Tag Archives: HISTORICAL FIGURES

Interesting Facts About Harriet Tubman (Part 2)

More Interesting Facts About Harriet Tubman! (Read part 1 here.)

She never lost a passenger on the Underground Railroad.

Having reached safety in Philadelphia, Harriet felt confident she could help others. She became involved in the Underground Railroad. She immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Working slowly, one group at a time, she freed her immediate family and distant relatives. Dubbed  “Moses” for the deliverance of her people, Harriet made twelve to thirteen missions to free approximately 70 more slaves.

Harriet always carried a gun and was not above threatening anyone with immediate death who aimed to stop her crusade—even the slaves she rescued if they got scared and wanted to turn back.

She became a nurse, scout, and a spy for the Union forces during the Civil War.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Harriet wanted to join the Union cause to end slavery. Hearing of her heroism in freeing her people, and known for her intelligence and bravery, a group of Boston and Philadelphia abolitionists in Port Royal brought her on. She nursed the soldiers suffering from dysentery and smallpox.

In 1863, the group, under the orders of Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, and Harriet lead a band of scouts through the marshes and rivers of South Carolina, providing intelligence on the enemy. She was the first woman to lead an armed assault when Colonel James Montgomery raided plantations along the Combahee River. They freed over 750 slaves.

She joined the Suffragist movement.

Harriet TubmanLater in life, Harriet became involved with the cause for women’s suffrage. She would join forces with women such as Susan B. Anthony and Emily Howland. She traveled to various cities on the East coast speaking in favor of the rights of women. In 1896, at the founding of the National Federation of Afro-American Women, Harriet served as the keynote speaker for their first meeting. The following year, a series of receptions took place in Boston, honoring Harriet for her years of service.

She refused anesthesia when she had brain surgery.

Due to the head injury she suffered as a child, Harriet, in her older years, developed insomnia due to the pain and buzzing in her head. She elected to have brain surgery to relieve the condition, but refused to be anesthetized and instead opted to “bite down on a bullet,” as she had seen many soldiers do for surgery in the Civil War. The operation did give her some relief making her more comfortable.

She Died in Poverty.

Harriet never received any kind of salary for her service. Any money she made she used for her humanitarian work to help former slaves and her family. She purchased a small property in Auburn, New York, and provided shelter for most of her family and some friends. She took in boarders to help pay the bills. In 1873, she was swindled out of money in a gold deal, leaving her penniless.

In 1895, after an initial denial from the government, Harriet received the pension of her second husband, Nelson Charles Davis, and then in 1898, she petitioned Congress for her own service in the Civil War. Finally, a year later, she received a pension of twenty dollars per month for her service as a nurse.

Because of mounting debts, in 1903, she donated her Auburn property to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church under the condition they convert it to a home for aged and indigent people of color. The plan finally came to fruition five years later.

In 1911, Harriet’s body started to give out on her and she retired to the rest home she’d helped establish. At the time, a New York reporter described her  as “ill and penniless.”

She died in 1913, of pneumonia, surrounded by friends and family members.

Harriet Tubman did not receive the recognition she deserved while she lived, but history remembers her as an empowered woman of grit and integrity, who helped change the lives of her contemporaries, and the mindset of those who came after her.

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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/

 

Empress Elisabeth of Austria – Her Own Woman

What did a woman in history do when she had no control over her life? If strong and empowered, she rebelled. Sometimes in a big way, and sometimes as a detriment to herself. One such woman was Elisabeth, Empress of Austria.

Elisabeth as Empress of Austria, empowered woman
Elisabeth 1837-1898
Empress of Franz Josef of Austria (i.dailymail.co.uk)One such woman was Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as “Sisi.”

Born, Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie, in Munich, Bavaria 1837, Elisabeth grew up in the Bavarian countryside far from court life, riding horses and pursuing country sports. Her parents, Duke Maximilian Joseph and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, saw little merit in rules for their four children. This liberal upbringing set the stage for Elisabeth’s constant quest for individualism in her adulthood. One that proved more and more difficult as she grew older.

