Hello, everybody, welcome to Don Snow's history hit. It is the 8th of March 2021, it is International Women's Day. And on this podcast, I have got a lot of international women. A few years ago, three poets, writers, intellectuals, Tanya Harshman, Elsa Holland and Jo Bell were hanging out together and they decided they would launch a digital project on social media, emphasized the role that women have played in history. This is important, folks, because women were deliberately left out of history.
I got a little bit of heat on the Twitter dotcom recently for tweeting about Women's History Month. I think it's a positive thing to be tweeting about. It doesn't mean everybody that I am no longer going to be making programs and tweeting and making podcasts about men. One quick glance at our home page on history hit TV will see plenty of male history on that excellent documentary on the Japanese strike. Darwin Mansa Musa, one of the richest people in the history of the world, and our show on The Real Story behind Robinson Crusoe.
There's lots of our history and there but we're just trying to give a little bit more focus on women's history this month. The reason for that is that women have been deliberately ignored by male historians through history. To date, analysts in 2013 decide to create a list just as Google rates websites. They tried to create a list of significant historical figures, and their results are pretty shocking. They found three women in the top 100 and they say, you guessed it, Elizabeth, the first Victoria Joan of Arc.
Folks are people on that list who may not even have existed like Arthur, and they still end up on the list above nearly every single woman who's ever existed in the history of planet Earth. And the reason we're not talking about women and don't build websites and make pregnant women is because women have been deliberately excluded. Sometimes male historians in the 19th century just assumed that accomplishments achievements couldn't have been achieved by women in assigned those to relatives or husbands or other colleagues.
In 1885, the first Oxford Dictionary of National Biography was published. Only three percent, three percent of the entries were women. One editor in the 1920s of the AWB famously wrote, If she had been a man, we would have considered, including her staff, deliberate exclusion of women from history. So when we talk about Women's History Month, which is trying to shine a light, we're trying to put full beam on the contributions of women to our collective story, but have been overlooked or left out.
And on this podcast, that's exactly what Tony and Joe are going to do today, we talked about their new project and on this day you'll remember the best selling book from history on this day in history, while these guys have produced one celebrating the achievements and the terrible mistakes of some of the most remarkable women in history. It's a great idea, long overdue and surprise, surprise. It is turning out to be a very successful book. And it's a great pleasure to talk to these guys.
If you want to watch history of any description, please go to history at DOT TV. Lots of new releases coming out. And remember, it's come on the live talk to see me talking to historians, men, women, non binary. Who knows? Great big cities around Britain, history, dotcom slash to see you all there. In the meantime is Tanya Hirschmann, Ellis Island and Jo Bell. Enjoy.
Well, thanks for coming on the podcast, guys. Thanks for having us. Hello. You're welcome for having us. That's brilliant. So you, like me, have got a bit of an idea. And I get on social media. Everyone loves a bit of on this day, I find it very useful way to organize the past, organize information I love. It kind of makes me remember things when when you do it by day. Yes, exactly that.
This is Joe Biden speaking, by the way. And we found that because we began as a Twitter account and we wanted to get more historic women into people's consciousness, that Twitter was a really good way to do that. It's a bite sized chunk of information. We only tweet the on this day tweet. And we wanted also to use that format to get away from births and deaths, which are not necessarily the most interesting thing that one does in one's life, being born or dying, whereas the achievements of these women are the things that they've discovered, the occupations they've had, the great things that they've done were usually done on a particular day.
And surprisingly often we've been able to narrow it down to one day when they did something.
You know, it's funny because I when I wrote that book, you know, like, I just this is a an example of through and but like, I'm desperate to talk about the people, Bill, that divides up the world between the Spanish and Portuguese rather than a I thought that anyway, it's not even in the book.
And then you're like, oh no, I can't find the exact bloody day.
You know, it's so annoying. So there's no date on the top. Yeah, exactly.
So the Eureka moment after we've learned some pretty good research skills of how to use Google to really drill down and different ways of searching and how, you know, in searching within Google Books and that kind of thing, because I've become quite obsessed with trying to find the day.
