The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 15th

No official candidate for today so lets skip ahead a day and celebrate with

Caroline Herschel

16 March 1750 – 9 January 1848.

Caroline was born in Germany and moved to England at the age of 22 to keep house for her older brother William, having been brought up by her mother to effectively be her servant, despite being trained in mathematics and music. Caroline was only four foot three inches in height owing to contracting typhus as a child.
William was teaching music and running musical evenings in Bath (he was an accomplished composer, there are a couple of recordings of his music available, worth keeping an eye out for). Caroline contributed to these events, and when her brother took up astronomy, she assisted with this too, keeping all the records, watching for astronomical events when William couldn’t be bothered, and grinding lenses and mirrors for his telescopes. William taught her trigonometry and algebra so that she was able to make the complex calculations needed. In 1782 William was made Astronomer Royal. Once William married, (and presumably his wife either took over the housekeeping or insisted on employing someone, Caroline had more time to devote to her own astronomy.
She discovered eight comets, one of which is named for her, and was granted a salary by George III in acknowledgement of her work as William’s assistant, making her the first professional female astronomer.
Caroline spent a long time working on cataloguing and correcting John Flamsteed’s work on astronomy, (again because William couldn’t be bothered with the time-consuming cross referencing). The resulted of her efforts was the Catalogue of Stars, published in 1798.
The Royal Astronomical Society awarded her the Gold Medal in 1828, (not awarded to another woman for over 150 years) and she was later admitted to the society as an honorary member.

You could say (and I will) that Caroline was a bit of a star. (Sorry couldn’t resist).

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 12th

If not a fellow traveller,  today’s birthday belongs to someone who was definitely and definitively a traveller .

Hester Stanhope 12 March 1776 – 23 June 1839.

Hester was delightfully eccentric. She moved from being hostess for her uncle, Prime Minister William Pitt the younger, via a dramatic shipwreck at Rhodes, to become an archaeologist, the first to use documentary evidence to plan her dig, and to use what we now recognise as modern archaeological methods – not just ransacking a site for its treasures.

That shipwreck allegedly left her in need of clothes and she ended up dressed in male turkish clothing.  Hester took to this form of attire and never went back to European or female dress. (seeing how dashing she looks in a turban one can see why.)

She behaved outrageously all over the Middle East, but somehow got  away with it. (Unfortunately she’d been told by a fortune-teller that she would be the bride of a new messiah, and she took this seriously).

She settled in what is now the Lebanon, and became respected as a (rather annoying) force in the land. She eventually got into financial trouble, but stuck it out, dying in the home she had adopted.

Now would I want Hester at a party? I think so, provided she kept off her religious thing. She would have plenty of unlikely tales to amuse her fellow guests.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 10th

We’re going back to one of our birthday girls for the 8th March today:

Louisa M Hubbard 8 March 1836 – 5 November 1906.

Louisa was a tireless and practical woman who put her back into creating opportunities for women. She did not do so for political reasons, and made a lot of effort not to appear political. She started out in the Anglican Deaconess movement, which could be thought of as an early precursor of the movement for female clergy though I doubt Louisa would have thought so) publishing a pamphlet Anglican Deaconesses; or Is There No Place for Women in the Parochial System?

Disappointed at lack of progress in the Deaconess movement she set up a training college for women elementary teachers, set up periodicals A Handbook for Women’s Work, (later The Englishwoman’s Yearbook) and The Woman’s Gazette, (later Work and Leisure) and wrote articles  to dispel the stigma of (middle class and genteel) women working, arguing that it did not make a woman less marriageable, and that single women needed to be able to support themselves, and should not be seen as failures for not getting married. At the time she got going, the only real option for single middle class women without means of their own, was to work as a governess or a companion. She encouraged women into all kinds of work that she thought suitable, nursing, midwifery, teaching, setting up friendly societies and guilds to help women support each other.

