Posts Tagged ‘women’

Happy Birthday, Amy Beach!

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Today, as you likely know, is the 150th birthday of Amy Beach.

Amy Beach. You know, the best-known, most-performed and most-respected American composer of the earliest 20th century.

You don’t know? Well don’t blame yourself. Blame history, changing tastes, and good old fashioned sexism.

We posted about Amy Beach here on the PhLog last summer and since then we’ve become more surprised and dismayed about how quickly her fame has evaporated. Beach’s work is decidedly Victorian, and as a musical conservative, she doesn’t stand out as an innovator. But her work still ranks among the best of her era. A prodigy and exceptional pianist as well as composer, Beach rose to the top of the Second New England School of composers, accepted as “one of the boys” due to her remarkable talent. In a time when a woman having a career outside of the home was frowned upon, Beach toured Europe, performing to adoring crowds. Her “Gaelic” symphony (1894) was the first symphony written and published by an American woman, composed before she was 30. As an American composer, Beach made a point to integrate Native American and African American songs into her work. Besides her symphonic work, Beach was known for her songs, chamber music, and work for piano.

But time hasn’t been kind to Amy Beach. It was always going to be an uphill battle to get major orchestras to program music by a woman, and after Beach’s death, performances dropped off.

But Beach is slowly becoming more recognized. The New York Times covered her birthday and perhaps there may be some more performances sometime soon? Are any music programmers out there listening?

So take a moment today and listen to some Amy Beach. You can find several selections at


Women Make Movies, c. 1896-1943

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

March is Women’s History month, and today we’re posting about three pioneers of cinema who you may not have heard of.

Not only was ALICE GUY-BLACHÉ (1873-1968) the first woman to make movies, but in 1896, at the age of 23, she directed the world’s first narrative movie.

In an era of “firsts,” she has a claim to many – first female director, first female film writer, the first director ever to film on location. She was also an early innovator of the close-up shot and experimented with visual effects and sound.

Guy-Blaché opened her own film studio in 1910, where she made more than 700 films. Later in life, when film historians chose to ignore her contributions to cinema and those made by other women pioneers, Guy-Blaché set the record straight on speaking tours and in her autobiography.

Increasingly cinema historians have recognized the importance of Guy-Blaché and her work. For example, the Whitney Museum of Art held a retrospective of her surviving films in 2009, and the Directors’ Guild of America honored her with a lifetime achievement award in 2011.

LOIS WEBER (1881-1939) was the first American woman to direct a feature film (Alice Guy-Blaché was French) and, in a rare feat for early Hollywood, she was a true auteur, writing and directing her own work.

Weber directed with her husband (they were billed as “The Smalleys”) before she launched her solo career.

Weber became a successful director at Universal Studios – in fact, in 1916 she was their highest paid director, man or woman – and used her position to tackle controversial social issues such as birth control and the death penalty, in the hope of bringing about political change. Keep in mind she was doing this at a time laws in the United States denied women their right to vote. (Of course, once women were no longer prevented from voting in California, Weber was appointed mayor of Universal City.)

Weber’s career was on a par with other powerful directors such as D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, but once movie-making became big business, women directors were shunted aside and their up-and-coming sisters felt the brunt of a shiny new glass ceiling.

Weber’s star waned over time. While Griffith’s and DeMille’s work enjoyed retrospectives and revivals, academics and film historians were more reluctant to recognize cinema’s formidable females.

Fortunately, Weber’s work has been rediscovered and restored… though slowly.
(Just in time to depress us with the fact that the social issues she was engaged with 100 years ago haven’t changed.)

DOROTHY ARZNER (1897-1979) was the only woman director working in the “Golden Age” of the Hollywood studio system, and the first woman to join the Directors’ Guild of America.

Dorothy Arzner learned movie-making from the ground up. She broke into film as a stenographer, worked as a scriptwriter and “script girl” (a/k/a script supervisor), then became an accomplished film cutter – in fact, the first editor to appear in the onscreen credits. She had to threaten Paramount Pictures that she would take a job offer at another studio before she was allowed to direct (even though she’d already directed “second unit” shots in a big-deal Rudolph Valentino movie… which she also edited).

Luckily, her first movie was a hit!

Unlike many of her freaked-out colleagues, Arzner moved effortlessly from the silent film era to sound; in fact, while directing her first talkie, she invented the boom microphone.

