At the turn of the twentieth-century, in the rowdy streets of Chattanooga, Tennessee, a young Bessie Smith was literally singing for her supper. Busking alongside her brother, Bessie learned the hard way just what it took to capture an audience against the odds: to sing and dance and demand attention despite the clatter of carts and the shouts of storeowners and vendors selling their wares. This early foray into the performing life would help shape Smith into the greatest performer of her age, rising up to the heights of Empress of the Blues and becoming the highest paid black entertainer of her day. In her private life she was just as bold and brash as her stage persona, never shying away from saying what she thought and more than happy to get into a fistfight or two. So put the needle on some vinyl and join us as we get down and bluesy with Bessie Smith.
By the end of the 1920s, the U.S. was rocked by financial and ecological disasters that saw it spiral into the Great Depression. At the same time, the advent of sound film was ushering in the golden age of American animation, and with it, one of history’s most iconic film makers: Walt Disney. While Disney would become a household name, at the heart of his finest work were countless unsung artists and animators; one of the most legendary among them was Mary Blair. With a background in watercolour and fine arts, Blair’s use of bold colours and shapes would go on to cement her reputation as one of the most influential artists in the Disney story. But she would leave more than just her legacy at Disney, devoting her working life to creating the kind of art that dreams are made of. So gather your woodland animal friends about you as we take a break from our last few darker episodes and go goofy (sorry) for the art and flair of Mary Blair.
Known in her lifetime by many names, Malintzin would be recorded in history as the infamous La Malinche. Born into nobility and sold into slavery, from a young age Malintzin possessed a gift for language and diplomacy. In 1519, she was given to Hernán Cortés, the leader of the Spanish invading forces. When her translation skills were discovered, Cortés used her as his interpreter and, eventually, took her as his lover. Positioned as a vital go-between for the Spanish and indigenous peoples, her role is now seen as the decisive factor in the success of the Spanish mission in the “New World”. Often cast as either the victim of the Spanish invaders or Cortés’s duplicitous ‘whore’, she has only recently started to be understood in the light of her historical reality. Journey with us to the temples of Tenochtitlan to witness an epic clash of civilisations, and discover La Malinche: scheming betrayer of her people to some, symbolic mother of the Mestizo race to others.
During the turbulent years of World War II the pool halls and billiard rooms of the U.S. were quiet: the men who had once dominated them had gone off to fight. But after the war a new buzz brought audiences flooding back to professional billiards, and an unexpected star was on the rise. Known as the ‘First Lady of Billiards’, Masako Katsura hailed from Japan, where she had already established herself as a national champion. But after meeting and marrying an American serviceman, Katsura found herself in the U.S., where a resurgence in the sport meant she stood to become the world’s first female billiards champion. So come on and chalk your cue (that’s not a euphemism…) as we delve into the world of a woman whose ball skills (also not a euphemism…) helped to pave the way for a league of sportswomen in the 20th century.
As colonial powers muscled in on 18th century India, one woman rose from obscurity to become the leader of a powerful and formidable mercenary army. From the life of a dancing girl to life on the battlefields, the Begum Samru was feared and respected not just by her troops, but also by those who held the highest power. But she loved just as boldly as she fought, and her heart led her to desperate measures of Shakespearean proportions. Follow us into the wild and vibrant streets of the Mughal Empire as we trace the legendary life of the Begum Samru.
In part two of our look at the history of reproduction rights in America, we trace the life of Pat Maginnis: a grassroots activist who campaigned tirelessly to change America’s abortion laws. After two harrowing years spent working in an army hospital in Panama, it was Maginnis’ personal struggle to find safe and legal abortion providers in the U.S. that cemented her desire to enact change. Pounding the street corners of San Francisco, Maginnis and ‘The Army of Three’ helped thousands of women, while across the country grassroots organisations sprung up in a pushback that would eventually culminate in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade. Join us as we take a look at the life of just one of the many women who struggled for change, and whose legacy we fight to protect today.
In the early 20th century the highly restrictive Comstock Laws made it almost impossible for American women to gain access to, or an understanding of, contraceptive methods. Arriving into the impoverished communities of New York city’s East Side, nurse Margaret Sanger saw women struggling with enormous families of children, the health ramifications of multiple births, and the horrors of back-alley abortions. This motivated her to act, starting a campaign of birth control advocacy that would form her life’s work. In the wake of the recent attacks on women’s reproductive rights in the U.S., the first of our two part episode looks at this controversial woman’s career, and the fundamental changes brought about by her life long work.
Along the rivers and waterways of Mexico, a woman’s cries can be heard in the night. Punished for the crime of infanticide, La Llorona wanders in the dark for eternity, ready to snatch away unsuspecting children. But while her story makes for perfect horror film fare, there is more to her than meets the eye. With echoes of the Aztec goddess Cihuacóatl, her significance as a symbol of women’s agency and power has been reclaimed in modern feminist reimaginings of La Llorona lore. So turn the lights down low as we prepare for a ghost story that reveals much more about prescribed gender roles than Hollywood would like us to think…
Celebrated as the iconic model and muse for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall has become one of the most recognisable faces in the history of Western art. However, famed for her beauty and romanticised for her tragic personal life, Lizzie Siddall’s own art and poetry was largely brushed aside, diminished by the grandeur of the “great men” who surrounded her. Come with us as we button our bonnets and prepare for some grave-digging in order to examine the mythic story of her life and death, and the long undervalued significance of her own work.
In our first episode back for Season Three, we get piratical with the most successful pirate of them all… a woman! From infamous beginnings, Ching Shih’s path crossed with Cheng I, a notorious sea dog who terrorised China’s southern coastline. Together, they formed an unstoppable coalition of pirates, with a stranglehold on the precious trade that ran through the Pearl River Delta to Canton. But when Cheng I died a new leader was needed, and Ching Shih stepped up to write her place in history. So get your sea legs ready and prepare for battle as we explore the life of the fierce Ching Shih.
It’s the holidays and whatever you celebrate – Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule or the Solstice – we hope you have a most excellent break and enjoy some festive cheer! In our end of year special, we talk about some of our favourites from the season and then get deep into the figure of Frau Pertcha, the Alpine Goddess whose naughty list you *don’t* want to end up on! We then trace her connection to Holda, the protectress of women’s crafts and children’s souls. So grab some eggnog, charge your yule glasses, and join us for some myth and merriment!
From humble beginnings as the daughter of a blacksmith, little Emy Lyon could never have known she would end up Lady Emma Hamilton: wife of the English ambassador to Naples, lover to the glorified hero Admiral Nelson, and muse to some of the greatest artists of her age. But history has defined Emma by the men she inspired, overlooking the complex and creative woman who developed her own style of performance art, and who was instrumental in the political machinations that would see Nelson defeat the French. Follow us from the seedy “health spas” of London into the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, as we follow a woman whose scandalous and unconventional life made her a celebrity.