Women who dared to dream.
Some whom you have likely never heard of before and others who are well known. Regularly updated.
Saskia van Uylenburgh
Known for being the wife of famed artist Rembrandt
D.O.B: 2 August 1612
Died: 14 June 1642
I recently wrote a quick blog highlighting some of my favourite pieces from the Hermitage’s collection.
One of these was “Flora” by Rembrandt. Painted in 1634 it depicts the artists wife shortly after they were married and she is likened to the Goddess of Spring. It is a beautiful piece that showcases her femineity.
Catherine II personally acquired the work during her lifetime and it then entered the Hermitage collection. Knowing that it was a piece owned by Catherine only adds to the works story in my opinion and does colour my opinion of the work as the owner of a work is often just as important as the piece itself.
Having said that I know a lot about Catherine but nothing about the woman featured - Saskia van Uylenburgh - Rembrandt's wife.
Born on 2 August 1612, Saskia was the daughter of the Mayor of Friesland, a province of the Netherlands. She was the youngest of eight and sadly her Mother died when she was just seven with her Father leaving her orphaned when he died just a few years later. Saskia was then raised by one of her sisters and during her youth she met a number of artists.
In 1631 she travelled to Amsterdam where she met Rembrandt, her cousin was his art dealer. The pair were engaged two years later and married without any of his family being present. Socially Rembrandt was not of the same standing, but Saskia had shown strong determination to marry whom she wanted. It should also be noted that Rembrandt had made financial gain from his works and once the couple were married, they were able to afford a home in the desirable part of Amsterdam.
Saskia did come with family money but should she die the money was to go to any children they had, not Rembrandt however he could use the inheritance of their children so long as he didn’t marry.
Sadly, the couple had four children of which only one survived past birth: their son Titus.
Just nine months later Saskia died.
The couple had been married seven years and Saskia was just 29 at the time of her death.
Rembrandt would go on to have mistresses (one being his son’s nurse who he had imprisoned – that’s a story to unpack on another day) and what I think is one of the most disrespectful things I’ve ever heard is that he sold Saskia’s grave in 1662 because he was having financial difficulties.
Saskia has been immortalised though with a asteroid named after her – Saskia 461. This was discovered in 1900 by astronomer Max Wolf at the Heidelberg Observatory. The asteroid orbits the sun, falling between Mars and Jupiter (so further out than Earth is located) and is a dwarf planet.
To learn more about the artworks in the Hermitage visit my blog Travelling from Home: The Hermitage.
Photo: "Flora" by Rembrandt (1634)
Catherine the Great
Empress of Russia
D.O.B: 2 May 1729
Died: 17 November 1796
Born on the 2 May 1729 as Princess Sophie, into the Kingdom of Prussia (which at the time was under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire). She was of Germanic and Polish ancestry with her cousins in line for thrones across Europe.
Sophie lived a normal life until she became a political pawn in the rivalry between Prussia, Austria and Russia. Her marriage to Peter III of Russia (her second cousin) was orchestrated by the Prussian’s to strengthen ties with Russia, undermining the Russian relationship with Austria.
When she arrived in Russia, Catherine (as she would become known) was committed to her task. She set about learning the language and customs while also working hard to impress Empress Elizabeth (the ruling Russian Monarch) and the Russian people. She even converted to the Orthodox Church (this was when she changed her name) which deeply upset some of her family, especially her Father who was a devout Lutheran.
On 21 August 1745, now aged 16, she married the 17-year-old Peter who had become Duke of Holstein-Gottorp several years earlier.
As they say, what happened next is history!
With so much to know about Catherine I have a series of blogs on her. Follow this link to get started: Was Catherine Really Great?
Photo: Coronation Portrait of Catherine II by Stefano Torelli (Source: Hermitage Museum), 1763-1766
Eliza Hamilton nee Schuyler
Wife of Alexander Hamilton and philanthropist in her own right.
D.O.B: 9 August 1757
Died: 9 November 1854
Born on 9 August 1757 to General Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer in New York. Her Mother’s family were one of the richest and most influential in the state and descended from the Dutch settlers.
