Women of History: Jeanette MacDonald

Author’s Note:  This was originally meant for two weeks ago but I had trouble writing it.  I’m still not very happy with the outcome, but it is complete.  I may revisit Jeanette in the future and rewrite this better.

In the United States, we celebrate our Independence Day on July 4th.  This month’s theme is going to be American women of history.    While Canada also celebrates Canada Day in the month of July, I’ll be doing Canadian women of history another month.

Our first WHO is Jeanette MacDonald.  Jeanette MacDonald is an American Actress from the 1930s.  About a decade ago, my grandmother and I, who liked to watch old classic films together, started watching operettas, in particular the ones done by Jeanette and her frequent Co-star Nelson Eddy.  We collected movies, stills and other things relating to Jeanette and Nelson.

Jeannette Anna MacDonald was born on June 18th in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The year of her birth is somewhat of a mystery as different records say different things.  According to a baptismal record, the year of her birth was in 1903.  However, later in life Jeanette would change her name (dropping an n), and her year of birth (Saying it was 1907).  Even her gravestone lists the 1907 date, and her widower, Gene Raymond, would continue to insist it was 1907.  However, several sources now list the 1903 date as accurate. Continue reading

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Women of History: Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross

Perhaps one of the most fabled females of early American (ie United States) history is Betsy Ross.  Legend has her designing the American flag, consisting of a ring of stars representing the states as well as thirteen stripes representing the colonies that started the fight.  Debate over the actual designer remains, as its largely thought that Ms. Ross did not in fact design that flag.  Still, I thought it would be interesting to look into the life of the woman legend has claimed. Continue reading

Happy Independence Day! (US)

Happy Independence Day to my readers from the US.  Today is a post day, but as its a National Holiday and busy day for many of us celebrating, I decided to do another simple post, this time random facts about July 4th.

To my non-US readers, I swear this whole month won’t be a FREEEDOOOM month.  While the theme of the Women of History posts will be American, it will otherwise not be US centric like this.  Happy Republic Day to those in the Philippines, and a happy belated Canada Day to those in Canada.

So here we go, some interesting facts about Independance Day

  • – July 4th became a federal holiday in 1870, nearly a hundred years after the country was founded.  It became a paid federal holiday in 1938.
  • The vote on the Declaration of Independence took place on July 2, the publication took place on July 4th (with two signatures including John Hancock’s) and wasn’t completely signed till August of that year.  We also wouldn’t have ‘won our independence’  till 1783.  John Adams reportedly observed Independence Day on July 2nd and considered the 4th to be wrong.
  • Two of the men who worked on the Declaration – John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – would become President.  They also would die on July 4, 1826, 50 years later, just hours apart.  James Monroe, another president, died on July 4, 1831.  Calvin Coolidge was born on Independence day in 1872, only a few short years before the centennial celebration.
  • The Philippines celebrates July 4th as their Republic Day because they were recognized as an independent Nation and no longer a US territory on July 4, 1946.
  • We did not have a written plan for our government till November 1777.  It would not be fully ratified until March 1, 1781.  The Articles of Confederation would be scrapped in favor of the US Constitution in 1787. So the government we are all familar with didn’t exist for 11 years after the Declaration of Independence.  The Constitution was effective just a few months before the US’ 12th birthday in 1789.
  • The first time the 50 state flag was displayed was July 4, 1960. Hawaii and Alaska had become states 10 months earlier, but they waited till the 4th to present the new flag.  It has been 58 years since there was a change made to the Flag.
  • The Freedom of Information Act was signed on July 4, 1966 by President Johnson.

Women of History: Anne Neville

For those of you who have read this blog for a while, or maybe have gone back in the archives, you might notice that I have an interest in Tudor and the adjacent time periods in English history.  My choice this week for Women of History reflects that.  We are featuring (belatedly) Anne Neville, Queen Consort of England in the late 1500s.

Like several women of this time, there isn’t as much to go on for them themselves.  Anne’s life was dominated by the actions of the men in her life, and unfortunately her story sometimes gets lost in theirs. Continue reading

Women of History: Alicia Dickerson Montemayor

We will start June with a belated Women of Mexican-American History.  Alicia Dickerson Montemayor was an American woman from Texas who was a civil rights activist, for both the rights of Latino Americans and women, an educator, and a social worker. Continue reading

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

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)