History Forgotten History

This curse in my hometown involves Mexico’s former empress

Once upon a time, Napoleon III, who to my mind is just as much a sketchy dude as his uncle Napoleon I, sent an Austrian Archduke, Maximilian, and his wife Charlotte to Mexico to create himself an empire. But this story is neither about Napoleon III nor Maximilian: it’s about Charlotte.

I’ve been fascinated by Charlotte since the sixth grade. That’s when my family decided to move from Bologna, the gastronomical capital of Italy, to Trieste. I didn’t think there was much to love about Trieste; I probably made some stupid joke about how if you remove the “e” from the middle of the name you get the Italian word “triste,” which is sad, and that’s how I felt about moving. I pouted, as only an 11-year-old can.

And then we visited Miramare. Miramare, a castle that sits on an outcropping at the edge of Trieste and juts out onto the Adriatic Sea, was for a brief chunk of history the home of Maximilian and Charlotte (Carlota).

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sheer awe I felt while walking the museum halls of Miramare that first time. The castle is a shrine to its creators and initial inhabitants, with bedrooms adorned with all the furnishings of their day. There are gorgeous art pieces adorning the walls, lavish decor, and a jaw-dropping garden outside. It is, frankly, something that dreams are made of. I was in love with all of it, but the part that stood out to me the most was Charlotte’s chamber. A massive bed sat in between two shoulder-height-ish doors, openings to secret passageways that led, respectively, to the chapel and a bathroom. 

[Image description: An exterior shot of Castello di Miremare.] Via
[Image description: An exterior shot of Castello di Miremare.] Via

I was in love with all of it, but the part that stood out to me the most was Charlotte’s chamber.

The castle was my everything. It populated my dreams, my hopes, even my prayers as I started to literally ask God to let my family move in (I’ve always been ambitious). Slowly I learned more of Maximilian and Charlotte’s stories. How they married when she was but a teenager, how they moved to Trieste and built the castle but shortly after they moved in, they were appointed Emperor and Empress of Mexico. As a kid, I didn’t question that last part — imperialism and colonialism weren’t just facts of life, they were lauded as the acts of great nations. As an adult, I know the truth is thornier and darker and that both those things are abhorrent historical atrocities.

 Another thing I learned after growing up was that Charlotte was depressed. At the time, they called it “a state of madness.” I’m extrapolating a bit here, but her depression…makes sense? From a purely circumstantial point of view, her husband had essentially been tricked into taking a throne that shouldn’t have been his, and when Charlotte went to Napoleon (you’ll remember him as the guy who orchestrated the whole emperor thing, to begin with), he refused to assist his failing puppet in conquest. So did the pope. Maximilian was executed by President Benito Juarez’s forces in 1867, leaving Charlotte a widow at 27. 

Another thing I learned after growing up was that Charlotte was depressed.

For the next 50 years, Charlotte lived in Belgium, where she ultimately died and was buried in the town of her birth. Her story is tragic for all involved: for Charlotte, who thought she was chosen to sit on the Mexican throne but was instead a mere accessory to an empire’s accessory. It’s also tragic for the Mexican people who were never actually asked to be ruled by a foreign emperor and fought a bloody war to be free of him. 

And it’s tragic for Miramare, which despite its beauty is reportedly cursed: “whoever spends the night there is destined to die prematurely in a foreign land.” 

Maybe it’s a good thing my family never got our windfall and bought the castle.  

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History Forgotten History

Here’s why Silicon Valley is haunted

The Winchester House is one of the most haunted places in the United States. It’s a beautiful Victorian mansion with trimmed hedges, Tiffany glass windows, yellow walls, and cherry-red shingles. But the inside is a labyrinth. There are staircases leading nowhere and doorways to empty walls. Its 160 rooms include a grand ballroom, a “witch’s cap” tower, twin dining rooms, 47 fireplaces, trap doors, and a conservatory. The lore around Sarah Winchester, the mansion’s heiress-slash-widow who was driven to insanity, adds to its reputation. But at first glance, the beautiful, dollhouse-like mansion appears to look out of place in San Jose, California. 

The Winchester House sits across the street from a shopping mall. A few highlights from the area include a Japanese stationery store, outdoor coffee near a giant chess set, SoulCycle, and a CineArts movie theater where I watched “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” in middle school. Looking out from the window of the shop where I bought my high school prom dress, you can see the hedges of the Winchester House hovering in the back. But despite growing up in the region, hardly anyone I know has stepped foot on the Winchester House grounds. 

Nowadays, Winchester House is a tourist spot. Over 12 million people have visited the mansion and it’s been the site of documentaries and films. The story goes like this. In 1839, Sarah Winchester was born as Sarah Lockwood Pardee in New Haven, Connecticut. She married in 1862 to William Wirth Winchester, the heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms company most known for “The Gun that Won the West.”

After the deaths of her daughter and husband, she became a widow at only 42 years old. She inherited her husband’s 20 million dollar fortune and 50% of the company stock—making her one of the most wealthy women in the US at the time. She moved to a farmhouse in California and for the next 38 years, the farmhouse would remain in constant construction and eventually become the Winchester House. The house was still undergoing additions when Sarah Winchester passed away in 1922. 

There’s another layer to the story. In trend with the Victorian era, Sarah Winchester took part in séances and mysticism. It is suggested that her family was involved in Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism. According to legend, the grieving widow was told by a medium that the Winchester fortune and family were haunted by victims of the Winchester rifle, many of them Native Americans. As a result, she moved West and began to build—either to appease or avoid ghosts. To be honest, the story gets a bit vague here. An article in the Daily News also claimed that “the owner of the house believes that when it is entirely completed she will die.”

Why else would there be such a bizarre mansion and ongoing construction for almost four decades? Additional claims of ghost hauntings, sightings, and paranormal activity at the Winchester House have added to this lore.

But perhaps there is a simpler reason. Sarah Winchester was supposedly beautiful, fluent in multiple languages, and the “Belle of New Haven” when she married. Additional stories tying her to mysticism and occult were bound to happen to famous people in the Victorian era. It’s the equivalent of modern-day trends like “dark academia” or “cottagecore” or even (in timely Halloween-season spirit) “witchtok.”

After the death of so many family members, Sarah Winchester moved West to be close to her remaining family. She was a philanthropist, but also a very private person—her staff maintained unquestioning loyalty and tight lips even after she died.

