The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 28th


Today let us raise a glass to

Jane Rule

28 March 1931 – 27 November 2007

Jane Rule was the author of many lesbian novels, and an early exponent of the happy ending, most famous for her 1964 novel Desert of the Heart (filmed as Desert Hearts), what a relief it was to find her books!

In 1954 Jane met Helen Sonthoff, a work colleague who became her life partner until Helen died in 2000.

I didn’t want to be a boy, ever, but I was outraged that his height and intelligence were graces for him and gaucheries for me.

 

Love is the terrible secret people are suspected of unless they’re married, then one always suspects they don’t.

 

The message of women’s liberation is that women can love each other and ourselves against our degrading education.

 

Coming out, all the way out, is offered more and more as the political solution to our oppression.

 
“What were we meant for then?”

“To love the whole damned world,” Ann said…

“I live in the desert of the heart,” Evelyn said quietly, “I can’t love the whole damned world.”

“Love me, Evelyn.”

“I do.”

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 27th


Today’s birthday cake is baked for

Maria Schneider  27 March 1952 – 3 February 2011

Maria was an actor, best known for Last Tango in Paris. She was bisexual, and once  committed herself to a psychiatric institution to be with her lover,  photographer Joan Townsend, “They locked her up, and so I had to do it out of loyalty.”

Most of the members of my generation are gay, or bisexual, they have more open minds about sexuality, about what a woman’s role can be, or what the potentials are.

Never take your clothes off for middle-aged men who claim that it’s art.

The Actual Historic Wedding-Tea Party March 29th 2014


A slight side-step here. It is now legal for same-sex couples to get married… but no one I know got married today, because, like us, all our friends are in civil partnerships (or they are not planning to get hitched in any shape or form). So I was feeling a bit grumpy about the government’s administrative cock-up that means that those of us in Civil Partnerships STILL can’t get married yet – not that we plan anything more than dramatic the most basic bureaucratic upgrade, but it’s the principle of the thing – everyone saying

lookee, you’re all equal now,

and I’m saying

not. quite. yet.

So we decided that grump notwithstanding we should celebrate, so we went along to witness Sandi & Debbie Toksvig renew their vows (yes they weren’t getting married either, same issue) at London’s Living Room, RFH South Bank.

What a lovely event: loads of singing, laughter, tears – from everyone – champagne in the bar later.

Thanks for sharing your moment Sandi and Debbie, you cheered me up, and I’m feeling less like just doing something bureaucratic when it’s our turn. Singing friends, you are on notice…

I didn’t take any pictures (too far back, it was their event etc. etc.), apart from this one…

The Man Who Caught Sandi Toksvig's Bouquet
The Man Who Caught Sandi Toksvig’s Bouquet

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 26th March


Louise Honorine Crozat du ChâtelNo Birthday today so looking forward a couple of days, let’s celebrate

Louise-Honorine Crozat Du Châtel, Duchesse de Choiseul, 28th March 1737-1801 ‘A charming little fairy born out of a magical egg’ Her husband was a chief minister to Louis XIV, eventually discredited. Louise-Honorine was arrested during the Terror but seems to have survived it as she died seven years later. She was great friends with Marie du Deffand, writing to her

You think I love you from Complaisance and ask you to visit me from politeness. I don’t. I love you because I love you… You know you love me, but you do not feel it.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 25th


A glass of port for today’s birthday girl:

Elizabeth Vassell Fox, Lady Holland

25th March 1771-1845

Elizabeth had an affair with Henry Fox and gave birth to his child while she was married to her first husband Godfrey Webster. She married Fox immediately following her divorce from Webster and became hostess to many Whig party soirees. She had a reputation for rudeness and domineering, yet she continued to hold parties long after her husband died, which presumably she enjoyed, and people came to, when she no longer had political influence to make them put up with her. She undoubtedly quarreled with people, notably Caroline Lamb, and it was a time for people to air their grievances in public, but equally to sing their praises.

Lady Holland has certainly organised a good system of society—ten people every day at dinner, and a few in the evening, and there is always an author for the good of one’s mind, and a doctor to prevent one’s dropping down dead, and the rest are people who know each other well, and have the same politics.

Emily Eden  May 1833

Elizabeth’s journal for 1791 to 1811 is available on-line as is her travel journal of 1802 and 1805 when she travelled to Spain. Charles Greville described her as

a social light which illuminated and adorned England, and even Europe, for half a century.

