anna brones

writer + artist + activist

Posts Tagged ‘women’s history

Eileen Gray

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“To create, one must first question everything.”

-Eileen Gray (1878-1976)

I didn’t know of designer and architect Eileen Gray until I saw a retrospective of her work at Centre Pompidou in Paris a few years ago, and I fell in love with her pieces and was inspired by her story.

Born in Ireland, Gray moved to Paris in 1902. There, she studied lacquerwork, designed furniture (her designs are still produced today) and became a major figure of the French Art Deco movement. “She dared to do things that no one did at that time,” Cloé Pitiot, curator of of the exhibition told the Wall Street Journal

It’s interesting to look at her work with that perspective, understanding that her furniture and designs were revolutionary at the time that she made them. And while such designs feel very modern today, think of how bold it was to create them in her day.

In 1929 when she was 51, Gray completed her first architectural work, the E.1027 house. The house is now considered a masterwork of modernist architecture, her furniture designs within it carrying equal importance.

The organisation of the house as a whole is then based on her studies of wind and sun, and on its position on a steep slope descending to the sea. The building is mostly white outside, its interior modulated with planes of slight pink or eau-de-nil, or a nocturnal blue or black. These colours are maritime, but subtly so, such as you might see in deep water, inside a seashell or after sunset. There is an acute awareness of surfaces, both inside and out, and their degrees of shine or roughness. On the back wall of the main living space, playfulness being part of her armoury, she placed a large nautical chart. This, she said, “evokes distant voyages and gives rise to reverie”. The Guardian

Of course, I was horrified when I learned how renowned architect Le Corbusier had defaced the interior of the house with erotic murals, stark contradictions to Gray’s subtle style. The reason for such destruction? Le Corbusier was reportedly shocked that such a beautiful building could have been designed by a woman, saying, “I admit the mural is not to enhance the wall, but on the contrary, a means to violently destroy [it].”

…one of his destructive paintings is applied directly to the hallway screen in E.1027. By his symbolic removal of Gray’s obstructions he rendered her complex house transparent, and with the erotic scenes he painted, he supplied the imagined objects of his desire.

Le Corbusier’s fascination did not stop here: he also built a little shack, his ‘cabanon’, perched like a voyeur’s eyrie above the villa. He spent the rest of his summers here, swimming every day below the cliffs, and that is where he died in 1965, overlooked by the house that had so obsessed him. Architectural Review

Le Corbusier of course remains in the architectural vernacular, known to even those outside his domain.

But Gray, like so many other women artists, slid into the shadows. Self-taught and working in a male dominated field didn’t make it easy within her profession; she existed in a domain where success meant being a chest-beating male. Gray herself admitted to the drawbacks of her own quiet nature: “I was not a pusher and maybe that’s the reason I did not get to the place I should have had.”

Fortunately, with the restoration of E.1027, and a renewed interest in her story, her work and spirit will not be lost. As Cathy Giangrande, development lead for Cap Moderne, the nonprofit association behind the restored E.1027, told Dezeen, “Certainly she deserves to be celebrated as one of the great pioneers of her time…”

To follow Gray’s line of thinking, to create we must question everything. We must question our own perceptions, our own assumptions. We must question the world as we know it, the status quo.

And when we question, we become empowered to challenge. After all, isn’t that what creating is all about?

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

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Written by Anna Brones

January 11, 2019 at 05:00

Lucy Stone

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“I believe that the influence of woman will save the country before every other power.”

Lucy Stone (1818-1893)

The first Massachusetts woman to earn a college degree (from Oberlin College), Lucy Stone is famously known for being the first American woman to keep her last name when she married. It was 1855 and she was a woman ahead of her time; at her wedding ceremony, she read a “marriage protest,” a statement that she and her partner Henry Browne Blackwell had written together, denouncing the legal portions of a marriage in which a woman became subservient to and property of her husband.

But her actions were not just in the private sphere.

Stone was a fighter for both women’s rights and an abolitionist, believing that equality could not be won at the cost of inequality of another. In 1848, a year after her graduation from Oberlin, she began working as a paid lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and quickly became known for her voice and strong views. She soon began speaking up for women’s rights too, and became one of the preeminent leaders of the movement. She organized the 1850 Worcester First National Woman’s Rights Convention and was the publisher of the women’s rights periodical Woman’s Journal.

