The Insanity of Inequality

In 1851, the state of Illinois opened its first hospital for the mentally ill. The state legislature passed a law to protect people from being committed against his or her will. The law required a public hearing before that person was committed. With one exception, a husband could have his wife committed without either a public hearing or her consent. All the law required was “the permission of the asylum superintendent” and one doctor who agreed with the diagnosis. In the summer of 1860, Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard (1816-1897) was a victim of that law. Such was the insanity of inequality.  Early Life Betsy Parsons Ware was born in Ware, Massachusetts on December 28, 1816, to Lucy Parsons Ware and Reverend Samuel Ware. The oldest of three children, she was the only daughter. She changed her name to Elizabeth as a teenager. Her father, a Calvinist minister, made sure all his children were well-educated. Elizabeth studied French, algebra, and the new classics at the Amherst Female Seminary. She became a teacher. Elizabeth fell ill during the 1835 winter holidays. Doctors treated her with emetics, purges, and bleeding for “brain fever.” But her symptoms (headaches and feeling delirious) continued. Her father […]

Unconventional Women of History No One Taught You About

It takes a strong woman to face a world that doesn’t value her gender. Some are strong enough to make the world see her, to value her. Historical labels for those who were born one gender but identified as another included monstrous, perverse, or insane. We may never know their truth. Only the tip of hidden history, this is an introduction to unconventional women of history no one taught you about. Eleanor Rykener  December 1394 court records documented the arrest of Eleanor Rykener (also known as John Rykener) London during December 1394 for a sex act with a man while dressed as a woman. She wore women’s clothing and worked as an embroideress, prostitute, or barmaid. Records are incomplete. But to many Rykener was a trans-woman. Wikipedia has a short and fascinating article on Eleanor. Moll Cutpurse Mary Frith or Moll Cutpurse (c. 1584–1659), royalist, pick pocket, fence, and pimp, had a “boisterous and masculine spirit.” She wore britches, smoked a pipe, carried a sword, and drank in taverns. Learn about Moll. The Chevalier d’Eon  Declared a boy at birth, Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont (1728-1810) was the son of a minor aristocrat. His family secured him a position in civil […]

The Fearless First Female Professional Balloonist

Picture this: it’s 1811. They publish Sense and Sensibility. Ludwig von Beethoven works on his seventh symphony. Napoleon Bonaparte is the First Consul, the Emperor of France. People used horse-drawn carriages to get from one place to another. They teach women a little reading and writing. Women wear modest, long flowing dresses and are expected to have a long life of motherhood and wifehood. Manned flight, balloonomania has the world’s attention. Then the fearless first female professional balloonists took to the air. Early Life We know little about the Marie Madeleine-Sophie Armant childhood or early adulthood. She was born March 25, 1778, near La Rochelle, France. Some records claim she was tiny, nervous, and had bird like features. Most claim riding in horse carriages terrified her. She was born before the first hot-air balloon existed, but it would soon be her professional life. The Birth of Hot Air Balloons The Montgolfier brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne, were paper manufacturers from Annonay, in Ardèche, France. In 1782, Joseph watched the fire and wondered what force lifted the sparks and smoke. He began experimenting with balloons made from paper, then sackcloth and taffeta.By 1783, Joseph and his brother devised a thirty-eight feet paper-lined […]