Category Archives: Women in History

Nellie Bly – Mad, Committed, or Both? (Part One)

In fact, Nellie Bly was not mad. She was, however, “committed”–in more ways than one.

(TodayFoundOut.com)

Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864, Nellie, as she was known after she became a journalist, always had a deep sense of morality and a desire to help those who could not help themselves.

Perhaps this stemmed from her own hardships as a young girl. Nellie’s father, Michael Cochran, owned and ran a successful mill in Cochran, Pennsylvania. However, when he died six years after Nellie was born, the family could no longer make ends meet and her mother, Mary Jane, moved her children to Pittsburgh. Due to the family’s financial situation, young Elizabeth had to give up her education to help her mother run the boarding house she had purchased for her family’s survival.

Although she had to quit school as a youngster, Nellie had a gift for writing. Especially when something piqued her interest. At eighteen years old, after reading a column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch that insinuated a woman’s place is in the home, bearing children and keeping house, Elizabeth wrote a rebuttal under the name “The Lonely Orphan,” and sent it to the editor. To her surprise, the editor not only published the rebuttal but offered her a job as a columnist. It was then she took the pen name, Nellie Bly, after a popular Stephen Foster song.

Nellie wrote for the Pittsburgh Dispatch for several years. She wrote about the lives of working women, particularly women factory workers. However, the newspaper received complaints from factory owners and the editor reassigned her to cover fashion, society, and gardening. Frustrated with these assignments, Nellie left the Dispatch and traveled to Mexico to serve as a foreign correspondent. There, she wrote articles reporting on the customs of the Mexican people. When a fellow journalist wrote an article criticizing the Mexican government, he was thrown in jail. Nellie protested with her own writings and the Mexican authorities threatened her with arrest. She had to leave the country.

Bly moved to New York City in 1886. She took a while to find work, but in 1887, she submitted a story idea concerning the immigrant experience in the U.S. to the editor of the New York World, one of the countries leading newspapers, owned by Joseph Pulitzer. The editor turned down her idea but challenged her to go undercover for a different story. A story to expose the abusive treatment of mental patients on nearby Blackwell’s Island, an insane asylum for women.

Bly rose to the challenge.

But she had to be convincingly crazy. To do this, she stopped bathing and brushing her hair. She practiced looking like a lunatic in the mirror. She checked herself into a temporary boarding house for women under the name “Nellie Moreno” and immersed herself deeper into her role. For twenty-four hours, she yelled and screamed at the other tenants, she snarled, she pulled at her hair. She later wrote, “It was the greatest night of my life.”

As she’d hoped, the police took her away and soon she was declared hopelessly insane. Local newspapers wrote about the “mysterious waif with the wild, hunted look in her eyes.” After a few days at the Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric ward, Bly ended up at Blackwell’s Island. (To be continued)

 

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Henry and Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn – Did She or Didn’t She? (Part Two)

(Continued. For Part One, click here.)

Anne Boleyn
(Anne-Boleyn.com)

Catherine of Aragon and Henry had one child, Mary Tudor, who had now reached teenager-hood. While her mother was cast out of Henry’s court, Mary, also stripped of her title of princess and declared a bastard, had been allowed to remain. Until the birth of her baby sister, Elizabeth. Desiring the baby to be raised away from the proclivities of the court, and in the fresh air of the countryside, Anne sent Elizabeth to Hatfield House with a full staff of servants—including the bastard Mary.In 1534, to Henry’s delight, Anne became pregnant again. But when she miscarried a few months later, Henry began discussions with his advisors Archbishop Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell, to start divorce proceedings. Learning that Anne was again pregnant in late 1535, the King relented.

Anne lived with extravagance. She continued to have wild parties long into the morning, and spent incredible amounts of money, which caused further resentment among Henry’s subjects. But, Anne gave the matter little thought. After all, she had every hope to believe she carried a son for the King. She further rejoiced when she learned that Catherine of Aragon had died. Now, nothing stood in her way. Except for the fact that the King had developed a passion for someone else. The young and beautiful Jane Seymour.

In January 1936, while taking part in a jousting tournament, the King was struck from his horse and knocked unconscious. More bad luck ensued when Anne, five days later—the same day Catherine of Aragon was buried—miscarried again. Once the King recovered, he moved Jane Seymour into the royal household. He claimed Anne had seduced or bewitched him, and because of that, the marriage was not valid. He wanted Anne gone.

By April of that year, several men of the court were accused of adultery with the queen, plotting with her to kill the King, and thus, treason. The first, Mark Smeaton, a Flemish musician and a favorite of Anne’s. At first, he denied the charges, but then later confessed—some say under torture. Next, a nobleman and friend of the King, Henry Norris, who’d enjoyed himself at Anne’s many parties. She had been overheard discouraging him from paying her too much attention. He denied the charges and swore to the Queen’s innocence. Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, and Sir Richard Page were also accused, as well as Sir Thomas Wyatt, a friend of the Boleyn family, and possible sweetheart of Anne in her youth.

