Women of History: Yekaterina Alekseyevna (Catherine the Great)

Author’s Note:  Catherine’s name in Russian (in English) is spelled in two ways: Yekaterina(which I choose to use here) and Ekaterina.  I try my best to use the name closest to what they were actually called.  Many times I have found foriegn monarchs names anglicised, so I try to find out what they would be called by their own people.

  Also there is many Wikipedia sources in the Further Reading.  While I enjoy Wikipedia, I use it only as a starting off point, and always suggest those who are interested in learning more to do the same.  The same goes for any encyclopedia.  There is so many sources out there, online and in print.  
Portrait of Empress Catherine II(a)

We travel slightly west in our pick this week, traveling to Imperial Russia and focusing on Catherine the Great (Yekaterina Alekseyevna), Empress of Russia and one of the more well-known of the Tsars despite the fact she did not inherit the throne, but took it by force and her son would attempt to take away her legacy.
Continue reading “Women of History: Yekaterina Alekseyevna (Catherine the Great)”

The History of Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentines’ Day to everyone!

For me Valentine’s day is just a day to express love/affection.  I end up getting gifts for my family and close friends if I’m seeing them that day. For many however, its a day for romantically involved couples to express their love for one another in a more formal way.  It’s definately a holiday built upon cards and gifts.  Different cultures treat it differently though.  Continue reading “The History of Valentine’s Day”

Cathay Williams

Today’s choice for “Women of History,” is another american woman named Cathay Williams. Ms. Williams was an African-american woman who joined the US Army during the Civil war under the alias of William Cathey. She was the first African-American woman documented to join the military.

Cathay Williams was born in Independence, Missouri in September 1844. Her father was a freed man, but her mother was still a slave, therefore Cathay herself was born into slavery. She worked as a house slave until 1861 when she was 17 years old. However, it was into another form of slavery that she transitioned to. The Union Army, in a time before the emancipation proclamation had decided that slaves that had worked to help the Confederate cause were ‘contraband’, and still considered property. They took the slaves from the plantations and pressed them into service as cooks and other support services. Cathay was added to the 8th Indiana Volunteer Regiment to serve as a cook and seamstress. She would spend the next couple of years traveling the country and seeing various battles across the south.

In 1866, Cathay decided to enter the army full-out, but as a man. At the time women were not allowed to enlist in the military (although some did in the manner that Cathay choose). It wouldn’t be until 1949 that women would officially be allowed to enlist in the US Army. Joining the military as a soldier would allow her to remain independent and earn an income.

She enlisted in the regular Army under the name of William Cathey on November 15, and was assigned to the 38th US Infantry regiment after she passed a medical exam. Sources differ whether this was required a the time or not, but evidently it did not matter. They believed her to be a healthy male. Her only confidants were a cousin and a friend who were in her regiment. The 38th was an all Black unit that had been formed that year and the various units were occasionally known as ‘Buffalo soldiers’.

They were called that because they were often assigned to posts in the Western United States protecting the white settlers from the Native Americans and various criminals taking advantage of them. African-Americans were not allowed to enlist in the regular army until legislation passed in 1866 allowed them. So ‘William Cathey’ was one of the first to formally enlist. The segregation of the military would last until 1948, when Henry S. Truman disbanded the practice and diversified the military.

She managed to continue with the regiment for almost two years without being discovered. She caught smallpox at one point, and the lingering health effects of this illness caused her to be hospitalised several times, all of which were documented in her records. Somehow despite the hospitalizations, she was not discovered till 1868 to be a woman. Once she was discovered, her commanding officer discharged her on October 14, 1868, filing it as a disability discharge. On the discharge papers, Cathay was still referred to as William and the Captain who discharged her claimed that “the origin of his infirmaries is unknown to me.” The Doctor added that her ‘condition dates prior to enlistment.’ They effectively ended her military career without admitting that the Military had managed to not catch on to her biological sex. While her later illness might have been limiting her ability to handle the job, one has to wonder if the discharge ‘condition’ was less being chronically ill and more about being born female.

Despite her discharge, Cathay was not finished with military life. She went to work as a cook once again at Fort Union for a short time. She then moved to Colorado and became a seamstress and might have opened a boarding house (though I found only one source that claimed this). She married, but it ended badly when her husband stole from her and she had him arrested. She continued to struggle with her health through the years.