She also recognised that work alone was insufficient, that for women to be independent they needed affordable safe housing, setting up the Ladies Dwelling Co.

Louisa  also set up the Women’s Emigration Society. Women were actively discouraged from emigrating to British colonies, and Louisa felt that they were missing out on opportunities that men were encouraged to pursue. However the fact that emigration was promoted as a way to get a husband, leaves me ambivalent about this area of her work.

Louisa was clearly a very pragmatic person – see a problem, set about fixing it – she wasn’t one to snipe from a corner and complain that THEY ought to do something about it. By the end of her life much of the social stigma faced by middle class women who needed to work was gone, and she played a major role it making it possible for them to make a living.

An invitation to the party would obviously be sent, but I suspect Louisa would be in the kitchen making sure everything ran smoothly rather than tucking into cucumber sandwiches and a small sherry.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 8th

International Women’s Day, and I have three birthday girls to choose from. So I’m going with the oldest, and we can catch up with the others later.

Anne Bonny, 8 March 1702 – 22 April 1782 born in Ireland, emigrated to America at a young age, where her father did very well for himself. Anne was a tear away, hotheaded, handy with a knife and married a small-time pirate. her father disowned her, and she and her husband went to Nassau where all the pirates hung out. Anne there met and started a relationship with Jack Rackham, and had a child with him. She abandoned the child, divorced her husband and set about being a ‘proper’ pirate. She was friends with Mary Read, and they were captured together with Rackham after stealing a ship together (The men were all drunk and Mary and Anne were the only ones to put up a fight) they were all sentenced to hang. (Anne’s last words to her lover were, had you fought like a man, you needn’t be hang’d like a dog)  The women got off by claiming pregnancy, but Mary died of a fever, and Anne escaped, possibly with the connivance of her father, and lived to a ripe and respectable old age.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 27th February

No birthday girl today so another one from yesterday Mabel Dodge Luhan

February 26, 1879 – August 13, 1962.

Much married New York Salonist, her memoir (so we are told, I’ve not read it) Intimate Memories (1933) details relationships with several women. She knew Natalie Barney and was a friend of Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas.

A fellow traveller rather than really one of us, I think. Apparently she knew how to throw a party, and was great at mixing people together, so maybe I’ll wait for an invitation from her, rather than the other way round…

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 24th February

No birthday for today, so guess where we are headed. Yep!

Eliza Fowler Haywood, born around 1693 died 25 February 1756, so it seems appropriate to give her a February party.
Eliza was an actress, and a prolific novelist, playwright, poet, translator and editor – and made quite a success of all of them. She wrote rather racy material, and often showed sympathy for ‘fallen’ women. This led to her writing being overlooked until relatively recently, as indelicate.

A few of her books have been made available for free via the excellent Project Gutenberg.

Criticks! be dumb tonight – no skill display;
A dangerous Woman-Poet wrote the Play:
One who not fears your fury, tho’ prevailing
More than your Match, in everything, but railing.
Give her fair quarter, and whenever she tries ye
Safe in superior spirit, she defies ye…

(Prologue, A Wife to be Let 1723)

It is enough – in knowing one, I knew the whole deceiving sex – Nor will I be a second time betray’d – I’ll hide me for ever from their Arts, their soothing Flattery, their subtle Insinuations – no more I’ll hear, or see or think of Man – the best is base…

(The Rash Resolve, 1724)

… the Avarice and Self interestedness, which is generally observed in those women who make Sale of their Beauty, is chiefly owing to men.

(The story of The Enchanted Well – Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjascent to the Kingdom of Utopia 1775)

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 17th February

Today we bake a cake for Dorothy Canfield Fisher February 17, 1879 – November 9, 1958.

Dorothy was a great friend of fellow writer, Willa Cather, they wrote great quantities of letters, which in the main we cannot read as Cather’s will forbade the publication of, or quotation from her letters. (Apparently the way to get round this is to go to the University of Nebraska, read the photocopies which they allow you access to and then paraphrase the contents – I’m not doing that for you, you are on your own! I do find myself wondering whether Willa would be pleased at this  avoidance of her wishes, but if she’d really been that worried she’d have burnt them.)

