Category: women’s history

JULY 20: The Seneca Falls Convention (1848)


169 years ago today, the Seneca Falls Convention concluded in Seneca Falls, New York. Organized by suffragists Lucretia Mott and
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the Seneca Falls Convention was the very first women’s
rights convention to ever take place and offered America women
their first opportunity to come and “discuss the social, civil, and religious
condition and rights of woman.“

The “Declaration of Sentiments” that was decided on and signed by all of the women present at The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 (x). 

The first wave of the Women’s Rights Movement in America began in the 1840s; women were starting to be allowed to pray aloud in church
meetings, more and more women were becoming vocal in the abolitionist movement,
and Elizabeth Cady Stanton gave her first public speech in 1841. With the
social movement gaining momentum, Stanton and her fellow suffragist and
feminist speaker, Lucretia Mott, began to see that these women needed a meeting
place where they would be able to see each other and discuss their goals in
person. That meeting place came in the form of the Seneca Falls Convention from
July 19-20, 1848. Organized by Stanton, Mott, and the Quaker women local to
the area, the Convention included six different sessions of philosophical debates on women’s role in society, lecture on civil law, and a
particularly heated debate on whether women should be granted the right to

Lucretia Mott (left) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (right) were the primary organizers of the convention (x) (x).

Now you’re probably asking yourself, “Yes I read all about
this in my 10th grade history textbook, but what does it have to do with
lesbians?” Well, just like the women’s conventions of the 1970s and 80s that
were such a crucial part of the second wave feminist movement, the Seneca Falls
Convention was not only one big hookup retreat for lesbian activists of the
day, but it was also organized by wlw themselves. That’s right – Elizabeth Cady
Stanton and Lucretia Mott both had deep connections with those women in the
movement who enjoyed “romantic friendships” with each other, such as Mary Grew
and Margaret Burleigh, Carrie Catt and Mollie Hay, and the notorious womanizer Isabel
Howland. We briefly covered Stanton’s not-so-friendly relationship with Susan
B. Anthony here, and you can read more about the lesbian underbelly of the
American suffragist movement here! Lillian Faderman puts it best when she writes, “From its inception, women’s fight for the vote was largely led by women who loved other women.”


MAY 18: Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973)


Jeanette Rankin went from a small town Montana girl to a
staunch women’s rights activist and the very first woman to ever be elected to
U.S. Congress! It was on this day in 1973 when she passed away at the age of

One of Jeannette’s most quotable quotes was “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.” (x).

Jeannette was born in Missoula, Montana on June 11, 1980. Her
mother was a schoolteacher and her father was a Scottish-Canadian immigrant who
worked as a carpenter. As the eldest of six children, Jeannette spent her
childhood helping to raise her younger siblings and laboring on the Rankin family’s
ranch. It was her experience of doing equal work as her brothers but receiving unequal
recognition and respect that would become the foundation of her feminist
identity. Originally graduating from the University of Montana with a degree in
Biology, she then enrolled in the New York School of Philanthropy to study
social work. It was in New York when Jeannette first became involved in the
American suffrage movement and when she became politically awakened.

In February of 1911, Jeannette became the first woman to
speak before the Montana legislature when she gave a speech advocating for
women’s suffrage. She and her fellow suffragists would work hard for two more
years before Montana finally granted women full voting rights in November of
1914. In 1916, Jeannette changed history by running and winning a seat in the
U.S. House of Representatives; she was the first woman to serve in Congress in
U.S. history! After running a grassroots campaign from Montana train stations
and street corners, she was officially elected on November 7, 1916. Throughout
her political career, Jeannette was a notable pacifist and champion of women’s
rights. She famously voted against America’s entry into both World War I and
World War II (she was the ONLY member of Congress to vote against entering World
War II).

Waving in front of a campaign car draped in a banner that reads, “NO MORE WAR,” Jeannette not only talked the pacifist talk but she also walked the walk (x).

