Come up and seize me sometime: the arrest of Mae West

Mae West was arrested for -what else – sex. BUT not the sex you’re thinking about… Sex the play

You see, long before Mae West was lighting up Hollywood, with her trademark heavy innuendo, she was in New York, trapped in a brutal battle with the law, fighting to promote equality, freedom of speech and,of course, sex.

So let’s jump into the arrest, incarceration and surprising rebirth of, Mae West:

1959 article on mae West arrest
1959 article on Mae West’s arrest

By the 1920s Mae West was a theatrical veteran. Now in her thirties, she’d trod boards across New York, learning her craft from burlesque acts, musicians, dramatic actors and everyone in between.

Yet, though her name was known, Mae had never actually had a big break. As she delved further into the years after the big 3-0, younger models started taking what, until then, had always been Mae’s roles. It was starting to look like her dream of a big break was never going to happen.

BUT Mae West wasn’t the kind of woman that would go down without a fight. So she decided to make her own big break.

Mae started writing plays, and after knocking out a couple of practice pieces under the pseudonym, Jane Mast, she wrote what she knew would be her ticket to the big time. This being Mae West, the play was -of course- titled:

 

SEX

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Like she’d have called it anything else…

Sex follows the ups and downs of sex worker, Margy LaMont. When writing her, Mae West was adamant that Margy would be totally different to other sex workers that had previously been portrayed on stage.

Margy is funny, likeable and smart as hell; more importantly, at no point in the play does she need saving, nor does she repent; instead she pushes back against the idea that her work as a sex worker somehow makes her lesser.

Naturally, there was only one actress Mae West had in mind for this plum part: Mae West.

And so, in April 1926 (thanks to a donation by her Mum) Sex opened in New York.

Posters for the shows included strap lines like :

‘SEX WITH MAE WEST’

Because, you know, subtlety.

late in the run poster for Sex
A late run poster for Sex

Sadly for Mae, Sex was not met with favourable reviews.

Not only was the shows subject seen as obscenity of the highest order, the shows star made things worse by adding race into the mix.

Mae West had insisted that Sex include what was then known as ‘black music’. This combined with the shows scandalous stance on gender and sexuality, was just too much. And sex soon proved the perfect breeding ground for a powder keg of riotous fury.

BUT nothing seemed able to stop Sex. Despite the constant bad press, audiences kept coming. In a year where New York’s other big plays included work by the likes of Noel Coward, it was Mae Wests little Sex engine that could, that outlasted them all.

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Truer words were never spoken

Sex wasn’t the only show Mae was running. Inspired by her friends, many of whom were LGBT+ and often forced to keep their sexuality and relationships hidden, Mae wrote her next play, Drag.

Drag’s hero, Rolly Kingsbury, is a closeted man who is stuck in a loveless marriage, and has to put up with arguably the worst family in the world; his Dad is a homophobic judge and his Father in Law is a conversion therapy pioneer (I told you they were the worst family ever)

Drag looks at Rolly’s use of his wife as a ‘beard’, his secret relationships with men and his family’s horror that Rolly could ever be one of ‘them.’

Oh, and the whole thing ends in a HUGE drag ball before *spoiler* Rolly is killed, which his Dad (a judge remember) covers up as a suicide, for fear of having Rolly’s sexuality discovered and the family’s honour tainted by homosexuality.

Yeah. I think we can all agree that this play was just a tad controversial for the 1920s (*cough* understatement of the year *cough*)

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Thank God, Drag gets semi-regular reprisals, because it sounds like an amazing ride that I need to get on!

But the plot wasn’t enough for Mae. You see with Drag , Mae wanted to do something never done before. She wanted to cast LGBT+ actors.

This was theatrical treason.

You see, allowing anyone on the LGBT+ spectrum to perform on stage was actually banned by the actors union at this time.

But you know by now that a little thing like that wasn’t going to stop Mae.

So she set up open auditions in a gay bar in Greenwich Village, ensuring she got the cast she wanted; casually going against every rule in the book to do so.

Drag opened out of town in January 1927, to packed out houses
….until it was shut down after 2 weeks

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Fricking no fun 1927

After Drag, The Society for the Prevention of Vice and other groups against obscenity, were out for Mae’s blood.

First a play on sex workers and freedom of sexuality AND THEN a play that promoted open homosexuality?!?!? It simply wouldn’t stand, Mae West and her corrupting plays HAD TO GO!

The axe fell in February 1927, just 1 month after Drag debuted. The police stormed Sex, carrying out a mass arrest of Mae and her company before completely shutting the play down.

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Front page of the New York Daily Mirror

BUT those that thought arresting Mae West on obscenity charges and the threat of prison time would put an end to her, were about to be proved veeeery wrong.

Mae decided that rather than her demise, her arrest was going to be her making.

So she rocked up to court in the most amazing outfits, gave every interview going, wrote articles, signed autographs and made sure everything she said and did in court got headlines.

At one point the judge point blank asked Mae:
‘Miss West, are you trying to show contempt for this court?’
To which she innocently responded:
‘On the contrary, your Honor, I was doin’ my best to conceal it.’

Mae West at the trial for Sex
Mae during her Sec trial, just casually wearing a stoll to court

After successfully turning her arrest and subsequent trial into one long press call, Mae was sentenced to 10 days in prison. So naturally Mae transformed what had been a press call into a press tour.

She arrived at New York’s Welfare Island (now Roosevelt island) in a limo, wearing a spectacular outfit.

Once inside and behind bars, Mae made herself comfy. She befriended the other inmates, as well as the staff, even dining with the Warden and his wife.

Of course she leaked all of this to the press, including the little tidbit that she ensured that under her prison uniform was the finest silk underwear.

Mae also took the opportunity to highlight how shitty the treatment of New York’s women prisoners were. Keen to make it clear that though she was dining with the warden, everyone else was treated like dirt. She then put money where her mouth was, donating to actually help make things better inside.

Throughout, Mae continued to hustle. Transforming what should have been her downfall into her long sought after big break; seriously I cannot understate how much she was smashing this! Bitch was taking busted up lemons and turning them into champagne!

By the time Mae West walked out of those prison gates she was an American Icon.

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Moral of the story thus far – do not try to mess with the West!

Pretty much as soon as her days in the jail house were over, Mae was back at work, creating a new play.

The Pleasure Man was essentially a re-do of Drag. However in an effort to prevent another shut down, Mae turned the shows lead into a straight guy… though she made sure that the shows epic drag ball remained.

The play had its Broadway debut on 1 October 1928.
As soon as the curtain fell, the entire cast was arrested.

Despite the arrest of the entire cast, a matinee performance was allowed the next day.

Once more the police flooded the theatre; one of the drag queens performing managing to squeeze in a speech on police oppression, before the arrests started up again.