She married the politician Hamilton in 1780 and the couple had eight children. During her pregnancy with their sixth child Hamilton published a document about his adultery from a few years previously. Eliza withdrew from New York, but the couple reconciled and had two more children. They also raised a young orphan as one of their own.
The couple’s eldest son Philip was killed in a duel before the birth of their youngest child whom they named after him. Their son James served as Secretary of State in 1829, John helped his Mother compile Hamilton’s papers, William served as a member of the Wisconsin Legislative Assembly and Illinois House of Representatives while their youngest son assisted with eh Underground Railroad.
After her husband’s death Eliza went on to become a well-known philanthropist. Her most notable works were opening New York’s first private orphanage in Greenwich Village and a free school for children of families who couldn’t afford private education. This paid tribute to her husband’s legacy as he had been orphaned as a child and was educated thanks to kind benefactors.
At the age of 97, Eliza died on 9 November 1854.
The image here was illustrated by Ralph Earl in 1787. At the time he was in a debtor’s prison and by sitting for him she enabled him to make some money and buy his way out of prison.
To learn more about the story of Alexander Hamilton read my blog about the musical and the history behind it by clicking here.
Photo: "Eliza Hamilton" by Ralph Earl (1787)
Countess Helene de Pourtales
First woman to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games
D.O.B: 28 April 1868
Died: 2 November 1945
Born Helen Barbey into an affluent New York family, she married Count Hermann Alexander of the Huguenot family in 1891.
Both her and her husband had duel citizenship so with their Nephew they crewed the Lerina to victory for Switzerland in the 1-2 ton class sailing event at the 1900 Olympic Games.
To learn more about these games visit my Olympic Facts page.
Photo: Helene de Pourtales, c. 1900 (Levitsky of Paris)
First woman to win individual gold at the Olympic Games
D.O.B: 22 September 1870
Died: 10 October 1966
Charlotte Cooper became the first woman to take home an individual Olympic gold medal when she won the women's singles tournament at the 1900 Paris Games. She also won gold in the mixed doubles for Great Britain.
Heading into the games Charlotte already had 3 Wimbledon titles under her belt and following the games she would go on to win two more times.
From the age of 26 Charlotte was deaf which means that for most of her professional career she competed with the impairment.
To learn more about these games visit my Olympic Facts page.
Photo: Charlotte Cooper, c. 1900 (Olympics.org)
Champion of women in sport. Created the 1921 Women's Olympiad.
D.O.B: 5 May 1884
Died: 19 May 1957
Alice Milliat is known for being a pioneer of women’s sport and thanks to her tenacity the path was paved for women to enter Olympic competition in multiple disciplines.
In 1921 she created the International Women’s Sport Federation and with the assistance of Camille Blanc launched the Women’s Olympiad (to read more visit the Olympics Page).
Though she is best known for developing the Women’s Olympiad and navigating a way for women to participate in the mainstream Olympics she was also a multi-talented sportswoman in her own right. Alice was a keen hockey player and swimmer, but she also excelled in rowing. Despite her sporting prowess her profession was as a teacher and translator.
Earlier this year, 2021, a statue of Alice was unveiled at the House of Sport in Paris but for the most part is she largely forgotten by history. The Alice Milliat Foundation was founded in Paris in 2016 and works to promote women’s sport across Europe in an effort to reach equality.
Photo: Alice Milliat (Unknwon)
Swedish Olympic Gold medallist in a Winter sport before the Winter Olympics were established!
D.O.B: 24 July 1884
Died: 21 December 1990
Magda was born in France but moved to Sweden with her family when she was just seven years old. She represented Sweden at an international level as a champion figure skater. She was a three-time Sweedish national champion as well as an Olympic Gold medallist in 1920, two time Nordic Champ (1919 and 1921) and gold medallist at the Nordic Games in 1917 (the pre-curser to the Winter Olympics).
At the time of her gold medal performance at the 1920 Antwerp Games she was three-four months pregnant.
She continued to skate until she was in her 90s and also worked running a restaurant until the 1970s.