Jeannette never married and is generally understood to have been
a lesbian. After her first college stint at the University of Montana, she took
a teaching job in the town of Whitehall, only to be booted from the position
after she was discovered to be in a romantic relationship with another woman. The
details of the incident are unknown; in the Rankin family’s letters, it is only
ever referred to as “Jeannette’s embarrassment.” She went on to have a brief
relationship with the journalist Katherine Anthony, but the two eventually
separated and simply remained lifelong friends. Despite the few short-lived
affairs, Jeannette dedicated her life to social justice work. One of her last
public appearances was a 1968 march in Washington D.C. where she led over 5,000
women in protest of the Vietnam War. When she passed away on May 18, 1973, she
left her entire estate to the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund in
hopes it would support “mature, unemployed women workers.”


JANUARY 29: Gia Carangi (1960-1986)



(Source: x)

Many consider Gia Carangi to be the first supermodel. Born today in 1960 in Philidelphia, Carangi was the third and youngest of two brothers. Her parents didn’t get along (to put it mildly) and her mother left the family when Carangi was eleven years old. Many people believe this was the root to Carangi’s drug problems later in life. 

Becoming friends with the “Bowie kids” in high school, Carangi found a sort of home in David Bowie’s fashion sense, androgny, and bisexuality. Some friends compared Carangi to Cay from the movie Desert Hearts in terms of her approach to her sexuality.

Carangi moved to New York City when she was seventeen and signed on with Wilhelmina Models. October 1978 published her first major shoot with Chris von Wangenheim, where she posed naked with makeup artist, Sandy Linter. Carangi was deeply infatuated with Linter and though there was a relationship between them, it was never something that lasted.

This first shoot led Carangi to stardom, Vogue calling her rise to such, “meteoric”. She appeared in many fashion magazines including Vogue UK, Vogue Paris, American Vogue, Vogue Italia, and Cosmopolitan and campaigns for Armani, Versace, and Christian Diora among others. Many notable fashion photographers including Francesco Scavullo, Richard Avedon, and Marco Glaviano loved to work with her and similar to Beyonce and Prince, Carangi became so famous, she was known just by her first name: Gia.    

After the death of her agent and mentor, Wilhelmina Cooper, Carangi, already an avid cocaine club user, led to her heroin addiction. This led to her inability to work well: she became violent, would leave to get more drugs, and sometimes even fell asleep while working. Carangi left Wilhelmina for Ford Models in November 1990 but was fired after a few weeks. As her offers stopped coming in, her friends and lovers, such as Sandy Linter, stopped talking to her because they feared her ruin would hurt their careers.

Carangi went back to her father and step-mother in Philadelphia in Febrauary 1981 and did a 21 detox program. But she was arrested in March of that same year and drove into a fence in a neighborhood.There was a police chase and after she was apprehended, they learned she was intoxicated and under the influence of cocaine. After being released, she signed on with Legends and worked in Europe for some time.

Later in the same year, Carangi attempted to make a comeback by signing with Elite Model Management. Many people weren’t interested in working with her, but she was put on the cover of Cosmopolitan photographed by Francesco Scavullo, her last time on an American magazine. She mainly worked with Albert Watson and appeared in some catalogs while she worked an outpatient meth program. Soon she began using heroin again. She was sent home from a shoot for using, and 1983 is the last time she’d leave New York ever again.

In December 1984, she went to an intense drug treatment program at Eagleville Hospital. After treatment, she worked at a clothing store, then as a check out clerk, then as a cafeteria worker in a nursing home before she started to use drugs again in late 1985.

Carangi was admitted to Warminster General Hospital for bilateral pneumonia in June 1986. She was diagnosed with AIDS-related complex. She was admitted again on October 18, to Hahnemann University Hopstial and at age twenty-six, died on November 18, 1986 of AIDS-related complex. Her funeral was on November 23, and many of the fashion world did not attend, though most of them didn’t know of her death until much later. Her friend, Francesco Scavullo, sent a Mass card a few weeks after the funeral when he heard the news.

There’s a straight to TV movie starring Angelina Jolie as Gia Carangi and Elizabeth Mitchell as Sandy Litner called Gia.

