2021 marks the 110th anniversary of the first celebration of International Women’s Day. As a history blogger, March the 8th provides a great communal point for the celebration of women’s history – something we do all year round, but its especially nice to have a focus on this rapidly expanding field of historical study.
To mark the day this year I have called upon fellow female history bloggers from the #historygirls community to share their favourite history podcast episodes about women from history.
The Night Witches by History, Eh? Podcast – Chosen by Jenny of Go For Landing
This podcast episode sees host Rosie talk with author and fellow podcaster Moxie LaBouche about the Night Witches. The ‘Night Witches’ was a nickname bestowed by the Germans upon a group of female pilots who flew as part of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment of the Soviet Air Forces during the Second World War.
Despite being given out-of-date 1920s planes to fly, carrying out their missions without the
use of radar, guns, radios or even parachutes, and facing harassment from their male colleagues, they proved to be a real ace up the sleeve of the Soviet Air Forces. In the episode, Rosie and Moxie talk us through events that led to the formation of the Night Witches and some of their major accomplishments and really do a great job at telling listeners about a group of women who, I admit, I had not heard of before but whose story definitely needs telling!
2. The United States Vs Billie Holiday by Throughline Podcast – Chosen by Marissa of The Notorious Women of History Blog
This episode The United States vs. Billie Holiday is from the podcast Throughline by NPR. It tells a short biography and the story of Billie Holiday. Billie Holiday helped shape American popular music with her voice and unique style. Through her song Strange Fruit we find a heart wrenching picture of racial violence and the struggles of the African American community during the 1960s. But singing this song brought serious consequences to Billie Holiday’s life which ultimately cost her her death.
3. Constance Markievicz – The Rebel Countess by Gallus Girls and Wayward Women – Chosen by Sinead from Museum Maverick
Constance Markievicz, born Constance Gore-Booth in 1868, was from landowning Anglo-Irish ancestry, but turned away from her comfortable background to fight for Irish independence from British rule. By 1908, Constance had become active in Irish republicanism and had joined Sinn Fein, the Irish republican and democratic socialist political party. She played a key commanding role in the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, afterwards being sentenced to death. This caused public outrage and was commuted to a prison sentence. Constance was angered by this as she felt she had been treated differently than her male counterparts – 16 male leaders were executed for their roles in the rising.
In 1918, The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, gave women over the age of 21 the right to stand for election as a Member of Parliament. In the same year, from Holloway Prison in London, Constance was elected as the first woman to the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, for the impoverished constituency of Dublin St Patrick’s. She never took up her seat in Westminster as was, and still is, the custom of the Sinn Fein party as a rejection of British power. Many may think Nancy Astor was the first elected female British MP in 1919, but it was in fact Constance. I am very proud to feature a fiery Irish woman in this fabulous Women’s History Month blog post, alongside such fantastic female historians and writers.
4. Madame C.J. Walker by Sistory Untold – Chosen by Lizzie of History Lizzie
I’ve chosen an episode of the wonderful Sistory Untold podcast which focussed on Madam C. J. Walker , widely regarded as the first self-made American woman millionaire. Hosts Marva and Sabrina interview A’Lelia Bundles, Walker’s biographer and great-great-granddaughter, and the episode not only highlights the immense achievements of Walker, but also the incredible research and work by Bundles as a historian in her commitment to fairly presenting Walker’s legacy.
Walker made her millions by being a pioneer in the hair care industry. Bundles’ biography of Walker served as the inspiration for the Netflix show Self-Made, and the key aim of this episode is actually to debunk some of the myths the show created about Walker’s life and experiences. Bundles extensively discusses Walker’s strong relationships with other women around her, dispelling some of the intense rivalries presented by the show.
I love this episode because it truly delves into the line between fact and fiction and allows us to appreciate sisterly and supportive parts of Walker’s character – which is a key aspect of the podcast, which looks to explore history through female relationships. Walker is incredibly important as a figure in women’s history, African American history and economic histories, and is a person we should definitely remember not only this International Women’s Day, but always.
