Daughters, They are Speaking. 

Pardon this late post! Spotty wifi and a bus trip to London has given me some extra time to think about Paris; hope this is worth the wait! 🙂

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Wednesday was a hard day. In the construction of this trip, I had planned France to be a liberating point in lining up with Gilligan’s work, a place where we found women on the brink of autonomy. Sure, they were still in the struggle to have work recognized, but overall traction is gaining and life is moving forward. Instead we found the marks of women and them labeled under the banner brotherhood, angels, and demons. We found women above and below and not at the table.

Yesterday was a little brighter, a little more hopeful.


We began at Versailles, the home of the French court and a one Marie Antoinette just a few centuries ago. Marie was married off to the French Dauphin when she was just 14; all things Austrian stripped from her so that she could be at one with her new country. She fell under criticism for 7 years when no children were born, bearing the brunt of the blame. When she finally had children, the first was a girl before the son, again she had failed. She became a symbol of all that was wrong with the monarch: an out of touch, wealthy, and spoiled woman naive to the subjects below her. Though, most of this was twisted and presented by the media- and they’ve never done this to a woman since.

(NOT.)

Marie’s story is one in which she’s demonized often, her worst qualities paraded for us as a tale of caution. 

Below to corrupt.


But there has been a movement in recent years to come to her defense, to see her as human. She became queen at a young age and was sheltered from the world around her. In Austrian nobility they grew up wealthy, but simply, the French court and culture took getting used to. She loved her children dearly and tried desperately to be a good mother, defamed for even this at the end in the midst of her trial.

As I continued to look at the cities I had outlined for the fellowship, I continued to look for more women, more places to remember people. Earlier this year I began googling tours in each city focused on women, and nothing came up. The closest was a suffragette tour that I felt was overpriced and the reviews weren’t stellar. And then an ad popped up for “Women of Paris” tour- too good to be true, right?

We met Heidi, the founder of the Women of Paris walk, yesterday near the Pantheon for a 2 1/2 hour walk dubbed the essential tour. Heidi’s been a guide for a few years in Paris and began almost immediately to notice the lack of female presence in the history presented. So she’s done something about it. She shared about women we met yesterday and so many others I knew little to nothing about: St. Geneviève, Josephine Baker, Simone Veil, Maria Medici, Catherine Medici, and more. We walked by the house where Colette was kept by her husband who forced her to write books that he then took the credit and wealth for. We stood by the table in Les Deux Magots where Simone de Beauvoir worked. Heidi showed us the first female publishing house as well as the prison where Marie Antoinette spent her final days.


And for each of the women she made them flesh, pulled them away from the flatness and gave them life.

At the end of the tour, she told us how only 2% of streets in Paris have been named after women, and when a group of women discovered this a few years ago, they did something about it. All of Paris woke up the next morning to street signs changed to Rue du Beauvoir and Rue du Curie. The whispers of their stories given voice and named in broad daylight.

The signs eventually came down, but the story remains and the problem was brought to the table. It’s not about street signs, but rather a culture that welcomes all stories as valuable. 

A couple of days ago I checked out The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit, who wrote the essay “Grandmother Spider”. In this collection, she explores the nature of silence vs quiet; quiet a choice and silence a decree from power. In particular, she is concerned with the silence of women and she quotes an Ursula Le Gain commencement address given at Bryn Mawr in 1986. It’s a beautiful quote, but I’ll save it for later; instead, I looked up the commencement address to read last night after our day and want to share something Ursula quotes instead in her speech:

“So I end with the end of a poem by Linda Hogan of the Chickasaw people, called “The Women Speaking.” ‘Daughters, the women are speaking / They arrive / over the wise distances / on perfect feet. / Daughters, I love you.'”


When I read these last lines of Linda’s poem that Ursula quotes who is then quoted in Solnit’s essays after a day at Versailles with Sarah sharing about Marie and then Heidi walking us through Paris to share again the stories of Josephine Baker, Marie Curie, the Medici women, Gertrude Stein, and St. Geneviève, this is what I believe I see and learn in Paris: 

So much of this rests on us to pick up the banner and keep telling stories so they are not ghosts in the silence. We must tell the stories of women and others who haven’t been invited to the table such as people of color, people of poverty, and more. The stories must be told time and time again so that our canon of possibilities and opportunities is stretched and lengthened to a table we can all sit at. We must tell their stories prophetically, stand on their shoulders and lift others to stand on our own, to see over mountains set before us to something better.

