Saturday, May 12, 2007

Undaunted Mothers

I am a member of the Second Life Group, "The Wind Society for Undaunted Ladies". As Mrs. Wind, our founder puts it, it's a society for those of us who refuse to accept a given "place" assigned for us in the minds of some.


I admit to being a suffragette. Oddly enough, I am still very much a Victorian--I truly feel quite out of place in the modern world. You might say I am afflicted with the impossible dream. I yearn for the etiquette and aesthetic of a bygone age, yet I would eschew some of the uglier aspects of it such as child labour, unchecked pollutants and the restrictions that were placed on women.

But for all those restrictions, women of the time period hardly took it all sitting down. They might not have the vote, or until 1882, the right to own property separate from their husband--but that didn't stop many from running off and having amazing adventures, writing, doing scientific research, or just plain out speaking their minds.

Despite what one might think, in fact many in the Victorian period accepted the idea of adventurous women (perhaps so long as it wasn't their wife or sister). For one, it made good copy--the adventures of Annie Londonderry and Nellie Bly were eagerly followed by both men and women alike. For another, despite the modern image of Victorian women as frail fainting flowers, truthfully, they were as tough as the dickens. Being a "mere housewife" back then involved amazing amounts of physical labour, even for the middle classes with servants. Just think about the logistics of laundry day--hauling huge tubs of boiling water about, stirring and cleaning a week's worth of linens with the paddle. As I write this, the RL me is sitting at a keyboard, watching the clock to see when it is time to dump the clothes in the dryer. I must admit, I am grumbling at the thought that I will have to trudge down a flight of stairs to the machines. Now, who is the fainting flower--I or my great great grandmother?

It sounds odd that Annie Londonderry was a mother of three. The modern mind might think of someone who had no time to exercise, and yet was able to ride around the world on a cycle. I humbly submit that there was hardly anything else that could have prepared her so well for her voyage!

"Miss" Londonderry wasn't the only mother who performed such amazing exploits. Miss Storm Chatnoir sent me a link the other day about an amazing woman named Madam Marie Driancourt. She was a pilot in the days before the Great War, tragically dieing in 1914 (probably from TB) at the age of 27. But while she lived, she lived, as the saying goes. Here's some excerpts from an interview with her--

Newpaper interview clipping courtesy of RĂ©gis Gatineau, grandson of Mme
Written and published sometime between 2 April and 16 April 1912. Paris.
Referenced event dates list at bottom of page.


A young aviatrix Mme Driancourt answers us boldly: yes, and endeavours to
prove it.

The daring air voyage from Paris-London which has just been achieved, with the
aviator Hamel, a very young girl, Miss Davies, raises all enthusiasms. The
feminists exult: If a woman can be a passenger full with 'cold-blood' as they
say, [have the nerve, coolness, cool-headed] she lacks little of the thing to
be an aviatrix!

Those who find, to the contrary, that aviation is an anti-female sport, exult
a similar lament: Women have just discovered, that they say, her true and
single manner of flying: to be a passenger of an experienced and vigorous
pilot, putting bravery to the test, able to face without weakening, the always
possible danger.

And here has returned in question this mystery raised already for a long time
and what the recent death of the young Mlle Bernard made emotional: do women
have the necessary qualities to make it in aviation? This enigma can be solved
only by an aviatrix: I questioned Mme Driancourt.

~ Chez Madame Driancourt ~ [At Madame Driancourt's]

There is nothing masculine about this small woman who in her long mourning
veils resembles a bird half hidden under its wings. The face is irregular but
full of expression. The large mouth says will, and, made deeper by the thick
fringe of fair hair which goes down to her eyelids, eyes superb of spirit and
of courage, similar to this azure which they dared to admire more closely than
us, shine through long black eyelashes.

She has all the grace of her sex and also her sensitivity, sounding drunk with
enthusiasm, she prompts a little instinctive logic. She has moreover this
not very widespread quality of women... ambition; she wants to give her life a
goal, to "earn" it in order to be independent and fortunate and, because her
ambition is conscious, reflected, she possesses will and courage.

All these qualities she reveals them without thinking of it, while talking
with humour and animation, often with a bit of emotion which she finishes in a

One still cannot fly as a vocation. The thing is too new - Mme Driancourt did
it - as one imagines well that any woman was to do it - by enthusiasm.

"I saw Blanchard² crash", she says to me, "I did not retain anything of the
horror of his death, I understood the beauty of it, and that that sublime
undertaking alone called for such devotion. I dreamed at once that I would
have wings, me also, and that I would not fall.

- You were not afraid?

- Not for a minute! They put me on a machine... I was enraged because I found
that it did not go quickly enough... finally one day I left straightforwardly.
Imagine that I feel sea-sickness on the autobus... up high I felt very well in
spite of the violent [wind] that slapped at my face and the drops of oil which
were stuck to my skin: My engine whirred... it was safety, I listened to it
with pleasure. I descended by gliding, in great silence, without a jolt... it
was exquisite!

She laughs and begins again:

- As it is sad that there are sometimes crashes... in the end!

- You have crashed?

- But yes!

- And your 'cold-blood' did not leave you?

- Hold on! I felt as quiet as sitting in this chair, I said to myself: This is
it, the end, take it on well! The fall started at a 100 meters height. I tried
hard to direct it like a flight, and, seeing that I was over a group of people
present, I went into the trees. My machine was broken... I was full of sorrow,
it is my - toy! I regretted my two beach smash-ups much less !

