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These American pre Civil War clothes for women were designed in such a way that a woman’s waist, constricted by a whalebone corset, was responsible for supporting the weight of as many as 15 pounds of 6-8 starched petticoats stiffened with straw or horsehair sewn into the hems and voluminous skirts. Dress reform was a significant focus of concern among early women’s rights activists and for good reason. A “wasp waist,” created by tight lacing of the corset, restricted deep breathing, worsening pneumonia and tuberculosis, diseases that afflicted huge swaths of the population in a pre antibiotic age and resulting in premature death. Women’s back and pectoral muscles grew dependent upon the support of the corset and atrophied. Skirts dragged the ground, collecting filth. Women—styling their hair, changing clothes throughout the day for different events, keeping up with the latest trends from Paris and Germany, sitting for dress-fittings—spent an inordinate amount of time keeping up appearances in heavy clothes that allowed neither free movement, decent digestion, nor comfort. 1858

Amelia Bloomer

In early 1851, Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-1894), the first American woman to own and operate a newspaper (The Lily)took up the idea of wearing a short skirt and loose trousers gathered around the ankles. It was a notion popularized by her friend, Elizabeth “Libby” Smith Miller, who felt that long dresses were “heavy and exasperating.” Amelia made this fashion switch when Libby came to Seneca Falls, New York to visit her cousin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was Bloomer’s neighbor.

All three women used their voices to enact social change, particularly in the areas of women’s rights to better education, better pay, wider fields of employment, the right to vote, and dress reform. Soon these pioneer feminists were appearing on the village streets wearing their sensible and comfortable short skirts and full Turkish trousers.

Elizabeth Smith Miller (1822–1911), photographed wearing her bloomer outfit, 1851. Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (011.00.00)

Amelia Bloomer announced to her readers in The Lily that she had adopted this new dress. In response to many inquiries, she printed a description of her dress and instructions on how to make it. Bloomer recalls the response:

At the outset, I had no idea of fully adopting the style; no thought of setting a fashion; no thought that my action would create an excitement throughout the civilized world, and give to the style my name and the credit due Mrs. Miller. This was all the work of the press. I stood amazed at the furor I had unwittingly caused. The New York Tribune contained the first notice I saw of my action. Other papers caught it up and handed it about.

My exchanges all had something to say. Some praised and some blamed, some commented, and some ridiculed and condemned. “Bloomerism,” “Bloomerites,” and “Bloomers” were the heading of many an article, item, and squib; and finally someone—I don’t know to whom I am indebted for the honor—wrote the “Bloomer Costume,” and the name has continued to cling to the short dress in spite of my repeatedly disclaiming all right to it and giving Mrs. Miller’s name as that of the originator or the first to wear such dress in public. Had she not come to us in that style, it is not probable that either Mrs. Stanton or myself would have donned it.  2

Currier & Ives, The Bloomer Costume

During the summer of 1851, the nation was seized by a “bloomer craze.” Women from Laramie, Wyoming to London, England, embraced the freedom of the new outfit and rejoiced. A million versions of the blouse, skirt, and pants combo emerged. Managers of the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, gave a banquet for any of their female workers who adopted the safer dress before July 4.  In Toledo, Ohio, sixty women turned out in Turkish costume at one of the city’s grandest social events. Bloomer balls and bloomer picnics were held; dress reform societies and bloomer institutes were formed. The craze inspired music to be composed.

The Bloomer outfit became a symbol of women’s emancipation. Thousands of women were soon wearing the reform dress.

But then the tide turned. Controversy erupted. There were laws in some American cities that made it illegal for a person to dress in the clothes of the opposite sex. At the time, pants were considered the domain of the American male, which was also the right to vote. Backlash from men ensued. The movement for a sharing of pants was viewed, in some quarters, as a threat to male power. 3

The same newspapers that had once celebrated the trend as tasteful and elegant were, by August of 1851, scorning it. Public meetings were called to denounce the fad. Some young women were turned away from church membership for wearing the dress. The satirical London magazine Punch lampooned the Bloomers.

The term “Bloomerism” came to be associated not just with wearing trousers but also with other supposedly deviant and negative (for women) behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, gambling, serving in the military, and abandoning husbands and children. Punch cartoon, 1851, artist, John Leech

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Elizabeth Cady Stanton with daughter, Harriot, 1856-57

Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton had felt at first “as joyous and free as some poor captive who has just cast off his ball and chain” when adopting the Bloomer costume, her young sons didn’t want to be seen with her. Her father banned the Bloomer costume from his house. Her older sister cried and her brother-in-law, a senator, said that “some good Democrats said they would not vote for a man whose wife wore the Bloomers.” After two years, Stanton gave up the Bloomers.  “Had I counted the cost of the short dress,” Stanton told cousin Libby Miller, “I would never have put it on.” 4

 

Although Amelia Bloomer “had found the dress comfortable, light, easy, and convenient, and well adapted to the needs of my busy life,” after wearing it six to eight years, she, too, laid it aside and returned to long skirts. Bloomer wrote:

We all [women’s right activists] felt that the dress was drawing attention from what we thought of far greater importance—the question of woman’s right to better education, to a wider field of employment, to better remuneration for her labor, and to the ballot for the protection of her rights. In the minds of some people, the short dress and woman’s rights were inseparably connected. With us, the dress was but an incident, and we were not willing to sacrifice greater questions to it. 5

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Alexander Calder’s “Josephine Baker IV”. Calder Foundation

Josephine Baker was already the toast of Paris when American artist Alexander Calder arrived there in early 1926. Her show, “La Revue Negre,” which opened at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees on Oct. 2, 1925, was an instant hit. The finale of the evening was a “Charleston Cabaret,” whose featured number became known as “La Danse de Sauvage”:

A big, good-looking performer named Joe Alex, wearing next to nothing, paced onto the stage with a woman slung over his back: the 5-foot-8, coffee-colored Josephine, built like a Modigliani Venus. The handful of feathers she wore did not impede anyone’s appreciation of her nudity. She slid down her partner’s legs and proceeded to offer up to him every soft spot of her body, in musical time. In fact, she seemed to create musical time, her movement setting the pulse, with the orchestra going along for the ride. There wasn’t a dance step in sight, but “La Danse de Sauvage” created one of the great dance effects of the 20th century.

On Oct. 3, Josephine Baker woke up to find herself the American in Paris, her rear end the subject of odes, her thighs the subject of universal speculation. 1 

Josephine was 19.

Calder was entranced by Josephine.

Back in America, “Sandy” Calder had been a newspaper illustrator and a painter, but, in moving to Paris, he had abandoned all that and was newly dedicating himself to his love of wire sculpture. “I think best in wire,” he said. With his bare hands, a spool of wire, and a pair of pliers, Calder proceeded to twist, pinch, coil, and bend lengths of wire to capture Baker’s sensuous body and springy movements. Between 1926 and 1930, he created five of these roughly three-to-four feet tall “drawings in space” of the exotic Josephine Baker:

The swaying line of her arms and torso, the spiral breasts and the legs crossed in a dance movement came to life when the artist suspended the figures from a string. 2

Calder with “Josephine Baker IV” at filming of British Pathé newsreel,1929

American writer Ernest Hemingway said that French-American performer Josephine Baker was “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” photo: Josephine Baker, France, ca. 1920s, Atelier Sautier

For more on Josephine Baker, click here

For more on Alexander Calder, click here. 

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Alexander “Sandy” Calder (1898-1976), American sculptor most renowned for his invention of the mobile, wrote the Kellogg Company in 1923 with a suggestion for improving their cereal packaging. At the time, they were putting the wax paper on the outside of the boxes. Calder recommended putting the wax paper on the inside. Kellogg adopted Calder’s idea, sending him a note of thanks along with a box of Corn Flakes.

“Boomerangs,” by Alexander Calder, 1941. Made of sheet metal, wire, and paint, this massive, hanging mobile measures 45″ x 117″, approximately 3.5 x 10 ft. Calder Foundation, New York.

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Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England, during her visit to HMS Ocean in Devonport to preside over a ceremony to rededicate the ship. March 2015 (courtesy wikipedia)

Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926) is the only person in Britain who can drive without a license or number plate on her state car.

According to British law, the Queen does not need a driving license because driving licenses are issued in her name. She is the Sovereign.

The 92-year-old has been driving since she was 19. She was then titled Princess Elizabeth. She had not yet been crowned (that happens in 1953 at age 27), and the BBC reports that she did indeed, in 1945, have a driving license. She learned to drive at a training center at the wartime Auxiliary Territorial Service. Known as Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor, she trained in London as a mechanic and military truck and ambulance driver. She is the only female member of the royal family to have entered the armed forces and is the only living head of state who served in World War II.

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Taken at the Mechanical Transport Training Section, Camberley, Surrey, Princess Elizabeth in overalls changes a tire on a military Tilly truck. March 1945

She likes to drive.

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The Queen attends a polo match at Windsor, UK, 4th August 1958. Getty Images

Nowadays, she primarily drives around her Balmoral, Sandringham, and Windsor estates rather than on the streets of London, where she is definitely chauffered, as is the protocol. Her passion for driving is well-documented in photos of her behind the wheel.

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In 1998, Queen Elizabeth had a great “Gotcha” moment. Prince Abdullah  — then the crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia — was visiting Balmoral, the Queen’s estate in Scotland.

After lunch, the Queen had asked her royal guest whether he would like a tour of the estate. Abdullah agreed. The royal Land Rovers were pulled up in front of the castle. The Crown Prince climbed into the front seat of the front Land Rover. His interpreter sat in the seat behind.

To Abdullah’s surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition, and drove off.  Women, at the time, were not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen. Evidently, the Queen drove like the wind, navigating the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the while, and accelerating. Abdullah was terrified. He begged the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.

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Prince Philip, pictured in 2006, took up carriage driving in 1971 after retiring from playing polo

In 1971, Prince Philip of England gave up polo. He was fifty years old. Not one to sit still, he cast about trying to come up with some other exciting activity that best befit his physical abilities. In a 2017 interview, Philip said,

I was looking round to see what next, I didn’t know what there was available. And I suddenly thought, well, we’ve got horses and carriages so why don’t I have a go. So I borrowed four horses from the stables in London, took them to Norfolk and practiced and thought – why not?

The Duke was instrumental in establishing carriage driving as a sport. He gathered a committee of equestrian experts to come up with a set of international rules for the fledgling sport. It involves dressage, time trials, and a challenging obstacle course. The sport involves either two or four-wheeled carriages pulled by a single horse, a tandem or four-in-hand team.

Philip took up the reins, competing on the British team at World and European Championships, touring many countries including Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands. “It was very entertaining,” volunteered Philip.

What did Philip enjoy most about this thirty years of carriage racing?

They were all fun. I mean – it so happened, I don’t know why – but I always did rather well at dressage.* I didn’t manage the obstacles very well.

Interviewed at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, he shared that his favorite moment in carriage racing was, “Turning over here [Windsor] in the water.” Most of the carriages he raced were antiques and, in the rough and tumble of the sport, were regularly smashed up.

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Prince Philip drives the Queen’s Team of part-bred Cleveland Bays at Home Park Windsor in 1974

*Dressage is “the highest expression of horse training” where “horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements.”

Source: The Daily Mail

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pp2-750x499On January 17, Prince Philip of England, aka the Duke of Edinburgh, was involved in a two-car collision near the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. Although he was accompanied by a female driver, Prince Philip was behind the wheel and bears the responsibility for the accident. Philip, 97, driving a black Land Rover, pulled onto the busy A149 and was T-boned by a black Kia carrying two women and a baby. The Land Rover rolled onto its side and Philip was pulled to safety through the 4 x 4’s sunroof as it lay on is side. He was shaken but conscious and unhurt. Two people in the Kia were treated for minor injuries. One witness said the Kia was smoking and looked as if it might explode. Philip explained that he was dazzled by the winter sun and, apparently, did not see the oncoming Kia.

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For photos and more, see The Daily Mail.

 

 

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Prince Philip, 97, takes a carriage ride through the grounds of Windsor Castle. ca. October 20, 2018

As I mentioned in my blog post, “Prince Philip’s Mum had a Habit,” Prince Philip of the United Kingdom, known as the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince Consort of Queen Elizabeth II, was born in 1921 on a kitchen table in Corfu, Greece, in a house that had no electricity or running water. But Philip was not of peasant stock. He was Prince Philip of Greece, born into a royal family with ties to German, British, Dutch, Russian, and Danish royal houses. Oddly enough, however, neither Philip’s parents nor his four beautiful sisters had a drop of Greek blood in them. Yet they were a branch of the Greek Royal Family.

Prince Philip’s mother was Princess Alice of Battenberg. Alice’s great grandmother, Queen Victoria of England, had been present at her birth in the Tapestry Room at Windsor Castle in England. Philip’s father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, had been born in Athens, Greece. The two married in 1903 in Germany, the native country of Princess Alice’s parents.

Princess Alice of Battenberg and Prince Andrew of Greece, ca. their wedding 1903

Head spinning yet? There’s a reason Queen Victoria of England is called “the grandmother of Europe.” Her descendants fanned across the continent. She and other royal matriarchs and patriarchs were quite the matchmakers, shoring up old alliances and creating new ones, through arranged royal marriages. This proved to be a problem both health wise (hemophilia) and when European countries found themselves warring with one another, especially during both World War I and II, pitting blood relatives against one another in deadly warfare, a confusion of loyalties.

