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Wednesdays for Women #8: Zenobia

In honor of the Kurdish victory in Syria over ISIS, today’s W4W will talk about one of the greatest Syrian Queens who had adept military skill of her own: Zenobia.tumblr_mbrcrsrvOR1rq5o2oo1_1280

Back in the day she ruled, she was officially ruler of the “Palmyrene Empire,” which is modern day Syria. She was the second wife of the King Septimus Odaenathus, but is better remembered for her attitude towards the Romans, which was less than friendly. “Ancient sources on her life and reign are the historian Zosimus (c. 490 CE), the Historia Augusta (c. 4th century CE), the historian Zonaras (12th century CE), and historian Al-Tabari (839-923 CE) whose account follows that of Adi ibn Zayd (6th century CE) although she is also mentioned in the Talmud and by other writers.” While these sources note her open challenge to the Roman Empire (which would shortly lend a hand in its downfall), her place in popular history is far more dramatic. Allegedly, Zenobia led an outright revolt against Rome, leading to her capture, which led her chained through the streets of Rome before she was beheaded by Aurelian.ZenobiaCaptive-222x300

But that’s clearly not what makes her worth a Wednesday, so I’ll get to the good part. After her husband’s death (or shall I say murder?), Zenobia took the throne in 267 (her son being too young to rule).  She was very well educated (allegedly educated in Greek and Latin, and fluent in Egyptian and Aramaic), and filled her court with intellectuals. At the time, Palmyra was more like a vassal state to a disintegrating Rome. However, it had the distinct advantage of being a trading stop on the Silk Road at a time where other opportunities up the road had been weakened. In other words, Palmyra was sitting on great trade opportunities a steady stream of inoming wealth in the midst of Roman disorganization. As Rome’s figurehead changed by the week, Zenobia sent her troops to Roman-owned Egypt, conquering it in the name of Palmyra. With Egypt under her belt, negotiations began, and she was able to expand her territory into then-Asia Minor right behind Rome’s back. “By 271 CE she ruled over an empire which stretched from modern-day Iraq across through Turkey and down through Egypt.” Whether she was autonomous or a Roman vassal was even more contested when she printed coins of herself, adopting the name “Augusta.”
zenobiaUnfortunately, Rome did get its act together under the authority of military man Aurelian. He began a march on Zenobia, totally destroying each town in his wake. When a few towns in he encountered the home of a philosopher he liked, he spared the city. Afterwards, Zenobia’s cities sent him their surrenders in advanceso that he was able to practically waltz into Syria. After three battles, two of which the Roman’s feigned retreat before capturing the calvary, Zenobia was captured. Her final days range in mystique from her being poisoned, escaping on a camel, going to trial, or just marrying a Roman differ on the source. Regardless, she was a great leader, known for her stamina, and the Al-Tabri records that she would march on foot with her troops long distances, could hunt as well as any man, and could out-drink anyone. We can only hope those fighters in Syria today display equal valor.

More info: here and here.

Wednesdays for Women: Red Emma

I began this summer obsessed with E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, a fact you may be all too familiar with given some of my recent forays into the Edwardian. But besides picking up sartorial cues, I also chanced upon today;s spotlight woman. Let me go ahead and warn you, some fact might meld with fiction.

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But if it does, it is no less because of my own rambling imagination than the general chaos that was Emma Goldman’s life. Hoover, after all, called she and her lover, “beyond doubt, two of the most dangerous anarchists in this country.”

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Born in Russia in 1869, Goldman immigrated (though never became of citizen) to the U.S. (along with so many others) in 1885 at the the age of 16. It wasn’t until 3 years later that she would make the pivotal decision that would irreconcilably change the rest of her life. In those three years, she became a seamstress in Rochester and was married. When she discovered her husband was impotent, she tried to leave the marriage on several occasions.. When she finally secured a divorce, her parents threw her out for her lacking moral values. Taking her sewing machine, she left for New York City.

Her first day in New York, she met Alexander Berkman. Whether fate or happenstance, he invited her to the meeting that was to change her life. It was an anarchist meeting, expelling the merits of “propaganda of the deed.” In other words, putting your money where your mouth is. Less talk more game. As you can imagine, this was a particularly dubious proposition when the aim is wildly anti-authoritarian like anarchy. Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 11.10.58 PM

After a few months, Emma found her voice on stage. Gradually she honed her ideas from those she’d inherited into a rallying cry of the oppressed lower classes. For her deed, she and her equally eccentric, communal-living, life-long, on-and-off-again companion, Berkman decided they would react the the homestead strike. The tldr of the Homestead Strike goes like this: Andrew Carnegie had striking workers, he didn’t like it. He brought in professional “Pinkerton” guards (as they were called) to beat the dissenting to a pulp (9 died). No more strike. Carnegie’s foreman was none other than the now-esteemed collector Henry Clay Frick (such a lovely house on the upper east side, such a stunning collection of European gems). Together, Goldman and Berkman decided to assassinate him and incite the lower classes. However, their ideals were upset when, despite Berkman’s dispatch of three gun shots, he was apprehended, and Frick survived unscathed.

