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Using Women in World History Units for Homeschooling

Laurie's Question:
“I am homeschooling an 11th grader...on the subject of women and World History. How many units of [your] curriculum should we expect to be able to cover in a year? Is each unit a semester? Do your materials need supplements, what kinds?”

Lyn's Answer:
Unfortunately there is no women’s world or global history textbook that I know of so we have to use supplements, which can be more interesting to work with after all. My units are not designed especially for a “semester,” but rather to cover, or supplement, a topic or historical period. 

For my materials I suggest that an 11th grader could use “Women in the Ancient Near East,” “I Will Not Bow My Head: Documenting Political Women,” and “Women's Work in Industrial Revolutions.” I lean toward using primary source readings to illustrate main points about womens’ experiences, and to give students access to womens’ voices where possible. “Bow My Head” offers pieces from various times and places which can be linked to the period she is studying. “Ancient Near East” will be easy for her. She should read the teacher essay as well, and could do all in two day’s work, answering the discussion questions or doing the activities. “Industrial Revolutions” will take more time. One section for Europe, another two day time period for Asia. Since I offer further research ideas, more time should be allowed for this. Often research information can be found on the internet.

The middle school units cover quite a few periods, or historic events, and can quickly cover an event or period. An 11th grader will find the introduction stories too simple (young), but the background essay (3 to 5 pages) and ideas presented in the activities are appropriate for any age. She could read everything in each unit in a dedicated time period, with perhaps more time needed to answer the questions offered, or do the activities. Also I recommend using some of the essays on my site, such as “Women in the Crusades” and certainly “Women’s Suffrage.” 

For books to cover topics missing in the units, I would recommend getting “Women's History in Global Perspective” Volumes 1, 2, and 3, Bonnie Smith, editor. These are all essays written by academics. Some could be selected for topics she is particularly interested in - or that give specific information. The books do not provide discussion questions or activities.

One way to link womens history into a general world history textbook would be to an exercise in which the student tries to fit this “new” information into the text. Where is it easy to do so, and how would this be done? And, where do glaring omissions about women exist? If so, how might this be corrected so that the overall course material is more balanced?

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Anna Comnena

Paige's Question:
I am doing a research project on Anna Comnena, because I think she was one of the greatest women in world history. How did her will to become ruler effect others?

Lyn's Answer:
Anna Comnenna effected people in multiple ways. For us, her impact on future generations is the most important.
1) As an historian, she influenced later historians simply by providing an example of archival work - even though her work was obviously biased toward her father and was not completely historically always accurate.
2) As an invaluable historical source, Anna’s work gives us an insight into the Byzantine world in the middle ages and of the reign of her father Alexius I - including her views toward the crusaders coming from western Europe.
3) In her time, she would have had considerable influence on others simply because of her royal status. Anyone in Byzantine society of high status had power over those considered lower than themselves. Then there was her role in politics when she and her mother tried to ensure that her father’s throne was denied her younger brother. Conspiring against her brother, the new emperor, in 1118 to place Anna’s husband on the throne, and their escape with their lives was high drama and certainly effected others in the realm.
4) As the first female historian, a woman who was educated and held even in her own time in high esteem, she has become important to women today recovering their past contributions which too often have been ignored.

See our Biography of Anna Comnena

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Catherine de Medici and the St. Bartholomew Day massacres

Elaine's Question:
I am desperate for someone to answer my question regarding Catherine Medici's role in the massacres on St. Bartholomew Day. What exactly was her role and why do historians blame her for a series of events that would have seemed to happen inevitably?

Lyn’s Answer:
You certainly have chosen an interesting personality and controversial event to explore. But I don’t think you can say that all historians condemn her. Revisionist views tend emphasize her complexity, and the difficult position she was in. Some see her as a tough woman who used her power to protect her family and keep France Catholic and whole. Her pragmatic attempts at religious compromise, arbitration, and peace now I think are recognized. Her goal was not religious purity, but a cessation of the religious wars which were wreaking the country - with atrocities on both sides. She in fact had some success until the famous massacre of St. Bartholomew. And, as a Catholic Queen, was expected during the rise of Protestantism to keep the country Catholic.

There have been questions nevertheless about the wisdom of her decision to marry her daughter Marguerite (Margot) to Huguenot Henry of Navarre. This event, which filled the city with Huguenot visitors, may have been done purposely to ensure this “inevitable” massacre of which you mentioned. I believe it is generally accepted that she approved the plan to assassinate key Protestant leaders, which she must have known would include extermination of all other Huguenots found in the city. In this case, something “inevitable” seems awfully planned to me, whether or not we have sources stating what she actually said.

I think you can also discuss the sources of her historical vilification. Every act in this charged time was bound to be interpreted differently depending on whether one supported the Protestant or Catholic cause. For example, Catherine was one of the "Monstrous Regiment of Women" against whom Calvinist John Knox fulminated in the sixteenth century. (He cited Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart as well in his idea that it was unnatural that women should reign). Knox’s writings against the assurgence of the Queen in fact invigorated the Huguenot movement.

Also, because of her involvement in the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, Catherine became part of the “Black Legend” - hostile accounts by Protestants regarding Catholics and their actions - which fed the hatred of Protestant nations against Catholic ones. Remember, too, that Huguenot refugees fled to countries like England where they were welcomed. Here their stories of persecution were the ones most heard. What they saw was a woman who represented the hard-line Catholics. (As an example, in 1568 as regent, Catherine had issued an edict withdrawing all freedom of worship for Huguenots and ordered all Huguenot ministers to leave the country). Rightly or wrongly, Catherine, as powerful regent for her sons, was identified in the minds of the Protestant countries with the most extreme, intolerant Catholics.

