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1800’s

Helen Keller

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Surprise! Hellen Keller’s contributions to the world did not end after she finger signed ‘water’ to Anne Sullivan.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this already famous woman, Helen Keller was born on on June 27, 1880 with the ability to see and hear. However, at 19 months old, she became sick with what was probably scarlet fever or meningitis, which left her both deaf and blind. She was able to sign in her own way, and by the time she was seven, she had over 60 signs she used to communicate to her family. Her mother, inspired by Charles Dickinson’s writings of successfully educated deaf women, sent for a tutor and Anne Sullivan was sent to their house. Things were rough to say the least. Young Helen didn’t understand that each object had a unique word to go with it, and even became violent at times. The breakthrough came when Helen signed the word ‘water’ to Anne, and then became fanatic about knowing the names for everything.

She was subsequently educated at several colleges, and even learned to speak out loud. She ‘heard’ others speech by feeling their lips move with her hands. She used these skills to become and outspoken activist, not only for disabled people, but for birth control, and the woman’s right to vote. She traveled the world, and upon her trip to Japan, she was introduced to the Akita breed of dog. She fell in love and brought the first Akita to America. She published 12 books, many of them about her own life.

Upon her death, she was awarded  Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest awards for a civilian in the USA.

Hellen Keller was a suffragette, birth control supporter and authored 12 books in her lifetime. Her first book was published at age 11, and her subsequent book, The Story of My Life, told

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Artist of the Week: Lilla Cabot Perry

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Lilla Cabot Perry (shown in this self portrait) was one of the most prolific and influential Impressionists in american history. She was highly respected in the artistic community, studied under Monet, and traveled the world, later blending Eastern artistic styles with her own. Her vocal praise for the Impressionist style and her success helped pave the way for other female painters of her time.

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Annie Oakley

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Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Mosey, in a log cabin in 1860. Her parents were quakers, and her mother had a difficult love life. When her mother was 18, she married Annie’s father, who was a few months shy of 50. She had 9 children in quick succession, including Annie. Her father, old as he was, fought in the War of 1812, but quickly succumbed to overexposure during a blizzard and died of pneumonia shortly thereafter. Her father’s death plunged the family into poverty, and young Annie rarely went to school, going to work as a nanny for a wealthy family at age ten. The family had promised her 50 cents per week for her work. Instead, she was kept as a slave, suffering physical and mental abuse. She would later refer to the family as ‘The Wolves’ but, in a huge testament of her maturity, never revealed their actual names. She ran away, and went home.

It was around this time she began hunting and trapping to support her mother and her eight siblings. She sold her spoils to fancy restaurants all around Ohio, and was so successful she paid off the mortgage on her mother’s house within a year. She became a local celebrity, and when she was 15 a shooting match was made between her and a traveling sharpshooter. The diminutive teenager must have been the last opponent he expected, but she beat him and won $100, a huge sum of money at that time. Far from being butt hurt about the defeat, this sharpshooter began courting young Annie, and they were married after a year. The marriage would last until her death.

She began performing in side shows and variety shows. She became so popular she eventually performed for Queen Victoria of England, King Umberto I of Italy, and the President of France  Marie François Sadi Carnot. So great was her skill that she even shot the ashes off of Kaiser Willhelm II. After the outbreak of WWI, she wrote the Kaiser, asking to redo her famous shot, stating her aim might have been a little off.

When the Spanish-American war broke out, Annie offered to lead a team of 50 female sharpshooters, but her offer was turned down (considering the large amount of female heroes of war on this site, I’d say that was a very stupid decision on the President’s account). Annie was passionate about teaching woman to shoot, teacher thousands how to defend themselves. “I would like to see every woman know how to handle guns as naturally as they know how to handle babies.” She said.

She continued to set sharpshooting records well into her sixties, as well as campaigning for women’s rights. She died in 1922, of pneumonia.

Clara Schumann

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Born on 13 September, 1819, Clara was no stranger to music. Her mother was a famous singer, and though she stayed with her father after her parents divorce, music was always present in her life. She received music lessons for one hour each day, and practiced an additional two hours after that. She began performing at age 8, and it was during one of these performances she met Robert Schumann, then 17, who admired her skill so much he quit law school in order to learn under her father. He moved into her house when she was 11, and when she was 18, he proposed and she accepted. Clara’s father disapproved. His daughter was already a respected musician, and despite seven years of instruction Robert was, well, not. Her father didn’t want her to “throw herself away on a penniless composer.” Elopement was more difficult in Germany those days and the two had to sue Clara’s father in order for a judge to approve of their marriage. Their tactic worked. They were wed, and began their lives together.

The Clara became famous in the artistic scene. Her husband, somewhat less so. Clara was a mainly a concert pianist. Robert encouraged her to propose, and he himself was mainly a composer. Unfortunately, the quality of his compositions has been debated by critics, both then and now. Robert was also prone to mental instability and in 1854 he attempted suicide by throwing himself into the Rhrine. He was rescued by fisherman, but insisted that he be committed to an asylum. He was granted his wish and remained in the asylum and remained there until he died. During this time neither his wife nor their 8 children were allowed to visit him. During that time, Clara composed regularly and performed, but performance had become a literal pain for her. She suffered from arthritis and underwent multiple homeopathic treatments for it.

Despite her success, after her husband’s death, She, like Mary Shelley, devoted her life to brining his works recognition. She suffered a stroke in 1896, and was subsequently rendered deaf and confined to a wheelchair. It’s odd then, that on her deathbed she demanded her grandson play her husband’s major romance in F-sharp. It would be the last song she ever heard. She died on May 20, 1896.

