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Female Badasses in History: Grace Hopper (1906-1992)


Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was a United States Navy officer and pioneer of the computer. Her work helped make computers what they are today because her work was crucial in developing the first non-machine dependent programming language and the first compiler, i.e. a device transforms source code into another computer language such as binary. Also, she is credited with coining the term de-bugging.

Born Grace Brewster Murray in New York in 1906, Grace is said to always have been a very curious child for example dismantling an alarm clock to see how it works. She earned her undergrad degree in mathematics at Vassar College in 1928 and went on to earn her Master’s degree and her PhD in mathematics at Yale where she graduated in 1934 with her dissertation »New Types of Irreducibility Criteria«.

In 1943 Grace Hopper left her position as an associate professor at Vassar College to join the »Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service« (WAVES), a Naval Reserve organization that allowed women to serve in the US Navy. Because of her mathematics degree Grace was soon assigned to work with the Navy’s early computers, at that time huge machines designed mainly to decipher code. Her talent in this matter was so apparent that after the war ended and her service was up, she was practically begged to continue to work for the Navy. Grace liked the idea because it gave her the opportunity to work with what was at the time cutting-edge science and so she signed on as a Navy research fellow in Harvard in 1949.

In her position as a Navy research fellow Grace Hopper started working as a Navy technical consultant for the company that developed the UNIVAC I, the first commercial computer developed in the United States. This is where she invented and developed the first ever compiler. In 1953 she completed the first operational compiler. Compilers transform source code into another computer language, which is the basis for all executable programs – basically all software. In an interview with the Yale University paper in 1987 she said: “Nobody believed that, I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic.”
She quickly rose in the ranks and became company’s first director of automatic programming, a position in which she worked on developing some of the world’s first compiler based computer languages.

She also rose in the ranks of the Navy: After her work as a consultant was finished she served as the director of the Navy Programming Languages Group in the Navy’s Office of Information Systems Planning from 1967 to 1977 and was promoted to the rank of captain in 1973. During this time period she strongly advocated writing programming languages in a way closely related to English and to replace central computers that filled whole rooms with networks of small distributed – one could almost say personalized – computers.

Initially set to retire in 1966 she was brought back by the Navy for an assignment of indefinite time. In 1983 the importance of work was demonstrated by a Presidential appointment to the rank of Rear Admiral. She completely retired in 1986 as the oldest active commissioned officer in the history of the Navy at age 79. She spent the rest of her life acting as a good-will ambassador for the Digital Equipment Corporation lecturing about her work and early computers. She died in 1992 at age 85.

Today Grace Hopper can be remembered as one of the most important computer pioneers. Her work really is part of the basis for all computer software we use today. Today a Navy destroyed is named after her to commemorate and honor her memory and accomplishments.


Female Badasses in History: Flora Sanders (1876–1955)

Flora Sanders stands out in military history. She was the only British woman to officially enlist in World War I and the first woman in history who became a commissioned officer in the Serbian army.

Flora Sanders was born in 1876 in Nehter Poppleton in the UK as the daughter of an Irish family. In her youth she enjoyed riding and shooting a lot. On one occasion it is said that she claimed, she would have liked to be born a boy. She also was one of the first women in the area who learned to drive. In her twenties she bought a French racecar, taught herself how to drive and raced around Yorkshire in it.

When World War I broke out in 1914, she was one of the first women to volunteer to become a nurse in the British army. She was rejected due to her lack of qualification but Sanders didn’t give up and joined the Red Cross. She and other Red Cross volunteers set out for Serbia in 1914, which at the time was under military assault by German, Austro-Hungarian, and Bulgarian troops and suffered heavy military and civilian casualties.

Sanders worked with a Serbian army regiment under heavy assault. Her assignment was to run around the battlefield under heavy fire and collect wounded soldiers she had to drag back to safety. When the unit had to retreat to Albania because of the heavy attacks, Sanders was separated. After a two-day trek through the mountains, she found another Serbian army unit and decided to join them in combat. Flora Sanders became the only British woman to enlist in an army in World War I. Because of her apparent skill, she quickly rose through the ranks and in 1916 was awarded the rank of Corporal. The same year, she participated in a Serbian Army attack on Monastir where she was wounded by a grenade while engaging an Austro-Hungarian soldier in hand-to-hand combat. She was brought to a military hospital in Greece, was awarded the rank of Sergeant Major and was awarded the Order of the Karađorđe’s Star, the highest military honor the Serbian Army has to offer.