In the span of her career, Arzner directed dozens of movies, as well as WWII Army training films, TV commercials (remember television?) and documentaries. She went on to teach aspiring young filmmakers at UCLA, and her student Francis Ford Coppola credits her as his mentor.

Want to find out more about the women who created the art form known as film? The incredible Women Film Pioneers Project documents the work of more women cinema pioneers than you knew existed – anyway, more than get credit.

Women in Art – Not Just Nudes!

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

March is Women’s History Month, and today we’re posting a little about the history of women in art.

History has preserved the names and work of countless male artists, but it hasn’t been as loyal to women artists.

Of course, women have been making art from the beginning. It’s now believed that it was mainly women who were the cave artists in prehistory.

Although art history chose to highlight a few (mostly male) artists and to “forget” the work of others, countless women (and men) made art at every stage along the way.

Western classical history tends not to list many artists by name, but along with the few men, Pliny the Elder mentions painters Helena of Egypt (4th c BCE), Iaia (1st c BCE), Irene (1st c CE), Aristarete (1st c CE), and Timatete (5th c BCE).

In addition to medieval era monks, nuns were scribes and artists, producing liturgical books as well as beautiful illuminated manuscripts – sometimes collaborating with male scribes.

Hildegard of Bingen, Universal Man, c. 1163-1173

Embroidery was an art dominated by women, in fact, it is almost certain that most famous piece of embroidery, The Bayeux Tapestry, was the work of English seamstresses.

Ever see a self-portrait of an artist at an easel? This tradition began when Caterina van Hemessen painted her self-portrait as an on-the-job action shot in 1548.

Caterina van Hemessen, Self-portrait, 1548

Women worked as professional artists throughout the Renaissance, and Queen Elizabeth I employed the painter Levina Teerlinc at her court.

Portrait of Elizabeth I by Levina Terrlinc, c. 1565

Though it became more difficult in later eras for women to paint professionally – and to attain stature as artists – they continued to create and to influence art. Artemisia Gentileschi, for example, continued the legacy of Caravaggio.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and her Maidservant (1613–14)

Angelika Kauffmann (full disclosure: one of this author’s favorite artists), was a neoclassical painter and one of only two female founding members of the Royal Academy of London. She was also friends with Goethe, who said she worked harder and accomplished more than any artist he knew.

Angelika Kauffmann, Self-portrait, 1770-75

Today, let’s remember that women have been at the forefront of the arts, even though history – and the people who write it – have withheld the credit and recognition that is their due.

Women Authors of the Heian Period

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

March is Women’s History Month, and today we’re going to revel in the writing of Japanese women from the Heian period.

Women have been writers as long as writing has existed, but their work often has been lost or neglected. However, while the literary professions were generally dominated by men, it was women who were the driving force behind the Golden Age of Japanese literature, and their work has come down to us through the centuries.

The Heian period (794-1185) is known for its memoirs, autobiographical narratives, and love poems. The masters of Heian literature were women of the Imperial Court and members of the aristocracy who offer intimate glimpses into the lives of the powerful and the passionate.

The writer known to us as the “Mother of Michitsuna” wrote the Kagerō Diary, the first of the long tradition of diary texts written by women.

Lady Murasaki (the pseudonym of Murasaki Shikibu) wrote The Tale of Genji, often referred to as the first novel. It is remarkable for its philosophical insight into the world of the Japanese court.

Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book fascinated her readers with its behind-the-scenes account of court life. It is noteworthy for its gossipy observations and its exhaustive, eclectic lists.

Izumi Shikibu was one of the greatest Japanese poets, and one of only five women included Fujiwara no Kintō’s anthology, Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry. Her love poetry was so passionate, rumors flew about her robust love life, some of which were true.

Akazome Emon, a contemporary of all three writers above, was a poet and historian much admired by Murasaki Shikibu.

There are several theories about why were women so prominent in Heian literature. In this era of great respect for literature and the arts, families who educated their daughters were more likely to marry them off to men with access to power. While educated men wrote in Classical Chinese, their counterparts were free to write in their own language – the Japanese vernacular that was becoming more and more popular.

Professor Lynne Miyake goes into more detail in this interesting interview.

So let’s remember these remarkable women, whose own talents and industry fitted them for a place and time that recognized their merits and gave beauty and brilliance to their own time and ours.