As the cast were dragged away, the police were met with a wave of boos from a crowd that had formed outside the theatre.

cast of Pleasure Man during their arrest
Two members of The Pleasure Man cast during their arrest

At The Pleasure Man trial, Mae and her cast were accused of:

‘unlawfully, wickedly and scandalously, for lucre and gain, produce, present and exhibit and display the said exhibition, show and entertainment to the sight and view of divers and many people, all to the great offence of public decency’

Mae West defended her work to the end; eventually seeing the charges dropped. However the fight had cost Mae $60,000 (that’s just under $1million today!)

Mae West and the cast of Pleasure Man
Mae West with some of The Pleasure Man company

By 1930, the trials were over and Mae West had turned to Hollywood. Thanks to her constant work, she was now one of the most in demand actors in the world.

Mae West would become one of cinemas longest standing icons, known for her heavily innuendo laced jokes, as much as she was her business smarts; even becoming one of America’s highest earning individuals.

But Mae’s fight for equality, for alternative lifestyles to be explored and celebrated and for taboos to be dropped, has been forgotten. And that’s a damn shame, because as Mae West would say:

 

‘Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often’

This was interesting where can I find out more? You should definitely read Mae’s plays! Sex, Drag and The Pleasure Man are all in print (link here) and as the plays are still performed, you might even be able to find a performance near you (let us know if you do!!!) 

 

Quickie: Allotment Annies

Things were tough in WWII, but some enterprising young women in the US came up with a devious money making scheme, at the expense of some poor hapless G.I’s

See, in the US if you were married to a soldier you were entitled to a $20 a week ‘allotment’ if they were shipped overseas to fight during the War, and if they were killed in action you were entitled to $10,000!

Obviously this allotment was a godsend to wives who had families to feed whilst their husbands were at war. BUT the Army was so busy helping out with the war they didn’t keep too close an eye on who was claiming these benefits…

With such a lax system in place it’d be real easy, if you were a nefarious kinda gal, to marry a couple of soldiers, change your last name and just keep claiming that sweet sweet cash.

making it rain
Making it rain with moral dubiousness!

Women that did this became known as: Allotment Annies.

‘Annies’ often racked up multiple husbands, and because of the huge death tolls during the war they didn’t have to worry too much about getting caught; since the poor schmuck they married was likely to get killed off before coming home and finding a new hubby in his place.

It goes without saying that Allotment Annies weren’t very popular people. Never mind breaking some soldier’s heart who’s been out fighting a horrendous war and is likely scarred for life – add finding out your Mrs is a bigamist; thats one mighty kick in the nuts.

The most famous Allotment Annie was Elvira Taylor. Elvira married SIX sailors during her scam and was only foiled when two sailors in an Australian pub showed each other pics of their lovely wife… only to discover it was THE SAME WOMAN!

Fisticuffs occurred, but after beating the crap out of each other, the two men banded together, went to the police and Elvira was duly hauled off to jail.

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Vivian Eggers another notorious ‘Allotment Annie’

Meanwhile, Vivian Eggers from Indianapolis managed to marry a whopping 7 soldiers, including two in ONE DAY! The logistics of that must have been fun.

Viv ended up being taken to court by all 7 of her husbands; here’s what she had to say of her crimes:

“You just get to drinking and having a good time, and you meet someone that’s kinda nice and that’s the way it happens,”

BTW, thats an actual quote from Viv at her trial for bigamy & fraud; yeah… the judge was unimpressed and gave her 18 months jail time. laugh.gif

But, a lot of Allotment Annies clapped back, claiming they were working for the war effort by giving the men something to fight and come home for. Grace Vivien Reinert a 22 year old Annie told press that;

“The girls figure that they’re making the boys happy, and that before the war is over the husbands will either be killed or glad to forget about their marriages.”

sure jan.gif

Incase you were wondering, Grace actually married 2 sailors and was claiming allotments for both of them. She ended up in jail because her husbands met up and realised they were married to the same woman when they noticed their allotment cheques were going to the same address. I guess her theory on the men being ok with it, didn’t really work out.  

The army soon caught onto the Annies scams, after they estimated that there were thousands of bigamist brides getting rich off the allotment scheme. BUT it was really hard to catch an Allotment Annie in the act; in the entire war only a few were ever actually caught.

So, the Army put together a plan to wise up their troops against wold be Annies. They created a series of adverts warning men to watch out for bigamists.

There was even a major film made about Allotment Annies; 1945s, Film Noir, Allotment Wives. Which stars Hollywood Queen, Kay Francis, as the ringleader of a bigamy scheme to get allotment cheques. Spoiler: It doesn’t end well for her.

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AN example of an anti-allotment annie ad

After the war the Allotment Annies were finished… not because they got caught, but because the cash flow dried up when there wasn’t a war to fight overseas.

Who knows how many women scammed the US Army out of thousands of dollars. If it’s as many as the army claims then it’s kinda hard not to be impressed by that level of ingenuity.

This was interesting, Where can I find out more? Well, I’d totally check out the film, Allotment Wives, for a lovely slice of over the top propaganda noir. It’s currently available to stream on Amazon, along with several other platforms.

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

Helen Keller: History’s Secret Badass

You know Helen Keller right? The deaf-blind girl who overcame early 20th century societal expectations to get a good education, and become a humanitarian. That’s the Helen we know, the ‘inspiration’; the stuff of milk, toast Saturday morning educational TV, with approx 2000 sappy Lifetime movies about her.

BUT if Helen Keller knew about the saccharine way she’s been remembered… well, I’d watch out.

See, Helen was actually one of history’s baddest bitches!

So, let’s take a step by step look at why everything you thought you know about Helen Keller was totally wrong!

Helen Keller
She is actually reading a book on how best to kickthe shit out arse hats

1. Helen Keller was a radical

In 1916 an interviewer asked Helen Keller what she was committed to. Her response:

‘Revolution’

And Helen wasn’t playing! See her true life work was getting better rights for other disabled people, as well as women and workers.

In Helen’s mind, peace had had its chance, and it hadn’t worked. The only choice left for equality was revolution!

do you hear the people sing gif.gif
I would so watch the Helen Keller sequel to Les Mis

2. She dedicated her life to disability rights

Helen’s experience of being disabled was, to be blunt, incredibly rare. Getting an education and opportunities were not things anyone but 1% of the luckiest bastards had.

But Helen knew this, and she also knew that she couldn’t work to better the lives of everyone with a disability if she didn’t put the time in discovering how the other 99% lived.

Spoiler: Their lives were a shit show

You see, most people that were disabled were so thanks totally avoidable industrial accidents. Rich business owners refused to spend anything on workers safety, so horrifying accident levels just continued to rise.

And there were no lawsuits to fight this in the late 19th and early 20th century. So once left with a lifelong disability, workers were thrown on the scrap heap.

Oh, and America had no system in place to work out how many disabled Americans there were or how to help them.

Basically if you had a disability you were left alone and in poverty.

Helen was not here for this.

And so…

3. Helen became the ‘socialist Joan of arc’

Helen Keller, New York Times

Helen figured two things:
– things couldn’t get better for disabled people until workers actually started getting treated like people
– Nobody wanted to treat workers like people

So, when she was in her late twenties, Helen joined The American Socialist Party.

She threw herself into socialism and within months she was BFFs with the movements leaders, and was travelling the country giving lectures on socialism.

If Helen couldn’t fix the system, she wanted to use socialism to smash it and start a new one!

Her intense stance and use of religion in her speeches soon lead to Joan of Arc comparisons; Helen bloody loved this, even saying:

‘ I too, hear the voices that say ‘come,’ and I will follow no matter what the cost, no matter what the trials I am placed under. Jail, poverty, calumny—they matter not. Truly He has said, ‘Woe unto you that permit the least of mine to suffer’

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Ok bit intense… but you do you Helen

4. Helen didn’t stop there; also fighting for women’s rights

Not only was Helen going to smash disability barriers, she wanted to create an equal world for everyone.

She was an ardent suffragist, education advocate and the writer of satirical articles about misogyny (one was called ‘Put Your Husband in the Kitchen’) because our girl Helen was both fierce and witty as hell.

Helen was also part of the most controversial fight of her day:

Birth control!

Helen felt birth control would lead to women finally being in charge of their own destinies. So she went all in (as is the Keller style) throwing her support behind the likes of radical birth control leader, Margaret Sanger and making sure her voice was heard.

Now I think we can agree everything Helen has done thus far is brave and ballsy AF! BUT Helen’s radicalisim came at a huge cost:

5. Helen Keller was monitored by the FBI

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Yeah…this just got very real

The FBI saw Helen as a serious threat and they monitored her accordingly. Every time Helen’s name was mentioned in any kind of far leftist media, you best believe they had that shit on file.

Her speeches were scoured; everything from her childhood to her middle age. With the FBI looking for anything that could incriminating. Even a letter of condolence she sent was filed as evidence! (you can actually check out all the FBI’s findings on Helen here) 

But It wasn’t just the FBI who were after Helen

6. Her books were burned

In 1933, Helen discovered that German students were planning to burn her books, thanks to their socialist content.

Never one to back down from a fight, Helen wrote to the students:

‘History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas. Tyrants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them.’

Helen then ended the letter with history’s best mic drop moment:

‘Do not imagine that your barbarities to the Jews are unknown here… Better were it for you to have a mill-stone hung around your neck and sink into the sea than to be hated and despised of all men.’

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Don’t hold back there Helen!

7. Finally-Helen didn’t want to be your inspiration

Helen knew that she would forever be seen as a sweet little disabled girl done good.

That when she raised money for the disabled it was met with a chorus of ‘awwws’ and applause. But the minute she stepped outside that box… yeah not so much (oh hi FBI!)

To that Helen had this (pretty sarky) response:

So long as I confine my activities to social service and the blind, they compliment me extravagantly, calling me ‘arch priestess of the sightless,’ ‘wonder woman,’ and a “modern miracle…but to advocate that all human beings should have leisure and comfort, the decencies and refinements of life, is a Utopian dream, and one who seriously contemplates its realization indeed must be deaf, dumb, and blind.”

So remember, next time you hear someone call Helen Keller an inspiration, she’s right up there in heaven, giving the middle finger.

Helen Keller Header
And also smelling flowers, because she is a lady of many talents and interests

This was interesting! Where can I find out more? Helen Keller wrote stacks of amazing essays about her beliefs, many of which are available for free online, so I definitely suggest searching them out!

5 of the baddest bitches to ever live…that you never heard of

History is full of ladies that never get the due they deserve. These ladies very much fit that bill! From freedom fighting piracy to leading samurai armies and even straight up Game of Thrones-esque batshittery, it’s time we celebrated the mark left by these baddest bitches from history:

1. The tank wielding badass: Mariya Vasilyena Oktyabrskaya

When Mariya’s husband was killed fighting in WW2, she did what any grieving widow would…

Sold everything she owned, bought a tank, named it ‘fighting girlfriend’ and set off to kill as many Nazis as humanly possible.

Standard.

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Slightly terrifying…but go get it Mariya

Mariya grew up dirt poor in Crimea at the start of the 20th century. One of 10 children, there was rarely enough food to go around.

Yet Mariya didn’t let this destroy her, instead channeling her hardship into a love of politics and the military.

The fiesty young girl grew up to be a kickass young woman, who didn’t give a shit about gender rules; learning how to drive and shoot.

She married Ilya Oktyabrskaya, an army officer and the love of her life. Though the couple couldn’t have kids, they had each other and that was all Mariya wanted.

Still, when Ilya was called to fight for The Soviet Union in WW2, Mariya happily bid him farewell. After all Russia was being invaded by Germany and needed brave soldiers like Ilya.

And then Mariya got the call that is everyone’s worst nightmare.

Her beloved Ilya was dead. 

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Seriously, can nobody let true love live?!?

Following Ilyas death, Mariya wrote to Stalin:

 

My husband was killed in action defending the motherland. I want revenge on the fascist dogs for his death and for the death of Soviet people tortured by the fascist barbarians. For this purpose, I’ve deposited all my personal savings – 50,000 rubles – to the National Bank in order to build a tank. I kindly ask to name the tank ‘Fighting Girlfriend’ and to send me to the frontline as a driver of said tank.

Stalin, agreed…because, well you would wouldn’t you?!?

Mariya Vasilyevna Oktyabrskaya
I mean look at that steely stare!!

Mariya was made to go through several months of tank training (way more than her male comrades)

It soon became clear that Mariya could drive, shoot and lob grenades like no other. So she was sent to the front line.

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Mariya preps Fighting Girlfriend for combat.

Her first mission in Fighting Girlfriend was to help block German troops route to Moscow.

She nimbly manovered Fighting Girlfriend around the battlefield, destroying several anti tank guns, machine gun nest and enemy soldiers.

Then she was hit!

With Fighting Girlfriend out of action, Mariya was ordered to remain where she was and wait for help…

Obviously she didn’t.

Instead she calmly got out her tank in the middle of a war zone; fixed it, leapt back in and entered the fray once more.

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Yes..this is literal insanity, for the love of christ never try a move this ballsy at home!

Now promoted to Sergeant, Mariya and Fighting Girlfriend continued their steady stream of casual bad assery.

Then in 1944 Fighting Girlfriend was again hit.

As usual, Mariya refused to let this stop her doing her job. She leapt out and starting working on Fighting Girlfriend.

Just then another shell hit.

Even Mariya didn’t stand a chance against a blast like this.

She was taken off the battlefield in a coma, from which she never woke.

fighting girlfriend forever!
*sob* Mariya and Fighting Girlfriend forever!!!

But Mariya and Fighting Girlfriend lived on. She was honoured with the Soviet Unions highest military honour. To this day she is still remembered in Russia for her bravery and badassey.

 

2. The Samurai Sex Symbol: Tomoe Gozen

Forget everything you think you know about samurais. Because we’re about to blow the doors off these stoic blokes with swords.

