Venetian and Italian Women
Laura Cereta (1469-1499)
Humanist and feminist, the majority or her writings are correspondences. Young widow, she begins a career as a professor of philosophy at the University of Padua. In 1488, she assembles 82 letters into one work, introduced by a burlesque dialogue about the death of a donkey. This manuscript is distributed under the title “d’Epistolae familiars”. She is criticized for having “presumed that her intellectual abilities were equal to those of men”! Her manuscript will only be publish in the 17th century.
found thanks to Simone de Beauvoir
Poet and political leader, she learns to read and write poetry in Latin. From the age of 17, she is in contact with the poet Pietro Bembo, who will become her mentor. She will express her grief through poetry. She will play an active role in the military defense of the province on Correggio, during the war between Francis the 1st and Charles Quint. She will address poems about the need for peace to leaders of countries at war.
Influenced by humanism, she was born into the influential roman family of Colonna. Surrounded by artists and “of faultless mores” (terms used in her biographies), she will befriend and become the subject of Michelangelo’s admiration. Attentive to the ideas of the Reform and in contact with the most renown literary references, she will be celebrated by Ludovico Ariosto in a work of 38,000 verses that will be distributed around Europe from 1532. In mourning, she publishes “Rhyme”, which with be prominent during the 16th century, then forgotten.
Gaspara Stampa (1523-1554)
After the death of her father, her family settles in Venice. Gaspara grows up in cultured circles, the “ridotti”, however the opinion of Venetians was very critical towards women living independently. From merchant courtesan, she becomes the lover of a count. “Rime d’amore” is her journal about five years of passion, which will be published six months after her death. Venice was one of the biggest printing hubs at the time. She is one of the rare women published in the “Poetry” catalogue by Gallimard, although the discipline was open to women.
Born in Venice, daughter of Jacopo Robusti (also known as Tintoretto), who will teach her to paint and support her. Known as the Tintoretta, she is an Italian painter of the late Renaissance, most known for her portraits. She dies prematurely during childbirth.
Moderata Fonte (1555-1592)
Venetian writer, recognized as one of the pioneers of feminism. Her work “the merit of women” depicts seven women: the widow, the wife, the single woman, the young wife, the virgin and the elders; which denounces, defends, and judges with humor and wit the place of women in society. This publication has great influence in Italy and Europe during the Renaissance and will inspire works dedicated to the dignity and excellence of women.
Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi (1760-1836)
Author and art amateur, she marries Carlo Antonio Marin at the age of 16, and settles in Venice. She holds a literary parlor attended by Antonio Casanova, Vittorio Alfieri, Chateaubriand, Madame de Staël and Lord Byron… The latter will describe her as “the Staël of Venice; (…) very cultured, simple, and natural (…). We owe to her an excellent work about the work of Canova, as well as a volume of Characters, among other works”.
Marie Caroline de Berry (1798-1870)
A life between tragedy and Vaudeville. Born princess of Naples and Sicily, she marries the second son of the king of France, who dies in an attack. Mother of the last male heir of the house of Bourbon, she initiates for him an insurrection in France. Arrested, she gives birth in prison which scandalizes: the father is unknown! She will become the patron and muse of Alexandre Dumas and Chateaubriand. Said to be untamable, she rides horses wearing trousers and initiates the craze of sea swimming.
Pauline Craven de La Ferronnays (1808-1891)
An ambassador’s daughter, her family settles in Italy after Saint-Petersburg and Paris. In 1866, she publishes her first book: «The Story of a Sister, Family Memories”. It will be recognized by the “Académie Française” and lead to over 25 re-editions in six years. Many novels and essays will follow, particularly appreciated by the Catholic culture.
Olimpia Savio di Bernsteil (1815-1889)
Writer and poet, she hosts one of the most popular parlors of Turin, which was then the capital. Her journal comprised of nine volumes, accounts of the anxieties of a woman, which were published as a book posthumous. She was very close to many Italian personalities. Considered “among the most intelligent women of her time”, she educates herself as according to the myth, reading at nighttime and stashing her books under her mattress.
Anna Maria Mozzoni (1837-1920)
Journalist and major figure for the suffragette movement in Italy. She publishes “Woman and Her Social Relationships on the Occasion of the Revision of the Italian Civil Code” in 1864, a critique of the tradition Italian family. “Dean of Italian feminism”, she demands equality within families, the right to property, access to education and to work, as well as protection for female workers.
Tina Modotti (1896-1942)
A Romanesque and dramatic life, influenced by social issues and politics. Born in Udine, very poor, she immigrates to the United States to Los Angeles and becomes the lover of Edward Weston (renowned photographer). In Mexico, she embraces communism, then, expelled from the country, she moves to Moscow, becomes involved in the Spanish War, before ending photography permanently to dedicate herself to activism.
List established thanks to the suggestion of Venetian friends, among whom Alain Lardet, or discovered in « The Second Sex » by Simone de Beauvoir
« Free Women »
Amanirenas (40 av JC)
Queen of Meroe, she conquers a series of Roman forts in today’s Sudan. She brings back, as a trophy, the head of the monumental statue of Emperor Augustus, which she has buried beneath a staircase in a temple dedicated to victory.
Zénobie of Palmyra (240)
Regent of an empire which covered Syria, Arabia, Egypt, and parts of Asia Minor. The court of Palmyra was one of the most brilliant intellectual and artistic hubs of the time.
Wu Zetian (624-705)
Only woman empress of China. The title and function of emperor was restricted to men. Concubine, she forms political alliances and will be crowned in 690, founding her own dynasty. She works to improve the status of women: public funerals for homeless women, care for widows, and hospices and shelters for young women.
Hildegarde of Bingen (1098-1179)
Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, she is considered the founder of natural history. She publishes two textbooks: “Physica” (9 volumes) and “Causae et Curae”.
Pétronille de Chemillé (~1060-1149)
In 1115, she becomes the first abbess of the Abbey of Fontevraud. She leads the community of monks and nuns, a mixed-sex order, which was unprecedented. Her name opens the long line of Fontevraud abbesses (only women will be at the head of the abbey) and expresses the power and liberty of women in the Middle Ages.
Jeanne d’Albret (1528-1572)
Queen of Navarre and mother of the future Henry 4th (king of France), she converts to Protestantism. Until her death, she will be the religious and political leader of the Protestant movement in France.
Émilie du Chatelet (1706-1749)
Expecting, she works with urgency on the translation of Newton’s work to French (universal language during the 18th century). She finishes the translation of “Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica” (still a reference today) and dies during childbirth. Mathematician and Physician, she experimentally proves that kinetic energy is proportional to object’s mass and to the square of its speed. She is one of the major players in the spread of the scientific revolution in Europe during the Enlightenment.
Laskarina Bouboulina (1771-1825)
Owner of a shipping company and Naval Commander, she raises the Greek flag (created herself) up the mast of her war ship, the Agamemnon. She plays a crucial role in Greece’s independence war against the Ottomans.
Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-1987)
On March 6th, 1980, she is the first woman elected to the “Académie Française”. In an interview, she will state: “When you want to educate ourselves about someone from the past, you have a thousand times more documents about men than women”.
Indira Gandhi (1917-1984)
On the 24th of January 1966, she becomes the first female prime minister of India. She leads the “Green Revolution” in the aim to remove her country from dependence on foreign powers and ensure its food self-sufficiency. Despite a mitigated outcome, she attempted to modernize the country, and will die assassinated.
Simone Veil (1927-2017)
The Veil law concerning the termination of pregnancy was voted on the 17th of January 1975, after a long fight.
List established by Caroline Becker (paleographer and archivist).
The aim was to retrace significant historic moments in women’s quest for freedom and independence across the world and centuries.
Aphra Behn (~1640-1689)
Traveler, spy, and author, she was the first English female writer to live off her work. Her novel “Oroonoko” is one of the first anti-slavery stories, throughout which the hero, an African price, becomes a slave; very modern! “Aphra Behn proved that one could earn money (…) and little by little, writing stopped being considered a sign of insanity,” Virginia Woolf.
Sophie von La Roche (1730-1807)
First writer to live off her art in Germany. Her husband falls into disgrace, she creates the first German magazine published by a woman and for women, and she writes novels to support her household. A traveler, she attempts to climb the Mont Blanc at over 50 years old, her narrative is considered as the first sports documentary.