To learn more about these games visit my Winter Olympic Facts or read the blog
Photo: Magda Mauroy (Unknown)
Australia's First Female Olympic Gold Meddallist
D.O.B: 27 October 1889
Died: 20 March 1956
Sydney born Durack dominated the Australian women’s swimming scene from 1906. She, along with friend Mina Wylie, were the first Australian women to participate in the Olympic games. Initially the NSW Ladies Swimming Association refused to grant them permission to participate in the 1912 games, the first to allow female swimming but eventually they were granted permission but at their own expense. They also had to fund chaperones to attend with them.
Once in Stockholm, Durack became the first Australian woman to win gold. Unfortunately, she suffered appendicitis a week before she was due to leave for the 1920 games in Antwerp so was unable to attend meaning she only attended the one Olympic Games.
In 1918 she toured America, competing alongside Wylie however this was not sanctioned by Australian authorities, and she faced steep opposition from the Americans. Three years later, in 1921, she retired from competition but continued to devote her life to coaching.
Durack has an important legacy in Australian sport, especially for women. One of the roads in Olympic Park, Sydney is named after her and in 1967 she was posthumously added to the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Photo: Fanny Durack (left) and Mina Wylie at the 1912 games (Unknown Source)
One of Australia's First Female Olympians
D.O.B: 27 June 1891
Died: 6 July 1984
Mina Wylie grew up swimming alongside Fanny Durack in Coogee, NSW. She was the daughter of 1896 Australasian distance-diving champion, Henry Wylie and from a young age she was part of the family’s aquatic act.
Initially the NSW Ladies Swimming Association refused to grant Wylie and Durack permission to participate in the 1912 games, the first to allow female swimming but eventually they were granted permission but at their own expense. They also had to fund chaperones to attend with them.
At the games Wylie won silver in the 100m, after Durack who received gold. This made Wylie the first Australian woman to win silver and alongside Durack one of the first two Aussie women to compete at the games.
After she retired from competition in the late 1920s, she worked as a swimming instructor at the Presbyterian Ladies College, Pymble until 1970. A sculpture of Wylie is located at the Coogee Pool.
Photo: Mina Wylie, 1913 (State Library NSW)
Aviator, adventurer, and amazing female role model.
D.O.B: 24 July 1897
Disappeared: 2 July 1937
Declared Dead: 5 January 1939
Amelia Earhart was born in Kansas on 24 July 1897. From a young age she had a keen interest in flying.
On 19 June 1928 she landed in Southampton, England with Wilmer Stultz. As most of the flight was instrumental and she had no training in this type of flying she acted as co-pilot. When they returned to the USA the fanfare, they received was immense and her celebrity status only rose.
She became the first woman to fly solo across North America and back just two months later in August 1928.
In 1932 she achieved her goal and became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. The flight took 14 hours and 56 minutes. Over the coming years she would set many other aviation records.
Amelia championed the role of women in aviation and became an official of the National Aeronautical Association in 1930. She also became involved with the Ninety-Nines, a female pilots organisation that provided support to women in aviation.
On 2 July bound for Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. It was during this sector of the voyage that all communication ceased, and the crew were never sighted again.
To learn more read my blog: Amazing Amelia: the woman behind the mysterious disappearance
Photo: Unknown date and unknown source
First Japanese Female Olympian and First Female Medallist
D.O.B: 1 January 1907
Died: 2 August 1931
Kinue Hitomi grew up in Okayama and was the daughter of wealthy farmers which meant that she was able to study at a good girls school. From a young age she excelled at long jump, triple jump, shot put and 100m hurdles. To get to the 1926 games in Sweden she travelled by the Trans-Siberian Railway and it was well worth the trip! She took home 2 gold, 1 silver and bronze medal seeing Japan finish fifth on the points table. This meant that she accumulated the most individual points for a competitor and was awarded a special prize for this feat by Alice Milliat.
In 1928 she became the first Japanese woman to compete at an Olympic game where she became the first female Japanese medallist with a silver in the 800m.