- And your nerves, your nerves of a small sensitive woman... what does that do
to you?

- I get them sometimes at home, but I never take them along with me.

- Are you never lacking physical strength?

- It is not necessary to be very strong to take up aviation... a simple
movement of ones finger is enough to control the entire machine!

- And the sense of orientation that all men miraculously possess, and what the
women almost always do not have?

- It is true, I lose myself in the streets of Paris! Perhaps I would lose
myself up high if I did not have my chart and a compass, but with them one
very quickly learns how to aim and one does not fear anything anymore!

I dared make a statement:

- You know that you flout death. Are you right to expose yourself thus...
Do you leave nobody behind you?

She threw a glance at her clothes of mourning.

- I am widowed, as you know. I have three girls that I adore. Be it me that
arrived on misfortune, I would leave them with their grandparents who are
wealthy and who like them with all their hearts. They would be as cherished as
by their mommy.

- Have they seen you flying?

- But yes, and they say that later they will also take up aviation. While wait-
ing they go up on chairs which they imagine to be aeroplanes and the eldest
says to her sisters "Especially don't break it"... Forgive me, but it is a
term that they are use to hearing on the air-field. They are darlings...
oh! the nice manner that the little one has, who is three years old, to say to
me when I have returned to the house: Bonjour, mon z'oiseau! [Hello, my bird]

- Do you believe there is a future for women in aviation?

- Why not? In my view, a well balanced woman of strong will possesses all the
qualities necessary. She must therefore succeed and she will succeed, I am
sure, if she manages to overcome the obvious ill-will of men. It is necessary
that they let her prove to be reliable and if she is presented for some exhib-
ition or demonstration that she does not unfortunately get the response too
frequently: "No, we prefer a man!"

"I am well decided to fight on until the end," finishes the audacious young
woman, "I do not fear anything. I shall work as much as will be needed...
I still have ten pairs of ribs to break - and all of my limbs!"

¹First five French women to be awarded piloting certificates:

1. Baronnee De la Roche #36 - 8 Mar 1910
2. Marthe Niel #226 - 19 Sep 1910
3. Marie Marvingt #281 - 8 Nov 1910
4. Jeanne Herveaux #318 - 7 Dec 1910
5. Marie Louise Driancourt #525 - 15 June 1911

²Aviator Fernand Blanchard died 26 Oct 1910 at Issy-Les-Moulineaux, Paris.

Translated from original source material by Rod Filan. 12/10/04


Happy Mothers Day to all you brave women out there, whether you fly or just ride herd on the little scamps!


Hotspur O'Toole said...

Odd that you think that SL, or Caledon, forces a mindset that relegates women to a sexist role. It's no great secret that Caledon seems to have more women in its population than men. Women take an active role in organization and leadership; I think Caledon would be a far poorer place without our Duchesses, for instance. And Women take the lead in a lot of activities that a less enlighted civilization might term "manly".. such as the SL RFL militia, active planning and participation in the recent Neualtenburg/Caledon War RP/movie was done by a team of individuals, male and female.

Many of the cooler "macho toys" that I like to play with-- cannons, monowheels, ornithopters, historically authentic uniforms, weaponry of many sorts, bombers, dueling pistols, snuff boxes, and blah blah blah... were all designed and brought to market by a group of intelligent and talented women players. And thank you for that (since I am one of your more loyal customers)!

All that being said, I would applaud your efforts in continuing to publish an occasional missive on the remarkable woman of the age. I confess, I had never heard of Mrs. Londonderry in my life before making your acquaintance, I enjoy reading of her exploits. Please keep up the good work!


Virrginia Tombola said...

"Odd that you think that SL, or Caledon, forces a mindset that relegates women to a sexist role."

Not quite. The Victorian period was sexist, and Caledon is a sim that recreates aspects of that time.

But, it does not recreate the oppressive standards of the time whether child labour or gender inequity (a word I prefer to inequality, btw). For example, when two people "partner" in SL, the lady does not have to turn all her Linden dollars over to the man. And, women are allowed to fly ornithopters about with Vickers on them, should they so choose to :P

Nontheless, I do feel personal conflict about feeling more at home with the customs, manners and aesthetics of a time period in which I know I would have been so constricted, had I really lived back then.

I think I would have been a bit of a bluestocking suffragette back then, as that is fair much what I am in RL. But it would have been a much harder road to walk. Still, many women DID walk that road, and they are my personal heros.

Lynne said...

Keeping in mind that the demeaning suffix "ette" is a male invention, might I suggest you adopt the more utilitarian and egalitarian term of "suffragist"?

-Lynne Wu/CoyoteAngel Dimsum

Virrginia Tombola said...

The use of the term "suffragette" was controversial during the day, to say the least. It was used within members of the movement in the UK, but in the States, women preferred the term "suffragist".

Dismissive commentors in the US apparently seized on "suffragette", presumably because the suffix "-ette" sounded diminuitive. Thus the controversy.

Myself, I have no problem with the suffix "-ette", as it is simply the French suffix used in the feminine version of prenoms. More to the point, said twit commentors thought it diminuitive BECAUSE it was the feminine form.

I refuse to accept the notion that the feminine form of a noun is diminuitive. Furthermore, regardless of origin, the common term used for those heroic women who fought for the simple right to be treated decently is--"suffragette".

If such a term can be applied to the likes of Susan B. Anthony. Elizabeth Stanton, Sojourner Truth, and Jane Adams, I think I can proudly wear such a title. I refuse to allow it to be a term of belittlement.