In 1891, Cathay applied to get a disability pension after being released from the hospital after a year and a half stay.. The application listed her age as 41, which would give her a birth year of 1850, 6 years younger than she claimed to be on her enlistment form. Cathay suffered from diabetes and neuralgia. Due to her diabetes she had suffered amputations and was forced to walk with a cain. She dealt with deafness, which she blamed on contracting smallpox during her time in the military.

In September, a local doctor was sent to examine her by the Pension Bureau. More discrepancies occurred on his form. She was 2 inches shorter (possible due to aging), and 49, which makes her 2 years older than her enlistment birthdate of 1844. It is unclear if the doctor was competent and simply did not examine her fully trying to save time or was incompetent or not current as his report had medical inaccuracies. He looked for signs of Neuralgia in the joints and muscles. Neuralgia is an illness that affects the nervous system and this was known in 1801, long before Cathay claimed to have the problem. It would not have appeared physically in her joints or muscles.

Also despite reporting her amputations (she no longer had toes) he did not think to consider the reasons for the amputations, or that not having them would be a disability. Interestingly, though, the Pension Bureau did not reject the claim because of illegal enlistment (as they could have since women were still not allowed in the military) and instead recognized that Cathay William was William Cathey. They rejected it claiming she was not in fact disabled. This would be the last documented mention of Cathay.

Not much is known about when she died, but it is believed to be shortly after the visit of the military doctor. She was not included in the next census, so her death occurred sometime between 1892 and 1900. It is often listed as 1892 or 1893 as it is assumed that due to her condition and her financial problems due to being ill for so long she most likely died around that time.

She was buried with a wooden tomb marker, which has since deteriorated and has left her final resting spot a mystery in the present day.

Due to varying levels of record keeping, much of Cathay’s life is left to fill in by guessing, using the tidbits that are well documented to help fill out the missing pieces. As time goes by, more research is done in her life and more information is found. She has become the representative of the many women who joined the military and don’t have as documented a service or were found out sooner. It is estimated hundreds of women were in the military disguised as men during the Civil War, as with as the Revolutionary War before that.

She also has the legacy of a woman whose tenacity and determination took her to places that society forbade her due to her gender. She never hid from her past, either.

Wikipedia: Cathay Williams

Amazing Women in History: Cathay Williams

BufflaoSoldier.Net: Cathay Williams: Female Buffalo Soldier (with Documents)

US Army Profiles: Cathay Williams

Legends of America: Cathay Williams

Wounded Warrior Project: The Only Known Female Buffalo Soldier

Wikipedia: Neuralgia

History.Com: Who Were The Buffalo Soldiers?

 

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Master List

Bookit Review: The Wedding Dress

Title:  The Wedding Dress
Bookit #3
Author: Rachel Hauck
Release Date: 2012
Medium: Paperback

My grade: A-

I really enjoyed this book, which is actually the first in the series.  However, none of the books appear to be interconnected other than a few minor things.  The third book, which I’m not reading at this time might have some more connections, however.  Basically, you can read this book and The Wedding Chapel in any order and not be out-of-place. Continue reading “Bookit Review: The Wedding Dress”

TV Review: The Six Wives of Henry XIII (4 of 4)

Title: The Six Wives of Henry XIII (Via Amazon Prime)
Episode: Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr (4 of 4)
Released: 2001

So we reach the end with the last two of Henry’s wives, both named Katherine.  Although I have to wonder how he felt that half his wives had the same first name for all intents and purposes.  The first Katherine is a bit weird, really.  At least her story.  She’s `is 16-17 when she marries Henry, whose 50+.  It’s hard to tell if the story is attempting to be sympatric or not, but it comes across as Starkey (who I assume directs the content of the piece) didn’t think highly of her.   She seems like she was just a typical teenager, perhaps too willing to fall in love and not quite understanding the consequences of her actions.  I also want to find out more about her, because there has to be more to the Queen then her at least emotional affairs.

Actually, while looking stuff up about this mini-series I found out that it is based on the book by Starkey, so I can confidently say that the tone of this miniseries is set by him, both as narrator and as the basis of the show itself.   His views on the Queen are apparent, although there are a few times where its close.