Sources (x, x)    

~lex lee.

JANUARY 28: Colette (1873-1954)


We’ve already talked about the kind of trouble Colette was able to create in 19th-century, straight-laced Paris (two words: THEATER RIOT), and we’re back today to provide you with a more in-depth look at this bisexual icon.


Well, hello there.

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was born in 1873 in Burgundy, France. She spent a happy childhood, doted on by her mother, free to roam and enjoy a place that felt Edenic in its abundance of natural beauty. Early on, she learned to read and though her family experienced substantial financial problems for a while, she still received an extensive education.

When she was 20, she married Henry Gauthier-Villars, nicknamed “Willy.” The guy has the – justified – reputation of a philanderer but he’s also quite popular in Parisian intellectual circles, into which he quickly introduces his young wife. He’s also a prolific writer – but that’s because he uses ghostwriters. When he picks up on Colette’s writing talents, he doesn’t hesitate to use her as well, encouraging her to write about her memories from school (and also encouraging her to amp up the lesbian factor in there, since it would prove to be titillating to so many readers, and to pursue her own lesbian dalliances). This is how her first series of novels – the Claudine series – came to be published, but they were signed with Willy’s name and not hers.

Over time, even though Colette stated that she’d never have become a writer if not for Willy, she freed herself from his tutelage, especialyl since she never forgave him for selling the rights to the Claudine series without telling her. She started signing with the pseudonym “Colette Willy;” she and Willy separated in 1906, and finalized their divorce in 1910. Since Colette was pretty much broke at the time – having no means of getting the copyright earnings from the Claudine books – she relied on a stage career across French music halls. This was not a particularly easy period for her; yet it also meant liberation. She pursued several relationships with other women, including with Mathilde de Morny and Nathalie Barney Clifford.

She married twice more, first to Henry de Jouvenel, with whom she had one daughter, born in 1913 and nicknamed Bel-Gazou, and then with Maurice Goudeket. In 1945, she was unanimously elected into the Goncourt Academy, of which she became president in 1949. She wrote all her life, and recognition of her talent rose over time. When she died in 1954, the Catholic Church refused to give her a religious burial because of her reputation, but she became the first woman to receive a state funeral from the French Republic. She is buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery, next to her daughter. Want to read the obituary The New York Times wrote for her in 1954? It’s right here. And here are a few links if you wish to know more about her: in French, la Maison de Colettele Centre d’études Colette / a documentary about her from the INA archives. And in English, articles in The Spectator & The Guardian.

– AK

JANUARY 26: Ellen DeGeneres (1958-)


Hard to write for a blog full of lesbians and *not* talk about Ellen, whose TV talk show is in its 14th season, who’s had an extremely popular website named after her, and who also happens to be one of the best-known lesbians out there.

The face of CoverGirl

Born and mostly raised in Louisiana, Ellen had a number of jobs after high school, including doing clerical work for a law firm, and working in retail & at restaurants – much of this then became material for her stand-up routines.

She started her stand-up career in small clubs but by the early 1980s was touring nationally. She appeared in a few films – including a series for Epcot called “Ellen’s Energy Adventure” – and in short-lived TV shows before being cast in These Friends of Mine, which would eventually become Ellen on its second season. Ellen ran from 1994 to 1998, and laid the foundation for the comedian’s ever-growing popularity. The sitcom starred Ellen as a bookshop owner, and portrays her relationships with her family and friends.

In 1997, Ellen came out on Oprah’s show; this was followed by a coming-out episode on Ellen, which, if it didn’t end her career, far from it, certainly contributed to the show being stopped one year later. In 2001, however, Ellen came back to TV with a talk show that’s been getting increasingly high ratings and critical praise – The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

In August 2008, Ellen married Portia de Rossi. Ellen has also been a commencement speaker at Tulane University (twice), a judge for one season of American Idol, the host of multiple award ceremonies including the 79th Academy Awards (making her the first openly LGBT host of the ceremony), the face of CoverGirl, the creator of the world’s most retweeted selfie, a vegan & animal rights supporter, the voice actress for everyone’s favorite blue tang fish, Dory, and one of the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

Happy Birthday Ellen!