Due to her prowess Hitomi was expected to lecture and travel around Japan exhibiting her skills and inspiring the next generation. She was also sent on world tours over the next two years with little time for rest. On 2 August 1931, aged just 24 she died on pneumonia
To learn more about the Women's Olympiad visit my blog From Olympiad to World Games
Photo: Kinue Hitomi, 1928 (Olympics.org)
First Elected Female Leader of a Nation
D.O.B: 17 April 1916
Died: 10 October 2000
Sirimavo Bandaranaike entered politics after the assassination of her husband.
To enter such a turbulent political sphere under that cloud can only be described as very brave.
Many argue she had no real influence over the country during her first terms as Prime Minister but given her very long political career she has indeed played a key role in taking Sri Lanka from the days of colonialism into an independent nation. Plus she played a key role on the international stage.
From 1960-1965, 1970-1977 and 1994-2000 she held the position of Prime Minister; and during that time when she wasn’t PM (except for a period between 1980-1986) she held other parliamentary positions.
There is so much more to her story and her role in creating an Independent Sri Lanka. To read about this follow the link to the blog: The World's First Female Elected Leader.
American Actress, Comedian and Entertainment Veteran
D.O.B: 17 January 1922
Death: 31 December 2021
Betty White was just 8 years old when she made her public debut on a radio program in 1930 and nine years later, she made her TV debut when she performed a song on a test of the new television format. World War Two brought her career to a grinding halt and she volunteered for the American Women’s Voluntary Service.
Told that she wasn’t photogenic enough, Betty focused on radio after the war and even managed to gain her own show called “The Betty White Show”. Gaining a TV break, she co-hosted the show Hollywood on Television with Al Jarvis and after he left the show she continued as host. In 1951 this gained her an Emmy nomination for “Best Actress”, the first year that the award was offered specifically for women.
In the early 1950s she was a co-creator of the show Life with Elizabeth, a sitcom in which she played the lead. She was one of the few women in Hollywood who had creative control over their work, and this was something that would continue throughout her career and in 1954 she produced her own talk show The Betty White Show however it wasn’t as popular as her sitcom.
The 1960s was typified for Betty White as a decade where she made many game show appearances and this was followed by the 1970s where she became a regular on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. The success of her role on this led to her getting another sitcom named “The Betty White Show”.
Her signature role though came in 1985 when she was cast in the new show The Golden Girls. The show ran until 1992 and following this she appeared in many other shows in guest roles.
Her main film credit was “The Proposal” which featured Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock. I must admit that I really like this rom-com and she is a great asset to the film.
Photo: Twitter, @BettyMWhite
New Zealand Winter Olympian and first person to win a Winter Olympic medal from the Southern hemisphere
D.O.B: 16 September 1971
On 20 February 1992, Annelise Coberger of New Zealand became the first athlete from the southern hemisphere to win a medal at a winter gamse when she took home silver in the alpine slalom at the 1992 Albertville Games in France. She would remain the only Kiwik winter Olympic medallist until 2018.
The year before she became the first New Zealander to win the Europa Cup and she also became the first New Zealander to win a World Cup event.
In 1992 and 1993 she was the top-ranking female in the world for the discipline. Despite her success she lacked the funding and endorsements that athletes from Europe or America received making it hard for her to compete on the world stage. In fact, as her grandfather was German she even considered jumping ship to the German team where there was a much more established program but instead she stayed loyal to NZ before ultimately deciding to retire at the age of 23.
In 1994 she attended the Winter Games in Norway but failed to finish. Coberger’s last competition event was in 1995 before she retired from the sport and became a police officer in her home of Christchurch.
In 2003 she was inducted into the New Zealand Sporting Hall of Fame.
Photo: NZ Sports Hall of Fame
Finland's youngest Prime Minister
D.O.B: 16 November 1985
Aged just 34 when she became Finland’s Prime Minister, she is the youngest PM in Finnish history and the third youngest currently elected leader in the world (though at the time she was the youngest in the world).
She has been the leader of Finland since 2019 but she is just now making headlines for the wrong reasons. In the last week photographs have emerged showing her attending a drug-fuelled party that has raised questions over her position as PM.
