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 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.
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!
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!
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.
When Wendy Carlos released Switched On Bach, the first classical album recorded on a synthesizer, she radically transformed people’s understandings of what electronic music could do. At the time of the album’s release, Wendy was also six-months into hormone therapy and struggling with her rising fame and anxieties about how the public might react to her transition. But Switched On Bach was a huge success and Wendy went on not only to critical acclaim, but to work with famed composers and film directors, including scoring Stanley Kubrik’s A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. Join Lauren and our special guest host, Deviant Women’s own composer India Hooi, as we discover how Wendy Carlos changed music forever!
Carolyn Layton had an idyllic childhood. Daughter of a socially progressive Methodist minister father and peace activist mother, she grew up believing passionately in social justice and racial equality. After marrying Larry Layton, a conscientious objector, the two began a new life together, a life founded on their shared principles of equality, freedom and social progress. Then they found an incredible new church, that seemed to share and espouse the values they held most dear: The People’s Temple. As Carolyn became progressively more involved with the organisation and its charismatic leader, Jim Jones, she started to change, and it wasn’t for the better.
Join us as we chat to Laura Elizabeth Woollett, author of Beautiful Revolutionary, about how Carolyn became implicated in the greatest loss of American life until September 11 and the complexities of how we remember the mistress of Jim Jones.
After fleeing her arms-dealing husband and his castle in the Austrian countryside, Hedy Lamarr made her way to Hollywood and the open arms of MGM Studios. She was going to be a star! The only problem: she’d gained a risque reputation for herself in the Czech film Ecstacy. This temptress image is one that would follow Hedy for much of her career, despite the fact that not only was she an extraordinary talent, she was also an extraordinary mind. Because little did most of Hollywood know, Hedy spent her evenings working on an invention that would go on to change the world forever! Join us as we journey through wartime Vienna to the MGMs studio lots, and watch the thrilling and devastating downfall of the bombshell, Hedy Lamarr.
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.
Carry A. Nation was born Carrie Amelia Moore in 1846 in Kentucky. By the time the Civil War had ended, Carry had experienced first hand the devastation that alcoholism could inflict. Headstrong and determined, Carry left an abusive husband to start her life over again. When she met and married David Nation, Carry took the surname that would define her and her God-given mission to end the spread of alcohol, setting out to single-handedly reform a nation caught in the grips of liquid sin. Go get your smashers listeners, because it’s time to have a hatchetation!