But I digress. My goal today is to shed some light on Princess Alice (1885-1969) and her struggle with mental illness. Alice was born with a large disadvantage in life: she was deaf. She learned to lip read and speak English and German. She studied French and, after her engagement to Prince Andrew, began to learn Greek.

Her husband, Prince Andrew (1882-1944), a military man, was a polyglot. His caretakers taught him English as he grew up, but he insisted upon speaking only Greek with his parents. He also spoke Danish (his father was originally a Danish prince), French, German, and Russian (his mother was Russian—a Romanov). Alice had spent her early years between her family homes in England and Germany whereas Andrew’s roots were in Denmark and Russia. She was Lutheran, although others say she was Anglican. He was Greek Orthodox.

Andrew—known to his friends and family as “Andrea”—had hoped that he and his new bride Alice could settle down permanently in Greece. From the beginning of their marriage, though, Prince Andrew and his family’s safety within Greece waxed and waned. The Greek political situation was always unstable. Prince Andrew fell in and out of favor with the reigning political parties. One moment he was forced to resign his army post and then, in 1912 during the Balkan Wars, he was reinstated. It was during the Balkan Wars that Princess Alice—sometimes referred to as “Princess Andrew”—acted as a nurse, assisting at operations and setting up field hospitals, work for which King George V of Great Britain awarded her the Royal Red Cross in 1913.

Writing to her mother, Victoria, Marchioness of Milford Haven, on November 2, 1912, Alice recalled a scene at a field hospital following the arrival of wounded soldiers from a victorious battle by the Greeks at Kailar:

Our last afternoon at Kozani was spent in assisting at the amputation of a leg. I had to give chloroform at a certain moment and prevent the patient from biting his tongue and also to hand cotton wool, basins, etc. Once I got over my feeling of disgust, it was very interesting….[A]fter all was over, the leg was forgotten on the floor and I suddenly saw it there afterwards and pointed it out to Mademoiselle Agyropoulo, saying that somebody ought to take it away. She promptly picked it up herself wrapped it up in some stuff, put it under her arm and marched out of the hospital to find a place to bury it in. But she never noticed that she left the bloody end uncovered, and as she is as deaf as I, although I shouted after her, she went on unconcerned, and everybody she passed nearly retched with disgust—and, of course, I ended by laughing, when the comic part of the thing struck me.”

The next day, Alice’s mother’s lady-in-waiting, Nona Kerr, arrived in Greece. She went to see Alice. Nona then wrote a letter to Alice’s mother, telling her how Alice seemed. Nona wrote to Victoria that it “would make you proud to hear the way everyone speaks of Princess Alice. Sophie Baltazzi, Doctor Sava, everyone. She has done wonders.” She also noted that Alice was “very thin…At present she simply can’t stop doing things. Prince Andrew wants to send her back to Athens to the babies [Alice and Andrew had three daughters by then: Margarita (b. 1905), Theodora (b. 1906), Cécile (b. 1911)] soon, but I don’t think he will succeed just yet….” Alice was suffering from mania, probably triggered by sleep deprivation, hunger, cold, exposure, and PTSD.

During the war, Andrew’s father was assassinated and he inherited a villa on the island of Corfu, Mon Repos. The family moved there.

In June of 1914, Alice gave birth to a fourth daughter, Sophie.

Margarita, Theodora, Cecilie and Baby Sophie in 1914

One month later, World War I broke out across Europe. Andrew’s brother, King Constantine of Greece, declared the neutrality of his country. However, the Greek ruling party sided with the Allies. During the war, Prince Andrew, unwisely, made several visits to Great Britain, one of the Allied countries. Rumors circulated in the British House of Commons that Andrew was a German spy. This stirred up suspicions in Greece. Was Prince Andrew indeed a spy for the Central Powers?

Prince Andrew and Princess Alice of Greece, 1916. Note Prince Andrew’s right eye monocle.

By 1917, the whole Greek royal family was forced to flee Greece, as they were suspected of consorting with the enemy. Most of the Greek royals, including Alice and Andrew and their family, took refuge in Lucerne, Switzerland. At the end of the war, in July of 1918, Alice’s two maternal aunts, Tsarina Alexandra (Alix) and the Grand Duchess Elizabeta Feodorovna (Ella), were killed by the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution.

So much suffering and tragedy, living in constant fear, doomed to exist in a world devoid of sound, living here, traveling there, led Alice to seek comfort in mystic religion. Together with her brother-in-law Christo, they performed automatic writing, a precursor to the use of a ouija board to receive supernatural messages from the spirit world. Alice was superstitious. She was often seen dealing herself cards and getting messages from this, especially when she had important decisions to make. She continued to read books on the occult.

After three years in Swiss exile, the political situation in Greece became more favorable to the Royals. In 1920, the Greek Royal family was invited to return home. Prince Andrew and Princess Alice happily re-established themselves and their family in their peaceful villa, Mon Repos. But the country was still in turmoil. Greece was embroiled in another regional military conflict, The Greco-Turkish War, AKA The Asia Minor Campaign. Prince Andrew was put in command of The II Army Corps.

All of this instability had transpired before their son Prince Philip was born on June 10, 1921, at Mon Repos. Prince Andrew was not present for his first son’s birth as he was on the battlefield.

Princess Alice of Greece holds newborn Prince Philip of Greece. June/July 1921

 

Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark holds his fifth child and only son, Prince Philip of Greece, born June 10, 1921.

Fast forward a year or so. The October 27, 1922 headlines in the New York Times read:

SEIZE PRINCE ANDREW FOR GREEK DEBACLE

Constantine’s Brother to Be Interned at Athens

New Tribunal Arrests Four Others

The Greek defeat in Asia Minor in August 1922 had led to the September 11, 1922 Revolution, during which Prince Andrew was arrested, court-martialed, and found guilty of “disobeying an order” and “acting on his own initiative” during the battle the previous year. Many defendants in the treason trials that followed the coup were shot by firing squad and their bodies dumped in holes on the plains at Goudi, below Mount Hymettus. British diplomats assumed that Andrew was also in mortal danger. They called upon King George V of England to act. However, King George V refused to risk inflaming the situation further, causing an international incident, by allowing Andrew to settle in London. In December of 1922, he sent the British cruiser, HMS Calypso, to ferry Andrew’s family to France. Andrew, though spared the death sentence, was banished from Greece for life. Eighteen month-old Philip was transported in an improvised cot made from an orange crate. The family settled at Saint-Cloud on the outskirts of Paris, in a small house loaned to them by Andrew’s generous sister-in-law, Princess Marie Bonaparte, AKA Princess George of Greece. Andrew and his family were stripped of their Greek nationality, and traveled under Danish passports.