Jeanne Barret (1740-1807)
Botanist and explorer, regarded as the first women to have traveled around the world. She embarked on “La Boudeuse et l’Etoile” with the Bougainville expedition, disguised as a man as women were not allowed to be a part of a ship crew.
Ida Laura Pfeiffer (1797-1858)
discovered by chance
In the window of a bookstore, one title caught my eye: « Voyage d’une femme autour du monde ». (“Travels of a woman around the world”). She began her voyage around 50 years old, widowed, with grown children, alone and without financial means. She completes 5 voyages in 16 years, of which two trips around the world. The story of her travels will be published. Her writing is simple, her point of view almost naïve, yet uncompromising on colonies.
Isabella Bird (1831-1904)
At 23 years old, her father gives her 100 pounds to leave for America. Upon her return, she publishes anonymously « The Englishwoman in America ». She will finance her travels thanks to the publishing of her accounts accompanied by photography: Australia, Hawaii, Far West, Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, India, Tibet, Turkey, Persia… She will be the first women to integrate the « Royal Geographical Society » and to the « Royal Photographic Society ».
Alexandrine Tinne (1835-1869)
Upon the death of her father, she becomes one of the Netherland’s richest heiresses and begins to travel with her mother: Norway, Italy, Middle-East and Egypt (1856). She begins photography, using wet collodion, to document her travels. She takes her second trip to Egypt in 1962, from which she gets great scientific and geographic results, but during which she loses her mother and aunt. She stays in the East, then returns to Libya, Darfur, and Tchad where she will be assassinated.
Jeanne Isabelle Massieu (1844-1932)
Upon widowed, she begins her travels in Mesopotamia, Lebanon, and Syria, then Ceylon and India. These were followed by a great tour of Asia by canoe and horse, during which she made her way through the jungle: Indochina, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, then China and Japan. At 64 years old, she visits the Himalayas and will be the first French woman to enter Nepal. She brings back stories and photography of local populations.
Jane Dieulafoy (1851-1916)
Archeologist, novelist, and photographer, at the age of 30 she leaves for Persia with her husband. She is responsible for photography during their expedition. Persian speaker, she visits Muslim countries disguised as a man (short hair and masculine clothing), where she catalogues and photographs all the monuments, among other landmarks.
Myriam Harry (~1869-1958)
Born in Jerusalem, educated by an antique dealer father, she speaks English, German, Russian and Arabic. After some time in Berlin, she immigrates to Paris where her novel “La Conquête de Jérusalem” receives the first Prix Fémina in 1904. For the press, she will travel as a journalist, in particular to the Middle East, embracing her Easter-Western culture.
Emily Hahn (1905-1997)
Prolific American journalist and author (54 books and many articles). In 1926, she becomes the first women to have graduated from mine engineering in Wisconsin. Great traveler, she crosses Africa on foot in the 1930s. She leaves for Japan and China in 1935; once settled in Shanghai, she will be a bridge between Eastern and Western intellectual groups.
Diverse sources, found by change and by women photographer sources.
Enheduanna (-2300 av JC)
Probably the most ancient literary author. Daughter of Sargon of Akkad, her father conquers Ur and names Enheduanna priestess of the prosperous Sumerian capital in Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq). An uprising drives her out and inspires the writing of “Temple Hymns”. This is an exceptional text: the oldest text whose author is known, and it’s a woman!
We have very little sure knowledge about Sappho. Although over 100 ancient authors quoted her or spoke of her, we have only found one of her poems in its entirety: “Hymn to Aphrodite”. Debauchery? Homosexuality? Heterosexuality? Sappho’s teachings to the Thasos will be a true initiation to freedom for young women, who in society were not citizens, only wives, child-bearers, and homemakers.
Aspasie de Milet (-450)
Around 450 BC, she arrives in Athens. As a foreign woman, she can be independent and pay taxes and therefore participate in public debates. Muse to Pericles, she will become the center of intellectual life in Athens. She is cited, among others, in the writings of Plato and et Plutarco… Often depicted as courtesan and manipulator, Athenians’ admiration was due not only to her exceptional beauty but to her remarkable intelligence.
Only female poetess from Ancient Rome whose work we have discovered. Her six elegies were published with the writings of Albius Tibullus, damaging her credibility as author; it will be contested for a long time. During the 18th century, Christian Gottlob Heyne, German erudite, confirms her status as author. Her poems offer a unique perspective of a woman’s gaze on other women.