Stories about Catherine also stressed her interests in astrology and necromancer, and her understanding of the uses of poisons (though there is no evidence that she ever used them). Then there was use of her Italian female servants, her so-called “Flying Squadron,” as spies. All these seemingly minor facts helped contribute to her historical villification. Finally, while one might consider the end result of the 6,000 St. Bartholomew killings as “limited,” the final numbers when the massacres spread throughout France were perhaps as much as 70,000. We would call this “religious cleansing” today. Even if Catherine only wished to eliminate the nobility attending the wedding, the fact that these murders looked like a royal order to commit similar acts elsewhere (even after Catherine ordered them to stop) helped put the blame of all the massacres at Catherine’s doorstep.

I think a good idea would be to find sources (both contemporary to her time and current secondary sources) that analyzed both viewpoints regarding Catherine and the massacres.

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Women in the World's Politics

Ange’s Question:
I am a student of international relations in Estonia and would like to know: how the women-participation in World politics have changed through the centuries? I guess it has decreased...but I need a bit conformation to my thoughts...or maybe it has increased?

Lyn’s Answer:
I would challenge your guess that it has decreased. If you are considering “political participation” as solely women elected to government positions, in some countries you might be able to say “decreased,” but mostly even in this area it has “increased.” Remember that the number of participatory representative nations has grown with both men and women able to become involved at many levels. And women have been granted suffrage in every country in the world excepting Saudi Arabia, which has just begun to give men, and in the future women, limited vote.

To explore this, you can access our site's Current International Issues web links.

You should also consider women’s political participation in “grass roots” organizations. At the community level and in national NGOs (non-governmental organizations). women are very active politically. The number of recognized NGOs has risen from 4 in 1946, to 928 in 1992, to 1519 by 1998. Many of these organizations are run by women promoting women’s issues. Such organizations are in contact with each other, and have global reach and political influence. This is very recent and their effectiveness, helped by today’s communication advances, could never have existed in past centuries.

Also consider moves by some countries to ensure the greater participation of women in government politics....look up France, Uganda, and India as examples here. And within nations, women’s vote is now statistically analyzed as compared to men’s on a number of issues. In the U.S. it is called the “gender gap.”

It is difficult to make long historical comparisons. For research purposes, perhaps citing some trends over the last century, including some areas where women have lost ground ( where their traditional decision making roles have been preempted by trans-national corporations or by national laws) would be sufficient.

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Women's History Justified

Kim's question:
I'm not entirely convinced of the validity of women's history because going back through the ages and dredging up information about possibly not very significant figures and glorifying them on the basis that they are women seems a bit like distortion to me. How does women's history validate itself as a "proper" form of history and not just an extension of the women's movement?

Lyn's Answer:
In the last decades, as the history of women has become more integrated into teaching and writing at the academic level, it's "validity" is less and less in question. Admittedly, some of contemporary historical writing seems like women studies rather than history. Remember that the fields are now composed of "gender history" (history of male-female relationships), feminist history (feminism and feminist issues seen historically), and women's history (more encompassing and generally interested in exploring all aspects of women's past).

I think that for yourself you have to explore what you think history is. Certainly as an historian I do not, and never have, accepted seeing history as a story simply of the "great men," and now some of the "great women" of the past. (But don't forget that not all the information about "found" women is insignificant. Rather, in uncovering their lives valid reinterpretations have occurred). A history of the dominant class, and of the most powerful individuals in it IS NOT HISTORY. It is a part of it certainly, but nowhere near the full picture.

Most of the good history being written today looks at the whole range of female activities, making an effort to place them in solid historical context. It is a history in which the lives of half of humanity are researched and written about in an effort to flesh out, or enhance, the story of our past. It does not necessarily have anything to do with the women's movement. It is simply an effort to come closer to describing the historical reality. There are times when the lives of women have differed enough from those of men that a separate description is needed - their work, role within the family, political participation, social expectations, and so forth. This can be, and sometimes is, incorporated into the studies made of a period. Since, however, the historical doings of women usually have been overlooked, or ignored, or poorly researched, we mainly have had a history which is seen through only a half-opened window. This is also the case when we leave out the perspective and lives of people on the bottom of society's ladder (slaves, serfs, lower classes, workers), or minorities within a larger society. The arguments for women's history as history are many, and I would have you explore not just the Internet (where the emphasis tends to be on "great women"), but journals such as the Journal of Women's History, and some of the links on my links page which include more general essays.


Katya's Question:
I am a 21 year old female student following a degree in pedagogy at the University of Malta. At present I am doing the literature review for my dissertation entitled "Hidden From History : Gender Issues in the Maltese History Curriculum in Secondary Schools....In Malta history is one of the compulsory subjects at secondary level. The curriculum is very narrow focusing mainly on the political aspects of Maltese and European History with some inclusion of their social aspects. Famous women together with the female population are ignored in our local history curriculum.

The prime aim of my thesis is to analyse why such things prevail in our educational system and what implications underly the formation of such curriculum. Thus I would really appreciate any general information about why curriculum tend to ignore the inclusion of women and what implication such a thing promotes.

Lyn's Answer:
As you probably know, a wealth of articles and books have been written decrying the omission of women's history and detailing the implications and results of this omission. I am only going to give you a few off the "top of my head," reasons for this omission since a full account would result in a paper! One reason the experiences of women (and also the lower classes, peasants, etc.) have been ignored is that the historical record typically relates the deeds of those in power. The perception has been that what people in their daily life did is not important - is not history. Now, of course, the trend to uncover this ignored history has revealed how important the decisions, work, beliefs, etc. of ordinary men and women have been in the formation of history. The writing of this "revised" history is a very recent phenomena, and has had to argue for its academic validity.

Also, most cultures regarded what women did to be of lesser value than what men did. The amazing outpouring of scholarship on women's history in the past 20 years or so has been part and parcel of the whole modern women's movement, which seeks to validate women's contributions and concerns in many areas - not just in history. And, as you know, there are significant forces in society everywhere that see the women's movement as a radical and dangerous element.