Unable to continue to fight, Sanders wrote an autobiography in order to make people worldwide support the fight of Serbia against the tri-partie powers. She remained in the Serbian Army until 1922 when she was honorably discharged.

In 1927 she married a former White-Army-General who had fought in the Russian civil war and lived in Belgrad with him. When Nazi-Germany invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, Sanders and her husband were both interned in the Gestapo prison in Belgrad. Her husband didn’t survive captivity. After World War II Sanders returned to England where she spent the remaining years of her life delivering lectures about her time in the military. She died in 1955 in Suffolk.

Flora Sanders stands out because she defied military and social convention. Due to her alleged saying she’d rather be a boy, it has been speculated that she might have been one of the first known trans-gender people to fight in a war. That question aside though, Flora Sanders certainly proves to be an example of somebody who didn’t back down when faced with the obstacle of social and military norms.

One thing Dan Brown got right, or: The Church was and is an institution run by men for men

I recently saw »The Da Vinci Code« for the first time (I know I am late to this). Besides the fact that I never thought to hear the sentence »I need to get to a library – fast!« uttered in a movie with a tone of urgency normally reserved for an action movie a la Mission Impossible, I found it to be a historical mess. Conspiracy theories mixed with half-truths and incredibly stupid characters (»Da Vinci painted a woman in his Last Supper! Yes, I see it too and because Da Vinci painted it, it must be historical truth!«) might make for an entertaining story but are dangerous when people start believing it. Several people have already disproven Brown’s claim that »all of the organizations and rituals described in this book are historical fact« but one aspect Brown used, I find especially interesting because it is really based in historical truth and it goes to show how history can be written. This aspect is Biblical apocrypha and the Gospel of Mary in particular.

The question of the existence of the historical person Jesus (there are no contemporary sources for his historical existence, the first independent Roman source dates 40 years after his supposed death) aside, the gospels presents us with a picture of him and his male followers being responsible for spreading the word of God during his life time and after his death. One would assume that with all the historical problems the Bible in general has (Jewish court against Jesus on a high holiday and at night? Somebody didn’t know his Judaism very well) this is basically the story everybody can agree on: One man, his twelve male followers and the only women in the story his virgin-mother and Mary-Magdalene, the prostitute that kind of just hung around.
However, even for this there are sources that prove this wrong: In 1896 a German scholar unearthed a 5th century papyrus codex, which contained the so-called Gospel of Mary. Most biblical scholars agree that this particular book was written by the historical Mary-Magdalene (again, given that what the bible presents us is at least half-historically accurate) and it presents a very different version of Jesus and his followers. From what can be gathered from this book, Mary-Magdalene was one of the apostles and even outranked Peter in the hierarchy of who gets told about the teachings of Jesus first. This version is – in slight variations – backed up by several other gospels that two farmers found buried in the sands of Egypt in 1945 (the so-called Nag Hammadi library).
All of these texts were not included in the canonical version of the New Testament that was put together in the 3rd and 4th century AD. Was it because Jesus and Mary-Magdalene were married and had a child as Dan Brown claims? Most likely not. Was it because Christian officials at the time wanted the fact that in the earliest of Christianity women were to the most part equal to men (at least in terms of preaching and spreading the word) suppressed? That paired with the fact that some of the content of these gospels is gnostic, is a historically more likely explanation.

My intention with this post was not to bash Christianity or Christians. I just wanted to point out that in my opinion it is important to question the dogma of the church as well as to not take everything in the bible as literal because there is a lot of stuff left out and how can you take something literal if it is not complete or is contradictory in its content? I think it is important to recognize that many a content of what today is considered the right Christian way comes rather from 2000 years of official and not accurate history and therefore rather than oppose gay marriage, women in church hierarchy or abortion, Christians should focus on the positive aspects of their belief such as helping the poor or fighting for the underdogs in society.