And it started with marriage. Indulgent with their children’s freedom in childhood, the Duke and Princess of Bavaria could no longer defy the rules of royal life when their children became young adults. The Duke and his wife made arrangements with the Duke’s sister, Princess Sophie of Austria, for their eldest daughter, Helene, and Princess Sophie’s son, Franz Joseph, to wed. Fifteen-year-old Elisabeth accompanied her older sister and their mother to Austria to meet their cousin and his mother. However, Helene did not catch the young Emperor’s fancy, but Elisabeth did. Franz defied his mother and insisted he marry Elisabeth. Their betrothal was announced five days later.

Within the year, Elisabeth gave birth to the couple’s first child, Sophie. The Archduchess immediately whisked the child away from Elisabeth and put her in the control of her own nannies. The same followed suit with the next child, Gisela. The Archduchess never missed an opportunity to chide Elisabeth for not producing a son.

Eager to get away from her mother-in-law, Elisabeth implored her husband to let her and the two girls accompany him on a trip to Hungary in 1857. During the visit, both of the girls became ill with diarrhea. Gisela recovered quickly, but two-year-old Sophie succumbed to the illness, later diagnosed as Typhus. The death of little Sophie sank Elisabeth into a depression which would reoccur and haunt her for the rest of her life.

The sixteen inch waist - a woman needing to control her destiny
(foros.vogue.es)

Heart-broken, Elisabeth began a cycle of fasting, sometimes for days on end. She shunned her responsibilities at court, spent much of her time outdoors riding her horses, and also developed some disturbing phobias and obsessions. Her marriage, not a panacea to her troubles, started to show signs of stress.

Known as a great beauty, Elisabeth took much pride in her looks. Her appearance, one of the few things she had control over, became her primary obsession. Known for her elegant height of 5’8”, and her tiny waist, measuring 19 inches in diameter, Elisabeth went to dangerous extremes to control her weight. She eventually whittled her waist down to 16 inches. She weighed herself daily, and if the scales tipped above 110 lbs., the next several days called for a strict fast.

In addition to extreme dieting, Elisabeth also developed a rigorous and disciplined exercise routine.  She had gymnasiums built in every castle where the royal family resided. She had mats and balance beams and mirrors installed in her bedchamber so she could practice on them each day. She rode her horses often, sometimes three to five hours at a time.  Despite the toll on her health, in 1858, Elisabeth finally bore a son and heir, much to everyone’s relief.

Liberal and forward thinking, Elisabeth’s interest in politics grew. Having fallen in love with the Hungarian people during her visit there in 1857, she firmly placed herself on the Hungarian side in Austro-Hungarian negotiations. At one point, she demanded that her husband name Gyula Andrassy, a liberal Hungarian statesman, (and rumored to be her lover) Premier of Hungary or she would leave him. The emperor complied and Elisabeth stayed in an increasingly unhappy marriage.

In 1867, The Austro-Hungarian Compromise resulted in Andrassy becoming Prime Minister of Hungary, and  Franz Joseph and Elisabeth, King and Queen of Hungary.  The couple was gifted with a palace in Godollo, and set up a country residence there where Elisabeth built a riding school.

Elisabeth much preferred Hungary to Austria and rarely went back to Vienna. In 1868, she gave birth to another daughter, Archduchess Marie Valerie.  Determined to raise this child herself, she openly rebelled against her mother-in-law. Soon after, Archduchess Sophie died, forever losing the power to control her son, his wife and their children. But, too much damage had been done, and Elisabeth had no desire to be a doting wife. She took up a life of traveling, leaving her husband and children at home.

More sadness befell the estranged couple years later when their only son and heir, Rudolf, was found dead with his 17-year-old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera, in a supposed murder suicide pact. The death of Rudolf caused a lasting rift between Elisabeth and Franz, Hungary, and Austria. The line of succession  now passed to Franz Joseph’s brother, leaving Hungary out of the picture.

Elisabeth and her lady in waiting
Supposed last photo of Elisabeth one day before her death (foros.vogue.es)

In perpetual mourning, the Empress Elisabeth continued her travels. When her health prevented her from riding, she made her servants endure long hikes and walks with her. At fifty, she took up fencing with the same intensity as she had other sports. She also threw herself into writing, became an inspired poet, and wrote nearly five hundred pages of verse. She despised court life and would often travel in disguise, without her entourage, to avoid being recognized. Unfortunately, this decision ultimately led to her death.