As for the bizarre mansion? In the ballroom, one of the Tiffany-glass windows includes a quote from Shakespeare’s Richard III: “These same thoughts people this little world.” It refers to the titular character’s speech from within a prison cell, reimagining his own world within those walls. Similarly, Sarah Winchester might have simply done what we all do—change, update, destroy, build, and rebuild our lives—only she had the money to make it a reality within her mansion. Sarah Winchester was a petite woman at 4’10” tall whose internal machinations and private life ended up casting a large shadow in the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley.

In the past two decades of growing up in Silicon Valley, I’ve seen the landscape change to accommodate the growth of tech giants, new flashy businesses, and overwhelming crowds. Still, when I left the Bay Area for college, I was struck by how suburban my hometown feels. There is a stubborn commitment to the pretense of normalcy and, like a double identity, there is an understanding that we all have our own private lives and issues.

It’s fair to criticize this committed display of everyday-ness as a thin veneer for privilege and wealth, but perhaps a similar feeling can be found with the Winchester House. Perhaps the unintended aversion to visiting the Winchester House by some of us who grew up in the area is because it feels like an invasion of a deeply private person. Perhaps Sarah Winchester fits in with the Silicon Valley lifestyle more than she initially seems. 

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History Forgotten History Lost in History Historical Badasses

Hurrem Sultan was the Ottoman empire’s femme fatale

I first encountered Hurrem Sultan, the red-haired Ottoman Empress in a Turkish soap opera series, titled The Magnificent Century, which aired in Pakistan a few years ago when I was a teenager. Since Pakistan shares a special affinity with Turkish shows, the show was dubbed in Urdu and became a cult favorite amongst the prime-time audience. 

So this is what I, along with many Pakistanis, learned about Hurrem Sultan from The Magnificent Century

Hurrem Sultan was brought to the imperial court as an enslaved person during the reign of Sultan Suleiman I, the Magnificent (1520-1566). Within the span of a few weeks, she ascended the ranks from a slave girl to the Sultan’s favorite concubine to the Sultan’s chief consort (Haseki Sultan) and eventually his wife. Her trajectory towards the throne was swift because of her power-hungry nature. She crushed all opposition, luring the Sultan towards only her. She turned him against his former favorite concubine, Mahivedran, who had also birthed his first son, Shehzade Mustafa.

Out of jealousy, she demanded monogamy from the king during an epoch where Ottoman emperors had only practiced polygamy. She demanded the King marry her, which broke all traditions in the Ottoman era where Kings did not marry women due to legal complications, but instead only used them to bring heirs into this world. She birthed more than one child, which was a stark violation of the “one concubine, one son” rule that allowed her to wield a monopoly of heirs. 

And lastly, she disobeyed the custom of Sancak Beyliği, which dictated that when the sons came of age, they were to be sent to rule a faraway province with their mothers. The mothers could not return to Istanbul unless the son succeeded to the throne and they became Valide Sultan (mother of the Sultan). She insisted on staying put at Top Kapi Palace. 

One transgression after another. She was a serial rule breaker. 

Popular history caters to the whims and fancies of public opinion which can be swayed by the mention of the scheming foreigner.

She was a threat to the status quo. And in a show which glorified the greatness of the empire, the audiences immediately disliked her. In fact, she entered the show in the space of the “other woman”. And her role in the execution of Shehzade Mustafa, her stepson along with the grand Vizir, Ibrahim Pargali, did not help her popularity. She was the bloodthirsty, manipulative seductress. In fact, in one scene she is seen seeking help from a sorceress to make sure the Sultan remains bewitched by only her. There was even a half-baked subplot about her wanting to marry the Emperor for revenge for the traumas she had had to endure in life. 

To be honest, I could not help but hate her. Every show needs a villain, and she fit the archetype perfectly. Everything from her expressions to her dialogue, to the background soundtrack, emphasized her treachery and deceit

With Netflix airing the show a couple of years ago, and with my recent intrigue for Ottoman history and some nuance in my perception, I decided to re-watch it. I decided to re-watch it, not through the eyes of a gullible audience, but one that can detect the infiltration of fiction into the narrative. I was taken aback, by the concoction of popular history and the host of myths surrounding the most influential woman in the Ottoman Empire. I delved deeper into her life and this is what I found:

Hurrem Sultan was just a woman playing by the rules of imperial court politics.

Alexandra or Roxelana (her original name remains obscure) was captured brutally by a bunch of Crimean Tatars who sold her to the Ottomans. She was separated from her hometown and her family as a teenager. As a Christian, she entered a predominantly Islamic empire and was considered acceptable only as a slave girl or a concubine. When she decided to convert to Islam, her decision was met with skepticism. She navigated through a maze of court conspiracies which ranged from murder plots to being ostracized.

She fell in love with the Sultan deeply, wrote poetry in letters to him when he was on military expeditions. She birthed six of his children. After becoming a mother of the first child, she wanted to be freed of her status as a slave so that she could be with the Sultan out of consent, not coercion. The Sultan named her “Hurrem” (the cheerful one) because of her positive demeanor. But this “positive” woman also witnessed much heartache; one of her own children was executed by his father (the king) for causing much unrest in the empire. Brutal? I know. But where legacy and power is concerned, blood ties begin to mean little. I mean, we’ve all watched Game of Thrones, right?

Anyway, I digress. 

She was a philanthropist who commissioned many public works including a charity soup kitchen in Mecca for poor pilgrims. She advised the King on matters of foreign policy and helped diplomacy between the Ottomans and other foreign states owing through her unique vantage point as a foreign empress. Today her final resting place is in Suleymaniye mosque (Istanbul) which was built as an homage to her. 

See what I mean? 

[Image Description: Hurrem (played by Meryem Uzerli) standing next to Sultan Suleiman (played by Halit Ergenc) in a still shot from the Magnificent Century.] via Turkey Country Guide
One is the narrative spun with the threads of court gossip which we now know as popular history. Popular history caters to the whims and fancies of public opinion which can be swayed by the mention of the scheming foreigner. It can be titillated by the exotic Other who once seduced their Emperor into challenging the tradition.

The counter-narrative is hard historical facts supported by evidence. Within this narrative, Hurrem Sultan was just a woman playing by the rules of imperial court politics. She was a foreigner stuck in an alien land, which insisted on objectifying her. She was just learning the language (literally) of the people who bought her. She was just insisting on some dignity in her personal relationship by requesting the King not to see other courtesans. Maybe she was just competing for her husband’s attention, not an Emperor’s favors. 

