weavers watched the fate of France in that great struggle—bursting into tears and loud lamentations when the news of Germany’s victories reached them.

    He goes on to write that any hope of the shawl weaving industry being revived was dashed when famine visited the Valley of Kashmir in 1877-1879. According to Lawrence, none suffered so greatly during that famine than the poor shawl-weavers.

    This did not mean that shawls and wraps as a whole were unpopular. Whether made of gauze, silk, or lace, a well-draped shawl was still an integral part of women’s fashions well into the 20th century. Even today, shawls and wraps have their place in the wardrobe of any well-dressed lady. And as you can see from the portraits I have included, precious little about the patterns and draping of shawls has changed since the early Regency.

    the shawl by charles sprague pearce 1900 bf8eaThe Shawl by Charles Sprague Pearce, 1900

    In closing, I will add that for an author of historical romance a shawl can be a wonderful prop. How many times has a critical conversation been overheard by a young lady who has returned to a room to retrieve the shawl she had left behind? And how many times has a gentleman been sent out to the carriage or back into the house to fetch his lady’s forgotten wrap? There are impoverished characters who disguise an old gown with a decorative shawl and wanton characters who greet their lover wearing a shawl and nothing else. Classic literature provides us with countless examples of how to utilize a shawl as a prop or plot device and historical romance novels provide us with many more. The only limit is your imagination.

    Top Image: Emma (1996)

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  • crinoline1 3efb7

    Unfortunately, discussion and dissection of women’s clothing is something of a historic tradition – and many aspects of what it is to dress like a women having remained the same for centuries. Here’s just a glimpse into how women were expected to dress throughout history.

    Beauty is pain

    To be beautiful is to be in pain, a fact anybody who has ever worn heels for more than 3 hours can attest to. This is, of course, nothing new, from bruise-inducing heavy fabrics to mantuas that required hinges to allow for the wearer to get into and out of carriages (and don’t even start on managing doors!).

    Being really bloody uncomfortable goes part in parcel with being on trend. Of course, these trends have also proved deadly. Yes, the thing that makes you beautiful can also be a weapon: corsets, of course, are famed for their organ-mangling powers, but crinolines were also a very lethal culprit.

    Unsuspecting wearers would catch themselves on a candle and the whole crinoline would go up in flames. To make matters worse, the crinoline’s design prevented the victim from putting the fire out themselves, and any crinoline-clad bystanders were also hampered down by their large skirts and rendered powerless to help – all they could do was watch their friend burn alive within their dress. In 1864, one Dr. Lancaster reported a supposed 2,500 people in London alone suffered this fiery end.

    3 fire at ballet 1861 660x448 be44bThis actually happened in 1861 in Philadelphia: 9 ballerinas died. Crinoline fires, arguably worse than chip pan fires.

    You are what you wear

    When you read any book about the wives of Henry Vlll, you will quickly realize the wives’ hoods are an indicator of who they are as people: Anne Boleyn with her rule-breaking and saucy French hood, Jane Seymour trying to appease with her plain and ungainly English hood, etc., etc., etc. The clothes are packaged as an integral part of these women’s core identity.

    anne boleyn 231x300 c5665

    1a c2289

    Even executions of women in this period turn into a (blood-soaked) runway. Catherine Howard, newly conservative but still glamorous in dark velvet; Lady Jane Grey, pious in black; and Mary, Queen of Scots, working rebellious martyr chic in crimson. What you wear is who you are, even if that could not be further from the truth.

    Margaret Cavendish, forerunner of Science Fiction, poet,and one of the first philosophers to really dive into the gender divide was maligned by her peers. She was seen as a bimbo.

    image091 2fe59

    Cavendish loved fashion and dressed vividly and eccentrically. Samuel Pepys described her as ‘conceited and ridiculous’ and her ‘dress so antic’: one of the greatest minds of her time overlooked, because her dress was a bit out there. But don’t worry, Pepys also describes her as a ‘good comely woman,’ so everything’s fine, really.

    The sex is in the heel

    If you are a woman then, at some point, you will have been told that you are dressing too provocatively (you bitch) or not provocatively enough (you bitch). Yes, the debate on putting it away vs. putting it out there is long and aged and something everyone, apparently, has some kind of stake in.

    What is permitted for women to wear is somewhat cyclical. There is a fine line between what is seen as ‘attractive’ and ‘slutty’ but it is a line that keeps on fucking running all over the pitch.

    For example, if you were a woman in the court of Charles ll, then your neckline would be low to the extent that nipple paint would be a thing in your life – go and find any portrait of a bright young thing of this court and you will find an image of a woman barely containing her breasts (if they aren’t just out and roaming free). It seems like the birth place of liberal love for the raw female form, free the nipple and all that…but, for the love of Christ, don’t show an ankle, because a naked breast was one thing but a naked ankle was seen as scandal itself.

    Sexual fetishization was also ripe in Victorian England. What we now think of as the a bastion of sexual repression was actually incredibly sex-obsessed (seriously, Victorians LOVED their porn). But, like today, sexuality was a nuanced minefield.

    Take our old friend the corset. It was seen as key to maintaining the ideal female figure: a waspish waist, curvy hips, and breasts. A narrative was created around this fashion, and it became a sign that you were someone, feminine, rich, desirable, demure, and sophisticated all at once. Yet at the same time, the corset became a symbol of loose morals: it pushed up the cleavage and alluded to the hips and vagina.

    To dress like a woman is a myth and one far more complicated than I have been able to touch on in this (another time, perhaps). It is an ever-changing goalpost built on cultural expectations and outdated stereotypes. It exists…it clearly very much still exists (hey again, Mr. President!) but it doesn’t have to be something we adhere to. We can look at history and notice the rule breakers, the women that created their own fashions and lived how they chose. 

    This article originally appeared on F Yeah History and has been reprinted with permission.

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  •  

    mpress wu zetian 1 daad0

    Today, we’re going to take a look at China’s first female Emperor in 3,000 years of Chinese history (!!!): Wu Zetian. A lady whose life was full of sex, scandal, murder and a neverending quest for ALL OF THE POWER.

    Born in the 7th century, Wu started life lower down the social ladder. Her dad was a general and she began her career at the court of the Emperor Taizong as a concubine.

    Wu worked for him until his death, at which stage the concubines were supposed to spend the rest of their lives in a convent – fuck that.

    Wu ran away from the convent and went back to the court of Taizong’s son Gaouzong, starting off as a consort to the new Emperor, who was—to be frank—abbout as useful as a chocolate teapot. She advised him on pretty much everything from politics to who he kept on as advisers.

    Wu was now the top concubine, but this wasn’t enough for her. She wanted to be the Emperor’s wife!

    IT’S MURDER AT THE TOP


    Wu needed to get the current wife, Empress Wang, out of the way, so she devised a harrowing plan to put Wang in an early grave and get herself on the throne.

    She (allegedly) strangled her own infant daughter and framed the Empress for the crime.

    a3ebaba0 c277 4abe a509 0b25a2f69191 6f2eevia Giphy

    We don’t really know if the child died at Wu’s hand, or if Wu just took advantage of the death for her own gains. But we do know that, unbelievably, it worked!

    The Empress Wang AND her poor mother (?!?) were executed. Not long after that, Wu and the Emperor got hitched. 

    When the Emperor passed away in 683, Wu saw her chance to take over. Though Wu’s son became the Emperor Zhongzong, she kept power by being Empress Dowager.

    Sadly for Zhongzhong, his reign only lasted 6 weeks, because he wouldn’t do as he was told. Wu was the real boss here, so she overthrew Zhongzhong and plonked another one of her sons on the throne.

    26d62fa4 12c6 42ca 8f6e b6db910d6f37 6af9cvia Giphy

    This son behaved himself, but Wu decided she was the one doing all the work, so she should have the title. In 690, Wu declared herself Emperor.

    To make sure she kept the throne, Wu set about destroying all families with any claim to it. She executed dozens of people, wiping out entire family lines. Then, to keep control over the court, Wu had a series of spies who reported all information and gossip back to her.

    Empress Wu held onto her power for over half a century, even before her 15 years as Empress (690-705 to be exact). Her time as a ruler was marked by a period of economic growth and stability that rippled out into the next century. The Tang Dynasty (all of whom were her descendants) that came after her is seen as a golden period in China’s history.

    HERE’S THE THING…

    There’s lots of different tales of Empress Wu’s treachery and bloodlust, but we need to remember that at the time it was unthinkable to have a woman in charge. People found it abhorrent, and historians at the time wanted to paint her as a disgrace and an abomination.

    d6125e5b 9d80 4122 9337 6175625a1f46 07932via Giphy

    There’s no doubt Wu did some pretty questionable shiz to get hold of power and keep it (baby murder framing remains not okay) but none more so that many male rulers in China’s long and illustrious history.

    We should look at Wu as an exception to the rule: she was clever and driven and, unthinkably for a woman at the time, she managed to hold onto power for decades.

    No, she isn’t going to win any Nobel Peace prizes, but she’s still an interesting figure who deserves to be remembered.

    We don’t just want to look back at the women who were “good.” We want a whole picture: good, bad, and everything in between.

    This post originally appeared on F Yeah Historyand is reprinted here with permission.

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  • no walk today by wright barker 1864e280931941 9570e

    The Rough Collie is one of the most recognizable dog breeds in the world. This is largely due to English author Eric Knight who, in a 1938 short story, created what is arguably the greatest literary heroine of all time–Lassie.

    pal as lassie close up 1942 471d2Photograph of Pal as Lassie, 1943

     In 1940, Knight’s short story was expanded to novel length and published under the title Lassie Come Home. In 1943, MGM adapted the novel to the screen. Starring Roddy McDowell, Elizabeth Taylor, and a male Collie by the name of Pal in the role of Lassie, it was a resounding success, inspiring eleven additional movies over the next sixty years.

