June must surely be that jackpot of birthday months in the Northern Hemisphere. It enjoys the longest hours of daylight (the Summer Solstice is on June 21st), it’s usually pretty warm and it’s pre peak summer season, so if you want to be whisked away to an exotic destination for your big day you don’t have to contend with the school holiday rush.
The word ‘June’ derives from the word ‘Juno’, who was the Roman goddess of marriage and female well-being. However, the Romans believed that it was bad luck to get married between mid-May and mid-June. Blissfully ignoring Roman superstition, June is now the most popular month for weddings (maybe something to do with the traditionally steamy celebrations of May Day, which we talked about in our last blog post).
Interestingly, no other month of the year begins on the same day as June, even on a leap year.
June also has a great selection of birthstones to choose from, with the traditional one being pearl and the modern one Alexandrite. Somewhere along the line, moonstone has slipped in as a birthstone for the month too (maybe because Alexandrite is a bit pricey and pearls aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, who knows?)
Traditional June Birthstone – Pearl
Pearls are the only gem with organic origins and they have strong associations with the moon and the planet Venus. Believed to attract wealth and prosperity pearls are also understood to bring good luck and a sense of calm to the wearer.
Modern June Birthstone - Alexandrite
Named after the Russian Czar Alexander II, alexandrite was discovered in Russia’s Ural Mountains in 1834. It is a pleochroic gemstone, which means that it looks different under artificial light to the way it appears in daylight (it is usually blue-green in daylight and red in artificial light). Extremely rare and valuable, a single carat of unworked alexandrite can command a higher price than the same quantity of uncut diamond. ruby, emerald or sapphire.
Thought to represent a bridge between the physical and spiritual world, alexandrite is also believed to bring good luck in love and finances. For this reason, it is often selected for engagement ring designs.
Alternative June Birthstone - Moonstone
To science, moonstone is member of the feldspar family of minerals that displays a pearly and opalescent schiller. To folklore it is made of moonbeams, has strong associations with femininity and fertility and can bring its wearer good fortune. Its links to the moon have led many cultures to prize it as an aid to restful sleep and as a good luck talisman for people travelling on or over the ocean.
Some people also consider moonstone to be an alternative birthstone for those born on a Monday, the “Moon’s Day”.
As well as having beautiful birthstones, we were also spoilt for choice when selecting inspirational people with June birthdays. In the end we have opted for four people who worked hard to achieve their ambitions, often despite great challenges and prejudice that threatened to derail them.
Marilyn Monroe – 1st June 1926
Born Norma Jeane Baker, Marilyn spent much of her childhood in foster homes because her mother was admitted to a psychiatric unit when her daughter was just two weeks old. When she was 15 her foster parents decided to move house and could not take her with them, so they asked their neighbour to solve their problem by marrying Marilyn – charming!
Although we all know her as a screen star, Marilyn was actually camera shy and often used to come out in a rash before she was due to appear in front of the camera. Her nerves also meant that she often forgot her lines and missed her cues.
Our favourite Marilyn fact is that she had a dog called Mafia Honey that was gifted to her by Frank Sinatra.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson – 9th June 1836
We’re not sure if Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was Julia Donaldson’s inspiration for Princess Pearl in the Zog stories, but she certainly could have been!
One of 12 children born to an east London pawnbroker, her father’s business successes meant that she was able to study at good schools. On leaving school she decided to become a doctor, which was unheard of for women in the 19th Century. She applied to several medical schools and was rejected, so she enrolled as a nursing student and attended classes intended for male doctors, until she was barred following complaints from other students.
In 1865 she passed the Society of Apothecaries exams and gained a certificate which enabled her to become a doctor. The society then changed its rules to prevent other women gaining access to the profession this way. She opened a dispensary for women in 1866, but was still determined to obtain her medical degree, so she learnt French in order to study at the University of Paris. She got her qualification, but the British Medical Register refused to recognise it.
Unperturbed by the blatant sexism of the British medical profession (or maybe because of it), she established the New Hospital for Women, staffed entirely by women. Her determination resulted in the 1876 act permitting women to enter medical professions. She retired in 1902 but wasn’t done with pioneering firsts just yet. In 1908 she became the Mayor of Aldeburgh in Suffolk, making her the first female mayor in England.
Hattie McDaniel – 10th June 1893
Born in Wichita, Kansas, the daughter of two former slaves, Hattie McDaniel has a few world firsts to her name, including being
- One of the first Black women to be broadcast on American radio.
- The first African American to receive an Academy Award
When she was criticised for perpetuating Black stereotypes by taking film roles as servants, she would respond, “I can be a maid for $7 a week or I can play a maid for $700 a week.”
She went on to play a maid or a cook in 40 different films during her career and won her Academy Award for her role as Mammy in Gone With The Wind.
She was unable to go to the 1939 premier of GWTW, as the city of Atlanta demanded that no black people should attend, but she got a telegram from author Margaret Mitchell afterwards saying, “wish you could have heard the applause”. Despite the success she enjoyed during her career, McDaniel’s life
“was a tightrope walk of trying to satisfy herself, her prejudiced bosses, and the representation-starved Black community—attempting to be all things to all people”. Hattie Hall Meares, Vanity Fair, 26th April 2021
Hattie has been included in our list of inspirational people with June birthdays, not just because she was a talented singer and actor (and has two starts on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to reflect these dual talents), but because she had to fight so hard for all she achieved. Her ambition and hard work were so often thwarted by prejudice and, when she did achieve success, it came with the significant side-effect of conscripting her to a high-profile role in the fight for racial justice. Whilst this is a noble higher purpose, it overlays everything she did with a burden of wider significance, when maybe all she really wanted was to sing and dance and be herself.
George Orwell - 25th June 1903
Born Eric Arthur Blair, George Orwell assumed his famous penname when he rejected the imperialism inherent in his early career as a colonial policeman in Burma and decided to become a writer instead. Ashamed that the barriers of race and caste had prevented him from getting to know any Burmese people while he was serving in the force, he decided to assuage some of his guilt by putting on ragged clothes and spending time living and working in the slums of Paris and London.
Despite being a fairly prolific novelist (he wrote nine before he died in 1950, aged 46) Orwell is best known for the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and the satirical novella Animal Farm (1945) Together they have sold more copies than any two books by any other Twentieth Century author.
Orwell is on our list of inspirational people with June birthdays, not simply for his literary talents, but because he lived his values and did not merely talk about them. Living on the streets in two European capitals, fighting for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and learning seven languages show a clear determination to help and understand his fellow man more comprehensively.