Author Archive - The History Chicks

Episode 130: Revisiting Joan of Arc

Posted 9 July 2019 by
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By Albert Lynch, 1903 for Figaro magazine.

We thought that it was high time to take a trip back and revisit the life of brave teenager turned saint, Joan of Arc! We’ve both been thinking about her recently (which may be a bonus hint to our next episode)(it’s totally a bonus hint for our next episode) and realized how strong, brave and resilient she was in her very short life.

Here is a link to the original shownotes from this episode: JOAN OF ARC

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Episode 129: Elizebeth Smith Friedman

Posted 1 July 2019 by
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Elizebeth Smith Friedman was America’s first female cryptanalyst but her contributions to both the US government during Prohibition and to the world during WWI and WWII as well as her pioneering techniques in counterintelligence and profiling were often hidden from history. We want to help change that.

“Elizebeth” isn’t a typo, it’s the name her mother gave the youngest of her nine children who was born on August 26, 1892. Mama, Sopha Smith, wanted to make sure no one called her daughter “Eliza.” Elizebeth grew up in Indiana to be a smart, energetic, determined young woman who figured a way to attend college despite her father’s desire for her to stop her education after high school.

Her degree in English eventually landed her in a think tank trying to prove that Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets were authored by someone else using a cipher that was supposed to have been contained in them. This off-the-wall project led to years of work in the country’s only cryptologic laboratory, as well as marriage to a man, William Friedman, who worked alongside her.

Elizebeth used her skill at breaking codes to help keep on eye on the Germans during WWI, break-up bootleg smuggling rings during Prohibition; she brought down opium dealers, spies, and Nazis all while raising two children.

William and Elizebeth

Elizebeth survived her husband by about 11 years but passed away on October 31, 1980.

Arlington National Cemetery






The Friedmans are characters in this, book four of the Secret Breakers series


The Friedman’s papers are at the George C. Marshall Foundation and here’s a link to an interview with Elizebeth that is also there!

The Newberry Library in Chicago where Elizebeth worked and is an important location in The Time Travelers Wife.

The Shakespeare Ciphers Examined: An analysis of cryptographic systems used as evidence that some author other than William Shakespeare wrote the plays commonly attributed to him, written by the Friedmans is available to read online.

Online Cryptomuseum

How does that Enigma Machine work? Here is an explanation in words and video:

Just take a read through these smugglers and bootleggers she helped bring down! So, so many!


The International Spy Museum is open in Washington, DC, but you can do this worksheet using the pigpen cipher with the kids at home.


If you’ve never listened to Helen Zaltzman’s The Allusionist podcast, give this one a try (we both love this podcast about language.) This episode about the creation of a priori languages.


There aren’t any movies about Elizebeth, but Beckett loves these which are about people doing the same work she did in England during WWII:


Or this series that is available on Amazon Prime-

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Music from the episode: The midsong is Spy v. Spy by the Sound of 73 and the endsong is Who Done It by The Proper Authorities

Episode 128: Charlotte Brontë

Posted 18 June 2019 by
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A familiar portrait of  Charlotte, a chalk drawing by George Richmond in 1850. wikicommons

After a life of starts and stalls trying to find a way to support themselves, Charlotte Brontë and her sisters Emily and Anne finally hit on the career that paired their lives of heartbreak, horrors, love, and challenges with their vivid imaginations (and a heavy dose of Lord Byron.)

We focus on Charlotte in this episode, but we couldn’t tell her story without a heavy assist by her sisters. Charlotte was born on April 21, 1816 in Thornton, in Yorkshire England. She was the third of six children of the Reverend Patrick and his wife, Mariah Branwell Brontë. By the time she was six, her mother had died; by the time she was nine, her two oldest sisters had followed suit, and the family settled into life amid the rugged moors (and people) of Haworth.

Papa Patrick later in life. He was a quirky fellow.

For the next 21 years, Charlotte bounced from one school to the next, worked as a governess and a teacher, hated working as a governess and a teacher and was happiest when she was with her family writing long, complicated stories of imagined lands.

Charlotte was a talented artist…imagine how amazing she would have been if she had the opportunities her brother did? This is her pencil sketch of Anne.

Motivated by their future poverty if their father died (and seeing that their brother Branwell was too wrapped up in drink to support them) they combined their talents as writers, a plan to circumvent society’s view of women writers, and oodles of poems and stories to become published authors under pen names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. When Charlotte’s, er, Currer’s, Jane Eyre was published, she shot into literary fame and history. Her sister Emily/Ellis followed with the now classic but then shocking, Wuthering Heights, and Anne/Acton with Agnes Grey.

But a long life as celebrated authors wasn’t to be. In rapid succession, Branwell, then Emily, then Anne all died.

Left behind in Scarborough

Charlotte was the only one able to live as a well-known author once her true name was revealed. She wrote two more novels that were published in her lifetime and one and a half that were published posthumously. She did marry (probably for love but we debate that) and was soon pregnant. But this is a tragic tale already, why should it stop now? Charlotte died from complications from that pregnancy on March 31, 1855.

Charlotte’s husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls

Charlotte did have moments of happiness, beautiful memories of creating magical lands with her siblings, and left the world a story of a small and plain heroine that does have a happy ending.

The town cemetery and washroom was in the front yard of the parsonage,


If you would like to see the area that Charlotte grew up in, here’s a lovely biography that we liked with a fantastic host:

Time Travel with the History Chicks


Obviously, you should head to your favorite literary consumption tool and get your hands on copies of Charlotte’s books: Jane Eyre, Shirley, Villette, and The Professor. You might take this reading thing a step further and read Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. You’ll hit a home run reading Poems by all three and we’ll get you started with a link to Poems on Project Gutenberg  You’ll get personal extra credit points if you give a listen to the novel Charlotte was working on when she died, Emma (and maybe you’re the person to finish it properly) here it is on Librovox.