»Weltanschauung« and the Holocaust

So, I haven’t produced content for this blog in quite a while. This was mainly due to the fact that I had to write an important paper about the »Weltanschauung« of Nazi perpetrators and how this mix of ideological-inspired views pertaining to an imaginary »Jewish question« and its supposed solution was conveyed to men joining the SS and participating in the Einsatzgruppen-murders in the Soviet Union.

To give a short summary:
»Weltanschauung« is more than a general world view or an ideology an individual embraces. »Weltanschauung« is all the views of an individual concerning the world and the place of men in the world. For the men (and in this case it was only men) who planed and participated directly in the Holocaust by shooting approx. 900.000 (which is the conservative estimate. The highest estimate is about 1,35 Million) Jews in the Soviet Union a specific »Weltanschauung« was a very important factor.

The vast majority of the men of the so-called Reich Security Main Office (Reichsicherheitshauptamt, RSHA – the institution which was most directly involved in the Holocaust for their bureaucrats planned deportation, organized persecution, were often in important positions in occupied countries, and lead the Einsatzgruppen – the Nazi death squads – in the Soviet Union and Poland) were born between 1900 and 1910 and had studied in the Weimar Republic. Several revered authors postulate that because they experienced World War I not on the battlefield but at home, they started to embrace the glorified ideal of the soldier fighting in a necessarily cold-hearted manner that never allowed compromise and demanded to put the ideal before the individual.
This ideal mixed with the anti-Semitic ideology they picked up during their time at university – universities in the Weimar Republic were a hot-bed for the extreme right wing »völkische« movement – is what made them believe in a »Jewish-question«, basically a scenario in which Jews just by their mere existence threatened the racial purity of the German people and without the racial purity the German people would go under in the eternal struggle of the »Völker«. At the same time, the ideals of non-compromise, cold-heartedness, and putting the idea before the individual lead to what they saw as a solution to this imaginary problem: A policy that aimed at social totality, e.g. excluding Jews from society, forcing them to emigrate and in the end, extermination.

This »Weltanschauung« was a major factor for the radicalization of the regime and also offered these men a psychological frame of reference in which they could kill Jews but still see themselves as moral human beings for in their perception they were only doing what was necessary for the sake of the German people and history.
Analyzing the ideological education for their subordinated in the SS can show that they recognized how important such a frame of reference was. The orders of what should be taught and how it should be taught were to emphasize the historical necessity of their actions. Also, one aim of their ideological training was to create camaraderie among the men carrying out the killings since it was the camaraderie among these men that created a social dynamic where basically peer-pressure lead to participation in the killing actions despite the fact that everybody had been given the choice not to participate. This kind of camaraderie – in the sense of an elite community carrying out this highly important task – was also a central idea in the »Weltanschauung« of the highly ideological men in the SS, also inspired by their student time in small »völkische Bünde« and shows the importance of closely examining these connections when we as historians try to approach a sense of understanding (not in the sense of excusing but rather being able to comprehend their actions from the historical context) with the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

Kony 2012, »God has left Africa«, and the question of military intervention

The recent viral Kony 2012 campaign and the whole controversy surrounding it reminded of the 2003 movie Tears of the Sun. The Antoine Fuqua directed Bruce Willis and Monica Bellucci vehicle was one of the »Africa awarness« movies the movie industry decides to put out every couple of years – mostly corresponding with real »Africa awareness« campaigns. Other examples include Blood Diamond or the – strangely enough – Uwe Boll film Darfur. Tears of the Sun stands out even among these movies though for Roger Ebert’s assessment of it as an “impressionistic nightmare” proves itself to be true on so many levels. The movie openly shows together rape, child soldiers, senseless killings, and religious conflict – all problems apparent in certain areas of the African continent. It also conveys what can be called stereotypical Western portray of Africa: Africans themselves are either helpless victims or hardly speaking murderers that use drugged up child soldiers to do their evil bidding. In the middle of all of this are the White, Western characters such as Monica Bellucci’s aiding doctor and Bruce Willis’ marine with a heart of gold, spouting such wisdoms as “God has left Africa”. They are essentially the only characters in the movie that are active in a good way. The lifes of helpless Africans depend on them because the movie portrays them in a way that makes them unable to take any kind of action of their own. The message of the movie is basically that Africa – because the way the movie wants the audience to understand it, all of Africa is clearly the same hotbed of horrible conflict – is helpless without Western military intervention.