The final blow to Anne was the accusation of her incestuous relationship with her brother George, on two different accounts.

Historians, authors, and movie-makers have had a field day with this historical information. Some believe and or portray the adultery as truth, and some do not. Either way, all the accused, accept Wyatt and Page, were executed, as was Anne in the summer of 1536. In her last speech before her death, she maintained her innocence and spoke nothing but praise of her “merciful prince.”

So, did she or didn’t she? Was Anne so empowered she felt she could have numerous affairs with all these men and not suffer the consequences? Was she so desperate to have a son that she slept with these men—including her brother—to give the King his desired heir? Or, did she suffer her fate because she fell out of favor with the King who had moved heaven and earth to wed her?

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Henry and Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn – Did She or Didn’t She? (Part One)

 

Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn
Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn in The Tudors

Anne Boleyn. Everyone knows her name. Countless books, movies, and documentary films have been written and made about the life of this fascinating woman in history, and her relationship with Henry VIII of England.

But, one of the mysteries surrounding her—which included witchcraft and plotting to kill the King—contributed to the tragic end of this young queen. Her alleged infidelity. Known throughout her life as an incurable flirt, did she betray King Henry by sleeping with other men? And, was she so desperate to give the King a son, that she slept with her own brother in the hopes of getting pregnant?

The actual birthdate of Anne Boleyn is not known. Historians speculate that she was born sometime between 1501 and 1507. Her sister Mary is reported to have been older and her brother George, a few years her junior. Born to Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard, a couple of the highest nobility, Anne received the finest education and training.

In her youth, she lived in the Netherlands where she received the basic academic education of noble children as well as falconry, archery, dancing, and household management. Her parents then sent her to live in France to attend Queen Mary, Henry VIII’s older sister. While in France she continued her education and also became fluent in the art and study of literature, fashion, religion, flirtation, and courtly love.

In 1522, Sir Thomas brought his daughter home to marry her cousin James Butler, but the marriage did not go through. Anne, now a lady of the court, dazzled people with her brilliance, beauty, and charm. She soon became enamored with Henry Percy, the son of the Earl of Northumberland, and the two became secretly engaged. Henry’s father was not in favor of the match, so broke off the engagement, and Anne went to soothe her wounds at her family’s countryside estate.

After some period of time, she returned to court and entered into the service of Queen Catherine, the Spanish wife of Henry VIII. It didn’t take long for the King to notice the young woman who shined like a diamond in his court. Unlike many women of the court, including her older sister Mary, Anne did not give in to the King’s demands to become his mistress. She kept him enticed for seven years, supposedly not ever consummating the relationship, until their eventual marriage—or shortly before.

The seven years of their courtship proved agonizing for Henry. During that period, he attempted to receive an annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon on the grounds that their marriage was illegitimate and an affront to God, due to their inability to have a son. Before Henry, Catherine had been married to his older brother Arthur. Shortly after they wed, Arthur died before they could consummate their nuptials. Henry didn’t have a problem with this when he married Catherine, it was only after he fell in love with the tantalizing Anne that he decided his marriage to Catherine was sinful, and that he was being punished by his inability to produce a male heir.

Anne, eager to be Queen, but cunning enough to hold Henry at bay until she had a crown, did all she could to intensify the situation. Henry gave her the power to grant petitions, receive important diplomats to her court, and proved to be instrumental in solidifying an alliance with France. She was Queen, albeit without the title, and Henry placed her above all the courtly peers and noblemen. Her father became the Earl of Wiltshire, and her Irish cousin, the Earl of Ormond. Her sister, Mary, one of Henry’s early conquests and mistresses, now a widow, received a generous pension. Mary’s son, reputed to be Henry’s son, received the finest education.

Finally, when they did not receive permission from Rome to have Henry’s marriage to Catherine annulled, Henry—determined to have Anne—broke with the church and declared himself head of the Church of England. They married in secret and Anne soon became pregnant. Four months later, Cranmer, the new Archbishop of Canterbury declared Henry and Catherine’s marriage null and void, and Henry’s marriage to Anne valid.

While popular in the English court when she was attending to Queen Catherine, Anne did not have the same luck with the King’s subjects who remained steadfast in Catherine’s corner. Catherine, stripped of her title and banished from court lived the rest of her days a sad and lonely woman. Although Henry gave Anne a magnificent coronation at Westminster Abbey, the English people showed no love for their new queen, and many referred to her as “the King’s whore.”

But, Anne took comfort in the fact that she carried the King’s child. Both Henry and Anne believed with all of their being that the child would be a boy. When Anne gave birth to a girl, Henry was devastated. He had the celebratory traditional joust and celebration he’d planned for the birth of his child canceled. The couple consoled themselves with the idea that Anne would be pregnant again soon, and this time it would be a boy… (to be continued)

 

Lozen Women Empowered in History

Empowered Women of the Southwest – Lozen, Apache Warrior Woman (Part 2)

(continued from last week’s post. Find it here.)