– AK

JANUARY 25: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)



Today we
will explore the life and affections of a favourite writer of mine – Virginia Woolf.
This first post will be echoed by reviews of several of her books later this
year, which is why we won’t linger too much on praising her literary genius.

To put you in the right mood, you can listen here to the only recording of her voice, first broadcast by the BBC on 29 April 1937 as part of a series called Words Fail Me.

writer Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen on January 25, 1882 in a stepfamily,
to Julia Prinsep Jackson, who was Julia Margaret Cameron’s niece and a
Pre-Raphaelite model, and to Sir Leslie Stephen, who was previously William
Thackeray’s son-in-law, and a historian, critic and biographer. Such parents
came with friends from Victorian literary circles such as Henry James, Lewes and
Lowell who were regularly invited at their house in Kensington, London, and influenced the education of the Stephen children.


Stephen by George Charles Beresford, July 1902

Listing the
family tragedies that occurred while Virginia was still young is heartbreaking.
Her half-sister Laura was sent to an asylum when Virginia was 9. Then her
mother died when she was 13, shortly followed by her other half-sister Stella. To
top it all, Virginia and her sister Vanessa were sexually abused as children
and teenagers by their adult half-brothers. (Thankfully their crime was
acknowledged and denounced by both women later on!)

This left the remaining four
children, Vanessa, Thoby, Virginia and Adrian to deal with a tyrannical,
capricious father too occupied with his life’s work – editing the Dictionary of
National Biographies. At that time, Virginia suffered (presumably as a result)
several nervous breakdowns, and subsequent recurring depressive periods, for which doctors prescribed “Rest Cures” (ever read The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman?). Actually
similar mood swings continued to torment her all her life, and partly led to
her suicide in the River Ouse on March 28, 1941.


Vanessa et Virginia playing cricket at their family’s summer home in Cornwall, 1893 – a
idyllic setting which inspired To the Lighthouse
(1927) a vibrant homage to their mother.

While the
boys were given a proper education and sent to Cambridge, that would have been
inappropriate for the girls. At least, Virginia could educate herself thanks to
her father’s huge private library – and, boy, did she read! Along with learning
Ancient Greek, Latin, and German, she developed a yearning to write, starting
with diaries, and a family newspaper, illustrated by Vanessa who took art
classes. Furthermore, their brothers brought home their friends from Cambridge,
which was the beginning of what we know as the Bloomsbury Group.

However it only
officially became the Bloomsbury Group when the Stephen siblings actually left
Kensington at their father’s death in 1902, and set up house in Bloomsbury,
where they started to live a bohemian life and regularly welcomed Lytton Strachey,
Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, John Maynard Keynes and others in their midst. They
had so much fun (ever heard of the Dreadnought Hoax?) breaking the codes of
Victorian society, in art, literature, but also in their social life – they had
quite the progressive approach to sexuality. Though if homosexuality between
men was accepted and even celebrated, as much as heterosexuality, that didn’t seem
to include lesbianism – how progressive


Socialising in the sun. From left to right, Angelica/Vanessa/Clive
Bell, Virginia Woolf, Maynard Keynes. Photo from Virginia Woolf’s Monk’s House photo album, before 1939.

But then, Thoby
died, and soon afterwards, her sister Vanessa, to whom Virginia was really close,
married art critic Clive Bell. After a fake marriage proposal by Lytton, the
latter urged his friend Leonard Woolf, who was abroad at the time, to marry
Virginia. They met and indeed married in 1912. Critics often disagree on their
relationship and Leonard’s role in Virginia’s life – the saviour, or the prison
ward. On the one hand, he refused her a child, giving her mental instability
as a pretext and influencing the doctors’ ultimate decision, and was often
painted as the poor husband of a frigid Virginia in the latter’s first
biographies – a portrait shaped by his perspective, which hides his own issues
regarding sex and women. But on the other hand, he nurtured Virginia’s talent,
tried to keep her stable by moving to the countryside, giving her a hobby (as
prescribed by doctors) by creating the Hogarth Press, which published her own
books, but also that of the members of the Bloomsbury Group, other contemporary
writers, and the first English translation of Sigmund Freud’s work. At least, most critics agree to say that, without Leonard, Virginia probably wouldn’t have lived as long – and written as much – as she did.