Princesses Sophie, Cecilie, Theodora, and Margarita of Greece, sisters of Prince Philip of Greece. ca. 1922

Alice and Andrew celebrated their silver wedding anniversary on October 8, 1928. Each member of the family had made it a point to be at Saint Cloud that beautiful autumn day so they could commemorate the special event with a group photograph in the garden.

Prince Philip poses with his family for a photograph to mark his parents’ silver wedding anniversary in October of 1928. A young Philip stands to the right of his mother, Princess Alice, and father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark. From left to right are Philip’s sisters, all Princesses of Greece & Denmark: Margarita, Theodora, Sophie, and Cecilie.

Five years into exile, the family of six often found themselves more apart than together, traveling a lot, scattered across the European continent, staying with relatives, enjoying the London social season, on holiday, or attending a royal funeral or wedding. It was an idle life which had no real purpose.

Two weeks after the anniversary, Alice privately gave up her Protestant faith and became a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. By May of 1929, she had become “intensely mystical,” and would lie on the floor so that she could receive divine messages. She told others that she could heal with her hands. She said she could stop her thoughts like a Buddhist. Her husband stayed away that summer and would not return until September. Alice wrote her mother that soon she would have a message to tell the world. She told Andrew’s cousin that she, Alice, was a saint. She carried sacred objects around the house with her in order to banish evil influences. She proclaimed she was the “bride of Christ.”

Andrew and Alice’s mother Victoria summoned Alice’s gynecologist who diagnosed her psychosis. Her sister-in-law the French Princess Marie Bonaparte, a great friend of the famous psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud, arranged for Alice to see one of Freud’s former co-workers, the psychoanalyst Dr. Ernst Simmel, just outside Berlin. Dr. Louros accompanied Alice in her journey and she was admitted to Simmel’s clinic. Dr. Simmel diagnosed Alice as “paranoid schizophrenic” and said she was suffering from a “neurotic-prepsychotic libidinous condition” and consulted Freud about it. Freud advised “an exposure of the gonads [ovaries] to X-rays, in order to accelerate the menopause,” presumably to calm her down. Was Alice consulted about this? Probably not. The treatment was carried out.

Alice did not improve. On May 2, 1930, she was involuntarily committed at the Bellevue private psychiatric clinic at Kleuzlingen in Switzerland. This event marked the end of their once-close family life. Though they did not divorce, Alice and Andrea’s marriage was effectively finished. Andrew closed the family home at Saint-Cloud and disappeared, moving to the South of France, where he frittered away his life drinking, gambling, and womanizing. The girls were ages 16, 19, 24, and 29, and would all be married by 1932, so they were less affected by the fallout of their mother’s breakdown and their father’s abdication of his family role. Unfortunately, two of the girls ended up marrying German Nazis. Philip, though, was only nine years old when his mother was institutionalized and his father abandoned him. Philip would have little contact with his mother for the rest of his childhood which was spent living with his mother’s relatives in England and in attending boarding schools in England, Germany, and Scotland.

Prince Philip of Greece, 1930 (AP)

Footnote: Philip’s aunt, Princess Marie Bonaparte, who had arranged for Princess Alice to be treated by Freud and his colleague, was very wealthy and influential. Her mother had owned the casino in Monte Carlo and Princess Marie had inherited this money. As you will remember, Marie had very generously provided Alice and Andrea with their house at Saint Cloud.  In 1938, Princess Marie Bonaparte paid the Nazis a ransom of 12,000 Dutch guilders to allow Dr. Sigmund Freud and his family the freedom to leave Vienna and move to London. The Nazis were rounding up and killing both Jews and psychoanalysts and Freud was a Jewish psychoanalyst.

Dr. Sigmund Freud arrives in Paris on his way to London, accompanied by Princess Marie Bonaparte and the American Ambassador In Paris William C. Bullitt. June 5, 1938

The Freud family relaxes in the garden at Princess Marie Bonaparte’s home in Saint-Cloud, France. June 5, 1938. Freud is lounging as he is deathly ill with oral cancer. He smoked 20 cigars a day.

Freud spent his first day of freedom in Marie’s gardens in Saint-Cloud before crossing the Channel to London, where he lived for his last 15 months. A few weeks later, Princess Bonaparte traveled to Vienna to discuss the fate of Freud’s four elderly sisters left behind. Her attempts to get them exit visas failed. All four of Freud’s sisters would perish in Nazi concentration camps.

Readers, for more on the European Royal Families here on Lisa’s History Room, click here. To read more about Prince Philip and Princess Alice, click here.

Sources:
Eade, Philip. Prince Philip: The Turbulent Early Life of the Man Who Married Queen Elizabeth II.
Vickers, Hugo. Alice: Princess Andrew of Greece. 
wikipedia and various Internet sites

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Prince Philip and his wife, Queen Elizabeth II of England, are both direct blood descendants of Queen Victoria of England. They are both her great great grandchildren. Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Greece, was born at Windsor Castle with her great grandmother Queen Victoria present. Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II are related in four different ways. Through their connection to Queen Victoria, they are third cousins.

 

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Wonderful Readers: For more posts on the British Royal Family here on Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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Frida in New York, 1946, photo by Nickolas Muray. Brooklyn Museum; Emily Winthrop Miles Fund, 2010.80. © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives.

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Brooklyn Museum, New York, U.S.A.

February 8–May 12, 2019

The museum is charging a separate admission for the Kahlo show of $20 to $25, depending on the day. The museum will be open seven days a week for the run of the exhibition.

excerpted from the Brooklyn Museum website

‘Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving’ is the largest U.S. exhibition in ten years devoted to the iconic painter and the first in the United States to display a collection of her clothing and other personal possessions, which were rediscovered and inventoried in 2004 after being locked away since Kahlo’s death, in 1954. They are displayed alongside important paintings, drawings, and photographs from the celebrated Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art, as well as related historical film and ephemera. To highlight the collecting interests of Kahlo and her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, works from our extensive holdings of Mesoamerican art are also included.

“Kahlo’s personal artifacts—which range from noteworthy examples of Kahlo’s Tehuana clothing, contemporary and pre-Colonial jewelry, and some of the many hand-painted corsets and prosthetics used by the artist during her lifetime—had been stored in the Casa Azul (Blue House), the longtime Mexico City home of Kahlo and Rivera, who had stipulated that their possessions not be disclosed until 15 years after Rivera’s death. The objects shed new light on how Kahlo crafted her appearance and shaped her personal and public identity to reflect her cultural heritage and political beliefs, while also addressing and incorporating her physical disabilities.”

*Wonderful Readers: As of today, there are 19 more posts on Frida Kahlo on this blog, Lisa’s History Room. To see them, click here.