But when we can't, at least the month and of course, the further you go back, it's sometimes just the year, isn't it? But I do think that the on this day thing, it's so specific that I think it enables you to see those people in the past, just like real people, you know, and actually have a kind of connection to them because you think, well, on this day, you know, a couple of emails hung out the laundry or whatever.
And on this day, that person and there's a kind of weird a direct link to history to something that actually could just seem quite a bit vague and far away.
So, yeah, we are among friends here. I completely agree. I mean, I find it funny hearing you say that because, yeah, the like I need women's suffrage to be in this book. What is the bloody day? And it's like, you're right. You drill down and it's just a useful little and it's just a way in, isn't it? Because there's a weird obsession with one of us. Like people are obsessed of us in the biggest and most people obsessed by for some reason, it's your birthday.
I mean, I just you know, I find birthdays very peculiar. Like people find it more interesting to talk about the Battle of Trafalgar on the 21st of October like, no, it's madness, but it's just a way in. So well done, guys. Fatema, what are some of your Elsah, let's start with you, because actually I say 21st October. I've noticed in the book 18th October, it's it's a day to sit in my head because an ex-girlfriends birthday.
Elser, give me some of your favorite examples.
Oh, blimey. Well, my birthday is the execution of Sophie Scholl, which is a sad one to have, but she's a bit of a heroine of mine. So I'm also proud to share my birthday with her death day because she was a resister against the Nazi regime and she and her brother and their friends very bravely produced leaflets and distributed them at university and actually throughout South Germany. You know, she used to take the train and put these things through people's letterboxes in Stuttgart or wherever first thing in the morning.
And she often did the travelling because she was the girl and less suspicious maybe. So, yes, she was an amazing person and I'm glad to have her on my birthday.
Amazing. Did she make it into the book? Yes, she's in the book. It, by the way, you guys are at the start of this book published. Do you think? Let me tell you the only thing that people ask you about when you go to these big theaters and these bookshops and Waterstones, I mean, they just go also my birthday. It's so extraordinary. It's an extraordinary story that that's OK.
We have an answer for that, which is by the book. Yeah, exactly. People have been doing that on Twitter in the last ten days since the book came out. They've been tweeting about the book and saying, this is who's on my birthday. So we've come up with a hashtag on this day, she twin, which is quite good, I think. Very good.
And we should say that we are. The Twitter account continues. The book is not a substitute for the Twitter account. So if you're on Twitter and you want to see the kind of thing that we do in a much more minimal way, of course, have a look at Twitter on this day. She and that's where people are showing pictures of the book and and talking about the discoveries they've made in the book as well as anyone else.
So let's let's not put the cart before the horse. Joe mentioned the Twitter account there. Tell me how this project started. What was its aim?
So it began because I was or my family was given a calendar for Christmas in 2016, so a calendar 2017. And it was on this day in history calendar with a tear of sheet for each day. And I popped it in the. And it reminded me that it was a Tuesday and swimming day at school or whatever it was, it was quite handy. And every day I read the thing, you know, the battle of their and the whatever.
And I got to the end of February before a Mormon was mentioned. And then I carried on and so few women. And every day I tear off the thing and be like, it's another bloody bloke. It's another battle.
And so it just may be crossed through the year, but I'm 40, mean to throw it away. So I got to about October and saw Jo and Tanya. We were having a day out together at a local farmer's market and we were sitting over a cup of tea. And I just got to share with you how cross I am about this calendar. It's been driving me mad all year. So they said, oh, that's terrible. It's terrible.
You know, it's twenty whatever it was by then 17. Why is there still a thing? We've got to do something about it. What should we do? And as we're all on Twitter and kind of familiar with Twitter, and that's kind of free and we could do it kind of in our spare time, that was what we plumpton as a way to get started.
And we have form in this regard because I'm an archaeologist by profession originally and Ailsa was a literary historian and Tanya's a science journalist in her former life. So we all have the skills for research, the skills for analysing texts and putting it in front of people. And we were all very conscious that, you know, you don't need a role model to look exactly like you. But when all the role models you're offered look exactly like somebody else, that that begins to feel very biased.
And so it was a question of the women that we knew of to start with. Why why do not more people know about these women? Why do not more people know about Queen Christina of Sweden or whatever, but also the really obscure women, the voices of history that one does not hear very often. So so the one that I particularly favor and we all agitated, of course, for some women to go into this book. The one that springs to my mind is Gharazi Lizzio, who was a medieval heretic.
We don't hear the voices of women in history generally. We don't hear the voices of the illiterate or the peasantry in history, because history, of course, has mostly been written by the educated, which has meant men and girls. Elisia was a heretic who in thirteen twenty spoke to the Inquisition in the south of France and testified about her beliefs and her life. And she talked to under interrogation. She talked about having sex with the priest and the inquisitor said, so did you did you have sex with this priest?
And she said, yes, I did have sex with the priest many times, but only when my husband was out and with my husband's consent. And I didn't believe it could be a sin because we both enjoyed it. So she's a peasant woman of the early 14th century, speaking about her sex life and her personal life and the arrangements of her household in a way that we do not hear. And most people in history have resembled Grassie Elisia far more than they resemble, you know, Catherine the Great or Nelson.
So it was great to be able to include some of those voices.
I wanted to say as well. I think we we all secretly thought when we started the Twitter account that we do it for like a year and then we'd, you know, we'd be done, we'd run out of women and maybe we'd start repeating the ones that we'd done at the beginning. And we've just been utterly overwhelmed, delighted by how many women we found and how many women we're still finding. And we have a calendar now, a joint calendar that we keep where we add women for the Twitter account.
And we've got lists of women to add to the calendar because we haven't even got to them yet. And it's inspiring, but also incredibly frustrating of like, why hadn't we heard of all these women? And that's the response we get on Twitter again and again. Why haven't I heard of her?
We've had so many scholars coming on the podcast the last couple of years talking about rescuing these remarkable women from undeserved obscurity. I mean, Flora, Marion Louise, Gary Anderson, the two women who set up the best hospital in Britain during the First World War. And it was an extraordinary story. I hadn't really been aware there in the book.
I'm glad to hear it. Here's a big question now. Think you're looking into it.
Are you convinced other less women in the history books because women were in a state of subjugation, denied education, denied rights, property rights to have careers kept in a state almost of slavery in many societies through much of history?
Or and or have they just been misogynist storytellers that really bothered talking about women and have given credit to, for example, Henry the second when his wife, Rocketdyne, is probably just as important, like what is your joke, your hand up? What's your what's your kind of feeling on that balance?
Both is the answer. And I'm sure I'll you about. I want to say more on that, too, but the feeling is it's not been a giant deliberate conspiracy that, oh, damn, here's a woman. We must we must suppress her history. It's that we naturally look in history or in storytelling for people like ourselves, people whose stories resonate. And if all stories are written by the same sort of person, then naturally history and reflecting that kind of person.
So it is a mix of both. Sometimes it is that, for instance, the early filmmaker Alice Blusher, fantastically important early filmmaker, the second person to make a film with a narrative storyline, and we never heard of her. She she never appeared in the history books. Now that is, I think, an act of almost deliberate suppression, that she can't be important because she's a woman. But very much more often it's that the terms in which women are written off, they are Muse's, they are lovers, they are associates of they are not themselves scientists.
You know, Emilie de Chatila was not just Voltaire's girlfriend. She was an amazingly important intellectual light in the whole of Europe. And it's on her work that Einstein's equals empathy squared theory is based. So the answer, in short, is both deliberate suppression and accidental habitual minimizing. And I don't know if Elsa or Tanya want to say more about that.
Yeah. Has say, Elsa, I think when we've looked through this stuff and I've read things about what these women have done and then they've not been included in, et cetera, I think we have a general problem. And I think this applies to women as well. Sometimes we have a problem with seeing women as human beings. There's a wonderful quote, isn't there, by someone whose name I'm sorry, whoever said it. I can't remember feminism as the radical notion that women are human beings.
And so I think we tend to sort of we put women into boxes much more than men. And I think we still do it now. So, you know, if we know that in previous centuries, a woman, for example, couldn't own property and that women were largely responsible for childcare and etc., we then assume, oh, well, that was all she did. Oh, she was a mother. We assumed that women maybe haven't battled against this.
