52 Weeks of Women – October
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 Hedy Lamarr, Nellie Bly, Lady Murasaki Shikibu, Olympe de Gouges, and the Women of Early Sumer. 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.
Having escaped a failed marriage and Nazi occupation, many would think making it to the US and signing a Hollywood contract would be enough. But not for Hedy. She had, over the years, picked up a decent amount of informal science and engineering knowledge, and used it now to set to inventing all manner of items. Her idea for a stock cube that became a soft-drink when dropped into water didn’t turn out as planned, but her frequency hopping technology became the basis for modern wifi and bluetooth.
Read more about this remarkable woman here:
If podcasts are more your style, check out this one about Hedy and 3 other female inventors.
A journalist who wrote eloquently about labor laws, women’s rights and political corruption in Mexico. She pioneered the field of investigative journalism when she had herself committed to a mental institution for 10 days, and her reporting on the shocking facilities and abuse led to reform of care for the mentally ill. Nellie stayed in the public eye through stunts such as her emulation of Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in 80 days’, and her work as a America’s first female war correspondent during WWI.
Lady Murasaki Shikibu was a Japanese author and poet. She wrote the world’s first novel, The Tale of Genji, which told the story of a prince not sufficiently royal to ascend the throne. It’s complexity of plot, good characters and resolution make it a narrative that is both satisfying and philosophical, especially when you consider that she wrote it in Chinese, a language that women were generally not permitted to learn.
Learn more about Lady Murasaki here:
Olympe de Gouges was a playwright and political activist during the French Revolution. She published the Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen, in which she argued that women can be lawyers and ambassadors. She fought for the recognition of legitimacy of romance and children outside of marriage. “Woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum” she fortuitously wrote 2 years before her death, as the only woman of the French Revolution to be executed for her political writings.
Read more about her views here:
Archaeological work in Iraq has uncovered a world that would be hard to comprehend in the highly gendered civilisations which followed after. We find a civilisation where early Sumerian high priestesses had the same power and status as the high priests; women had access to the law and were as free to pursue business and education as men. In family life, the women of early Sumer (now Iraq) brought their own property to the marriage and would retain it if they divorced. Let’s not say that this was perfect, but in this civilisation more than 5000 years ago, to devalue the status of women and to restrict them from full participation in society was a waste of resources. Unfortunately, this equality was not to last.
Amanda Foreman’s ‘Ascent of Women’ talks more about the equality enjoyed by the early women of Sumer, and you can also learn more about them here: