Archivos Mensuales: junio 2014

First New Zealand and then Australia

suffragettesThe vote for Australian women

In many nations, the fight for the right to vote and stand in elections was often a long, desperate and violent battle.

In the United Kingdom for example, many suffragettes were imprisoned and went on self-enforced hunger strikes which resulted in force-feeding and sometimes ended in death; others set fire to buildings and heckled politicians. In one particularly notable case, Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913 (and later died as a result) in a bid to draw attention to ‘the cause’. Despite this sort of radical action, it was not for a further five years that women in the United Kingdom were given limited rights to vote and not until 1928 that women’s voting rights there were equal to men’s.

By comparison, Australian women used peaceful and legal means to make their case for political enfranchisement. They were granted equal status with men at the ballot box at a relatively early stage in the history of women’s suffrage. Australian women didn’t end the fight after they were enfranchised in 1902. Understanding the experience of other nations, in particular the United Kingdom (where women did not get equal voting rights with men until 1928), Australian women did what they could to effect change there, too.

n example of the extraordinary efforts made by Australian women to win the vote is the efforts made to gather over 40,000 signatures in support of women’s suffrage on two important petitions. Covering much of the nation, women suffrage campaigners travelled thousands of miles knocking on doors and eventually getting around 1% of the entire population of Australia to sign.

The first petition sought that ‘Women should Vote on Equal terms with Men’, and was gathered during 1891 when a few dedicated women including Marie Kirk, Vida Goldstein and Annette Bear-Crawford, literally went from door to door, eventually gathering almost 30,000 signatures from women all over Victoria and from all walks of life. It was presented to Parliament in September 1891.

Now one of Victoria’s archival treasures, the document is known as the ‘Monster Petition’ because of its size. At 260 metres long it takes three people three hours to unroll it from one spool to another. Although this petition did not have an immediate effect on the voting rights of women in Victoria, it was an early and important stepping stone towards women’s participation in politics, not just in Victoria but for all of Australia.

he next petition was collected in 1894 in South Australia. After three failed attempts to have bills passed to grant women’s suffrage, Mary Lee and a number of women’s rights groups in the state redoubled their efforts, encouraged by the recent enfranchisement of women in New Zealand (the first country in the world to do so). Their aim was to travel all over the state (which included the Northern Territory at the time) collecting as many signatures as they could in support of granting women the vote.

On August 23, 1894 when the Adult Suffrage Bill was read in the South Australian Parliament the women presented a petition which had 11,600 signatures and was 122 metres long. It was a success. On 18 December, 1894 women were granted the right to vote and stand for Parliament – this was the first legislation in the world of its kind. South Australian women were able to participate in the general elections of 1896.

In 1902, as a result of the vigorous lobbying of Australian suffragettes, the Commonwealth of Australia became the first country in the world to give women both the right to vote in federal elections and the right to be elected to federal parliament when they passed the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 (Cth). Although liberating for white women, the Act specifically excluded aboriginal women (and men), who would have to wait for many more years until they were formally given the right to vote by the Commonwealth, in 1962.



Women’s Rights

In 1913, american women couldn’t:

They won that right in 1920 when the 19th amendment passed. They could, however, hold public office. Susan Salter became the first female mayor in the U.S. when she ran for and won the mayorship of Argonia, Kansas in 1887. Women were elected to a state legislature for the first time in 1894 in the Colorado House of Representatives. The first female member of Congress, Jeanette Rankin, wasn’t elected until 1917.

Have a credit cards in their own names.
It wasn’t until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed in 1974 that card companies were no longer allowed to discriminate against potential card holders on the basis of sex.

Legally terminate a pregnancy.
That right arrived with Roe V. Wade in 1973.

Purchase the Pill.
It wasn’t FDA approved until 1960.

Access emergency contraception.
The FDA approved it in 1998.

Attend Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth or Columbia.
The only Ivy League schools to admit women before 1913 were Cornell, which admitted a woman in 1870, and UPenn, which opened its doors to female students 1876.

Apply to graduate school as a married woman.
At least if you were this woman. Harvard’s response to her application has to be seen to be believed.