 

 

 

 

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The knitting women of the French Revolution. Pierre-Etienne Lesueur’s Les Tricoteuses Jacobines, 1793. (Wikimedia)

At the start of the French Revolution, the market women of Paris, hungry for bread, marched by the thousands to Versailles to confront King Louis XVI and his government over rising food prices and food shortages. Surprising everyone, their demands were met and, in addition, they convinced the royal family—including Queen Marie Antoinette—to relocate to the French capital city. Working class women had never before demonstrated such political clout. These women were hailed as sisters of the Revolution and were invited to important political events. These “mothers of the revolution,”  or “bonnes citoyennes,” became overnight heroines for the cause of liberty. They came to be known as the knitting women, or tricoteuses  (pronounced trick uh TUZZ).

Over time, though, the tricoteuses grew swollen with power and inflamed by the fury of the Revolution. They became rowdy and blood-thirsty, harassing aristocrats in the street, insulting them and urging the radical sans-culottes, or lower class militants, to carry out dreadful atrocities against them. The tricoteuses were like the Greek furies that punished culprits they thought were guilty by hounding them relentlessly.

The French Revolution lasted ten years. Before it was over, it descended into an all-out savage bloodbath known as the Reign of Terror (1793-1794). In just that one year period, 17,000 French people were executed. Shown here are rabid revolutionaries parading shorn heads on pikes. (wikipedia)

The behavior of the tricoteuses became so dangerous that they became a liability to the more authoritarian revolutionary government. On May 21, 1793, the women were banished from government proceedings. Later that week, they were forbidden from forming any political assembly. The tricoteuses were reduced to hanging around the guillotine.

The Tricoteuses of the Guillotine on the Steps of the Church of Saint-Roch, 16th October 1793. Henri Baron (Pinterest)

They were the ghoulish women who sat and knitted while the public executions took place during the French Revolution (1789-1799). Many knitted liberty caps, their sharp needles clackety-clacking, while head after head fell beneath the blade and into the basket.

A French man is transported to the guillotine to be beheaded. In the upper right hand corner of the picture, the tricoteuses jeer, bellow, hurl accusations at him, and call for his immediate execution. Etching from Harper’s Weekly, August 1881, from a painting by Carl Piloty, “The Girondists.”

Charles Dickens popularized the tricoteuses in The Tale of Two Cities (1859), set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. One of the main villains of the novel is Madame Defarge, a tricoteuse, a French Revolution fanatic obsessed with the extermination of real and imagined enemies of the Revolution. She knits and her knitting secretly encodes the names of people to be killed.

The tricoteuse Madame DeFarge (r.) confronts Miss Pross over the whereabouts of the Evrémonde family. Scene from the novel, A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, 1859. Image by Fred Barnard, 1870s (wikipedia)


**Read more about the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette here.

Sources:
wiki: "Reign of Terror"
wiki: "tricoteuse"
The Telegraph: "QI: How Knitting was Used as Code in WW2"
Timeline: "Horror Spectators: The Lady Revolutionaries who Calmly Knit During Executions"
Geri Walton: "Tricoteuses: Knitting Women of the Guillotine"

					

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Marie Antoinette by Gautier-Dagoty, 1775, Palace of Versailles

While Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) cannot take credit for inventing the pouf, she is certainly responsible for its popularity.  In 1774, when she became Queen of pre-Revolutionary France, over-the-top luxury was still very much the rage. For over a decade, fashionable French women had been raising, or poufing, their hair with woolen pads, coating and stiffening it with pomade made of beef lard or bear grease, and dusting it with wheat and corn powder. But, with the help of her Parisian milliner, Rose Bertin, and hairdresser, Léonard Autié, Marie Antoinette adopted the already established mode and took it to outrageous new heights. She made the pouf her signature look.

Marie Antoinette

Fashion plate a la Marie Antoinette

The rumor mill buzzed with tales of her many lovers, gambling debts, and shopping addiction. Of Austrian blood, the French were suspicious of foreign queens. Could they trust her? They might love her or hate her, on this they could disagree. But on one point the French were united. They couldn’t take their eyes off her. Although the Queen was criticized for her extravagant fashion statements and excessive spending, aristocrats and commoners clambered to imitate her style. Paris—and soon, Europe—broke out in a rash of copycat poufs. 

French fashion in the age of Marie Antoinette

The pouf was halfway between a hairstyle and a hat. The thickly-powdered hair was teased away from the face then arranged high on the head on a wire scaffolding resembling a cone-shaped garden topiary. Next, the hairdresser added and intertwined false curls—curly, wavy, crimped— sometimes made of horsehair, diamond jewelry, ropes of pearls, yards of gauze, lace, and ribbon, pompoms, ostrich and peacock feathers, bows, rosettes, butterflies, figurines, and props. With such ornamentation, the stylist then set about to create a miniature still-life upon this rickety foundation. The theme of the elaborate, yard-high headdress could be a sentiment, a commemoration of an event, or an expression of a political opinion. The creativity was inexhaustible.

One of Marie Antoinette’s earliest poufs was the pouf à l’inoculation to publicize her triumph in persuading the King to be vaccinated against smallpox. Perched in the hairdo was a serpent in an olive tree (symbols of wisdom and Aesculapius), behind which rose the golden sun of enlightenment. When the French supported the Americans in their revolution, Marie Antoinette showed her support by wearing a pouf à la Belle Poule. The intricate hairdo featured a French ship that had won a decisive victory against the British in June 1778.

The ship itself, with its masts, rigging, and guns, was imitated in miniature on the pouf. This elaborate creation, a celebration of sorts, was an overnight success. It should be noted, however, that many such coifs were supported with wired scaffolding and were very heavy.

Marie Antoinette’s fashion nod to France’s role in the American Revolution. The hairdo is the Pouf á la Belle Poule.

The poufs were almost impossible to wash and became breeding grounds for vermin. They were itchy and uncomfortable. Women used special head-scratchers to alleviate some of the agony. Because they were so expensive to create, many women wore them for a week or more and were obliged to sleep virtually upright upon a mound of pillows. Top-heaviness made dancing difficult. Riding in a carriage was problematic. To keep from ruining her towering pouf, a woman might end up kneeling on the floorboard on the way to a ball or even leaning her head out the window. Satirical cartoons poked fun at these slaves to fashion.

This British satirical etching commented on the French fashion for tall hairstyles, circa 1771. Image courtesy the British Museum.

Ever establishing new and exotic trends, Marie Antoinette spent a lifetime creating her identity as the nation’s most celebrated and reviled fashion plate. The attention she commanded came at a price. During the French Revolution, she was blamed for the country’s financial crisis.  Hidden away in luxury at the Palace of Versailles, she and her husband, King Louis XVI, were oblivious to the plight of the French working classes, starving for bread and suffering from years of poor harvests, rising food prices, and an unfair tax system. Their anger boiled over. In October 1789, an angry mob of perhaps ten thousand market women and their allies descended on Versailles with spears, pikes, kitchen blades, and cannons, calling for the Queen’s death. At the Palace, they beat and slaughtered guards. They compelled the King and Queen to return with them to Paris. The twelve-mile return walk took nine hours as the mob had swelled to sixty thousand. Some of the marchers paraded the shorn heads of royal guards on their upraised pikes.