    Lassie was not the first famous literary Collie. In his 1919 novel, Lad: A Dog, American author Albert Payson Terhune introduced his own Rough Collie, Lad, through a series of twelve short stories. The novel was a bestseller, selling well over a million copies, and Warner Brothers adapted it to film in 1962. Though the film was not as successful as Lassie, the novel still remains popular today.

    rough coated collie by james ward 1809 f9a38Rough Coated Collie by James Ward, 1809

    In the 1800s, Collies were far from the glamorous beauties we have become used to on the silver screen. In fact, an 1825 entry in An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language by John Jamieson defines the word Collie as “the vulgar name for the shepherd’s dog” or “a cur dog.” It goes on to quote an item from an 1806 Edinburgh newspaper:

    “There was lost in Prince’s Street, on Saturday the 28th December last, a black and white rough coley, or shepherd’s dog.”

    “Coll” was a common name for Scottish dogs in the 19th century. Some attribute it to the following passage from Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest’s Tale (14th century) in which the word Colle appears to be used as a proper noun: 

    This sely widwe, and eek hir doghtres two,

    Herden thise hennes crye and maken wo,

    And out at dores sterten they anoon,

    And syen the fox toward the grove goon,

    And bar upon his bak the cok away;

    And cryden, ‘Out! harrow! and weylaway!

    Ha, ha, the fox!’ and after him they ran,

    And eek with staves many another man;

    Ran Colle our dogge, and Talbot, and Gerland,

    And Malkin, with a distaf in hir hand;

    Ran cow and calf, and eek the verray hogges

    So were they fered for berking of the dogges.

    robert burns by alexander nasmyth 1787 1dc3bRobert Burns by Alexander Nasmyth, 1787

    In the same poem by Chaucer, the fox is referred to as “A col-fox ful of sly iniquitee.” Some interpret this as meaning a black fox. Others disagree, claiming that the “col” in col-fox means cunning.

    However the name Collie originated, we see it used to describe the Highland shepherd’s dogs of Scotland from as early as the 18th century. In his poem The Twa Dogs (1786), Scottish poet Robert Burns famously writes of a ploughman’s Collie. The opening lines are as follows:

     The Twa Dogs

    TWAS in that place o’ Scotland’s isle,

    That bears the name o’ Auld King Coil,

    Upon a bonnie day in June,

    When wearing thro’ the afternoon,

    Twa dogs that were na thrang at hame,

    Forgather’d ance upon a time.

    The first I’ll name, they ca’d him Caesar,

    Was keepit for his Honour’s pleasure:

    His hair, his size, his mouth, his lugs,

    Shew’d he was nane o’ Scotland’s dogs;

    But whalpit some place far abroad,

    Where sailors gang to fish for Cod.

    His locked, letter’d, braw brass collar,

    Shew’d him the gentleman and scholar;

    But though he was o’ high degree,

    The fient a pride na pride had he;

    But wad hae spent an hour caressin,

    Ev’n wi’ a tinkler-gypsey’s messin.

    At kirk or market, mill or smiddie,

    Nae tawted tyke, tho’ e’er sae duddie,

    But he wad stan’t, as glad to see him,

    And stroan’t on stanes an’ hillocks wi’ him.

    The tither was a ploughman’s collie

    A rhyming, ranting, raving billie

    Wha for his friend an’ comrade had him,

    And in his freaks had Luath ca’d him,

    After some dog in Highland sang,

    Was made lang syne—Lord knows how lang.

    a special pleader by charles burton barber 1893 88c5eA Special Pleader by Charles Burton Barber, 1893

    Collies are also mentioned several times in Bannockburn: A Novel (1821). A Scottish story published by an anonymous author, it places the Collie in an authentic Highland setting:

    “There the noise of his hoofs against the rude pavement drew forth the angry howl of a collie dog which had crept for shelter underneath the tartan plaid of a robust looking Highland soldier…”

    And my own favorite bit of quoted dialogue from Bannockburn:

    “I hae greetit my een out for fear o’ the weird woman or Shellycoat coming here, and only me i’ the house, forbye the collie and the cat.”

    sharp queen victorias favourite collie aged 8 years 1872 7b4caSharp, Queen Victoria's favorite Collie, 1872 (Royal Trust Collection)

    During a trip to the Highlands in the mid-19th century, Queen Victoria was deeply impressed by the Collie’s intelligence, loyalty, and sensitivity. She added a Collie to her retinue of royal pets. From then on, the breed was one of her particular favorites. Biographer Sarah Tooley writes:

    “Her Majesty has a special fondness for collies, and among these faithful animals ‘Noble’ and ‘Sharp’ were for many years chief favourites, and always travelled with her to and from Balmoral. ‘Noble,’ [the queen] writes in her diary, ‘is the most biddable dog I ever saw. He will hold a piece of cake in his mouth without eating it, until he may. If he thinks we are not pleased with him, he puts out his paws and begs in such an affectionate way.’”

    It should be noted that the Queen’s Collies, Noble and Sharp, bear far more resemblance to Border Collies than they do to Rough Collies. It raises the question: how much of the literature of the 18th and 19th century which refers to Collies was, in fact, referring to Border Collies? Since no differentiation is made, it is difficult to tell.

    official portrait of first lady grace coolidge with her white collie 1924 by howard chandler christy 65872Official Portrait of First Lady Grace Coolidge with her white Collie by Howard Chandler Christy, 1924

    In any case, Queen Victoria is credited by many with elevating the status of the Collie from mere shepherd’s dog or cur to elegant, society canine. Dr. O. P. Bennet describes this elevation of status in his book The Collie:

    “It became a common sight to see the fashionable ‘Collie companion,’ spick and span, well groomed, revealing a life of luxury, fulfilling, with all the alacrity of satisfaction, the mission of accompanying its owner on his customary ambulations.”

    The American Kennel Club first recognized the Collie as a breed in 1885. Today, they rank the Collie as the 35th most popular breed in the United States. It is easy to see why. Collies are graceful, sensitive, dignified, and sharply intelligent. Some still work on farms herding sheep and keeping an eye on livestock. Others have had the herding instinct all but bred out of them. Either way, they are one of the most wonderful breeds of dog ever created and, though they may not go so far as saving you from a well (à la Lassie), I have never known anyone who regretted having a Collie as a member of their family.

    elizabeth taylor and pal lassie come home 1943 ec1ffElizabeth Taylor and Pal in Lassie Come Home, 1943

    This post originally appeared onMimiMatthews.com and is reprinted here with permission. 

    Top Image: No Walk Today by Wright Barker (1864-1941)

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  • mary queen of scots header e1547725764711 c9a6e

    By 1586 Mary, Queen of Scots had been imprisoned by her cousin, Elizabeth I, for almost two decades.

    She’d lost her throne in 1657, having been forced to abdicate in favor of her baby. Then, after fleeing Scotland for safety in England, she’d been (at least in her mind) royally screwed over. Instead of helping Mary regain the Scottish throne, Elizabeth had her locked up. 

    Mary was a serious threat to Elizabeth’s rule. Viewed by Catholics as the true Catholic ruler of England, there was many a plot to bump off Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne. 

    Thus, Mary was imprisoned, spending year after year dragged around England, locked up in its various castles.

    So you can see why, approaching her 20th year of imprisonment, Mary eagerly took part in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth.

    Enter: The Babington Plot. Put together by young nobleman Anthony Babington and priest John Ballard, along with other conspirators, the plot was an incredibly convoluted scheme to:

  • Start a Spanish invasion
  • Kill Elizabeth I
  • Put Mary on the throne
  • Return England to Catholicism
  • While, locked away, Mary advised the plotters, both in terms of strategy and how to ensure she’d win the English throne. And naturally, as the “rightful” ruler of England, Mary would be the one to sign off on the plot starting. Which she did, in July 1586.

    Unfortunately for Mary, the plot had been infiltrated and Elizabeth I’s own spy master, Sir Francis Walsingham, had been using the letters to entrap Mary and get her to call for Elizabeth’s murder—which, by signing off for the plot to go ahead, she’d done.

    Everyone involved with The Babington Plot, including Mary, was duly arrested.

    img 4382 ceef8The Babington Plot postscript and its secret cypher

    In September 1586 the first of the conspirators were executed, including ringleaders John Ballard and Anthony Babington. Onlookers said that by the time Ballard arrived at the execution site, his limbs were barely in their sockets as a result of the torture he’d undergone.

    One at a time, the men were hung, drawn, and quartered, forced to watch their fellows’ dismemberment before their own death. The executions were so brutal that a public outcry meant the other conspirators were just “hung until they were quite dead”before being dismembered.

    With that bloodbath over, the attention turned to Mary. What could be done with the traitorous Queen?

    The idea of executing a Queen was very possible. After all, Elizabeth’s own mother, Anne Boleyn, had been beheaded. But this wasn’t a outcome that Mary entertained.

    In her mind, she had been anointed by God to reign. That was something holy and untouchable. There was no law in the land that could hold jurisdiction over her; the only judgement she was accountable to was God’s.

    However, it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t God’s holy anointed Mary going on trial for treason, but (as the royal warrant for the trial put it) Mary, a mere woman who was:

    Pretending title to this crown of this realm of England.

    img 4378 25205

    Mary’s trial hearing started on October 14, 1586, though it operated as less of a trial and more of a really long argument between Mary and those convicting her.

    To say Mary would have made an excellent lawyer would be an understatement. She rallied hard, with a stream of well thought-out and articulated arguments, always ready with something to fight the prosecutions, threats, and refusals to acknowledge her words.

    Mary’s arguments included:

  • That she wasn’t an English subject, and therefore couldn’t be held as an English traitor; 
  • She’d been denied legal counsel or the right to view evidence being bought against her;
  • And did she mention, she was a Queen? Anointed by God? It would literally be a sin to kill her.
  • After Mary’s hearing was finished, the trial was adjourned to The Star Chamber, leaving Mary at Forgeringay Castle. Then on October 25, the trial was completed…without anyone telling Mary.

    The trial’s commissioners found Mary guilty of treason. And together with Parliament, they urged Elizabeth to execute Mary as quickly as humanly possible.