Forget the fact that she has led her nation through a pandemic and been a member of the Finnish parliament since 2015 this doesn’t rate a mention in the light of a more sensational or scandalous story.
This isn’t the first time she’s made headlines for this reason with an October 2020 photoshoot, in which she appeared wearing just a blazer saw claims made that she was dreaming the role of PM. This sparked the hashtag #ImwithSanna and saw people counter this argument by claiming sexism.
She has often been accused of partying when she shouldn’t but is this because she is a young female? If she were a male would it be laughed off as what young men do?
Following the leaked photographs of the drug fuelled party she took a voluntary drug test which proved she hadn’t partaken in any drug activity.
As a neighbour of Russia Sanna has her work cut out for her. The country is exploring becoming a member of NATO and facing the fall out of this with their neighbours. With a population of 5.53 million versus Russia’s 144 million they are truly looking down the barrel of a gun.
I visited Finland in 2014 (a year before Sanna joined parliament) and I really enjoyed the country (albeit like many people I agree the scenery is the main reason to visit with it falling behind neighbouring Norway and Sweden as a more popular tourist destinations).
Sanna is an interesting individual and one of the more unique people in world politics. She was raised by two mothers and herself gave birth to a daughter in 2018 with her partner who works in communications. The couple were married in 2020.
She has been labelled the coolest politician in the world and in 2021 was selected to be on the cover of Time’s Next 100 issue which featured one hundred leaders from around the world.
One of Africa's first sliding competitors at the Winter Olympics.
D.O.B: 3 January 1987
Remember back during the Winter Olympics when one of the Nigerian support staff had to carry the flag into the opening ceremony as the country’s one athlete competing at the games was in COVID isolation?
That woman was Seun Adigun (pictured here), the team’s doctor who made Olympic history back in 2018 when she was part of the continents first bobsleigh team.
Like many other sliding athletes, she began her athletic career in track and field, representing Nigeria at the 2012 Summer Olympics in the 100m hurdles.
In very “Cool Runnings” style she founded the Nigerian bobsled team and competed with Akuoma Omeoga (who participated in the first two runs) and Ngozi Onwumere (who competed in the final two runs). Seun had been competing in bobsleigh as a breakman in the USA’s bobsleigh program and through this exposure decided she could use her growing knowledge and influence back in Nigeria. Despite being born in Chicago, USA her ancestry saw her compete for Nigeria and it is there she is inspiring many young women.
The team had no Government support and was completely self-funded needing to raise $150,000 just to get started. Of the twenty-team field the Nigerian women came 19th (one of the teams from Russia being disqualified) and truly opened the African world up to winter sliding sports.
These women are indeed an inspiration.
"When you are the first person to do something there is no blueprint", Seun Adigun
To learn more about the Winter Olympics click here
Photo: She Leads Africa.
Australia's first medal in a sliding sport at the Winter Olympics
D.O.B: 5 November 1990
she made history during the recent Winter Olympics by becoming the first Australian to win a medal in a sliding event. She also became the first person to win a medal in skeleton from a non-European or American nation. It is safe to say that she captured international attention and kept many of us in Australia up until the early hours of the morning to see her claim silver.
Born 5 November 1990, Jackie hails from Brisbane, Australia – not the usual breeding ground for a winter sports person!
Like many other athletes who now compete in the sliding sports she began her athletic career as a track and field athlete (specialising in the 100m and 200m) and only transitioning to sliding sports in 2011 where she first competed in the two-person bobsleighed.
In 2012 she transitioned to skeleton, arguably one of the most terrifying sports out there where athletes run as fast as they can and thrown themselves, headfirst down an ice slide. Something that surely takes guts and a tad bit of madness as they travel of speeds of up to 126km/h!
Despite being sport for a decade she only claimed her first medal on the world stage a month earlier so went into the Olympics with momentum under her belt. This wasn’t her first Olympic games, but it was the first in which she went in with a real possibility of medalling.
