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

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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: Kim Seondeok

Author’s Note:  This post is posted late due to some editing process issues.  The next post will be posted tomorrow on schedule.

This week we travel to Korea, during the 7th Century. Our featured Women of History is Queen Seondeok of Silla, a kingdom of Korea.

Seondeok was born Princess Deokmen, the daughter of King Jinpyeong and Queen Maya. Her birthdate is not a sure fact, but it is suspected to be at the very end of the 6th century to early end of the 7th century. She had two sisters, Princess Cheonmyeong and Seonhwa. At this point in their kingdom’s history, there had not been a female ruler of the kingdom. Women were involved in governing and held roles of power but it was limited. Her grandmother, Queen Sado, had once ruled as regent for her grandfather for example. Yet no women had been Queen Regnant (Queen in her own right, rather than representing someone else).

When the time came for Jinpyeong to choose a successor, he leaned towards his son-in-law Kim Yongsu. Yongsu was married to Cheonmyeong. He was the second cousin of the King, and thus a member of the bone rank of Seonggol (Sacred Bone).

The bone rank system was based on lineage, and was very rigid in nature. A person’s status or rank would determine everyday life. This included a person’s occupation and sometimes even clothing choices. There were three main ranks. Seonggol was the highest and included the royal family. Lesser royals and ministers were part of the Jingol (true bone) rank. The lowest rank was the head rank (Tupum) and included most of the rest of the population. Tupum divided into 6 subclasses. The lower 3 classes were that of the lower class. The Aristocracy were the higher 3 classes. One’s rank determined your place in society. It determined who you could socialize with, who you could marry and what type of housing you got. Higher ranks had clothing restrictions as well. Seondeok herself was a member of the Seonggol rank as had all the royals at this point.

Yongsu seemed an acceptable heir to a man with no sons. Seondeok had taken an interest in governing and had asked her father to prove herself. Jinpyeong decided to give her the opportunity. Seondeok proved herself, but she was still not without detractors. Despite Yongsu conceding and even taking the lower rank of jingol, it was not an easy transition. A rebellion against her was thorted before it beg

In 632, Seondeok was given the crown and the name change, becoming the first female ruler of Silla on her own right. She immediately got to work, with grand plans for her people and her country. She sent out inspectors to oversee the people’s welfare and gave tax breaks for the peasant class. She built Cheomseongdae, one of the oldest astronomy towers. She also sent yearly emissaries to Tang China to improve foreign relations. Emperor Taizang Tang would not recognise her, believeing women were ineffective rulers. It would be three years before he would change his mind.

Seondeok’s interest in foreign affairs was an important part of her legacy. Through alliances and strategy, she expanded the borders of her Kingdom. Her kingdom would one day cover a good deal of the Korean Peninsula.

At the start of her reign, Silla was located in the southeast corner of South Korea. The capital of Silla was Gyeongju, which is located not too far inland from the coast.. Over the course of her reign, as well as that of her successors, the boundaries of Silla morphed and changed. It would go from a small confederation at the southern half of Korea to ruling most of it.

The kingdom of Baekje invaded the country in 642, ten years into Seondeok’s reign. At first they were successful, capturing cities and castles on the western border. Seondeok sought the advice of a buddhist monk named Jajang about what to do to protect her people. She took his advice and created a pagoda called Hwangnyongsa along the border. She even offered to use the materials of her own palace if it would help calm the fears of her countrymen. It was to be both a religious center as well as a military post to watch for invaders. The pagoda was nine stories, meant to represent her ‘enemies’ with various depictions. Unfortunately the pagoda was burned down by invaders in 1238.

It was only the growing power of Goguryeo, the third Kingdom of Korea, that caused Emperor Tiazong to change his mind. This alliance was enough to help her forces drive back the forces of Baekje (which became a part of Silla) and Goguryeo(who lost territory to Silla). Silla held a good deal of the territory of Korea and eventually even separated their alliance with Tiazong. This would be an ongoing problem during her reign as the borders shifted back and forth between the warring kingdoms.