What women's history does, after all, is help redefine the definition of history. This can be a threatening concept not only to traditional historians but to people who feel that history is somehow immutable - unchanging. Yet history is a subjective discipline that has been interpreted differently by people in different times. In redefining - some say rewriting - history to ensure the inclusion of women's past experiences, historians have had to look for new sources of information - letters, wills, statistics, first personal accounts, household artifacts, female centered religions, minute mentions of women's participation in political affairs, and so forth. Historians of women's past have sought information about birth rates, about women's status and rights, about spheres where women exercised power, about areas where women's work was distinct from men's, etc. They have had to seek out what women did, and acknowledge its importance to the survival of the family and community. For example, the female task of making of cloth at home might have been as important to the economic life of the community as the long distance trading mostly men engaged in.

In creating a time line that records events crucial to an understanding of the past experiences of women, women's history experts find they have to emphasize different events than those found in the typical textbook. The end result of all this is the creation of a new history that challenges the old assumption that the traditional narrative automatically included the experiences of women - that there was no difference between male and female experiences. An examination of the past using gender as a category has proven again and again that this is not true....that the "history of mankind" was indeed a history of men!


Why Have There Been So Few Women Rulers?

Christian's Question:
When it comes to those times when women ruled over some country, why didn't it continue like that?
Why did not more women try to rule after the other?
Was it because a society with a woman as ruler never was really as good?

Lyn's Answer:
The answer to this question is complex. Primarily, take into account deep seated attitudes about women which have limited their access to political power. Patriarchy being the norm in the vast majorities of cultures throughout time, a woman's position within her family, as well as within the state hierachy, has been as a dependent, not leader, of men. The tendency was to assign women and men different roles; women's special reproductive functions, of course, encouraging this division. Often the sharply restricted participation of women as combatants in war raised questions about a female's ability to command. (Example: Some believe that Margaret Thatcher HAD to show herself to be a forceful military commander in asserting England's right to the Falkland Islands).

Most simply believed that men are better suited to rule; female rule was seen as something unnatural - improper. Regardless of their individual personalities and skills, women have been perceived women as too weak, kindhearted, irrational, and emotional to rule. (Examples: the view of Orthodox Muslim believers that women should be prevented from ruling because such rule would be disruptive - fitna. Or, Chinese saying which states: " A woman ruler is like a hen crowing." A similar sentiment from a European medieval proverb is similar: "Let not the hen crow before the rooster."Aristotle, who explained that women's powers of reasoning were defective, "without authority," and that their political influence was always fatal: "What does it matter if women rule or are ruled? The result is always the same." Or John Knox, who in 1558 wrote: "To promote a woman to beare rule, superiorities, dominion or empire above any realme, nation, or cities, is repugnant to nature...it is the subversion of good order, of all equitie and justice."

Beliefs such as these were supported by customs, practices, religious doctrine, and laws disdaining or outright forbidding the right of women to rule. (Example: In 14th century France, the old Salic law of inheritance was invoked for the first time to justify excluding women from succession to the throne.) These traditional restrictions have been burdens women rulers had to face. Both their subjects, and perhaps themselves, held negative expectations which had to be overcome. Women rulers often had to justify their position. Their strategies for keeping power in a world of men varied. They might become "honorary men", that is like men in their behavior, deeds, and perhaps appearance. They might assume the male title. (Examples: Hatshepsut who had to be called "pharaoh,' in order to rule, or Queen Elizabeth I who in a speech to her troops at Tilbury exclaimed: "I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England too...") Rulers also have presented themselves as heirs of strong female goddesses or of legendary heroines. Female regents for their sons, queens who ruled for debilitated husbands, or grieving widows of ex-rulers, almost always made the point that they ruled as stand-ins for the male. Another road to acceptance might be to be seen as a "mother" figure - a mantle given to Golda Meir and Queen Victoria, for example.

Attitudes from the past are reflected today. There is not a single country where women enjoy the same political status, access, or influence as men do. Despite the fact that women make up half or sometimes more than half of the electorates in most countries, there are only a handful of women who serve as heads of states throughout the world. There is no obvious solution to overcoming the limited access and encouragement of women to rule. Recently, in some countries affirmative action type programs helped break this barrier. Gro Brundtland has said that she would never have been able to become Prime Minister of Norway without required female representation within her political party. Quotas promoting women's representation in national legislatures exist as well in countries such as Tanzania, France, Greece, Bangladesh, and Venezuela.

This is not to say that women have not been political! In spite of limits on their access to public political power, throughout time women have been active political agents. How is another essay!


Queen Who Killed Cyrus The Great

Barry's Question:
In doing an indepth study of the persian emperor Cyrus the Great, I read that he was killed in a battle on one of the wild frontiers of his empire by a warrior queen of a tribe called the Massagetae. Who was she, how did she come into power and how did she end up killing Cyrus and keeping her people from Persian tyranny or from annihilation?

Lyn's Answer:
Herodotus the Greek historian wrote about Queen Tomyris, from eastern Iran, whose tribe resisted Cyrus's plans for empire. When she heard that he was building bridges in her territory so his troops could move through it quickly, she asked him to stop. "Rule your own people, and try to bear the sight of me ruling mine." She sent her son, Spargapises, to discuss peace terms, but the Persians captured him and killed the other emissaries. Tomyris wrote an angry letter to him "Give me back my son and get out of my country...If you refuse, I swear by the Sun, our Master, to give you more blood than you can drink for all your gluttony." Her son was murdered, and Tomyris proceeded to destroy Cyrus' 200 thousand man army. Herodotus called it the bloodiest battle he had witnessed. [Find this information and a bit more about her in David Jones, "Women Warriors," Brassey's, 1997. - Also Antonia Frazer's "Women Warriors."]


Women Within The Family - Ancient China & India

Tina's Question:
I am assigned to do a research report in my History class. I chose the topic, Similarities and differences of the role a woman plays in the family in Ancient China and India. I was wondering if you had some helpful information I could use in my report.