If you’re looking for biographies:

The heavy book Beckett talked about.


This is very good,  by Juliet Barker


We both liked this one by Claire Harmon


Good early YA by Catherine Reed


How much of Charlotte is in Jane Eyre? By John Pfordresher

Not biographies but biography adjacent:

We both are fans of this one! By Deborah Lutz


How the sisters’ images have evolved over the years by Lucasta Miller

…and some fiction:

The stories that were written by young Brontës 



Fiction with an appearance by Charlotte and Jane (and sounded so interesting Susan bought it the day she heard about it.)


You really have to listen to the episode to understand why this is here.


Brontë Parsonage Museum– the epicenter of all things Brontë would be the house that Charlotte grew up in, now a museum in West Yorkshire. The website is chock full of things to learn and see and you’ll go on a good virtual tour (although actually going is probably best. If you do, take some pics and share them on Instagram with #historychicksfieldtrip.)

The parsonage in Haworth!

Speaking of travel, this blogger traveled the path of Anne in London and writes about the adventure of locating the spot where the Chapter Coffee House once stood. Charlotte, Emily, and Patrick stayed there on their way to Brussels, and it’s where Anne and Charlotte stayed when they went to London to clear things up with George Smith.

How did a fairly sheltered, unmarried, Parson’s daughter create all that steam? She had been practicing for a long time, per this article in The Guardian

What about that “Pillar Painting” (or “Beam Me Up”) of Branwell’s? Here’s the story about it and the original from The Telegraph.

A restored version of Branwell’s painting

Where Charlotte herself explains the origins of  Currer, Acton, and Ellis Bell (sadly, after Emily and Anne had passed away) from The Literary Ladies.

Perhaps we can speculate forever and never know the truth, but here’s some speculating about Emily having Asperger’s syndrome.

Ellen Nussey’s brother Henry, was the first man to propose to Charlotte…but was he the inspiration for St. John Rivers in Jane Eyre? This article from explores that.

The Clergy Daughter’s School in Cowan Bridge that all four sisters attended, but only two survived, was established by a Calvinist, and here is an article from on John Calvin and his beliefs. 


We both loved To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters. If you want to watch only one thing, although this presents itself as a drama, the history (and casting) is spot on AND it was filmed in Haworth. Here we’ll make it easy for you, it’s streaming on Amazon Prime.

Very, very good!

There are so many versions of Jane Eyre, pick your own favorites but this was Susan’s (probably because it was her first, to be honest.)

Streaming on Amazon

Finally, Susan never did figure out the keyboard shortcut to make a diaeresis (not an umlaut) so, yes, she copy and pasted Brontë each time. Also, here’s an article explaining the difference from The New Yorker.


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Episode 127: Not-Quite-Live from PodX Show

Posted 3 June 2019 by
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In May of 2019 (if you’re in the future, if you’re in the present- this weekend) we appeared live at PodX. PodX was a beautiful collection of both podcasters and podcast listeners who gathered in Nashville to celebrate podcasting. (more…)

Episode 126: Lydia Pinkham 2019

Posted 18 May 2019 by
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Women’s health is in the news these days but this is hardly a 20teens issue, we talk about it all the time when we hop in our WayBack machine. Lydia Pinkham did her part to get women access to safe medical care during her lifetime (and revolutionized marketing in the process!) We’ve refreshed the 2015 audio and thought it was a good time for us all to realize that everything old is new again.


Episode 125: Babe Didrikson Zaharias

Posted 6 May 2019 by
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Babe Didrikson Zaharias was many things and, although quiet and humble weren’t two of them, her contributions to women’s sports made her a role model for anyone who has ever strapped on a pair of sneakers or golf shoes. Her drive and large personality made her someone we all need to know.

Babe in her All American jacket, courtesy Lamar University’s Babe Didrikson Zaharias Collection


Episode 124: Mary Anning

Posted 20 April 2019 by
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Mary Anning’s grueling, dangerous, and meticulous toiling enabled many men of science to do their own work and furthered the study of times long past…but she was mostly omitted from the narrative. Thankfully, like the fossils that she discovered, she left enough of an evidence trail to help write her back in. (more…)

Episode 123: Annie Londonderry (Kopchovsky)

Posted 7 April 2019 by
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One of the publicity photos Annie had made on her adventure, 1894.

Her moments in the spotlight may have been limited, but Annie Cohen Kopchovsky lived them hard and bright as a marketer, adventurer, storyteller, and the first woman to bicycle* around the world.

(*or possibly, “around the world with a bicycle”- she played a little loose with the rules at points.)


Episode 122: Ching Shih

Posted 24 March 2019 by
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We have only a general idea of what she looked like, this is as good a guess as any…except she wasn’t much for the fighting, more a behind the scenes pirate-master.

History knows her by many names: Shi Xiang Gu, Shi Yang, Cheng I Sao, Zheng Yi Sao, Ching Shih and no one knows what her original name was! We had to pick one to use so we went with the easiest for our American accents: Ching Shih. (more…)

Episode 121: Audrey Hepburn Part Two

Posted 11 March 2019 by
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Right before Audrey set a new high for superstar status in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

When we left Audrey in Part One she had finished her first Hollywood starring role in Roman Holiday, filmed her second in Sabrina, done a Broadway play, Ondine, with beau hunky Mel Ferrer, and had just won an Academy Award for Roman Holiday AND a Tony Award for Ondine!