    BUT Elizabeth didn’t want to execute Mary.

    img 4383 22b12 

    Though there’d been a lot of bad blood between the pair of Queens, there had also been a kind of respect. They were so similar in so many ways, cousins thrust into positions of power, considered above their gender. No matter how begrudging, there was a bond there.

    After Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley, died in an incredibly suspicious explosion, Elizabeth wrote to Mary, urging her to distance herself from the scandalous tragedy, as:

    ‘I treat you as my daughter, and assure you that if I had one, I could wish for her nothing better than I desire for you.”

    But even more important than the bond Elizabeth shared with Mary, she didn’t want to execute her because it set a deadly precedent: to lawfully kill a sovereign.

    Elizabeth had hoped she’d be able to pardon her cousin, that Mary would beg for forgiveness. But none of that happened.

    As pressure mounted from her councillors and parliament, Elizabeth had no choices left. On February 1, 1587, she signed Mary’s death warrant. With the warrant signed, Elizabeth’s councillors decided to carry out the execution immediately – without telling Elizabeth.

    On the evening of February 7, Mary was visited at her prison of Fotheringhay Castle and told she was to die the next morning.

    Her last hours were spent both in prayer and sorting out her affairs. Sleeping would be near impossible, thanks to the incessant loud hammering as the execution scaffold was hastily erected.

    Early on the morning of February 8, Mary serenely entered the castle’s great hall to face the scaffold. And after that, everything turned into a shit show.

    img 4380 f7704Mary bids her servants farewell in a 19th century re-imagining (which explains the sheer drama here)

    To kick things off, Mary was curtly informed that she was to go to her death alone. This was a shock.Traditionally, women of Mary’s status were allowed their ladies around them on the scaffold. They not only gave one last herald of the condemned’s status. But, perhaps more importantly, the women provided comfort before the axe fell and then shielded the broken body, offering dignity in death by not subjecting the woman to being stripped by men for burial.

    To be rejected this right at the last minute was a huge blow.

    Though she maintained a calm exterior, Mary begged to be allowed her ladies. She was rejected, but refused to give up, pleading for this, her final right.

    Eventually, the councillors gave in on condition that Mary’s ladies didn’t loudly weep, wail, or generally erupt into female hysteria.

    And so Mary climbed the stairs of the scaffold, her ladies in tow.

    As Mary waited for the death sentence to be read out, a man burst forth from the crowd. Dr. Fletcher, The Protestant Dean of Peterborough, proclaimed that it wasn’t too late for Mary to save her soul and convert from Catholicism to the Protestant faith.

    Mary ignored his loud protestations and prayers, until eventually breaking and saying:

    ‘Mr. Dean, trouble not yourself any more, for I am settled and resolved in this my religion, and am purposed therein to die.’

    In response, the Dean fell to his knees on the scaffold’s stairs and started loudly praying at her. Mary politely turned away and began her own prayers.

    Despite the Dean’s complete inability to read a room, Mary finished her prayers. With this over she stood, readying herself for this final act of ceremony.

    She paid the executioner, forgiving him in advance for what he was about to do. Then, Mary’s ladies helped her remove her black gown, revealing a red petticoat with deep crimson sleeves. 

    This color wasn’t a a random choice, but the red of Catholic martyrdom. Mary was making a clear statement – she was anointed by God, to kill her was a sin, and in death, she would become a holy martyr.

    the execution of mary queen of scots artist unknown 1 3e711The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. Artist unknown.

    The wordless statement from Mary’s blood red petticoat rang throughout the great hall, even as Mary was blindfolded, head laid on the block, and arms stretched wide to signal the executioner’s axe.

    The first blow hit the back of her head.

    Accounts vary on if Mary cried out from the pain or remained silent. However, as this was a chop wound (a mix of sharp force and blunt force trauma) it’s most likely that Mary felt excruciating pain for a few seconds before losing consciousness.

    The axe’s second blow hit her neck, severing it almost entirely, with one third chop needed to separate Mary’s head from her body.

    The executioner then picked Mary’s head up by the hair, held it forth to the crowd and proclaimed,

    ‘God save the Queen’

    At which point, he lost grip on the head as Mary’s wig fell off, revealing her greying hair (something people were shocked about, despite the fact she was 44 and they’d just witnessed her bloody execution).

    And with that macabre farce, the story of Mary Queen of Scots came to an end. 

    lexecution de marie stuart reine decosse 1791 3bd5b

    This article originally appeared on F Yeah History and is reprinted here with permission.

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  • lucilla e1502622327699 ad7a8

    The life of Empress Lucilla is one that can be read a myriad of ways, and history has had a crack at all of them. She’s been a scheming bitch, a jealous scheming bitch, and also an innocent (and occasionally scheming) maternal type. But, as with anything, life isn’t that black and white. In fact, the life of Lucilla is more shades of grey. Was she an innocent? No. Was she a stone cold bitch? No. Was she a schemer extrodinare? Hell yes!

    The daughter of acclaimed Emperor Marcus Aerilius, Lucilla was just one in a line of Roman political powerhouses. As such, she was quickly married off. Daddy Emperor picked a suitably auspicious spouse… his co-ruler, Lucius Verus (who, FYI, happened to be twice his young bride's age…).

    And so overnight, teenage Lucilla became Empress Lucilla.

    yass queen gif 0f257Go get it, Luci 

     

    Going through puberty and finding your place at the helm of a global super power may not seem like a great pairing, but Lucilla blossomed in her new role.

    Intelligent and charismatic, she learned on the job. When her husband was away, she’d cover for him, picking up essential skills in diplomacy and negotiations, and generally becoming a political badass in her own right. Soon, Lucilla was one of the Roman Empire's most powerful and influential women.

    overnight success gif 907b4

     

    But then Lucius Verus died and, sans husband, Lucilla was stripped of her role as Empress.

    Overnight, all Lucilla’s power and influence turned to dust. The same could not be said for her younger brother, Commodus, who was set to become the first emperor in Roman history chosen for his birthright (as Marcus Aerilius' son) rather than actual aptitude.

    emperor commodus dda66I know what you're thinking, what a totally normal and sane-looking future ruler!

    This wasn’t a great plan—you see, Commodus had all the ingredients of a super dick He was handsome (and very aware of it), easily influenced, with a quick temper and a petty bloodlust to rival Joffrey… Actually, thinking about it, in many ways he is proto-, real-world Joffrey!

    joffery gif f4445This fucking prick, though.

     

    Unsurprisingly, megalomaniac dicks without the smarts to back up their ass-hattery do not make great rulers.

    In the words of Roman historian and Com’s contemporary, Dio Cassius, Commodus' reign saw Rome turn:

    "FROM A KINGDOM OF GOLD TO ONE OF IRON AND RUST."

    Lucilla was not here for this.

    lucilla e1502622327699 ad7a8Lucilla

     

    By the time Commodus came into power, Lucilla was remarried to politician Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus Quintianus (who had the world's longest name and was, once more, twice Lucilla’s age).

    The marriage to Quintianus gave Lucilla nowhere near the political influence she once had. (Though to be fair, the only way she’d have gotten that back is if she’d married her brother…ick.)

    Without power or influence, the only choice Lucilla had was to helplessly watch as her brother slowly but surely fucked up the Roman Empire.

    OR she could have her brother murdered… Lucilla went for option 2.

    bold choice gif c4adfBold choice

     

    Working with the head of the Praetorian Guard (the Emperor's Guard) and other politicians and family members (including Lucilla's own daughter) who had all had it with Commodus, Lucilla hatched a plan to murder her little brother.

    The nephew of Lucilla's husband, also named Quintianus, was hired as the assassin. During a series of games Commodus was holding, Junior Quintianus was to hide in the shadows of the Colloseum. Commodus would walk past unaccompanied, and it would be then that Juinor Quintianus would dispatch him from behind.

    Not exactly a groundbreaking assassination plot, but one that would do the job.

    The day of the games came. Junior Quintianus hid in the colloseum. A lone Commodus walked past, and Junior Quintianus leapt out of his hiding place, dagger brandished, shouting:

    "THIS IS WHAT THE SENATE HAS SENT YOU!"

    Commodus then tackled Junior Quintianus to the ground and the assassination attempt was foiled.

    LIFE LESSON: DO NOT SHOUT YOUR ULTRA SECRET MURDER PLANS AT PEOPLE AS YOU’RE MEANT TO BE QUIETLY SNEAKING UP ON THEM.

    also dont hire some guys cousin 5db14Also don't ever hire some guy's cousin (via Giphy)

     

    LUCILLA WAS QUICKLY CAUGHT.

    As she was his sister, Commodus chose not to execute Lucilla. But he couldn’t have her running around Rome anymore, so Lucilla and her daughter were exiled to Capri (a pretty nice exile vacay if you can get it!).

    A year later, with Lucilla safely exiled…naturally, Commodus ordered her execution. A soldier was sent to Capri, where both Lucilla and her daughter were quietly murdered.

    Commodus was now free to be an ass-hat, which he did to the extent that he is now credited with the downfall of the Roman Empire.

    commodus gif 1a907*cue all the sarcastic clapping*

     

    This was really interesting! Where can I find out more?Well, there aren’t really any books on just Lucilla. But while researching this, I found a really interesting book series: A Woman and Her Master by Sydney Morgan. Written in the Victorian era, the books examine the roles of woman from classical civilization and the Bible. A Woman and Her Master: Volume 2 has a cracking chapter that looks at Lucilla, as well as the other woman in Commodus' life.

     

    This post originally appeared on F Yeah Historyand is reprinted here with permission.

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  • ATA girl mary ellis 5f0d2

    Mary Ellis lived an extraordinary life. She was an active flyer and British ferry pilot during the second World War. Later, she flew jet engines for the Royal Air Force, a claim only a handful of women would ever proudly hold.

    Mary would put her life on the line to do what she loved. Completely fearless, she knocked down whatever barriers faced her. Refusing to let anything, be that sexism or enemy fire, stop her from getting in her plane cockpit:

    “I am passionate for anything fast and furious. I always have been since the age of three and I always knew I would fly.”