 It’s the same woman – just two different ways of looking at her. 

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History Forgotten History

The “alternative” history of the Partition that school didn’t tell you about

 Trigger warning: Mention of sexual violence.

Imagine you are living in the subcontinent in 1947 under British colonial rule. Imagine it is the last few months of India and Pakistan being one country. The Indian Independence Act declares the existence of the countries as two sovereign states. A border is about to be drawn through the center of your country. No one knows fully which city would fall on which side of the border. No one knows if the neighborhood they live in would be a part of Pakistan or India.

An atmosphere of anxiety and treachery pervades through the streets. Communities, once celebrating diversity where Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs lived in harmony are suddenly painfully and awkwardly silent. Everyone is unsure of their allegiances. Religious bigotry is palpable in the streets and in Parliament alike. And then amidst all that uncertainty, Cyril Radcliffe draws an arbitrary border. Chaos breaks out. Mayhem takes over. Neighbors turn on each other. Your once-loved class fellow or colleague is suddenly the Other. And an unprecedented moment of violence in history ensues.

And amidst all that, imagine if you are a woman. Or even a girl. Imagine your family telling you to hide in the darkest corner of the house in the middle of the night, every time they hear a mob of rioters with their swords clinging pass your home. Your father tells you you might have to commit suicide with the other women of the neighborhood before the Other reaches you and taints your “honor.” Your father has already received a set of bangles at your house, his temper swelling at the mockery of his masculinity. He fears his “pure” bloodline may be contaminated if the enemy lays hands on you. Though your family might be displaced any minute, losing their home and all their belongings, their “honor” and pride resides in preserving your shivering body. 

“Hundreds of women jumped into wells in order to protect their honor. But sometimes when they jumped into wells, they did not die because the wells were already brimming with dead bodies. Many men, Sikh and Muslim, would kill their wives to prevent them from being raped by the enemy. If the “enemy” was spotted at a distance, mothers would hide their girls under opaque surfaces.” Shakeela Khan*, a resident of Dehli and 10 at the time of the partition recalled her own experiences from the time as I interviewed her. “A lot of dramas have been made and novels published such as Dastaan have been published about this topic.” She continued to say.

The mention of Dastaan struck a chord with me. The television series, adapted from Razia Butt’s fictional novel by the name of Bano, that aired during my teen years was my first exposure to this alternative, grass-root history of my own country. Of course, the module of partition was always taught in rigorous detail in school. We were taught about Quaid-e-Azam, Allama Iqbal’s prophetic dream, and Gandhi’s peace-loving resilience. We were taught about colonial Britain’s divide and conquer policy. However, all of this was done in the light of a certain kind of nationalistic romanticism. The founders of the nation were at once established as heroes, to whom we owed our “independence” and life. The human cost of their decisions was carefully left out.  Dastaan, however, chronicled the life of a girl who on the eve of her engagement is abducted and subsequently raped by an enemy mob. She eventually returns to her family years later where she no longer feels welcome.

It was then that I realized that somehow the nationalistic agenda of history failed to mention these many millions of women. Eventually, their stories were silenced at the state level. Real people and their real stories were hushed and shoved under the rug of martyrdom. The sheer dissonance between official history and real histories inspired me to pursue my undergraduate thesis in the narrative of silenced women during partition years later. 

“Many women had to sacrifice their honor for our independent homeland,” Khan emphasized, careful to not use the actual word, “rape”. In fact, most of the interviewees I encountered often used euphemisms, all revolving around the word “honor”. “Yet, when these women returned to their families, they were often not accepted and sometimes sent back to their abductors.” Khan’s observations made one thing clear: though women were elevated to the status of martyr, they were certainly not rehabilitated or celebrated as war heroes are. 

Such conversations raised some important questions for me: why was mass abduction and rape (of an estimated 75, 000 to 100, 000 women on both sides of the border) a weapon of choice? Was it because the enemies knew to hit where it hurts a patriarchal society the most? And why is mass rape so popular in history? From the rape of Nanjing in 1937 to the Partition of West Bengal in 1971, there are multiple other dark moments in history where this is a disproportionate number of atrocities committed against women. 

*The name of the interviewee has been changed. 

History Forgotten History

No one knows who Marie de France was, but we should know what she wrote

“I should probably start by giving you some information about Marie de France,” my English professor began our seminar. It was my junior year of college, and we had just transitioned to a section on medieval literature. “For one, she goes by Marie,” he added. “She is probably from France during the late 12th century. She mostly wrote translations, but also wrote a few original works, among them poems that discuss courtly love.”

Then he went silent. He spent the next few minutes looking back over the reading while we waited quietly, holding our pens aloft for note-taking. After a while, he looked up and then, seeing our expectant faces, laughed. “Oh, that’s about all we know. To be honest, her name is probably not even Marie,” he said.

My professor was not joking. Broadly speaking, Marie de France is a mysterious figure lost in history. But what little is known of her is fascinating. For some context, she is the earliest known French female writer and poet. She only identifies as Marie from France in her prologues, meaning that it’s probably a pseudonym rather than her real name. And since her writings discuss courtly love and are mostly dedicated to court members, it is believed that Marie may have been a member of the court as well. Not only was she one of the great poets of the early Middle Ages, but she is also one of the few female voices in the development of stories about King Arthur

Among other medieval Arthurian writers, Marie holds a unique position. If you watched the 2008 TV show Merlin, you might be familiar with Geoffrey of Monmoutha background character who was included as an a-nudge-and-a wink to the real Geoffrey, who is attributed to popularizing the legend of King Arthur in the medieval period. Shortly after him, there was Chretien de Troyes, another writer who established some of the major plot points for Arthurian stories such as Lancelot’s scandalous affair with Guinevere and the quest for the Holy Grail. Keep in mind that Marie lived and wrote at the same time as Chretien, forcing him to share the spotlight. Furthermore, her identity as a woman provides an alternative view on a major subject found across many Arthurian legends: courtly love. 

Let’s take a moment and ask ourselves, should we really be concerned about what medieval male authors had to say about relationships and love? Remember that this was a time when women had little to no say in their marriages to these men. Admittedly, it might be an interesting take, but… Marie is the real MVP here. Throughout her writings, Marie’s portrayal of relationships actually subverts typical expectations of courtly love, causing many scholars to regard Marie as a feminist author. 

