Gladys Deacon

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.

Hilma af Klint

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!

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!

Stephanie ‘Queenie’ St Clair

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!

Jeanne des Anges and the Loudun Possessions

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!

La Malinche

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.

Anita Berber

In the dark and seedy cabarets of Weimar Berlin, where sex was a performance and decadence was king, one woman ruled the room. Born to artist parents at the turn of the century, Anita Berber was destined for a life on the stage. Famed for her kohl-rimmed eyes, her bright red hair, and her provocative burlesque, Berber became an underground sensation. But she was just as infamous for her scandalous bisexual affairs and hotel orgies as her avante-garde performances, and with dances named ‘Cocaine’, ‘Morphine’, and ‘Asylum’, you know she partied as hard as she danced! So join us in the end-of-the-world liberalism of Weimar Germany as we trace this Expressionist queen to the stage and beyond!

Pat Maginnis

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.

Margaret Sanger

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.

La Llorona

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…

Elizabeth Siddall

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.

Ching Shih

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.