In 1898, Elisabeth and her lady-in-waiting left a hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva on foot to catch a steamship for Montreux. Wanting to avoid recognition, she ordered her servants to travel ahead by train. Luigi Lucheni, an Italian anarchist, happened to be in town to kill the Duc D’Orleans. Failing to find him, Lucheni learned that a woman traveling under the name “Countess of Hohenembs” had exited the hotel. Determined to kill a sovereign, Lucheni stabbed her under the breast with a hand-made needle file.

Defying the rules to the end, but beloved by her people, Empress Elisabeth of Austria became an historical icon. Her limited, though significant, influence on Austro-Hungarian politics temporarily soothed a troubled empire. Although unable to completely escape the binds of royal life, she will always be remembered as a liberal non-conformist who valued freedom and the rights of the individual above anything else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Famous Horse Partners in History – Alexander and Bucephalus

Sometimes people are lucky enough to have that “once in a lifetime” horse. I am one of those fortunate people. I’ve had many horses over the years, and still have several, but one of them I hold especially dear, and our relationship has surpassed any other relationship I’ve ever had with my equine friends. He is an Arabian/Quarter Horse Palmomino named Handsome and he has forever changed my life.

Photo found on Wikipedia Alexander and Bucephalus
Photo found on Wikipedia Alexander and Bucephalus

This, as well as my love of history, has prompted me to research famous horses and their partners. For the first pair in this series, I will go way back to 433 BC to Alexander the Great and his mighty steed Bucephalus.

Alexander, a boy of 13 happened to be present when a horse dealer by the name of Philonicus the Thessalian, offered a horse of the finest Thessalian stock to King Phillip II of Greece for 13 talents. A talent is an ancient unit of mass, possibly in gold, roughly the mass of the amount of water required to fill an amphora–a unit for measuring liquids or bulk goods. In Greece at that time, that amount was 26 kilograms. Those attempting to handle the horse could not control him as he thrashed about, rearing, kicking and biting anyone who came near. Seeing the behavior of this wild animal, King Phillip would not make an offer. Alexander, seeing at once the potential greatness of this amazing horse, told his father that if he could not tame the horse, he would offer the sum himself.

Alexander’s keen eye and natural horse sense allowed him to immediately recognize the cause of the horse’s distress; the sight of his own shadow. Approaching the horse cautiously, Alexander spoke to him in soothing tones, stroked his neck, and grabbing onto the bridle, turned the horse’s face to the sun, thus obliterating the offending shadow. Sensing that no harm would come to him, the horse immediately bonded with the boy and allowed Alexander to mount. The two were inseparable for the next few decades leading men into legendary battles that would result in Alexander’s conquering of the western world.

Photo found on Wikipedia The Akhal Teke
Photo found on Wikipedia
The Akhal Teke

Bucephalus breeding was “of the best Thessalian strain’ and historians believe that his breed was Akhal Teke, still in existence today. The exotic desert breed is known for its elegance, power, and athleticism as well as hardiness and endurance. They are noted for their shimmering, metallic coats, long, narrow heads and necks, with most of the length from their eyes to their muzzle, long forward set ears and hooded eyes. They come in a variety of colors but the most coveted are the Palominos and Buckskins because their coats resemble spun gold. Bucephalus was gleaming black with a white mark on his forehead and one blue eye. I found the description of the Akhal Teke conformation interesting because it is also said that Alexander named his horse Bucephalus because he was monsterous in size with a forehead that was”wide as a bull’s.” Sometimes in history, things get lost in translation, or perhaps as breeding continued throughout the ages, characteristics of the breed adapted to new uses, environments, etc. and the breed became more refined.

The Alexander Romance legends that came about after his death, presented a different story of the relationship between Bucephalus and Alexander. It was said the two were born on the same day and that Bucephalus was a mythical creature more powerful than Pegasus. The Delphic Oracle told Phillip II that whoever could tame and ride the horse would be king. Furthermore, even in his lifetime, Alexander was seen as a god.

In Alexander’s last battle, the Battle of Hydaspes, now known as Pakistan, Bucephalus was mortally wounded. Shortly after, Alexander founded a city and named it Bucephala in honor of his beloved horse.

Have you heard of the story of Alexander and Bucephalus? Do you have a “once in a lifetime horse?” I’d love to hear your comments.

Stayed tuned for more Great Horse Partners in History!