Become an astronaut.
Granted, humans didn’t make it to space until 1961. “We have no existing program concerning women astronauts nor do we contemplate any such plan,” NASA allegedly replied to one woman’s 1962 query letter. NASA selected its first female astronaut candidates in 1979.

Become a supreme court justice.
There was no law barring women from SCOTUS, but no president appointed a female justice until Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981.



South Africa, 1914

southafricaGandhi and the passive resistance campaign

The campaign was launched in September 1913. The first resisters were women who crossed over from the Transvaal into Natal, while women from Natal crossed over into the Transvaal. The Natal women were the first to be arrested, and outraged Indians flocked to join the cause. The Transvaal women were not arrested, so they went to Newcastle and persuaded workers to go on strike.

Gandhi went to Newcastle and spoke to the striking miners, whose employers had turned off the water and lights in their compounds.

On 13 October a meeting was held in Newcastle, and Gandhi was represented by veteran passive resister Thambi Naidoo, who was also president of the Johannesburg Tamil Benefit Society. The meeting formed a passive resistance committee, and Naidoo tried to get workers at the railways to go on strike, but failed. Naidoo was arrested, but was released on 15 October, when the committee addressed 78 workers at the Farleigh colliery. The workers went on strike, were arrested and warned to return to work on 17 October. They refused, and within a week the strikers swelled to 2000. Within two weeks, between 4000 and 5000 workers went on strike. Gandhi, Thambi Naidoo and labour activist CR Naidoo moved around the area, urging workers to join the strike.

On 23 October Gandhi announced that he would lead a march of workers out of the compounds and that they would seek arrest. The plan was to lead more than 2000 strikers across the border into the Transvaal, stopping at Charleston. The march was set to take place from 6 November.

Coalmine owners then sought a meeting with Gandhi, and Gandhi met with them on 25 October at the Durban Chamber of Commerce. Gandhi explained to them that the strike was a response to the government’s failure to uphold its promise to Gokhale to repeal the £3 tax. The mine owners consulted with government, which denied that they had promised to repeal the tax, and planned to issue an ultimatum for the workers to return to work. On the day, 6 November, before the ultimatum could be communicated, Gandhi led 200 strikers and their families on the march to Charleston. The next day, Thambi Naidoo led a further 300 strikers towards the border. Another column of 250 left the next day, and after a few days some 4000 strikers were on the march for the Transvaal.

The strikers were supported by Indian businessmen, who arranged for food to be distributed along the length of the march. The strike was costing the organisers about £250 a day for distributing a minimal diet of bread and sugar. Money was also sent from India to support the strikers.

The strike spread to the south of Natal by the beginning of November, and by the 7th the strike was effectively underway, joined by about 15000 workers in spontaneous fashion. Workers at South African Refineries, Hulett’s Refinery, Chemical Works, Wright’s Cement and Pottery Works, and African Boating, among others, joined the strike.

Many strikers congregated in townships and some went to Gandhi’s Phoenix settlement. However most, according to Swan, remained in their barracks, refusing to work. Swan also notes that the strikers were unorganised, and motivated by rumour and unconfirmed reports of support from Gokhale, among other reasons.

Meanwhile the marchers were on the move. They went first to Charleston, on the Transvaal-Natal border 60km from Newcastle. They were given 1,5 pounds of bread and some sugar, and told to submit to the police if they were beaten, to behave hygienically and peacefully, and not to resist arrest. They arrived without incident, and were fed with food donated by local businessmen and cooked by Gandhi.

Gandhi informed the government of their intention to continue into the Transvaal, and called on them to arrest the strikers before they arrived, but Smuts calculated that the strike would dissolve before long, and he decided on a policy of non-intervention. Gandhi decided that if the strikers were not arrested, they would march to Tolstoy Farm in Lawley, 35km southwest of Johannesburg, covering 30 to 40km a day.

The marchers then crossed the border into Volksrust, just 2km from Charleston, and proceeded to Palmford, a further 14km away, where Gandhi was arrested. He appeared in court in Volksrust but the judge allowed for bail, which Kallenbach paid, leaving Gandhi free to join the marchers.

When the marchers arrived at Standerton, Gandhi was again arrested, this time by a magistrate. Again he was freed. Two days later, on 9 November, Gandhi was arrested yet again.