Christine de Pizan (1364-1430)
Born in Venice, she is the first French woman to have lived off her work. The death of her husband puts her in financial difficulty. However, she will not remarry, nor will she join a convent. In 1405, the publication of “La Cité des Dames”, first feminist book in French history. Clever, she uses the bible to introduce each of her essays to bypass censorship.
Louise Labé (1524-1566)
We only know 662 verses of her work. She belongs to the group referred to as “l’école lyonnaise” (“School of Lyon”), at the time an economic and cultural center thanks to its parlors and printing industry. Some doubts have been expressed: could her character be only fiction, elaborated by a group of poets? On another note, she was an important participant in having Sappho rediscovered.
Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673)
English aristocrat, writer, philosopher, and scientist. She is primarily known for her novel “The Blazing World”. Her defends her freedom to write, to publish poems and philosophical ideas as a woman : “The truth is, we [women] live like bats, or owls, labor like beasts, and die like worms.” Criticized and ridiculed, she retreats to her estates.
Anne Finch (1661-1720)
Countess of Winchelsea, poetess, and English courtesan. She deplores the position of women in literature and within the court. She seeks psychological and spiritual equality between genders. She refers to other poets of the time, such as Aphra Behn and Katherine Phillips.
« Alas! a woman that attempts the pen, / Such an intruder on the rights of men,
Such a presumptuous Creature, is esteem’d, / The fault, can by no virtue be redeem’d. »
Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786-1859)
Born into an artisan family who will be ruined by the Revolution, she is a self-educated poet. Admired by Balzac, Baudelaire, Louis Aragon, she is, according to Verlaine, the only woman of talent and genius of the century. In 1819, she will publish a first collection: “Elégies, Marie et Romances”, characterized as innovative, making her a pioneer in romantic poetry.
Lou Andréas Salomé (1861-1937)
Russia, philosopher and free. She crosses Europe, pursuing intellectual encounters. She forms great friendships with Friedrich Nietzsche (who will seek to marry her), Rainer Maria Rilke and Sigmund Freud. She will publish 20 books and 120 articles between 1895 and 1934. She will not want neither a tombstone, nor posthumous publications.
Catherine Pozzi (1882-1934)
Having lost her father prematurely, single and living with tuberculosis, she obtains her Baccalauréat at 37 years old. Divorced, she is in high contact and entertains a long relationship with Paul Valéry (who is already married). Only one poem will be published when she is alive (1929), followed by other after her death, thanks to attention, notably from Jean Paulhan (NRF) and André Gide. She will be one of the few women in the catalog “Poésie” by Gallimard, although the discipline had always been open to women.
Virginia Woolf (1882- 1941)
Fragile, at 24, already an orphan, her brother dies suddenly. He was her connection with the outside world and had introduced her and her sister to their future husbands. They belonged to the intellectual group “Bloomsbury”, whose core had been formed in Cambridge and which she would become an important player for.A series of conferences in Cambridge, addressed to young women, will inspire “A Room of One’s Own”, published in 1929. Throughout her life, close relationships with friends and family will bring her support and exchange of ideas, despite her chronic depression.
As Virginia Woolf puts it, “Suppose, for instance, that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers.”
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)
Philosopher and novelist, she is married to Jean-Paul Sartre. Considered a major actor in feminism, especially through her book “The Second Sex”, that she will publish in 1949. Through it, she brings light and glory back to many forgotten women. This book has been a fruitful source for my research.
Khosrovidoukht de Goghtn (~710)
We know few things about her life, only that she was part of the royal family of an Armenian region. Rediscovered during the 19th century, we can credit her with the composition of « šarakan », (canonic hymn), « Zarmanali e Ints » (737), of which a beautiful modern recording has been made. One of the few examples of Armenian music with melodical development.
Listen here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELu2_Msb9Sw
Sahakdoukht de Sioumie (~720)
Sister of music theorist and Greek translator Stepanos Syunetsi. After his murder, she fell into a deep grief and decided to retreat to an ascetic life in a cave; there she produced ecclesiastical poems as well as liturgical chants. Sibil (Armenian author) notes in 1909, “1200 years ago the Armenian took great interest in women’s education. It may come as a surprise when I say that Stephan Siunetsi’s sister, Sahakdukht, established a music school in eighth-century Armenian; today such schools, which are the mark of a civilized nation, do not exist.”