Whereas, you know, if we look around the women that we know, the women that I know, if they existed in the Middle Ages, they would be raging about all of this stuff. Why can't you know why? You know, we assumed that women put up with it. Well, why do we assume that said, there are bound to be these women. There are women now who go against what they're allowed to do and the limits in which they were allowed to live their lives.
They fight against it all the time, whether they're allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia or whatever it is, they're fighting for their rights all the time. So I've almost switched it around in my head. Like you said, initially, there was this kind of are we going to find enough women? And now I've got to this point where I think we are scratching the surface of how many women there were who were doing stuff, nevertheless, who found a way to be a full human being and use their brains, whether it's an activist or a scientist or a writer or an artist, despite being also the person who was responsible for making sure that chicken got killed for dinner and the children.
But because because loads of us do it now. We do both. I do both. And Joe and Tanya are doing this history work as well as doing their writing work, as well as they doing their teaching work. You know, we all do all of these things. So why have we assumed that women in the past didn't do that?
You're listening to Dance News History on International Women's Day. We're talking about some of the most famous, the most infamous, the most remarkable, most important women in history.
More after this. I think there's actually a very deep structural thing in the way that we look at society, which naturally doesn't favor the inclusion of women. So we look, for instance, at job descriptions of whether a person is a scientist or is a mathematician or whatever. And very often the jobs were only available to men. And so women who have been described as a maiffret on Tekla, for instance, which they may well have been, were actually functioning as lobbyists, as politicians of the first degree, people who were influencing the policy of a nation, but happened to be the wife of the prime minister or whatever.
Possibly the reason they were the wife of is that that man married a woman who he knew could help him and lobby with him and campaign with him and exercise influence in aristocratic circles, for instance. So in some cases, it's our retrospective job descriptions that are the problem, that women were doing the work, but in a sphere which we don't recognize as influential.
Yeah, I think that's a huge issue. I look at my own personal life. I mean, I think I wouldn't be able to anything without my wife's advice and support and active, you know, active support and not just kind of telling me I'm doing okay. Right. And I look at David or George, for example. His wife was essential in getting him elected to parliament and the work in troublespot that it's so difficult at a century to remove, let alone 10 centuries or move to get a sense of what those intimate and often domestic relationships are like.
But there's just no question when you start to interrogate, sometimes it's a team effort. But we historians have obviously it's been far more convenient for milestones. But, oh, you know, Augustus was an agent and not talk about his wife, for example, and or if this or if this workshop in the Middle Ages, you know, of course.
And and the person who's in charge of the workshop is a guy because legally a woman couldn't be in charge of those people unless she was a widow and she'd inherited it, blah, blah. And the laws are different in different cities and et cetera. But so we assumed that everybody who worked there was a man. Well, why do we assume that? You know, and we know that women were scribe's we know that women did illuminations for manuscripts and whatever, because we know a woman, Christine Dapena, who employed them.
So, yes, there's a lot of assumptions about who gets written down against who was actually there.
It's an interesting thing that something that we found as well when we started researching that very often, one woman is mentioned as if she is the one like Marie Curie. She's the female physicist, and it's as if there was only one and she was an anomaly. And so it's not just about the first woman to do something or the only woman to do something. We've got women in our book. We've got a woman who was the second woman to circumnavigate the globe in a car because this is what we're realising.
There's so many more. And these women were not anomalies. We've just never heard of the second or the third or the fourth woman to do something. And I wanted to mention as well, this seems like a good point to mention in terms of women being human beings, that it's been really important for us from the beginning of the Twitter project, not just to include the awesome, badass, inspiring women, because that's not our mission. And we think it's fantastic that they're all these books around now with awesome, badass, inspiring women, especially for young people.
It's fantastic. But for us, our mission is history. Our mission is filling in the gaps of history. And we believe that women deserve to be put back into history on an equal footing with men. And not all the men throughout history were awesome and inspiring.
Newsflash, yes, it's that.