After Victorio’s attempts to obtain permission for his people to return to the Mescalero Reservation failed, he and Lozen took action. They encouraged their people to flee in different directions. Lozen took charge of a group of women and children and headed to Mexico. When they approached the Rio Grande, swollen with the season’s earlier rainfall, many of the women and children did not want to cross. Lozen took the lead. With her rifle raised above her head, she struck the shoulder of her horse with her foot and they plunged into the water, swimming upstream through the raging river. Impressed by her bravery, the group followed her to safety. Knowing they had reached safety, Lozen went back across the river to find her brother and their band of warriors.

They traveled to Chihuahua, Mexico. Hoping to gather more ammunition and Apache warriors, Lozen left Victorio and his band to travel back to the Mescalero Reservation with the U.S. and Mexican cavalries on her heels. She took with her a young pregnant woman who wanted to return to her family. On the way, the young woman went into labor. Fearing capture from the Mexican or U.S. Armies, Lozen hid the woman in the brush and delivered her baby. Because of their delay, they ran out of food. Lozen, using her knife, single-handedly killed a longhorn and butchered it. When the woman could travel a few days later, Lozen, stole two horses and other supplies they needed to return to Tularosa.

Once they’d arrived, Lozen learned that Mexican forces had ambushed her brother. It is believed among the Apaches that instead of being taken hostage and killed at his enemies’ hands, Victorio committed suicide.

After Victorio’s death, Lozen returned to the San Carlos Reservation with chief Nana, only to leave again in 1882 where they joined forces with Geronimo. Together they raided the San Carlos Reservation and freed over 600 people. Lozen and Geronimo again raided San Carlos in early 1885–the last campaign of the Apache wars. Later in 1885, Geronimo negotiated an Apache surrender with the U.S. Government. Unable to come to terms, the Apaches spent several more months running from U.S. and Mexican forces until they ran out of ammunition and supplies. Geronimo surrendered and he, Lozen, and approximately 40 others, including another renown Chiricahua woman warrior, Dahaste, became prisoners of war and were hauled off to a concentration camp in Florida. In 1887, Lozen was later transferred to Alabama where she died of tuberculosis at 50 years of age.

Sources:

http://newmexicohistory.org

http://crestoneeagle.com

https://southernarizonaguide.com

Empowered Women of the Southwest – Lozen, Apache Warrior Woman (Part One)

 

Lozen computer image
Lozen Computer Image
warriornation.ning.com

Horsewoman. Medicine Woman. Mystic. Military Strategist. Warrior. Empowered Woman.

These are just a few of the words used to describe one of the most impressive women in Southwest history and American History.

Born in 1840 Lozen, a Chihenne Chiricahua Apache, grew up in the Warm Springs area, or Ojo Caliente, New Mexico. Sister to the Apache chief Victorio, Lozen (although 15 years his junior) became his “right hand” and his most trusted advisor. For decades she counseled her brother and other Apache chiefs, including Nana and Geronimo, in matters of war, religion, and the livelihood of their people.

Lozen (an Apache nickname meaning expert horse thief—her birth name isn’t known ) grew up during one of the bloodiest eras of American History. Strife between her native people, the Mexican people, and the U.S. Government remained constant in her life, and although she and her people always strove to keep their lands and live in peace, they never achieved either.

It became obvious early in Lozen’s childhood that she had special gifts and talents including supernatural powers. Though she might have earned her nickname as a young woman, as a child, Lozen felt a great connection with horses and was an expert at taming, training, and riding them. She had no interest in marriage nor the domestic duties of the other girls and women of her tribe. With her superior athletic skill and prowess, Lozen preferred learning about martial arts and the ways of battle, which her brother was eager to teach her. In addition, she showed an aptitude for healing and medicine and often cared for the sick and injured of the tribe. She also became an expert midwife.

Her spiritual sensibilities were also more heightened than many of her tribe. At about the age of 12, after receiving the rites of puberty, Lozen climbed to the top of a mountain and became blessed with supernatural powers. This power gave her the ability to determine when and from where enemies of her tribe approached. Historical sources claim she would stand with her arms outstretched, singing a prayer song to Ussen, the Apache god of life or creation, and turn slowly in a circle. If her fingers tingled, or her palms turned a different color, she knew the enemy was near. Depending on the intensity of the sensations, she could calculate the distance. This made her invaluable to Victorio, and she often sat at his side in council meetings and participated in war ceremonies. Victorio said about his little sister, she is “strong as a man, braver than most, and cunning in strategy. Lozen is a shield to her people.”

Victorio and Lozen fought many battles with the neighboring Mexicans, the U.S. Government, and the white settlers who had come to their lands. In 1869, Apache leaders, including Victorio and Lozen, met with the U.S. Government to secure peace and receive a promised land grant, or reservation, near Ojo Caliente. However, in time, the Chihenne were moved to the Mescalero Reservation near Tularosa and were later relocated to the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. The conditions at San Carlos, referred to as “Hell’s Forty Acres,” were harsh, and many Apache’s perished due to inadequate food, water, and healthcare.