Kassia (~810- 865)
Also known as Cassienne of Constantinople. Byzantine abbess, poet, composer, and hymnographer, she is one of the first medieval composers whose scores are both extant and able to be interpreted by modern scholars and musicians. Feminist before feminism’s time, she spotlights women and enhances their image in her hymns. For example, the sinner woman who kisses Jesus’s feet speaks and is not a prostitute. Committed to fight against ignorance through her texts, she writes: “there is absolutely no cure for stupidity”.
Listen here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1k_eKhTwvs
Maddalena Casulana (1544-1590)
Italian composer, lutenist, and singer of the late Renaissance. In 1568, she publishes in Venice her first book of madrigals for four voices: « Il primo libro di madrigali ». She is the first female composer to have had a whole book of her music printed and published in the history of western music. In 1570, 1583 and 1586, she will publish other books of madrigals, all in Venice.
Listen here : https://www.musicme.com/#/Maddalena-Casulana/
Anna Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704)
At 16 years old, she enters a convent in Novara (Italy), of which her family is benefactor. The nuns are considered « sacred virgins », yet their musical talents are civic treasures, and their performances very popular. She is one of the most prolific composers of her time, writing approximately 200 compositions, of all genres, throughout her lifetime (in part printed by Gasparo Casati).
Listen here : https://www.musicme.com/#/Isabella-Leonarda/
Louise Farrenc (1804-1875)
Born in Paris, she studies piano and harmonics. She will marry a flutist, and music editor who will support her prolific production. Conservatory piano teacher, she fights for wage equality. She receives two Chartier Prizes (1861 and 1869), destined to reward excellent musical composition, awarded by the Institut de France. In 81 years (from 1861 to 1942) only two other women will receive this prize alongside Louise.
Listen here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7hAY1z4ncI
Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (1805-1847)
Due to her family’s reservations and German social conventions at the time, a certain number of her works will be published under her brother’s name, especially in opus collections 8 and 0. Sustaining family pressure, she only dares to publish her compositions one year before her death: a collection of songs under the title Opus 1 in 1846. For the past 30 years, her life and works are the subject of research restoring her brilliance.
Listen here : https://www.musicme.com/#/Fanny-Hensel-Mendelssohn/
Emilie Mayer (1812-1883)
Born in Friedland (now Germany), her financial independence allows her to dedicate herself to composing. Heiress, she finances her concerts herself, and finds great success. Nonetheless, no great German editor will publish her work, condemning her to be forgotten. Critic Flodoard Geyer will say: “What female forces, forces of the second order, are capable of – that has been achieved and reproduced by Emilie Mayer.” These words express the context of the time. She will composes 8 symphonies, chamber music… which are characterized by tone changes.
Listen here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmFHdH706Ms
Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896)
German pianist and composer. In 1835, she composes a piano concerto, Opus 7, under the direction of Felix Mendelsshon. Her father will imagine for her a virtuoso’s international career and will oppose her marriage to Robert Schumann. Resisting against him, she marries Robert and has eight children. Too busy, she remains a pianist but hardly ever composes again. She will have composed mostly between the ages of 14 and 16.
Listen here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BD6xhB4jS9s
Marie Jaëll (1846-1925)
Virtuoso composer and pianist, she is widowed at 35 years old. She studies composition with Cesar Franck and Camille Saint-Saens before becoming the first woman admitted to the “Société des Compositeurs de Paris” (Composer’s Society of Paris). Prolific, with more than 70 works, Liszt declares: “With a man’s name on your music, it would be on all pianos”. She seeks a deep reform of piano teaching, where automatism and repetition leave place to the “touch method”.
Listen here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9CrBiU62BA
Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944)
Born in Paris, her father refuses that she enters the conservatory. Therefore, she receives a private musical education. Virtuoso pianist, Georges Bizet will refer to her as “my little Mozart”. In 1908, her concert venues will be full in the United States and Canada. Composer of romantic style, her work is made up of 200 pieces for piano, symphonic works, a comic opera… her compositions will be played around the world.
Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oapbWP639z8
Amy Marcy Beach (1867-1944)
Born in New Hampshire, child prodigy, she is trained in piano by her mother, then by Ernst Perabo and Karl Barmann, in Boston. Prolific in composing, she signs her works under her husband’s name: “Mrs H.H.A. Beach”. She plays her productions on tour; one major tour will be around Europe between 1911 and 1914. Her symphony “Gaelic” is the first symphony composed and published by an American woman (1896). Her work of over 300 pieces includes all genres, except opera.
Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBkqCBe-EXk
List established first thanks to http://drama-musica.com/Blog/TheBigList.html
Then with suggestions from Laurence Equilbey (bandmaster) and the portraits of « La boîte à pépites » (original idea by Héloïse Luzzati).
Françoise of Maintenon (1635-1719)
Famously mistress of Louis the 14th; however, her educative contributions are largely unknown. She leads the opening of the “Maison Royale de Saint Louis” in Saint Cyr. Founded the 15th of August 1684, it will be the first secular school of young women; its objectives are to provide a more extensive education than the one they received in convents, including arithmetic, grammar, history, language, art…
Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793)
Leading figure of the French Revolution, her famous phrase: “woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum” is emblematic. She will fight for the right to vote, to divorce, to receive an education… She will write leaflets, flyers, and public plays (one play about slavery given at the Comédie Française will only be played once due to the tremendous scandal it will create). The cornerstone of her work is « La Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne » (« Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen »).
Germaine de Staël-Holstein (1766-1817)
Novelist, philosopher, and daughter of Jacques Necker (Minister of Finance under Louis the 16th), she opens her own Salon in Paris. In 1802, the Consul Napoleon Bonaparte gives the order for her to be exiled, without a trial. One of her contemporaries will write: “three great powers in Europe are at work to counter Napoleon: England, Russia and Madame de Staël”. Her “Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution” is one of the foundations of revolutionary historiography.
Sophie de Condorcet (1763-1822)
Born Sophie Marie Louise de Grouchy, she will marry philisopher Nicolas de Condorcet. She opens a philosophy parlor in 1787 and welcomes many philosophers of the Enlightenment. She will have an important role in her husband’s understanding of feminism; he will write: “On the Admission of Women to the Rights of Citizenship” (published the 3rd of July 1790.)
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)
Schoolteacher and philosopher most known for « A Vindication of the Rights of Woman » (1792), un pamphlet against the patriarchal society of her time and women’s lack of education. After her death, her husband William Godwin will publish « Memoirs » (about the liberated life his wife had led) which will have a devastation impact of Mary Wollstonecraft’s reputation for a century to come. Throughout the modern feminist movement, Virginia Woolf, or Emma Goldman will take hold of her story and celebrate her “life experiences”.
Harriet Taylor Mill (1807-1858)
English philosopher and feminist. She marries John Stuart Mill whose work she will influence. In particular, she will encourage the gender neutrality of his writing: systematically replacing “man” or “he” by “person” or “people”. Mill will suggest an amendment to the Reform Act of 1867: to replace “man” by “person”; if it had been accepted, it would have given suffrage rights to women. She seeks to establish equality between men and women in education, marriage, and before the law.
Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898)
Very young, she is imprisoned for having breached the « Fugitive Slave Act », law criminalizing offering assistance to slaves. Women’s suffragist, she signs, alongside Lillie Devereux Blake, the “Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States” in 1876. She collaborates with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to the drafting of « History of Woman Suffrage » (1881–1887).
Hubertine Auclert (1848-1914)
Two of her actions represent her convictions and great common sense. In 1880, she attempts to register on electoral lists at the town hall of the 10th district of Paris. In the official newspaper, she advocates for all “persons” omitted from the list to demand their registration (“person” being a term including both men and women). Next, tax boycott: she refuses to pay taxes, as the expression “all French people” excludes her when it comes to voting. Additionally, she will ask for the “feminization” of words such as “témoin”. (witness), “avocat” (lawyer), “élécteur” (elector), “député” (member of parliament), all roles forbidden for women.