5. The Lavender Scare by Criminal Podcast – Chosen by Frankie of The Historian Next Door
The Lavender Scare episode of the Criminal podcast tells the story of a very dark chapter in American LGBTQ history. It focuses on Helen James, a gay woman who joined the US military in 1952. This was just before President Eisenhower signed an Executive Order barring homosexuals from working for the federal government. James was arrested, interrogated, labelled as ‘undesirable’ and became one of 5000 federal employees who were dismissed from their jobs in the US Air Force. The impact of this persecution lasted for decades and affected millions of people in civilian jobs as well.
President Obama finally repealed Eisenhower’s Executive Order in 2017 and Helen James received her ‘Honourable Discharge’ in 2018, when she was 90 years old. This podcast episode tells the story of an ordinary woman who was unable to pursue her career due to a largely forgotten part of history. The past belongs to us all and podcasts like Criminal can shed light on stories we would never have otherwise known.
6. We Aren’t Talking About Jack The Ripper by Harlots of History Podcast – Chosen by Rachel of Rachel’s Fact Files
When I say Whitechapel 1888, I would guess that the majority of people know exactly what I’m talking about. But how many of us know the histories behind the lives of Mary Ann Nicholls, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Kelly?
For too long people have obsessed over uncovering the identity of the infamous serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, whilst undermining the true histories of his victims. In The Harlots of History episode ‘Why We Aren’t Talking About Jack the Ripper’, Emily and Karamia move away from this framing of the period and discuss the wider social and legal pitfalls Victorian women faced in a deeply patriarchal society. It is time we left our obsession with the killer in the past and instead learn about the true lives of the five victims with the dignity they deserve, pushing the forgotten histories of the working class women to the fore.
7. Mary Queen Of Scots Meets Lindsey Lohan by The Femme Files – Chosen By Siobhan of Women Who Wear The Crown
Comparing Mary Queen of Scots to Lindsay Lohan piqued my interest when I discovered The Femme Files podcast. I was uncertain how they made this connection and sceptical too – what on earth could these two women have in common? Fast forward to the end of the episode and I was completely converted.
I’m not denying in the slightest that Mary isn’t a forgotten figure, and she has received her more than fair share of attention. But the attention she has received is an issue. Mary’s history and legacy has followed a somewhat dangerous path in that it is becoming more fiction than fact. And I think amongst the public eye, Mary deserves a reassessment.
The reason I chose The Femme Files was because I feel like this is a great start to a reassessment under popular culture. There were times I disagreed with the view of her mother Marie de Guise being viewed as somewhat tyrannical for example, but overall it put a very real light on Mary’s history. By comparing her to a modern-day figure who had that tragic upbringing and manipulation, which in turn has impacted upon her decisions and clarity in later life, shows that Mary is not a romantic figure. She was pushed and pulled from all different directions in her early life and this snowballed into how she perceived situations and made decisions. Her life is not a script to be twisted into this sexy, romantic dramatization, but rather an important case study into the issues of female rule in the 16th Century and it should be treated as such.
8. Ranavalona by Queens Podcast – Chosen by Claire of the Hisdoryan Blog
There are lots of women’s history podcasts out there that deserve a listen, but Queens Podcast is one of my all time favourites, and its easy to see why. I’m a great advocate of public history and making history more accessible, and podcast hosts Katy and Nathan do this in a fun, well-researched and sometimes X-rated way – all accompanied by a cocktail!
Queens Podcast tells the story of women from history from all parts of the world, but I particularly enjoyed the Season Four opening episode about Ranavalona, who was queen of the Merina people of Madagascar in the 19th Century. Ranavalona doesn’t have the best historical reputation, but this episode explores the fact that may be because she didn’t roll over and did everything the European colonialists expected of her. A great episode that proves that women’s history, like all history, is never simply black and white.