You guys…there were female samurais, and they were a level of badass never before seen! (Thanks by the way to @elaanfaun on Twitter, who suggested we check this out!)

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Prepare to get your mind blown with female badassery

From the medieval period onwards, girls from samurai families could be trained up as onna-bugeisha, which roughly translates as:

Warrior Women

They trained in fighting (of course), as well as in maths and science.

These were insanely intelligent ladies who could both lead military strategising and single handedly take down a group of men in hand to hand combat.

One of the most badass of these ladies was Tomoe Gozen.

Known for being both beautiful and ballsy, Tomoe was a 12 century warrior not to be messed with. Tomoe Gozen, painted on silkTomoe had an unparalleled collection of war trophies…which in the 12th century came in the form of the decapitated heads of enemies who had died at your hands.

Tomoe’s pad was full of dead guy heads (which must have been a treat for overnight guests!)

And she wasn’t just killing it at interior design!

See, Tomoe was around during Japan’s, Genpei War (a monumental civil war) and her fighting chops were so good that she was made into a leading commander for one of the armies by its leader, Lord Kiso no Yoshinaka!

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Oh me? Just casually leading a 12 century army, you know, the usual

In 1183, Tomoe led over 1000 men into battle!

Of course she led from the front and of course they won.

Such fears of badassery weren’t unusual for Tomoe.

She regularly led huge forces of men into war; once even leading a force of just 300 samurais into battle against 6000! Emerging as one of only 5 survivors!

Tomoe Gozen painting
Did I not say you shouldn’t mess with her!?

Tomoe’s final battle was a doozy!

With her side emerging the clear victors of the war, it was time to decide who would get to actually lead Japan when all was said and done.

It was a toss up between Tomoe’s boss, Lord Kiso and his cousin Minamoto no Yoritomo.

Of course voting for a leader would be way too logical…so they had their strongest warriors duke it out instead.

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Sure, it makes no political sense, but way more fun to watch than another Trump clusterfuck

Though Tomoe was one fierce fighter, the rest of Lord Kiso’s forces were no match for Minamoto no Yoritomo.

Soon only Tomoe and 5 others were left alive.

Lord Kiso called for his warriors to retreat…but Tomoe wanted to have the last word.

So, she charged into a group of 30 of the enemies best fighters and emerged a few minutes later with the head of the strongest.

Let’s assume it had pride of place in Tomoe’s decapitated head tablescape.

 

3. Jeanne de Clisson – The Lioness Of Brittany

The definition of a woman scorned, Jeanne went from an average medieval noblewoman to one on the warpath.

She dealt with her enemies brutally and soon become Frances most feared force….seriously guys this is some Game of Thrones shit right here!

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Remember that time Cersei killed legit everyone? That…but 100& more.

Jeanne had already been married twice before she married Oliver de Clisson in 1330.

But this marriage wasn’t like the others. See, Jeanne and Oliver actually loved each; a rarity in this era!

The couple had several children and lived in relative bliss, until Oliver was called up to war…and everything went fully tits up. 

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Oh Dani, you have no idea how bad this is about to go

The French and the English, were at war over the dukedom of Brittany. Oliver chose to fight for France; under the leadership of Charles de Blois.

Things were going great…until Oliver was taken prisoner by the English…and Charles de Blois suspected Oliver of losing to the English on purpose.

And so, when England and France eventually called a truce, France decided to celebrate by executing Oliver. 

execution of Oliver De Clisson and other nobles
Oh..is this not how you celebrate getting on with people?

Jeanne was (understandably) devastated by her husbands celebratory beheading

But Jeanne didn’t want to go off and play the repentant widow. She wanted revenge on everyone who had allowed Oliver’s death.

So she sold everything to buy war supplies and set off to bring down the French nobility, Charles de Blois and even Frances ruler, King Philip.

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Basically

Her first stop was the home of one of Charles de Blois’s pals.

She arrived outside his castle with her children…and a small army of men.

Still – what could a woman do? And so, the gates were opened.

By morning almost everybody in the castle had been massacred. Its contents stolen and only a few wide eyed survivors left to tell of the what they’d witnessed.

Jeanne de Clisson
Jeanne de Clisson: she may look sweet but she will straight up kill you

Jeanne fled across the channel with her children, in hopes of using England to fund her revenge spree.

She got her wish; buying three war ships, which Jeanne painted black and hung red sails on.

Then, with a band of pirates, outlaws and supporters, she set out for the channel; attacking any ship with a French flag.

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The worst time in history to be travelling whilst wearing a beret

For 13 years, Jeanne waged war on France via the sea.

It was said that if a French noble was onboard a ship then Jeanne would get an axe and behead them herself; just as she believed, they had allowed her husband to be.

Only a few survivors remained from each ship. Allowed to live so they could return to France and tell of the horrors they’d witnessed

Then just as suddenly she had started her quest for revenge…Jeanne stopped.

She moved to England, where she was gifted lands and wads if cash for so kindly cleaning the channel of the French enemy.

Then she remarried and (weirdly) returned to France…where she peacefully lived out the rest of her days.

 

4. The rebel pioneer: Sophie Morigeau

With one eye, bright green glasses and a ‘not taking any of you’re bullshit’ attitude, Sophie Morigeau took the pioneer world by storm and redefined what it meant to be a woman.

She refused to set up home and let some guy go have her adventures. Instead she broke all the rules and set out to rule her male dominated world.

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Ok, get prepared to start shouting ‘Yes Sophie!’ a whole lot.

Growing up on the Canadian frontier, Sophie was brave, bulshy and able to give as good as she got; she was basically built for having ridiculous pioneer adventures.

 

Sadly, that’s not what nice girls like Sophie did.

Her parents tried everything they could to ‘civilise’ her. Sending off for a good catholic education and teaching her homemaking skills.

At 16 she was married off to guy almost a decade older. He was nice enough, but married life just wasn’t Sophie’s bag.

So she ditched the husband, took back her maiden name and set up a gold mining trade businesses. 

As you do. 

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All together now: YES SOPHIE!!!

 

 

 

Ditching a husband and running a business solo were unheard of female pursuits in this age. Still, Sophie wasn’t done…she wanted more.

She wanted to grow her business. And the best way to do that was to do what every other entrepreneur with any business sense did at the time; find some good land and claim it.

Except women couldn’t do that.

…but Sophie did anyway.

On this plot of land she almost single handedly built herself a home and a trading post.

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Just casually building a home… solo… from scratch… in an era with no power tools or flatpack – Can I get a: Yes Sophie!!!

With her business thriving, Sophie started opening herself up to male company – obviously no strings attached, after all she wasn’t giving everything up to be a wife again!

 

The community described Sophie’s boyfriends as ‘husbands’…just husbands who obeyed everything Sophie said and got their marching orders when she got bored/tired of them.

There were of course ‘husbands’ who weren’t happy with Sophie having so much independence…

One ‘husband’ who emotionally abused Sophie, mysteriously turned up drowned.

And ‘husband’ no 12 somehow ended up shot after failing to make way for ‘husband’ no 13.