Why is that so hard again?

Some Women of Early Modern Philosophy

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

March is Women’s History Month, so let’s go back in history and give it up for all the women in philosophy… if you can find them.

There are fewer places where women’s voices have been more conspicuously silent than in Western Philosophy. It’s chiefly male philosophers we remember and study when it comes to the ancient, early modern, Enlightenment, and Romantic eras. Here or there a woman might be recognized, but unlike other cultural movements to credit women’s work (for instance, in STEM and the arts), the result is that we just don’t hear much about women’s legacies in philosophy.

This has begun to change.

We are big fans of Duke University’s Project Vox. On their website you’ll find texts, syllabi, and other teaching resources about these women whose contributions to the development of modern philosophy demand that their work be welcomed to the canon.

Meet a few of these lesser-known, lost, and neglected early modern philosophers:

Margaret Cavendish

This 17th century English aristocrat was a poet, playwright, and fiction-writer who proudly published under her own name (quite rare for women of that period). She was also a natural philosopher of the materialist bent, hobnobbing and corresponding with respected and influential thinkers – Descartes, Hobbes, and Henry More, Platonist and foremost authority on philosophy in Britain. Although Cavendish was not included in the era’s intellectual pantheon, More took her seriously enough to disagree with her in print.

Cavendish was the first woman to be invited to attend a meeting of the Royal Society of London, though “Mad Madge” was not overly impressed with the company. And owing to the willful dimness of that august body (that excluded women for nearly 300 years), women’s cultural contributions continued to be hidden and dismissed, even as disingenuous gatekeepers demanded: “Where are all the women?”

Anne Conway

A contemporary of Margaret Cavendish, Lady Anne Conway began a correspondence with Henry More that developed into a tutorship and became a conversation among equals. More claimed he had “scarce ever met with any Person, Man or Woman, of better Natural parts than Lady Conway.”

Influenced by the Cambridge Platonists, Conway developed the idea of the monad that Leibniz drew upon, acknowledging her work in correspondence. Conway’s work was translated into Latin and known to the prominent philosophers of her day; however, she (and most women of her time) published anonymously, which helped her to slide into obscurity. In fact, Conway’s The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy was attributed to another philosopher who had merely translated it!

Émilie du Châtelet

This Parisian noblewoman was a translator, author, mathematician, and scientist, as well as a philosopher. Her legacy includes her powerful influence on the thought and writings of Voltaire, with whom she lived and had a 15-year romantic relationship.

Châtelet’s 1749 translation (with commentary) of Newton’s “Principia” remains the standard French translation, and because of her work as a translator and commentator, until recently her contributions to Diderot’s “Encyclopédie” were uncredited, misappropriated, or attributed to others.

Damaris Masham

The daughter of a Cambridge Platonist, Lady Masham was a close friend and philosophical sparring partner of John Locke. They were so close that her two anonymously-published books were sometimes attributed to Locke.

Masham also corresponded with Leibniz, and advocated for access to higher education for women.


We can learn many things from these formidable intellectual women of the past. Societal approval be damned. Take credit for your work before someone else does.


Summer Beaches: Beach Music

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

It’s Summertime! What better time of year to celebrate famous Beaches?

This week we remember Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (1867-1944).


Amy Beach was the most-performed American composer of her generation – no mean feat when there were no professional female American composers of large-scale classical music before her.

Beach’s parents did everything they could to prevent her embarking on a career, but she was unstoppable! Amy Beach started out a child prodigy pianist and became a prodigy composer – the youngest member of the “Boston Six” (aka the Second New England School).

Her performing career ended at age 18 when she married Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, a doctor 24 years her senior. As part of her marriage vows, Amy Beach agreed to live as a society matron. That meant she wasn’t allowed to teach piano, and she agreed to stop performing. So she decided to focus on composing.

Amy Beach’s husband didn’t approve of her studying with a teacher, so she taught herself to compose. When her husband died in 1910, Beach returned to performing, and became a critical hit in Europe, both as a performer and a composer. One German critic even hailed the “European quality of excellence” of her compositions.

Upon her triumphant return to America, Beach returned to teaching, and offered advice and support to young composers, especially to young women.