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While Emma stood for anarchy. The core of her mission was less about chaos and more about educating and helping the lower classes (or perhaps I am sympathetic). She was a trained midwife and masseuse, and she regularly employed these skills to supplement her meagre anarchist budget. In economic crisis, she preached (basically) communism. Her discussion of these classes “taking things by force” didn’t go over well. Still, this Union Square speech was a historic moment, though with tragic ends. Upon the assassination of William McKinley, the killer claimed that he had been inspired by Goldman, which didn’t really do her any favors. Berkman was still in jail, and the other anarchists were unhappy about the subsequent legislation her reputation inspired. The “Anarchist Exclusion Act” (passed by Congress, and approved by Teddy, who didn’t want to be a veritable shadow of his predeccessor) made questioning immigrants and subsequently excluding them based on their political beliefs (if they were an anarchist) admissable. It was highly controversial, and secularist Emma called in Clarence Darrow to argue in front of the Supreme Court on the anarchists behalf (though the Bill of Rights was not seen to apply to immigrants, allowing the questionings). goldmanShipley

But since she was already in the U.S., besides being in and out of jail like a bird on a cuckoo clock, Emma was safe. It was at this time she published what was one of the most liberal pamphlets of the time, Mother Earth, probably the first female anarchist publication (talk about niche). She continued to agitate for anarchism, and added access to birth control, and the folly of conscription to her list of causes. She was jailed several times for her birth control speeches (the Comstock laws deemed such material obscene and lewd) and later, her “conspiracy to induce people not to register.”

Still, despite all that, it wasn’t until after WWI, with the dangers past and industrialism slowing that Emma was bested. In the Red Scare of the early 20s, she was deported back to Russia. She spent the following years across Europe, always speaking, writing her biography, gaining (and losing) followers. She was able to live among anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, which she wrote about fondly. She died shortly after WW2 at the age of 70 from a series of strokes, which left her partially paralyzed and unable (ironically) to speak.Emma_Goldman_gives_eulogy_at_Peter_Kropotkin's_funeral

In some ways, she was ahead of the time. In others, she is still ahead of the time, and in the rest, there may not be a time. But among women, regardless of her vision, there have been few such vocal visionaries in the 20th century.

For more information…

The Original Town

Beyond the Fountain of Youth, St. Augustine is a quirky little town that I didn’t feel I was able to adequately expound upon in the last post. While I was there, I read a short biography on Henry Flagler, specifically as it pertained to his St. Augustine hotels. For those of you who’ve heard his name (or maybe haven’t) rather in connection with the prominent liberal arts college in the middle of Old Town or further South, if you’ve visited The Breakers (included on the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die), his story bears repeating, if for no other reason than to understand the development of the Eastern coast of Florida into the vacation spot it is today.

An American self-starter, Flagler was primarily in the grain industry when John D. Rockefeller approached him, asking for a loan on an oil refinery. That investment put Flagler on the ground floor of the partnership that would become Standard Oil. As the company grew, Flagler maintained his seat on the board, but eventually his interests were drawn elsewhere. After a series of trips to the Jacksonville/ St. Augustine area, Flagler hatched a plan to create an “American Riviera.” St. Augustine, with its compendium of historical draws, recreation (to be found on nearby Anastasia Island), and local flavor fit the bill. His plan was hatched, which included building a state-of-the-art luxury hotel in the middle of St. Augustine, which would be connected to New York by way of the Florida East Coast Railway (the amalgamation of a number of local railways Flagler bought to connect to the larger railway systems up North). Thus, the train would drop off pleasure-seekers in his backyard, as long as he could provide accommodation.

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Old entrance to the Ponce de Leon Hotel, today Flagler College

This accommodation began with the Ponce de Leon Hotel, an American palace that played host to the likes of  Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, and four presidents. It also inaugurated the tradition of Red Brick (thank you Carrere & Hastings) that is commonly associated with the Spanish Renaissance style of architecture seen throughout Florida today (did anyone say Grand Floridian?). Flagler went on to build the Alcazar Hotel (directly opposite) and acquire the Casa Monica Hotel to round out his St. Augustine holdings. But neither the Depression, nor the course of history was particularly kind to the burgeoning Riviera. Though it enjoyed about 15 years in the lap of luxury, the same elements that drew people to Florida projected them south. St. Augustine, the first stop into Florida, has cold winters by Floridian standards, and Vacation-goers looking to escape the chill, continued onwards to Palm Beach and Miami, leaving St. Augustine in their stead. Luckily, the astute businessman that Flagler was, he expanded with the times, and built hotels down the coast, making him one of the patriarchs of Miami.