Woolf” (c.1912) portrait by Vanessa Bell. Vita
Sackville-West as “Lady in a Red Hat” (1918) by William Strang

Virginia’s affections were more often directed towards women – it started with
her first crush, her cousin Madge, then with Violet Dickinson, 17 years her
senior, who helped her through the death of her father. Later on, she intrigued and impressed the extravagant Ottoline Morrell, who developed a crush on
her and often invited her to her salons, though Virginia would often ridicule
her and mock her behind her back – aware of the power she yielded thanks to her words and wit, she always liked to hold court in society, where she gave
satirical portrayals of everybody (while drinking champagne). Composer
Ethel Smyth also fell for Virginia, and both women remained friends till the
latter’s death.

Her most famous relationship though was with Vita Sackville
West, whom she met in 1922. Their affair led Virginia to write to – and about – her
lover. She described Vita as “pink glowing, grape clustered, pearl hung” and
wrote to her “you only be a careful dolphin in your gambolling, or you’ll find
Virginia’s soft crevices lined with hooks!” Their romance led to the writing of Orlando, qualified by Vita’s son as “the
longest and most charming love letter in literature,” but also inspired other
writers, such as Edna O’Brien, Eileen Atkins, Christine Orban…

Virginia was
fascinated by bisexuality (as the fusion of both male and female identities in
one person, not the modern understanding of the term) and experimented with the
ideas of genders, and heterosexual and homosexual relationships in her writing.
If you are interested in  that reflection, I recommend the recent lesbian
reading of her works (both fiction and non-fiction).

Want to know more? Here are some anecdotes about her…

– Lise

JANUARY 24: Fiona Zedde (1976-)


Need some popular contemporary lesbian erotica for those
freezing winter nights? We got you. Today: Fiona Zedde.

Fiona Zedde is the
penname of Fiona Lewis, a Jamaican writer of lesbian fiction. Born in 1976 in
Jamaica, she moved to Florida
with her mother when she was young. After college, she lived in Atlanta, GA, got
an MFA from San Diego State University, and is currently
living in Miami
. She’s also a breast cancer survivor.


Fiona Zedde – source

Her first novel, Bliss,
published in 2005, and her third, Every
Dark Desire
, were both finalists for the Lambda Literary Award. She’s a
prolific writer, with numerous novels, novellas, and short story collections under
her belt, all about lesbian life, and covering different genres – mainstream literary,
romance, erotica, even a vampire story. Her short fiction has also appeared in
various lesbian erotica anthologies. And don’t worry about reading yet another
piece of lesbian pulp fiction centered on the usual white lesbian: Fiona Zedde
puts front and center black and brown women. In an interview, to the question
of whether there are “underrepresented groups or ideas featured in Desire at Dawn” (her vampire romance
novel), she answered:

I like to think so. Growing up, I loved vampire stories. But
it was extremely rare to see myself and my culture represented in them. After I
read Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories,
though, I re-realized that it’s up to us to add our own tales and our own
legends— vampires included— to what’s already out there. My characters in Desire at Dawn (and its connected novel,
Every Dark Desire) are my
contributions to that cultural collection.

Her writing, centered on the lives and relationships of women
loving women, has been called “torrid,” and “exquisitely written,” among many
other laudatory epithets. If you need to whet your appetite (ha), you can read
first chapters of her books right

If you want to listen to her talk more about her books, then
you can follow her on Twitter, and
listen to an interview on
Lez TAlk Radio right here
. Here she is too in an interview in Birmingham
(UK) – don’t forget parts two and three of the reading.

