Women of History: Rosario Castellanos

This week seems to have a theme of Mexican women who are in the arts born in the early 19th century.  Rosario Castellanos was a poet, activist and author who became associated with the “Generation of 1950”, a poet’s group that gained popularity following the end of WWII.

Rosario was born in Mexico City on May 25, 1925 to a family of ranchers in the state of Chiapas, so she grew up in Comitán. During the years before her birth, landowners in Mexico had a hold on the power structure.  Her family was of mixed heritage and had indigenous servants. She was an introverted child and found herself at odds with her family.  She didn’t care for the way the indigenous people were treated, and her relationship with her mother was estranged after she proved to favor her brother.

When she was 9 years old, President Lazaro Cardenas passed and enacted the 1934 Agrarian code which redistributed land from the wealthy elite and changed the social-political makeup of Mexico.  It also effected Rosario’s family, as much of their property was confiscated.  The country had spent much of its recent history with the power being in the hands of wealthy landowners, and the redistribution of land broke up that power hold.

When she was 15 she moved to Mexico City with her parents. Unfortunately, within a year, both her parents had died, leaving her and her siblings orphans.  She enrolled in the National Autonomous University of Mexico, studying literature and philosophy.  She also joined the National Indigenous Institute, developed by President Cardenas, to help promote literacy in impoverished sections of the country.  She also began writing for the newspaper Excélsior.

It was while she was at the school that she met Ricardo Guerra Tejada, a fellow academic and philosopher.  The two married in 1958. The two of them had one son, Gabriel, born in 1961.  Rosario suffered from depression and fertility issues and would have no more children. She and Ricardo divorced in 1971 after Ricardo’s infidelity came to light.

In 1960, she published Ciudad Real, a collection of short stories that focused on the differences between selected groups.  It dealt with both racial and gender related bias. She also became the press director for the University a year later. She also taught at the university and had visiting professorship in various universities across North America. In 1963, she wrote Oficio de tinieblas or in English as The Book of Lamentations in one translation and The Office of Darkness in another. The story recreates a native rebellion in a more modern time period.  The struggle of native people was an influence over much of her work.  She was inspired by also by two Catholic authors as well, including Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz, who I profiled several weeks ago.

Rosario’s work was varied.  She was dedicated to improving literacy and women’s rights in Mexico.  She also served in several governmental positions, culminating in being assigned in 1971 to be Mexico’s ambassador to Israel in 1971.

Rosario died on August 7, 1974.  She was 49 years old, and her death was an electrical accident.  She left behind a body of work that showcased the idea of feminism in Mexico as well as better treatment for indigenous people.  She holds a high spot in Mexico for both her literary and governmental pursuits.  Two of her works were published after her death, as well.

Most of the sources of information about her that appear in English online appear to just repeat the same information. There are several sites and videos in Spanish that may include information but unfortunately my Spanish is not good enough to translate that quickly.  I’m also sure offline there is more information, if you are interested in learning more about Rosario and her works.  Amazon has several of her published works in Spanish.

Further Reading

Wikipedia:  Rosario Castellanos

Wikipedia:  Cardenista Land Reform 1934-1940

Encyclopedia Britannica: Rosario Castellanos

Rosario Castellanos was one of Mexico’s greatest Poets – Constance Grady (Vox.com)

Rosario Castellanos – Beth Miller (2012)

 

Master List

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Women of History: Frida Kahlo (Part Two)

(See Previous)

[WARNING: Paintings linked within in this post may have triggering content]

1937 also happened to be when Frida became more productive as an artist, with several self-portraits and other paintings.  She began to exhibit her paintings despite her own doubts about her talents.  However, others did not have the same doubts and she became more recognized as an artist in her own right, rather than just the wife of Diego Rivera.

Her first solo exhibition happened in New York City in 1938.  She managed to sell half of her paintings despite it being the great Depression, and her exhibit was also attended by several famous artists and public figures.  It brought more attention to her art and earned her two commissions.  One was for A. Conger Goodyear, who was the President and founder of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) which remains a major art museum.  Another was for Clare Boothe Luce, a socialite and political activist who commissioned a portrait of her friend, Dorothy Hale.   The painting depicted Hale’s suicide, with writing on the bottom with the details of the event. The painting was controversial due to what it depicted.