And so we it was very important to us when we were pitching the book proposal to the publishers that they be on board with us, including what we call the grim women. And every time we tweet about one of these grim women, we get invariably at least one or two comments of people saying, well, I'm not going to celebrate her. And we have to say, again, we are not celebrating her. We're not saying cheer on the serial killer.
We're saying she deserves to be put back into history as well because it does No. One a service. If women are held up to be perfect and flawless and inspiring and just muses, as Joe said, it does no one a service at all to pretend that we're not all flawed and human.
Basically, yes. It turns out equality is not always about making yourself look great. It's about admitting that you're a whole person just as capable of genocide as the next, it turns out. And I think that expectation that what is called women's history should be uplifting belongs to this sort of meme philosophy that every woman we ever see must be a fine moral example. And it ain't necessarily so.
Well, it goes back to that idea of women not being full human beings, that in some way we have to exist as a support person. And if somebody else and we use these women of history as support people for us now, you know, oh, well, if I look at her wonderful example and she won a Nobel Prize, that will somehow inspire me to sit down on this chair and get on with my work today. Well, that's not what she did it for.
You know, she's just a person who was doing her work because that was what she wanted to do in her life. She doesn't exist for you.
And actually, by extension, a lot of the women who we feature have become extraordinary figures in history precisely because they were sick of obliging everyone else.
And one of the ones that I wrote was Queen Christina of Sweden, whose sex, in fact, is a matter of dispute. She might even be called intersex now because there was some confusion when she was born as to whether she was a woman at all. But once it was decided that she was, she spent the rest of her life trying to escape the constraints that were imposed on her, not only because of being a woman, but because of the expectations of being a queen.
And so eventually, at the age of about 23, she said, right. This being queen thing, not really for me, I'm leaving. And the people of Sweden naturally went, what? And she put a pair of trousers on, apparently fell in love with her maid in waiting and ran off, abdicated, gave up the throne to I think her nephew converted to Catholicism and went to Rome, where she is one of only six women buried in the Basilica of St.
Peter now. So everything that makes her distinctive was about defying expectations of what she should do as a ruler, what she should do as a person. And unsurprisingly, she was rather liberal in her politics because she wanted independence and freedom of thought. So very often, the women that we are noting chose to step outside of what they were allowed to do. By definition, that's why we remember them at all.
Joe, you've mentioned Christina, you've mentioned Ghazi Elisia. You had never heard. I'm very glad that you've met someone else you've talked about. So for sure, who else have you got in the book that you're particularly proud of?
Well, one of the ones I really loved finding or well, I say, well, there's five women actually who are known as the famous five. So they were some Canadian women who were suffragists. So they felt for the women to have the vote and they managed to do that by 1918, but they still were not allowed to hold political positions. And this was the cause within Canadian law. Persons were allowed to hold political positions, but women were not considered to be persons.
And so they started a campaign to get this changed. And it took over two years and they took it to the Supreme Court in Canada and it was turned down. And in the end, the Canadian government appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, because, of course, at that time, Canada wasn't independent from the UK. And on the 18th of October 1929, the committee chair, Maurice Hankey, I don't know anything else about him, said that the exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours.
And to those who ask whether the word person should include females, the obvious answer is why should it not? And they've got a magnificent statue, the five of them on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, you know, a wonderful active statue, the five of them standing around talking and discussing. And I think what an amazing thing. And they went on to be politicians, magistrates, authors. They carried on being activists and reformers, but they changed the whole political landscape of Canada.
Thank you. By the way, if you're ever interested, Ogola is a absolutely essential figure in the history of First World War. He's he's on the key advice to Laura George in the war cabinet. So I'm glad that he made that ruling. That's a good thing, Tanya.
Sounds like you've got a bit of a serial killer thing going on there. But who else? Who else? Who else do you admire?
I'll move away from the serial killer. So I said, sorry.
I said, Who else do you admire us with? Who else are you pleased to include in the book?
I don't want to get that reputation really. Well, we all come from different backgrounds and my background is in science. And so I have an undergraduate degree in maths and physics. And I had this amazing revelation when we were preparing for an event a couple of weeks ago that we did for the British Library is that I've spent 30 years saying, oh, I didn't become a physicist because I was really bad at it. And then I was remembering something.