And that brings us to the Kony 2012 campaign. This campaign and the controversy surrounding it pose an essential question: What can be the effect of raised awareness in the West about criminals such as Kony? Should the goal be to pressure the dictatorial Uganda government that deploys child soldiers in its own army to hunt down Kony? Should the goal be to send Western military in to get rid of Kony? The same questions are applicable to the conflict in Darfur – once immensely “popular” about the political aware Western crowd but now almost forgotten – or the also almost forgotten Rwandan genocide or the hardly present ethnic conflicts in former Yugoslavia. Can Western countries end these conflicts and if so, how can they do that effectively? Will putting president Bashir on the ICC criminal list have any effect? Will economic sanctions against these countries lead to change? Or is military intervention – as Tears of the Sun suggests it – the most effective way to end genocide and slaughter?

As a historian whose field of interest is the Holocaust, I can’t be opposed to military intervention. Without question World War II effectively ended the German campaign of mass murder. The same is true for the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia that ended the auto-genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge or the 1991 NATO intervention in former Yugoslavia with only the latter being fought – at least in part – because of the atrocities committed. The question that still remains is how effective these interventions were not in ending the immediate violence but in eliminating the structural and ideological reasons for the genocide and atrocities committed. While in the case of the German and Austrian committed Holocaust there can be made a case for the effectiveness of the Allied intervention and occupation, in the latter case of Yugoslavia the intervention might have ended violence but if it helped in eliminating the political and structural reasons for the ethnic violence is a question that can not be answered at this point, to put it carefully.

I can’t and won’t make the cause for intervention in every case. Also, I can’t answer all these question I have posed because it all depends on the specific case and circumstances. To put it in very simple and general terms, the reason why people such as Joseph Kony, Bashir, and others like them all over the world can exist are a manifold mix of social, economic, political, and historical reasons. The most effective and also most difficult way to end violent conflicts like these would be to change these factors. A long, hard, and difficult way that is not easy to walk. I believe that for each one of us individually the way of contributing to this, is by informing ourselves, by not forgetting “unpopular” conflicts that still are ongoing (Darfur!), by donating to organizations we can be sure about (Oxifam and Doctor’s without border some to mind), and by putting pressure on Western governments resp. support the people who do in order to achieve a more fair and non-exploitative policy of the West as well as providing the necessary assistance for self-help.

From the desk of a feminist historian: The history of International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is not a day to celebrate feminity, motherhood, or women. If you give flowers to a woman on International Women’s Day, you are doing it wrong. International Women’s Day has and always will be a day to draw attention to the social issues women fac all around the world and to fight for their rights. Actually it is necessary to fight for women’s rights all year round but this is the day to draw attention of the serious issues of non-equality and lacking emancipation women still face today.

It is actually not true that the International Women’s Day is on March 8 because of female American textile workers striking on March 8, 1857 and being brutally beaten by the police. Historians such as Liliane Kandel, Francoise Picq, and Temma Kaplan have proven this a legend in the 1960. The actual origin of the International Women’s Day is the Second Socialist International Women’s conference 1910 in Copenhagen where prominent female socialist such as Clara Zetlkin (about whom I have written before), Rosa Luxemburg, and Adelheid Popp made the suggestion of introducing an international day to fight for women’s rights. The idea for that came from the Socialist Party of America that had established a women’s rights committee in 1908 and especially May Wood-Simons that had the idea of introducing a day where all the women of the Western world would protest together for their right to vote. The suggestion passed and in 1911 the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in Denmark, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and Switzerland. March 8 was chosen because of the significance of the month of March for the socialist movement; in March 1848 the so-called March Revolution took place and the Paris commune also started in March.

In the following five years the International Women’s Day became the most important day for the socialist movement after Labor Day on May 1st. The most pressing issue addressed on this day was suffrage. Until the end of the First World War there were hardly any countries that allowed women to vote, so in the beginning years of its existence International Women’s Day always was also Internation Women’s Right to Vote Day.The first country that adopted International Women’s Day as an official holiday was the newly founded Soviet Union in 1918 due in part to the lobbying of the Socialist International Women’s Movement anad also in part due to Lenin himself who saw women’s rights struggle as one of the most important issues in a socialist state.