    Mary Ellis 4a552Pilot Mary Ellis in her cockpit

    Born Mary Wilkins to a farming family in rural Oxfordshire in February 1917, Mary’s passion for aviation was clear from the get-go. Growing up close to Royal Air Force bases in Bicester and Port Meadow, she never missed a flying demonstration, and her father, keen to fuel her dream, took her to as many shows as he could.

    When Mary was 11 years old, a flying circus came to town, and her father paid for her to have a ride on a biplane. (A thing you could totally let children do then… Oh, and if you were wondering, the plane was a de Havilland DH.60 Moth.)

    Like that, she was hooked. Mary was determined to become a pilot and spend the rest of her life in these magnificent flying machines.

    So, when she was 16, she started flying lessons. Pretty quickly, she had her very own pilot's license.

    impressed gif 38a25Hardly out of puberty AND already owning the skies—nice work Mary

    In 1941, a call went out from the UK's Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) for pilots to help transport planes across the Channel to the WWII front line. Naturally, Mary wanted to help the war effort in any way she could, so she signed up—along with 167 other brave female pilots who flew aircraft from Britain over to the front line flying squadrons, and transported planes from factories to airfields over the UK, too.

    During the war, Mary flew an estimated 1,000 planes made up of 76 different types of aircraft, including 400 Spitfires, which were Mary’s favorite. She said of them:

    “I love it, it’s everybody’s favorite; I think it’s a symbol of freedom.”

    But no matter her flying prowess, Mary didn’t always get the respect from others around her—sexism was a daily part of her life.

    Once, when she flew a Wellington bomber to an airbase, the crew there refused to believe she’d been the one who flew the plane. They even searched the cockpit for the "real" pilot. Mary remembered:

    “Girls flying aeroplanes was almost a sin at that time.”

    And it wasn’t just the troops. The press were very against the idea of women pilots, seeing it as unbecoming and "unfitting of their sex."

    Mary’s mother also had her reservations about her daughter flying these monster machines. BUT, Mary refused to let anyone’s opinions stop her.

    She loved being in the air. She loved to serve her country. And nothing could stop her from doing what she loved.

    rosie gif ac6ddGet it girl!

    The job Mary, and the dozens of other women just like her, was doing was a dangerous one. Often the women had to fly a plane new to them, with no chance for test flights. They just had to rely on pilots' notes to get the landings right.

    And if they were taking a plane to the front line, the risk of getting shot down was high. In all, 15 female pilots were killed while working for the ATA during WWII.

    After the war, Mary continued working with the Royal Air Force, becoming one of the first female pilots to fly a Gloster Meteor Jet Engine, which had speeds of up to 616 miles per hour (991km/h)! They were absolute BEASTS!

    In 1950 Mary moved to the Isle of Wight so she could take over running Sandown airport, and she became the first woman air commandant in charge of an airport in Great Britain.

    While working there, she met her future husband Don Ellis, a fellow pilot. They married in 1961 and lived in a house next to the Sandown runway. Now, Mary never needed to be away from her planes.

    She managed Sandown for 20 years and founded the Isle of Wight Aero Club during that time too.

    Mary Ellis with Spitfire 7bd71Mary with one of her beloved Spitfires

    When Mary turned 100 (!) she was recognised for her contribution to aviation by the Royal Air Force base at Brize Norton with a plaque celebrating her achievements.

    In 2018, the Isle of Wight gave her their highest honour, the Freedom of the Isle of Wight.

    Mary Ellis passed away this year on July 24th at the amazing age of 101. She is remembered by her family as being an amazing, warm, and driven woman. Her story shows that courage and determination can get you so very far.

    That was interesting, where can I find out more? Well, there’s a magnificent biography on Mary: A Spitfire Girl: One of the World’s Greatest Female ATA Ferry Pilots Tells Her Story by Mary and Melody Foreman.

    This post originally appeared on F Yeah History and is reprinted here with permission.

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  • mary l lead f00a0

    Mary I has been remembered by history as "Bloody Mary": The woman who burned her own people alive, ruthlessly led her country into pointless religious upheaval, and basically turned England into a clusterfuck of sadness and fear. But was Mary really that bad? Let’s find out!

    queen mary i 20ef4Queen Mary I – One of history’s most evil women?

    MARY KICKED OFF HER REIGN WITH THE EXECUTION OF LADY JANE GREY.

    Now I’m sure we can all (hopefully) agree that the beheading of an innocent teenage girl isn’t a winning start to your queen career. It is, however, worth pointing out that it's more than arguable that Mary’s hand was forced into this; with continual attempts to make Jane queen and Mary’s hold on the throne being more than shaky, Jane was way too dangerous to keep alive.

    Yet Mary really didn’t want the teenager to die. She desperately attempted to spare Jane’s life by trying to diagnose her as pregnant (Jane wasn’t pregnant FYI, and she was pretty pissed at Mary for trying to get her internally examined). In the end, Mary saw no way out. For her to be queen, and also alive, heads had to roll.

    Sadly, logic, however bleak, does not prevail when you’re faced with a headless innocent 16-year-old who is immediately turned into a martyr. And so starts the story of the woman labeled one of history’s biggest bitches. 

    To be fair, you don’t win friends with executions

    The firstborn child of Henry VIII, Mary grew up in a happy little bubble. Her dad loved her, her mum (Catherine of Aragon) loved her, she was intelligen,t and her future was looking pretty damn bright. And then the divorce hit. If you have divorced parents, then I’m sure you understand how rough a divorce can be on a child. But just in case, let's break this down.

    Imagine that your dad is so desperate to divorce your mum he invents a whole new religion to do it (which, BTW, turns your strict Catholic upbringing on its head). Then dad ships mum off to essentially live in exile. Then new mummy (Anne Boleyn) makes it clear that she would be more than pleased if you and your mum were executed but, as that’s not happening any time soon, you will be stripped of your titles and basically made to serve your new baby sister (Elizabeth). Oh…and then your dad stops speaking to you. Your mum dies (obviously, you’re banned from seeing her on her deathbed), and then to top things off, new mummy is beheaded.

    THERE IS NOT ENOUGH THERAPY IN THE WORLD TO WORK THROUGH THAT SHIT!

    Somehow Mary turns out okay. She is super religious (Catholic, of course, because fuck Dad’s new homewrecking religion!) and not a ton of fun. But she’s also a determined, smart, and functioning adult. It could have been worse! Mary and her dad start talking again, and by the time he dies, she is once more a princess and eligible to the throne... should her brother die…

    And what do you know, he does die!

    Once Lady Jane Grey is out the way, Mary ascends the throne at 37 years old. The people are happy. Mary is happy. It’s all good. Well, apart from a few small problems. You see, Mary was determined to return England to Catholicism, and this can’t happen with Mary’s half sister Elizabeth (a Protestant!) next in line to the throne. But as Mary was unmarried with no kids, Elizabeth was almost guaranteed the crown. So Mary set out to get herself a man….and so began her many problems.

    PROBLEM NO 1: THE FOREIGN HUSBAND

    Mary quickly snagged herself a hot (and crucially Catholic) betrothed, Prince Philip of Spain. Sadly for Mary, the English people hated him. The English did not like Spain. It was foreign, and they did not get along at all. They were certainly not happy with having a new foreign king telling them what to do, and they wanted nothing more than for Philip to pop back on his little boat and kindly fuck off back to Spain.

    Worse than this casual xenophobia, the Protestants were uprising. Afraid of what this Catholic power couple would mean for them, a rebellion soon sprung up. Life lesson: if your marriage causes a literal revolt, maybe have a little rethink. Obviously Mary got married anyway. She was determined to get married, get up the duff, and save England from the Protestants and restore Catholicism. Fuck popularity, this was the Lord's work.

    mary and philip 5ed75The happy couple, Mary and Philip

    So, a few months into her reign, Mary had crossed "get a husband" off her to do list. Now all she needed to do was pop out a baby…easy, right?

    PROBLEM 2: KIDS

    In Tudor England, it was a woman’s job to have babies. In fact, it was a woman’s only job: have all of the babies…ideally boys. It seems simple, but Mary knew differently. She had seen countless women fail at this, her mother included, and she knew that without an heir, any work she did would be for nothing. The pressure was very real. 

    But imagine the boxes are like, babies…or something..

    And then it happened. Mary fell pregnant. Her stomach grew, she felt her baby kick, and she even had the joys of morning sickness. But the baby never came. Mary was so desperate for a baby that her mind had created one for her. It’s now believed that Mary was suffering from pseudocyesis, a rare condition where a person experiences the symptoms of pregnancy, believing themselves to be pregnant, when there is actually no child. The condition may be caused by trauma (which for Mary, would make sense), and is treated with ongoing intensive therapy.

    But Tudor doctors didn’t know about pseudocyesis, or therapy. Mary was on her own. The fear that Mary must have felt is just incredible. She would have felt like she was both losing her grip on reality and her power. So it’s no surprise then that Mary doubled down on her third problem:

    PROBLEM 3: RESTORING THE FAITH
    AKA
    THE WHOLE BURNING PEOPLE ALIVE…THING

    Mary believed that the only way to bring England back to Catholicism was to publically punish Protestants. She invoked old laws to persecute popular Protestants (bishops, arch bishops, preachers, you name it!) During her short reign, just under 300 people were sent to the stake for the crime of not being Catholic. Innocent men, women, and children were all burned alive. No matter what her intentions and reasoning, and no matter how hard Mary believed she was actually "saving" these souls, burning people alive is unforgivable. I

    Remember, horrifying murder is never the answer.

    And yet… Mary wasn’t the only one burning people to death. Her dad (Henry Vlll), brother, (Edward Vl), and sister (Elizabeth l) all burned subjects at the stake, and the reasoning for many of these deaths was religion-based. This isn’t to excuse anyone’s actions. It’s to point out that everyone was a dick when it came to this, and that this "punishment" was pretty standard for the era (yeah, turns out Tudor England was a pretty crap place to live.)