There's a concept in psychology called priming. And for example, if you have a group of girls and they're about to sit a maths exam and you say to them, girls are really good at maths, they will do better on that exam than if you hadn't said that to them. And if you say to them, girls aren't very good at math, they will do worse on the exam. And so it really got me. Thinking that maybe I wasn't naturally suited to maths and physics, but also throughout my degree and all my A-levels, no woman was ever mentioned, none of my tutors were female.
And I thought, what psychologically did that do to me? As Joe mentioned at the beginning, I didn't see anyone who looked like me who was a physicist or a mathematician. Maybe I gave up and I could have worked harder. So for me, the revelation for what we're doing in the book has been finding so many women scientists and one I would love to mention because it gives me goose bumps every time I read about her. We've got her in the book on the 24th of September and her name is Rita Levy, Monteil Cheaney.
And I apologize to the Italians if I've got that bit wrong. And she was a Jewish neuroscientist in Turing in the 1930s. She was working in the lab for a professor who was a neuroscientist at the university when the Italian government passed anti-Semitic laws and she was no longer allowed to go into the lab. So she set up a lab in her bedroom at home and she moved to the US in 1946. In September 1948, she got an invitation to go to America.
And then in 1986, she jointly won the Nobel Prize for research that had begun in that lab in her bedroom. And it was for the discovery of nerve growth factor, which is a protein that help stimulate nerve growth. And it plays a vital role in so much current research from like Alzheimer's to Parkinson's disease and muscular dystrophy. And I just think that gives me goose bumps every time I read that. And I think everything that she had to overcome.
And when she turned 100, she was the oldest living Nobel laureate. So I remember Rita Levy, Montel Cheaney.
We certainly will remember her every time I think about this or every time I read astonishing new paragraph by Hilary Mantel. And this is not just true of women. It's true of the billions of humans that we fail to help reach their potential, but just a reservoir of talent in the past, how many mantles and montalcino is what just denied access to writing, to learning, to sharing. I mean, it's just astonishing, isn't it?
And how many of their names will we never know how many of them that were doing things and there will never be able to find them.
Yeah, well, thanks to you guys for unearthing a few more. Go on, Elsa. Yeah, I wanted to bring in at this point Nina Simone, who, although is a very well known name to a lot of people as a jazz singer and pianist, is a wonderful example of somebody who we might have lost because she wanted to be a classical pianist. So she had a year at Juilliard, which was still an incredibly difficult school to get into in New York.
But then she applied to study somewhere else and her application was rejected. And she believed very firmly that that was because of racism. And so she went into jazz music as a way of making a living, but not the way that she'd wanted to, and actually changed her name to Nina Simone so her parents wouldn't know that she was doing it because they were very religious and they would have been ashamed and she didn't want to to disappoint them. So she made this wonderful career.
So now we know her as this jazz musician. And of course, if you listen to her stuff, I mean, you can tell that she has a magnificent training because her playing is just that astonishing. What fewer people know about her is that she was also a civil rights activist because, again, you know, she was a whole person. She you know, she wasn't just a musician. And she had she had a great friend, Lorraine Hansberry, who was the first black person to have a play produced on Broadway, a play called A Raisin in the Sun, which is brilliant.
And for anyone who likes reading plays, but who died very young and had an unfinished play to be young, gifted and black, which Nina Simone wrote a song with that title, and it became the anthem of the NAACP. And she also wrote a song called Mississippi Goddam about the murder of Medgar Evers. She talked about this stuff during her concerts, you know, even in front of all white audiences. So, you know, she was this amazing whole person who.
Yeah, we could have lost.
Well, you guys are whole people, because this isn't even your day job. You've all got very impressive careers and other things. So Tanya Harshman, Ailsa Hollander, Jebel, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Tell everyone what the book is called on this day. She on this day, she brilliant.
Thank you very much, guys. That's fantastic. Sorry we couldn't stop talking. We can never stop talking.
It's literally the point of the operation. What happened is. Allows to create a strong bond in the history of our country. Paul?