Lyn's Answer:
Generally, it would be important to identify major belief systems in both countries that constrained both men and women to clearly defined roles. For China certainly the Confucian beliefs (the family as the foundation of the state) ; for India perhaps the subordination of wives to husbands and their socialization as expressed in the "Laws of Manu" plus the effect of the later Vedic period (the growing dominance of brahmans who imposed restriction on women and lower social groups). You might describe various legends and morality tales about women to demonstrate how these beliefs were reinforced in the public imagination. (ie. the 'Mother of Mencius" which reinforced the idea of familial piety or the "Lessons for Women" by Ban Zhao through which girls were instructed in the four virtues. For India use Sita as the "ideal wife" in the enduring Ramayana. (Although there are some versions in which Sita is shown to be less submissive than others). Under both systems patrilineal customs remained central, although variations are found particularly in South India which has had a long tradition of female centered practices and goddess worship. At the same time such traditions were not monolithic and unchanging. In my reading about the Tang Dynasty in China I was constantly impressed with the relative freedom women had in all aspects of their lives (at least elite women). The Confucianism that emerged in China's Han dynasty perhaps had no intrinsic commitment to the subordination of women as morally or biologically interior persons, but that females nonetheless were at the lower end of the family hierarchy (and rose in status according to their age, if they had male children, etc). Within the family you should point to their essential roles as economic contributors, (talk about what they did), and to their family spiritual duties. Use women's spiritual role in maintaining home altars in India (still true today) as an example.

For China, an easy book to get written for highschool level is Susan Gross & Marjorie Wall Bingham "Women in Traditional China," see the Women in World Areas WEB page (a link of this site). A resource for a brief overview for both cultures is the OAH created book for "integrating women's history into courses on Africa, Asia, etc" called "Restoring Women to History." "Women Writing in India: 600 B.C. to the Present, vol I" published by the Feminist Press in New York will give you background information and an introduction to women whose writing revealed they defied tradition, or pursued options other than fulfillment only at home.

Also, see our essay: Gender Difference in History - Women in China and Japan and our curriculum unit: Women in India.


Renaissance Women

Sabrina's Question:
I am doing a research paper on women in the Renaissance period. I am trying to find any information on how women were viewed in this era. Do you have any information on how I can acquire this information?

Lyn's Answer:
This is too big a topic for me to answer, but I can tell you that in Italy the ideal woman was suppose to be refined, religious, and practical - a better listener than talker. There was a belief that female emotions and sexual appetites were stronger and more uncontrolable than males; thus, to preserve family honor women had to be protected. In some well to do circles girls were educated. The goal, however, was not to have them participate in the public arena. The math they learned was for use for family business; writing for letter writing, etc.

For fuller information you could try and find: Ferguson, et. all, "Rewriting the Renaissance," University of Chicago Press, 1991. Margaret King, "Women of the Renaissance," University of Chicao Press, 1991. Marlene Le Gates, "Making Waves: A History of Feminism in Western Society," Copp ClarkLtd. 2775 Matheson Blvd., East, Missisuaga, Ontario, L4WP7, Canada, 1996. This last book includes a lengthy discussion of the Renaissance period.

Also see our curriculum unit on Renaissance Florence: The Needle and the Brush.


Women In Hammurabi's Era

Leandro's Question:
I am an Uruguaian student (Humanistics and Education Science Faculty - Universidad de la República Oriental del Uruguay) and at this moment, I am working on Women's History during Hammurabi's era. For that reason I would appreciate any information you could send me about the women's lifestyle and a short bibliography or web sites list where I could find some information about this topic. Thank you very much, I will be very please if you can send me whatever you consider important about that fascinating era.

Lyn's Answer:
I suppose that you have accessed our lesson "Ancient Tablets, Ancient Graves" for at least some beginning information on women in the Hammurabi Code. Note too the three sources that are listed. For fuller listing of Hammurabi laws (from which you can extract information about women's rights), go to the Diotima listing on our link page and look up "The Code of Hammurabi [18th Century BCE]. Use this site for other information too. I got a more complete copy of the Code of Hammurabi from the "Yale Law School: Lillian Goldman Library" "Historical Documents Page." It is generally felt that in the Hammurabi period (1726-1686 BC), women's status was more restricted than in earlier times.

Also, you can read an essay called "Women in Mesopotamia" by Jessica Bieda by accessing the "University of Arizona Women's Studies Department - WS200 Webpage Project."

You might consider analyzing the roles of important goddesses in the period - mainly Ishtar (the old Sumerian goddess Inanna). By studying the few images of women from the period that exist (try to find statues, wall carvings), or remaining material culture such as spindles and whorls, grinding stones, etc. you can learn something about the types of work women did and what aspect of the female Babylonian society chose to venerate.
You may want to link to our lesson on Accessing Women's Lives in Mesopotamia.


Courtly Love

Susan's Question:
Do you have any info on articles about the tradition of courtly love and how this may have influenced the behavior of women in the men's absence?

Lyn's Answer:
I don't know the effect on women's behavior in men's absence due to the tradition of courtly love, but the sources I have give different "takes" on what the concept of courtly love was all about.

First, it was directed at upper-class women solely. Andreas Capellanus (12th century poet) in his book "The Art of Courtly Love," for example, explicitly states that the rules of courtly love do not apply to the "middle class" and "farmers," as it would be "contrary to their nature." Further, he advises men who might fall in love with with of these classes to "puff them up with lots of praise and then, when you find a convenient place, do not hesitate to take what you seek and to embrace them by force." There were formulaic rules on how to be in love - how to look, act, etc. - that seem superficial. Mostly they were directed at noble women in general, or a writer's patroness. At the same time, plenty of misogynist writings appeared - women were untrustworthy, emotionial, treacherous, etc., etc. The negative view of women's "nature" was more common than the songs and poems extolling her virtues.

