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Tag Archives: 19th century

The Extraordinary Life of Zitkala-Ša

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What makes this person worthy of notice is not simply the accomplishments of their life as a writer, author, musician, composer, editor, teacher, and successful political activist, as well as having the honours of both being buried in the Arlington National Cemetery and having a Venusian crater named in their honour (Bonnin), but the fact that this person was a Native American woman born in a time when American indigenous peoples were still being trampled down, forced into assimilation, ignored, exploited and abused by the insurgents to their lands – the palefaces – and a time when even white women in general had no say in public life.

Born in 1876 as Zitkala-Ša (Sioux for Red Bird) in South Dakota, before the age of seven her family and tribe were driven by white men from their lands “like a herd of buffalo”; her uncle and younger sister (among many others in the tribe at the time) were sick, and died on the way or on arrival at their new territory1.  Her father died shortly thereafter.  She was taken from her mother at the age of eight to be educated in a Quaker school for three years.  Throughout her life she showed spirit, defying the prevailing trends of the dominant white culture which tried to suppress, supplant or kill off any signs of independent, indigenous cultures (she was also given a white name, Gertrude Simmons-Bonnin – the latter being the name given to her future husband, a Yankton Indian by the name of Captain Raymond Talefase Bonnin).  Not all of her education was a misery, however:  She learned to speak publicly, to read, write, and to appreciate a variety of musical styles; in 1891 she returned to white man’s education, studying the piano and violin, and began teaching music; by 1895 she was setting her mark, when she gave a speech about women’s inequality.  She earned her first diploma in that year, and began gathering native American legends and stories, translating them first to Latin, then English.

Zitkala-Ša, Credit - Charcoal by S Campos, Flickr

Credit:  Charcoal by S Campos, Flickr

 

From 1897 to 1899 she played violin with Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music.  Eventually she returned to the reservation where her mother still lived, and the poverty and gradual encroachment of white settlers on Indian allotted lands dismayed her, reminding her of the chasm between who she was, and the world around her.  She joined the Society of American Indians in 1911; it was dedicated to preserving the Native American way of life, while at the same time (ironically) fighting for full American citizenship.  Eventually she saw fruits of her political efforts, through the congressional passing of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934; she continued to work toward civil rights and equality until her death in 1938.

To read more about her fascinating life, click on the following links:

Wikipedia:  Zitkala-Ša

Amazon Kindle: Zitkala-Ša

1 American Indian Stories, by Zitkala-Ša

Knockers-Up

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If you were living in the 19th century, before the age of reliable and affordable alarm clocks, how could you be ensured of getting up on time, and being at your workplace?  Hire a knocker-up, of course.  That’s if you lived in Britain or Ireland.  Knockers-up were employed from the time of the Industrial Revolution up until (in places such as Manchester) as late as the 1950s.  Here are a few rare photographs of knockers-up knocking up.  Also known as “human alarm clocks” they would use sticks, clubs, pebbles or pea shooters to knock on clients’ door and windows.  I wonder who woke them up?

Human Alarm Clock - Knocker-uppers  – hired to ensure people would wake up on time for their own jobs. They would use sticks, clubs or pebbles to knock on clients’ windows and doors Human Alarm Clock 2 Human Alarm Clock

Celebrating Amalie Noether

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Google’s celebration of this relatively unknown figure highlights her brilliance in the face of staunch sexism.  As a woman, I still feel sexism today though it’s far more subtle – the glass ceilings still need to be broken through, but she faced brick ceilings and walls.  Born in 1882 in Erlangen, Germany, she was born into a family of brilliant mathematicians, yet had to beg to be allowed to study at University; when she aced her audited courses they only reluctantly acknowledged her achievements, yet Einstein himself referred to her as “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced.”  To read more about her story, and details of her scientific breakthroughs, please click on the image below.

Amalie Noether  (Wikimedia Commons)

Amalie Noether (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Pietre Dure: Eternal Paintings

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I recently came across an interesting bit of information on past centuries’ continental tourists:  Searching for a way to display stones collected among Italy’s ruins and landscapes, these tourists discovered that they could have their stone specimens transformed into pieces of furniture or pottery, such as tabletops or bowls, in the ancient art of pietre dure (particularly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries).  Often floral or geometric designs, the tourist would collect semi-precious stones such as agate, jade, lapis lazuli, malachite, marble, onyx, topaz and many others, and have them worked into a treasured souvenir to bring home.  Click on the image below to read an article from the Select Italy Travel blog for an interesting piece on the topic.

Poccetti - Grand-ducal pietre dure manufacture, 1609

Poccetti – Grand-ducal pietre dure manufacture, 1609

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