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7 Women Who Challenged Stereotypes

7 Women Who Challenged Stereotypes

 

The Wild & Fine collection includes a lot of designs based on things you have probably trodden under-foot on a country-walk or over-looked as you lay on a sandy beach. As a collection, it is a natural world inspired tray game, reminding us to slow down and study the beauty of the diminutive and the everyday.

Today, on International Women’s Day, we are going to let other people talk to you about Marie Curie, Emmeline Pankhurst, Jane Austen and other easily recognisable names which regularly appear on lists of influential women.  The contribution these women made to history is undeniable, but we want to introduce some names you may not have heard before, because it seems to suit us better!

7 WOMEN WHO CHALLENGED STEREOTYPES

MARGARET CAVENDISH (1623-1673) – ACADEMIC, AUTHOR AND ECCENTRIC

The second wife of William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Margaret Cavendish was known as ‘Mad Madge’ for her unusual dress sense, prolific swearing and outrageous flirting, This reputation alone is enough for us to want to make her a guest of honour at our fantasy dinner party of historical figures.

However, Margaret was also a prolific writer, who published works under her own name when most other female authors used pseudonyms. She wrote on a number of philosophical and scientific topics and, in 1667, she was the first woman to attend a meeting of the Royal Society of London. She engaged in discussion with high-profile philosophers such as Descartes, Hobbes and Boyle and is believed to be one of the earliest opponents of animal testing.

AMY JOHNSON (1903-41) – PILOT

To be honest, Amy Johnson was awarded the CBE, has had several buildings named in her honour and has been immortalised in statue form in more than one location, so not exactly a complete unknown. Despite the fact that she was the guest of honour at the opening of Butlins in Skegness in 1936, we’d never heard of her, so we are looking for a friend or two in our retrospective ignorance!

Having started her career as a solicitor’s secretary, she began flying as a hobby and achieved her pilot’s license just after her 26th birthday. In 1930, Amy became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, for which she earned her CBE, but it was only the first of her international flying achievements. She also set world record times flying from Britain to Russian, Japan and South Africa. A very impressive aviatrix that we can’t believe we’d never come across before.

MARY SEACOLE (1805-81)– NURSE  

Like her more famous counterpart, Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole is notable for her nursing activities during the Crimean War. Scandalised by the poor level of medical care available to sick and injured soldiers, this Jamaican-born nurse approached the War Office and asked to be sent to the conflict so that she could put her skills to good use. When they refused her offer she travelled there independently and established a hospital to care for sick and convalescent soldiers.

The hospital building was constructed out of salvaged wood and metal, much of which Seacole had collected herself. She regularly visited the battlefield to minister to the wounded troops under fire and was often to be found providing tea and refreshments to weary soldiers.  Anyone prepared to risk her life to help others and to always have the kettle boiled ready for tea deserves a bit more recognition in our book!

NELLIE BLY (1864-1922) – JOURNALIST AND EXPLORER

Nellie’s career as a journalist began with an angry letter to a local paper about an article they had published entitled What Women Are Good For. Impressed by her articulate criticism of the piece, the paper’s editor gave her a job. Repeatedly refusing to report on things that were considered to be proper for ‘women’s journalism’ she wrote impassioned exposes of the working conditions of women factory workers. Aged 21 she decided to travel to Mexico to research a book on the customs and cultural values of the Mexicans. On returning to America she pretended to be insane in order to get committed to Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum, so that she could write an expose about their brutal treatment of patients.

The aspect of Nellie’s life that we are most in awe of was her desire to attempt a real-life version of Jules Verne’s literary classic Around the World in Eighty Days. She proposed this to the editor of the New York World, who pondered the idea for a year and then, in 1889, gave her two days notice that she had the go-ahead for the trip! Travelling alone on steamships and trains, Bly’s 24,899-mile journey included a meeting with Jules Verne in Amiens and the purchase of a monkey in Singapore. She arrived back in New Jersey 72 days after her departure and set a (short-lived) world record for the trip.

CHING SHIH (1775- 1844) – PIRATE

We don’t condone piracy (of DVDs or anything else) but few women have challenged stereotypes to the extent that Ching Shih did and we can’t help but be impressed by her. Terrorising the China Seas in the early 19th Century, Ching Shih is widely believed to be the most successful pirate of all time because, at the height of her power, The Red Flag Fleet, which she commanded, comprised over 300 ships crewed by between 20,000 and 40,000 pirates.

She started life as a prostitute, but married pirate captain Cheng I. When he died in 1807, Ching took over, asserting her authority by laying down a formidable set of rules that punished insubordination, thieving, desertion and raping female captives with extremely brutal consequences. During her piratical career Ching came into conflict not only with the Qing dynasty, but also with the British and Portuguese empires and it was the Portuguese Navy that ultimately defeated her in 1810. Accepting very generous amnesty terms from the Qing Imperial government, Ching was able to use the loot she had accumulated to establish a gambling house.

She went on to have a family and was even called in to advise the Chinese government during the First Opium War. We wouldn’t want to meet her on a dark night, but we are quietly in awe of this fierce piratess and her apparently charmed life!

ANDRÉE DE JONGH, AKA DÉDÉE (1916 – 2007) – WWII RESISTANCE FIGHTER

Originally trained as a nurse, Andree de Jongh was working as a commercial artist when the Nazis invaded Belgium in 1940.  She moved to Brussels and became a volunteer for the Red Cross. In this capacity she visited sick and wounded soldiers, which provided an opportunity to link up the network of safe-house keepers who were trying to work out how to get Allied soldiers back to Britain. In 1941 she worked with her father to set up the ‘Comet Line’, which helped Allied airmen stranded in occupied Europe travel 1,200 miles to safety through Belgium and France into Spain and Gibraltar.

The first mission along this line failed, so de Jongh led the second one herself, ultimately delivering two Belgian volunteers and a Scottish soldier to the British embassy in Bilbao, where she requested British support for the Comet Line. This was granted and, working with MI9, de Jongh facilitated the escape of 400 Allied soldiers.

Eventually captured by the Nazis in France in 1943, she was sent to Fresnes Prison and then to a concentration camp. Although she survived to see the Allied liberation of the camp she was in, she was very ill and malnourished and had seen many of her colleagues die in captivity. After the war she moved to Africa and continued to help those in need, working in leper hospitals before her own failing health led her to a very well-deserved retirement to Brussles.

ROBERTA GIBB (B. 1942) – MARATHON RUNNER

Anyone who thinks that Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon is wrong. In 1967 Switzer was the first woman to officially enter the race (and famously had to fend off an angry man who did not agree with the decision to allow women to run).

However, the year before, in 1966, Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb was denied a bib for the marathon by the Boston Athletic Association because women were ‘not physiologically able” to run long distances. Refusing to let the decision stand in the way of her marathon dreams, Bobbi snuck into the race and completed it in 3 hours and 21 minutes (faster than half the men in the field).

Long distance running is a sport that the Wild and Fine Team have been known to get involved with and we are so pleased that women like Bobbi and Kathrine tackled prejudices and proved that women may not be as physically strong as men, but they have the mental resilience and determination to run long distances (and sometimes they can do it faster than their male counterparts).

In an ideal world International Women’s Day should not be necessary. Our rights, ambitions and achievements should be recognised and respected on an equal footing to men’s every single day. However, it is a sad fact that there is still a hugely long way to go and, whilst this is the case, we make no apology for marking the day with a celebration of these seven remarkable women and of all the women we know personally, who may never make the history books, but who have changed our lives for the better. If you haven’t already, let the important women in your life know how much they mean to you. It may just make their

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