Troubadour poets used the idea of a good women to represent a noble kind of love that could inspire higher feeling about women. "Good" women were praised and admired, romance and sexuality valued, and an ideal of beauty sought. But did putting some women on a pedestal raise women's status? Elite women were still dependent, protected, and their power, when they had it, often feared. And, how pervasive were attitudes of courtly love and more positive thinking about women?

What was its origin? The fact that female troubadours existed, bringing a more personal view of themselves into their lyrics, does not affirm your source that the courtly love tradition was originated by women. Certainly the courts of some women, like Eleanor of Aquitaine, encouraged it and supported it. But the genre came from 12th century Moslem Spain where poetry there stressed pleasure and luxury and ideal love. The idea of rules of love, says one source I have, came from the Roman poet Ovid.


Lat & Lilith

Stefan's Question:
I am researching the goddesses of Lat and Lilith. Have you heard of either?

Lyn's Answer:
Yes, I've heard of them, particularly "Lilith" who seems to be a feminist icon - there used to be a Magazine with the name "Lilith: the Jewish Women's Quarterly". Lilith is of Sumerian origin. But she is mostly known in the Biblical tradition as the first woman, created simultaneously with Adam. When she insisted on being equal to him, Adam complained to God, who turned against Lilith. She grew wings and flew out of Paradise to live in the desert. God then created the more compliant Eve.

Lilith remained a strong figure in Jewish folklore. At first she was benign, bringing agriculture to people, and being a midwife and protector of children. In the Talmudic period (second to fifth centuries) she became known as a devourer of children and a succuba.

Birthing women were afraid she would come and kill the newborn, and children wore amulets to protect them from Lilith. Also, women who stepped out of line were denounced as "Lilith." She is a case of a powerful ancient goddess who was turned into a female monster and now is reinvented again as the symbol of assertive, free women.

Lat is the Arabian goddess Al-Lat. A desert goddess, she represented the earth and its fruits. She was worshiped near Mecca in the form of a great uncut block of white granite.


British Women Suffrage

Stewart's Question:
I am presently carrying out research on the main figures/individuals involved in the British women suffrage movement during the 20th century. Any help / assistance would be greatly appreciated.

I am looking to identify 4/5 key individuals and to show what their aim was, how they hoped to achieve this and whether they were successful or not.

Lyn's Answer:
The best resource I know - the most readable!- is a video documentary and accompanying handbook called "Shoulder to Shoulder - Votes for Women," by Midge Mackenzie, Vintage Books 1988. This contains mostly primary source material on the struggles. The material is mainly about the militant group, the Women's Social and Political Union, and has great photos. The video (about five episodes) and book, however, might now only be gotten through Penguin Books Ltd., London or BBC.

Also, see if you can find "The Suffragette Movement" by Sylvia Pankhurst for a first person account, "Unshackled" by Dame Christabel Pankhurst. Besides the Pankhurst mother (Emmeline) and two daughters, (Christabel and Sylvia), you should include Millicent Garrett Fawcett (the famous Fawcett library dedicated to women's history in London is named after her). She was considered a nonmilitant and was president of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. Her memories are contained in "The Women's Victory - and After: Personal Reminiscences, 1911-1918." And "What I Remember."

Also include Annie Kenney for the perspective of a working class woman. She wrote, "Memories of a Militant" in 1924. Or, Charlotte Despard who left the WSPU to set up the Women's Freedom League - run on more democratic lines and rejected violence.

For general works, try David Mitchell, "Women on the Warpath," 1966. Published in the U.S. as "Monstrous Regiment" by Macmillan publishing. Sheila Rowbotham's "Hidden from History", London, 1973 has information as does "A History of Their Own: Women in Europe, vol. II" Bonnie Anderson & Judith Zinsser, Harper & Row, 1988. Ann Kramer's "Women and Politics", part of Wayland Publishers' Women in History series, 1988 is a small, easy to read book that has some photos.

Also see our curriculum unit: I Will Not Bow My Head - Documenting Political Women. This unit has a section called "Deeds not Words: Militant Suffragettes-England, 1904-1914."


Graine Ni Maille/Irish Warrior Princess

Mark's Question:
A friend's student asked her about an Irish warrior princess. I happened to read a very brief blurb about GRAINE NI MAILLE in a reference book about women in history. Unfortunately, I have found no other information. I would appreciate any info or ideas about other places to look. I have checked out a number of women's history sites on the web to no avail. Thanks.

Lyn's Answer:
One possible good source should be: Anne Chambers, "Granuaile: The Life and Times of Grace Malley c. 1530-1603," Wolfhound, Dublin, 1987. But it might be hard to find. Also, Margaret MacCurtain & Mary O'Dowd, eds., "Women in Early Modern Ireland, 1500-1800," Edinburgh University Press, 1990.

I found information on Grainne ni Malley (Grace O'Malley) - 1530-1600, the pirate queen, in "The Book of Goddesses & Heroines," Patricia Monaghan, Dutton Co., 1981. She basically made her living off of piracy in County Galway. She came from a family that traditionally were sea rovers. As I recalled she owned a number of ships. Queen Elizabeth I tried to convince Grainne to stop harassing her fleet. She supposedly invited her to the English court and gave her a lapdog and embroidered gifts - to no avail. Grainne returned to Ireland and kidnapped an Englishman who lived in Howth Castle in Dublin, thus establishing her independence. She was known as a bold leader of many sea expeditions - was captured, held in Dublin in 1577, arrested on a charge of plunder in 1586, and released on her son-in-law's surety. She died in poverty. There is a bit on her in "The International Dictionary of Women's Biography," Jennifer Uglow, Continuum Press. Another source is "Bold in Her Breeches: Women Pirates Across the Ages" by Jo Stanley.