Here’s a couple of quotes from Dorothy.

…there are two ways to meet life; you may refuse to care until indifference becomes a habit, a defensive armor, and you are safe – but bored. Or you can care greatly, live greatly, until life breaks you on its wheel.

I think that I am being at a spectacle which cynics say is impossible, the spectacle of a woman delighting – and with most obvious sincerity – in the beauty of another. (The Bent Twig)

Dorothy was an educator and activist, campaigning for women’s rights and race equality, and doing practical things whilst in Paris during the 1st World War, like creating braille works for blind veterans, and later setting up Montessori schools in the US.

I don’t know that she’d have time for a party, but she’s welcome if she can fit it in.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 15th February

Right, back to the history (and as an aside I’ve realised what I’ve been doing here – echoing Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, a play in which various female icons from history and myth – Isabella Bird, Pope Joan, Lady Nijo, Dull Gret, Patient Griselda – gather together for a meal.)

Today’s birthday belongs to Susan B Anthony, February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906, campaigner for women’s rights, abolition of slavery, temperance and suffrage for all in the USA.

Gloriously she was arrested and tried for voting!

This somewhat backfired on the government despite a completely unfair trial, as it gave her an unrivalled platform for her views. She was fined $100, which she refused to pay.

It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union … The true republic: men, their rights and nothing more: women, their rights and nothing less.

Susan was too busy campaigning to have much of a private life but seems like a good sort, with lots of women friends.

I declare to you that woman must not depend upon the protection of man, but must be taught to protect herself, and there I take my stand

Obviously she wouldn’t want to get in with some of the rowdy drinkers I’ve invited, but we could always have a genteel pre-yard-arm version with tea and lemon slices, and a nice madeira cake.

Failure is Impossible

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 11th February

Karoline von Günderode 11 February 1780 – 26 July 1806  romantic poet, her works often had strong heroic women in the central role, and was critical of traditional gender attitudes.

I have to say she behaved a bit like an opera heroine, and this doesn’t strike me as entirely a good thing – Jane Austen would have had comments to make about sensibility.

I’ve often had the unfeminine desire to throw myself into the wild chaos of battle and die. Why didn’t I turn out to be a man! I have no feeling for feminine virtues, for a woman’s happiness. Only that which is wild, great, shining appeals to me. There is an unfortunate but unalterable imbalance in my soul; and it will and must remain so, since I am a woman and have desires like a man without a man’s strength.

Sounds good doesn’t it, but she had an affair with a married man Georg Friedrich Creuzer, who divorced his wife to be with her. Unfortunately, persuaded by his friends that Caroline was unsuitable, he left her. (Or depending on which version you go by,  he wouldn’t divorce his wife).  As a result of the stress he got ill, and Caroline, believing he was dying (or furious he wouldn’t divorce his wife…), killed herself… Georg survived the illness (if there was one).

Actually, not sure why I’m including her, I’m writing this and thinking, idiot! But there you go, idiots abound, and sometimes they can be fun to be around, briefly.

I think I would be delighted if she declined the invitation, I’d be having to keep an eye on her the whole time, and keep counting the knives: not restful.


The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 5th February

Today we are blowing up balloons to celebrate

Marie Rabutin-Chantal de Sévigné

5 February 1626 – 17 April 1696

Romantic friend of Marie de Lafayette and obsessive writer of letters (mainly to her daughter). Member of Paris intellectual circle, spent a lot of time at Versailles.

The heart has no wrinkles

When I step into this library, I cannot understand why I ever step out of it

If you are not feeling well, if you have not slept, chocolate will revive you. But you have no chocolate! I think of that again and again! My dear, how will you ever manage?

Well, I know what to serve Marie at the party…