To celebrate International Women’s Day, we went through our archives to bring you profiles of (and by) remarkable women. From the poor farmers’ daughter who became an oil tycoon to “the Mao of women’s liberation” (a phrase apparently intended as a compliment), here are five women whose stories are by turns admirable and inspiring… and well worth rereading.
“Like the stories of most notorious women, Alma Mahler’s is one of sex and power. She had a liking and a talent for both… She saw it as her mission to draw talented men from many worlds into her orbit and to render them ‘brighter.’
She had her first kiss aged 17 with Gustav Klimt, while travelling in Genoa. Klimt found her beautiful but also something more: ‘She has everything a discerning man could possibly ask for from a woman, in ample measure; I believe wherever she goes and casts an eye into the masculine world, she is the sovereign lady, the ruler.’”
Artemisia Gentileschi, profiled by Helen Lewis in The Atlantic
“Artemisia Gentileschi is a painter who makes you feel like a mind reader. Even by the high standards of 17th-century Europe, her work is impressively sensuous, dynamic, and psychologically acute…
Like many trailblazing women, Gentileschi played the system in ways that later generations might find uncomfortable… Choosing biblical subjects allowed her to repel charges of smut. Nonetheless, her Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy looks more like an encounter with a Rampant Rabbit than a profound religious experience.”
Sarah Rector, profiled by Lauren N. Henley in Truly Adventurous
“If Sarah had found Aladdin’s lamp, as one newspaper later noted, she could hardly have commanded the genie to conjure a wilder scenario than this… [In an instant, she went] from poor farmers’ daughter to a budding tycoon. Some 2,500 barrels of oil per day spewed out of Sarah’s property, making it what was then the biggest producing well in one of the biggest oil fields in the country.
Everyone wanted to know more about Sarah Rector, about her unbelievable luck and especially about her money — and many would stop at nothing to get it for themselves.”
Kate Millett, profiled by Maggie Doherty in The New Republic
“Without a source of income and, in her words, “up against a wall,” she began to work urgently on her thesis. Millett decided to expand a “witty and tart” paper, also called “Sexual Politics,” that she’d delivered at Cornell the prior year. In the expanded version, she would trace the way literature reflected the sexual revolution and counterrevolution. As she later told Time, the project “got bigger and bigger until I was almost making a political philosophy.” She filed the dissertation in 1970; one of her advisers compared the experience of reading the work to “sitting with your testicles in a nutcracker.”
Suddenly, she was wanted on every college campus. She was invited onto daytime talk shows... Her phone rang constantly. Her portrait graced the cover of Time; the magazine crowned her “the Mao Tse-tung of Women’s Liberation.””
Andrea Dworkin, profiled by Dorothy Fortenberry in Commonweal
“Dworkin shaped our current world without ever being recognized or appreciated as Great... We get our ideas of how we’re supposed to be—shaven or not, angry or otherwise—from somewhere, and one of those places is her work.
Dworkin was a Bad Girl, ditching school, fighting with (or sleeping with) her teachers, and then she was a Hurt Girl, doing drugs and turning tricks, and then she was an almost Dead Girl, and then she couldn’t be a Bad Girl anymore.”
Every day, the Browser editors look at hundreds of articles and select the finest five to surprise and delight you. Each of the articles cited was previously features in the Browser. If you're not a subscriber, please do try us out.
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