This would not however be the last time that a painting of Frida’s would be considered scandalous or controversial.  In fact, the following year she traveled to Paris for another exhibit of her artwork only to find the gallery refused to showcase most of her work.  They found it too controversial for their audiences.  However, on the brighter side the Louvre bought one of her paintings.  The Frame (1938) was the first artwork by a Mexican artist that the famous art collection had bought.

Frida moved back to her childhood home, La Casa Azul, in 1939 following her divorce from Diego. She would remain there until her death, living at times with her husband and/or her sister and her children.  The 1940s were a productive time for Frida, although her health started to decline even further.  She tried new mediums and substrates for her art and starting making art that was considered more sellable to support herself.

She continued to exhibit her art in Mexico and the United States, attending three separate exhibits in 1940 alone.  Some of her more famous paintings were painted while she was back at La Casa Azul.

1940 was troubling year personally however.  While her artistic work seemed to be going higher, her personal life and health suffered.  She was arrested and held for two days in Mexico City as she was investigated when her former lover, Leon Trotsky, was killed.  It was suspected that she, and her sister Cristina, knew who the murderer was.  She was released, however.  She then found herself in San Francisco soon afterwards dealing with various health problems, including a fungal infection and back pain.

While she was in San Francisco she was reunited with Diego, and the two reconciled.  They remarried in a civil ceremony on December 8, 1940 and returned to Mexico together.  Their marriage remained as it was before, with both having affairs.  Diego kept their old home in San Angel as a second apartment and his studio despite living at La Caza Azul.

Her health problems continued, as she had chronic pain due to her spine, her hand infection became a continuing problem, and at one point she was treated for Syphilis.  She went through twenty-eight different casts in 14 years due to the pain she lived through. She also suffered from depression after her father, who she had been close to, died in 1941.

One highlight of the 1940s was that Frida’s artwork had gained more notice in her native Mexico, and she was a member of the Seminario De Cultura Mexicana, a commission of the Mexican government to spread awareness of Mexican culture.  With the Seminario, she held various exhibitions, attended conferences and other promotions.  It led to her accepting a teaching position in a local national Art school called La Esmeralda.  Eventually her illnesses prevented her from having classes on campus, and instead she held them within her home and studio. Her students, known as Los Fridos for their devotion to her, continued her ideal of painting from Mexican culture and life.  Her own works continued to be somewhat controversial, but she always kept to what she wanted to express.

In 1945, she faced another health setback.  Her pain had worsened to the point that she could no longer sit or stand for long periods of time.  She traveled to New York for a surgery, but in the end the surgery did not help.  Like she always had, she painted her emotions into her art, such as The Wounded Deer (1946).

In 1950, she once again tried to get a bone graft, but it was not a smooth recovery, and several follow-up surgeries were required.  At this point, Frida was forced to use either a wheel chair or crutches to move around.  This did not stop her from being politically active or continuing her paintings.  She got an adjustable easel so she could paint from her wheelchair, and campaigned for a ban on nuclear weapons. When Doctors told her she needed to be on Bed rest and therefore could not attend her solo exhibit in 1953, she had her bed delivered to the gallery and had herself carried by ambulance and stretcher to it so she could attend the event.

As the mid fifties arrived, Frida’s health declined rapidly. In August 1953, only months after her exhibit, she had a leg amputation due to gangrene.  Her depression increased, and she became addicted to painkillers according to some sources.  At times she was suicidal and was hospitalized in 1954.

She was active till the very end, both as a political activist and as an artist.  In 1954, she released at least four paintings and she also attended a demonstration against the CIA invasion of Guatemala with her husband in July.  However, her activity did nothing to help the illness, and on July 13, 1954 Frida passed away at the age of 47.  Arguments about what actually caused her death appear to differ between various sources.

She was laid in state at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a cultural center, and a communist flag covered her casket. She was later cremated and her remains displayed in an urn at her home, La Caza Azul.  In her memory, Diego allowed her childhood home to become a museum to his wife’s artistic career, and for the promotion of Mexican history, culture and art.  He died in 1957, and the museum opened a year later.

Frida left behind a legacy in her art, and in her courage to do what she wanted despite people telling her she couldn’t.  She never let people change her into something she rather not be.  She preserved through physical pain and made artwork to express her life in a surrealist way.  Many people relate to her artwork.  Many people also relate to her, whether it is her feminism, her politics, her disabilities, or her bisexuality.