Huda Shaarawi (1879-1947)
From a wealthy family, she is married at 13 years old, and 2 years later her husband will impose cohabitation with another woman. She leaves and advances her education for 7 years, then returns to conjugal life. President of the Egyptian Feminist Union, her intention is to “not lose anything of the tender protection of Islam” while advancing women’s status in society. Strong gesture: in May 1923, upon her return to Rome (for the 9th Congress of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance), she removes her veil and avoids stoning by the crowds.
Eileen Power (1889-1940)
Leader of the History of Medieval Economics at LSE (London School of Economics). In her book “Medieval Women”, she uses history (her study of women, their social and economic position in the 13th and 14th centuries), as her claim. She questions the truth of established sources and how men of superior social rank can have any idea about the daily life of women.
Gisèle Halimi (1927-2020)
Feminist activist, she is the only signatory lawyer of the Manifesto of the 343, reuniting, in 1971, women having aborted and demanding free access to abortion (at the time illegal in France). She and Simone de Beauvoir found the movement “Choisir la cause des femmes” (« To Choose the Cause of Women »), to fight for the depenalization of abortion. Throughout her life, she will continue to fight for her beliefs, contributing for example in defining rape as a crime rather than a “criminal offense” under French law.
List established primarily thanks to the book « Les mots des femmes » by Mona Ozouf (1995).
Greek Neo-Platonist philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician from Alexandria.It is difficult to say exactly what she produced, yet she seems to be the first female scientist of Antiquity whose trace we have kept! Notably, history recorded her tragic death, murdered by a crowd on Easter 415.
Sophie Germain (1776-1831)
A French woman, one of the first female mathematicians, she liaised with the most influential of the time (Gauss, Lagrange, etc.). The first woman to have won the Grand Prize of the “Académie des Sciences”, for her work on vibrations of elastic surfaces. She will work primarily on Fermat’s theorem, which she did not prove, but made important contributions to.
Ada Byron de Lovelace (1815-1852)
English mathematician, she invented the first algorithm, and thus would be the pioneer of computer science. She “reinterpreted” Charles Babbage’s very mechanical machines, by understanding that one can give an abstract function to manipulated objects to make them into algorithms. Some say that Babbage invented it all. This is a rare case where a woman is recognized for the discovery of a man!
Sofia Kovalevskaya (1850-1891)
A Russian mathematician, and the first female university professor in mathematics. She proved a very important result about the existence and unicity of a solution to equations with partial derivatives.
Lise Meitner (1878-1968)
Austrian physician, her story is astonishing: she will work with Otto Hahn in Nazi Germany. Together, they succeed in the first fission of the Uranium atom (which led to the atomic bomb, nuclear power plants etc.). As she is Jewish, Hahn suggests that she escapes Germany, which she will do. After her departure, Hahn sends their works, under only his name, to Nature, where they will be published. He received the Nobel Prize, she did not.
Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Polish physician and chemist, she is the first woman to receive a Nobel prize, and the only to receive two, in different disciplines no less. These are: in 1903, with Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel, the Nobel prize in physics for their research on radiations (radioactivity, natural particle radiation); in 1911, the Nobel prize in chemistry for her works on polonium and radium.
Emmy Noether (1882-1935)
Her life is a novel. She is recognized by the greatest as “the most important mathematician in the history of mathematics”. Her primary work, a continuation of Madame du Chatelet’s work, is Noether’s theorem: the basis of all modern physics. Prodigious, it simply states: “every physical system that has properties of symmetry has an associated conservation law.”
Inge Lehmann (1888-1993)
Danish seismologist, she will make exceptional contributions to the understanding of structure, composition and dynamics of the Earth’s mantle and core. She will discover, by analyzing seismic waves, that the Earth has a solid inner core, and fluid outer core.
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979)
Anglo-American astronomer, she makes an incredible discovery: stars are made of hydrogen and helium. At the start, it is considered absurd, as it enters in contradiction with theories from an established astronomer of the time. Despite her exceptional work, she will have to wait many years to be named professor at Harvard, as it was simply forbidden.
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)
British chemical physicist, she uses an X-Ray diffraction method to photograph the structure of the DNA (renowned Photograph 51). Yet, James Dewey Watson and Francis Crick, helped by Raymond Gosling, borrow the photo. They use it as the basis for their article published in Nature, to which they owe their Nobel prize for the discovery of the structure of DNA.
This list was established by Jérôme Legras (Polytechnique graduate and mathematician). He said : “every time or almost, clearly, we see a similar story: great difficulty in having their work accepted, to obtain a role at a university (or ever a degree), have their work stolen by a man…”
Anna Children-Atkins (1799-1871)
English botanist, designer, and pioneer of the cyanotype. In 1839, she joins the Botanical Society of London, one of the few learned societies open to women. Her herbarium, « British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions » elaborated from 1843 to 1953, is the first book entirely illustrated with photography.
Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879)
Amateur, she receives her first view camera as a gift from her daughter for her 48th birthday. A year later, she becomes a member of the Royal Photographic Society. She produces portraits of friends and celebrities, inspired by Pre-Raphaelite painting and imbued with softness.
Mary Dillwyn (1816-1906)
Photographer of the first candid photography and sister of John Dillwyn Llewelyn, inventor of the “Oxymel Process” (allowing collodion negatives to be prepared and preserved over several days to avoid the portable photo lab). Her portraits are very natural, due to the choice of small formats and short exposure times. She will be the author of the first smiling portrait.
Geraldine Moodie (1854-1945)
Self-taught photographer, and police officer’s wife, she takes advantage of their many travels due to her husband’s foreign assignments to document indigenous peoples, from the Canadian border to the Arctic. She creates a beautiful series of Inuit women’s portraits. Hyper-professional, she signs her productions, registers copyrights, and negotiates official contracts.
Christina Broom (1862-1939)
Is recognized as “the first female press photographer in the United Kingdom”. Anchored in her time, she photographs advertising material for the Woman’s Sunday, suffragette marches, among which the demonstration rally of the 23rd of July 1910, where 10 000 women assembled. She places the lens close to her subjects, creating a dramatic effect.
Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976)
Purchases her first camera at the age of 22. She diligently photographs nude bodies, depicted in a naturalistic light. In 1915, she photographs her husband: a nude male under the lens and gaze of a woman scandalizes Seattle! She removes the negatives from public circulation for over 50 years. She writes in 1912 “Photography as a Profession for Women”, demonstrating that women can become great photographers.
Hannah Höch (1889-1978)
Incredible photomontages, incorporating images found in the media where the woman is object of desire. Raoul Haussmann’s lover, she is the only women in the band Dada Berlin.
Annapurna Dutta (1894-1976)
Among the first women photographers in Bengal, India, to have lived off her photography. In 1920, she made a self-portrait with her camera obscura, which will become a precious archive document.
Lucia Moholy (1894-1989)
Under her lens, graphic compositions of architecture or objects in a Bauhaus esthetic, are often used to promote school education. Wife of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, her works are distributed without credit: she will take legal action to recover her negatives. Also a theoretician, she will publish “A hundred Years of Photography” (1939).
Germaine Krull (1897-1985)
Said to be the “Photographer of Modernity”, she creates hyper-graphic images: metallic structures, dramatic angle framing and low angle view. She will spend her last years in India, having converted to Buddhism.
Voula Papaioannou (1898-1990)
Brings a female view of war. Afflicted, she photographs the civilian population rather than the combat during the 1940 war in Greece. Throughout her entire life, she will focus on her country, her sorrows and hopes.
Cosette Harcourt (1900-1976)
Born Germaine Hirschfeld, daughter of German immigrants at the end of the 19th century, she is the photographer and portraitist to whom we owe the famous Studio Harcourt. Her shots sublimate faces, through lighting and blurring tricks. She will produce legendary portraits of celebrities.
Françoise Nuñez (1957-2021)
The beautiful Andalusia who married a family friend, Bernard Plossu. She photographs in black and white, using a 50 mm lens, mainly in Asia and South America. “I practically only photograph when traveling. And when I leave, I just think about it,” she tells the newspaper La Dépêche in 2012. “I want to be receptive to everything, far from everyday life and places that I know too well. I like the unexpected, the surprise, the emotion of discovery. And try to make all these emotions felt.”
This list was established thanks to the suggestions of Bernard Plossu (friend and photographer) ; thanks to the catalogues « Qui a peur des femmes photographes ? » (Éditions M/O’, 2015) and « Une histoire mondiale des femmes photographes (Éditions Textuel, 2020) ; as well as AWARE (Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions) association’s website.