Yet, it was not to be easy for Queen Seondeok even domestically. In 647, she fell ill. Her official Bidam used this as an opportunity to raise a rebellion. He was popular with his countrymen, and many rallied to be behind him. He used their belief in signs to promote the idea that Queen Seondeok was a failure as a Queen. After all, her illness, and a failing star aimed in the direction of her home were signs of failure.

The rebellion lasted ten days, but Seondeok did not live to see the end of the rebellion. She died on February 17th, 647. She had no heirs, so her cousin Kim Seungman became Queen. She renamed herself Jindeok and completed the final suppression of the rebellion. Jindeok continued to improve the country and work towards unification.

King Muyeol, who was born Kim Chunchu, suceeded Jindeok who had died without an heir as well. He was the son of Seondeok’s sister Cheonmyeong and Kim Yongsu. Jindeok was the last of the Seonggol rulers, ending the rank. It would be Muyeol’s son King Munmu who would complete the unification of Korea.

Queen Seondeck’s legacy is not only the expansion of the borders of Silla and the military protection of her country. She started the alliance with Tang China, which would be strengthened during the reigns of her successors. She also strengthened the country’s connection to Buddhism, which had already been the national religion. She built many temples, statues and pagodas to that effect, some of which still stand. She also built Cheomseongdae, which remains one of the oldest observatories in the world. This inspired her neighbors to build their own observatories. She promoted interest in the sciences and education. She created public works and aid for those who needed it.

Some of her life has become legend – or legends have replaced some of her life. She was thought to have some sense of clairvoyance. One story tells of Seondeok receiving some Poppy seeds from the Emperor of China. It was accompanied by a picture showing what the flower would look like upon blooming. She stated that the flowers would have no fragrance. When the blooms finally came, no one could detect a fragrance. In some versions of the story, it is passed off as Seondeok’s clairvoyance. In others, she later explains she saw no bees or butterflies near it, so she had made a deductive conclusion.

The amount of legends involved in her life make it hard to do generic research on her. Since I only have a week to work on these, I tend to focus on internet sources. I always try to find multiple sources for anything I write. I was also limited because I only speak English fluently. However, I believe a lot of the scholarship on Queen Seondeok is still in paper form. I recommend researching more into her if you are interested.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: The Kingdom of Silla

Wikipedia: Cheomseongdae

Traditional East Asia: Queen Seondeok of Silla

The Ancient Encyclopedia: Seondeok

The Ancient Encyclopedia: The Bone Rank System

Thought Co: Queen Seondeok of the Silla Kingdom

History of Royal Women: The Three Queens of Silla

 

Masterlist

Happy St Patrick’s Day

I decided to take a break from my usual friday essay on Women of history this week as tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day.  The Day is celebrated differently in different regions of the world, and by various people within the US.  For some it is a religious holiday, a feast celebrating Saint Patrick, and for others it is simply a day to celebrate Irish culture and heritage.

As an American, I am more familiar with the secular version of the holiday then the religious. The day has become a day known for celebrating Irish/Irish-American history and culture as well as a food and drink holiday.  I have Irish ancestry on both sides of my family, but I don’t think that has much to do with why I like Saint Patrick’s day.  However, it’s a day for family and friends to gather around and share good food (most likely Irish in nature) and each other.  The area I live in has a large amount of people of Irish and German descent, so just about everyone can say “Kiss me, I’m Irish.”

So who was Saint Patrick?  And why was he connected to Ireland and March 17?  Well, that is what today’s post is about.

St Patrick was a Briton born during the Roman occupation.  While his actual time is debated, it is largely agreed that he was active as a missionary and bishop during the late fifth Century.  According to his own writings, he was not christian until his late teens, when he was taken prisoner in Ireland.

His hometown of Bannavem Taberniae has no modern equivalent so it is hard to say where he was from, except that it was from the British Isles or Northern France.  Many believe that it was southwestern Scotland, near the coast facing Ireland.

Patrick, from his own accounts, was born into a Catholic family.  His father Calpurnius was a deacon as well as a member of the local government, and his grandfather a Catholic Priest.  He himself wasn’t a strong believer, that is not untill he was 16.  At that time, he was captured by a crew of Irish raiders and taken to Ireland.

