Eleanor Roosevelt said, "A woman is like a teabag; the hotter the water she finds herself in, the stronger she becomes."Perhaps I am biased, but I think women are the most remarkable creatures on the planet. We have been queens and slaves, mothers and teachers. If every woman in the world was gathered together in a grand cafe and instructed to hold a gab session, I am sure we would discover that no two were completely alike. The life of each woman would be singularly interesting. From Eve frolicking and tempting in the Garden of Eden, to Eleanor Roosevelt spouting of words of incredible wisdom (while wearing sensible shoes to boot!), famous women have lead fascinating lives and kept shocking secrets. Here are some shocking facts about some of the world's most remarkable women.
The Virgin Queen
Most people know Elizabeth I inherited her father's flame-red hair and his fiery temper, but they are usually surprised to learn her explosive nature once prompted her to stab a fork in the hand of a waiting lady who displeased her. Elizabeth frequently slapped the face of the person who made her vexed, severely punished companions who fell out of her favor, and had her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, executed. Her temper, it seemed, could reach intense proportions. (To read more about Elizabeth's famous but tragic mother, Anne Boleyn, please click here.) Elizabeth was called the Virgin Queen. Many people mistakenly believe this was because she was chaste or celibate when, in fact, it was because she was violently opposed to marriage and remained single.
A Grand Entrance And Exit
Cleopatra, the glamorous and powerful Egyptian queen, has long been known for her beauty and love affairs. Her loveliness ensnared two of the most influential men of the ancient world, Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony. To meet Julius Caesar, she had herself wrapped in a carpet and delivered to his palace. For her first meeting with Marc Anthony she arrived on a golden barge surrounded by flute and harp playing musicians. The lady knew how to make a grand entrance! She also knew how to retain her power. To keep her siblings from usurping her throne, Cleopatra had two of her brothers murdered and executed her sister. For all her angling and wrangling, Cleo was not a popular gal. Romans and Egyptians hated her, wrote terrible gossip about her. Later, when her lover, Marc Anthony, killed himself, Cleopatra followed suit. She had a nice meal and took a long bath, primped and preened, and then allowed herself to be bitten by a snake.
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc was only sixteen years old when she left home to lead the French against English invaders, calling her mission God-directed. Although she was a small girl, she wore sixty pounds of armor and lead men (that's right, men) into battle. Her troops entered many battles and Joan suffered numerous injuries, a few times she had to be dragged off the field. She was a firm leader, establishing rules against cursing and looting), and encouraged her men to "be of good heart." She was of good heart herself, oftentimes staying with dying English soldiers to utter words of comfort. She was eventually taken as a prisoner of war, jailed and burned at the stake.
The Face Of Death
Did you know Joan of Arc was so proud of her position of leadership and her troops that she oftentimes carried the banner rather than a weapon? Did you know Joan of Arc was not cleared of the charges of witch-craft until nearly 25 years after her death? Did you know she was not canonized until 1920?
The name Madame Tussaud is synonymous with Wax Museum. But did you know the real Madame Tussaud, born Marie Grosholtz in Strasbourg in 1761, lived during the French Revolution and was even imprisoned? She escaped the blade but was forced to prove her allegiance to the Revolution by making death masks of executed nobles, many of them friends.
If you would like to learn more about Madame Tussaud and see actual death masks of famous people, please visit Undying Faces.
Let My People Go
Harriet Tubman's contribution to American History, her valiant efforts to lead slaves to freedom, have long been discussed and admired. As children we were taught about slavery and the Underground Railroad, we heard tales about Harriet's dangerous treks from the South to the North. Our young minds pictured Harriet Tubman trudging through swamps and forests, lifting her heavy skirts in one and carrying a bible in the other, gently comforting and leading frightened slaves. There were a few things we weren't told in American History class about this sanctified woman, like: She suffered from painful headaches and blackouts after being hit on the head with a two-pound lead weight; Harriet preferred to wear men's suits to skirts; She once pointed a gun at the head of a frightened slave who wanted to turn back; Harriet encouraged escaping slaves to give their crying babies sleeping pills; She was the only woman to lead troops into battle during the Civil War; she eventually settled in the North, married a much younger man, and regaled visitors with stories of her exploits.
A Lovely Velvet Gown, Do I Hear $250?
Mary Todd Lincoln found herself with mounting bills after the death of her husband. Her $1700 a year income (at a time when the average annual income was $192) was not enough to pay off her debts and keep her living comfortably. To make ends meet, she decided to liquidate her fabric assets; that is, she elected to auction off her gowns and and finery. Mrs. Lincoln, once a highly-sought after Southern belle, drew criticism and scorn for her "scandalous" clothing sales. Cynics thought she was mad and uncouth, even though they flocked to view the gowns. Some sympathetic souls helped to raise funds for Mrs. Lincoln and even suggested charging a dollar to view the gowns. Mrs. Lincoln's reputation suffered from the dress auctions. Later, her son had her declared insane and placed in a home.
The Mother Of Ugly Leopold
Life with Queen Victoria must have been confusing. The Queen, whose stern moral values and carefully-moderated public behavior made her the role model for millions of women and whose name now defines her era, could not abide an off-color joke in public but was known to chuckle at one in private. She was fastidiously cleanly, but thought nothing of muddying her boots during long hikes through the countryside and loathed toilet paper. She publicly supported technology and the Industrial Revolution, but privately preferred candles to electric lighting. Her very public sentiments about hearth and home helped to promote loving and demonstrative parent-child relationships; in private, though, she despised pregnancy and felt very little love for babies.
In a letter to her eldest daughter she wrote, "An ugly baby is a very nasty object -- and the prettiest is frightful when undressed..."
Further, her remonstrations towards her youngest son, Leopold, were so censorial and blunt they could be termed cruel. In a series of letters to her daughter, Vicky, the queen writes: "Leopold is the ugliest...I hope, dear, he [Vicky's young son] won't be like Leopold the ugliest and least pleasing of the whole family...He [Leopold] walks shockingly--and is dreadfully awkward--holds himself as badly as ever and his manners are despairing, as well as his speech--which is quite dreadful. It is so provoking as he learns so well and reads quite fluently; but his French is more like Chinese than anything else; poor child, he is really very unfortunate." The queen projected an image of a cool and emotionally restrained woman, and yet, when her dear husband died she had a plaster mold of his hand made and kept it in her bed to hold on to at night.
Just Catching A Breath Of Fresh Air (Or Baby In A Box)
For her tireless efforts in support of civil rights, women's rights, and worker's rights, Eleanor Roosevelt was once called "Mother to the World." Ironically, she once described herself as a less than ideal mother. She was overly-strict and dispassionately involved in her children's lives, one might even say neglectful (A neighbor once called the police when she saw Eleanor's infant daughter in a wire box suspended from an open window. Eleanor's explanation was that she wanted her child to have plenty of fresh air.) Despite her maternal failings, she was a dynamic woman. Plagued by numerous fears as a child, she overcame them as an adult to challenge herself to be a better person. She fought for women's rights and was even appointed Chair Person of the President Kennedy's Commission on the Status of Women (a major coup for the women's rights movement in America). Her selfless acts towards world peace and political stability have inspired countless women.