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Ok, badass frontier and all BUT might skip this ‘yes Sophie’…potential spousal murder isn’t really it

Luckily though, Sophie didn’t need men to have fun. As a good pioneer, she had plenty of adventures!

 

On one adventure she lost an eye when hit by a tree branch; thus creating the need for her signature bright green specs.

She also famously got into a dramatic horse and buggy crash, after which she was left lying in the road with one rib sticking out of her stomach.

What did Sophie do? Amputate the rib herself of course!

Then she hung the rib bone in her home, a pink ribbon tied neatly round it (If only Sophie and Tomoe Gozen had lived at the same time! Together they could have owned the most niche interior design business)

Despite her self surgery shenanigans, Sophie lived to a ripe old age, continuing to build her business and live life to the fullest until she was well into her twilight years.

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Yes Sophie!

5. The Pirate Queen: Grace O’Malley

Known as Ireland’s pirate queen, Grace O’Malley was a women you didn’t mess with. She went from innocent little girl to seafaring warrior Queen, battling for her peoples rights and giving two fingers to Queen Elizabeth I.

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Modern interp of Grace

Graces’ Dad was an Irish Chieftain; earning cash from both massively overcharging the boats who used the waters that fell under his control and sailing to and from exotic lands (well…Spain)

Sadly for Grace, Daddy O’Malley wasn’t crazy about his baby girl joining him on his pirate filled sea adventures.

It’s said that when she asked to join him on the high seas, her parents lied and said as she was a girl, her hair was too long to sail.

This didn’t stop Grace.

She grabbed a knife, lopped off her locks and rocked up at her Dads ship the next day ready for Pirating 101!

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Not even 4ft and already more badass than me!

Grace turned out to be a natural leader and following her fathers death it was she who took over the family business, not her brothers!

This meant Grace now owned a good chunk of Ireland, had wealth of her own and was a Queen. Nice!

But obviously Grace wasn’t content to stop there.

At 15 she married a famous war hero, who was also heir to the O’Flaherty title and thus due to own an even bigger chunk of Ireland not to mention a ton of cash!

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How can you achieve so much before you’re even legally allowed to drink?!?

Grace and her new husband had 3 children together before he was killed by a rival clan in an ambush.

Unsurprisingly, Grace didn’t slink away a devastated widow.

Instead she took control of his ships and got herself a new lover!

Sadly, Graces new lover was also murdered by a rival clan…so Grace stormed their castle and had them all horrifically killed. As you do.

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Not a normal reaction..but then again Grace isn’t your average lass

By her early twenties, Grace had a sizeable hunk of Ireland, a shit ton of ships and even more supporters.

 

She married again, this time to a guy called Iron Richard, for political reasons (*cough* he was very very rich *cough*)

Grace gave birth to the couples child onboard one of her ships.

Almost immediately after she had given birth, the ship was attackers.

Grace of course led the charge against these merciless attackers; firing a blunderbuss whilst wrapped up in a blanket.

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Again: She defeated an pirate attack immediately after giving birth

Sadly, for all her badass adventures, things weren’t as exciting at home. Graces new husband was all kinds of boring!

 

So a year into their marriage Iron Richard returned home to their castle to find the whole thing locked up.

Grace stuck her head out of the window and shouted down to him:

‘I dismiss you Richard Burke’

Just like that. Marriage over. bye felicia .gifGraces next big challenge came from England. See Queen Elizabeth I was determined to bring the Irish clans under English rule.

Elizabeth used both bribery and force to take power away from Ireland’s leading Chieftens, Princes and Princesses.

Yet Grace managed to keep building her empire up.

Well, at least until Elizabeths governor in Ireland squeezed out much of Graces income, attacked her home and took two of her sons and her half brother as ransom.

Naturally, Grace didn’t back down and instead set sail for England, to demand Elizabeth give back her family and basically calm the fuck down.

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Seriously though Liz, back the fuck off

The pair met at Greenwich Palace where Grace refused to curtesy for Elizabeth. After all…they were both Queens.

 

She also refused to remove her dagger and did a massively snotty sneeze into a noble woman’s fine silk handkerchief…which she duly chucked in the nearest fire; shrugging off the courtiers outrage.

With the nicities over, Grace talked finalities with Elizabeth in fluent Latin.

It was decided that Elizabeth’s governor would be removed from Ireland and Graces family freed. In return, Grace had to promise not to join any Irish rebellions.

Grace agreed and set off back to Ireland…where she joined the Irish revolts and went on to live to a ripe old age.

This was interesting! Where can I find out more? I’m glad you asked! I’ve popped some suggestions for further reading on each of our badasses below:

  • Grace O’Malley: Pirate Queen, The Life of Grace O’Malley by Judith Cook. 

Well this is awkward...they aren’t any more books on the others (unless you can read french, then you my friend are in like re. Jeanne De Clisson!) However, Tomoe, Mariya and Jeanne are all including in the below cracking book (along with tons of other amazing women!)

  • Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics by Jason Porath 

 

Woman Rebel: The controversial life of Margaret Sanger

In 1873, the US passed The Comstock Act, a dicky little law that made it illegal for contraceptives, tools to be used in abortions, sex toys, erotica and even sexually charged letters (!) to be sent in the post.

In stricter states it was illegal for a person to possess these items (let alone post them!) and you could be damn sure that if you were caught you were facing a hefty fine or jail time.

This was the repressed world Margaret Sanger was born into. Margaret Sanger

Born in 1879 Margaret was one of 11; part of a huge Irish Catholic family that lived in poverty on the edge of New York.

Her Dad, Michael, was a drinker but also a radical free thinker, he’d dreamed of being a doctor (though poverty had made that impossible!) instead becoming a stone mason; but he still urged his children to become more, to better themselves and the world around them.

And Margaret’s Mum? Well her job was making babies! And in 11 kids in, she was clearly good at it.

But you can’t have almost a dozen kids (and 7 miscarriages) without your health being affected; after one pregnancy to many, she died in her 40s

At just 19, Margaret had lost her mum. Devastated, she immediately blamed her Dad (a very teenager in grief move) Margaret was angry, surely if her Dad hadn’t knocked up his wife so much, if she’d had some control in how many kids she’d had, then she wouldn’t have died so young.

Something had to change and with nobody also doing anything, Margaret had to do it herself (again, a very teenager move!) so she became a nurse. lets do this!!.gif

Margaret soon found out that working as a nurse in New York’s lower east side was, pretty damn bleak. The work was tough, the hours long and every day she had to face the strangle hold that The Comstock Act had over women’s life’s.

Without access to contraceptives, more women were falling pregnant and, just like Margarets mum, more women were dying in birth.

There was no way safe alternative as The Comstock Act also barred postage of abortion tools. Desperate, women were turning to heinously dodgy back alley abortions, even self-abortions…both methods almost always ended disastrously.

Every other day, Margaret had to watch another woman’s future being wiped out as she died in her arms.

