July 1, 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest and entrenched battles of WWI.
Few women fought in WWI but as always nurses and support staff were present near the front, and of course, society in the involved nations changed with the exodus of males to the battlefront and how the division of labor shifted to include women in more and more jobs and positions.
Changes to British women’s culture are documented in 12 Things You Didn’t Know About Women in the First World War.
Of course there is Independence Day in the USA. The history of the actions officially begun the day of the signing of Declaration of Independence is more than well documented. But what I always think of, like most people, is my first memories of fire works. My family did not picnic nor barbecue as work on the farm took precedence over everything else. But my Mom and Dad always took me to the nearby town’s display of fireworks. We would sit on the hill near to and above a connecting tunnel that led to the baseball field, the site of the ground displays and aerial display launch. For me it was exotic. Out at night with the family, and the whole town.
Our family always met the same couple who were friends of my parents from a nearby township. We never saw them at any other time of the year, but the annual meeting replicated some sort of community picnic event held in the tiny village my mother and the couple lived in when they were all young.
I doubt I will ever forget the oohs and ahs of myself and every other little kid in the park as the sky lit, ground displays billowed, and patriotic music played and pledges were recited. This was great fun for me as I was only allowed closely supervised use of sparklers and snakes.
It was such a different time, and for me whose family lived on the edge of an even earlier agrarian time, the celebration of country and community was a big deal.
I think it might be good for those of us who can remember other ways of life as opposed to today’s snarky me, me, me, and greed drenched culture to mention one of this month’s birthday women, Emma Lazarus born July 22, 1849. Emma authored the poem whose words we all know which were inscribed on a plaque installed inside the Statue of Liberty in 1903.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
To put Lazarus’ life in context, she was 5 years old when the Seneca Falls Convention laid the foundation of the American Women’s Rights Movement.
And with that mention, July 19 – 20 is the 170th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention of 1848.
Regional coverage of the Seneca Falls Convention, one week after the meeting. The North Star was published by Frederick Douglass, the only African American to attend the conference.
More women should know the history of this event! It was largely written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and modeled on the Declaration of Independence. Blacks and whites as well as men and women were still working together at this early stage of the movement.
Inspirational Women of July
I decided to feature a few non-American women to balance out this month’s coverage of American events and people, let’s look at some non-Americans.
Leslie Caron, actress and dancer was born on July 1, 1931 starred in “An American in Paris” and (1958) and other films. She wrote her autobiography, Thank Heaven , which was published in 2009.
Speaking of dancers, another dancer who danced with Fred Astair, rather than Gene Kelly, and who is famous for dancing backwards and in high heels was born on July 16, 1911. You know who it is. Hint: Her first name is Ginger. Aha, yes a challenge!
Frida Kahlo, born July 6, 1907. Do any mature women of the western world not know her work? It seems impossible. I think I really got an understanding of the radical nature of Kahlo and the context of her work when I saw Greyson’s Urinal in the late 1980s. She is feminist painting to me. The colors of Mexico swim in my head whenever I think of her. How about you?
Dorothy Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s neice, born July 11, 1895, if she were alive today would be famous for being famous. Anglo-Irish, Lost Generation, Parisian ex-pat and celebrity, she hobnobbed with Josephine Baker, T.S. Eliot, and Gertrude Stein to name drop only a few of her circle. Read the delightful 2010 article about Dolly in Culture and Stuff .
I lied. How can we talk about culture without talking about comedy? Here is a video clip of another American woman who should be celebrated.
Phyllis Diller, July 17, 1917 -August 20, 2012 Watch this and remember how she made us laugh.
Diller was no “ripe tomato” to use the slang of the time, but was she Contadina Connie in this audio clip from 1951? And speaking of tomatoes…
Oh, and in celebration of all those tomatoes that will be ripening this month. Read this story about an Italian American Entrepreneur and Italian Tomatoes grown in America.
On 28th July you can celebrate Beatrix Potter‘s 1866 birthday by feeding some garden produce to a bunny.
Or if you are in an urban grind with no garden, consider the fact that Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer in the City began climbing the charts 50 years ago this month. There is no more July-ish song from my youth than this.
“Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city”