52 Weeks of Women – February
52 Weeks of women is a weekly series of posts allowing us to rediscover the important role that women have played in history. To find out a little more about what we are doing or why visit Introducing 52 Weeks of Women.
To continue our series, this month we bring you Vida Goldstein, Jemima Nichols, Noor Inayat Khan and Rosalind Franklin. We hope that each post will prompt you to read more, and if you do we’d love you to share what you find out! Likewise, if you know of any women who you think should be included in our series, let us know.
Vida Goldstein was born in Portland, Victoria. Her mother Isabella (nee Hawkins) was an early feminist, who undertook charitable work in the slums of Collingwood, and Vida never forgot the world she saw where women were struggled with large families, drunk and violent husbands, and starving children. Vida imbibed the feminist ideals of her mother and determined never to marry. She received quite a number of offers over the years including Sir John Monash, but she felt that becoming a wife and mother would prevent her from what she was trying to achieve, namely getting women the vote. She worked with her mother and other suffragists on the Monster Petition, which demanded that the Victorian Parliament give women the vote. In a quite super-human effort they managed to collect 30,000 signatures on in six weeks, the original document (looking more like a large roll of cloth than paper, is a very precious part of the Victorian Records Office and is typically put on display once a year at Melbourne’s Old Treasury Building.
Vida became the leader of the women’s suffrage movement in 1899, and used a media blitz and letter-writing campaign calling society to account for its double standards during the trial of a woman accused of drowning her baby in the Yarra River. This gave Vida much needed experience in organising a public campaign and no-doubt helped her political organisation skills as well as her public profile. Not content with achieving the vote for all white women (sadly the vote for indigenous women across all of Australia’s electorates would not be achieved until 1965), she stood for parliament in 1903, becoming the first woman to stand for a federal parliamentary position. She contested four more elections, but never won the vote, partially due to gender, but also due to her insistence to run as an independent, and the unpopularity of her pacifist views during the first World War.
Not only was Goldstein the face of Australia feminism in the first two decades of the twentieth century, she was well known internationally. She was invited to speak in the US as the only delegate who could report on living in a fully enfranchised country. She was warmly regarded by President Roosevelt, and also was very influential in the UK’s struggle for the female vote, and was the woman that British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst turned to for support and advice.
She was supported by prominent men like Alfred Deakin and Justice Higgins, who was so influenced by her ideas and writings that he used Goldstein’s calculation of a ‘living wage’ to help formulate the famous Harvester Judgement in 1908 – an international high watermark of industrial arbitration.
“She was feted as being the embodiment of the modern woman. She was known for being a fabulous public speaker, beautifully spoken, funny, charismatic, whip-smart, well read and a great writer.
You can learn more about Vida in Wright’s article Birth of a National (link below). You could also spend a very diverting lunchtime at the museum in the Melbourne’s Old Treasury Building including the Women’s Trail where Vida features very heavily (and quite handily entry is free!).
Most people know that the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was the last invasion of Britain, however the truth is, that was the last successful invasion…
In 1797, a rag-tag troupe of Napoleon’s less celebrated soldiers (comprising of ageing leaders, under-fed troops, and newly-released prisoners) set out to invade England via the port of Bristol. Fate, however, had other plans, and when they weren’t able to land in Bristol, they moved up to Fishgarden in south-east Wales.
Once there, however, instead of wreaking havoc on the townspeople and claiming victory, the men found themselves so overwhelmed by the sight of plentiful food and drink after months of poor rations, that they wreaked havoc on the village’s food supply and generally ran amok.
Jemima, the 47-year old wife of the town’s cobbler, stumbled upon 12 drunken soldiers on her farm, incensed at them chasing her chickens, she single handedly rounded them up with a pitchfork and marched them to the local church where they were locked up, earning herself the name Jemima Fewr, meaning Jemima the Great in Welsh.
The locals fought the remaining Frenchmen, and the battle was over before it could even begin. In two days, the poorly planned and terribly executed invasion was over.