(…to be continued)

Sources:

http://newmexicohistory.org

http://crestoneeagle.com

https://southernarizonaguide.com

Empowered Women of the West – Dr. Nellie MacKnight (Part Two)

Dr. Nellie MacKnight (continued) For Part One click here.

The day after Olive’s funeral, Nellie was sent to live with her father’s brother and his wife in New York. While she got on well with her Uncle, his wife resented Nellie’s presence and made the fact well known to her. After two years of suffering verbal abuse from her Uncle’s wife, Nellie opted to go live with her mother’s sister, Mary until her father finally sent for her to live with him in the community of Bishop in Owens Valley, CA. He’d given up on his dreams of gold and returned to his career as a surveyor. Nellie was 14 years old and had not seen her father in nearly ten years.

Although her father still possessed the same sternness she remembered as a small child, Smith made an effort to reacquaint himself with his daughter. He enrolled her at the Inyo Academy, a boarding school, and when he wasn’t traveling for work, came to visit Nellie often. He took her on weekend fishing trips and taught her about the outdoors and how to survive in the wilderness. Finally, Nellie had the father she’d so longed for, and all to herself—until he broke the news that he was to remarry.

When Smith and his new wife returned from their honeymoon, they moved into a house near Nellie’s school and she moved in with them. With his new marriage, it seemed that Smith’s previous sternness turned to suspicion and possessiveness, and he never let Nellie attend dances or any kind of social event. Any fears Nellie might have had about her new stepmother were quickly squelched as Nellie found her to be a refuge from her father’s controlling ways. The two got along famously.

Nellie loved school and again excelled at her studies. At the age of 17 she graduated as valedictorian of her class. Exceedingly proud of his daughter, Smith insisted that Nellie go to college. Nellie was thrilled at the prospect of pursuing her dreams of an education in literature. But, that was not to be. Her father would not pay for an education in anything but law or medicine. Nellie knew not to contradict her father. And, after thinking about it—and remembering her grandmother and uncle’s death from typhoid—decided that medicine might be the right path for her.

Accompanied by her father, Nellie left for San Francisco to attend school at Toland Hall Medical College. He got her settled and returned home. While leaving her father and stepmother behind caused Nellie some distress, she quickly realized that she would soon be free from her father’s restrictive discipline. However, the reception she received at Toland Hall was less than warm and inviting. As one of only three women in the school, Nellie faced prejudice and resentment from the other students and professors. One of her professors, Dr. R. Beverley Cole, believed “that there are six to eight ounces less brain matter in the female. Which shows how handicapped she is.”

But, Nellie rose above the discrimination and chauvinism and graduated with honors. She had her name printed on her diploma as “Helen M. MacKnight,” at the suggestion of the school Dean, whose respect Nellie finally earned. He advised her that using the name “Helen” would give her more credibility in the world than Nellie.

Nellie went on to intern at the Pacific Dispensary for Women and Children, a hospital founded by three female doctors. In 1893, she joined the staff and specialized in working with children. She also assisted with obstetrics, disease research, and surgeries, including amputation. Two years later, her stepmother fell ill and Nellie had to return home. Her stepmother recovered under Nellie’s constant care, and instead of returning to the dispensary, Nellie decided to set up her own practice in the front room of her parents’ home.

Women with horse and buggy 1895 (Vintage Everyday)

Dr. Helen MacKnight soon became lovingly referred to as “Dr. Nellie” as she made her rounds about town and in the nearby mining camps in her small buggy pulled by two sturdy horses. As her reputation and financial situation improved, she eventually moved her practice out of her parents’ home.

In 1898 Nellie met her husband, Dr. Guy Doyle, another physician in the area. Unlike the other male doctors Nellie encountered in school, Doyle treated Nellie with admiration and respect. They fell in love and decided to go into practice together. They treated patients in Owens County until World War I when Dr. Doyle answered the call to service. After the war, Nellie and Guy moved to the Berkeley Hills where Nellie practiced anesthesiology at the University of California Hospital. In 1934, Nellie realized her childhood dreams of becoming an author and published her autobiography titled A Child Went Forth. The book was later retitled, Dr. Nellie.

 

Roses of the West, by Anne Seagrave

Enss, Chriss. “Wild Women Wednesday: Dr. Nellie Mattie MacKnight.” Cowgirl Magazine. October 19, 2016, https://cowgirlmagazine.com/wild-women-wednesday-dr-nellie-mattie-macknight/

 

Empowered Women of the West – Dr. Nellie MacKnight (Part One)

Women studying medicine at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1892.
Cowgirlmagazine.com

San Francisco 1891

“Subjects, bodies for dissection, were divided into five parts—the head, two uppers and two lowers. By some ironical twist of circumstance, the first dissection assigned to me was a lower. The dissection of the pelvic organs was to be done in company with the young man who was assigned to the other lower. It was a male subject.

 … It came time for the quiz section in anatomy. The quizmaster was a dapper young graduate, much impressed with himself and his authority. He was of the group who hated the incursion of women into what he considered the distinctly masculine territory of medicine…The quizmaster walked over to our dissecting table.

