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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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 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!