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.
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.
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.
Rosa May Billinghurst
By the turn of the twentieth century, the fight for women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom had already been raging for nearly forty years. Suffragists everywhere had been calling for changes that would allow women the right to become part of the political life of the nation, but their pleas had persistently been denied. Frustrated and angered, a new generation of activist women rose up, and the suffragette was born. With the motto ‘deeds, not words’, these fierce women were through asking nicely and, turning to militant tactics, they literally put their lives on the line to demand change. Among them was a woman who rarely escaped attention. With her modified tricycle for mobility, Rosa May Billinghurst threw herself into the fray alongside her sisters, suffering at the hands of mobs of angry men and a cruel and ruthless legal system. Ultimately they would be successful, but in a world where so many rights are still for the few rather than for all, their struggle for equality resonates as deeply today as it did over a hundred years ago.
So get ready to take to the streets (not literally! Stay home! Stay safe!) and join us as we venture into the protest marches and picket lines of suffragette city!
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!
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.
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 with Laura Elizabeth Woollett
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.