There is a long tradition of Celtic warrior women as goddesses and legendary mortals. The most famous is Queen Maeve (or Medb) , a legendary and extraordinary warrior who ran faster than horses, slept with innumerable kings, and headed an army. There is considerable information on her in Tim Newark's "Women Warlords", a British publication distributed in the US by Sterling Publishing Co. in New York. But she is, of course, a mythological figure.


Colonial Women

Kristina's Question:
I am a 4th grade student. My dad helped me find your web page. I have an assignment to find information on a job that women in the Colonies had. Do you have any information that I could use about what the life of a colonial Milliner might have been like? Anything you can give me would be great. Or if you know somewhere else that I can look, that would also help.

Lyn's Answer:
Women worked in all sorts of occupations: blacksmiths, shipbuilders, inn keepers, printers, merchants, teachers, to name a few. They worked in nearly all the same occupations as men - most working in businesses with their husbands or fathers.

It would make sense that women were milliners, as they tended to produce things and sell things specifically for women. They sold fine lace, hoop-petticoats, womens stays, toys, and so forth. (Ask your father what a stay and hoop skirt were!) Many women worked out of their home. Dressmaking was one thing they did. Weaving, baking and nursing could be done from home too. Some women managed their home, or even large plantations in the South, when men were away.


Russian Women in World War II

Gina's Question:
I was wondering if you could tell me about some women in ww2. There were Russian women who fought in the army. It was said that the Germans were so afraid of them that they killed themselves rather then becoming a pow. Do you have any information on these women?

Lyn's Answer:
Soviet women in significant numbers fought in WWII, partly because of the Communist ideal that women and men were equal and partly because every able-bodied person was needed to fight. Almost half of the Soviet army's doctors were women as were the front-line medical workers. Women were also considered good snipers because they were very patient. As the war went on, and more men were killed, more females appeared in the front lines.

The most feared by the Germans were the Soviet female pilots. Called by the Germans the "Night Witches", they learned to fly at low altitudes at night. The night bombers were slow, but helped with precision bombing. These pilots learned to approach silently with their engines turned off! Apparently the men in the German lines could hear the women singing above them as they glided in before they dropped the bombs.

Gina's Response and 2nd Question:
Thank you so much for the information. I have been trying to find it for a long time. My teacher told me of these women and I have wanted to learn more about them. It is not for a paper, just personal knowledge that I would like. Could you recommend a book on the subject? Your help is greatly appreciated!!!

Lyn's Answer:
My sources are rather obscure, so you might not be able to find them. If you can find the following book, it contains seven pages on women's experiences during WWII, plus good pictures. A number of the accounts are about girls and young women who joined partisan groups and were taken prisoners - they became martyrs. The book is: "Women in Socialist Society," Marlis Allendorf, International Publishers, New York, 1975. Also, Fiona Reynoldson's "Women and War - World War II", Thomson Learning, New York. There are illustrations and info on Russian women in this easy to read resource. There is also Higonnet, Margaret Randolph, et al, eds. "Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars." Yale University Press, 1987. If you have e-mail, you might subscribe to H-MINERVA, a list for discussion of women and the military and women in war. To subscripe send this message: "Subscribe H-MINERVA [your name]" to LISTSERV@msu.edu/~minerva. You can also contact them through the president, Linda Grant De Pauw, at minervacen@aol.com


Women of Ancient Israel

Jason's Question:
I am a teacher in Napa, California. Our class is doing a unit on Ancient Israel (sixth grade). I have your curriculum for Egypt and Greece. I was wondering what information you could send me via e-mail (we're doing it right now!) about women in this culture. I would appreciate any information you could send my way. Thank you very much.

Lyn's Answer:
I can give you only this small amount of information. I encourage you to use the website called Diotima, one of their categories is Biblical Studies. Also, see our curriculum unit: Women in the Ancient Near East, where you will find information about influential New Testament women.

First, have your students look up:

1. Deborah: 12th century BC. She was a prophetess and judge. (Her story is found in Judges, chapters 4 and 5). She was a keeper of the tabernacle lamps, a counselor in disputes. She sat in the open air dispensing judgment and composing poems - and ordering men, such as her husband, around! When the Israelite settlements were threatened by the Canaanites, she told the Commander, Barak, to attack, and prophetized that victory would be theirs in the hands of a woman. The Israelites were victorious, and the Canaanite leader, Sistera, fled - into the hands of the wife of a nearby ally with whom he sought protections. This woman, Jael, lured Sistera into her tent by offering her hospitality, and then killed him, and Deborah's prophecy came true. The song written about her the "Song of Deborah," may have been composed by a woman. The "Song of Songs" may also have been written by a woman.

2. Also look up Miriam, another great female prophet. She began to foretell events at the age of five, at which time she also began working with her mother, who was a midwife. She foresaw the birth of her brother Moses, and it was Miriam who knew the baby could be saved from death if he were placed in a reed basket and hidden in a river. She also wrote poetry. Her song celebrated the Hebrew escape from Egypt's pharaoh.

3. Miriam is only one of a number of apparently powerful women in the Bible. There is also: the political maneuverings of Bathsheba. In the Book of Esther, Queen Vashti refused to obey the king's wish to display her beauty before his male guests, and she is sent into exile for her rebellion. When he takes Esther as his new queen, she manages to gain from him a pledge of safety for her people, the Jews.There also is the story of the bond between Ruth and Naomi, the story of Susanna and the Elders (an ancient reporting of sexual harassment), of Judith killing the enemy Holofernes in his war tent (high level of militancy on the part of women in ancient Judea!).

4. Biblical laws, rules and commands that governed women generally reflected a patriarchal system, and women's subordinate status in the early period. In the time of the patriarchs, however, men and women tended the flocks together, met at the watering wells, worshiped together in the temples, and so on. Yet, women and men also had different tasks to do. Women were responsible for shearing wool and weaving cloth, processing food, teaching children, managing a complex household with an extended family. Of great importance was the need to have children, "Be fruitful and multiply," as about 50 percent of the children died. Excavations of burials also show that female life expectancy was perhaps 30 years, 10 years less than men -perhaps because of the risks involved in repeated pregnancies.

