Posts tagged with: Women’s history month

(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

What does the Victorian era have to do with contemporary culture and society? Quite a bit, in the mind and work of Gertrude Himmelfarb, an American historian who called her own work “the history of ideas.” Himmelfarb has been criticized for her call to the return of traditional values (like shame, personal responsibility and self-reliance) by an academic community that prefers what they believe is a “value-neutral” method of teaching and research.

courtesy of www.superscholar.org

courtesy of www.superscholar.org


Himmelfarb wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on the British parliamentarian and historian Lord Acton, which she later published as Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics (1952). Himmelfarb found Lord Acton’s ambivalent blend of liberalism and pessimism, ideas of progress, and notions of human sinfulness, as well as his advocacy of a “judicious mix of authority, tradition, and experience, to be highly relevant for the post World War II world.” Even in this early work, she discerned a connection between the modern neglect of personal moral character and the political catastrophes of the twentieth century, including the rise of fascism and totalitarianism.  (Gertrude Himmelfarb: Jewish Women’s Archive)

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(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

The lives and deaths of cities in America is certainly topical. Drive through Detroit if you don’t think so. On one hand, block after block of decimated homes create a landscape of, let’s be honest, death. On the other, people in the city forge ahead, turning empty city blocks into burgeoning urban gardens, seeking out entrepreneurial options in cheap real-estate and office leases. Do the lives and deaths of cities “just happen” or is there planning involved?

courtesy of Biography.com

courtesy of Biography.com

Jane Jacobs, wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in 1961, speaking out against what constituted much of urban planning. She said, in one interview, that urban planners were rather “hopeless”:

The chief planner of Philadelphia was showing me around. First we walked down a street that was just crammed with people, mostly black people, walking on the sidewalks and sitting on the stoops and leaning out of the windows. I think he was taking me on this street to show me what he regarded as a bad part of the city, to contrast it with what he was going to show me next. I liked this street—people were using it and enjoying it and enjoying each other. Then we went over to the parallel street that had just undergone urban renewal. It was filled with very sterile housing projects. The planner was very proud of it, and he urged me to stand at a certain spot to see what a great vista it had. I thought the whole thing was extremely boring—there was nobody on the street. All the time we were there, which was too long for me, I saw only one little boy. He was kicking a tire in the gutter. The planner told me that they were progressing to the next street over, where we had come from, which he obviously regarded as disgraceful. I said that all the people were over there, that there were no people here, and what did he think of that? What he obviously would have liked was groups of people standing and admiring the vistas that he had created. You could see that nothing else mattered to him. So I realized that not only did he and the people he directed not know how to make an interesting or a humane street, but they didn’t even notice such things and didn’t care.

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Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Thursday, March 14, 2013

(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

In today’s era of texting, Facebooking and emails, one wonders how comfortable our nation’s second First Lady would have felt about these forms of communication. Abigail Smith Adams, while not a “woman of letters” (she had little formal education), left behind letters that tell us much about her, her marriage and her desire to be part of a nation of liberty.

In 1775, the Massachusetts Colony General Court appointed Adams (and other young women) to question their peers as to their loyalty to the crown or their new nation. Her husband, John, told her she was now a “politician and now elected into an important office, that of judges of Tory ladies, which will give you, naturally, an influence with your sex.”

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery

It was noted that Abigail enjoyed conversations about politics, especially as her husband’s own political career grew. One thing she might have in common with today’s politicians and their spouses is that she did not enjoy the so-called “fishbowl” that comes with this type of career. Clearly, the role of women at this time in the public realm was limited, which Abigail accepted, but perhaps chafed against. She wrote in one correspondence, “Let each planet shine in their own orbit, God and nature designed it so. If man is Lord, woman is Lordess — that is what I contend for, and if a woman does not hold the Reigns of Government, I see no reason for her not judging how they are conducted.”

She believed that women not only could be educated, but must be, in this new nation, for it was in education that virtue was learned. As her husband and his peers drafted the country’s Constitution, she wrote, “our new constitution may be distinguished for learning and Virtue…. If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen, and philosophers, we should have learned women.”

This formidable First Lady may have penned some of the most striking words of the young nation she helped found:

[R]emember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

“This strange child” is how Hildegard was once described. Born in 1098, she was known to have visions, but kept them private for many years. Her family sent her at the age of 8 for religious education. It was not until the age of 42 that she realized the full extent of her visions and her understanding of religious texts. She sought the advice of St. Bernard and then Pope Eugenius so that her visions would never be seen as anything outside of or against Church teaching.

iconographer: Richard Cannuli

iconographer: Richard Cannuli

Hildegard’s work was some of the most prolific and wide-ranging in church history. She wrote music, plays, theology, and natural history. She also left behind massive correspondence. Besides writing to those who sought prayerful and private advice, she took to task men like Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, the archbishop of Main, and King Henry II of England. She was known to openly approach medical subjects (such as menstruation) and political and religious topics even some men would not discuss.

The 12th century was one of schisms and religious turmoil, and Hildegard was openly critical of those who spoke against the Church. However, the practice of burning heretics, popular at this time, was one Hildegard eschewed: “Do not kill them, for they are God’s image.”

Some feminist theologians of the 20th century have found Hildegard to be “feminist-friendly“, focusing on her apparent disobedience of a local bishop when relocating her convent. However, nothing suggests that Hildegard was anything but a true scholar, a student of science, reason and theology, who sought to work within the Church’s tradition of intellectual endeavor. In 2012, now-Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI declared Hildegard of Bingen a “Doctor of the Church”: a title given to certain saints known for their work that leads to new understandings of the Catholic Church’s Faith. It is in the realm of faith, reason, and intellect that Hildegard can be regarded a woman of liberty.

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Wednesday, March 6, 2013

(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

Artist: Michael C. Hayes

Artist: Michael C. Hayes

Joan of Arc

1412-1431
The Maid of Orleans

Young Joan, by any account, had a plain beginning to an extraordinary life. Until the age of 12 or so, she was the daughter of a farmer, who learned farming and household skills from her parents.

Her native France was involved in what is typically referred to as the Hundred Years War with England, but the French had broken into factions that complicated the resistance against the English invasion. It was during this tumultuous period that Joan began to hear voices and see visions of various saints and angels, urging her to support Charles VII as the true leader of France. This meant, for Joan, that she cut her hair, dressed as a soldier and led Charles’ rag-tag troops into battle.

Further, Joan sought to reform the men’s life in camp: kicking out prostitutes, urging the men to pray, attend Mass, and refrain from looting. While Joan was recognized as a leader in battle, she was not armed, preferring to carry a banner with Jesus and the fleur-de-lis on it.

While Joan was able help Charles VII regain control, she became the focus of a Burgundian conspiracy and was eventually betrayed, arrested and burned at the stake. Various sources claim that she was found guilty of witchcraft, heresy, and even immodest dress (for wearing men’s clothing), but the Burgundian forces which opposed the rule of Charles VII brought her unifying spiritual leadership to an end. However, Joan had achieved the goal she believe God had enjoined her with: bringing Charles back to the throne as the rightful ruler of France.

History remembers Joan of Arc as a young woman of deep spiritual devotion, bravery, and an undeniable passion for serving God and country.

For detailed information about Joan of Arc, visit the Joan of Arc Archive.