Posts Tagged Women’s History

Episode 98: Coco Chanel

Posted 5 December 2017 by
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Gabrielle Chanel wasn’t born into the type of wealth she would earn or life she would live; she created everything she had from her signature look, scents, fortune, reputation, and image–good or bad.


Gabrielle Chanel was born on August 19, 1883 in Saumur, France, the second of five living children of Jeanne Devolle and Albert Chanel. Teenage Jeanne and handsome, charming, n’er do well peddler Albert didn’t get married for real–although they pretended–until after child #3 (a boy, huh, how about that?) was born. They were painfully poor, Jeanne spent a lot of time tracking down Albert and the kids DIY’d a good chunk of their childhood. After 13 years and six pregnancies, the hard life drained Jeanne of her health and she died when Gabrielle was 11 years old.

Did Albert step up and raise his kids? You know he didn’t. He farmed the boys out (literally) and dropped the three girls at Aubazine Abbey in Correze, France, the largest girl’s orphanage in the region.

Aubazine Abbey…home sweet home for Gabrielle. (Except for the sweet part.) Courtesy Babsy

And then Albert disappeared into the night. Or day. Does it matter? He drove off and they never saw him again. The nuns did provide Gabrielle with a basic education (including teaching her French which you probably didn’t see coming, did you?) but most importantly they taught her to sew.

At 18 she was sent to a finishing school in a nearby town as a charity student, the first time in her life she experienced separation of Haves and Have Nots, and she was firmly a Have Not. But so was her Aunt Adrienne.

Adrienne was Papa Albert’s youngest sibling and only a year older than Gabrielle. The two would be lifelong friends, they left school together to become seamstresses, date military men and work their way onto the stage to sing at a bawdy proto-caberet in town. Gabrielle loved the stage even though her repertoire was only two songs: Kokoriko (the sound a rooster makes) and Qui qu’vu Coco. All the ‘coco’ing stuck, people started to call her Coco.

A life choice (yes, we explain it in the podcast as well as all the other details we’re glossing over here.) landed her a long term House-guest with Benefits position with playboy and horse breeder, wealthy Etienne Balsan. She couldn’t afford to dress like the society women and courtesans that were all around her…but she could steal Etienne’s clothes and sew them into feminine interpretations that flattered her slim, non-curvy figure and created her own unique style.

Coco in menswear

She began making simple and elegant hats first for herself, then for Etienne’s friends. Etienne let her use his Paris apartment to sell them from, and with the help of the love of her life, and friend of Etienne, Arthur “Boy” Capel, she opened her first shop in Paris selling those hats.

Coco was so famous she was recognizable in caricatures. (George Gourset, SEM via wikicommons)

Boy was Coco’s biggest cheerleader and financial backer. He encouraged her as she grew her business in Paris and a second shop in the seaside resort of Dauville, France. She designed a newfangled sportswear line, made to move with women, in soft fabrics with simple, yet elegant lines and touches of menswear, that quickly became extremely popular. When World War One broke out, Boy headed into war but she kept the store open (and made A LOT of money because of it.)

Coco’s famous new designs.

After the war, Boy broke Coco’s heart by marrying an aristocratic woman…then he died in a car crash in 1919.

Coco shortly after Boy’s death circa 1920 ( wikicommons)

But Coco didn’t need a man and her professional life was about to take off. She kept innovating women’s fashion, opened another store and created an extraordinarily popular designer perfume. Not out of need, mind you, she had many other men in her life: a Russian Grand Duke, A French poet, a British Duke…it’s a long list. When World War Two broke out and the Germans were advancing toward France, 58-year-old Coco closed down everything (except her flagship store at 31 Rue Cambon where she sold perfume to the invading soldiers.)

Maybe you’ve heard of it?

Here it is, the really bad part:During the war she had a love affair in Paris with a Nazi Spy and, by the end, she was on trial for being one herself (and 50 years later the world learned her Nazi spy-name and number.) She got out of Paris after she was cleared of the charges and lived in Switzerland for several years.

The only store that she kept open during WWII, and oh hey, it’s still open. (wikicommons)

In 1954, 15 years after she closed her business she debuted a comeback line…and it was a critical flop. Ouch. BUT her next line was more popular and she was back in vogue (and Vogue.) Her created her innovative styles that were worn by the most fashionable women in the world up until her death on January 10, 1971 at 87 years old.







Rhonda K. Garelick


Justine Picardie

Autobiography is the very loosest of definitions by Paul Morand and illustrated by Karl Lagerfeld. How Coco would have liked you to see her life (which isn’t necessarily how her life really was.)


Middle grade/YA curious design, cute book by Megan Hess


Kid’s book, Elizabeth Matthews


Websites and Online Articles!

Want to visit the Aubazine Abbey where Coco grew up? Try thismicheline guide to abbey, and the whole region has a lot of Coco’s history so you couldvisit vichy!

A nice history of the Little Black Dress with special appearances by some of our other podcast subjects! History of the LBD

Curious about how Coco’s press read from the time of her life?  Here is a sample in the 1931 New Yorker article re:31 Rue Cambon

Was Coco a Nazi? Here is a rundown from Snopes.

Her creations were art and here is proof from the Metropolitan Museum of art! 




Beckett’s preferred use of the time you would have spent on one of those Coco movies

The antithesis of recommendations by Beckett: “Nope. Nope. Nopey. Nope.”

Martha Stewart visited Coco’s apartment over her boutique in Paris (of course she did. Martha gets all the cool gigs…Martha, Martha, Martha!) It’s on Martha’s website so we can’t embed it, but you can watch at this link…MARTHA Stewart visits Coco’s apartment.

Even if you don’t speak French, watching an interview with Coco toward the end of her life is still very fascinating!

Part un:

Part deux:


Why did Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” inspired rioting? Radiolab covers it in this episode, Sound as Touch.


The music that put Beckett’s son to sleep for years?


BIG, HUGE ANNOUNCEMENT!  We’re launching a second podcast! The Recappery, our emporium of history-themed media recaps! We’re going to begin with The Crown, Season Two. Find us in your podcast app and subscribe! 


Episode 91: Emily Post

Posted 8 July 2017 by
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A few years after the divorce. Emily Price Post, American writer and authority on etiquette. Marceau, New York].  ca. 1912. Photograph. Library of Congress

Emily Price Post is most known as an expert on etiquette, but she didn’t even publish her first book on the subject until she was 50-years-old. (Listen up! You’re never too old!) Before that book she was a novelist, journalist, decorator, and architectural consultant. Before those, she was  a doted on only child of progressive parents, debutante, heiress, society wife and mother. A very busy life for a woman that COULD have lived a life of leisure.

But where is the fun in that?

Emily Bruce Price was born on October 27, 1872 (according to her gravestone) in Baltimore MD, to Bruce and Josephine Price. Bruce was an upcoming, then quite famous, architect from a wealthy family; Josephine also came from wealth and could trace her lineage straight back to the Mayflower.

Price cottage in Tuxedo Park built for Josephine

Emily was doted on as a child, she spent as little time as possible in school and as much time as possible with her father who showed her how buildings are designed and built and thought it a shame that Emily wasn’t a boy so he could become an architect, too (“progressive” is relative.) The base of the Statue of Liberty and the hills lakes and rustic opulence of Tuxedo Park, NY were her playground.

Emily’s playhouse!                                                Courtesy Frisbie Road Photography


She did what was expected of her in the 1800s as New York society flipped their calendars to the 1900s: She went to finishing school, had her debut into society, met a man with good breeding and married him. The Edwin Posts had two boys, Edwin worked (hard? lucky? you pick) as a stock broker, and, other than a few years on Staten Island, lived in Manhattan and Tuxedo Park.

Another cottage designed by Bruce

Yup, on(and in) the papers they had it all…but no. They couple had nothing in common, Bruce’s financial luck was about to run out and, oh yeah, he had a thing for chorus girls, duck hunting and boating.

After a blackmailing scandal Emily had had enough. Done. Finished. She divorced Edwin and set off to make a name for herself.

Her most popular fiction novel. Monied American Girl contemplates marriage to European Aristocracy. (Hey, they say to write what you know and Emily KNEW all about upper crust society, Dollar Princesses and, of course, marriage.)

We cover her career ups and downs in the podcast, but basically while raising the boys (then sending them to boarding school) she started to write novels, freelance pieces for magazines, and started to work as an architectural and home designer…not too shabby for a woman who probably didn’t have to work for an income in the first place, huh?

After Etiquette was first published in 1922 Emily’s legacy began to solidify. The huge best seller made her name and etiquette synonymous.

She was on tour promoting her book, started regular radio shows, wrote a syndicated advice column but she did have other interests that she continued to pursue (and we talk about them in the show) including this very well received non-fiction book about home design…

Personality of a House by Emily Post

…and her new favorite home on Martha’s Vineyard.

This is a postcard, hopefully Susan will replace it with a selfie (or not) when she strolls by this summer.

Etiquette has been revised over the years to keep up with how people REALLY live and is currently in it’s 19th edition. There is a whole library of other advice and etiquette books written either by her or her descendants.

Dear Emily, If there is an opportunity for you to share something that is quite messy but you think may be well received, should you?

Part of Susan’s recording notes: Something in Etiquette that made her think of Beckett.

Emily Post died on September 25, 1960 of natural causes (polite nod to Post family), her ashes are buried at the Tuxedo Park Cemetery.

Emily, 1937



You should start here at the Emily Post Institute. It has everything from photos, to history, the Awesome Etiquette podcast and an encyclopedia of advice for all your etiquette-based, searchable database needs.

A couple more things we could have talked about for the whole hour but didn’t:

Tuxedo Historical Society

Alva Vanderbilt’s costume ball


Obviously, you should go pick up a copy (lift with your legs) of Etiquette, but also give her fiction a whirl.

The non-fiction book that isn’t online but if you can find a copy, grab it if only to flip through and appreciate the mountain of knowledge Emily possessed   had.

Personality of a House by Emily Post

Emily Post books you can read online (if you can’t find them at your library):

This is newest edition, link will take you to 1st edition. Maaaaany updates since 1922


Etiquette by Emily Post online at Project Gutenburg

By Motor to the Golden Gate 

The Title Market

Truly Emily Post by Edwin Post, JR (Ned)

The Flight of the Moth

Other books we talked about:

By Laura Claridge (this book is big, but really well done)

By Jennifer LaRue Huget , illustrated by ALexandra Boiger(This book is really little but really well done.)


And finally, Mrs Emily Price Post herself:

Episode 80: Queen Nzinga

Posted 22 November 2016 by
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Just your ordinary Princess to Queen tale: born into a royal family, rose to power, protected her people and country for generations with little more than her bravery, wits, bow and arrow and gallons of blood spilled and some, perhaps, consumed.


Episode 60: Four Inventors

Posted 12 December 2015 by
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Lillian Gilbreth inspired us. After talking about her life and accomplishments, we thought it was high time to introduce you to four more problem-solving women whose inventions we use every day: Josephine Cochrane, Melitta Bentz, Mary Phelps Jacobs and Hedy Lamarr.


Chapter One: The Dishwasher

Josephine Cochrane was tired of her china being chipped during hand washing…so she invented the modern dishwasher and was granted a patent for it in 1886! Cochrane_J


Episode 59: Lillian Gilbreth

Posted 28 November 2015 by
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Lillian Gilbreth should be remembered for any of her life accomplishments: psychologist, industrial engineer, author, inventor, and pioneer in the field of industrial psychology. From her collection of degrees to her equal partnership marriage to her work with Presidents and to the trailblazing example she set for us modern mothers…she should be remembered for a lot more than simply, “the mother on Cheaper by the Dozen”.

Let’s do something about that.


Lillian Gilbreth, circa 1920s, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth papers, MSP 7, Box 126, Folder 4, Courtesy Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

Lillian Gilbreth, circa 1920s,   Courtesy Frank and Lillian Gilbreth papers, (MSP 7, Box 126, Folder 4)  Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries


Episode 57: Q & A and Random Bits Show

Posted 5 October 2015 by
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Heeeeere’s your seven word summary: We asked, you responded and we answer.

For the first time in the five years that we have been doing this show we sat down with a couple of glasses of wine to deviate from our normal format and answer some of your questions. We had asked for them and you delivered! From questions about specific episodes to hypothetical situations and research methods to some semi-personal questions…we answered them all. We even revealed some of the names on our extraordinarily long list of future subjects and did a really bad job of keeping our next subject secret. (In vino veritas and all)

We thought that this cocktail party chatter was a perfect way to give our new audio recording system the proper welcome that it deserves. Isn’t it pretty?




Ahhhhh! (Cool lamp in both of these shots)


Episode 56: Dorothy Parker, Part Two

Posted 30 August 2015 by
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dorothyparker framed


When we left Dorothy Parker in Part One she was hanging on tenuously at best. Her marriage to Eddie Parker was over, her relationship with George MacArthur was over and the fall-out somewhat stabilized and her suicide attempt was unsuccessful. Professionally she was cobbling together a career as a freelance writer but powered by a steady diet of alcohol she was dancing on the edge.

It was the wild 20s, afterall. (No, this isn't Dorothy)

It was the wild 20s, afterall. (No, this isn’t Dorothy, but you knew that)


Episode 55: Dorothy Parker, Part One

Posted 8 August 2015 by
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She gave us fabulous quotes like, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses” and “Brevity is the soul of lingerie,” but Dorothy Parker’s life wasn’t all wit and snark. Behind those flip one liners there was a very complex woman who lead a full life far beyond the banter of the Algonquin Round Table.

Dorothy ParkerHow complex was she and how full was her life? It’s going to take two episodes, that’s how much. (It’s okay, we were a little surprised, too.)

It was a dark and stormy night (what? It was!) when Dorothy Rothschild was born in West End, New Jersey at her family’s summer house on August 22, 1893. Her father Henry had fallen in love and married the girl next door, Eliza, and the pair had three children before Dorothy came along. They lived fairly affluently in New York; life as a Rothschild (not those Rothschilds) was very comfortable. (more…)