The Real Housewives of History

March 27th, 2013

Being a housewife has never come easily to the women in my family. Whether it’s an issue with the soil or some undiscovered mutation, our family tree seems to propagate only non-conformist women. From my flapper great-grandmother who came north to work in the factories, leaving her husband and son behind, to my farm wife grandmother who never milked a cow, but taught school instead, our genetic disposition might kindly be called strong willed, but at other times obstinate and “unwomanly.”

Nowadays, thanks to “The Real Housewives of (Fill in the Blank),” my headstrong, sometimes shrewish self, could easily be camouflaged in sequins and heels, continue to do no housework and still be considered a model of femininity. Somehow I think the real housewives of history, revealed in the books below, would be appalled.

womens history books bar

The Aviator’s Wife—Melanie Benjamin
Anne Morrow, the first female glider pilot to be licensed in the U.S., marries the overbearing aviator Charles Lindbergh and finds herself at odds with his beliefs and her inability to assert her independence.

Eight Girls Taking Pictures—Whitney Otto
Is it possible to balance ambition and the needs of a husband and children? For many of the pioneering women photographers in this novel, self-sacrifice proves their undoing.

The Raven’s Bride—Lenore Hart
Engaged at thirteen, Sally Clemm puts aside her dreams of being a singer to support and ultimately inspire her self-destructive fiancé, Edgar Allan Poe.

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb—Melanie Benjamin
With ambitions that outsize her height, “Vinnie” Bump joins P.T. Barnum’s “freak” revue, finds love and fame and inspires Victorian women to new heights.

Claude and Camille—Stephanie Cowell
Troubled by poverty, her husband’s affairs and loneliness, the first wife of Claude Monet appeared to have suffered greatly for love, but, in reality, harbored secrets of her own.

Wintering—Kate Moses
Was Sylvia Plath’s suicide caused by bitterness over her husband’s betrayal or the inability to balance being a muse, mother and creative poet in her own right?

I also find housewifely duties uninspiring. Oh, I do what needs to be done and thoroughly enjoy the company of my children, but the joys of cooking, gardening, sewing, baking and so on are lost on me.  I fear the day one of my sons brings home a wife. Will it be a Martha Stewart clone chosen to make up for my past deficiencies or an equally opinionated woman? I better figure out how that biting your tongue thing works…

Who’s your favorite headstrong woman from the past?

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Skirt and Stocking Clad Soldiers

March 11th, 2013


I have been fortunate to have many choices in my life as a young woman.  Whether or not to go to college, get married, have children. Who to vote for, rent or buy, two doors or four doors? I am faced with choices every day and I am grateful for each one because so many women before me did not have those choices.  If I decided today that I wanted to join the military, I could walk into my local recruiting office and be welcomed. And I could do more than clerical work.

To the women of my grandmother’s generation it was not so simple. When World War II began they could volunteer their services, their knowledge, their skills and time to supporting the war effort, and after the attack on Pearl Harbor, six thousand women did.  They were expected to do clerical work, since it was assumed that women would be better at that than the men would.  Soon it became clear that women could do a lot more than typing and filing. By mid-1942, women were allowed to enlist in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. They began taking over more and more responsibilities that had previously been held by men, but for less pay and lower ranks. By late 1943, the Auxiliary was dropped and women finally received the same pay and rank as the male soldiers who had done the same jobs.

These skirt and stocking clad soldiers were the first female American soldiers. To learn more about these groundbreaking women, join Mary Rasa from the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum when she comes to the Rising Sun Branch on March 20 at 7 pm. She will come in period uniform with other artifacts from the time to tell us about the daily lives of the first women to join the military. Call 410-658-4025 or click here to register.

Were any of your female family members active in the war effort? Share your family memories with us!

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