 “Why has nothing been done on your subject?” he questioned.

 The young man hesitated, glancing at me.

 The quizmaster turned on me. “Have you the other lower on this subject?” His words were like a steel file.

 “Yes,” I replied, the blood rushing to my face.

 “Do you expect to graduate in medicine, or are you just playing around with the idea?”

 “I hope to graduate.” I tried to make my voice sound firm, but instead, I realized it sounded ridiculously weak and feminine…

“If you have any feelings of delicacy in this matter, young woman, you had better leave college and take them with your, or fold them away in your work basket and be here, on your stool, tomorrow morning. We don’t put up with any hysterical feminine nonsense in men’s medical schools.”

This, from the autobiography of Dr. Nellie MacKnight, is an account of one of her earliest assignments at San Francisco’s Toland Hall Medical School. One of only three women in her class, this naïve, but bold young girl would go on to graduate with flying colors and become one of the West’s most beloved and respected doctors.

But, medicine was not the profession Nellie MacKnight ever thought she’d choose. In fact, it wasn’t her choice at all. . .at first.

Dr. Helen MacKnight Doyle
Rangeandriverbooks.com

In Petrolia, Pennsylvania in 1873, Nellie came into the world as one of three children born to Smith and Olive MacKnight. Her two siblings died shortly after their birth, leaving Nellie to grow up an only child to a stern father, and an over-protective mother who lavished her with attention. An expert seamstress, Olive loved to dress Nellie in beautiful dresses made with her own hands. Though he loved his wife and daughter, Smith, found his profession as a surveyor dull, and his life in Pennsylvania uninspired. He desired to move out West in search of gold and riches, and in 1878, did just that, leaving his wife and daughter in the care of his parents in New York. He promised once he’d made his riches, he would send for the two of them. He never did.

Nellie found life at her grandparent’s farm happy and fulfilling. From her grandfather, she learned about horses and how to care for animals. From her grandmother, she learned more domestic chores, and also how to make remedies for certain illnesses. Her mother, Olive, did not fare as well. News from her husband that he’d purchased a mine with great potential raised Olive’s spirits momentarily until he stated that he would not send for her and Nellie until the mine “paid off.”

Despondent over the news, Olive fell into a depression. Life became harder when typhoid took Nellie’s grandmother and her favorite uncle. Fearing for Nellie’s health, Olive made the decision to move the two of them to her father’s home in Madrid, Pennsylvania. In order to keep herself and Nellie clothed, and Nellie in school, she took a job at the Warner Brother’s Corset Factory as a seamstress. Nellie excelled at her studies, and took a particular interest in literature and hoped to, one day, become an author.

Long hours and tedious work at the corset factory took its toll on Olive. Letters from her husband telling her that the mine had still not yielded any gold further distressed her. To relieve her pain and the stress caused from supporting herself and her young daughter—and the continued absence of her husband—she turned to laudanum, a tincture of opium. One night, in her drug-induced euphoria, Olive decided to end it all and overdosed. She left a note for ten-year-old Nellie encouraging her to “be a brave girl. Do not cry for Mamma.”

(To be continued next week)

Sources:

Roses of the West, by Anne Seagrave

Enss, Chriss. “Wild Women Wednesday: Dr. Nellie Mattie MacKnight.” Cowgirl Magazine. October 19, 2016, https://cowgirlmagazine.com/wild-women-wednesday-dr-nellie-mattie-macknight/

 

Margaret (Molly) Brown – Unsinkable and Much More

Margaret Tobin Brown, a woman  immortalized in numerous movies, documentaries, and the Broadway musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” never considered herself anything more than a good citizen. Made famous by her heroic efforts during the sinking of the RMS Titanic, Mrs. Brown used her fame and fortune to better the world. But, even as a young woman, Margaret Brown did what she could to serve humanity. Here are some less known facts about one of America’s most memorable heroines.

SHE WAS NEVER KNOWN AS “MOLLY” DURING HER LIFETIME

Born  in 1867, Margaret Brown, known as “Maggie,” by friends and family, came into this world in 1867 to Irish Catholic immigrants John Tobin and Johanna Tobin. She became known as “Molly” with the success of the 1960 Broadway musical, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” decades after her death.

SHE CAME FROM MODEST ROOTS

Maggie spent her early years in a small cottage on Denkler Ally in Hannibal, Missouri. She never attended school but took lessons with her siblings in the home of her mother’s sister, Mary O’Leary. At 13, Maggie helped support her family by working at a tobacco factory for sometimes 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. At 19, she set out with her sister to Leadville, Colorado to visit their older brother Daniel, who had settled there. Maggie decided to stay and kept house for her brother. She also worked as a waitress and as a sales clerk in a dry-goods store.

Margaret Brown as a young womanTHOUGH SET ON MARRYING A RICH MAN, SHE MARRIED FOR LOVE

Maggie is quoted to say, “I wanted a rich man, but I loved Jim Brown…I decided that I’d be better off with a poor man whom I loved than with a wealthy one whose money attracted me.”