Beach’s work has fallen into neglect since her death, but her influence was profound in her lifetime. Her Mass in E-flat major made her “one of the boys” (in the somewhat tone-deaf words of composer George Whitefield Chadwick) as it moved Beach firmly from the world of female singers and performers into the male-dominated world of established composers. Beach was the first American woman to write and publish a symphony – the “Gaelic” Symphony, which drew on old Irish folk tunes – and her “Panama Hymn” was commissioned by the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition as the musical selection to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal.

Beach wrote more than 300 works, most of which were performed and published during her lifetime. Her songs in particular were quite popular.

Amy Beach’s legacy lives on today in this Spotify playlist. And you can listen to the Gaelic Symphony below.

Great Women of Antiquity: Artemisia of Halicarnassus

Friday, June 21st, 2013

This month we’re posting about some great women of antiquity.

Today’s post is about Artemisia of Halicarnassus (aka Artemisia I of Caria; c. 480 BCE).


Artemisia of Halicarnassus was the queen of the province of Caria during the days of the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire.

On top of this, she was a brilliant military commander who fought with Xerxes against the Greeks. Artemisia counseled Xerxes to coordinate a joint land-sea offensive, but he refused and instead decided to attack the Greek fleet in what would become the Battle of Salamis.

Artemisia commanded five ships in the battle and used her skill and intelligence to evade capture, but the battle proved to be a disaster for Xerxes. Artemisia advised Xerxes to retreat. He listened to her this time.

Herodotus praised Artemisia’s decisiveness and intelligence, and attributed her with the virtue of courage, the only woman so honored in his writings.

Great Women of Antiquity: Sappho

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

This month we’re posting about some great women of antiquity.

Today’s post is about Sappho (c. 610– 570 BCE).


Sappho was one of the great ancient Greek lyricists.

Being a lyricist meant that Sappho wrote pieces to be accompanied with a lyre. She was an innovator in both content and style and was one of the first poets to write from the first person perspective, rather than from the vantage point of the gods. She wrote love poetry, much of which was directed towards women. Sappho has therefore become a lesbian icon. It doesn’t hurt that she came from the island of Lesbos, which is where the term “lesbian” comes from.

Most of the facts about Sappho’s life are lost to history. By the Middle Ages almost all of her poetry was lost. We only have one complete poem (the Hymn to Aphrodite), and various fragments from three others, one of which is a recent discovery.

Sappho was widely celebrated in her own time. Plato elevated her from great poet to muse. Solon of Athens asked to be taught one of her songs “because I want to learn it and die.” She is one of the nine lyric poets esteemed by the ancient Greeks as worthy of study.

Sappho’s work survived through the Roman era. It has often been supposed that when times and social mores changed, her poems were deliberately destroyed by the Christians. However, most of the work of the other nine lyric poets has also been lost, so it is likely that it may just have fallen out of fashion and not have been preserved well enough to make it to the modern day. In any case, her reputation and influence has survived, even if most of her work has not.

Great Women of Antiquity: Merit Ptah

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

This month we’re posting about some great women of antiquity.

Today’s post is about Merit Ptah (c. 2700 BCE).


Merit Ptah is the first woman scientist and physician on record. Her picture can be seen on a tomb near the step pyramid of Djoser. That’s pretty much all that is known about her. But considering how many millions of ancient Egyptians there are whose names and likenesses have been lost to history, that’s actually quite an achievement.

The International Astronomical Union named an impact crater on Venus after her.


Great Women of Antiquity: Mary the Jewess

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

This month we’re posting about some great women of antiquity.

Today’s post is about Mary the Jewess, who lived somewhere between the first and third centuries CE.


Many of the women we’re posting about this month were “the first woman who did this” or “the first woman who became a whatever.” We love Mary the Jewess because she was a first – period.

Mary the Jewess is the first known alchemist. She invented the tribokos (a three-armed pot used to purify substances through distillation – still used today), the kerotakis (an air-tight device used to heat substances and collect the vapors), and the water-bath, which was named bain-marie in her honor (it’s a kind of double boiler).

Mary was highly respected in the ancient world. She was called the “Daughter of Plato” and “Mary the Prophetess.”

Mary the Jewess’ influence extends to the modern world. Besides originating several practices still used in chemistry, she was an inspiration to Carl Jung. Jung used her axiom “join the male and the female, and you will find what is sought,” as a metaphor for the union of opposites, and her quote “one becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth,” to describe the process of wholeness and individuation.