An illustration of the Women’s March on Versailles, October 5-6, 1789. Artist Unknown. Bibliothèque nationale de France

Over the next two years, the Revolution moved to The Terror. The King was executed. Nine months later, on October 14, 1793, Marie Antoinette’s trial began. Two days later, the Queen was convicted of high treason by the Revolutionary Tribunal and executed by guillotine on the Place de la Révolution. Marie Antoinette’s reign as Queen of France had ended but her reign as Queen of Fashion had not:

Shortly after the guillotine sliced its own bloody version of a necklace in the Queen’s throat, well-born women in Paris began tying thin red ribbons around their necks as reminders of what they might soon suffer.

Sources
Weber, Caroline. Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution
Erickson, Carolly. To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie Antoinette
Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette: The Journey
The Smithsonian. "Marie Antoinette"
wikipedia. "Marie Antoinette"
History Hoydens. "Can You Top This? Marie Antoinette's Hairstyles"
Collectors Weekly. "Fashion to Die For: Did an Addiction to Fads Lead 
Marie Antoinette to the Guillotine?"
Huffington Post. "Marie Antoinette's Craziest, Most Epic Hairstyles"
BibliOdyssey. "Waiter, There's a Hair in My Satire"
wikipedia. "Women's March on Versailles"

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Photo Card No.101, Dancer Josephine Baker posing with a cheetah wearing a collar, photograph by Piaz Studios of Paris, Early 1930's. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1975) with Chiquita. ca. early 1930s. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” Pablo Picasso painted her, seeking to capture her alluring beauty, saying she had “legs of paradise.” She was Josephine Baker, the glamorous cabaret star that took Paris by storm during the Jazz Age of the 1920s and 30s. In her signature stage act, she appeared onstage wearing only high heels and a skirt made of bananas. She danced and sang with erotic frenzy and wild abandon. She was often accompanied by her pet cheetah, Chiquita, who wore a diamond collar and often escaped into the orchestra pit, terrifying the musicians and adding to the overall sensation of the moment.

Josephine Baker was the first person of color to become a worldwide entertainer and star in a major motion picture (“ZouZou,” 1934). Although born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1937, she married a French man and became a French citizen.

josephine-baker1In 1939, France declared war on Nazi Germany for its invasion of Poland. Within nine months, the Nazis invaded France. Baker was recruited by the Deuxiéme Bureau, the French Military Intelligence, as an “honorable correspondent.” She was so well-known and popular that even the Nazis were hesitant to cause her harm. She made the perfect spy. As an entertainer, she had good excuses for traveling, which allowed her to smuggle secret orders and maps written in invisible ink on her musical sheets. On some occasions, Baker would smuggle secret photos of German military installations out of enemy territory by pinning them to her underwear. To operatives in the French Resistance as well as U.S. and British agents, she relayed information on German troop movements she had gleaned from conversations she overheard between officials with whom she mingled following her performances or at embassy and ministry parties. She also exposed French officials working for the Germans.  She hid Jewish refugees and weapons in her 24-room château in the South of France.

Her steadfast work for the French Resistance helped Baker to rise to the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Air Force. After the war, Baker was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance for her invaluable intelligence work in aid of her adopted country. She was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaulle.

Read more about Josephine Baker here on Lisa’s History Room.

Sources:
http://artdaily.com/news/18219/Josephine-Baker--at-The-National-Portrait-Gallery#.W7Ta2WhKiM8
https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/top-spies-suspect/story?id=15528916
https://www.vogue.com/article/josephine-baker-90th-anniversary-banana-skirt
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephine_Baker
http://historyofspies.com/josephine-baker/
https://www.bedsider.org/features/450-talented-seductive-courageous-getting-to-know-josephine-baker
http://mentalfloss.com/article/23148/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-josephine-baker

 

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Roald Dahl (1916-1990), one of the world's best storytellers for children, among illustrations for his books by Quentin Blake. Undated photo.

Roald Dahl (1916-1990), one of the world’s best storytellers for children, among illustrations for his books by Quentin Blake. Undated photo.

British children’s writer Roald Dahl ate chocolates and sweets “pretty much every mealtime,” remembers daughter Ophelia Dahl:

“He…was fascinated by the cross section of the Mars bar – the layers of chocolate, caramel and nougat. He would never just bite it, but always cut it and have a look at it like it was a section of the Earth.” (1)

Mars bar with wrapper

After dinner, whether dining alone or entertaining guests, Dahl would pass around a little red plastic box full of Mars Bars, Milky Ways, Maltesers, Kit Kats and much more.

He knew the history of all the sweets and could tell you exactly when they were invented. 1937 was a big year when Kit Kats (his favorite), Rolos, and Smarties (his dog, Chopper’s favorite) were invented. He wrote a history of chocolate, lecturing schoolchildren to commit such dates to memory such as 1928 when “Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut bar popped up on the scene,” (2) saying,

“Don’t bother with the Kings and Queens of England. All of you should learn these dates instead. Perhaps the Headmistress will see from now on that it becomes part of the major teaching in this school.” (3)

chocolate ad

Roald Dahl as a teenager at Repton, UK. Undated photo.

Roald Dahl as a teenager at Repton, UK. Undated photo.

According to Dahl, the Golden Years of Chocolate were 1930-1937. In 1930, Roald Dahl was 14 years old. He was a student at Repton, a prestigious boys’ boarding school in England. It was a harsh environment: those in authority were more interested in controlling than educating the students. In Boy: Tales of Childhood, Dahl writes :

“By now, I am sure you will be wondering why I lay so much emphasis upon school beatings….The answer is that I cannot help it. All through my school life I was appalled by the fact that masters and senior boys were allowed literally to wound other boys, and sometimes quite severely. I couldn’t get over it. I never have got over it. It would, of course, be unfair to suggest that all masters were constantly beating the daylights out of all the boys in those days. They weren’t. Only a few did so, but that was quite enough to leave a lasting impression of horror upon me.”

 

Chocolate with cubesIronically, it was at this difficult period that chocolate became Dahl’s passion. Near Repton was a Cadbury chocolate factory. Every so often, Cadbury would send each schoolboy a sampler box of new chocolates to taste and grade. They were using the students – “the greatest chocolate bar experts in the world” to test out their new inventions.