After 1918 the day was still celebrated mostly by socialist and socialdemocrat parties as a day to demonstrate against the wage-gap, the criminalization of abortion, and the conditions women were forced to work under. Especially the German and Austrian communist and socialist movement stand out in this manner since they managed the biggest demonstrations and were the first movements in a democratic state that tried to institute March 8 outside of the Soviet Union.

After the Second World War (during the Nazi time period the day was abolished) many socialist countries adapted the day as a fixture in their calendar to demonstrate the many achievements for women in the new socialist order. The German Democratic Republic for example celebrated its first International Women’s Day on March 8, 1946 and with that day adopted the so-called women’s day, which was one day a week women got off of work with full pay.
During the 1960s International Women’s Day was slowly disconnected from the socialist movement in Western countries, especially in connection with the rightful critique of feminists concerning socialist parties and movements. The same day was adapted to not only fight against the wage gap but also for reproductive rights, the acknowledgment of women as their own legal person, and the equality of Lesbians.

To this day all these issues are not resolved. As a personal appeal, I want all of you to remember not only where this day came from but also, that there is a lot to fight for in terms of women’s rights. There is still a wage gap, a war on women’s reproductive rights, not full equality for homosexuals, stereotypes against women, rape culture, and prejudices concerning feminism. All of these have to be fought. None of these can be overcome with buying flowers for women. I urge all of you whether male, female, queer or something else to use this day to draw attention to these issues and continue the fight all year. For a more just, equal, and generally better society!

Female Badasses in History:Marie Gouze better known as Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793)

Olympe de Gouges was a French playwright, revolutionary, and abolitionist. She started becoming politically involved as a writer against slavery and is most well-known for writing the Declaration of the rights of women and the female citizen in response to the French Revolution’s Declaration of the right of man and the citizen, in which she challenged male dominance in the revolutionary movement and the focus of the French revolutionary struggle on men and not women.

Olympe de Gouges was born in 1748 in southwestern France in a petit-bourgeoisie family with her father being a butcher. She originally believed she was the illegitimate child of a French aristocrat but he rejected her story, which might have been a decisive factor in her later defense of the rights of illegitimate children. In 1765 at age seventeen Olympe was married against her will. She later wrote about her marrige that she was married to a man she found repugnant and felt hopelessly trapped. Her husband, however, died a year later and Olypme took the chance to move to Paris with her son where she also took her pen name. During her time in Paris she must have studied reading and writing because analphabetism was common among French women at the time and in her home the language was Occidane (a minority language in France) rather then the French of the north. She also spent her time in literary salons and cohabitating with several men of the Parisian literary scene. It is assumed that was how she got involved in politics and started writing text inspired by the Enlightenment. She wrote her first play, Zamorze and Mirza, in 1784 but it was not performed until 1789. It was a story about two survivors of a shipwreck falling in love, one of them being a black slave and had a strong anti-slavery message. She also started writing political texts, among them many that condemned slavery, called for a new divorce law allowing women to get divorced, proclaimed the right of women to have sexual relations outside of marriage, were concerned with a better treatment of illegitimate children and with human rights in general.

Olympe had many condemn her, mainly for being a woman that dared getting involved in politics and writing. Even some of her later colleges in the revolutionary movement were appalled by a woman “daring” to be involved in matters that “only concerned men”.

When the revolution in 1789 broke out Olympe was in full support of it. However, soon it became clear to her that men dominated the revolutionary movement and in formulating the rights of men, they didn’t include women. In reaction, she and several other female authors and female proponents of the Enlightenment founded the Society of the Friends of the Truth (which is an awesome name!) in 1791, a social club dedicated to the rights and inclusion of women. It is this social club where she made one of her most famous statements: “A woman has the right to mount the scaffold She must possess equally the right to mount the speaker’s platform.” In this context scaffold meaning the Guillotine. Olympe was opposed to the execution of the members of the Frnech aristocracy.