One of my favorite things about Marie Antoinette is the small ways she advocated for other women who were friends. Her favorite painter was Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, and because of the queen’s patronage, Le Brun was taken more seriously as an artist and asked to paint other subjects. I know that Marie is complicated- as every person is- but I appreciate this friendship and the steps she gave in her power to someone else. 


At Versailles, the queen’s quarters were closed yesterday (they’re doing renovations) so I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to as the Le Brun pieces there. When we went to Petit Trianon, we saw them. More than that, we saw a place where Marie had tried to carve a world for herself in the sphere she was allowed, a “simpler” house and farm and gardens, away from Versailles’s monument to man and king. 


After a hard Wednesday where it felt like the weariness of allegory was going to kill me, I’m thankful for the historians and for our guide, Heidi, who in all of the places of Versailles and Paris and the world say “Daughters, they are speaking.” Hopefully we learn to listen, we listen with love, and we name people as who they truly are and are meant to be. May we do this with all of the women we know and don’t know in our history, and let’s teach students to do the same. 

Sisterhood, Brotherhood, Humanity. 

“[Women] are far above men to inspire him, far beneath him to corrupt him… but they have no human mind and no human nature.” – Dorothy Sayers, The Human Not Quite Human, 1947.


I love Dorothy Sayers and her essays on women from the first half of the last century. And this small passage comes up time and time again as I’ve read about the women on this trip. For the most part, I’ve somewhat enjoyed digging in to it, this idea that women are above to inspire and below to tempt and are never quite human, and what we can do in our classrooms and lives to help both boys and girls realize that this simply isn’t the case: we are all human. 

But today, oof, today almost became a breaking point. At one point I looked to my friend Sarah and said, “If I see another allegorical painting of a woman half dressed, I may lose it.”

Above to inspire. Below to corrupt. 

Today was our first full day in Paris. I spent time here a few years ago and it’s been fun to come back to a place that’s somewhat familiar, to know streets and restaurants and museums. We spent the morning walking around the city center, running by Notre Dame to remember where Joan of Arc’s sentencing was reversed decades after her death, a quick visit to Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company that continues to influence generations, a moment in front of Gertrude Stein’s apartment, and a walk through the university where Marie Curie studied when her native country didn’t allow women into higher education. 


After lunch, we walked to the Pantheon where Marie was the first women interred by her own merit (in 1995, so just 22 years ago). She’s in a small vault along with her husband, Pierre. A few weeks ago on the way back from a faculty trip to Santa Fe, I listened to a few podcasts about their life together: Marie’s wedding dress doubled as a lab dress- she was a practical woman. Pierre had been working on crystals when he dropped his work to help Marie with her work on radium, recognizing its significance. And, when the Nobel Prize in 1903 came knocking, Pierre threw a fit that Marie wasn’t initially honored as well. Now we know that they are both named on the award. 

As we’ve gone through this trip, I’ve appreciated the stories of those in power- often men- making room at the table for these incredible female voices. I love that image of them sitting all there together around a coming goal, listening and learning. No one above to inspire or below to corrupt, but all there to be heard.

While at the Pantheon, I walked around to learn about the other people laid to rest there as well. The crypt has electronic screens across from each vault where visitors can swipe through the names buried there to learn more about their lives and why they’ve been honored with a place in the Pantheon in the hall of “great men”.


In one particular section, the north corridor, many people are honored for their courage and resistance, several from World War II. Three men are near each other, Pierre Brossolette, Jean Moulin, and Jean Zay, all of who died during the war as part of the resistance movement. 