– AK

JANUARY 23: Louise Lawrence


Today we honor a trans lesbian who was a pioneer in recording
trans lives and culture and in building trans communities in the US: Louise

This isn’t a birthday profile like the ones we usually do,
since we couldn’t find any records of Lawrence’s exact birth date, save for the
year. This surely speaks to how much has been erased from LGBT, and especially
trans, histories: even though Lawrence was a key figure in the creation of
trans communities throughout the US, she remains little known today, and we
couldn’t find many sources about her that offered original content.

Anonymous photographer. Louise Lawrence with a cigarette. Source: Kinsey Institute, via Autostraddle

Born in 1912, Louise Lawrence was assigned male at birth, was
raised as a man, and got married twice. The first wife died; the second spouse,
who was at first accepting of Lawrence’s trans identity, ultimately couldn’t
handle the burden of living with such a secret, and the marriage broke up. In the
late 40s, she moved to San Francisco, where she “managed
an apartment building for working women, and also sold some artwork.
” She
also started a relationship with another woman, Gay, and got involved in the
local LGBT scenes, attending gay drag parties and working with the Mattachine

Her achievements, however, went beyond the local scene, as
she began to work with doctors in order to help spread awareness and accurate
information about trans identities and lives. She notably worked with Alfred
Kinsey and later, Harry Benjamin. The former asked her to keep records of
people she knew to be “transvestites” – from that, she developed a
correspondence network that brought together trans people in Europe and the US. Even after Kinsey’s
death, she continued sending material to his archives.

She died in 1976, and the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington,
Indiana, is in possession of the Louise Lawrence Collection of letters,
photographs and other documents.

Back in 2015, an art exhibition called “Bring
Your Own Body”
took place at Columbia College. It featured trans
artists showcasing historical archives and contemporary art about trans issues
Kate Sierzputowski, reporting
on it for The Chicago Reader
explained that this aimed “to highlight self-identified transgender histories
as opposed to narratives by those outside the transgender community. In this
show, trans artists decide how their community is documented, and they do it
through various mediums.” This exhibition included Louise Lawrence. Jeanne Vaccaro,
one of the exhibition’s curators, and a research fellow at the Kinsey
Institute, explains
her importance

“[Lawrence] sent [Kinsey] all of these clippings of gender
identity in the news and all these sensational stories of people being
criminalized for “crossing gender.” She really wanted to get him to
think about gender differently. By showing all the archival images from these
pathologists, we absolutely wanted to show that history. And, in the case of
Chloe’s work, that anger regarding lack of care and narrow-minded definitions
of [what it means to be] trans that come out of diagnosis. It was really
important to confront the violence of diagnosis.”

JANUARY 22: Elaine Noble (1944-)


In 1974, Elaine Noble made headlines by being the first
openly LGBT candidate elected to a state office, serving in the Massachusetts
House of Representatives for two terms, and representing the Fenway-Kenmore and
Back Bay neighborhoods.

In an
interview she gave to the Seattle Gay
, she describes working in politics as an out lesbian during the
70s. Her campaign especially was tumultuous: she faced death threats and her
supporters were themselves victims of targeted harassment and intimidation
attempts; her car was vandalized; her office windows were shattered. State troopers
were even deployed at one point to protect her while campaigning. This
hostility did not prevent to go on to win the election, with 59% of the vote,
but nonetheless did not abate after the victory, as she recounts in an
interview for Out and Elected in the USA


Source – Stan Grossfeld

In 1969, she helped organize Boston’s first gay parade, and continued to do so until the 80s.

Because she worked in politics at a time in the wake of Civil
Rights Movements of the 60s, Elaine Noble was also keenly aware of the need to
address racism, both within society at large and within the LGBT community,
which, she pointed out, “can be just as racist as the straight community.” She pushed
for desegregation legislation. To make sure the law was being enforced, she was
known to go, along with her campaign staff, to school pick-up and drop-off
locations, and even ride the bus with school children. This earned her the
wrath of not only conservatives, but also members of the local LGBT community. Such
hostility did not deter her, however.