When in the same year the Declaration of the Rights of men and the citizen became part of the new French constitution, Olympe in protest wrote the Declaration of the Rights of women and the female citizen because the new constitution still excluded women from political rights. The first article of her declaration states: “The woman is born free and equal to men in all rights and matters concerned.” A lot of the text is similar to the Declaration of the Rights of men but now includes women in the text. Historiography is still not clear how much of an impact her text had. Until 1971 it was not much dealt with in writings about the French Revolution but this is most likely related to the fact that most male historians chose to ignore her text rather than research its impact.

During the revolution Olympe was associated with the Girondins. When the Jacobins began erecting their rule of terror under Robespierre they arrested her for this association but also for her relentless critique of male dominance after the revolution. She was not allowed to have a lawyer present during her trial and tried to defend herself but to no avail. She was beheaded on the Place  de la Concorde on November 3, 1793.

Olympe de Gouges stands out as an outspoken proponent of the Enlightenment who was not afraid to propagate and fight for what was right in her opinion. Her Declaration of the Rights of women and the female citizen was an important document of protest against the exclusion of women from the newly introduced human and political rights. In its text it doesn’t aim at establishing any “special” rights for women but rather at the inclusion and the granting of the same rights and duties men were awarded by the revolution. Also, in her other texts her early feminism and dedication to the rights of all humans – male, female, black, white, legitimate or illegitimate – stands out. The fact that she has been (deliberately) forgotten by historiography until almost 200 years after her death should stand not only as a reminder but as an call for an obligation to historians and society in general to remember such outstanding women such as her.

Female Badasses in History: Constance Markievicz (1868-1927)

Countess Constance Markievicz was a founding member of the Irish parliament, a fighter for Irish independence, a suffragette, a socialist and one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position in any government. Despite her aristocratic background she was involved in socialist politics in Ireland, smuggled arms for the Irish Republicans, and took part in the Irish Easter Rising and the Irish Civil War following the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Constance Markievicz was born Constance Gore-Booth in 1868 in London as the daughter of an Artic explorer and Anglo-Irish landlord. In her youth her father had already been an inspiration for during the famine of 1879-80 he had distributed free food among the peasant on his estate in North-West Ireland. She originally trained to become a painter in London and soon became involved with the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society, an organization dedicated to women’s suffrage in the UK. Before settling in Dublin in 1903 she also went to Paris where she met and married her husband Casimir Markievicz, a wealthy count from Poland.

After settling in Dublin, Constance made a name for her as a landscape painter and since she was interested in Gaelic language and culture she became a member of the Gaelic League. The league despite it’s original apolitical intent was an organization that brought together many prominent figure of the Irish nationalist struggle such as the later first president of Ireland Douglas Hyde or John O’Leary. In 1908 she joined Sinn Féin and the Daughters of Ireland, a revolutionary women’s movement. Her first activities included a cultural campaign of promoting the nationalist Irish cause through theater as well as a suffragette campaign in opposition to the election of Winston Churchill to the British parliament.
With the conflict becoming more heated, Constance founded the Fianna Éireann (Warriors of Ireland), a scout organization that trained boys and girls in the use of firearms. Soon after she was arrested for the first time for speaking at a rally against the visit of King George V to Ireland.

In 1913 the big lockout occurred. The lockout is one of the most intense labor disputes in Irish history starting when Dublin’s public transportation workers went ton strike due to low payment and in protest of British policy in Ireland, eventually culminating in city-wide dispute that involved approximately 20.000 workers and 300 employers. It lasted seven months. Through this event Constance drifted further to the left, joining the socialist Irish Citizen Army, which was dedicated to protecting the workers from the police. She supported the cause by paying for food out of her own pocket and organizing soup kitchens for worker’s children. She also became involved in gun running for the organization.

In 1916 Irish republicans mounted the Easter Uprising, a revolt staged to establish Irish independence while Great Britain was heavily involved in the First World War. Constance took part as an officer and was charged as second-in-command with defending St- Stephen Green, a park in Dublin. Constance and her men held out for six days under heavy British fire and only gave up when they heard that the leader of the uprising Patrick Pearse had surrendered. Under cheers from the crowd she was brought to prison and later pleaded guilty to “disturbing the order of his Majesty’s people”. When the court communted her sentence from death to life-long imprisonment on account of her being a woman, Constance remarked that she “had done what was right” and that she wished they “had done their lot and shot me”. She was released from prison one year later after a general amnesty of the British government for those involved in the uprising.