Marie’s largest collection of work is her translation of Aesop’s Fables. In her translations, Marie praises female characters for shrewdness and cunning. But Marie is best known for her original work, The Lais of Marie de France. The lais are 12 narrative poems about lovers who are kept aparttypically by the woman’s marriage to another man. Since most women in the medieval period did not get a lot of choice in who they married, Marie’s lais portray a culture where women are trapped by their marital relationships. Marie also tends to take the side of the woman or the woman’s lover over the husband. In some of her lais, the women also must save themselves before being saved by a knight. In fact, in Marie’s Lanval, the lady saves the knight. 

As a French poet, most of her works are written in a type of continental French that has been translated over time. Even though there is less of her original work in comparison to other male writers of the time, her writings have had equally long-lasting influences. Her work went on to influence Geoffrey Chaucer, who is typically considered the father of the English language. It also influenced Dante Alighieri and Thomas Malory, another writer of Arthurian legends. 

Click here to check out Marie de France’s works 

So although there is little to know about Marie as a person, her work as a female poet has been majorly influentialrightfully gaining her place in college English seminars. Throughout that English seminar, our professor kept telling us to go back to the text and ground our arguments in the language that was in front of us.

It reminds us that although Marie’s background remains mysterious and unknown, her historical presence and work truly speaks for themselves.

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History Forgotten History Lost in History Historical Badasses

Jahanara Begum was the princess we should aspire to be

So, most people have heard the story of the Taj Mahal, right? The Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan was so deeply in love with his wife Mumtaz Mahal, that when she died he built and named the Taj Mahal after her as her tomb. It’s a moving and deeply touching love story which has been told for generations and has since come to symbolize old-school historical romance. Less talked about, however, was the void that Mumtaz Mahal’s absence left in Shah Jehan’s life and his first daughter, Princess Jahanara Begum who helped him cope.

Jahanara Begum is arguably the most well-known of the Mughal princesses. That admittedly doesn’t say much given that many of the Mughal royal women and their achievements are forgotten today, much like other female rulers. Known as Begum Sahib (Princess of Princesses), you can imagine that she has a certain amount of street cred in relation to her parents’ story but her legacy extends far beyond that. 

At the tender age of 17, she was given the position and title of Padhsah Begum, essentially becoming the most powerful female in the empire, and being trusted with this position despite her father having two other wives well and alive. Emperor Shah Jehan held Jahanara close to him, as she was the one to bring him out of his long mourning period, and on top of her new position, she became the emperor’s advisor in many court decisions. 

Her father granted her half her mother’s estate while splitting the remaining half amongst his five other children. The money she received was later used to help build mosques and send food to the needy in Mekkah. She was intelligent and was one of the few women in the empire who owned a ship, with which she conducted independent trade to earn extra money, most of which she put into education or helping the people again. She had a love for the arts and was the one who introduced Sufism into the Mughal empire. She and one of her younger brothers, Dara Shikoh, were devoted believers in the practice and she penned several works which are still known today, including commentaries of Rumi’s Mathnawi. She also ordered translations of important Sufi literature, often writing several of them herself. She was also an architect and was put in charge of five of the Imperial buildings as well as Chandni Chowk, a bazaar that still exists in India today.

A picture of Jama Masjid in Chandni Chowk, Delhi which was designed and commissioned by Princess Jahanara.
[Image description: A picture of Jama Masjid in Chandni Chowk, Delhi which was designed and commissioned by Princess Jahanara.] Via Naveed Ahmed on Unsplashed.
Having been raised in the isolated and peaceful harem of the Mughal Empire, Jahanara was no fighter, and she opted for peaceful resolutions where possible. Many people described the princess as a kind and compassionate soul. One example of her constant care for others above herself was an incident in 1644 when Jahanara ended up in an accident where her clothes were set on fire. She was left with life-threatening wounds and spent four months in agony with her father by her side. But she refused to place blame on anyone for the accident, choosing to comfort her father in even her dire state. And during those months in recovery, she tried to still play her role for the family and kingdom. When her brother Aurangzeb was banished by their father she took the time to beg him to reconsider. And then the moment she recovered she chose to celebrate the occasion by distributing her weight in gold to the citizens most in need.

And so, for many years she lived in peace, carrying out her duties as per her assigned title and contributing to the people’s needs and the empire’s development with dedication. But the empire and succession were a volatile atmosphere and a succession war broke out between Dara and Aurangzeb. The war was a brutal affair that ended up pitting the peaceful Jahanara against not only her brother but her younger sister Roshanara as well.  Both sisters chose to support a different brother in the war. Jahanara tried in vain to stop her siblings from fighting, sending letters to try and sway Aurangzeb and then visiting him with the offer of partitioning the empire between the brother. The war ended with Dara dead and Aurangzeb taking over the palace, placing their father under arrest right next to his precious Taj Mahal. Jahanara was stripped of her title and replaced with Roshanara, but she took solace in watching over her father in his remaining days.

But it wasn’t long before her father would pass away. And the aftermath of his death saw Jahanara and Aurangzeb reconciling as she was returned her title and position and was given a new title, Empress of Princesses. Once Jahanara was brought back into the political fold she was given special privileges. Her brother respected her knowledge and would often hear her out even if he did not always listen to her complaints. She argued for his strict tax rules on non-Muslim citizens to be abolished and worked hard to fight his increasingly conservative political views.

Her remaining days saw her doubling down in her efforts to spread the arts. She commissioned several mosques, gardens, and other structures to be built. She also continued painting, wrote poetry, studied and furthered the knowledge of Islamic mysticism. One of her final acts was to commission her own graveyard and tomb. It was not as grand as those of her ancestors and she modeled it after a Sufi saint she admired. She also wrote her tomb’s inscription herself. It reads: 

“Allah is the Living, the Sustaining

Let no one cover my grave except with greenery,

For this very grass suffices as a tomb cover for the poor.

The mortal simplistic Princess Jahanara,

Disciple of Khwaja Moin-ud-Din Chisti,

Daughter of Shah Jahan the conqueror”.

Jahanara Begum dedicated her life to her family, her duty, and her people. She is everything that a princess should be and so much more.

