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.
Famous today as the overlooked illustrator of the influential Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck, in her own time Pamela Colman Smith was something of an enigma. Known for her lively and enchanting Jamaican folklore performances, her publishing press and literary magazine, and for her extraordinary miniature theatre, Pamela – Pixie to her friends – wove magical worlds where women had agency and gender was fluid. But she was also a woman cloaked in mystery, and who was often Othered by her contemporaries. Join us, together with PCS scholar Elizabeth Foley O’Connor, as we travel from England to Jamaica, New York and Cornwall, tracing this elusive and enigmatic woman.
Infamous as the ‘Mad Queen of Madagascar’, Queen Ranavalona’s reign is remembered as one of violence and tyranny. But she was also a queen with a noble mission: to protect the sovereignty and traditional practices of her people from the enormous and oppressive colonial forces of the French and English. Her methods, though, were inventive. Come with us to the island of Madagascar to discover a queen unafraid to poison a witch or two (or a few thousand), hang herself some Christians, and lead her nation to its industrial revolution.
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.
From conservative Melbourne to the Bohemian underworld of Paris’ Rive Gauche, and a wild mountain hideaway in Positano, Vali Myers led a life like no other. Heralded as the original hippy and the muse of beatniks and hipsters, Vali Myers was an artist, dancer and environmentalist who left entire movements in her wake. After living on the streets and dancing in jazz clubs to stay alive, she went on to establish a wildlife sanctuary in Italy where she painted profound images of the sacred, nature and the feminine. Join us as we uncover the extraordinary life of the woman dubbed the Witch of Positano.
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.
This week we teamed up with Kendra and Autumn of Reading Women to get spooky and chat all things Shirley Jackson, the queen of horror. From her unhappy childhood as the unwanted daughter of aspiring socialites, to her equally unhappy marriage to the philandering Stanley Hymen, we investigate how the demons of domesticity and anxiety (and a dose of a love for the occult) primed her to become one of the greatest gothic horror writers of all time. We then dive into her masterful short story, ‘The Lottery’, and geek out about the new adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House. So grab your favourite dog-eared Jackson paperback, and settle in for Halloween and Day of the Dead with the four of us!
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.
Jennet Device was just nine years old when she found herself at the centre of one of history’s most infamous witch trials. On the stand, she denounced her entire family as witches and set up a precedent for child witness testimony that would have ramifications long after she was gone. We trace the fascinating details of this notorious trial – from its canine familiars to clay figures and forbidden sabbats – and investigate just how complicit Jennet may have been in the Device family’s demise!
In the 5th century BCE the Persian Empire stretched from Asia and the Middle East, as far as Africa and Europe. But the Persian King, Xerxes, sought to expand the empire, launching his armies into Greece by land and by sea. Among the commanders of the Persian fleet was Artemisia: Queen of Caria and ruthless naval strategist. Her courage at the Battle of Artemisium set her apart, and her wily recklessness at the Battle of Salamis cemented her place in history, as well as in Xerxes’ esteem. But the historicity of her life is elusive, leading some to fill in the gaps with clichéd tropes. Take your place to witness an epic clash of civilisations, as we consider Artemisia’s place in the fray alongside Hollywood’s representation of this fascinating figure.
Famed as the legendary Nun Lieutenant, Catalina de Erauso, fighter, lover and all round adventurer, was perhaps even more revered for her status as a supreme seducer than her skills with a sword. After escaping the convent where she spent her childhood, Catalina fashioned herself hose and doublet and made her way through Spain and South America under a number of male guises. Her pattern of lawbreaking, finding sanctuary in churches and evading execution eventually got her an audience with the Pope himself. So don your habit, grab your sword and join us for one hell of an adventure.
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!