On the darkest of dark and stormy nights, the teenage Mary Shelley awoke from a nightmare. In her vision she saw a young man, a ‘pale student of unhallowed arts’, kneeling over his creation. The image inspired one of the most enduring horror works of our time: Frankenstein. But Mary Shelley was not just a mistress of the gothic. Born to one of the most influential proto-feminists of our age, Mary Wollstoncraft, and political radical and anarchist William Godwin, Mary moved in intellectual and artistic circles that would often overshadow her own greatness. But great she was. A woman who suffered and overcame tremendous loss, she was a survivor who spoke to some of the greatest anxieties of her – and our – time. But she was also a travel writer, an editor, a biographer and feminist. Join us as we steal away in the night to traverse the stormy crossing from England to France and curl up by a fire to hear the tale of the original teen goth, Mary Shelley.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
In the underworld of Paris’s Belle Epoque, where the wealthiest of men flocked to mingle with the beautiful and cultured demimondaine, Liane de Pougy found the calling she didn’t know she was looking for. After leaving her abusive husband and young son, eighteen-year-old Anne-Marie Chassagne found herself in this centre of pleasure and decided to take up with the reigning queen of courtesans, Valtesse de la Bigne. Under her mistresses’ tutelage, Chassagne, who renamed herself Liane de Pougy, would go on to grace the stage at the Folies-Bergere, be courted by the likes of Leopold II, and publish subversive sapphic auto-fiction. But it wasn’t all partying. After losing her prince husband, Pougy took the veil and devoted her life to supporting those with disabilities.
So in this time of great uncertainty, escape with us into the the fabulous and decadent world of the Belle Epoque!
In the melting pot of 19th century New Orleans, one woman emerged as the most powerful and legendary practitioners of Louisiana Voodoo. From her humble beginnings as the daughter of a free-man and his Voodoo doctor mistress, Laveau grew up to become a priestess, a healer, an activist and a commanding and influential leader of her community. But Laveau’s story is as much legend as it is reality, and even in her lifetime stories proliferated about her midnight graveyard ceremonies, animal sacrifices and mesmerising evil incantations.
So how, in a story like this, do we tell the difference between history and myth? And who do we believe when we listen to her story? Join us for our Season Four premier as we pick apart the complex and fascinating life of the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau!
It’s the holiday season, but we’ve taken a little time out of our summer break to bring you some good cheer with our annual Christmas Special! In this end of year special we chat about our summer plans, our favourite Deviant Women of 2019, and then we dive into the Roman goddess of the New Year, Strenua, and her Italian counterpart, La Befana. Grab a drink, a mince pie and some pudding, and let’s get into some festive goodness!
In the underworld of prohibitionist Harlem, there was one queen who ruled the roost – Stephanie ‘Queenie’ St Clair. The Caribbean racketeer was not only a boss entrepreneur of the illegal numbers game, she was also a leader and activist, funnelling her vast riches back into the community. Unlike others on the scene, she ruled by reputation alone, and was known for her elegant style and give-no-fucks attitude. But then, as prohibition came to an end, the mob started seeking out new lucrative enterprises and showed up on her turf. Queenie soon found herself in the midst of a gang-land showdown with the infamous mobster Dutch Schultz! So join us down at the speakeasy as we knock one back in our final episode of 2019 with Queenie St Clair!
In 1632 in a small, haunted Ursuline convent, a series of strange disturbance began to occur. When the Prioress, 25-year-old Sister Jeanne, was beset by terrifying dreams of a priest who cursed her and bade her to perform obscene sexual acts, she knew who was to blame. She had been possessed, she claimed, by demons under the direction of one Urbaine Grandier, the powerful parish priest of Loudun. As more and more of the nuns came under the influence of devils, it was determined that elaborate exorcisms were in order, and investigations into Grandier’s maleficent magic began. While Sister Jeanne maintained that she was the innocent victim of possession, others soon suggested her potential involvement with a conspiracy to bring Grandier down. So, was Jeanne indeed a victim of maleficent witchcraft, or is the power of hysteria to blame for her actions? Perhaps, though, she was far more calculating than this! Get out your rosary beads and holy water and join us in this week’s Halloween episode to find out more about Sister Jeanne des Anges and the infamous possessions at Loudun!