First her Mum, now this… Margaret was angry and she sure as hell wasn’t going to let this shit continue, saying:

‘No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother’

So Margaret buckled and worked to change things. She started writing a sex column and in 1914 set up (the amazingly named) magazine, ‘The Woman Rebel‘, dedicated to showing women who to take back control of their bodies.

…Unsurprisingly The Woman Rebel immediately broke The Comstock Act and Margaret had to flee to Britain to avoid being thrown in jail.

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Damn you Comstock Act!!!!!!

But despite is constant dicketry, The Comstock Act couldn’t keep a good woman down!

Whilst in Britain, Margaret researched contraceptives, got involved in women’s rights and came back to America way better connected and with big ideas on spreading contraceptives throughout the good ol’ US of A.

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The land of the free and the home of having a choice

On 16 October 1916, Margaret opened her first birth control clinic in New York. She employed a Yiddish translator (hoping to make the areas large Jewish community feel welcome) along with her sister and fellow nurse.

That first day more than 100 women poured through the doors.

Aaaaand 10 days later the police shit down the clinic and threw Margaret in jail.

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All together: Fuck you Comstock Act!!!!

Margaret wouldn’t be deterred though. On her release she re-opened the clinic…and it was shut down again…and so she re-opened it again!

While that was going on, she also fought against her initial Comstock Conviction; which led to the law being changed to allow doctors to prescribe contraception to female patients if it was for a medical reason.

Margaret clung onto this loophole and on the back of it she formed The American Birth Control League (later planned parenthood!) in 1923 the league opened Americas first legal birth control clinic. From there they created a network of safe contraceptive clinics that would become Planned Parenthood. excited.gif

The end right? No….see Margaret wasn’t satisfied; sure having a safe, legal birth control network was great…but what could it truly achieve without foolproof contraceptives?

Margaret dreamed of some kind magic pill that would offer blanket coverage, but the science just wasn’t there!

So she started to look at alternative options… and found eugenics

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yep, its about to go as well as you think it is

In the 1920s and 30s, eugenics was a theory gaining traction. Now it’s very easy to imagine that the only people supporting eugenics were the same people who would soon prove themselves to be  the worst of humanity (looking at you Adolf), but that just wasn’t the case.

You see, Eugenics was a mainstream theory, it had support from doctors, presidents, philanthropists, teachers and scientists; it was taught in most US colleges and was seen as a far more acceptable way of controlling birth than birth control.

Yeah…historys kind of messed up.

Margaret wrote about eugenics as a way to give birth control more clout and for it to be taken more seriously. By tapping into the eugenics community she hoped that one day birth control would become just as mainstream and supported.

So, what did she actually write about? Well thats check out her most cited work:

The Eugenic Value of birth control propaganda (published in 1921s Birth Control Review)

Yeah…not the snappiest title.

At the beginning of the article, Margaret likens Eugenics to birth control…in that both were initially met with scorn and skepticism; and though Eugenics has moved passed this to be taken seriously, birth control is still in that stage.

It’s all going fine…until Margaret starts saying things like this:

‘the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.’

And this…

(speaking on ‘idealistic sexual ethics) ‘Such systems have in the past revealed their woeful inability to prevent the sexual and racial chaos into which the world has today drifted.’

Aaaaaand this…

‘Drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupidly cruel sentimentalism.’ woah.gif

Yeah…its a lot.

In the past several years this chapter in Margarets work has been getting a lot of attention. Arguably more attention than the work she did setting up birth control clinics and giving woman some autonomy over their bodies.

The majority of this started in 2015 when US Senator, Ted Cruz, led a republican group in demanding a museum remove a bust of Margaret; citing this quote from a letter Margaret wrote when opening a clinic in a predominantly black community:

‘We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population’

I think we can all agree, thats pretty fucked up Margaret – well it would be, if she said it. You see Ted got a tiny bit lazy and only used half a quote…out of context.

What Ted forgot to mention was that Margaret was writing a letter that voiced her concerns; after a spate of false rumours suggested Margaret was planning to use the clinic as a genocide machine, she wanted to work with the local church to make sure that the community would feel comfortable going to the clinic. Heres the full quote:

 

‘We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.’

This is just one example of the majority of articles around Margaret Sangers involvement with eugenics (seriously google it, it’s a cluster fuck of a rabbit hole). Most of these articles are maybe 10% fact and the rest is twisted to fit a current political narrative…that narrative, is -of course- abortion.

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Already excited for social medias reaction!

It seems strange to be calling for the removal of statues, busts, paintings, etc, of one supporter of eugenics…and not all.

After all, it was a mainstream theory, other pro-eugenic people include Helen Keller (who referred to it as like ‘weeding’ a garden), Winston Churchill, social reformer Beatrice Webb, H.G Wells, not to mention multiple presidents, a noble prize winner and many many more.

The only reason I can think of is that Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood…and with most of the people calling for these removals, anti-abortion campaigners, that would seem to be the answer.

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prove me wrong…

So where does that leave us? Well, with the history of a complicated woman.

A woman who overcame countless hurdles to bring reproductive rights to America, but who also supported an incredibly shitty theory that manages to be discriminatory against pretty much all minorities at once; yet the same woman also also fought for minority staff to be bought into her clinics – Margaret Sanger is the definition of a complex person.

And I think thats good; too often we idolise our historical heroes, with Margaret, you can’t do that (well you shouldn’t anyway!) and that means we have the opportunity to explore a female historic figure in the kind of way we don’t normally do…just make sure you do whilst using all the facts!

That was interesting where can I find out more? I’d suggest Sabrina Jones, Our Lady of Birth Control; it’s a graphic novel and a deep dive history read at the same time (the dream!)

 

 

 

 

5 incredible women whose genius changed the world

1. Hypatia

Hypatia was a genius. She was a mathematician, astronomer and inventor. Our babe had some serious brains and was also ballsy as fuck. She’s one of, if not the first recorded women in mathematics.

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Yeah, we haven’t even started and you already know she’s the greatest…

Hypatia was born sometime between 350-37 BC in Alexandria (An Egyptian province). Her Dad, Theon, was one of the last members of the Library of Alexandria (an incredibly fancy palace of knowledge). A famed mathematician, Daddy Hypatia wasted no time teaching his little girl everything he knew.

Now, Hypatia was super smart and she quickly surpassed her Dad’s (pretty bloody genius) intellect… and so the student became the teacher.

People came from miles around to hear her teach and in around 400BC she became the head of The Platonist School in Alexandria where she lectured on mathematics and philosophy.

But this is history….so it doesn’t stay good (sorry)

See, back then science and the like was considered a pagan pursuit by Christians, so Hypatia’s teachings were not going down well with the locals. In fact they were not fans to the extent that they formed a mob and killed her…

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Death of the philosopher Hypatia, by Louis Figuier

But her work lived on; her influence monumental. Sadly we don’t have any of her surviving work, but she had a real impact on her peers, who talked about her with a reverence that was awe inspiring.