Good on Jemima for taking matters into her own hands, and playing such a notable part in the safety of her country! Next time you decide to take on the gas company over their sloppy and negligent billing system or have words with the teenagers pushing past an elderly lady at the shopping centre, may the force of Jemima be with you.
Daughter of a Indian Muslim Sufi, and raised in a mistic, pacifist household, she was not predisposed to a life of subterfuge and warfare, however she became the first female wireless operator in occupied France during WWII, and was named by the Gestapo as ‘highly dangerous’.
After war broke out in England, Khan and her brother discussed how they could help in a way that wouldn’t jeopardise Ghandi’s policy of nonviolence which they had been raised with, and decided that they would need to work in non-violent jobs in the most dangerous positions, which is what led Khan to apply to become an SOE.
Throughout her training, she was seen as largely unfit for the life of a spy, due to her lack of subterfuge and reluctance to lie, and she was also called ‘scatterbrained’ and ‘clumsy’. Her typing skills were heavy-handed, earning her the nickname Bang Away Lulu. All in all, she didn’t seem set to be a very successful spy, especially not in a location where the life-expectancy of an accomplished wireless operator was only 6 weeks during occupation. Khan was offered an opportunity to change her mind and back out of the job, but she was determined to go.
Only a week after she arrived, the entire spy network was rounded up, leaving her completely isolated. She was offered a chance of evacuation to safety, but chose to stay until a replacement was found. Despite the low regard in which she was held during her training, she surprised everyone by evading capture for almost 3 months, making her the only radio link between England and occupied France during that time.
Eventually she was betrayed and captured by the Gestapo. After several attempted escapes, she was shackled and kept in solitary consignment, and eventually transported to Daschau in Germany, where she and three other female spies were executed. Throughout the whole imprisonment, even through violent interrogation, she refused to give up any secrets, proving that her strength of character and personal steadfastness made her the perfect spy after all.
Before her training, Khan was quoted as saying to her brother:
“I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. If one or two could do something in the Allied service which was very brave and which everybody admired it would help to make a bridge between the English people and the Indians.” Noor Inayat Khan was awarded the George Cross for her service during WWII. In a Disney movie she would escape and live happily ever after, but real life doesn’t always work like that. Her endeavour perseverance and determination remind us that great things can be attempted and achieved even though other may not believe in our ability.
Women in science have always had a rough time in many ways, and Rosalind Franklin is no different. An extremely talented chemist and x-ray crystallographer, it was her photo of DNA which enabled Watson & Crick to definitively posit that DNA is formed as a double helix, which won them the Nobel Peace Prize, leaving her unmentioned.
Rosalind was working on the DNA strcture problem at Kings College in London, in the same lab as Maurice Wilkins (whom she had a rocky relationship with from the beginning, when he assumed she’d been hired as his assistant). It was with x-ray methods, she developed herself, that she was able to capture Photo 51, which ultimately led to the discovery and proof of the double helical structure of DNA.
Watson & Crick were working on the same problem over at Cambridge University at the same time, having little success. It was when Watson visited Wilkins at Kings College that he was shown the photo by Rosalind’s lab colleague, and it sparked a particular train of thought which he and Crick rapidly based a model on, and they then released their theory and model. At the time the discovery was published, Rosalind was leaving Kings College to study viruses at Birkbeck College, in part because of the tense working environment between her and Wilkins.
It has been recognized that without Rosalind’s photo, and the data that she had produced, Watson & Crick would have been unlikely to have the confidence to develop and publish their model. We should recognise that they didn’t ‘steal’ her data. There is, however, a shadiness surrounding their scruples in appropriating what they learned of her work by luck, and their readiness to publish with no mention of her. Speaking of the disparity in men and women in the scientific research world.
Watson, Crick and Wilkins were awarded Nobel prizes together, Rosalind having died of cancer, was ineligible. We will never be known if she would have been recognized for her work in the historical discovery. Rosalind’s work on the potato mosaic virus was continued after her death, and her colleague went on to win the Nobel peace prize for this work as well.
How sad it is that such a brilliant woman should have been so integral in the scientific work which earned not one but two nobel prizes, yet she was never recognized in her lifetime for either!