The God of Israel was in the early times seen as neither male nor female. The idea of God as father is a late development in Israelite religion.

The kings, such as David and Solomon created a vast bureaucracy and also created a vast harem - the result of dynastic marriages with neighbors. In the monarchies, powerful women do not appear. There seems to be a gradual restriction of women's public and economic role, a lessening of her place in religion, an increasing regulation of her behavior.

Segregation in the temple begins with the second temple, which has a "woman's court" outside the temple. But women could pray and study Torah, although there was no obligation to do so.


International Women's Day

Gloria's Question:
Hello. Do you have any information about the origins and present day celebrations of International Women's Day on March 8th? I understand it stems from the outrage from the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, though I'm not sure. I'd appreciate any information or leads. Thank you.

Lyn's Answer:
The March 8th, 1857 strike by hundreds of women workers in the garment and textile factories in NY City is suppose to be the impetus for IWD - not the response to the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. There also was a demonstration of thousands of women workers in the needle trades on March 8, 1908, calling for child labor protection and women's suffrage. This too was suppose to have inspired the event. But it was not until August 1910, at a meeting of the Women's Socialist International Conference, that Clara Zetkin and a group of German delegates proposed to establish IWD as an agitation day for women's suffrage. Others have claimed that they asked that one day a year should be observed all over the world as a women's day. In Socialists countries IWD was recognized, but increasingly was observed more like our Mother's Day. In the U.S. IWD wasn't really celebrated until the late 1960s. In 1976, the United Nations included IWD in its list of officially recognized holidays. Hope this helps.


Women in Prehistory

Kerri's Question:
I am looking for information about a period of time in our very early history (Approx. 7000 BC) where women were dominant in society. I found one web site, but did not find links to others. Do you possibly know of any sites I can go to on the Internet, pertaining to this era? Thank you, and I will keep searching.

Lyn's Answer:
Did you use the link on our WEB site to Diotima? Its references do not go back that far, but they may have people there who know about good sites. Since there is an interest in stuff about goddesses, some sites may include information about prehistoric goddess worship.

Two fairly credible resources you could look up are:

"Women in Prehistory," Margaret Ehrneberg, British Museum Publications, 1989.

Also, "The Creation of Patriarchy," Gerda Lerner, Oxford University Press, 1986


Role of 20th Century Women

Maureen's Question:
I have to give a talk on the Role of Women in the 20th century. I wonder if there is some general information regarding the changes from the suffrage movement until the career woman of the 90's who is married with children.

Also any information about women in the workplace in the 90s and childcare facilities.

Lyn's Answer:
These two are both large topics! I suggest a liberal use of some of my WEB links for current statistics. The National Women's History Project has materials on the role of 20th century U.S. women - you might get an idea about how they approach the topic. The Feminist Internet Gate Way will access you to organizations related to work issues - and some are international in scope. Also the Women's International Center Index. I think WWWomen might be useful too.

For resources, an old but useful book "Sisterhood is Global" by Robin Morgan gives general background on various countries, including Britain. It has a two paragraphs on main events of the 1960s up women's movement. I also like "Global Gender Issues: Dilemmas in World Politics" by V. Spike Peterson and Anne Runyan (Westview Press, Boulder, CO). Its focus on difemmas in world politics offers a global look at the reasons for women's limited representation in political life ....after suffrage. "A History of Their Own: Women in Europe vol. II" by Bonnie Anderson and Judith Zinsser has a final chapter on the women's liberation movement.

Finally, you might join s subscriber list. H-Women and post this question for them. The members will respond with many ideas: h-women@h-net.msu.edu. Use command subscribe and your name, affiliation, email.


Women in World War I

Cait's Question:
While I enjoyed reading your site, I was disappointed that there was no information on women's role in World War I. If it is at all possible, maybe you could forward me some information or a site from which data can be obtained.

Lyn's Answer:
Your best bet would be to contact the MINERVA Center - a group dedicated to the experiences of women who served. Their phone number is 410-437-5379. Email is "MinervaCen@aol.com" They may have a WEB site too.

There is a small book called "Women and War" by Susan Williams, Wayland Press. It has some information about British women in WWI. Also, a chapter in "A History of Their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present" vol. II by Bonnie Anderson & Judith Zinddrt, Harper & Row. For U.S.history, A special issue of the National Council for Social Studies teacher's journal called "Homefront to Front Lines: Women in Wartime" came out in Feb. 1994. There are two articles covering WWI, and an activity. One described the Land Army which is an interesting activity women both in Britain and the U.S. engaged in in WWII as well. The NCSS could get a copy of this issue to you. Call 202-966-7840 and ask for publications office.


Pre Islam Women in Persia

Victoria's Question
I am Iranian and want to know how was the somen's situation during the early Persian empire and what Zoroasterians said about women.

Lyn's Answer:
Since the sources with regard to women in this period (Sassanian Persia) are really slight, I am giving you what bits and pieces I have. Much of my information comes from Jenny Rose, in Women in the Medieval Islamic World, St. Martin’s Press, Gavin Hambly Editor.

As you know, whether Islamic law improved the position of women, and, if so, to what degree is a matter of some dispute. Some feel that differences in gender status in the Muslim world are greater in modern times than they were even in the Muslim past. Nonetheless, the close guarding and control of women has been strong among many cultures in the region from ancient times. In the Sassanian period it was the custom for high-ranking persons to be hidden from the sight of ordinary mortals by a curtain. This restriction of women to the domestic arena and their exclusion from public life was paralleled by increasing limitations on their opportunities for education. But rules are one thing and the reality of womens’ lives another. Women’s independent attitudes can be found in folktales, poetry, and women’s independent religious ceremonies in the Sassanid era.