This was when Dahl’s imagination took flight. He pictured factories with inventing rooms with pots of chocolate and fudge and “all sorts of other delicious fillings bubbling away on the stoves.” (4)

Cadbury chocolate factory workers, UK, 1932

Cadbury chocolate factory workers, UK, 1932

“It was lovely dreaming those dreams….[and] when I was looking for a plot for my second book for children, I remembered those little cardboard boxes and the newly-invented chocolates inside them, and I began to write a book called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, 1964.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, 1964.

For the record, Roald Dahl did not like chocolate cake or chocolate ice cream. He said,

“I prefer my chocolate straight.”

(1) The Daily Mail

(2) Dahl, Roald. “The Chocolate Revolution,” Sunday Magazine. September 7, 1997.

(3) The Roald Dahl Museum

(4) Dahl, Roald. Boy: Tales of Childhood. New York: Puffin Books, 1984.

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436-287-WH64_-Lyndon-and-Lady-Bird-at-the-LBJ-Ranch-on-election-day-in-1964

President Lyndon B. Johnson and First Lady Lady Bird Johnson relax at their Stonewall, Texas ranch following LBJ’s election to the Presidency. November, 1964.

When she was First Lady of the United States (1963-69), Lady Bird Johnson felt that she was often in a moving vehicle. In her diary, she wrote:

LBJ Ranch [Stonewall, Texas]

Saturday, April 10, 1965

“We arrived at the Ranch last night around 10:45 on the Jetstar….

[This morning] Sarge and Eunice Shriver, Ann Brinkley, Lyndon, and I helicoptered to San Marcos to Camp Gary, to the dedication of the Job Corps Camp….”

Lady Bird Johnson (1)

President Lyndon B. Johnson (back to camera at right) speaks with Mathilde Krim and Lady Bird Johnson First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson and Mathilde Krim are on board a helicopter en route from Krim Ranch to LBJ Ranch, near Stonewall, Texas. President Johnson has his back to photographer. November 7, 1966. Photo by Mike Geissinger. LBJ Presidential Library. 3837-37

First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson and Mathilde Krim are on board a helicopter en route from the Krim Ranch to the LBJ Ranch, near Stonewall, Texas. President Johnson has his back to photographer. November 7, 1966. Photo by Mike Geissinger. LBJ Presidential Library. 3837-37

After some emotional speechifying, the ceremony ended, and, around noon, the group was back in the chopper, flying to yet another of the Johnsons’ many Texas properties. This one – the Haywood Ranch – lay northwest of Austin near Kingsland on Lake Granite Shoals (which, by the end of the month, would be renamed Lake LBJ). Though the Haywood Ranch was 4,500 acres of mostly pasture land, undeveloped, it was a lakeside retreat where President Lyndon Baines Johnson kept his many boats. He loved his boats, maybe as much as he loved his Lincoln Continentals.

Then American Vice President Lyndon Johnson entertains guests on his Glaston boat. July 16, 1961. Note Lady Bird Johnson in green. She recalled being “often in a moving vehicle” during the White House years.

LBJ loved packing his boats with guests (especially pretty girls, according to Lady Bird), taking the wheel himself, and zigzagging at top speed across the lake, spray flying, bouncing hard across his wake, oftentimes pulling a skier or two and dropping off guests for a quick dip in the fresh water. Then, around noon, he would head over to Coca-Cola Ranch, slip into the peace of the cove, and – after cutting the throttle – spread out a picnic lunch to enjoy in the warm Texas sun.

At 1:17 p.m., the Presidential party – the Shrivers, the Johnsons, and others – landed at Haywood Ranch. The spring countryside was blanketed in fragrant Texas bluebonnets. LBJ made telephone calls inviting more friends to join the happy party – and to bring bar-b-q and swimsuits. Then the President and guests “went to the boats.” (2)

LBJ diary April 10 1965

excerpt from LBJ daily diary for April 10, 1965

President Johnson couldn’t wait to show Eunice Shriver his new toy. It was a “lagoon blue” convertible. Built in Germany, this Amphicar – half-boat, half-car – was one of only 3,878 produced. The President took Mrs. Shriver and Sgt. Paul Glynn out for a spin in his very unusual car. They drove straight from the land out onto the water and the car didn’t sink. Granted, it only went 15 m.p.h. tops, but it managed to keep the water out. It was a hoot and the President loved a hoot.

President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Amphicar with Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Paul Glynn. April 10, 1965. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto. LBJ Presidential Library A263-8

President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Amphicar with Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Paul Glynn at the Haywood Ranch, near Kingsland, Texas. April 10, 1965. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto. LBJ Presidential Library A263-8.

Joe Califano Jr., then LBJ’s top domestic aide, remembered when the President took him out for a ride in the Amphicar – without LBJ telling him first that it was amphibious:

“The President, with Vicky McCammon in the seat alongside him and me in the back,was now driving around in a small blue car with the top down. We reached a steep incline at the edge of the lake and the car started rolling rapidly toward the water. The president shouted, ‘The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in! We’re going under!’
The car splashed into the water. I started to get out. Just then the car leveled, and I realized we were in an Amphicar. The president laughed. As we putted along the lake then (and throughout the evening), he teased me. “Vicky, did you see what Joe did? He didn’t give a damn about his President. He just wanted to save his own skin and get out of the car.” Then he’d roar. (3)”

President LBJ's Amphicar

President LBJ’s Amphicar

 LBJ’s Amphicar is displayed at the LBJ Ranch.

ad Amphicar arrives in America 196o New York Automobile Show Program

Amphibious cars for the civilian population was a trend that never took off.

Sources

(1) Johnson, Lady Bird. A White House Diary. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1970. p. 259.

(2) Lyndon B. Johnson’s daily diary, April 10, 1965. LBJ Presidential Library.

(3) Califano, Joseph A. The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2015.

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What would the American Civil Rights Movement have been without the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? On September 20, 1958, we almost lost him.

The weather boded well for a good turnout. It was a sunny Saturday in New York City and Blumstein’s Department Store – at  230 W. 125th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, Harlem – was hustling to get ready for their big guest. On the ground floor, behind the shoe department, clerks had roped off an area where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would sit behind a desk to autograph copies of his first book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. 

The book related the success of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott that lead to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of segregated transit systems.

wo black ministers who were active in the long boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama were among the first to ride after a Supreme Court integration order went into effect on December 21, 1956. At left, front seat, is the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, while at left in the second seat is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beside King is white minister, Rev. Glenn Smiley of New York, who said he was in Montgomery as an observer.

Two black ministers who were active in the long boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama were among the first to ride after a Supreme Court integration order went into effect on December 21, 1956. At right, is the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, while at left is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Black Americans no longer had to sit at the back of the bus or give up their seats to white people.

Dr. King, with his powerful oratory, had rocketed to fame nearly overnight and had become a significant figure on the national political scene for his participation in the victory. He was making four speeches a week to persuade the nation to stop the practice of racial segregation. It was the dawn of the civil rights movement.