“I believe that the influence of woman will save the country before every other power,” Stone said at a May 12, 1869 anniversary celebration of the Equal Rights Association, as quoted in the book History of Woman Suffrage. But while she stood for women’s rights, she was also an abolitionist and in support of the 15th amendment, which granted African American men the right to vote. Her views led to breaking with suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and others.

When members of the Equal Rights Association refused to consider an amendment to give women voting rights, Stanton and Anthony left to create the National Woman Suffrage Association. Stone and others formed the American Woman Suffrage Association. The schism in the women’s movement highlights the complex interplay between racism and sexism of that era, an interplay that still continues today.

Stone eventually saw the reunification of the two organizations in 1890, coming together as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. While she had seen the abolition of slavery in her lifetime, her death in 1893 came before the ratification of the 19th amendment , and she never saw women granted the right to vote. But her tireless efforts had laid the groundwork for a different future for her daughter, who also went on to work as a feminist and abolitionist. As Stone lay dying, she said, “I am glad I was born, and that at a time when the world needed the service I could give.”

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

October 12, 2018 at 08:15

Gertrude Ederle

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“I just knew if it could be done, it had to be done, and I did it.”

Gertrude Ederle (1905 – 2003)

“I just knew if it could be done, it had to be done, and I did it,” Ederle told the New York Times in an article published after her incredible feat: becoming the first woman to swim across the English Channel.

Born in New York City in 1906 to German immigrants, Ederle spent time in the water from a young age and was a champion swimmer by the time she was a teenager. She won a gold medal and two bronze medals at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France.

After Paris, she set her sights on long distance swimming, training for the Channel. Closer to home, in June 1925, Ederle became the first woman to swim the length of New York Bay, covering 16 miles from the New York Battery to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. She made an unsuccessful attempt at the English Channel that same summer, but returned the following year

Only five men had successfully made the 22.5 mile crossing, the fastest in 16 hours 23 minutes. Ederle vowed to do better. On the morning of August 6, 1926, Ederle, covered in lanolin, petroleum jelly and lard to keep her warm while in the water and wearing enormous wrap around glasses, took to the water at Cape Gris-Nez, France. The waters were rough that day, and twice her coach T.W. Burgess – the second man to successfully swam across the Channel – urged her to come out of the water. Ederle’s father and sister who were in the boat with Burgess insisted that she stay her course; her father had promised Ederle a roadster is she made her goal.

Committed to finishing, Ederle pushed through stormy waters, tides and swells, reaching shore after 14 hours and 31 minutes, a time that gave her the title of the first woman to swim across the English Channel, but also the world’s fastest person to do so. The accomplishment earned her the title of ”America’s best girl” by President Calvin Coolidge, and inspired tens of thousands of American women to take up swimming.

By the 1930s, her fame had evaporated. A hearing problem that she had when younger, and made worse by her Channel crossing, eventually caught up with her, and a nasty fall in her apartment led to a back injury. Doctors said she would never walk or swim again, but Ederle prevailed and appeared in a water show at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. Conscious of her own hearing impairment, she went on to teach swimming at a deaf school in New York. Eventually Ederle was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965 and the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1980, a little over 50 years after her amazing accomplishment.

Gertrude Eberle is one of three women from the Women’s Wisdom Project series to be featured in the AGE issue of Taproot Magazine. I am honored to have contributed to this issue, and encourage you to check out this great publication that’s indepedent and ad-free. You can order a copy of the AGE issue here.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

October 2, 2018 at 09:50

Jeannette Rankin

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“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”

– Jeannette Rankin

The first woman to ever be elected to the United States Congress? Jeannette Rankin.

Rankin was born in 1880 on a ranch outside of Missoula, Montana. After studying biology at the University of Montana, she traveled both on both the east and west coasts, eventually deciding to attend the New York School of Philanthropy for a degree in social work. She soon became an activist in the women’s suffrage movement, first in Washington State and then returning to her home state of Montana, where she was the first woman to speak before the all-male Montana legislature. She helped to secure the women’s right to vote in Montana in 1914.