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Bollywood History Forgotten History

The forgotten tale of Indian Jewish actresses who dominated Bollywood

In India during the 1920s and 1930s, you wouldn’t find Hindu or Muslim women acting in films. It was considered taboo and disreputable for women to show their bodies for strangers to watch on-screen. Male actors would largely take the role of women. The silent films in the early 20th-century featured all-male productions, with men wearing saris and playing women’s roles.

Dadasaheb Phalke, known as the Father of Indian cinema who made the first Indian film Raja Harishchandra, would even visit the red light district to scout for women to act in his films – but even women who would perform privately refused to do so in public.

It was all thanks to four Indian Jewish women, who were more liberal and open-minded, that stepped in to take on the female lead roles in the industry which they dominated for decades, pushing the boundaries and filling in the demand the Indian Film Industry had long desired for – and undoubtedly the audience. Indian Jewish actresses were recently given a spotlight in the 2017 feature-length documentary Shalom Bollywood where they explored the long-forgotten history of the Indian Jewish community’s impact in India and its influence on Bollywood.

As it stands, Jewish people make up a very small population across India with current estimates of 5,000 Jewish people living in the country today. But back in the 1940s, there were over 30,000 Jews in Mumbai alone. The Jewish communities of Bene Israelis and Baghdadi Jews from Iraq were more progressive and Anglicized, leading Jewish women to work outside the home. With fewer restrictions placed on Jewish women compared to their counterparts, four Indian Jewish actresses eventually filled the gap in Indian cinema, arising to become Bollywood’s first eminent stars in the industry.

They were known by their stage names – Sulochana, Miss Rose, Pramila, and Nadira.


Black and white photo of actress Sulochana
[Image Description: Black and white photo of actress Sulochana] Via Cinestaan
The first actress that arrived on the scene was Ruby Myers, known by her screen name, Sulochana – Indian cinema’s first female superstar. Born in 1907 in Calcutta, she started out in silent-era films back in the 1920s. Sulochana’s stardom reached unparalleled heights with many of her popular 1920s silent era films remade as talkies in the 1930s and 1940s in which she also starred. One of her more notable roles was when she played eight characters in one film in the 1927 release “Wildcat of Bombay”. She was reported to have the first Rolls Royce in India and won the attention of Gandhi who used her images as part of his political campaigns. In 1973 Sulochana was conferred with India’s highest cinema award, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for contribution to cinema. After her death in 1983, the Indian Government issued a stamp in her honor.


Miss Rose

Black and white image of actress Miss Rose with actor
[Image Description: Black and white image of actress Miss Rose with actor] Via
Following Sulochana’s footsteps was Rama Katroum Rose Musleah, popularly known as Miss Rose. Born in 1911 in Calcutta, Miss Rose was a dance teacher in her home city. It was after her divorce in the early 1930s that she decided to move to Mumbai to try her luck in acting. Rose quickly came to prominence in acting and social circles, performing the leading lady in many Hindi films where she largely played modern Indian women. In the late 1940s, Rose suffered a back injury that prevented her from acting for several months. It was during this time that Hindu and Muslim women were taking up significant acting roles that were no longer viewed as frowned upon. This led to Rose struggling to regain her place at the top of the billing. After an American airman proposed, she moved to America to settle with her husband in Los Angeles.



Black and white image of actress Pramila
[Image Description: Black and white image of actress Pramila] Via Feminism In India
Next came Esther Victoria Abraham, known as Pramila. Born in Calcutta in 1916, Pramila was a teacher at a local Jewish school. Everything changed for her when she went to Mumbai to visit her cousin, Miss Rose herself who was already a budding star, on a movie set. The director was bemoaning that none of the actresses were tall enough – until he saw Pramila. Soon enough Pramila started acting, often playing the vamp in films, and became the first Miss India in 1947. She acted until her final year, at the age of 90 in 2006. Pramila married the Muslim actor Kumar, having starred together in several films, living in Jewish and Islamic coexistence.



Black and white image of Nadira
[Image Description: Black and white image of Nadira} Via Upperstall
Born Farhat Ezekiel in 1932, the actress adopted her stage name Nadira at the age of 12 for her Hindi film début in 1943 with a small role in Mauj. But her career sky-rocketed in 1952 when she played the Princess Rajshree opposite Dilip Kumar in the box office hit Aan. Nadira’s best-remembered role was when she played the villainous Maya in the 1955 classic Shree 420. With her fiery looks, distinctive chiseled features, and admonishing style, Nadira set the benchmark for being a vamp in Indian cinema. Nadira was the last of the Indian Jewish cinema, who died in 2006.

These four actresses were pioneers in the industry and laid the foundations for Hindu and Muslim women to act in Bollywood – the roles once filled by Jewish women were no longer there. You can find out more about them in the feature-length documentary Shalom Bollywood, where they delve into the lives of the actresses and explore the theme of interfaith relations between Jewish stars and Muslims and Hindus, putting religious differences aside. You can also listen to The Jewish Queens of Bollywood podcast on BBC Sounds, where host Noreen Khan interviews people involved in the production of Shalom Bollywood, revealing why Jewish women were so uniquely placed to take Bollywood by storm, and why their influence has nearly been forgotten.


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History Forgotten History

An ode to two forgotten generations of Sri Lanka’s history makers

I first heard about Minnette de Silva a couple of years ago.

She was a pioneering architect of Sri Lanka, forgotten long before her death. This appears to be the buzzword when it comes to Minnette – “forgotten”. It’s in the title, or at the very least, the first paragraph of every article about her published twenty years after her death.

She’s not the only person to be forgotten by the world, not the only woman, or Sri Lankan, she’s not even the only one to be forgotten in her own family. There are many people left out by “official” histories and public discourse. Minnette de Silva, and her mother, Agnes de Silva, are not the first.

Nor will they be the last.

What I find most unsettling about their stories, however, is that in wildly different ways, they each dedicated themselves to their country and achieved great things in its name. Yet, until very recently, I had never come across their names or achievements at school or in my daily life. 

Agnes was a suffragette who fought for women’s right to vote in Sri Lanka, and she got it. She was instrumental in the foundation of the Women’s Franchise Union of Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon), fighting for the rights of Indian Tamil women, and granting a franchise to women above thirty. Not that she stopped there, she went on to fight for Ceylon’s independence from British rule, which was achieved in 1948. 

Minnette, based on her story, seems to have shared her mother’s drive and passion.