Catherine Parr seemed to be very well liked by Starkey, and his portrayal of her tended not to show any flaws she might have other than being overly zealous in her education (which isn’t really a flaw in any case).  She is published, so it might be interesting to read what she wrote.

The final episode gets an B, (so overall B-).  The epilogue sentence confuses me and I don’t understand it in context of the show, or history in general.  How is Elizabeth the greatest rumor?  Design wise I’m still bothered by the fonts used in the credit sequences, finding them not all easy to read.  But in general the mini-series was enjoyable, and worth the time even though it does require more looking into things if you really want to know the Queens.  However, as an overview, it’s not too bad.

TV Review: The Six Wives of Henry XIII (3 of 4)

Title: The Six Wives of Henry XIII  (Via Amazon Prime)
Episode: Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves
Released:  2001

So the mini-series is only four episodes long, with the last four wives having the pair up for their episodes.  I’m kind of disappointed, but I can understand why they might want to use less time.  After all, with the exception of Jane Seymour, the last wives of Henry had less of an impact on Henry, England and history in general.  Still, part of me wishes they could have spent the same amount of time on these women.

I have to admit though, that the section on Jane Seymour was perhaps the most I’ve seen on her.  Most documentaries on the Tudors seem to pass her by as simply Edward’s mother.  This goes a little more in-depth.  I still think more could have been said.  Especially during her time as Catherine of Aragon’s lady-in-waiting and her relationship with Mary.

Anne of Cleves story just made me feel sorry for her.  Again, not much is usually said about Anne other than the fact that she and Harry annulled their marriage quickly out of displeasure with each other.  This documentary segment makes me wonder about it.  She’s another one of the Queens I wish I knew more of, and may add to my list of people to research and read about.

THis episode gets an B, as I feel it doesn’t really do justice to these two women, but it does a better job then the last at making you want to know more about them.

TV Review: The Six Wives of Henry XIII (2 of 4)

Title: The Six Wives of Henry XIII (Via Amazon Prime)
Episode Title:  Anne Boleyn (2 of 4)
Release date 2001

This episode was rather odd for me, because it was not very sympathetic towards Anne, and describes her as pretty much someone who manipulated Henry to get power.   Given how the first episode seemed sympathetic towards Catherine I was surprised, expected this to be the same for the second Queen, who, from all accounts I know of, was falsely accused because of her inability to give Henry a son.

I also wonder that they had no mention that one of Anne’s miscarriages was around the same time Henry had an accident.  Perhaps that was not a widely accepted connection.  I also feel that this episode didn’t really go much into Anne but those around her being mad that she was Queen, or being happy for the same reason.  Perhaps it is because Anne is often the most known of the Queens in pop culture due to her death, and the fact that she was Queen Elizabeth’s mother.

This episode gets a C, as it felt rather unbalanced in its reporting of Anne, but the overall series still gets an A.

TV Review: The Six Wives of Henry XIII (1 of 4)

Title: The Six Wives of Henry XIII (Via Amazon Prime)
Episode Title: Catherine of Aragon.
Release Date: 2001

This mini-series was a misdirection on my part, as I thought I was watching a program my friend had recommended to be, but it was the wrong one with the same title.   However, I decided to continue my plans of watching it and reviewing the various episodes (there are four) that I watched.

The premise of the series is a focus on the wives of King Henry XIII.  The first episode deals with the wife he had first and longest, Catherine of Aragon. He was married to her from 1509-1533 (24 years).  She died in 1536. Continue reading “TV Review: The Six Wives of Henry XIII (1 of 4)”

Women of History: Ching Shih

Today’s Women of History topic takes us on a walk on the wild side.  Ching Shih was a pirate, a highly successful one.  She even got to retire, which is not a common occurrence for people in this line of work.  She was also one of the few well known female pirates (There are more than you would think given the popular culture).

Ching Shih was born Shi Vianggu in 1775 in Guangdong, China. The name of this town was originally latinized as Canton, hence the term Cantonese.  It is located in the lower part of China, bordering the China sea, and north of Hong Kong.  She spent some time as a prostitute within the province before she was captured by pirates sometime before 1801.  She ended up marrying the leader of those pirates, a man named Cheng I.  Cheng I came from a long line of pirates, so it was a family business.  It was as his wife that her successful career as a Pirate began, as she was involved with his activities and knew who supported her husband, and who needed other means to support her later in life.  He also began consolidating the pirates in the area, eventually becoming the ‘Red Flag Fleet’, one of the most powerful pirating fleets in Asia at the time.