 

2. Dorothy Hodgkin

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Dorothy 🙌🏻

Dorothy is a scientific marvel. Fact. She specialised in X-Ray Crystallography which basically is a way to decode the structure of biomolecules. This was important in recreating synthetic structures in 3D to replicate those biomolecules. Like, for example, PENACILLIN! INSULIN! And other stuff people need to not die…

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Science, successfully staying the only thing keeping us from death!

Dotty studied chemistry at Oxford in 1928, and left with a first class honours degree. This was pretty bloody amazing at the time, as there were limited spaces available for women to study at degree level (damn you patriarchy!) In fact Dotty was the third woman to receive a first in the history of Oxford university!

After smashing it with her degree, Dotty went on to study her doctorate at Cambridge where she became interested in X-Ray Crystallography.

She came back to Oxford in the late 1930s to continue her research and also to teach a new generation of Crystallographers.

In 1945 Dotty had her first big breakthrough…Penicillin! She pinned down the molecular structure of penicillin; a revolution in medicine that would save countless lives.

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Dorothy’s model of the stucture of penicillin

But Dotty didn’t stop! She later cracked the coding for insulin and B12, for which she was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964. She is still the only British woman to receive this honour.

During all of this Dorothy pioneered new techniques to better capture the structures of even more complex biomolecules. Medicine owes one Dotty one hell of a debt!

 

3. Mae Jemison

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Mae looking BADASS!

Mae is famous for being the first African American woman in space, but that ain’t all she’s done (though it is still quite a lot…)

Born in 1956, she grew up with a fascination for space travel and was obsessed with the coverage of the Apollo missions, as well as being a massive Trekkie (Lieutenant Uhura was her absolute hero)

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And who can blame her?

Mae was also a shit hot dancer, training in every type of dance imaginable. But she also had that passion for science, she struggled with what to do….be a dancer or doctor? Her Mum told her:

‘You can always dance if you’re a doctor, but you can’t doctor if you’re a dancer’

That settled things. Mae trained to be a doctor at the Cornell Medical College and got her degree in 1981. As soon as she’ got that under her belt Mae joined the Peace Corps (because Mae is the best like that)

After The Peace Corps, Mae applied to NASA; the dream of going to space one she just couldn’t get out of her head. And then she got the call…she was going to be an astronaut!

In 1992, Mae was a mission specialist on mission STS-47 on the space shuttle Endeavour. Mae often started her recordings in space with the classic trekkie line

‘Hailing frequencies open’.

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Uhura would be proud

After she returned to earth Mae quit NASA and went on to found her own company The Jemison Group that develop science and technology for everyday use. Another one of her company’s developed a device that mean doctors can monitor a patient’s day-to-day nervous system functions, which was developed from NASA technology.

But Mae still can’t quite shake the stars. She’s the principal of the 100 Year Starship project who aim to travel to the next solar system by the next 100 years AND are looking at developing ways to improve recycling & develop more efficient and green fuel solutions (Peace Corps for life!)

Live Long and Prosper Mae, we think you are an absolute legend.

 

4. Wang Zhenyi

Wang Zhenyi is was born in 1796 in China. She was fascinated by eclipses, which were still a mystery back then, but Zhenyi knew it weren’t no magic making that happen!

She wrote a paper on what she she thought was going on and created a model for those less wordy; using a globe, a mirror and a lamp, Wang showed how the eclipse was made by the moon blocking out the sun. Simple!

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She also understood that the earth wasn’t flat, that it was a globe and that the earth rotated around the sun. This was revolutionary thinking for the time.

But Wang didn’t stop there, at the age of just 24, she wrote a book called Simple Principles of Calculation…I don’t know what you were doing at 24, but I know I wasnt spending my time moulding mathematics..

With all this science and maths, you’d be forgiven for thinking Wang was just a giant brain….but she had a huge heart to match. She wrote political poetry, touching on topics like gender equality and in her additional spare time she worked to ease the suffering of China’s poor.

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How can one twenty something do this much!?!

She died aged only 29. But in her short life she published so many papers on maths, the solar system as well as some lush poems. Her work influenced countless numbers of clever clogs who came after our girl.

I’ll leave you with this mic drop of a poem by Wang:

It’s made to believe, Women are the same as men; Are you not convinced, Daughters can also be heroic?

5. Alice Ball

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Alice in her graduation gear 😍

Born in 1892 Alice grew up in Seattle and took an interest in chemistry when helping her photographer Grandfather develop shots in his darkroom

Super smart and a tough cookie, she become both the first woman and the first African American to graduate from the University of Hawaii.

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Just casually breaking all the boundaries

With those barriers firmly broken, Alice moved onto a bigger task…saving Hawaii.

See Hawaii had an influx of patients suffering with leprosy, or Hansen’s disease (Mmmmbop) it got so bad that people with the disease were arrested and shipped off to a leper colony on an Island off the mainland! The only treatment was a very painful injection of oil made from chaulmoogra tree seeds…and it only relieved some of the symptoms.

But, Alice had a solution! When she was 24, Alice figured out a way to make the oil injectable! She isolated the ethyl esters of the fatty acids in the oil.

Sadly Alice died shortly after perfecting this method (likely from inhaling chlorine gas during research) One of her fellow peers at Hawaii university decided to be a total shit rag and tried to steal her research and pass if off as his own. BUT thankfully, one of Alice’s mates put that fucker in his place.

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I WILL CRUSH YOU!

The treatment worked. It meant people affected with the disease could now go home and see their families, and Hawaii stopped arresting their sick and chucking them on an island to forget about them.

Alice’s method of treatment, known as The Ball Method *snigger* was so good that it was used until the 1940s to treat patients with leprosy.

Her influence was huge in combating this disease, though it did take the University of Hawaii NEARLY 90 YEARS to recognise Alice’s achievements by putting a plaque to her on a chaulmoogra tree outside the University.

 

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

4 hacks to smuggle booze prohibition style

Booze! Who doesn’t love it? Trick question – we all do! But what happens when this universal love suddenly becomes illegal? Well, you drink it anyway…just very craftily.

During the prohibition you could be fined thousands and even thrown in jail if you were caught with alcohol, so smuggling booze became serious business.

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And its only slightly very illegal!

Now first step for smuggling alcohol – you need to get alcohol to smuggle.

Whilst some breweries got through prohibition by making ‘near beer’ (anywhere from 2 – 0.5% alcohol) those who kept on making the strong stuff had to go deep underground. Operating in woods or under the guise of farms and other out of the way businesses.

It was vital that these suppliers remained unknown and untraceable for police.

This wasn’t an easy task – keeping entire breweries secret required some James Bond level covert operations! Bar sneaking and guns, we all know that James Bond is nothing without wierd gadgets from Q…with that in mind I present:

Cow Shoes

Cow shoes, used during the prohibition, these shoes helped mask the footprints of bootleggers, making them appear as vow hooves and throwing of policeNo these are not lift shoes (a ‘la Tom Cruise) they are in fact designed to make the wearers footprints look like cow hooves.