A 2013
article by Leon Neyfakh
in The Boston
details the role Boston played in the 1970s in the gay liberation
movement: while Boston “routinely gets overshadowed by New York and San
Francisco, where the gay scenes were bigger, louder, and livelier, a closer
look at the movement’s early history and tactics reveals that Boston in the
1970s was deeply important in the arrival of gay rights as a mainstream
national issue, and home to a sophisticated, nationally relevant, pioneering
gay community.”

Back in 2015, for LGBT History Month, Equality Forum named
Noble as one of their 31 LGBT icons in a video you can see here:

She used to live with Rita Mae Brown, until 1976, when they
parted ways because the harassment Noble was facing put a strain on the couple’s
lives. In the late 1980s, she started moving away from politics, and in 1986 helped
create an LGBT alcohol and drug treatment center in Minneapolis. Now, she lives in
, where she moved to teach and sell real estate. She remains
involved in the local Democratic Party, and helped fund the Palm Beach LGBT
Center in 2009. She probably enjoys a much more private life – in all
likelihood, a welcome respite from the exhausting periods of her life as a
politician – but we hope that her trailblazing presence on the political scene
won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

– AK

JANUARY 21: Sophia Jex-Blake (1840-1912)


Today we celebrate the 177th birthday of a revolutionary advocate for women’s education and one of
the first woman doctors in the United Kingdom: Sophia Jex-Blake.


Sophia Jex-Blake, photographed by Swaine 

Sophia was born in the town of Hastings to highly
Evangelical parents. History remembers her as a “stormy, tumultuous, and
unmanageable” youth, but, to be honest, it’s unclear if that is an accurate
description of her personality or if those are all just code words for
“unwilling to accept patriarchal restrictions.” Throughout her life, Sophia
pushed at those restrictions which said both women’s minds and bodies belonged
in the home relentlessly. The first wall she was met with was that of her own
parents; their religious views led to them barring Sophia from receiving a
college education, but they later relented and permitted their daughter to attend
classes as Queen’s College in London. Sophia blew her mathematics professors
away and was soon asked to become an official tutor for the college, but her
parents only allowed her to accept the position once she agreed to not receive
a salary for her hard work.

After finishing her undergraduate studies, Sophia started
out as a teacher, travelling to Germany and the United States to teach math. It
was in America where she hooked up with Dr. Lucy Sewell. Lucy ran a clinic that
specifically catered to women’s healthcare and was the first woman doctor
Sophia had met in her lifetime. Their encounters led Sophia to ask herself the
question all wlw are faced with at some point in their life – life goals or
wife goals? Sophia decided life goals and set her sights on becoming a doctor
herself. Unfortunately, the death of her father forced Sophia to return home to
England, where no woman had ever been accepted into a medical school. Sophia refused to let that stop her and teamed up with six other women who were also fighting for their right to higher education; together they were famously known as the “Edinberg Seven.” It took
eight years of struggle against universities, male students, and the entire
British Medical Association before, finally, their fight garnered the attention
of progressive M.P. Russel Gurney. Gurney was able to guide Parliament in passing
a law that declared all medical institutions must educate women on the same
level as men. In 1877, Sophia graduated from the Irish College of Physicians
and was officially Dr. Jex-Blake.


Drs. Sophia Jex-Blake and Margaret Todd in their later years. 

Although she was now a practicing doctor, Sophia stuck to
her roots as a teacher and in 1886 she helped open the Edinburg School of
Medicine for Women. It was there Sophia met her life partner Dr. Margaret Todd,
who was one of the first students to enroll in the institute. Despite the
eleven-year age difference, the two eventually retired together and moved to
Mark Cross, Rotherfield where they settled down and wrote several
crucial texts arguing in favor of women’s suffrage and women’s importance to
the medical field. After Sophia’s death, Margaret compiled her life’s
work in a biography titled The Life of
Dr. Sophia Jex-Blake.
It’s in that book where Sophia’s most succinct and
iconic shut-down of questions about her sexuality was recorded: “I believe
I love women too much ever to love a man.”