Mary Shelley

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Mary Shelley was born into a family of free thinkers in 1797, a time of intellectual renaissance. Her father, William Godwin, was a highly respected philosopher, one of many who preached free love and equality in the early 1800’s. His book about justice was vital to the British Radicals. Not long after France had begun it’s revolution, the many Brits started hankering for their own. It was a time of great political unrest. Her father, however, wasn’t the only famous mind in her family. Mary was named after her mother, the renowned Mary Wolstoncraft, considered the mother of feminism and a visionary in women’s rights. Her mother would shape her future, but not just through her teachings. When Mary gave birth to her daughter, she was described as being too weak to feed the howling infant. Her placenta had broken apart and become infected, resulting in puerperal fever, one of the most common causes of women’s death in her time. She died a few days later, and the knowledge that her mother had died for her would forever haunt Mary Shelly.

Years later a man named Percy Bysshe Shelley would begin writing letters to her father. The revolutionary ideology was spreading and William Godwin was practically worshiped as the intellectual face of the would-be revolution. Percy Shelley was, for all intents and purposes, a fanboy bent on interacting with his idol, writing countless letters requesting friendship and even showing up to Godwin’s bookshop in hopes of seeing his senpai. Now, Godwin had read Shelley’s letters aloud to his family, for demonstration of his intellectual prowess or for a good laugh, we’re not sure. What is certain is that Mary knew of Shelley long before they ever actually met. When they did meet in Godwin’s bookshop she, just 16, fell in love.

Their relationship was rough from the start. Godwin, for all his preachings on free love, disapproved. His daughter was only 16, and there was another problem; Percy was already married. His was was pregnant with his first child, but whether Mary knew or cared, we don’t know. What we do know is that, one night in a fit of despair, the two made a suicide pact. Mary held a gun to her temple, but backed out at the last minute. Percy, slightly more serious, took an overdose of laudanum (a potent mixture of opiates), but survived. His survival inspired him to make the most of life – with Mary. They eloped in the dead of night, but they weren’t alone. Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister joined them. See, Percy was pretty sold on the idea of free love. So much so that he’s rumored to have intended to start a commune not unlike the hippies of the 60’s, with as many women as he could handle. Mary, though taught the same ideas as Percy, found sharing her man with her stepsister uncomfortable, and the relationships between all three would always be strained.

From birth, Mary heard stories of doctors attempting to bring back the dead. Medicine wasn’t the prestigious career it is today, and was generally regarded as being a shady practice. Medicine and science were still emerging from the dark ages. In ancient times, the most sought after goal of alchemy was to turn something not gold, into gold. In Mary’s time, the most sought after goal of medicine was to turn something not alive, into a living being once again. Shortly after arriving in Switzerland with Claire and Percy, Mary heard of Condrad Dippel, a man who was rumored to have stolen bodies from graves and injected them with substances supposed to bring them back to life. Condrad Dippel was supposedly born in Rocafor Franks castle, also known as Burg Frankenstein.

May became pregnant, but lost her first child shortly after she was born. Her daughter’s death hurt Mary deeply, and began a lifelong connection with the concepts of death and rebirth. Mary wrote once that she had dreamed her daughter was cold, yet they brought her near the fire and rubbed her vigorously and low, she returned to life! Yet upon waking, the darkness and heaviness would sink over Mary again. Shortly after, she gave birth to a son, William who would survive infancy. It was around this time the three romantics would take a trip up to a Lord Byron’s estate. Claire, pregnant with Percy’s child at the time, was enamored with Byron. They would read aloud to each other in the candlelight in the evenings, wine (and stronger substances) coursing through their veins. It was on one of those nights that it was suggested they come up with ghost stories. Mary took this light hearted suggestion quite seriously, wracking her brain for inspiration. It came to her when she had no control over it. After an intense nightmare Mary writes “I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”

She began what she thought would be a short story. As she wrote, a series of personal tragedies struck her. Just a few months after she put pen (or quill) to paper, her half sister, Fanny committed suicide, succeeding where Percy had failed, after overdosing on laudanum. After having had almost no contact with her beloved sister since her elopement, Mary was devastated, and it’s believed that this feeling of remorse and isolation inspired much of her novel. Yet hardship wasn’t through with the 19 year old Mary. Two months later, Percy’s wife committed suicide by throwing herself in a river, heavily pregnant with what was rumored to be Percy’s child. Just a few days later, Mary married Percy, and finally made peace with her own family.

This would lead to a brief period of happiness for Mary. She gave birth to a daughter, Clara, and finally published Frankenstein’s Monster. The novel was a hit, but Mary didn’t have time to relish in her success. Less than a year later, Clara died of dysentery. William contracted malaria and followed Clara out of life just 8 months later. Mary never recovered from her loss, growing more and more bitter towards Percy, who she felt had moved on too quickly. Nonetheless, she gave birth to another son, Percy Florence, who would be the only child to survive to adulthood and outlive his parents. One of the final blows to Mary’s psyche struck three years later. The unhappy couple had visited the gulf of Spezia, and Percy had decided to go for a sail. A sudden storm rolled in and drowned Percy less than a month before his 30th birthday. Mary was overcome with grief and guilt for having allowed her husband to sail. She would never be the same. Friends commented that she became cold and withdrawn, a far cry from the startlingly vivacious intellectual of her youth. She spent much of the rest of her life fighting not for her own recognition as an author, but for her husband’s. Were it not for her, much of his work would be lost in obscurity.

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