She was the first Asian woman to be appointed an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. She was the first representative of Asia in the International Congresses of Modern Architecture. She pioneered the modern architectural style of Sri Lanka (years before her contemporaries caught up). She made it a point to incorporate local crafts and styles into her work, giving local artisans employment and recognition in the modern age.

She was also the second woman in the world to open an independent architectural practice under her own name. 

Her worldly social circle included Picasso, Homi Bhabha, Le Corbusier, David Lean, and Mulk Raj Anand. It paints a vibrant image of her early life that seems to only emphasize the tragedy of her much-talked-about lonely death. 

What little there is to be known of both Minnette and Agnes has already been saying. There is some poetic irony about being remembered as a forgotten pioneer, but my takeaway from them both is that I should have known about them earlier.  

Sri Lanka is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the first female Prime Minister in the world – Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Her daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga was (briefly) Prime Minister before being appointed President of Sri Lanka, a role she held until the end of 2005. 

In 2018, Sri Lanka reimposed a law that had for the most part been forgotten. The law makes it illegal for women to purchase alcohol from, or work at, a bottle shop.  

As a country, we forget to remember the people who fought for it to be better, who returned home to establish themselves in Sri Lanka and let their home, and their people, benefit from their hard work and talent. It makes me wonder how much more both Agnes and Minnette could’ve achieved if they were appreciated, and celebrated by the country they clearly loved. 

It also makes me wonder how many more Minnettes and Agneses there are out there that I didn’t learn about in the classroom. It’s time Sri Lanka showed more pride in the stories that can inspire their young women to follow in the footsteps of the women who came before them and paved the way. 

In 2018, the World Bank concluded that 51.97% of the Sri Lankan population were women, more than half the island’s occupants. 

What would my country look like if we heard more about the Minnettes and Agneses, and fewer justifications about why we shouldn’t be allowed in bottle shops? 

We don’t have to turn elsewhere for role models or vehicles for our ambitions and dreams; they’ve been sitting right under our noses all along. Rubbing shoulders with Picasso and creating the architecture of the island as we know it, fighting for the rights we take for granted every day….and in sarees, no less. 

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History Forgotten History Lost in History

Laughter as weapon, the subversive power of fools and jesters

This year’s April Fool’s Day coincidentally transpired a day ahead of Good Friday preceding Easter Sunday, one of the holiest weeks commemorating the sacrifice of Jesus in the Christian tradition. There is a subtle link between these two unrelated occasions, and the connection is more surprising than you think. It lies in one of the most enduring archetypes in history, literature, and popular imagination—the fools and jesters, who weaponize unruliness into expressing forbidden impulses and harsh societal truths.

Fools and jesters historically serve an important function beyond royal entertainers or itinerant performers in fairs for the common folk. Since they typically originated from an inferior social and political class, their clever buffoonery often inoculated them against harsh recriminations. They were perceived as extraneous characters on the political chessboard, unlikely to make inroads for any self-serving ambitions. Donning the fool’s cap gave jesters license to uproariously mock, criticize and parody kings and emperors, allowing them to hold court in contested spheres of authority through subtle wit and candor.

The wise fool figure is a cross-cultural phenomenon appearing in many guises throughout the ages. Historical accounts and literature are littered with them in many parts of the world, known by different names, with eclectic personifications unique to their own landscape. In China, numerous dynastic archives reveal a long tradition of jester-philosophers in court who paired humor with sagacity to prevent emperors from committing irreparable follies.

Parables of Wahab ibn Amr of Abbasid Baghdad, known as Bahlool the Wise Fool, remain as popular injunctions against power and conceit, laced with a philosophical bent. Women, too, were not exempt from this role, evidenced by famous jesters such as Mathurine de Vallois of France, and Jane the Fool of the Tudor court from the time of Henry VIII, held in high regard and affection by the queens that employed her.

A close-up painting of Henry VIII with third his wife, Jane Seymour, and Prince Edward. To the far left stands a woman, possibly a jester named Jane the Fool.
[Image Description: A close-up painting of Henry VIII with third his wife, Jane Seymour, and Prince Edward. To the far left stands a woman, possibly a jester named Jane the Fool.] via Wikimedia Commons
The most iconic foolery belying judiciousness is present in Shakespeare’s plays, who developed the dramatic fool archetype in Ancient Greek theatre into the wise fool known to us today in the Western literary canon. Shakespeare’s bevy of fools, as seen in famous works such as Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and King Lear, demonstrate the fool’s transition from providing comic relief into a more complex, educated dunce through rhetoric and language.

For instance, Fool in King Lear is perhaps the most qualified voice of reason in a disintegrating world sullied by madness, which does not even spare the eponymous king. His proximity to Lear begets an almost symbiotic teacher-student relationship, with Lear acting as a student in subversion of master-servant relations.

Donning the fool’s cap gave jesters license to uproariously mock, criticize and parody kings and emperors, allowing them to hold court in contested spheres of authority through subtle wit and candor.

In religious and mythological symbols, the fool traces its roots to the trickster archetype present in various cultures since ancient times. Situated at the crossroads where corporeal and intangible worlds collide, the trickster’s fluidity in taking different forms becomes a source of fear. For this reason, the trickster is sometimes viewed as an allegory for queerness who upends a binary social order. This is embodied famously in Loki, who possesses the ability to change his appearance and gender, using his powers to simultaneously further malicious intents and solve problems for other gods. The Yoruba deity Exú is a trickster orisha of crossroads, a protective spirit and feared divine messenger between worlds who is contradictory in nature, requiring constant appeasement to carry out his duties.

A close-up of Loki of Asgard with a sinister smile
[Image Description: A close-up of Loki of Asgard from The Avengers film with a sinister smile GIF.] via GIPHY
In the Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth has also been interpreted as a trickster figure,  since his rise marked a revolutionary sociological phenomenon challenging the religious and political systems of his time, at the expense of his own life. When Christians commemorate his crucifixion and resurrection during Holy Week, it is, in a sense, a celebration of Jesus’ disobedience to his social milieu, one that prefigured the advent of the world’s largest religion.

[Image Description: Stained glass church artwork depicting crucifixion of Jesus.] via Pexels
[Image Description: Stained glass church artwork depicting the crucifixion of Jesus.] via Pexels
In Medieval Russia, a particular kind of holy fool called iurodivy was an integral part of Russian culture. They were feared and revered as saints who exposed moral hypocrisy through outlandish behaviors and even had the rulers’ ears, acting as their conscience. It is no surprise that by the 18th century, the iurodivy were considered seditious, participating in a form of social mutiny that went against the Tsar’s autocratic establishment.