Still, his monolithic vision was left in the wake, mausoleums to the pleasure-seekers of yesteryear before the belt-buckling thrift of the depression set in. the Ponce de Leon was converted into Flagler College. The Alcazar (once home to the largest indoor pool in the world) converted into the Cafe Alcazar and hosts the Lightner Collection in its front section. Ironically, the Casa Monica, notoriously working in the red in its day, continues on as the only hotel on the block (but don’t get me started on B and B’s).

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Tiffany glass detailing. The Tiffany Glass Company was actually founded in order to provide glass for the Ponce de Leon.

Casa Monica

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Detailing on a mirror inside the Casa Monica. It is decorated in the Moorish style.

The Alcazar (today Lightner Museum)

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Here is the Cafe Alcazar nestled in the deep end floor of what was once the largest indoor pool in America.

Old Town (After all,  it is the oldest Spanish colony in America.)

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View from the Fort.

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Huguenot graves, although the sign says that Huguenot meant “not Catholic” rather than the French Huguenots that might come to mind.

Other

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National Geographic has named this street in St. Augustine, the “prettiest street in America.” What do you think?

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Mission Nombre de Dios was the first Spanish Mission in North America. This year it turns 450 years old!

I’ve left out so much great stuff focusing on the more decadent expansions of industrialism. Not pictures are wonderful bits like the Lions Bridge, St. Augustine Fort, Villa Zordaya, and the iconic Anastasia Island lighthouse. I guess I’ll just have to go back…

Wednesdays for Women #1: Bertha Benz

Call it the prying of destiny, but I am intrigued by exceptional and eccentric women.* I seem to unwittingly scout them out like a puppy on yesterday’s undies– if there is one to be found in the vicinity, the endeavor will inevitably end in my unconscious salivation. What starts as an innocent peruse of Huff Post unravels into the riveting tale of The White Mouse and her gestapo-stumping schemes, a 5-million franc bounty, and the bicycle ride from Hell. I can hardly look for suitable covers of Gene Krupa and Anita O’Day’s “Tea for Two” before I’m thrust head-first into the American tragedy of the Beale family, a Palm Beach modeling gig gone awry and the dilapidated East Hampton home of numerous opossums, raccoons, cats, and, most notably, a mouldering mother riddled by the fear of burglary.

Beset by such a burden, I have decided to unencumber myself in the only way we bloggers know how. Thus, using primarily Wikipedia as a source (and pictures I DO NOT OWN**), I will share some of these weird and wonderful stories of awe-inspiring women with you, beginning with our titular hero, Bertha Benz.

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Now you may be whispering to yourself (like a maniacal villain), “Benz, Benz… I feel like I’ve heard that name before,” and in this case, you would be right. The “Benz” you associate with Mercedes (no connection to the Count of Monte Cristo), began with none other than the husband to our Bertha. But before we come to the car which forms the second object of salivation mentioned in this post (see below for a model “Ford” to frame the third), there was a unmarried trollop in the Grand Duchy of Baden investing in the hottest inventor on the market. While that may be a large exaggeration, it is true that the unmarried Bertha (Ringer, as it were) invested a large sum of her own money into the workshop of Karl Benz, and his vision of a motorwagen. This money made it possible for Benz to patent the first automobile, not to mention the real great American pastime (and subject to German law, after they were married she no longer retained an investing power to her money; after all, she had a husband to take care of that while she saw to their five children).

Nevertheless bored with nappies, Bertha decided to invent the modern marketing industry and the brake lining all in one fateful afternoon. Without telling her husband or the authorities (*gasp*), she decided to take the new motorwagen out for a spin– but not one of the short trial runs they had hithero engaged in– Bertha decided to drive 66 miles with two of her sons to visit her mother. Or could her plans be more sinister…

A considerable number of people in 1882 had never seen a car. Thus, on her dawn to dusk moto-cruise, she did things like clean a fuel pipe with a hatpin and insulate a wire with her garter (#justgirlythings), not to mention her various stops along the way, exposing her life’s investment to the general public. By the time she reached her mother’s house, she had caused quite a buzz over her new decidedly-not-a-Radio-Flyer wagen, and she had become the first person to “drive an automobile over a real distance” (for all the Kerouac haters out there, this is where you pin the blame). Her marketing stunt also garnered a great deal of publicity, which helped to create a commodified demand for the new invention. Investment Genius, Test Driver Extraordinaire, McGyver-prototype Inventress, and Marketing Wizard- need I say more?

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*It’s not that I have anything against exceptional and eccentric men (*cough Harrison Ford*), there’s just a 99.9% less chance that I will become one with the passing of time.

**so don’t link back to me, link to the link I’ve linked to- respect where it’s due, right? Speaking of which, the featured first image can be found here.