Continue reading “Women of History: Ching Shih”

Women of History: Boudica

When I decided to start a blog series about women from history, Boudica jumped out at me.  Not because she was my favorite historical woman, or because she had some major play in history.  She just did.  So for no reason whatsoever other than ‘because’, she’ll be my first post subject.

Boudica was a British Queen, back during the Roman Empire.  At that point England (And Great Britian as a whole) was made up of different tribes.  She was part of the Iceni Tribe which lived in what is now modern day Norfolk.

Boudica (also spelled Boadicea, Boudicea, and called Budding in Welsh) was born around 25 AD  She was married to Prasutagus, who was the elected ruler or King of the Iceni.  Prasutagus had a agreeable relationship with the Roman Empire, enough so that when he died he left his kingdom to both his daughters and the Empire.  This of course caused problems.

The Romans had left the Iceni and the other British tribes for the most part alone since Ceaser visited a century before.  However, around 43 AD, Emperor Claudius decided to invade, and this time take control.  The Tribes eventually had to submit, but instead of leaving them alone for the most part, Claudius left behind his soldiers on the island.  Some of the native population continued to rebel, but successive governors of the island sent by rome made things more and more difficult for the Iceni and their neighbors. At one point they no longer had the ability to have any weapons that could be used for rebellion (hunting weapons were still allowed to a point).  When Claudius died, his successor Nero had them build a temple in Camulodunum for him, which required the Celtic Icenic to worship their invader. They were also forced to pay for it.  Not having the funds to do so, they ended up borrowing money from rich Romans.  

Boudica’s eventual rebellion was motivated by different things, depending on what source you were told.  Most of the tales of Boudica were Roman, as there was no written celtic history at the time.  However, the Romans who wrote about the Queen of the Iceni had different ideas of what motivated her.  According to some, her motivations were due to oppression.  The Romans, such as Seneca, who had leant money to the Britions called those loans in with force. The Governers took more and more of the freedoms the Celtic populations enjoyed to keep them under control.  THis included destruction of their holy lands, which sadly would not be the last time this would happen in history. This got worse when her husband, who had on friendly terms with the Roman Empire, died.  Rome decided to take complete control rather then share with the man’s daughters.

Other accounts have more dramatic reasons.  According to Tacitus, Boudica was flogged for resisting her estate being taken over by the local leader and her daughters raped.  Given that there is no account from the side of the Celtics, or Boudica herself, its hard to know for sure what really happened to her or her people that caused her to decide to seize leadership and rebel.

In around 60-61 AD, Boudica lead Celtic rebels in full rebellion against the Roman invaders.  She attacked, and destroyed several cities.  One of which was the City of London, which still bears traces of the attack where Boudica’s army burned the city down. Other cities included Verulamium, and Camulodunum (Colchester). According to Dio, she was vicious in her retribution, killing those who remained in the cities.  She had a larger army, with an estimate of 230 thousand.   However in the end the Roman leader Suetonius was victorious and returned Britain to Roman control.  His troops were better trained and better armed, and in the end that seemed to win the day.

Boudica died soon afterwards, with even her death in dispute.  In some accounts she ended it by poison, others she died of an illness.  She was given a costly funeral by her tribesman.  Despite the loss, she was still greatly respected by most accounts.  I suppose in a way its amazing that she managed to not only gain the respect of her fellow celts, but enough respect from the Romans that they told stories about her.  They won, they could have told any story they wanted.  Made her out to be some demon, but they didn’t.

I suppose it confused them.  The Romans weren’t particularly equalitarian when it came to gender. Most of the heroines of their tales were either godesses or foriegn Queens.  Boudica, Dido, Cleopatra.    Women who defyed the Roman idea of Womanhood.

Today it doesn’t seem that far fetched that a group of fighters would go into battle for their Queen.  Its happened many times before.  Boudica left in imprint on the history of Great Britain, not just as a Queen.  She became a symbol of resistance.  She became a subject of Art, and inspiration during the Victorian Age.







Further Reading:

Boudica – Wikipedia

Boudica: Celtic War Queen who challenged Rome

Boudica: