Posts Tagged Women’s History

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 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 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 117: Harriet Tubman

Posted 6 January 2019 by
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Most grade school kids will tell you that Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave and conductor on the Underground Railroad which is a great start–but she was so much more! A nurse, a spy, a military leader, a public speaker, a humanitarian, a wife and mother who did everything in her power to keep her family together…and she did it all with a traumatic brain injury.

She was a hero in every sense of the word.


Episode 116: Barbie

Posted 15 December 2018 by
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We are Barbie Girls (not really) in a Barbie world (sure, why not?); life in plastic, it’s fantastic! So say the paraphrased lyrics of Aqua’s 1997 hit, Barbie Girl, but how did Barbie’s world get created and who is the mastermind behind it? (more…)

Episode 111: Clara Barton Revisited and Refreshed

Posted 1 September 2018 by
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To end the summer we thought we would revisit and remaster our 2011 episode about the life of Clara Barton. Her story touched both of us when we recorded it but she’s come to our minds a lot since then. The lessons from her life, including strength, perseverance, bravery and compassion are ones that we can all use in our lives at any time.


Episode 103: Ada Lovelace

Posted 17 March 2018 by
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Countess Ada Lovelace’s mind was extraordinary in the truest sense, truthfully there was very little that was ordinary about her. She was the only legitimate daughter of the poet, Lord Byron and his only wife, Annabella (the 11th Baroness Wentworth thankyouverymuch.) She never met her wild and wildly popular father, was raised by a mother who protected her from the fame-by-association that came with having that kind of parent, educated in a manner that most girls of the time never experienced and, eventually, used that education along with her logical and creative brain to write the world’s first computer program. (more…)

Episode 99: Pocahontas

Posted 23 December 2017 by
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The only image of her done in her lifetime and this was close to the end of it. Marketing materials of the Virginia Company

The story of Pocahontas is legendary: Native American Princess saves early English settler’s life, they fall in love, she thinks he dies so she moves in with the English, converts to Christianity and marries another Englishman only to learn her original love was still alive. Pocahontas. Captain John Smith. Ring any bells? But do the bells in that story ring true? At all?

Did she really save John Smith from being murdered? Photo: U.S. Capital building, Architect of the Capital

Pocahontas was a young Powhatan who was instrumental in the survival of the earliest English colonists and did live with them, but “princess”? Not exactly.

“Young woman?” How about little kid?

“Love with Captain John Smith?” Friendship, yes, love…not so much.

“Moves in with English?” Try imprisoned. “Pocahontas” wasn’t even always her name, she had several: Amonute, Matoake and Rebecca. “Pocahontas” was a nickname.

And that “colonist” thing? Let’s use “emigrant,” shall we? The English didn’t discover the land around the modern Chesapeake Bay on the eastern shores of the current United States, that land was already home to a very large nation of native American tribes all governed under the umbrella of the Powhatan Chiefdom and led by the Paramount Chief–the English stole it. Heck, they weren’t even the first Europeans to land in the area, the Spanish beat them by decades.

First English map of the area, by John Smith

Pocahontas was the daughter of that chief. When she was about 11, John Smith and friends landed in her backyard and never left. In this episode we give you all the sides to that story from her birth up, through her imprisonment by the English, marriage to John Rolfe, influence on the economic home-run that was Virginia tobacco…all the way until her early death at the age of 21 when she was on tour in England.




Oral history of the Mattaponi Reservation People, one of the tribes in the Powhatan Chiefdom




Paula Gunn Allen a more spiritual look at her life


YA by Gail Fay




If you feel you must (and go in knowing the real story)

1995 Disney “White men are dangerous.”


Straight to video (and best seen at fast forwarded speed)


2005, lovely to look at (the dressing in English clothing scene is probably pretty spot on) but…argh, why must there be a romance??


The diet of the early British settlers in the Powhatan territories was very limited…and ghastly. Smithsonian article about cannibalized girl, the Powhatan Chiefdom, and more about life in general for the Jamestown settlers.

Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia have a lot of of early American historical activity waiting for you (and don’t forget to #historychicksfieldtrip on Instagram):

Historic Jamestown

Jamestown settlement living history museum

Visit Williamsburg

You wouldn’t have to travel much farther to get to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington or New York City.

And you could travel and travel and travel but you wouldn’t be able to get to the National Women’s History Museum because, well, it doesn’t exist…yet. Read about the efforts and how you can play a part in helping to establish this very important museum in Washington, D.C. as well as some great articles about women that need to be remembered.  National Women’s History Museum


It’s a little cheesy, but kids might like this Virginia Department of Education video about the 11 currently recognized Virginia Indian tribes.


And, in closing, we leave you with the only good song from Disney’s Pocahontas…