Mary De Morgan

When it comes to fairy tale tellers, most of us think of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, or even Charles Perrault. But the names we less frequently associate with the genre are those of women: the writers and weavers of stories that are so often overshadowed by many of their male contemporaries. During the tail end of the 19th century, one such woman was adding her voice to the world of the Fae, crafting stories of talking animals, witches and wizards, pixies, peasants, princes and princesses – all the ingredients we’ve come to associate with the art of the fairy tale. But Mary de Morgan wasn’t afraid to play with these tropes, and the many and varied influences that shaped her life also helped to shape her stories. From growing up participating in the seances and salons of her Spiritualist mother to moving in a circle of artists that included members of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Craft Movement, Mary was surrounded by inspiration to fuel her creativity, leading her to publish three volumes of fairy tales in her lifetime and to write many other works besides. But it’s only recently that de Morgan’s stories have come back to the fore, and that she has begun to receive the recognition she so deserves for her contribution to the mystical and magical world of faerie.
Gather round as we cross into fairyland, and discover the life and works of Mary de Morgan.

Bessie Coleman

In the 1920s, the infancy of aviation, pilots took to the skies to shock and awe their audiences with death dives, barrel-roles, and wing-walking. Within these flying circuses, one performer truly stood out: the Bird Woman, Bessie Coleman. Born to a family of sharecroppers in Texas, Coleman knew that to live her dreams, she’d need to leave the US and its prejudiced segregationist policies and move to France. Here, a place where women were truly excelling at the new art of flying, she grew her own wings and became the first Black woman in history to earn her pilot’s licence. At home, she quickly became a sensation, performing daring feats of high-flying acrobatics in her old war-time Jenny. But she was a performer as much on ground as she was in the air, and she wasn’t afraid to self-aggrandise, particularly in the effort to increase Black participation in aviation. As flying became a symbol of her own political empowerment, Coleman soon dreamed of establishing a flying school of her own and opening the skies to those who’d been denied such freedoms.

So put on your goggles, fire up an old biplane, and take to the skies with us as we explore the daring life of Bessie Coleman.

Madeleine Blair

In 1919, an autobiography appeared that scandalised polite American society. Chronicling the life and times of a sex worker who went by the pseudonym Madeleine Blair, Madeleine: An Autobiography took to task the puritanical forces that condemned her work and her industry, and laid on the table the story of her life as a so called ‘soiled dove’. In her frank and engaging accounts, she outlines the many ups and downs that lead her into the life of a ‘painted lady’, but adamantly refuses to let anyone view her as a victim. From her time in Montana and Chicago, to her work over the border in Canada, Blair traverses many a bawdy-house of ill-repute, always striving to champion the legitimacy of her profession and to shed light on the world of debauchery in which she moved.

Come with us to the plush parlour rooms and smoking dens of the American north, as we delve into the life of this savvy business woman and entrepreneur, Madeleine Blair.

Juana Inés de la Cruz

After a childhood spent buried amongst the texts of her grandfather’s library teaching herself Latin and Nahuatl, Greek rhetoric, and philosophy, it’s not surprising that the young Juana was considered a prodigy. So much so that, at just fifteen, she found herself lady-in-waiting to the Vicereine, wife of the Viceroy of New Spain. Court life, however, didn’t appeal to young Juana, who, sick of rich and drunken bachelors and their flirting ways, craved the space and time to dedicate herself to her studies. So, what was she to do? Join the nunnery, of course! Here, she found the scholarly solace she desired. But when the Bishop of Puebla, one of the most influential men of the New World, publically maligned her for daring to think beyond her sphere, Juana penned a manifesto that would become one of the most important proto-feminist texts in the history of the Americas – if not the world.

Baba Yaga

In the deep, dark forests of Russia, where danger lurks in the liminal spaces, you might just find the unusual abode of one of folklore’s most fascinating characters: the incomparable Baba Yaga. With her hooked nose, her bedraggled hair and her wrinkled skin, this hag of hags appears in her strange mode of transport, ready to aid or to hinder, depending on how much you keep your wits about you. With roots in the early Slavic pantheon of gods and goddesses, Baba Yaga has changed through the centuries, playing different roles for different listeners, and slowly crystallising into the ultimate fairy tale witch.

Arm yourself with your magic charms and keep your tongue sharp as we cross the threshold into the domain of talking creatures and mystical powers to stoke the fires and spin a tale or two of Baba Yaga.

Norma Miller

In 1919, into the heart of the burgeoning Harlem Renaissance – an artistic and cultural movement that would shape the very fabric of the US – Norma Miller was born. As a child, she would watch the likes of Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald play to the hopping crowds of the Savoy Ballroom, the majestic heart of Harlem and the birthplace of swing. At just 12, she was plucked from the street outside its doors and so began a career that would take her around the globe as one of the world’s foremost swing dancers – and all before she turned 18. So put on a record and lace up your dancing shoes, because we’re swinging out from the sprung-wood floors of the Savoy to the slippery decks of British liners and the beaches of Rio as we follow the life of Norma Miller, Queen of Swing.

Faith Bandler

During the 1960s, the world was in the grip of enormous ideological change. In Australia, there was public outcry against the Vietnam War and growing support for equal pay for women, free education, fair wages, and the abolishment of the White Australia Policy. There was also growing support for radical changes to the rights, or lack thereof, afforded to Indigenous Australians. Helping to drive this movement was a woman who was intimately familiar with what it felt like to face racial discrimination. The daughter of a slave “blackbirded” from the South Sea Islands in the 1880s, Faith Bandler was inspired by the injustices she saw around her to co-found the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship, and soon began the long fight that would eventually lead to a monumental referendum in 1967. But the referendum was only one part of a bigger whole, and in her latter life, Bandler continued to fight for those who were oppressed, eventually turning her attention towards her cultural roots in Vanuatu.

Join us as we grab our placards and take to the streets to celebrate Bandler’s contribution to the crucial work towards equality that continues in this country today.

Ida B. Wells

Born into the last days of slavery, Ida B. Wells was raised to fight. The daughter of two politically active entrepreneurs, she wanted to raise herself and her siblings into the middle class. But while emancipation may have passed into law, new structural barriers emerged to keep women like Wells out – out of the economy, out of the political system, and out of first class train carriages. When a conductor tried to force Wells into the smoking car on a ride from Memphis to Nashville, Wells took a stand. The event launched a writing and activist career that would see her tackle some of the greatest injustices of her age – and ours. Her reports, Southern Horrors and The Red Record, laid bare the horror of lynchings in the South and she would go on to found a number of Civil Rights organisations – some of which survive today. She was also a suffragist unafraid to call out the movement for its lack of black representation – an intersectional feminist well before her time!

Catherine of Siena

Saint, mystic, Mamma. Activist, author, Doctor of the Church. These are some of the ways that the young Catherine di Benincasa would come to be remembered. After receiving visions of Christ when she was only a child, Catherine devoted herself to religious sacrifice, compelled by the knowledge that God had bigger plans for her. When her life of penitence and privation led her to join the Dominican Order, her piety soon began to earn her a following. And as news started to spread of the small miracles that surrounded her – like her levitation during prayer and her ability to restore the deathly ill – the church was ready to sit up and pay attention. The growing belief in Catherine’s holiness gave her remarkable access to the inner sanctum of the patriarchal Catholic church, even to the Pope himself. But her spiritual devotion would eventually led to her demise, as her lifelong commitment to fasting and starvation ultimately took its toll on her.
Join us as we return to 14th century Europe, far away from the battlefields of France to the solitude and reflection of Catherine of Siena.

Jeanne de Clisson

At the beginning of the Hundred Years War, well before Joan of Arc led her army, another French woman was making men tremble. On the volatile English channel, Jeanne de Clisson was seeking vengeance. The target of her wrath was none other than the King of France, Phillip VI, himself. As leader of the Black Fleet, she carved a name for herself as a violent and unwavering leader, unafraid to hack the heads from her enemies with a swing of her trusty axe. But it wasn’t always this way. Born into nobility, Jeanne was destined for a very different kind of life. So what kind callousness could have turned this mother of seven to a life of treachery?
Grab your axe and join us as we discover the violent lives and violent ends of Jeanne de Clisson, The Lioness of Brittany, and the noblewomen who led and took up arms in the Battle for Brittany.

Gladys Deacon

When wealthy American socialites Florence and Edward Deacon moved to the vibrant playground of Paris in 1879, they had come to join the artists and intellectuals of the haute bohème. Born into this world of decadence, their daughter Gladys would soon have her childhood shattered by a shocking scandal that pitted her mother and father against each other for the rest of their lives. Despite this, Gladys would go on to be educated in the best schools, growing into an intelligent, witty, and beautiful young woman. After reading about the marriage of an American railroad heiress to an English Duke, Gladys decided that she too should find herself such a man.

Across Europe, Gladys’s feminine wiles attracted the crème de la crème of society, from painters, sculptors and poets to princes and kings. In 1902, a shift to London serendipitously found her moving in the same circles as the English Duke of her childhood crush, and Gladys finally had the world in the palm of her hand. But when her desire to become even more beautiful led her to make a horrifying mistake, Gladys turned away from the limelight, and the once shining star retreated to the shadows.

So join us as we – yet again! – journey to the fabulous and frivolous world of the Belle Époque to examine the life of a woman who would eventually go from the dizzying glamour of high society to the quiet and solitary life of a recluse.

Hilma af Klint

In the 1960s, vice-admiral Erik af Klint opened a crate of art. It had been left to him by his aunt with strict instructions that it should remain sealed for some twenty years after her death. What Erik found was a remarkable cache of work that would throw into question everything we believe about the beginning of abstract art. You see, five years before Kadinsky and Mondrian began their forays into abstractionism, a Swedish woman named Hilma af Klint had received a special commission: to create a remarkable collection of work that would adorn a spiral temple. But who was this great benefactor? It was no businessman or high-ranking official, but rather the High Master Amaleil, who communicated the missive to af Klint in a séance she held regularly with her closest friends, a collective of women known as ‘The Five’. af Klint went on to create an extraordinary body of boldly colourful, geometric and highly symbolic art, all guided by the spirtual masters with whom she regularly communed.

So, light some candles and settle in as we delve into the fascinating world of Theosophy, Rosicrucianism and Hilma af Klint’s astonishing proto-abstractionism!