And then I met the next two women interred after Marie Curie, both in 2015: Germaine Tillion and Geneviève de Gaulle Anthonioz. Both Germaine and Geneviève were part of the resistance as well, and both met in Ravensbrück, the largest concentration camp for women. Germaine also watched her mother be led away to be killed at the same camp. Both women lived through the war and continued to work on behalf of those oppressed. Germaine worked extensively in Algeria and spoke out against the use of torture in war, and Geneviève spent the rest of her life fighting to end poverty. Both went on to publish accounts of their experiences. One of my favorite stories I learned today is that while imprisoned, Germaine wrote an opera comedy for the other women in the camp, to keep spirits up. In honor of her 100th birthday, the opera was performed at a French theater. 


I won’t lie- I think I looked up the other women besides Marie interred at the Pantheon, but didn’t commit their names to memory in the hustle and bustle of preparing for the trip, but my heart lept to remember them today. In the small, free guide to the crypt, I read the short blurb about them and my heart dropped:

“…[they] continued a lifetime of commitment after 1945, placing brotherhood and equality at the heart of their concerns.”

Brotherhood.

I realize that the sentiment is clear and that what this guide is saying is that these women are heroines for the effort they put forth and the lives they continued to save and advocate on behalf of for the rest of their lives. But language is the building blocks to our culture and what are we saying when we say brotherhood- where are the sisters? Where are the grandmothers? It is evident that with 74 men buried at the Pantheon and the fifth woman interred just the year- the second only 22 years ago- that seats at the table are few. 


I do think there’s a time to use brotherhood and sisterhood in our language, Lord knows we need to talk more about sisterhood in this world, but the wording is this felt off. What if instead of brotherhood and sisterhood, they devoted their lives to care- to humanity?

After we left the Pantheon we walked through the gardens and everywhere you look is a statue of a queen or goddess or some half naked allegorical figure  looking out over the scene. I’m sure the artistic nature of it all was impressive, but this was the point where Dorothy Sayers’s sentiment became more reality than anything, especially after the brotherhood of the Pantheon. 

Above to inspire. No room for sisterhood, nor humanity.


I wish that this day had a nice wrap up to it, a moment where it all came together in the backyard of a sweet Swiss couple’s house where we drink Perrier and talk about life. But it doesn’t. At the Orsay, our audio guide highlighted the works of Degas, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Courbet, and Ingres. We looked at the figure of “beauty”- all women nude, all very suggestive. A row of statues by Rodin showed a series of men in athletic form and a row of a suggestive female bodies with no heads. No words mentioned about the artists Mary Cassatt or Berthe Morisot, both artists who gave voice and space to domestic life and women of guilded age Paris, both very welcomed and respected in the Impressionist circle by friends and mentors Degas and Manet, respectively. 


The wrap up is this: I’m worn out from the allegory, from the angel and temptress spheres, from the brotherhood as I’m sure so many others are, too. I’m tired of the statues and the ideal beauty. It’s above and below and leaves no room for flesh and blood people. Angels and temptresses need not courage. These women did.

But I’m glad that Pierre Curie, Degas and Manet (though both questionable at times) and the brave men interred near Germaine and Geneviève saw the courage of these heroines and offered seats at a larger table that included sisterhood and humanity. 

Fresh Air from Maria & Corrie

“Her ideas are still so… fresh.”


While Nina, our guide at the Maria Montessori house, spoke this about the creator of an education movement still happening today, I believe we could say the same of so many women and men we’ve met along this trip and especially in Amsterdam. There’s a reason we’re drawn to Anne’s belief that people are still good at heart, that Maria’s schools and method are still growing, that Heidi has been translated into so many languages.

I framed this journey around the work of Carol Gilligan and the ethic of care. Here, in Amsterdam, I planned to dwell in the development of selflessness and care of others, looking to “grandmothers” to light the way. Surely we have found them. Yesterday I said that Anne was a Namer, but again, we could say this about so many of these women (and men- post on this later!) and Maria Montessori is one.

Maria was Italian, becoming one of the first women with a doctorate in medicine and beginning her schooling methods, the original school still in Rome today. She developed her pedagogy in the early 1900s, framing an environment centered on teaching students how to care for themselves and the world around them. She advocated for freedom in their choices and advocated this for all children on the neurodiversity spectrum. Through relationship and political climate, she found herself coming to Amsterdam to continue her work and here her study remains nearly what it was as she left it with her death in 1962.  