Her status in women’s history was secured in 1916 when she became the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. She went on to be the only member of Congress to oppose entrance into both World War I and II.

How much has changed for women in politics since Rankin first ran? Even though Rankin was first elected a little over 100 years ago, you can draw plenty of similarities between her career struggles and that of women politicians today.

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Written by Anna Brones

September 11, 2018 at 12:31

Clara Barton

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“I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all,

I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.”

-Clara Barton (1821-1912)

Educator and humanitarian Clarissa “Clara” Harlowe Barton is most famously known for founding the American Red Cross.

She was also a strong supporter of women’s suffrage, and her quote is a reminder of how long we have been fighting to receive equal payment for work. She had started teaching at the age of 18, and even founded a school for workers’ children at the mill where her brother worked. She went on to establish the first free school in 1852, in Bordentown, New Jersey. It was at this school that she learned that a male colleague who had been hired was earning double her salary. She quit.

In 1861 she began carrying supplies to Union soldiers, making it her mission to help those in need. While she had no formal training, her care and attentiveness earned her the title “angel of the battlefield.” It was after the war that she went to Europe, where she learned of the work of the International Red Cross, an organization which called for international agreements to protect the sick and wounded during wartime and for the formation of national societies to give aid voluntarily on a neutral basis. When she returned, she was committed to starting a US-based organization that would be part of the same network, founding the American Red Cross in 1881. For the rest of her life, she continued to be a tireless advocate of those in need.

Her home in Maryland became a National Historic Site in 1975, the first dedicated to the achievements of a woman. You can learn more about Clara over on the National Women’s History Museum website.

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

July 4, 2018 at 07:08

Wangari Maathai

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“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!”

-Wangari Maathai

Born in rural Kenya, Wangari Maathai was the first woman in East and Central African to earn a doctorate degree, which she was granted from the University of Nairobi in 1971. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she served on the National Council of Women of Kenya. It was here that she came up with the idea of planting trees, a concept that she grew into a large scale, grassroots organization, the Green Belt Movement, focused on conserving the environment and improving the lives of women. Planting trees meant planting hope, a form or protest and renewal, fighting oppression with growth.

Environmentalist. Activist. Human rights advocate. Writer. Her work was inspired by her roots, but reached a global audience, and in 2004 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 

I was recently reading Terry Tempest Williams’ book When Women Were Birds, and learned that the two had met in the early 1980s, and Wangari had become mentor of Terry’s. Terry herself had been inspired to start the Green Belt Movement of Utah.

Terry writes, “When I once asked her what she had learned from planting trees, she said, ‘Patience.'”

That sentiment stuck with me. Patience. It’s the same sentiment that’s in Wangari’s quote above.

The patience to speak up.

The patience to listen.

The patience to rise up.

The patience to continue.

I wonder what wisdom Wangari would give to us today. I think it would still be the same. We must continue to rise up and walk. We must be patient and persistent.

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Isabella L. Bird

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“Everything suggests a beyond.”

– Isabella L. Bird

Born in England in 1831, Isabella L. Bird was outspoken from a young age. For health reasons, in 1854 a doctor suggested a sea voyage. This would lead to a life of travel, her adventures taking her to the U.S. (where she spent time in Colorado, riding horseback across the Rockies), Australia, India, Kurdistan, Turkey, Morocco and many more.

Bird wrote about her adventures in several books, likeA Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, and was a respected photographer and naturalist, exploring and documenting the world around her. In 1892, she became the first woman fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Imagine being a female adventurer in her day – a time when women were expected to stay home, to stick to their routines. She upended all of those expectations, fueled by an interest in adventure and a desire to tackle new challenges. In Colorado, she became the first woman to climb Long’s Peak, nowadays one of the state’s most popular “fourteeners.”

It’s so easy to only focus on the minutiae of the world around us; our to do lists, our daily lives, our routines. But Isabella’s quote is a reminder that there is always more; a challenge to open our eyes, to look beyond, to think differently. The world is full of potential for discovery, whether it’s far away or in our own backyard. We simply have to open ourselves to it.

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a yearlong project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

April 18, 2018 at 10:45