In church one Sunday, Maggie laid eyes on the tall and handsome mining engineer, James Joseph (also known as J.J.) Brown, and fell in love. At 19 years of age, she married the Irishman who was more than 10 years her senior, and the two set up house in a two-room cabin outside of Leadville.

SHE CAME INTO WEALTH OVER-NIGHT

Both Maggie and J.J. worked hard during their young married life. Intelligent and innovative, J.J. Brown rose to  manager, then superintendent for the Ibex Mining company and made a decent living. His innovation proved instrumental in developing a technique which allowed for mines to be built deeper into the earth. One such mine, Little Jonny, hit gold in 1893, producing tons of gold ore, and making the Browns and many others at the Ibex Mining company, instant millionaires.

 SHE ALWAYS SAW THE IMPORTANCE OF A CAUSE

Even before she lived a life of immense wealth, Maggie always did what she could to help others. As a young wife and mother, she organized soup kitchens and helped other mining families less fortunate than hers. She became involved in politics and spent her efforts in that arena working for better schools and health care for mining families. After her good fortune, she joined many political and charitable organizations and even made a run for Congress— though she had to drop out of the race. Women in Colorado did not even have the right to vote yet, and her chances of winning seemed impossible. Regardless, Maggie continued to work for causes concerning children, public health, food production, education and libraries, women’s suffrage, and animal rights.

She also worked to help establish a juvenile court system in Denver so that children and teens who committed crimes did not have to serve time in the adult population. She helped to establish the Denver Women’s Club, an organization devoted to providing art education in schools, and the development of school libraries.

Margaret Brown and Captain Rostron of the RMS Titanic
Maggie and Captain Rostron of the RMS Titanic

Having lived a lifetime of helping others, Maggie continued to do so even when her own life was at stake with the sinking of the Titanic. Once aboard Life Boat Six, Maggie, having put on several layers of clothing to shield herself from the frigid temperatures, shared her coat and more with those who had to escape with little to wear. Once they were safely aboard the Carpathia, the ship sent out to retrieve survivors, Maggie worked tirelessly to help her fellow passengers. She paid for telegrams to be sent to survivors’ friends and family, and she organized a ‘survivors fund’ for medical expenses and temporary lodging for those in need. She raised $10,000 before they reached the shores of New York.

FAME DID NOT CHANGE HER

Now famous for her magnanimous spirit and courage, Maggie continued to help with causes close to her heart. In 1913 coal miners in Ludlow, CO went on strike, resulting in a deadly skirmish between the National Guard and the miners. Nineteen people, including eleven children were killed in what became known as the Ludlow Massacre. Maggie sent first aid supplies, food, and clothing to the surviving miners. She sent funds to help settle the strike and investigate the massacre.

During the first world war, Maggie traveled to France with an American relief committee. There, she also worked with the Red Cross. When she returned to New York, Maggie devoted time and resources to help soldiers who’d been injured in the war. Her efforts resulted in France bestowing her with their most esteemed award, the French Legion of Honor.

SHE NEVER ATTENDED SCHOOL, BUT WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED STUDENT

As a young mother, Maggie saw to the education of her children, and herself. After completing her daily chores, she studied literature, piano, and took voice lessons. Later, she hired tutors to help her improve her grammar and writing skills. She traveled to New York to study literature, drama and foreign languages at the Carnegie Institute. She became proficient in five different languages which proved instrumental in helping the International survivors of the Titanic. More of Maggie’s interests included acting, yodeling, classical guitar and the Ukelele.

SHE NEVER CONSIDERED HERSELF A HEROINE

After the Titanic disaster, stories filled newspapers at home and abroad about the heroic efforts of Margaret Brown, but she did not want to be known as a heroine. “I did only the natural thing and not the heroic.” And that is how this amazing, strong and empowered woman, who set an example for everyone, lived her entire life.

Sources:

Wikipedia

Bold Women in Colorado History by Phyllis J. Perry

The Mysteries of Perle de Vere – Madam of the Southwest

What possessed a young girl in the mid-1800’s to leave her well-to-do, “good” family in the mid-west and move clear across the country to Denver, Colorado to take up a life of prostitution? Little is known about the early years of Perle de Vere—a woman who did just that–and later became Colorado’s most famous madam.

Supposed photo of Madam Perle de Vere
Photo thought to be of Perle de Vere – although reportedly no photos of her exist (WikiTree)

“Mrs. Martin,” as she was known in Denver, arrived there at the age of 14 or 15. There is no record of her being married at the time, so one has to wonder why she would leave a comfortable life in Illinois (or Indiana) to travel to the west and sell her body for survival. Perhaps she had family troubles. Maybe she took up with someone her family didn’t approve of, and hopped a train with him in the hopes of a life of wedded bliss. Or maybe she had a lust for adventure and wanted to pave her own way. The possibilities are endless and fun to think about.