He lived in Ireland for about six years according to his Confession, before escaping back to his native land. He had spent his time on Ireland as a Sheppard, and strengthening his new-found faith in God.  He believed that God had led him to a ship that would take him home to his family.

He then became a cleric, studying christianity and eventually was ordained as a Priest, possibly by another saint, Germanus of Auxerre.  He claimed to have seen a vision of the people of Ireland calling out to him to lead them in their faith.

He came to Ireland as a bishop, replacing the outgoing Bishop Palladius. It is possible that the two men’s stories have intermingled over the centuries, and the legends of Saint Patrick is actually more a melting pot of Palladius (who was known as Patrick by some) and Patrick.

At some point during his ministry, he was put on trial by his fellow Irish Christians, which prompted him to write his declaration.  He, according to legend, banished snakes from the island, as Ireland was not known to have snakes.  It was more likely a naturally occurring absence.

Some of the common imagery on Saint Patrick’s day are legends in themselves.  The Shamrock,  also known as a clover, was credited as part of a parable that Patrick told to explain the holy Trinity.

Most of Patrick’s life is left to be guessed, due to the loss of any contemporary accounts of his activities other than his own writings, and the possibility that accounts that do remain might be confusing Palladius and Patrick together.

However, the legend of the man might be more important.  He has come to represent Ireland, being one of their patron saints, perhaps the most well-known.  His feast day is celebrated on the day he supposedly died, March 17, and at least in the United States its a day to celebrate being Irish (even if it’s just for a day).

It wasn’t always that way, and the United States has a history of prejudice against the Irish.  But it has come along way.  Saint Patrick’s day has taken a life of its own in the United States and Canada.  In Ireland however, it was only in the last twenty years that the day started to be more than just a religious observance.

So whether you celebrate this day as a religious observance or a cultural one, may you have a great St Patrick’s Day.

Further Reading:

Saint Patrick’s Day (US)

Wikipedia: Saint Patrick

Wikipedia: Palladius

Confession of Patrick – Saint Patrick

Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus – St Patrick

History.com: The History of St Patrick’s Day

 

Women of History: The First US Senators

This week we are going have a double feature, the first two women to ever serve in the US Senate:  Rebecca Felton and Hattie Caraway. Women having the right to vote was passed with the 19th amendment to the constitution in 1920, but it would be quite a while before women started taking office in the highest offices in the government.  In fact, Rebecca Felton was appointed to be a Senator for a day in 1922, but Hattie Caraway, the first woman to be elected to the Senate was sworn in November 1931, almost a full decade after Rebecca served her day.

Several of the next female Senators would be widows  of Senators who died in office. The first time more than 2 women served at once wouldn’t be till the 1990s. Even in the current congress, women only make up 22 percent of the elected body.  Only 29 states have ever had a female senator, and only 51 women have ever served in Congress.  The current congress is actually the highest percentage ever of women.

Rebecca Felton was born Rebecca Ann Latimer on June 10, 1935.  She grew up in Decatur, Georgia with three siblings. Her father was a general store owner and merchant, and was able to afford to send his daughter to live with relatives in Madison so that she could attend Methodist Female College, where she graduated at the top of her class in 1852 at 17.  The college at the time was set up to provide a foundation education for the women who would one day be the wives of the businessman and planters.  However, the war between the states would soon see the educational facility closed down.

A year later Rebecca married William Felton and moved with him in Cartersville, Georgia. William was, like her father, a planter and owned a plantation.  Her experiences during the civil war, both as a resident of Georgia who saw the results of Sherman’s march and her life as a slave owner influenced her later political life.  She saw slavery as mainly economical, a investment.  However, she felt that she would have rather have given up ‘domestic slavery’ then have seen the detriment of the war on Georgia.

After the war,both she and her husband became more politically active.  Rebecca herself focused on prison reform and women’s suffrage.  However, she was not a intersectional feminist by any means.  She pushed against the right to vote for black citizens, claiming education and voting would lead to more black crime.  She was in favor of lynching and was otherwise a supremacist in attitude.