Her artwork has only increased in value, setting records for sale prices for Mexican artists. Two Nudes  in a Forest (1939) for example was auctioned in 2016 for 8 million dollars.  Interest in her art and her life have increased over the last few decades due to new biographies (such as Hayden Herrera’s Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo -1983) and the fact that in 1984 her works were considered national treasures and Mexico prohibited any more from leaving the country.

In more recent years, the biopic Frida (based on Herrera’s biography) was released in 2002 and stared fellow Mexican Selma Hayek.  It won several Academy awards.  She also gained a mention in 2017’s Coco.  In the US, she got her own postage stamp in 2001 and was inducted into the Legacy Walk in 2012.  In the past year, Mattel released a Frida doll as part of her new Women Role Models collection.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: Frida Kahlo

Wikipedia: Diego Rivera

Wikipedia: Mexican Revolution

Biography.com: Frida Kahlo

Lisa’s History Room:  Frida Kahlo An Accidental Artist

Frida Kahlo.Org

The Frida Kahlo Foundation

Mattel Unveiled ‘Role Model’ Barbies for International Woman’s Day and I’ve never felt less Inspired – Biba Kang (Independent)

Mattel.com:  Barbie celebrates Role Models

Diary of a Mad Artist – Amy Fine Collins (Vanity Fair Magazine -1995)

 

 

Women of History: Frida Kahlo (Part One)

Frida_Kahlo,_by_Guillermo_Kahlo_3

Frida Kahlo;  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Guillermo Kahlo; 1932

Frida Kahlo is a well-known artist and will be our featured Woman of History this week.

[WARNING: Paintings linked within in this post may have triggering content]

Frida was born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon on July 6, 1907 in a small suburb of Mexico City.  Her father was a German immigrant to Mexico, Guillermo (born Carl Wilhelm) Kahlo.  He was a photographer, so the art bug came naturally to Frida.  Her mother was Matilde Calderon y Gonzalez, a Mexican born woman of indigenous and Spanish descent.  Guillermo and Matilde had four daughters together: Matilde, Adriana, Frida and Cristina.  Frida also had two half-sisters named Maria Louisa and Margarita, but they played a lesser part in her life.  Frida would be especially close to her younger sister Cristina. Continue reading

Announcement About This Week’s Posts.

For those of you looking forward to my friday Women of History posts, You may have noticed that I never posted on Friday.  I had part of it written, except there is remarkably alot out there on Frida Kahlo, my featured person.  So instead of getting just one Women of History post this week, you are going to get 3.  Frida’s post is going to be cut into two (Today and Wednesday) and I will return to normal scheduling on Friday with Rosario Castellanos.

I’m also going to pause and state that I welcome suggestions for the Women of History posts.  I have already taken a few requests already, but I’m always open to learning more about the women out there that made (or should have made) the history books.

I am also considering doing a more indepth version of these posts for Nano this year, with the plans for maybe a e-book (with more sources of course) at the end of it.  But we will see.  I also have a few novel ideas as well.

Back on topic, Frida’s story – part one – will be posted later tonight. Hope you all enjoy reading it.

Women of History: Nana Yaa Asantewaa

Yaa Asantewaa was many things. She was a woman, a farmer, a Queen, a rebel leader, a mother and a historical figure. She led troops against British Expansion and colonisation in the Ashanti Empire, having grown up in what is modern Ghana. She ruled over her tribe for her brother, and cultivated various crops in her area. I was inspired to look into her life after seeing her doodle on Google’s home page a few weeks ago. So today we will travel to 19th century Africa. Continue reading

Women of History: Sally Ride

When I was 8 years old, the film Apollo 13 came out.  I was immediately fascinated with the space program and its history.  My main focus was on the programs prior to the space shuttle so I never looked into the history of the space shuttle outside of general missions before recently.  However, one of my personal ‘heroes’ was Sally Ride, and I decided for this week to feature the first american woman in space.

Sally Kristen Ride was born on May 26, 1951 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents, while not scientists themselves, promoted her interest in exploring. When she was 12, she was able to see the first female cosmonaut in space, Valentina Tereshkova, take her turn.  It would be 1982 before another woman would enter space.

After graduating from a private high school she attended on tennis scholarship, she attended Swarthmore College.  Eventually she would transfer to Stanford University, where she would earn her bachelor degree in both english and Physics.  She continued her education in physics, eventually gaining her PhD in Physics in 1978.  Her main focus was lasers and astrophysics.