Shortly after her arrival in Denver, “Miss Martin” became known as Perle de Vere, a beautiful woman with red-hair, a strong will, and good business sense. Her family believed she worked as a dress designer (or milliner), and catered to Denver’s wealthiest women. But, in fact, she catered to the wealthiest men, and began a life of business in prostitution. What could have happened to set off this chain of events? Did she intend to start her career as a dressmaker and then couldn’t find work? Did she anger her employer? Did she hate her job? Or did she see an opportunity to make some fast cash?

When business crashed in Denver due to the Silver Panic of 1893, Miss de Vere, then at 30 years of age, packed her bags and moved to a booming gold camp called Cripple Creek. She invested her savings and bought a house on Myers street. She hired several beautiful girls and started her own brothel. Her business proved to be an instant success, affording Perle fine clothing and an extravagant lifestyle. She also knew how to protect her investment and demanded her girls practice good hygiene, dress well, and have monthly medical examinations.

Perle, a discerning business woman and the most successful madam of the town, didn’t cater to just anyone. Patrons of her establishment had to apply for a visit. Once their application was approved and their wealth determined, Perle allowed them access to a viewing room where they could choose their girl. Evenings at Perle’s house often consisted of live entertainment, socializing, cards, and dancing before the girls and their clients retired upstairs. Perle often hosted lavish parties with imported foods and plenty of champagne and other spirits.

One of Madam Perle's girls
One of Perle’s girls
(Legends of America)

Ever popular with the men of Cripple Creek, Perle did not make many friends among the women. It didn’t help that she drove her beautiful black horses and carriage through the camp, dressed in expensive and showy clothing—flaunting her success. She and her girls shopped at the best shops on Bennett Avenue, further angering the “good” women of the town. To keep the peace, the town’s Marshal stipulated that the girls could only shop during off hours. They also paid a tax of $6 per month. Madams of the town paid $16 dollars per month, a fraction of what Perle brought in on a weekly basis.

In 1895 Perle married a wealthy mill owner named C.B. Flynn. Shortly after the nuptials, tragedy struck. A fire raged through Cripple Creek destroying many of the town’s businesses, including Flynn’s mill and Perle’s brothel. Unable to recover financially, Flynn had to leave in order to find work. He found a job in Monterrey, Mexico as a steel and iron smelter. Perle stayed behind to rebuild her business. Putting everything she had into her new venture, Perle paid for the construction a two-story brick building and decorated it with lavish, imported furnishings, electric chandeliers, and leather topped gaming tables. She named her new establishment “The Old Homestead.”

Just as the history of Perle’s early life is shrouded in mystery, so is her death. In the summer of 1897, Perle hosted an extravagant party sponsored by one of her wealthiest clients and ardent admirerers—a millionaire from either Poverty Gulch or Denver. Imported champagne, liquor, and caviar, as well as two orchestras from Denver graced The Old Homestead for the wildest party the town would ever see. Perle’s admirer even brought her a beaded and sequined gown imported from Paris to wear to the event.

Is this Madam Perle de Vere?
Another photo thought to be of Perle (Pinterest)

During the evening, after much drinking and revelry, Perle and the gentleman got into an argument. He stormed out of the house and Perle retired to her bedroom. Later that night, one of the girls checked in on Perle. She found her lying on the bed, still in her gown, her breathing labored. Unable to rouse the madam, the girl called for a doctor, but it was too late. In the early hours of the morning, Perle de Vere, at age 37, died. The coroner stated her death was due to an accidental overdose of morphine, a drug she sometimes used for insomnia. Most of the newspapers reported the same, but one reported the death as suicide. Historians dispute this claim because Perle was at the height of her success.

But, could it have been murder? And if so, who would do such a thing? The gentleman who sponsored the party? A jealous wife? One of the girls? Perhaps her husband who potentially grew envious of his wife’s success and numerous lovers? It is known that the admirer who purchased the gown and paid for the party also sent a $1000 check for Perle’s funeral expenses, an amount that today is valued at $36,000. But, does that make him innocent?

Most likely, Perle died of an accidental overdose, as the coroner stated. But, with a story as rich as hers, and with a cast of the intriguing characters she possibly entertained, it’s interesting to speculate on what might have happened to Colorado’s most famous “soiled dove.”

Feature photo found on Google from Bonanza Boomers

Empowered Women of Southwest History – Georgia O’Keeffe

O'Keeffe in headscarf
Photo by Alfred Stieglitz
(New York Times)

Georgia O’Keeffe—a name synonymous with the beauty and mystique of the Southwest.

O’Keeffe’s depiction of multicolored desert landscapes, sensuous enlarged flowers and animal skulls, white-washed from the harshness of the New Mexico sun, portray her passion for and enchantment of the American Southwest. Throughout her life in New Mexico, O’Keefe found solace, inspiration, and the empowerment to become the “mother of American modernism.”