In 1918 Constance ran for election and became the first woman to be elected to the British parliament but refused to take her seat in protest of British policy towards Ireland. The same year, she also became one of the first women and founding constituents of the Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament that declared unilateral independence form the United Kingdom. She was again elected to the Dáil in 1921 and from 1919 to 1922 served as Minister for Labor in the Irish cabinet and therefore as the first woman to hold a cabinet position in Ireland and one of the first women worldwide to be a government minister. She left the Irish government in protest of the Anglo-Irish treaty, which established Irish independence but didn’t go far enough for Constance and other Irish republicans. She participated as an officer and fighter in the Irish Civil War but Irish Republican forces lost the conflict in 1923 to the provisional government. She was reelected several times to the Irish parliament but also several times refused to take her seat because of her staunch Republican views. Constance Markievicz died in 1927 at age 59 possibly due to tuberculosis.

Constance Markievicz can be remembered as a prominent female socialist revolutionary that fought for the right of her people for independence and national self-determination. She always stood up for the things she believed and was ready to fight for her causes of Irish independence, socialism, and suffrage with violent means if necessary. She certainly was a woman who was afraid of almost nothing and her war records as well as her prison sentences prove that it was impossible to break her and make her give up the ideals she fought for all her life.

Female Badasses in History: Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000)

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky was outstanding in so many ways: she was the first woman to graduate an Austrian university with a degree in architecture, a famous architect with the Bauhaus movement, designed what is essentially the prototype of every modern kitchen, and was part of the Austrian anti-Nazi resistance as well as an outspoken critic of Austrian post-war politics.

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky was born in Vienna in 1897 in a bourgeois family. Through hard work, ambition, and help by artist Gustav Klimt she became the first female student admitted to the K.K. Kunstgewerbeschule (today: University for the applied arts), which at the time was already one of the most exclusive and prestigious school in all of Central Europe. She studied under Oskar Strnad who was a pioneer in the filed of sozialer Wohnbau (i.e. the building of affordable and comfortable council housing for low-income families and singles – a program that continues on a great scale in Vienna until this day) and Margarete took over his views that architecture had to be functional in the way that it affords comfort and affordability at the same time rather than looking grand. Even before graduating Margarete was already awarded several prizes and after graduating one of her first jobs was to design residential estates for World War I invalids together with star-architect Adolf Loos.

Many people where highly impressed by her work and in 1926 she was offered a job at the housing magistrate of the city of Frankfurt, which at the time was due to a huge campaign dedicated to creating new housing in the city was one of the forefronts of modern architectural design. Margarete accepted and during her work, she created what basically changed housing and is until this day the prototype of the modern fitted kitchen that probably most us have in our apartments: The Frankfurt Kitchen. The Frankfurt Kitchen was a design that acknowledged the change in society. It was designed not with a big apartment for a family of four in mind (albeit it could work for them too) but with singles or a couple living in an apartment and its purpose was to facilitate kitchen work, mainly for the working woman. Inspired by an assembly line principle and the special design of railroad kitchens, the Frankfurt Kitchen combines special effectiveness with an architectural design that aimed at rationalizing workflow in the kitchen. It introduced the sink-cutting board-stove combination, as well the integrated yet removable garbage drawer, and an organization system with labeled bins and conveniently placed cupboards and drawers. It also was very cost-effective: The kitchen came fully furnished (a novelty at the time) and ran for about 100 Reichsmark (which at the time was more than it sounds, yet not a lot. Comparatively it is cheaper than fitted kitchens today). Feminists have criticized her concept in the 70s and 80s stating that her design isolated women from the rest of the household due to its small-size, which can be viewed as a valid point. However, in the 1920s it was an innovation with working women in mind aimed at providing them with a fully equipped, cheap housing space and – as Lihotzky put it – “allowing them to have more free time and relax”.