    On the whole, Mary was actually a lot less execution-happy than the rest of her family, with her dad raking up more executions per year on average than Mary did. In fact, Mary pardoned a lot of people (more than anyone else in her family), believing in reprieves and forgiveness. She was known to offer many last-minute pardons as people were about to be executed.

    SO IS SHE HISTORY'S BLOODIEST BITCH?

    Yay for executing slightly less people than anticipated!

    No.

    Look, it’s time we dropped the"Bloody Mary" label.

    In history, we have a habit of labeling, especially when it comes to women. In the Tudor era alone, we’ve had callous six-fingered bitch Anne Boleyn, sex kitten whore Katherine Howard, and Virgin Queen Elizabeth. We know that when we dig beneath the labels, we find something so much more interesting–an actual person.

    So was Mary evil? No. She wasn’t lovely either. You wouldn’t want to get a drink with her (mainly because I reckon she’d drone on when drunk). Mary was a person. She had a troubled childhood that shaped her, a history of mental illness, and dogged determination that led to so much heartache. She’s an interesting woman, and well worth another look.

    This was interesting! Where can I find out more? I’m going to suggest Anne Whitelock’s Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen, it’s a thoughtful read and tries to understand why Mary had her worldview.

    This post originally appeared on F Yeah Historyand is reprinted here with permission.

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  • pietro benvenuti ritratto di elena mastiani brunacci 1809 123aa

    Pugs feature in many of our favorite Regency novels and, in most of them, the cheerful little dog, which currently ranks 32nd most popular breed in the United States, is not portrayed in a very flattering light.  Instead of the “happy, even-tempered companion” that the United Kennel Club refers to in their breed standard, the Pugs of literature are generally depicted as spoiled, temperamental little brutes.  As illustrated in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, their presence in a novel tends to symbolize the very worst in upper-class indolence.  Austen describes the character of Lady Bertram thusly:

    “She was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa, doing some long piece of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children.”  (Mansfield Park, Jane Austen, 1814.)

    The phrase “of little use and no beauty” might just as easily be applied to the character of Pug herself.  Content to while away her life sitting on the sofa with her mistress, her only exercise the occasional bout of mischief making in the flower beds, Pug is nothing like the noble hounds and energetic spaniels we have grown accustomed to seeing in period literature.

    princesspug 4551fPrincess Ekaterina Dmitrievna Golitsyna, 1759. by Louis-Michel van Loo (Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow)

    In the novels of Georgette Heyer, the portrayal of Pugs is not much better than that in Austen.  In fact, it is uniformly negative. The much-maligned little canine is usually associated with elderly dowagers and, more often than not, the bane of every young person who crosses their threshold.

    “[My grandmother has] a pug-dog,” says Gil Ringwood to Hero, Lady Sheringham, in Friday’s Child.  “Nasty, smelly little brute.  Took a piece out of my leg once.  You could take it for walks. Wants exercising.  At least, it did when last I saw it. Of course, it may be dead by now.  Good thing if it is.” (Friday’s Child, Georgette Heyer, 1944.)

    As luck would have it, the Pug in question has not yet been “gathered to its fathers,” but is indeed very much alive. Upon catching sight of the snuffling, snorting creature, Lord Sheringham informs his wife:

    “I’ll be hanged if I’ll have an overfed little brute like that in my house! If you want a dog, I’ll give you one, but I warn you, it won’t be a pug!”

    pug young lady in a boat james tissot 768x557 e03eaYoung Lady in a Boat by James Tissot, 1870.

    In contrast to those featured in Austen and Heyer, the Pugs of history are much beloved little fellows.  The most famous of their ranks is undoubtedly Pompey, the Pug belonging to William the Silent, Prince of Orange.  Sir Roger Williams recounts the following anecdote about Pompey in his book Actions in the Low Countries (1618):

    "The Prince of Orange being retired into the camp, Julian Romero, with earnest persuasions, procured licence of the Duke D’Alva to hazard a camisado, or night attack, upon the Prince.  At midnight, Julian sallied out of the trenches with a thousand armed men, mostly pikes, who forced all the guards that they found in their way into the place of arms before the Prince’s tent, and killed two of his secretaries; the Prince himself escaping very narrowly, for I have often heard him say, that he thought, but for a dog, he had been taken or slain.  The attack was made with such resolution, that the guards took no alarm until their fellows were running to the place of arms, with their enemies at their heels; when this dog, hearing a great noise, fell to scratching and crying, and awakened him before any of his men…The Prince, to shew his gratitude until his dying day, kept one of that dog’s race, and so did many of his friends and followers.”

    william the silent prince of orange 217x300 6ce4bWilliam I, Prince of Orange, 1579. by Adriaen Thomasz Key (Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum)

    The Pug went on to become the favored dog of European royalty, including monarchs William and Mary whose Pugs, wearing orange ribbons to signify the House of Orange, travelled with them from Holland when they came to ascend the English throne in 1688. The Empress Josephine was also a Pug fancier. Her Pug, Fortune, is famous for having carried messages for her while she was imprisoned during the revolution. Marie Antoinette had a beloved Pug named Mops. And Queen Victoria, a noted lover of dogs, had a veritable herd of Pugs.

    queen victoria pug 7b5d6Royal Group at Balmoral, 1887. (Royal Trust Collection)

    With their protruding eyes and corkscrew tail, the Pug may not be precisely the sort of dog you would like to see in your next historical romance – either as a writer or as a reader – but I would urge you to reconsider.  Despite their unfortunate characterization in many Regency novels of the past, Pugs continue to be in actual fact little dogs of great courage, possessed of boundless affection, and an unending reservoir of good cheer.

    pug charles burton barber 4279bBlonde and Brunette by Charles Burton Barber, 1879.

    Top image credit: Portrait of Elena Mastiani Brunacci by Pietro Benvenuti, 1809. (Palazzo Pitti)

     

     

    This article originally appeared on MimiMatthews.com and is reprinted here with permission.

     

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  • forbidden books by alexander mark rossi 1897 800x400 800x400 35ff8

    The nights are getting longer and it’s getting colder, so what's than curling up on the sofa/in bed with a delightful book? “BUT WHAT BOOK?!” I hear you cry. Don’t worry, guys, we got you.

    We’re going to look at some of our favourite historical fiction. We’ve got something for everyone: Crime! Romance! Fancy dandies with tight tights! All the literary food groups.

    1. Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer

    regencybuck 3507aPhwoor, look at those calves!

    The author, Georgette Heyer, is my homegirl. For reals. I love her with a passion that will never be quenched, even when the earth is swallowed up by the sun. My love for Heyer novels will still burn bright. 

    Sorry, that was a bit much… but if you’ve not read any of her books, I thoroughly recommend them. They're well researched and witty as hell.

    Heyer was well known for writing Regency period love stories and 1920s-set detective novels, published in the 1930s through the early 1950s. We’re focusing on the Regency romance side of things, so prepare yourself for some fine and fancy dandies and heavy swooning. 

    In most of Heyer’s books, the female lead is utterly kickass, charming, and quick-witted, but none more so than Judith Taverner, the main bitch from Regency Buck. Judith travels to London with her useless and troublesome brother Peregrine so she can be introduced to high society.

    She goes to stay with their guardian, the Earl of Worth. Turns out this Earl is a bit younger than she was expecting, as the previous Earl popped his clogs some months before. So she’s stuck with the much-younger Julian as her guardian, and she takes an IMMEDIATE disliking to him.

    36eec087 37ef 4567 a07f 0df61f6b1a7a 4e05eGiving you HEAVY Regency side eye

    You can see where this is going. Judith makes a real splash in high society and scandalizes Regency London by driving her own carriage of horses! This was shocking for the time, but our gal Judith spends the book bucking traditions and earning the respect and admiration of her peers. Including Julian.

    It’s an utterly charming book, full of misunderstandings and mishaps that will make you chuckle out loud. And BOY is it a brilliant look at Regency high society. Everything is described in such a way that you can really visualise it. Heyer takes delight in describing the dress of all the dandy gentlemen and muslin-covered ladies.

    Yes, it’s fluff, but it’s well-researched and BRILLIANTLY executed fluff.

    2. Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders by Kate Griffin

    kitty peck via goodread f2480The gorgeous book cover

    I picked up this book for the title ALONE. The Kitty Peck series by Kate Griffin is a real treat for fans of history and crime series. The books are set in Victorian London, and we’re big fans of Victorian crime.

    The first novel, Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders, takes place in 1880 when the city is in the grip of hysteria after a series of mysterious disappearances. There’s a connection between the victims—they’re all music hall girls. One venue in particular has been hit hard, the Paradise, which is operated by nefarious crime boss Lady Ginger.

    The story follows our heroine Kitty Peck, who works backstage at the Paradise. Suddenly, she’s dragged into London’s criminal underworld when Lady Ginger blackmails Kitty into becoming the latest music hall starlet, so she can lure the culprit out from the shadows.

    She’s gotta learn to sing, AND do it while perched on a trapeze. We’re not going into that further… READ THE BOOK! There’s also a missing brother she must contend with, while she figures out how to keep all her friends safe and not get herself killed in the process!

    bfcedfc6 6293 4833 89e7 38ac6522d1a0 218feGASP!

    The book really showcases the seedier side of Victorian London: the Music Halls, factorie,s and rough side streets of the East End, and the stark contrast with the affluent upper classes. It’s brilliantly researched and is an absolute page-turner. Kate is one of our favourite authors working today.

    3. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

    thepayingguests de139

    We couldn’t do a historical fiction list without putting Sarah Waters on it somewhere! But instead of going for Tipping The Velvet or Fingersmith, we’re raving about her novel set in the early '20s, The Paying Guests.

    It’s 1922, and Frances lives with her mother in their family home in Camberwell, London. It’s considerably more empty with her brothers all being killed during the Great War and her father having passed on recently. Her father left Frances and her mother with heavy debts, so they make the decision to take on lodgers. Enter Leonard and Lillian Barber, a working-class couple who shake things up for their new tenants in SO MANY WAYS!