While finishing her doctorate, she answered an advertisement seeking applicants for NASA.  She was chosen to join in 1978, and would continue to be a part of NASA’s team for the next several decades. Her class of astronauts were the first to include women, and she was one of six. She didn’t immediately get on a shuttle.  Her first positions were as a communicator between the ground and the capsule for the second and third space shuttle flights (Columbia STS-2 and STS-3) in the early eighties.  She was also on the team to develop some of the technology that would be installed in later Shuttles, such as the Canada-Arm robotic arm.

In 1982, the USSR launched another woman into space, this time Svetlana Savitskaya.   It would be the following year that Sally got to be the first American woman to reach earth orbit.  Her first mission was the Challenger STS-7 mission.

Like every other astronaut she prepared for her mission, and did press conferences.Prior to the launch in June,  Sally did a press run.  People were fascinated with how a woman would deal with the rigors of space travel – although several questions were sexist in nature.  She was asked about her reproductive cycle, and if she cried if things went wrong. People at NASA wondered if she needed a 100 tampons on her trip.

On June 18, 1983, the Challenger launched and was in orbit for nearly seven days (returning to earth on June 24th).  Sally was on board with four other crew members, all but one rookies, and together they launched several satellites, and conducted experiments.  It also allowed her to use the arm she helped design. Overall it was a successful mission.

A year later, in 1984, Sally traveled into space again on the Challenger STS-41-G.  This mission lasted for nearly 9 days.  It was also a mission with several firsts.  It was the first time two women had served on the same mission (Sally and Kathryn Sullivan), and it also contained two foreign astronauts.  It was also a crew of seven, the most crew members that the shuttle had held to that point.  An IMAX camera was used to film the flight, and the footage was later used in the film ‘The Dream is Alive’.

Sally’s third mission was scheduled for the summer of 1986, but was cancelled when tragedy struck in January.  On January 28, 1986 the Challenger was launched, but never made it to orbit.  the ship exploded in mid-flight, leading to the deaths of all on board.  For the next two years, missions were scrubbed and a in-depth investigation took place to prevent it from happening again.  Sally was assigned to one of the teams investigating the operations.

After the end of the investigation, Sally was put in charge of putting together an Office of Exploration in DC and making plans for the future of NASA after such a tragedy.  This would be her last assignment for NASA, choosing to go into education afterwards.  However, it was not her last involvement with the agency.

In 1987 she started to work at Stanford as part of the Center for International Security and Arms control, and two years later she became a professor of physics at the University of California in San Diego.  She also became involved with NASA’s outreach programs to educate students and promote science and exploration. This would become a focus of Sally’s public life in the 90s and 2000s.

In 1985, she became involved with the love of her life, Tam O’Shaughnessy.  They had been long time friends, and their romantic relationship was kept private from the general public who didn’t know until after Sally’s death 27 years later.  Sally had been married once before, to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley, but that had ended in divorce in 1987.

Their relationship was also a professional one.  Sally and Tam wrote several children’s science books over the years, and founded the Sally Ride Science organization in 2001 which promoted education and women in STEM occupations.  After Sally’s death, Tam would continue to run the organization.  The organization also ran the Sally Ride Science Festival, an event to promote science.

Sally would also be the president of Space.Com (One of the sources below)

Sally would once again be asked to be part of the investigation of a tragedy, this time the disintegration of the Columbia spacecraft in February 1, 2003.  She was the only person to have served on both investigations.

Sally was private about her personal life, including when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2011.  On July 23, 2012 she died in her home in California.

After her death, she received several honors for her space travel and promotion of education and science.  President Barack Obama presented her posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, and during that same year she was honored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  She received the highest honor given by the Space Foundation with General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award.

Perhaps Sally’s most important legacy is the one she has as woman.  Girls, like myself, grew up knowing they could make in space and in the science fields.  She promoted women in the STEM fields, and the education of children in space related sciences.  She also became posthumously a hero for the LGBTIA community.

In May 2018, the US Postal Service will be releasing a stamp in her honor.  This June will be the 35th Anniversary of her first mission into space.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: Sally Ride
Wikipedia: STS-7
Wikipedia: STS-41-G /STS-17
Wikipedia: STS-61-M
Space.Com: Sally Ride
Sally Ride Science @ UC San Diago
NASA Biography: Sally K. Ride
A Brief History of menstruating in space
US Post Office Sally Ride Stamp