We knocked on the door of her house, now headquarters to Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) at 10:30 this morning to see the place. Officially, it is not a museum yet, but AMI is working to create an exhibition about the life and work of Maria in the next 3-10 years. Nina took us upstairs to see Maria’s personal library of the books that had influenced her, early manipulatively she had created, and the small study where she worked. Nina pointed out Maria’s doctorate degree, an “A” penciled in after “signor” on the document because the form didn’t allow for women. There was a photo of Helen Keller with her teacher Annie Sullivan, trained in the Montessori Method, sent to thank Maria for her work. There were photos and letters exhibited from all over the world such as Italy, England, the US, and India; all of these from and of people whose lives had been changed from her work. In one photo Nina pointed out, Maria stands front and center to receive an award, lecturing to a room full of men listening intently to her speak.

“There she is,” said Nina. “The only woman there and in command of the whole room.”



We talked with Nina about the upcoming Montessori conference in Prague and about the work being done globally with the method, including a new movement using Maria’s work to help elderly prolong dementia. She said that while it only delays the disease, it is effective, and it’s something that children could be a part of too. I love this idea so much, the many generations working together in a room to learn and grow. 

After Maria’s house, we took a train out to Haarlem to catch a tour of Corrie ten Boom’s home. I, ashamedly, have not read The Hiding Place, though two of my mentor girls love the book and have shared about it often. My friend and travel buddy, Sarah, also loves the book as her grandfather gave it to her at an early age. So through them, I knew a little about Corrie: her family were clockmakers, during World War II they built a false wall and hid Jews, she was caught and sent to a camp where she smuggled in a Bible, and afterwards journeyed throughout the world to share her story.

I know we hear these stories often of those in the resistance willing to hide the other at the risk of their own life, but time and again we see the freshness of this, the life of their choices.

At Corrie’s house, we stood in line and while they only take 20 people at a time, the guide graciously snuck us in as 21 and 22 given we had a train to Paris to catch this afternoon. She showed the group photos of the family as we sat in their living room. We saw the false wall and the hiding place with the bookshelf and latch that saved so many lives, and stood in the dining room where many meals were shared in joy and in anxiousness. 

What a fresh idea, to save lives and care for the world.


As Sarah and I talked about this idea of “fresh ideas” waiting in the train station, we talked through to the point that fresh ideas are not necessarily new; they can and probably are old ideas, but they are those that cultivate life around them and offer a different air to breathe deeply.

This morning, before we went to Montessori’s house, we took a tram into the city center and walked to Begijnhof, a small closed-in community formerly occupied by beguines, religious women who chose not to take vows so they could still work and live in the city. The beguines lived here from the Middle Ages on and the last beguine died in 1971. The buildings are still lived in by single women of the city who chose to live interdependently, religiously, and in community; who choose to care together. In the hustle and bustle of the city around it, the Begijnhof is a quiet refuge for those who enter- fresh air. It’s almost like passing through the wardrobe, you find yourself in a different world. 

Amsterdam has taught us so much about caring for others, about choosing selflessness in conflict for the sake of creating fresh air in stale and hurting places. 


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Currently, we’re on a train to Paris, rolling through Netherlandish and Belgian countryside. In Paris we’ve got a whole host of women to meet who have teetered on the edge of voice and autonomy. We’ll hang out with the female writers, Mary Cassatt and Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette, Marie Curie, and more! Stay tuned!

Audio Prep: A Saint, An Artist, A Suffragette, and A Female Pope.

WOOF. There are too many books to read and not enough time. Praise the Lord for podcasts, am I right?!

Stuff You MissedThere are two FANTASTIC podcast groups that are pinch hitting for me with stories of ladies that 1) I don’t have enough time to read a full book on, 2) Could not find a book that I felt would work (some biographies are really biased, see below) or 3) did not know about in the first place (again, see below). The first is “Stuff You Missed in History Class” that, true to its name, encompasses all sorts of random people, places, and events in history that are not adequately given their 15 minutes. They have several episodes on women that we should stand up and pay attention to from all over the world, you can see that list here. The other is called “The History Chicks” which focuses specifically on women in history. See their list here. They’re quality isn’t as great, but the information is still worthwhile if it’s what you’re looking for.

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