    The book looks at interwar domestic life through the eyes of women, and the tension in the book comes from changing societal attitudes towards class and gender constraints. Frances isn’t content with her lot in life; she wants more, so she’s intrigued by Lillian.

    rihanna"Intrigued"…we know what you mean

    The setting, while wonderfully mundane, really does frame the entire story perfectly. The Camberwell villa that was once full of life is a sad spectre of what it once was, and it becomes divided with the new tenants. The tension in this book is utterly thrilling. You can feel Frances’ story building as she gets accustomed to her new lodgers, and as her fascination grows with them.

    At its heart, this is a crime novel, and though it takes a while to get to the actual crime bit, the payoff is huge. The final third of the book deals with repercussions and the fracturing of relationships between the characters. If you like a slow build of tension and a great payoff, then this book is for you.

    4. All The Perverse Angels by Sarah K. Marr

    atpa cover from unbound bfb8b

    The first release from author Sarah K. Marr, All The Perverse Angels is a beautiful look at love and relationships between both present-day and Victorian women.

    The story opens on Anna, a modern-day art curator who has just left a psychiatric hospital after a breakdown. She and her partner, Emily, have rented a cottage in a quaint little English village to ease her back into reality. Anna finds a painting of two Victorian ladies in the attic of the cottage, and she becomes obsessed with finding out the story of these two women. Then, the story shifts from Anna and Emily to Penelope and Diana, two students who started attending a ladies' college in Oxford during the 1880s.

    The mystery of what happened to these two women consumes Anna, and as she finds out more about them and the nature of their relationship, we also learn more about Anna and what happened in her past to make her get to this point.

    c1f1993b 022c 463c a20e 52f653e0457b b1952This was my position once I finished reading this

    The book gives a fascinating insight into the Victorian university life, specifically the problems women had in striving for further education. There’s also an amazing art angle here; Anna keeps herself grounded by her love for classical art. There’s so much detail about these paintings, we spent a lot of time Googling the artwork referenced in the book because the descriptions are so compelling!

    I’d describe this book as if Jane Austen and Sarah Waters had a book baby, this would be that book baby. It’s heartfelt, BEAUTIFULLY evocative, and a really fascinating read. The central mystery is really gripping, and Sarah winds all the loose threads together in the finale in a way that feels satisfying, but so melancholy. You might need a box of tissues at the end.

    This post originally appeared on F Yeah Historyand is reprinted here with permission.

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  • clubmobile girls feature image b58ed

    Taking part in any active duty during a war is tough, but when you’re hundreds of miles from home in a totally different country hounded by the constant threat of death, it’s gonna make you miss home comforts. Which is why during WWII, The American Red Cross came up with, erm… a truly innovative way to give their boys overseas a taste of back home (and by innovative, we of course mean batshit).

    America joined the war effort in December of 1941. And pretty soon, The good old US of A was getting reports back that their overseas troops were miserable. Unsurprising, considering war is an utter horror!

    So the American Red Cross decided to try and bring US home comforts to Europe. They set up clubs and lounges in a blitz-torn London and at some surrounding army barracks, where there were dances, coffee, food, and good times all round.

    But what about the boys about to be shipped off to France? After all, they were feeling the fear most of all!

    The Army asked The Red Cross to step in again and help. New York banker Harvey. D Gibson happened to be the American Red Cross Commissioner to Great Britain, and he had an idea!

    What if they could give the American’s the same home comforts, but on wheels? Thus, the Clubmobile was born.

    A hot cup of coffee would be easy enough to serve up. But what about classic American food? Now obviously, they couldn’t serve up hamburgers from a tiny wagon on wheels that was parked next to a battlefield.

    So they came up with a close second, something that would surely bring a tear of joy to every traumatised soldier—doughnuts.

    e1fe6ee0 0b19 4d18 8b49 bcd12f5e47ba 8b052Me too... 🍩

    A prototype Clubmobile was quickly pulled together, from an adapted Ford truck with a 10 horsepower engine that was dubbed the "St. Louis." Inside the truck was a little kitchen, complete with doughnut maker and a hob to boil up water for coffee.

    Next they had to staff it. So a call was sent out across America for Clubmobile Girls. You had to be between the ages of 25 to 35 (so, hardly a girl then) and have some college education or work experience. You also needed to be "healthy, physically hardy, sociable and attractive."

    They were inundated with applications from women who wanted to help with the war effort and have an adventure overseas. These girls were quickly recruited and trained up on how to use the doughnut machine and make coffee by the bucketload…I guess they hoped that dodging bullets would hopefully just come naturally.

    A trainee Clubmobile girl Rosemary Norwalk wrote to her family in 1943 that:

    “The biggest surprise to me has been the girls—almost without exception they‘re a cut above, and for some reason I hadn‘t expected that. There‘s not a dull one in the bunch.”

    408ab2ed 1bcd 44a2 a63d 26c4b68b1b2c ee7d7Group K Clubmobile girls in Leicester, England 1944 

    The initial pilot Clubmobile was a roaring success!

    So the Red Cross adapted a handful of London Green Line Buses to become Clubmobiles. These ones even had a small lounge, complete with a victrola, records, and paperback books.

    The "girls"also fought to get more useful items added to their Clubmobiles, asking for gum, cigarettes, candy, and (of course!) first aid kits for the soldiers. These women were looking out for their boys.

    But these women were about to need A LOT more than first aid kits, because the Allied Army was cooking up something big: The Normandy Invasion of 1944.

    And, of course, for such a big fight, they wanted the Clubmobiles along to follow the army and keep troops' morale up.

    These brave women didn’t hesitate to say yes.

    But they couldn’t take the buses overseas. So the super hardy armored Clubmobile was born. Made from converted two-and-a-half-ton GMC trucks. They had the kitchen and the lounge room (which doubled as bunks if the women couldn’t get to the base), and they even adapted one as a mobile cinema.

    The Clubmobile girls would be driving these trucks and were trained on how to maintain them throughout their time overseas. Suddenly, these women were learning new skills and being given responsibilities some of them never dreamed they could have.

    b736986f ce6a 4312 9d03 06c580205816 f7295Advert for Clubmobiles. Because of segregation, there were separate ones for white and black troops. 

    One hundred Clubmobiles were made, and after the Normandy Invasion, ten groups of Clubmobile girls and eight Clubmobiles were initially sent over to follow the Army through their retaking of Allied territory.

    These women were in the thick of war and experienced the hardships and horrific injuries the soldiers faced every day. They took their role as relief from the fighting seriously.

    Most of the women were single, with a few exceptions. Eleanor Stevenson worked as a Clubmobile girl so she could follow her new husband, soldier William Edward Stevenson, through enemy territory and keep involved in the war effort.

    5591ac29 de5a 42eb 935a 451ef57c6696 c1504That, right there, is true love.

    It was hard work operating the Clubmobiles. Shifts started at all hours, and women did regular shifts from 8pm to 7am. The conditions were hellish, and they were expected to stay open through all weather. Not all of the women could do it.

    Mary McLeod from Oregon lasted six months on the Clubmobiles before ill health had her request to be sent back to a land club. She was in her early 30s during her stint as a Clubmobile girl. She wrote home in 1944 that working took a:

    “―terrific toll… you have to be the Amazon type and on the young side, and I am neither.”

    Mary Metcalfe Rexford was in the first group of women to land on Utah Beach after the invasion, and she wrote about her experiences following the Army. The devastation they saw and even on one occasion having to stay up all night because the threat of Nazis launching an attack was a very real possibility. They witnessed horrors too, with Mary recalling she saw a:

    “boy get blown up by a mine while eating his doughnut and coffee.”

    But Mary had to continue serving and got on with her work.

    And it wasn’t just the boys they served who lost their lives. Clubmobile girl Elizabeth Richardson lost her life in 1945; she was transferring to join the troops in Germany when her Red Cross plane crashed.

    liz richardson with her clubmobile e6270Elizabeth Richardson with her Clubmobile, just a few months before her death

    The Clubmobiles and the women who ran them stayed with the Allied Army Forces through until the end of WWII on September 2, 1945.

    A small number of Clubmobiles stayed behind in occupied Germany, as well as some in London to keep the American troops who stayed behind in doughnuts and coffee.

    In fact, the Clubmobile was such a success that a variation was used during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

    That was interesting, where can I find out more? Clubmobile Girls Mary Metcalfe Rexford's memoir Battlestars & Doughnuts, and historian James H. Madison's book on the experiences of Rosemary Norwalk, Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys, are both a look back at the Clubmobile Girls. 

    This post originally appeared on F Yeah History and is reprinted here with permission.

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  • a confidence trick by j m staniforth 1898 3c4fb c3996

    Though tricksters and con artists have existed throughout history, the 19th century confidence man was a creature that many Victorians considered to be uniquely American. Not a thief in the traditional sense, he seduced his prey with silky words and fantastical promises until his victims willingly gave him their trust, their money, and, quite literally, their confidence. This propensity for slick talk and tall tales does tend to put one in mind of a stereotypical American of that era. But was the 19th century American confidence man more than just a Victorian stereotype?

    In fact, the first formally recorded confidence trick was American. It took place in New York in 1849 when William Thompson conned a man out of his watch.  According to the Social History of Crime and Punishment in America:

    “Thompson approached a man on the sidewalk, struck up a conversation, and asked him if he would trust him with his watch until tomorrow.  Once the item was in his possession, Thompson walked off laughing.”

    Thompson was later arrested and tried for his crime. During the trial, the New York Herald reported on how Thompson had “tricked men by gaining their confidence.” This phrase is credited as the origin of the term confidence man.

    In England, 19th century newspapers were full of reports of American confidence men coming to Britain to perpetrate swindles. Or, alternately, British men and women who were swindled by Americans while visiting the United States. Describing the American confidence man, an 1893 edition of the Pall Mall Gazette states:

    The average ‘confidence man’ will rob you of your last shilling if he can do so, but not by knocking you down and taking it from you by force.  His plan is to work himself into your confidence, and having done so, despoil you. In accomplishing his end he has just as much pity for his victim as a highway robber, but not more.”

    liberty a59fcDelmonico’s, New York, 1893.