The idea was that any cops looking to try and trace bootleggers to their supplier would lose them when a persons footprints suddenly turned into a cows….which I guess that was a totally normal occurrence in the 1920s and early 30s, as was cattle going for lone forest jaunts…

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I don’t know, I’m not a cow historian *shrug*

Cow shoes weren’t the only method to throw off police. Bootleggers also pimped their rides into supped up cars that were easily able outrun the po po. They even went so far as to build a cross country underwater cable car to outfox the fuzz.

Yep, that’s right:

 A cross country underwater cable car… made of torpedoes

Detroit was a bootleggers dream, mainly because it sat right next to Canada, land of maple, manners and legal alcohol!

But how to transport this booze to the US? A boat could was very visible (therefore very catchable) and swimming it over seemed like a whole deal. So naturally an underwater system was built

From Popular Science, 1932
From Popular Science, March 1932

Torpedoes were filled with liqueur and then attached to a mile-long underwater cable line, running from Canada to Detroit. Thanks to the quick motor running the cable line, a 1932 edition of Popular Science estimates that around 40 torpedoes worth of hooch were transported to America every hour.

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That is an impressive amount of definitely tainted illegal booze

As well as torpedo underwater pipelines, bootleggers also had more, erm…homespun ways of smuggling alcohol:

Stuffing booze in random crap

The imagination of bootleggers was apparently endless. Sadly rather than using this imagination for writing the next great American novel, they funneled their skills into putting alcohol into anything they could get there hands on.

Here are just some of the things Alcohol was smuggled in:

  • Eggs
  • Tinned ‘food’
  • Walking canes
  • Bibles
  • Tailors dummies
  • Christmas trees
  • Pig carcasses
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I fear Babe may not have made it to the city during prohibition

But no matter how ingenious (or mean to pigs) the smuggle, the bootleggers always got caught…welll…unless they were women.

The riot girls of rum running

For some reason police just didn’t seem to suspect women of smuggling booze and even when they were caught, they were let off really lightly (seriously, one woman’s sentence was actually to attend church each Sunday for 2 years…)

Unsurprisingly some women took advantage of this and made serious coin.

Marie Waite (AKA Spanish Marie) was one of these women. Marie single handedly created an entire convey to move tons of alcohol from Havana to Florida’s Key West. Through her active prohibition years she raked in at least $1 million, which in 1920s money, is some Gatsby-esque shit. money gif.gif

Marie wasn’t alone. Female bootleggers even created a guide to smuggling booze on ones person. From flasks attached to thighs to full on aprons ladden with whisky bottles, their creativity for creating clothes made of cocktails knew no bounds.

The world of female ‘rum running’ was a really diverse one. This open – yet illegal trade -allowed women from all walks of life to make their fortune, as one journalist put it:

‘Some are bold, brainy and beautiful, some hard-boiled and homely, some white, some black, some brown. (But) All are thorns in the sides of Prohibition’flapper wink gif.gif

 

This was interesting, where can i find out more? Well, I really need you guys to help me on this one! I’m struggling to find any really amazing books on women in prohibition, in particular, female rum runners…if you know if any, hit me up in the comments or on our Twitter! 

How brothels built America

Fact: Sex workers helped build America. These women came to the Wild West/The Old West (whatever you want to go with) and smashed every expectation of womanhood.

They became business oligarchs, they built entire communities and forged their own independence.

It’s a one hell of a tale! But before we dive it it, let’s quickly knock out the basics:

How did the West come to be?

Around the mid 1800s there was a huge boom in the amount of land being built in the South West of America. Most of this land was built for mining. As new sources for coal and metal mining were discovered, towns sprung up overnight to house the influx of workers that appeared to mine it.

Suddenly you had entire towns with 1000’s of men and maybe a dozen or so women. Now you don’t have to be good at maths to see that the ratio here is a little off.

Having spotted the er…supply and demand issue, business minded women start arriving in these towns and setting up shop as sex workers.

Soon these women were earning in one day what they might otherwise earn in a week as a factory worker or clerk.

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GOOD buisness

There were of course risks….a lot of risks. But in the Old West it was these women were effectively working at the same risk level as a working men had. Communities, rules and laws were still being worked out, which meant that murder, beating and work caused incidents/deaths we’re sadly not rare hazards for any gender or line of work!

Yes the risks were high, BUT the clients were many, the going was good and soon the cash was flowing!

So, women started opening their own brothels. This in turn led to women buying land, companies and eventually building business empires of their own.

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The original boss bitches  

Soon entire towns revolved around one damn good brothel.

This wasn’t luck. The ladies running these brothels had business smarts for days. Seriously they could have smashed The Apprentice (and probably Donald Trump too…)

One of the best examples of this is Mattie Silks: 

Mattie Silks, who became America's youngest brothel owner at just 19 and ran a successful brothel in Denver
Mattie Silks: admittedly looking v awkward here

A small town girl, Mattie opened her first brothel at just 19. This made her the youngest madam in America.

She invested her profits back into the business, as well as growing her income and holdings by buying real estate and land.

These buisness smarts meant that in just a few years Mattie was running one of Denvers most popular brothels. Patrons were greeted with luxury surroundings and a full orchestra – because this wasn’t just sex…it was Silk sex, and it was classy AF.

But Mattie didn’t stop at having a leading chain of high end brothels. She paid her staff a salary that made them some of the highest paid women in the country.

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Yes Mattie pay it back!! 

OK, so, by now you might be thinking – sure these women created businesses that made them some of the richest women in the country and bought tons of new income to the growing West. But is that really building America? Don’t you need stuff like, schools, hospitals and churches, as well as places to have sexy time?

Why yes.

And they did that too.

These women had made themselves pillars in their communities. They weren’t just there for the money, they wanted to make a difference.

Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Diamond Jessie Hayman, opened her brothel doors to feed, clothe and shelter anyone that needed help. And Diamond Jessie was far from alone!

Here are just a few examples of how America’s sex workers made a difference:

Lou Graham, donated money to build up Seattle’s schools and also saved countless businesses and banks during a period of depression.

Anna Wilson’s will requested that her huge mansion be turned into Omaha’s first emergency hospital.

And former slave turned influential brothel owner, Mary Ellen “Mammy” Pleasant, campaigned tirelessly for the de-segregation of streetcars in San Francisco.

These women were doing way more for their communities than just providing cash and a good time. They were building them up, and turning them for shit holes to sustainable home steads!

Mary Ellen Pleasent
Mary Ellen Pleasant

And you best believe these communities didn’t forget the women that helped make them!

In 1890, Wyoming refused to become a US state, if it’s women were not allowed to keep the vote (which they had been granted in 1869) saying:

‘We will remain out of the Union one hundred years rather than come in without the women’ 

clapping gif.gif
Yes Wyoming!!! 

This was really interesting where can I find out more? I’d suggest checking out A Renegade History of the United States, by Thaddeus Russell (great name!), it has an amazing section on this.

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