Her time in the senate arrived as an appointment.  in 1922, Sen. Thomas E. Watson died.  The governor of Georgia, Thomas Hardwick, decided to appoint Rebecca as a placeholder till a special election could take place.  However, congress didn’t meet again until after the special election was held.  Hardwick had been running for the position, but ended up losing to Walter F. George.  George decided to allow Rebecca to be sworn in on November 21, 1922.  She was the Senator from Georgia for 24 hours, as George was sworn in on November 22.

Rebecca continued her activism after she left office.  She passed away on January 24, 1930 at the age of 94.  It would be another year before another woman would take office in the US Senate.

Hattie Caraway would be the first woman elected into the Senate, but like Rebecca it would start as an appointment.

She was born Hattie Ophelia Wyatt on February 1, 1878 in Bakersville, Tennessee.  Like Rebecca, she was the daughter of a farmer who owned a store.  The family as a whole moved to Hustburg when she was four.  She would remain there till her college years when she would transfer from Ebenezer College to Dickson Normal College where she would earn her bachelors of Arts degree in 1896.

She went on to teach for about eight years prior to her marriage to Thaddeus Caraway.  She had met Thaddeus in college, but the pair didn’t marry until 1902.  The pair would move to Jonesboro, Arkansas with their three children and set up a legal practice for Thaddeus and cotton farm.

In 1912, the couple made a second home in Maryland after Thaddeus was elected to the US House of Representatives for Arkansas.  He would hold that position for 9 years before he was elected senator in 1921.  In 1931, Thaddeus died suddenly from a blood clot while the couple was back home in Arkansas.  The governor decided to appoint Hattie to hold the seat till an election could be held.  She won the special election to finish out her husband’s final term.  She won an election on her own right in 1932, and then proceed to hold her seat until 1945.

During her time in office, she became the first woman to preside over the Senate, to chair a committee and to win a re-election.  She was given the responsibility of presiding over the senate twice.  Once in 1932 (although it was not officially noted down) and again in 1943. She was a great supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and his new deal programs, although she, like Rebecca before her, was against any anti-lynching bill.  She was focused on issues dear to her state,  requesting to serve on the agricultural committee.  She earned a reputation as “Silent Hattie”  for her lack of speeches made on the floor.  She tended to reserve her opinions for committee meetings and rallies instead.

After loosing her re-election campaign in 1944, she served both Roosevelt and Truman on their Employees’ Compensation committees. She suffered a stroke in early 1950 while still serving on the Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board , and died later that year on December 21.

Further Reading

Women in the US Senate

Rebecca Felton

Wikipedia: Rebecca Latimer Felton

History of Madison Georgia

The History of the First Methodist Church of Madison

Country Life in Georgia – Rebecca Felton  (Ebook available free from Google Play)

Georgia Encyclopedia: Rebecca Latimer Felton

House History: Felton, Rebecca Latimer

Hattie Caraway

Wikipedia: Hattie Wyatt Caraway

House History: Caraway, Hattie Wyatt

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas: Hattie Ophelia Wayt Caraway

US Senate: A Woman Presides over the Senate

 

Master List

Women of History: Yekaterina Alekseyevna (Catherine the Great)

Author’s Note:  Catherine’s name in Russian (in English) is spelled in two ways: Yekaterina(which I choose to use here) and Ekaterina.  I try my best to use the name closest to what they were actually called.  Many times I have found foriegn monarchs names anglicised, so I try to find out what they would be called by their own people.

  Also there is many Wikipedia sources in the Further Reading.  While I enjoy Wikipedia, I use it only as a starting off point, and always suggest those who are interested in learning more to do the same.  The same goes for any encyclopedia.  There is so many sources out there, online and in print.  
Portrait of Empress Catherine II(a)

We travel slightly west in our pick this week, traveling to Imperial Russia and focusing on Catherine the Great (Yekaterina Alekseyevna), Empress of Russia and one of the more well-known of the Tsars despite the fact she did not inherit the throne, but took it by force and her son would attempt to take away her legacy.
Continue reading

The History of Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentines’ Day to everyone!

For me Valentine’s day is just a day to express love/affection.  I end up getting gifts for my family and close friends if I’m seeing them that day. For many however, its a day for romantically involved couples to express their love for one another in a more formal way.  It’s definately a holiday built upon cards and gifts.  Different cultures treat it differently though.  Continue reading