Elizabeth was also responsible for dahlias being established as a favourite flower in England, which is something she does need to be forgiven for. Never mind. My favourite quotation from Elizabeth herself:

As nobody can do more mischief to a woman than a woman, so perhaps might one reverse the maxim and say nobody can do more good

NPG D41029; Sampson and Dalilah by John Doyle, published by  Charles Etienne Pierre Motte, after  Thomas McLeanElizabeth Satirised.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 25th


Today’s birthday girl is Olive Schreiner, 24th March 1855 – 1920

South African author and prolific letter writer. Olive was a feminist, socialist, pacifist, vegetarian, rational dress advocate, anti-vivisectionist would-be doctor and thinker, you name it she had a position on it. She corresponded with everyone, from Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis to Emily Hobhouse and her best friend Elizabeth (Betty) Molteno and her partner Alice Greene.

All Betty has been to me I can’t tell you. Her beautiful wonderful individuality is such a joy to me. It seems almost all that is keeping up my faith in Humanity now. What a wonderful soul it is.

It is so beautiful that I am able to love you both so that my love for one never seems interrupted by my love for the other, and I know you both love me.

I have a fondness for Olive – I’ve read two of her novels, The Story of an African Farm, and From Man to Man and enjoyed them.

If you want to know more you can do no better than to read her books and play in the shallows of the online archive of her letters, where without much effort I found this:
Olive Schreiner to Isaline Philpot, 17 March 1889, NLSA Cape Town, Special Collections, Olive Schreiner Letters Project transcription

I wish I was large and strong and could put my arms round all the tired lonely women in the world and help them. The work of my life is to try and teach women to love one another. If we would leave off quarrelling with men and just love and hold each other’s hands an would come right. Oh, I love the two women in my book so I am getting to love women more and more. I love men too, so very much only they don’t need me.

Olive Schreiner to Margaret (Maggie) Harkness, January 1891, National Archives Depot, Pretoria, Olive Schreiner Letters Project transcription (this is part of a long letter politely telling Maggie to leave her alone, but I enjoy her picture of a true friend – I’m guessing she means Betty)

The woman I love best in the world, & who I think loves me better than anyone else has written to me ten times or more on political & social questions since I came out here: I have written her two post cards. yet if tomorrow I wrote “I need you” she would leave her husband & home & come to me, & if she simply hinted that she needed me, I should be in England in three weeks. I know that my name is so sacred to her that she never dis-cusses me with anyone, & I never mention her & it would be over my body that anyone should touch her; but I don’t feel I want to write to her, it is she who must give me food for thought in her large interesting life in the centre of political & social thought & action, & I would much rather she was doing her great work in England than hanging round in Africa where she could not be of so much use.

All quotes from letters © Olive Schreiner Letters Project.

So while I don’t think Olive was exactly one of us, she was certainly a fellow traveller, and she gets an invitation to the party, no question.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 23rd


hannah snellAnd finally I’ve caught up! A week’s holiday does get in the way of a regular blog.

Right, we’re going for one of those early cross dressers today, though it is an actual genuine birth date.

Hannah Snell  23/3/1723-1792

In 1740, Hannah’s parents died and she moved to Wapping, where she married a Dutch sailor, James Summs. James went back to sea shortly after they married. Nothing was heard from him again. Hannah decided to look for her husband. She borrowed some of her brother-in-law’s clothing and set off dressed as a man.

Believing James to have been forced into the army, Hannah enlisted as ‘James Grey’ at Coventry and set off to fight against the Jacobite Rising in Scotland.

The regiment set off to Carlisle, Hannah’s disguise undiscovered.

A Sergeant Davis set his sights on a girl in Carlisle and tried to enlist Hannah’s aid in her seduction. Instead she warned the girl and Davis alleged ‘neglect of duty’ against Hannah. She was sentenced to 600 lashes of the whip.

Hannah was tied to the barrack gate, which hid her breasts so maintaining her disguise. She bore 500 lashes – the Commanding Officer cancelled the final 100 lashes. Recognising a recruit as a former neighbour from Wapping, she deserted and made for Portsmouth. Here  she enlisted into a Regiment of Marines leaving for the East Indies. She saw action at Pondicherry, killing several Frenchmen before being wounded herself.

She escaped discovery  by operating on herself and removing a musket ball from her groin. Declared unfit for marine’s duty she now served as a deck hand. Still searching for her husband, she finally met a man who told her that James Sums had been executed for murder in Genoa.

When her ship returned to London, her story became known.  To earn a living she went on the stage and then leased a tavern, naming it ‘The Widow in Masquerade, or the Female Warrior’.

Hannah was given a pension of £30 a year for life and died in 1792.