The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 1st January

So: YEARS ago, pre the internet, A and I used to go to the Lesbian History Group at the London Women’s Centre, and for a while we had this plan to produce a birthday book with a lesbian from history for every day of the year, complete with a good quotation for every week. It proved too time consuming and was forgotten.

Turning out a cupboard the other day I came across some of the research. Annoyingly, the actual work has vanished – I remember we had a mock-up of the book with a week to a spread and a lot of the information filled in. What I did find was the ‘wanted’ list, of the ladies we hadn’t got a birthday for or wanted particularly to quote.

It seemed a shame to waste the idea, but it isn’t really viable as a book, and I’m too busy to research in great detail where I haven’t already – I have lots of 17th century notes – so it’s this year’s blog project.

After a few days of footling about online have come up with a surprising number (Research is so much simpler these days). People have disobligingly not spread their births evenly around the calendar, and the January ones may be a bit sketchy until I’m into a rhythm of getting this together. Some birth dates are impossible – too long ago, or weirdly too recent – living subjects are a bit coy about dates.  So I have plenty of ‘who knows?’ with regard to birthdays to shoehorn in on a blank date. (Incidentally, if you happen to be a half-way famous lesbian -or one of my friends – wondering if you are going to be included and your birthday isn’t going to be found in the first two pages of a search on the web, or in my diary, you could always drop me a line).

To be frank after something like 25 years I can’t really remember why we had some people on the list, or who they are, so if the name is rather ordinary I’ve given up the effort; I think we played the could be-should be game a little bit too much back then.

These may not all be yer actual card-carrying lesbian, ok? My yardstick is not how provable the sexuality of the subject (because really, how can you x centuries later?), but was she a fellow traveller, did she put women first, did she resist marriage, behave ‘badly’, have close female friendships, tell it like it is, stand up for us, burn her letters and diaries (oh, those burnt letters), but most importantly (what A and I use as an acid test for people we admire) and a bit like Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party: would we be happy to invite them to tea? (Actually some of them we would meet somewhere neutral for a swift half, rather than invite them in for cake: revolutionaries and the opinionated can be a bit of a pain socially, but you get the idea.)

So my first entry, born 1st January 1768, a contemporary of Jane Austen and one of those I’m not sure why she was on the long list, but meets the new tea-drinking criteria is: Edgworth, Irish author of Letters for Literary Ladies (1795), Castle Rackrent and many others. Maria was a campaigner for women to be educated and listened to. In her lifetime she was considered on a par with Jane Austen for her literary skills, but has been rather forgotten since. She never married and was against absentee landlords in Ireland in her youth, but was a bit of a Tory in her old age, so it’s definitely the younger Ms Edgworth sitting down to shortbread and lapsang souchong.

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