    The Pall Mall Gazette goes on to report the story of what they call “the cleverest confidence man who has visited England for many years.” The American man in question had arrived in London the previous July and taken up residence at the Savoy Hotel. Another American, a man by the name of McDonough, introduced him as “a director of the Standard Oil Company.”  To some, he was introduced as Mr. Griffiths. To others, he was introduced as Mr. St. Elmer. In both cases, he was presented as an American “oil king.”

    Reporting on the same incident, the Yorkshire Evening Post identifies Griffiths’ victim by the pseudonym “Mr. Lamb” and describes him as “the largest steel manufacturer in Great Britain.” As the article states:

    The American met this gentleman in London, and afterwards took a train for the town in which Mr. Lamb was one of the most prominent residents.  He took rooms for himself and a companion McDonough at a hotel, and leaving McDonough there went to call upon Mr. Lamb.”

    john d rockefeller senior 1875 bcc73John D. Rockefeller Senior, 1875

    Griffiths was given a tour of Mr. Lamb’s factory, during which he casually mentioned that he expected “his friend” John D. Rockefeller, the president of Standard Oil, to arrive in London “at almost any moment.” He advised Mr. Lamb that they would need to take rooms in the local hotel for Rockefeller since, as soon as he arrived in London, he would make his way to join them.

    Griffiths conducted his “business” with Mr. Lamb over the course of several days. During that time, he convinced Mr. Lamb to lend him a large sum of money. At the end of his visit, Griffiths hosted an elaborate dinner at the hotel for Mr. Lamb and several of his principal employees. And then, when checking out of the hotel to return to London, he informed the hotel clerk that “Mr. Lamb would pay all the bills.” To add insult to injury, he borrowed an additional £7 from the hotel clerk himself and told him to “put that down to Mr. Lamb also.”

    It is not clear at what point Mr. Lamb realized that he had been duped, but at the time of printing in early December of 1893, that particular American confidence man was still wanted by the police.

    A similar story, reported in an 1890 edition of the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, involves two Englishmen, Sir Robert Peel and Mr. Clifford Talbot, who made the acquaintance of an American confidence man on board a ship headed to the United States. Upon arrival in New York, the confidence man offered to show them the sights. He subsequently divested them of their money and jewels. According to the article:

    “He was arrested last night at Delmonico’s whilst giving them a farewell dinner.  The Englishmen started for the West to-day wiser and poorer men.”

    delmonico 59172Delmonico’s, New York, 1893.

    Adding to the many reports of American confidence men perpetrating confidence tricks on unsuspecting Victorians were the sometimes larger than life stories of cons perpetrated by Americans against their own countrymen. For example, in an 1885 tale that has come to epitomize both the heights of con artistry and the depths of gullibility, William McCloundy famously sold the Brooklyn Bridge to a west coast tourist for $50,000.

    brooklyn bridge by currier and ives 1883 a7567Brooklyn Bridge by Currier and Ives, 1883.

    But these criminal feats of what one 1928 American newspaper calls “super-salesmanship” were not limited to confidence men from the United States. There were quacks and patent medicine peddlers galore in Victorian England. And con men in 19th century Europe were so far ahead of their time that they even had their own version of what many of us know today as the Nigerian prince email scam. Originating in the 18th century, it was known as the “Spanish Prisoner” or “Spanish Treasure Trick.” The October 13, 1900 Dundee Evening Post reports on its latest victim:

    The victim, who is a retired newspaper proprietor of substantial means, received the usual letter from the sharper at Barcelona, stating that the writer was a political prisoner in Spain, and had in his possession plans of a spot in the Island of Barbados, where a large amount of treasure was buried.  These plans he was willing to dispose of for £600.”

    map of the island of barbados 1682 768x633 023dfMap of the Island of Barbados, 1682.

    The retiree discussed the viability of this opportunity with “a young clergyman of the Church of England.” The clergyman, in turn, consulted his father. Between the three of them, they concluded that the scheme was legitimate and, in due course, the clergyman was dispatched to Barcelona with a draft for £600 and £150 for expenses. According to the newspaper report:

    "In due time he reached Barcelona, found the holder of the precious plans, and received them in exchange for the £600.  He was swiftly disillusioned. Once in possession of the money, the confidence man turned on the unsophisticated cleric, and he had to flee for his life.”

    Despite plenty of evidence that there were slick-talking fraudsters and con men from other parts of the world, the reputation of the 19th century American confidence man persisted. Some simply chalk this up to the geographic origin of the phrase. Others have argued that it has more to do with 19th century confidence men possessing qualities that many of that era saw as being quintessentially American. Qualities like inventiveness, daring, and an entrepreneurial spirit. In his book American Tricksters, author William Jackson even goes so far as to state that the confidence man is a major American cultural hero.

    However you argue it, the 19th century American confidence man was a reality both at home and abroad.  As for the rest, I will let you be the judge.

    on the wrong road canterbury journal kentish times and farmers gazette september 13 1890 768x407 2647aCanterbury Journal, Kentish Times and Farmers’ Gazette , September 13, 1890.

    This post originally appeared on MimiMatthews.comand is reprinted here with permission. 

    Top image: A Confidence Trick by J.M. Staniforth, 1898.

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  • thefavourite fe325

    If you haven’t seen The Favourite—the multi-award winning, Bechdel-Wallace-test-passing movie beautifully described by star Rachel Weisz as "like a funnier, sex-driven All About Eve," then bookmark this page and get yourself down to the cinema.

    I think all history-lovers and Olivia Colman worshippers can agree that seeing the stories of three powerful women in history who aren't Elizabeth I (God love her but girl, you have taken up too much screentime) has been massively refreshing. Not only did this incredible film give us the gift of this GIF for all occasions… 

    favourite

    BUT it was a remarkable piece of cinema that captured one of the most dynamic relationships in British history—that of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, and Queen Anne.

    Queen Anne often gets a bad rep in history. She's remembered as overweight and dull, despite being a queen in her own right (not a consort). Compare her reputation to that of Elizabeth I, and she has been done a serious injustice.

    Anne’s reign preluded the Jacobite rebellions and the political uncertainties of the Hanovers, so in comparison, it’s easy to see why her court wasn’t quite as dynamic as other royals we know and love.

    But as The Favourite shows, scandal and salaciousness were very much part of Anne’s court.

    So why has Anne gotten such a bad rep? While contemporaries from court did admit that Anne wasn’t the most exciting of monarchs, it was the memoirs of one courtier in particular that really painted the lasting portrait of Queen Anne and her reign of boring.

    ****Spoilers coming up if you haven’t seen The Favourite****

    Unsurprisingly, the words that tainted Queen Anne and her reign were those of Anne’s oldest and closest companion: Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough!

    sarah 5d4aeMeet Sarah Churchill, proudly flexing her gold key (the symbol of just how much power she had)

    Sarah had risen up from mildly humble beginnings, and  waited upon Anne since she was a princess. Sarah was five years older than Anne.  Anne, who was reserved and shy, had developed crushes on other women of the court before. So naturally, the arrival of the dynamic and confident Sarah soon dominated her world.

    Anne's sister, Queen Mary II, had urged Anne to give up Sarah before, concerned about her influence. But did Anne listen?

    Of course not!

    Sarah was married to John Churchill, an equally ambitious military man who was made Commander-in-Chief of Anne’s armies upon her ascension to the throne. Sarah's marriage often kept her from Anne’s side, as she had several children and raised her family. The letters that Anne wrote to her when they were apart are full of love and yearning.

    Sarah referenced these letters later on in life, quoting them throughout her memoirs, highlighting how powerful and passionate Anne’s love for her had been.

    When Anne became Queen after the death of her brother-in-law William of Orange, Sarah and her allies rose to prominence. Sarah’s influence meant that the Whig party gained power in Parliament, and the Tories—the party the Queen had once favoured—lost their hold.

    Sarah became Mistress of Robes and Keeper of the Privy Purse. Anne, enraptured by her relationship with Sarah, did nothing to stem the power of her favorite…Until it all got a little complicated. And we love a bit of complicated over here! *sips tea*

    For years, Sarah had relied upon Anne’s adoration of her to ensure she kept her place at the top. Sarah had dominated Anne without fear; she didn’t hold back, didn’t flatter, and didn’t placate the Queen at all.

    In their early relationship, Sarah treated Anne mean to keep her keen. She replied to her letters sporadically and held equally close, loving relationships with other women of the court. When Anne became Queen, she continued this.

    You may have noticed that delightful scene in The Favourite, with Sarah saying Anne looked like a badger…you get the picture of their overall dynamic!

    Historians have come up with different theories as to why Anne ousted Sarah, with reasons both professional and personal.

    However, there was one big difference between Anne and Sarah, which would prove to be the deadly fracture to their friendship: Anne was a Tory, and Sarah was a Whig.

    Sarah’s continual lobbying of Anne in support of the Whigs grew overwhelming, particularly when during one politicially charged argument, Sarah essentially told Anne to shut up.

    No matter how high you’ve risen, you don’t tell the monarch to shut her trap.

    Sarah was beginning to overstep the mark, putting herself at risk of falling out of favour.

    Enter Abigail Hill!

    Abigail Hill b4262Abigail Hill (I feel kinda bad using this as my gawd does she look uncomfortable, but what can you do)

    Abigail was a cousin of Sarah's, who Sarah installed in court as a Maid of the Bedchamber.

    Sarah didn’t suspect Abigail’s early nudging into Anne’s favor, and it wasn’t until Abigail’s secret marriage to Samuel Masham (which Anne was invited to but Sarah wasn’t, awkward), that it became apparent Abigail was rising as Sarah was falling.

    Sarah was horrified when she discovered Abigail was a distant cousin of Robert Harley, a prominent Tory politician, and was happily chatting to Anne about politics, using a slightly more friendly and loving approach than Sarah had employed.