Maragrete stayed in Frankfurt until the early 1930s continuing her work and also designing for other cities such as Vienna where she for example designed two apartment blocks with only 35 m2 of base area. With the political situation in the Weimar Republic and Austria deteriorating – Margarete identified as a socialist from her student days on –  she and a couple of her colleagues went to Moscow on a program designed to attract foreign architects to help build in the Soviet Union. Margarete helped design for the industrial city of Magnetogorsk and stayed until her pass expired in 1937. Subsequently she and her husband, Wilhelm Schütte, moved to London and then Paris but had trouble finding work there. In 1938 she moved to Istanbul where she met several other Austrian communists who tried to build up a resistance network in what by then had become part of “Greater Germany”. Lihotzky decided to join them and traveled back to Vienna. After some initial success in establishing contact with the small communist underground, the Gestapo arrested her and her companions in 1941. Initially sentenced to death, her husband managed to save her by stealing stationary from the Turkish government and intervening on her behalf. Margarete spend the rest of the war in a prison in Bavaria.

After the war and despite her anti-Nazi activity, the Austrian establishment shunned her by denying her publicly funded work because she was a communist. She was forced to take jobs consulting for housing projects in the GDR, Cuba and China. Only in the 80s did the Austrian establishment decided to honor her for her work but Margarete caused another uproar by refusing an award by then president of Austria Kurt Waldheim because of his past in several Nazi organizations. She was also one of the most outspoken critics of Asutrian far-right politics in the 90s, especially Jörg Haider of the Freedom Party. For her 100th birthday the city of Vienna awarded her the highest honors. She died in 2000 just 5 days shy of her 103rd birthday.

Maragrete Schütte-Lihotzky can be remembered as an architectural pioneer, the influences of her design extending until this day as well as a staunch anti-Nazi activist and one of the most remarkable Austrian women of the 20th century. Modern architecture would do well in taking some lessons from her, especially concerning her ideas about the social function of modern architecture.

Female Badasses in History: Mabel Normand (1892-1930)

Author’s note: A friend of mine inspired this post by pointing out in a post of her on another blog the issue of the (non)-canonization of female comedians of the silent film era. Since I view as the purpose of this blog to address exactly such problems, I want to thank my friend for inspiring this post.


Mabel Normand was a silent film actress and comedienne and one of the industries first female directors, screenwriters and producers. Not only did she star in films along side such well-known comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and write and direct several Charlie Chaplin movies, she also owned her own movie studio and can be remembered as one of the most popular and successful movie comediennes of her time.

Mabel Normand was born in New Brighton, New York in 1982. She grow up in extreme poverty and was forced to find work as a model before the age of sixteen. She entered the movie industry in 1909 working for D.W. Griffith’s Biography Company under director Mack Sennett who she was rumored to have an affair with. She left the company in 1912 to work for Sennett’s Keystone pictures. She co-founded the company and soon she became a fixture on the team of actors for Sennett together with two newcomers named Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. She wrote and directed as well as co-starred in several short-films together with the two and Historians agree about it, that it was Mabel that started off Chaplin’s carreer after his initial difficulties with acting for the screen.

In 1914 she and Chaplin starred in Tillie’s Punctured Romance, the first feature-length comedy.

In the second half of the 1910s she left Keystone but with the help of Sennett founded her own movie studio, Mabel Normand Productions. Unfortunately she was only able to produce one film called Mickey because she fell ill with bronchitis and split with Sennett professionally and personally.

In 1918 Mable signed with Goldwyn and went on to star in two very successful films despite the reported problems she and Goldwyn had, partly caused by Goldwyn’s sexist dealings with her, partly caused by her own taste for alcohol and parties.

The early 1920s were not a very good time for Mable. She was involved in two major scandals, the murder of director William Desmond Taylor and the shooting of an oil tycoon by her chauffeur and experienced health problems.

Mabel continued making movies until 1926 but as her health problems got worse, she was forced to retire. She died in 1930 at age 37 from tuberculosis. Today Mable Normand is not only remembered for her contributions as an actress but also as a writer and director. She made crucial contributions to starting Charlie Chaplin’s career and in the creation of his Tramp character. She also was very talented on both sides of the camera, as apparent in her film Won in a Closet, recently unearth by the New Zealand film archive, which she both starred in and directed. She is also a frontrunner in a long list of silent film comediennes that have been almost forgotten today for their contributions to the early movie industry.