Though court jesters and fools are no longer in sight, they are survived by satire in the modern world. The court is more democratic than ever. Palace enclosures have paved the way for digital and print media. Satirists are often targeted for censorship, especially in countries where draconian laws are still in place to curtail freedom of expression.

Just look at the case of Egypt’s groundbreaking political satirist Bassem Youssef, who faced arrest and death threats for his show Al-Bernameg during the Arab Spring, and the suspension of Hong Kong’s iconic political satire show Headliner in the wake of pro-democracy protests and the enactment of national security law by Chinese authorities. These incidents, among many others throughout the world, indicate that the fool’s relevance in mastering the interplay of laughter, exposé, and criticism is still feared, for they show us the unvarnished truth of corrupt power.

So, the next time you think grotesque foolishness and wily deceit have no place in serious business, you might do well to remember that laughter has in fact unseated power from its pedestal. Perhaps it is time for the wise fool as truth-teller to make a grand comeback in our current world marked by massive protests against injustice in a global pandemic, to show us that conformity to oppressive systems is a fool’s errand after all. 

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History Forgotten History Lost in History

Before Rumi there was Rabia Basri, the first female Muslim Saint

To read more stories about the forgotten legacy of powerful Muslim women from history, check out our series on Iconic Muslim Women. 

With Oprah Winfrey and Ivanka Trump all using the word “Sufism” to describe their own spiritual journeys, Sufism has been all the rage in pop culture in the past century or so. Though it is a branch of Islamic mysticism that emphasizes introspection and spiritual closeness to God, its popular perception these days is in a secular space, symbolized by qawalis and the dance of the whirling dervishes.

The origins of Sufism have at best been traced back to the 13th-century Persian scholar, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, more popularly known as Rumi. Lesser known, however, is the figure of Rabia Al-Adawaiyya, more commonly known as Rabia Basri, who lived centuries before Rumi and consolidated many beliefs and doctrines for Sufism when it was in its incubatory phase. So a tradition we may see in hindsight as being a male-dominated universe actually had one of its pioneers as a woman. 

Who was Rabia Basri? Well, today her biographical details are so intertwined with myth that it is difficult to separate the two. She was born in 717 CE in Basra, Iraq (during the Abbasid Caliphate). Legend has it that she was born into poverty, raised during a famine, and eventually sold into slavery. At each of these phases, however, were signs from God, prophecies, and premonitions to people around her, of what her stature later in life would be. Farid Al-Din Attar, a Persian poet, and philosopher from the 12th century wrote that when she was born, her family was so bereft of all material possessions that they did not even have oil to light a lamp or a piece of cloth to wrap her up in. And with her first night in the world, the Prophet appeared in her father’s dream saying

“Your newly born daughter is a favorite of the Lord, and shall lead many people to the right path.”

After being orphaned during a famine, she fell into the hands of slavery. Upon finishing her chores tirelessly during the day, she would hold night-long vigils praying. And it was during one of these nights that her master saw her devotion and apparently also a halo surrounding her, which compelled him to free her. It was a sign from God, he thought.

After being freed from slavery, she dedicated her life to God completely. She never got married or had any children of her own. With no family or existing blood ties to speak of, she became a figure of solitude and celibacy. Not only was she distant from people but was also devoid of any material possessions. Her biographers claim that when she passed away, she had nothing but a reed mat, a pottery jug, and a bed that doubled as her prayer rug. It was this airy and light existence that allowed her to lead a nomadic life. It has been said that she once embarked on a pilgrimage to Mecca on foot which was to take seven years at the time. 

[Image Description: Tomb of Rabia Basri in Mount of Olives, Jerusalem.] via Islam Information Portal
Her identity was multifaceted: she was the first Muslim saint, she was a poet, and she was a preacher. She preached outside mosques reciting poetry about the transience of this world (a feat that would shatter stereotypes of Muslim women in today’s world). The fragments of poetry that exist today, though, are perhaps as scarce as her material belongings. Much of her poetry is in verses that were transmitted orally. One of her famous verses are the following: 

“O Lord, if I worship You because of Fear of Hell,

then burn me in Hell;

If I worship You because I desire Paradise,

then exclude me from Paradise;

But if I worship You for Yourself alone,

then deny me not your Eternal Beauty.”

These words establish one hard fact about her: hers was an identity of renunciation. Not only did she renounce worldly luxuries but also any form of indulgence in the afterlife. In these iconic words, she overturns reward and punishment, hell and heaven, in a relentless yearning for the Divine. Her expression of her love for God transcended the material, the bodily, the worldly, and even the afterworld-ly. 

Encountering this enigmatic woman in history meant that I had to unlearn much of my existing knowledge of Sufism. As an avid reader of Rumi’s biographies, I had always noticed how the women in Rumi’s family were overshadowed by his spiritual complexity. With his meeting with Shams-il-Tabriz, it seemed as though, at least at that point in history, it was only possible for men to achieve a certain spiritual status. Because women, often being child-bearers and caretakers became increasingly tied to their own body and their families, traditional gender roles would rarely allow for a woman to spend life in seclusion and asceticism. Rabia Basri’s life, however, denied subservience to any being, much less a man. Her only allegiance was to her Lord. And that servitude ironically was the greatest source of liberation for her.

So why has she not been canonized as much as Rumi? Is it because of the fact that Rumi reigned from an affluent background and had scribes writing down each of his words? Could be. But it could also be because of her gender. Perhaps that is why few to none white men have picked up her existing poetry and life and have decided to write about her, or even tried to excavate the truth about her. Perhaps there is some level of internalized misogyny that prevents writers from incorporating her in mainstream culture, the age-old question: how can a woman transcend the bodily and the worldly, to become nothing but a soul. After all, in all other traditions and religions most saints have been men. 

Whatever the case may be, it was she, the mother of Sufism who taught future mystics, the doctrine of Ishq-e-Haqeeqi (true/Divine love). In the words of Farid Al-Din Attar, praising Rabia Basri’s unparalleled status as a female Sufi saint in the Conference of the Birds:

No, she wasn’t a single woman,

But a hundred men over:

Robed in the quintessence of pain

From foot to face, immersed in the Truth,

Effaced in the radiance of God,

And liberated from all superfluous excess.