    But Sarah wasn’t about to give up quite so easily. She used several underside tactics to try and discredit Abigail. She even helped send anonymous letters and caricatures attacking Abigail’s character, "warning" the Queen of who she kept in her favour.

    But this didn’t get the desired result. The Queen refused to see Sarah, and at their final meeting, she refused listen to Sarah’s complaints, only telling her to "put it in writing."

    queen anne 1 a29ebWay harsh Tai…I mean Queen Anne

    Sarah and John Churchill were banished from court, and spent their days travelling Europe.

    It was only when Anne died and George I took the throne that Sarah and John were restored to favor in the royal court, and their descendants— including Winston Churchill and Princess Diana—went on to dominate the history books and the newspapers, as Sarah would have done if she had lived today.

    It was thanks to Sarah’s memoirs that Anne has gone down in history as dull, fat, and uninteresting. She wrote of serving Anne:

    "Though it was tedious to be so much where there could be no manner of conversation, I knew she loved me and suffered by fearing I did wrong when I was not with her, for which reason I have gone a thousand times to her, when I had rather have been in a dungeon."

    Brutal!

    Sarah and her co-authors published her memoirs soon after her ejection from court. They were designed to vindicate Sarah from any wrongdoing, to highlight the stubborness, belligerence, and obsession of Queen Anne and to destroy the reputation of Abigail Masham.

    Amongst some of the scathing comments on the Queen that Sarah made, she gave Anne a trait that Elizabeth I, the great queen that had gone before her, had lacked—the inability to know her own mind.

    "In thirty years’ time I never knew her to do a right or good thing of herself. She never thought of rewarding men because they were deserving, nor or easing any people because they were miserable. All such things must be put in her mind by others, and chiefly by those she loves, who will always have the real influence…"

    Today we celebrate previous queens, ruling in a world that was dominated by male power, as early feminist icons—rulers, leaders, decision makers. Thanks to Sarah, the idea that Anne was a puppet of political leaders and court favourites has stuck in history, and we have never kept her on the same pedestal as our favourite Tudor lady, Liz.

    Sarah did exactly what Anne wanted—she "put it in writing," and thus sealed Anne’s fate in history forever.

    Until now. Until The Favourite.

    You can learn more about Anne and Sarah’s relationship in Ophelia Field’sThe Favourite, an astoundingly good biography of Sarah Churchill

    This post originally appeared on F Yeah History and is reprinted here with permission.

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  • imgonline com ua resize gt3gdi71pfk6e a1924

    We all know that history is littered with dresses that wanted nothing more than to kill their wearers (shoutout to fire-loving crinolines and organ-squishing corsets!), but it wasn’t just dress engineering that could led to (a v. fashionable) early grave; the color of your dress could also lead to a veeeery nasty end! I present to you Scheele’s Green, a hue with a mission to kill every Victorian it could.

    kermitPreach Kermie (via giphy)

    Arsenic was an everyday item in Victorian England. It was just one of those things you had in your house, like soap, cosmetics, even playing cards. (Actually, arsenic was used to make all of these…)

    The industrial revolution brought a boom in the arsenic industry as ways to manufacture the element became easier. Due to this, the Victorians started to use arsenic in literally everything! They used it in furnishings, sprayed it on vegetables and meat… even coated toys in it. It sounds super deadly…and it was…BUT all this arsenic was in pretty small doses; you’d literally have had to lick all the toys in London to die from it (still don’t try it at home, though).

    Then, a guy called Carl Wilhelm Scheele entered the arsenic scene. 

    carl wilhelm scheele inventor of scheeles green a toxic arsenic pigment used in clothing wallpaper and even sweets e1502826437928 3d188

      Scheele wanted to create a long lasting, bold green hue. So, using copper arsenite as the key ingredient, he created what he called "Scheele’s Green," also known as Paris Green (the actual full name is CuHAsO3, for the science nerds out there).

    Now, you might think that having a green pigment with such a high arsenic percentage would put people off…but you guys...it made shit look sooo green. Like soooooooo green though!!!

    And so Victorians popped Scheele's Green in everything they could think of. Wallpaper? Yeah, shove some arsenic on that bad boy! Clothes? Yes, that totes needs a shade of death! Sweets? Yes…I’m sorry to say that some cavalier confectioners dyed their sweets with Scheele's Green, which did result in a tiny bit of child death.

    sorry bout that c9311Er yeah, sorry to have bought in child death so early... but it's kinda a death post (via giphy)

    Now, having arsenic in wallpaper is bad enough, so imagine how bad wearing arsenic is for one's health!

    At the time it was estimated that one ball gown made using Scheele's Green would carry an estimated 900 grams of arsenic.

    It takes 5 grams to kill an adult.

    THAT IS A SHIT TON OF DEATH TO BE DANCING AROUND IN.

    Luckily for the ladies wearing these dresses, they were covered in layers of petticoats, linings, corsets, and crinolines, so they didn’t actually come into much contact with the deadly fabric. The same cannot be said for the poor sods making the dresses.

    arsenic dress 683f1Scheele Green, corset, and a bustle, that's like the trifecta of deadly dress!!!

    In 1861, a 19-year-old paper flower maker named Matilda Scheurer started convulsing and vomiting green liquid. The whites of her eyes turned green and so did her fingernails.

    Matilda’s job was to brush powdered green pigment onto fake flowers, which were then sold to adorn wealthy ladies hats and dresses. As you’ve probably guessed, the green powder was a type of Scheele’s Green and obviously contained all of the arsenic.

    After inhaling high levels of arsenic every day of her working life, Matilda died a slow and very painful death. She wasn’t the only one. French physician Ange-Gabriel-Maxime Vernois wrote that after visiting a fake flower factory (similar to the one Matilda worked in), the daily contact with arsenic wrought havoc on the bodies of the workers, with the arsenic literally eating away at their flesh.

    screaming 2b5c4I repeat: eating away at their flesh!! (via giphy)

    The death of Matilda led to an upper class uprising against the use of Scheele's Green. With ladies' societies campaigning against the substance's use and making it clear they felt other women’s use of Scheele’s Green dyed attire made them little more than murderers.

    This, combined with the public becoming more aware of the dangers of products based heavily in arsenic, caused the use of Scheele’s Green and other arsenic-based hues to fall sharply out of fashion – because nobody wants to die, no matter how haute couture the dress.

    too much fashion 72997You heard it here first, folks!!! (via giphy)

    This was interesting! Where do I find out more?Well if you enjoyed finding out how fashion killed Victorians, you’ll love finding out how tons of other stuff did too!! Suzannah Lipscomb’s series on hidden killers is a great watch, covering several eras in history. It’s online and you can also buy episodes to watch on Amazon.

    This post originally appeared on F Yeah History and is reprinted here with permission.

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  • Quarreling c. 1874 76 by James Tissot. cropped 1bc07

    Nobody likes to be shouted at or spoken to in an abusive, combative tone. In the Victorian era, however, such behavior was especially distasteful when engaged in by a man and directed at a woman. Men were generally larger in size and more powerful in position. It was seen as their duty as gentlemen to treat women with respect, whether those women be the lowliest of servants or the grandest of ladies. 

    Etiquette books of the day offered plenty of advice on the subject of a gentleman’s behavior toward the so-called weaker sex. For instance, in his 1873 book The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, Cecil B. Hartley states that “civility is particularly due to all women,” even those women who were abusive or provoking. He explains, “The greatest man would justly be reckoned a brute if he were not civil to the meanest woman. It is due to their sex, and is the only protection they have against the superior strength of ours.”

    This sentiment is echoed in the 1877 book The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Etiquette, in which Eliza Bisbee Duffey argues that “a true gentleman” should always be “helpful and protecting to the weak.” As such, “Women—all women, of whatever age or condition—claim his respectful care and tender and reverential regard."

    arrufos by belmiro de almeida 1887 e1538346436724 bd092The Spat by Belmiro de Almeida, 1887. (Museu Nacional de Belas Artes)

     

     There was no excuse for a man to speak harshly, either to a woman or in the presence of one. No matter the circumstances, a true Victorian gentleman was always supposed to control his temper and moderate his tone. According to the 1889 Hand-Book of Official and Social Etiquette and Public Ceremonials at Washington, “Exhibitions of excitement, impatience or anger in the presence of ladies are a disrespect, no matter what may have happened.”

    Gentlemen of fiery disposition were advised to keep a firm hold on their tempers when in company with women. Hartley instructs his male readers, “Learn to restrain anger. A man in a passion ceases to be a gentleman, and if you do not control your passions, rely upon it, they will one day control you.”

     

    An Argument in the Corridors of the Opera by Jean Georges Beraud 1889 fbe36An Argument in the Corridors of the Opera by Jean-Georges Béraud, 1889.

     

    For those gentlemen who needed added incentive to remain civil toward a provoking woman, Hartley offers the following advice: “If you are ever tempted to speak against a woman, think first—‘Suppose she were my sister!'”

    Men who verbally attacked women were no gentlemen. Even worse, they were seen as cowardly. The sort of fellows who, according to Hartley, would “absolutely be afraid, to speak against a man, or that same woman, had she a manly arm to protect her.”

    Instead, gentlemen were urged to take an almost paternalistic view toward the women they encountered. It was more than refraining from shouting at a woman or holding the occasional door. There were hundreds of little services a Victorian gentleman might perform. Anything and everything, from offering his arm to help a lady cross a street to giving up his seat on a public conveyance.

    Today, there is greater (though still not perfect) equality between the sexes. Most women prefer to be treated as equals rather than put on a pedestal. Nevertheless, the sight of a man being verbally aggressive toward a woman still makes many of us uncomfortable. Is it because the behavior is ungentlemanly? Or because—given the physical and power differential—it’s downright abusive? As always, I’ll let you be the judge.

     

    Top image:Quarreling by James Tissot, c. 1874-76. (Private Collection)

    This post originally appeared on MimiMatthews.com and is reprinted with permission. 

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