“These Washington society girls will compete for fencing title of the District of Columbia” April 16, 1930 (via Shorpy Historical Photo Archive)
An assignment for Advanced Digital! We were supposed to make a gif portrait of a historical figure. I chose Julie d’Aubigny, 17th century swordsmaster and opera singer, responsible for the deaths of at least ten men in duels, and openly bisexual. After her lover was placed into a convent by the girl’s parents, d’Aubigny took the vows to enter the convent as a novice, then rescued her lover and set the convent on fire to cover their escape. Dang.
Miss Sanderson’s Parasol Self-Defense, 1908:
“Then Miss Sanderson came to the attack, and the demonstration showed her to be as capable with the stick as the sword. She passed it from hand to hand so quickly that the eye could scarcely follow the movements, and all the while her blows fell thick and fast. Down slashes, upper cuts, side swings, jabs and thrusts followed in quick succession, and the thought arose, how would a ruffian come off if he attacked this accomplished lady, supposing she had either walking-stick, umbrella, or parasol at the time? ”
- J. St. A. Jewell, “The Gymnasiums of London: Part X. — Pierre Vigny’s” Health and Strength, May 1904, pages 173-177. (via » Miss Sanderson and the womanly art of parasol self defence)
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.” - artist Georgia O’Keeffe
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life, and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” - aviator Amelia Earhart
“For too many centuries women have been being muses to artists. I wanted to be the muse, I wanted to be the wife of the the artist, but I was really trying to avoid the final issue — that I had to do the job myself.” - writer Anaïs Nin
As Sheryl Sandberg asks in her new book Lean In: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
For women especially, but also for all creators who are Outsiders in one way or another, that’s a powerful question.
First woman to command the International Space Station. Such a great picture.
My Inspirational Female Archaeologist
Gertrude Caton-Thomson (1889 - 1985) was an early female archaeologist who conducted work in Egypt and Zimbabwe, the latter of which is what she is probably most famous for. After conducting her own fieldwork at the Great Zimbabwe ruins, she denounced the popular “Foreign origins” theories that they were built by a mysterious white race, or early Phoenicians, instead stating that they were of indigenous origin. After presenting her findings in 1929 to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Johannesburg, South Africa, she was shunned by a large majority of pro-Foreign-origins supporters. Nevertheless, she stuck to her guns, and had the support of many other eminent archaeologists, including Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Louis Leakey. She was taught under Flinders Petrie, and was herself a mentor and friend to another famous female archaeologist, Mary Leakey.
Her knowledge and courage in what was then a male-dominated, and often sexist discipline, are really inspiring to me. Gertrude, you rocked!
Vera Cooper Rubin (1928 - )
Vera Rubin is credited with proving the existence of “dark matter,” or nonluminous mass, and forever altering our notions of the universe. By the late 1970s, after Rubin and her colleagues had observed dozens of spiral galaxies, it was clear that something other than the visible mass was responsible for the motions of the stars within them. Her calculations showed that, for the velocities measured, the galaxies must contain about ten times as much “dark” mass as can be accounted for by the visible stars. As a result of Rubin’s groundbreaking work, it has become apparent that more than 90% of the universe is composed of dark matter (as well as dark energy). Defining it is one of astronomy’s most important pursuits.
When Vera Cooper Rubin told her high school physics teacher that she’d been accepted to Vassar, he said, “That’s great. As long as you stay away from science, it should be okay.” Ignoring him, and the countless others like him, was truly a great idea.
Rubin graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1948, the only astronomy major in her class at Vassar, and went on to receive her master’s from Cornell in 1950 (after being turned away by Princeton because they did not allow women in their astronomy program) and her Ph.D. from Georgetown in 1954. Rubin made a name for herself not only as an astronomer but also as a woman pioneer; she fought through severe criticisms of her work to eventually be elected to the National Academy of Sciences (at the time, only three women astronomers were members) and to win the highest American award in science, the National Medal of Science. However, it is not the fame that Rubin values: “My numbers mean more to me than my name. If astronomers are still using my data years from now, that’s my greatest compliment.”
Rubin is also an observant Jew, and sees no conflict between science and religion. In an interview, she stated: “In my own life, my science and my religion are separate. I’m Jewish, and so religion to me is a kind of moral code and a kind of history. I try to do my science in a moral way, and, I believe that, ideally, science should be looked upon as something that helps us understand our role in the universe.”
FY WOMEN OF SCIENCE!