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History Forgotten History Lost in History Historical Badasses

Fatima al-Fihri: Founder of the world’s first university

To read more stories about the forgotten legacy of powerful Muslim women from history, check out our series on Iconic Muslim Women. 

Over 1,000 years ago, the dedication and vision of one Muslim woman laid the foundation for the world’s first higher learning institution that continues to grant degrees to this day. Fatima al-Fihri is the founder of the world’s first known university – as acknowledged by the Guinness World Records and UNESCO – the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco. 

Courtyard of University of Al Qarawiyyin founded 12 centuries ago by Fatima al Fihri
[Image Description: Courtyard of University of Al Qarawiyyin founded 12 centuries ago by Fatima al Fihri] Via Quartz
Born in Tunisia at around 800 AD, very little is known about Fatima’s early life. But it is said that sometime in the early 800s AD, Fatima migrated with her father and sister, Mariam, from Qayrawan (also known as Kairouan) in Tunisia to Fez in Morocco, a flourishing city considered a center of Islamic faith that overflowed with thousands of migrating Muslims from Africa and the Middle East.  

Fatima’s father, a wealthy merchant who valued education, encouraged his daughters to study. Both Fatima and Mariam were well-schooled in subjects like architecture and science and devoutly religious.

Upon the death of their father, Fatima and Mariam both inherited a large fortune. The sisters wanted to invest the money to benefit the Islamic community and the city of Fez, their adopted home. With large numbers of Muslim refugees engulfing the city, the mosques in Fez couldn’t accommodate the increased number of worshippers.  

The sisters were compelled to act. They wanted to provide the people of Fez – many of whom were immigrants as they had once been when they arrived in the city with their father – new spaces to worship and learn. 

With Mariam’s half of the inheritance, she built the Andalusian Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Morrocco. In 859 AD, Fatima used her half to financially invest and oversee the formation of the mosque and educational institution that would benefit the occupants of Fez. Gradually, the establishment developed into the University of al-Qarawiyyin, naming the establishment after Fatima’s home town in Tunisia.  

At the start, the educational part of al-Qarawiyyin offered courses in religious instruction and the Qur’an, but its curriculum later diversified its content to teach Arabic grammar, natural sciences, languages, mathematics, music, medicine, and astronomy, with Fatima herself enrolling. This new intellectual hub attracted students from all over the world to study the array of subjects the university offered.  

Throughout the university’s history, the institution has educated many notable Muslim and non-Muslim scholars. It is said that even Pope Sylvester II studied at al-Qarawiyyin, and it was he that introduced Arabic numerals to the rest of Europe.

The university is also home to one of the world’s oldest libraries, housing a collection of 4,000 books and ancient Arabic manuscripts written by renowned scholars of the region, including a manuscript of the Qur’an dated back to the 9th century. The library was recently restored by Candian-Moroccan architect Aziza Chouani, with a wing now open to the public. 

Corner of a library at University of Al Qarawiyyin, with books on shelves and stacks of books on tables
[Image Description: Corner of a library at University of Al Qarawiyyin, with books on shelves and stacks of books on tables] Via Quartz
Fatima al-Fihri was wholeheartedly committed to establishing an institution for higher learning that has set the framework of university education we recognize today, advocating the importance of intellectual thinking. With the University of al-Qarawiyyin still considered a leading and respected religious and educational institution in the Muslim world, Fatima al-Fihri’s legacy is one that should be admired and respected. 

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History Forgotten History Historical Badasses

The jazz you listen to today is actually full of sexism – here’s the history

For stories of Black history and excellence, check out our Black History Month series. Celebrate with us by sharing your favorite articles on social media and uplifting the stories, lives, and work of Black people.

Let’s start with an exercise. When you think of jazz, what females pop into your head? Billie Holiday? Ella Fitzgerald? Me too, and you are absolutely right. These women are icons, but they had to fight, and women are still fighting to challenge the systematic sexism that is rooted in jazz. Let’s start in the 1800s. Yes, all the way back to the 1800s. Women were expected to be in the kitchen and were not supported on stage. Because jazz is full of instruments such as the tuba or saxophone, women were discouraged from being interested in jazz, due to the fact that instruments that required them to exert facial energy, and were not feminine enough for women to even show an interest in, apparently. 

[Lizzo saying; “I dabble in jazz flute”] Via Giphy.
Jazz has been a musical genre commended for its historical fights against social issues, especially pertaining to racism as the majority of jazz is done by African American men. However, this is no excuse for the sexism that has laid down its roots to sew in the world of jazz. When women were first introduced to jazz, they walked into a world of restriction. They were allowed to sing and possibly play piano, but that was only in private, and they were solely used as a pretty face to sell tickets to come to the “real show,” the male jazz musicians who could do anything on the tuba or saxophone.

The barriers that women had to face were absolutely unmatched. One pertinent example is Ella Fitzgerald. Yes, we acknowledge her now, but can you name any famous jazz pianists or instrumentalists? Probably not. Ella Fitzgerald had to fight through a male dominated music genre to even be noticed for her voice, which was seen as the most feminine thing a woman could do in jazz to any degree. For example, Neil Armstrong’s wife was an excellent jazz pianist but was never once appreciated for her work. She has gained little recognition to this day, and if it weren’t for the modern women in jazz today, we probably still never had heard about her. 

Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald’s beautiful but unlikely relationship took the jazz world and its inherent sexism and racism by storm. Not only was Ella Fitzgerald facing sexism in jazz, but she was also facing racism from venues, which is where Marilyn Monrone came in. Many jazz club owners rejected the idea of having Ella Fitzgerald at their club due to her “lack of glamour,” her gender, her race, the list goes on. Marilyn Monroe, being an international sex symbol at this point in time, used this to leverage Ella Fitzgerald’s career, refusing to go anywhere if she couldn’t bring Ella Fitzgerald, and further, explaining that she would bring attention to anywhere that she went, but would only go to the club if they would let Ella Fitzgerald play. We love a good women-supporting-women moment, don’t we?

We still have a long way to go for women in jazz. The jazz world has recently been having their own #MeToo moment, with women citing the abuse that they deal with on a day-to-day basis in their careers. Women in the jazz program at the Berklee College of Music cite specific instances when they still, in the last few years, perform for a panel of men who comment on her appearance rather than her performance. Come on, it’s 2020, we are better than this. Ella Fitzgerald is looking down on us with the rest of the women who have paved the way for many women behind them, telling us to keep fighting.