Jackie led the field across the first few rounds and ended up just 0.62 seconds off the gold medal time, brining home silver and contributing to Australia’s best ever winter Olympic haul.
Jackie’s Uncle Paul Narracott was Australia’s first dual Winter-Summer Olympian and represented Australia in track at the 1984 Summer Games and the two-man bobsleigh at the 1992 Winter Games.
Today, Jackie lives and trains in Bath, England with the British sliding team.
Aussies love an underdog and love to get behind them. In order to do so, everyone becomes an expert in these un-common sports overnight and it was great to take part in many conversations about skeleton during the games as we watched Jackie climb higher and higher, closer to a medal. I’m sure we all now wait to see what she can accomplish next, but no matter what she has made not just Aussie sporting history but world sporting history – putting Australia on the map as an up and coming sliding nation!
Photo: ABC News Australia
Ashleigh "Ash" Barty
Australian Tennis World #1
D.O.B: 24th April 1996
Currently ranked #1 in the world, she is just the second Australian woman to reach that peak, following in the footsteps of Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
Born on 24 April 1996 in Ipswich, Queensland; Barty made her professional debut in 2010 however it wasn’t until 2012, aged just 15, that she made it into the main draw of a professional tournament in both the singles and doubles events.
In 2013 she partnered with Casey Dellacqua where the two finished runner’s up in three of the four Grand Slam’s they entered, only failing to reach the final in the French Open.
Though she had continued success in the doubles, Barty decided to take a break from tennis in 2014 and turned to cricket, where despite having no previous experience, she was signed by the Brisbane Heat for the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League.
In 2016 Barty returned to tennis and she returned with a vengeance! She reunited with Dellacqua in 2017 and in both the singles and doubles rankings she finished the year in the top 20, after having started the year un-ranked. From here the sky was the limit!
Barty has been ranked as the number one female tennis player since 2019. In 2018 she won the Women’s Doubles at the US Open with American CoCo Vandeweghe, in 2019 she won the French Open singles comp and in 2021 she won Wimbledon. Also in 2021 she won bronze for Australia in the Tokyo Olympics mixed doubles tournament with John Peers.
A well-liked sportswoman, Barty has received a number of accolades including Young Australian of the Year (2020) and Australian Sportswoman of the Year (2019).
Aged just 25, Barty is a great role model for young women. Like Evonne Goolagong Cawley, she is also of Indigenous background with her Great-Grandmother hailing from the Ngaragu people in southern NSW.
On 29th January 2022 Barty won the Australian open.
Photo: TAsh Barty wins Wimbeldon, 2021
The matriarch of the Christmas story but very much underrepresented until recent times.
D.O.B: Does not appear in the Christmas tale until the mid-nineteenth century
It wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that she began to become a staple of the Santa story.
While the story of Santa dates back to the fourth century, Mrs. Claus doesn’t make an appearance in the Santa tale until the mid-nineteenth century when she begins to appear in a number of stories created in the USA. This coincides in the rise of the popularity of the Santa story so it stands to reason that the creation of Mrs. Clause occurred at this time.
It wasn’t until almost a century later though that Mrs. Claus was popularized thanks to a song. This song was the 1956 song “Mrs Santa Claus” by George Melachrino but from what I can find Mrs. Clause wasn’t depicted on the album cover so this really didn’t help to shape the physical image of the woman who basically came to look like the exact female version of Santa.
There is a quaint 1996 Christmas movie called “Mrs Santa Claus” in which Mrs. Clause is played by Angela Lansbury and it is set during the early twentieth century in New York. If you haven’t seen this film then I do recommend it. If you like Christmas movies, musicals and a bit of a cheesiness then this has it all! It really is a bit of fun and growing up it was the only film that saw Mrs. Clause take the lead role.
In recent years Mrs. Claus has come to had a greater role in Christmas festivities which directly reflects the changing attitudes to traditional male-dominated tales. I am very keen to see what Mrs. Claus will get up to in the future as for all kinds of authors, film makers and anyone in the creative arts industry there are so many ways the story can be interpreted!
To learn more about the History of Christmas visit my Christmas History Index.