“Dr. King is a rather soft-spoken man with a learning and maturity far beyond his 27 years. His clothes are in conservative good taste and he has a small trim mustache.”(1)

Izola Ware Curry

Blumstein’s Department Store – the site of the autograph party for Dr. King – wasn’t far from where Izola Ware Curry, 42, lived in a brownstone, at 121 West 122d Street in Harlem. Izola was a drifter, a sometimes maid, who had been in Harlem only two months. Izola had Dr. King on her radar. She detested him and all black preachers, calling their boycotts and protests a sham. She felt that blacks should move for social change through appeals to Congress. She hated the NAACP in particular – thought they were controlled by Communists – and white people in general. By 1956, paranoia had taken over her thinking. She started writing the FBI claiming that Communists were out to get her. She was anti-social, tended to babble and rant, her words often unintelligible and ungrammatical. Her neighbors wrote her off as “eccentric.” Izola Ware Curry was African-American.

The Rally The Night Before the Signing

The night before Dr. King’s book signing, just around the corner from Blumstein’s, a rally was held for Dr. King in front of the Hotel Teresa. On the podium he was joined by other dignitaries, among them baseball great Jackie Robinson, New York Governor Averell Harriman, and gubernatorial hopeful, Republican Nelson Rockefeller, with music provided by Duke Ellington. The crowd numbered 5,000. Izola Ware Curry, in her unstable mental state, was there.

When Rockefeller spoke:

This business about [Eisenhower] going slow on integration….I know the man!….Who sent the troops to Little Rock?”(2)

Curry heckled him, calling white people racists. King’s escort in the city, William Rowe,

“did his best to calm her down. And Frederick Weaver, a platform guest, motioned for police officers to make her stop. But the police were reluctant to get tough with her, fearing…an incident…that could escalate into a larger racial disturbance.” (2)

When Dr. King spoke, Curry jeered him, too, as did a few others. Curry shouted that no “negro” should ever try to cooperate with a white person. Rowe had to calm her down once more.

Miraculously, the rally ended without dissolving into chaos. Rowe feared more trouble at the next day’s signing, suggesting a bodyguard for Dr. King, an idea that Dr. King rejected.

The Booksigning

Saturday, September 20, 1958

Blumstein’s Department Store

3:30 p.m.

Izola Ware Curry, 42

Izola Ware Curry, 42

As she pushed her way through the crowd to the desk where Dr. King sat, bystanders couldn’t help but notice the elegantly dressed black woman in her stylish suit, showy jewelry, and sequined cat’s-eyeglasses. Nothing on the surface betrayed the insanity beneath. Little did onlookers suspect that, secreted in Izola Curry’s bra, was a loaded Italian automatic pistol, and, in her enormous leather purse, a 7-inch steel letter opener.

With her purse slung over one arm, Izola Curry strode with purpose straight up to Dr. King, where he was seated, signing a book for a customer.

“Are you Martin Luther King?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied, not looking up. (3)

She reached into her purse and withdrew the letter opener in an arc. Instinctively, Dr. King yanked his left arm up to block the weapon, cutting his left hand as she plunged the blade into his chest. Dr. King recalled:

“The next minute I felt something beating on my chest.”

A bystander knocked Curry’s hand away from the blade before she could withdraw it and stab Dr. King again.

“I’ve been after him for six years!” shouted Curry, starting to run. “I’m glad I done it!” (2)

A group of women chased her with umbrellas, shouting, “Catch her!” A journalist jumped out and grabbed Curry by the left arm and turned her over to the store security guard, who handcuffed her.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sits calmly with a letter opener protruding from his chest as Nettie C. Jackson tends his cut hand. September 20, 1958

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sits calmly with a letter opener protruding from his chest as Nettie C. Jackson tends his cut hand. September 20, 1958

Meanwhile, Dr. King sat still and calm and clear-thinking, with the letter opener protruding from his chest. Someone called for an ambulance to Harlem Hospital. Dr. King was carried, still seated in his chair, to the back of the store. When the ambulance arrived, he was placed carefully on his back. He was told, as was everyone present, that he must not touch the letter opener.

The stabbing nearly cost Dr. King his life, as the blade of the letter opener had lodged in his sternum, within millimeters of piercing the aorta. At Harlem Hospital, surgeons extracted the blade in a delicate operation. He developed pneumonia and had a long convalescence.

Surgeons performed a delicate 2 1/4 hour surgery to extract the letter opener from Dr. Martin Luther King's manubrium, the top bone of the sternum. September 20, 1958

Surgeons performed a delicate 2 1/4 hour surgery to extract the letter opener from Dr. Martin Luther King’s manubrium, the top bone of the sternum. September 20, 1958

A rare photograph of the operation on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, when he was stabbed in Harlem on September 20, 1958

A rare photograph of the operation on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, when he was stabbed in Harlem on September 20, 1958

Izola Ware Curry, Dr. Martin Luther King's assailant. Following her arrest, psychiatrists evaluated her and diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia and an I.Q. of about 70. She was institutionalized and died in 2015, at the age of 98. (Getty Images)

Izola Ware Curry, Dr. Martin Luther King’s assailant. Following her arrest, psychiatrists evaluated her and diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia and an I.Q. of about 70. She was institutionalized and died in 2015, at the age of 98. (Getty Images)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is embraced by his wife Coretta Scott King during a news conference at Harlem Hospital in New York, Sept 30, 1958, where he is recovering from a stab wound following an attack by a woman. At left is his mother, Alberta Williams King. (AP Photo/Tony Camerano)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is embraced by his wife Coretta Scott King during a news conference at Harlem Hospital in New York, Sept 30, 1958, where he was recovering from a stab wound following an attack by Izola Ware Curry. At left is his mother, Alberta Williams King. (AP Photo/Tony Camerano)

Ten Years Later

On April 3, 1968, ten years after the Harlem stabbing, Dr. King recalled it in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, Tennessee:

“The x-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And, once that’s punctured, you’re drowned in your own blood – that’s the end of you.”

The surgeon told him that, if he had sneezed before the operation, he would have died. To lively applause, he continued, in his “Mountaintop” speech:

“And I want to say tonight – I want to say tonight that I, too, am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting in at lunch counters. 

 “If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in interstate travel.

“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Ala., aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream I had.”

He closed his speech with remarks about the possibility of his untimely death. The next day, in Memphis, he was assassinated by James Earl Ray, a white supremacist.

(1) “Battle Against Tradition: Martin Luther King, Jr.” The New York Times, March 21, 1956

(2) Pearson, Hugh. When Harlem Nearly Killed King. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.

(3) “Izola Ware Curry, Who Stabbed King in 1958, Dies at 98.” New York Times. March 22, 2015.

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