Born in 1887 to dairy farmers in Wisconsin, Georgia showed a passion for art at a young age. Her parents supported her interest by enrolling her in art lessons with a local watercolorist. At 18 years old, Georgia studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. After a bout of illness, she returned to school at the Art Students League in New York City. There, she produced a still-life painting entitled Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot, and with the painting, won a scholarship to attend the League’s satellite school in Lake George, New York.

In 1908, her art and her passion took a turn. Unable to finance her studies due to her family’s bankruptcy, Georgia took a 4-year hiatus from her craft. She began teaching in 1911. In 1912 she took an art class that focused on the work of Arthur Wesley Dow, and started to experiment with abstract principals. This would prove pivotal in her future career. In 1915, while teaching at Columbia College, she created a series of charcoal drawings. The drawings, depicting shapes she found in nature fused with her own subconscious feelings, showed O’Keefe’s unique perspective of integrating art with emotion.

nude of Georgia O'Keeffe
Photo by Alfred Stieglitz (New York Times)

That same year, Alfred Stieglitz, a photographer and owner of 291, an esteemed art gallery in New York, received O’Keeffe’s charcoal drawings from one of her colleagues at Columbia College. Stieglitz exhibited 10 of the drawings at his gallery in 1916 without the artist’s permission. When O’Keeffe heard this, she wrote to him and asked that he take them down. Stieglitz refused,  insisting that her art and her unique vision needed to been seen and shared with the world.

Unable to forget the work (and the woman) that moved him in such a profound way, Stieglitz arranged for O’Keeffe to come to New York to paint. A professional, and then later, a personal relationship developed. Already married to Emmeline Obermeyer, Stieglitz fell hard for O’Keefe, 23-years his junior—the muse he’d always longed for. While his wife was away, Stieglitz started photographing O’Keeffe at his family’s New York apartment. Emmeline feared an affair between the two, and demanded Stieglitz terminate his relationship with O’Keeffe. In turn, Stieglitz secured an apartment and he and O’Keefe moved in together. It took 7 years for Stieglitz to obtain a divorce, but finally, he and O’Keefe married in 1924.

Jimson Weed - O'Keeffe
Jimson Weed by Georgia O’Keeffe
(Wikipedia)

In New York, Georgia became influenced by the movement of Precisionism and began to create the floral paintings that catapulted her to fame. During her lifetime, O’Keeffe made over 200 large scale depictions of flowers such as Oriental Poppies and later, her famed Jimson Weed  that sold in 2014 for over $44,000.

In 1925, O’Keeffe buried herself in this new found precisionist style and began painting a series depicting the New York skyline and the skyscrapers that formed the urban city’s landscape.

Due for a respite from the bustling city, in 1926, O’Keeffe traveled to New Mexico with a friend. They stayed with Mabel Dodge Luhan, another east-coast transplant, at her home in Taos. There, O’Keeffe became enchanted with the colors and landscapes of the New Mexico desert. By 1929, she would spend part of every year in Taos and Abiquiú, much to Stieglitz’s disappointment. The relationship between Stieglitz and O’Keeffe was both passionate and tumultuous. O’Keeffe wanted to spend more time in New Mexico while her husband needed to stay in New York to manage his galleries. Another affair occurred. This time between Stieglitz and a young protégé, the photographer Dorothy Norman.

O’Keeffe found in New Mexico solace and inspiration. In 1940, she purchased a house at Ghost Ranch, in the northern part of the state, and five years later purchased a second home in Abiquiú. This home served as much of her subject matter through the 1950’s. In New Mexico, O’Keefe was prolific, creating series of paintings inspired from rock formations in the area surrounding Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu which she called “Black Place” and “White Place.”

Stieglitz & O’Keeffe
(Philadelphia Museum of Art)

In 1946, at the age of 82, Alfred Stieglitz died with O’Keeffe by his side. Three years after that, O’Keeffe made New Mexico her permanent home. In 1949, she was elected to the National Institute of Arts and letters, and began traveling the world, seeking further inspiration. She continued to expand her abstractionist style. Inspired by her sky side view in airplanes, she created a cloudscape series, including Sky Above Clouds IV.

In the early 1970’s, O’Keefe began to lose her eyesight from macular degeneration, but her passion for her art and her artistic vision never wavered. She continued to produce art with the help of assistants, and also wrote her autobiography, Georgia O’Keeffe, which became a best-seller.

O’Keeffe received many awards throughout her lifetime for her dedication and contribution to the world of abstract art. In 1977 she received the Medal of Freedom from President Gerald Ford, and the National Medal of Arts in 1985.

In the Spring of 1986, O’Keeffe died at her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Eleven years later,  the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe was built in her honor. There, her memory lives on with 140 oil paintings, nearly 700 drawings and hundreds of additional works dating from 1901 to 1984.

Although O’Keeffe and her work broke ground for female artists around the world, she never identified herself as a “woman artist” or as a feminist. She wanted to be known only as “an artist”, an individual drawn to her craft by something within her that could not be held back or held down. She lived her life just as she wanted, with a unique passion, vision and boldness. Her work, like the woman herself, is empowered, unmistakable, and utterly unforgettable.

To learn more about the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, click here.