Zoroastrianism predominated in the over 400 year Sassanian dynasty. It was patriarchal but the role of Zoroastrian women within the community was never been purely passive. Under Zoroastrianism women enjoyed a reasonable amount of freedom and equality. There were polygamous unions, but the number of wives depended on the means of the husband and typically one had only one wife. Marriages were arranged, but a daughter at the age of maturity (15 years) could declare that she did not want to marry and could not be compelled to do so. If a father failed to find a husband for her, she could enter into an unauthorized “love-match” and then was still support by her father and kept her share of the inheritance. The principle wife was independent within the household. She received a marriage gift from the husband that was hers to keep, and could not be reclaimed by him in the case of separation. Divorce was possible, but the duty of remaining chaste and ritually pure rested firmly with the woman. Formal education of boys began at five; there is not enough information about the education of girls.

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The Origin of Dowry

Don's Question:
Does anyone know the origin of dowry and bride price? I'd also like to know when the practices started, if possible.

Lyn's Answer:
I can’t tell you exactly when or where the practice of dowry originated since only writing societies offer a record. A conjecture would be at sometime during the vast societal changes which occurred with the advent of sedentarism and agriculture. During the agricultural revolution, a more highly structured society arose in which both private property and the concept of women as property developed. But this interpretation varied according to my sources. The link between the labor of women as reproducers and the appropriation of private property is forwarded by some. Others feel that the use of gifts to seal a social contact between families seems more in line with what may have taken place. Others that marriage was not a purchase because the bride’s family also usually presented gifts to the groom’s family; instead, marriage seems more a change in status for both parties. And the use of “bride wealth” rather than “brideprice” is preferred to lessen the concept of bride purchase. Bridewealth as practiced in Africa could be viewed as a guarantee that the betrothed woman would be respected and protected. Moreover, a portion of the money a woman’s family received was used to support the cost of the marriage ceremony.

At any rate, both practices appeared in the earliest archaic states, which were characterized by the emergence of property classes and hierarchies. One source I have notes that in early Sumer, a man was required to pay a brideprice to the girl’s father. And the father was required to pay his daughter a dowry, which usually was at least equal to the brideprice. Later Mesopotamian texts and codes clearly show an interest both in bride price and in dowry, and that inheritance rights were important - as well as the regulation of sexual behavior and marriage, with women being restricted more severely than men. Sometimes the groom’s father would pay the bride’s father a betrothal and bridal gift. After the marriage, the father of the bride would give the woman a dowry, also known as “settlement.”

Marriage was expected - single women outside the church were rare. Also the family’s honor depended on her producing children within the sanction of the church. Daughters were closely watched until marriage and placed under the control of their husbands. Some things to consider: the increase in the importance of a woman’s dowry by the 16th, and the fearsome need of her family to provide one. In northwest Europe, this problem plus the value of women as workers within their own families resulted in relatively late marriages. (the exception always was among the aristocracy who had property and thus marriage was a way to increase a family’s position and wealth). You might explore ways in which dowries also benefited women. Arranged marriages were the norm; marriage was a contract between two families (often business partners) as well as between the couple. The evidence everywhere points to economic considerations as a main determinant in the choice of partner. Marriage was patriarchal, the wife and children expected to be submissive to the male head of family. He had almost total rights over her, including the right to beat her. This age, in Europe, saw an increase in the assertion of male control over females in marriage. Divorce was rare, annulment more likely. Among the poor, desertion was a common cause for marriage breakdown. At the same time, the concept of marriage partners as companions and helpmates was fostered, and warmth between husband and wife did exist. For a gentler look at marriage find the letters between a 16th century couple in Germany: “Magdalena & Baltihasar: An Intimate Portrait of Life in the 16th Century Europe Revealed in the Letters of a Nuremberg Husband & Wife,” by Steven Ozment. I found good information in Margaret King’s “Women of the Renaissance.” There also is “Renaissance Woman: A Sourcebook” edited by Kate Aughterson.

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British Women’s Status Post World War I

Laura's Question:
I have to do an essay on the condition of women in Britain after the second world war. I've some material but think it is not useful.

Lyn's Answer:
I understand your problem and don’t have a lot of answers for you. I mainly know about some trends that you might follow up on in your research. One had to do with women’s post-war work. Even though a significant number of British women worked in industries or the armed forces during the war, (97% of single women between 18 and 40 and 80% married women of the same age in 1943), during the post-war economic boom, women were encouraged to return to the home. The ideal woman of the time was a mother and wife. At the same time a shortage of labor led to campaigns to get women into the world of paid work! During the war, women’s trade union membership had doubled. Yet in 1945, women were earning only 52% of what men earned. Some economists claimed that unequal pay was necessary to make sure that motherhood would remain a more attractive than professional or industrial work. Yet another contradiction to this was that the rise in married women workers that had begun in the 1930s continued after the war.

Another theme was the change the war had caused in attitudes about what women could do. The experience of being organizers, managers and soldiers gave women confidence that their peacetime experiences denied them. Readjustment to life in peacetime was difficult for women who had grown used to the excitement of wartime, the independence of earning money, and so forth. Women gained some post-war success to gaining equal rights. Examples: in 1943, the trade unions agreed that women workers should have equal rights to employment. Also, in 1944, it became illegal to fire a female teacher when she married.

Some positive moves toward women’s independence and social change came with the coming to power of the Labor Government at the end of the war in 1945. Examples: the welfare state became a reality in 1948, which meant the creation of the National Health Service, introduction of the family allowance (given to mothers now instead of being paid directly to the fathers). The Beveridge Report (1942) recognized housewives as a distinct class which had rights to be insured. The idea was to make it possible for women to remain as housewives to continue the British race and ideals! Perhaps you could find this report on a WEB site.

But the post-war fear of communism and Cold War tensions created a climate inhospitable to ideas for social change, and feminist activity really didn’t come forth again until the late 1960s.


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