On 10 November the government arrested the marchers in Balfour and put them on a train to Natal. Gandhi was arrested on three occasions during the march, and on 11 November he was sentenced nine months’ hard labour. Within a few days, Polak and Kallenbach were also arrested and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment.

By the end of November, the strike was also coming to an end, and workers began returning to their places of employment.

The strike – by about 20 000 Indian workers in total – paralysed sections of the economy of Natal, especially the sugar industry, and questions arose regarding law and order exercised by the authorities. Rumours that black workers were poised to join the strike sent shivers through the province. Police were sent in and some workers were shot and killed.

Reactions to the strike and march stung the government, especially those of Imperial Britain. Lord Harding, the British viceroy in India, delivered a speech in Madras, India, in which he lashed out at the South African government and demanded a commission of inquiry. The British government also expressed its disapproval, and Lord Harding sent his envoy, Sir Benjamin Robertson, to South Africa to placate local opinion about the Indian question in South Africa.

The government released Gandhi, Kallenbach and Polak on 18 December 1913, and announced the establishment of a commission of inquiry. Gandhi was opposed to the appointment of two of the members of the three-man Soloman commission, but Smuts ignored his objections. Gandhi announced that he would lead a mass march on 1 January 1914, but when white railway workers went on strike, Gandhi withdrew his threat, reasoning that to continue would be against the spirit of Satyagraha.

Smuts and Gandhi entered into a series of meetings to resolve the Indian question – after Smuts had declared martial law while dealing with the railway strike. Acknowledging that Indians saw Smuts as having broken his word after the 1911 negotiation, Smuts insisted that the pair pore over every word so that no misinterpretation was possible. On 30 June, they concluded their agreement, which became law in the form of the Indian Relief Bill.

The agreement gave recognition to Indian marriages, abolished the £3 tax and all arrears accruing from it, set 1920 as the deadline for new Indian immigrants and limited the movement of Indians from one province to another.

Gandhi’s detractors launched attacks on him, but Gandhi was satisfied that they had achieved what they had set out to do, and deferred the winning of further freedoms to a later date.

Gandhi left South Africa for England on 18 July 1914, never to return again. However he would continue to have an interest in South African affairs, and would meet with Communist Party leader Yusuf Dadoo years later when the latter went to India to gather support for Indian struggles in South Africa.



I got the Saint Louis blues

Shandyt. Louis Blues

Chitterling joints were as crowded as the more fashionable resorts like the Iroquois.  Piano thumpers tickled the ivories in the saloons to attract customers, furnishing a theme for the prayers at Beale Street Baptist Church…Pimps in boxback coats and undented Stetsons came out to get a breath of early evening air and to welcome the young night.

It was within this environment, holed up inside a rented room, that Handy created the work that was to seal his legacy. Even so, “St. Louis Blues” could hardly be described as an overnight success. The song’s reputation grew slowly, gathering stature as it traveled from town to town on the African-American vaudeville circuit—a crucial way of building publicity in those days prior to the development of radio. In their essay, “Sheet Music, Southern Vaudeville, and the Blues,” historians Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff write that the first performer to sing “St. Louis Blues” professionally was Charles Anderson, a popular female impersonator who included the song in his act as early as October of 1914. This supports an assertion made by singer Ethel Waters, who claimed to have learned “St. Louis Blues” from Anderson and, subsequently, to have featured it herself during a 1917 engagement in Baltimore. Eventually, Waters carried the song to New York, where she performed it in 1919 at Harlem’s Lincoln Theater—one of the city’s top showplaces for African-American talent. That year, Handy’s prized composition finally gained a wider audience—five years after its publication—through a hit recorded version by white vaudevillian Al Bernard.

Even within the set framework of 12-bar blues, “St. Louis Blues” stands out as unique. The metaphorical line, “my man’s got a heart like a rock cast in the sea,” was inspired, according to Handy, by a woman he encountered in St. Louis, “stumbling along the poorly lighted street.” Hungry and poor himself at the time, Handy was moved by the observation that the woman’s pain “seemed even greater.” Also unusual is the song’s bridge section (“St. Louis woman, with her diamond rings, pulls that man around by her apron strings”), which incorporates a shifting tango rhythm to lend what Handy characterized as a “tom tom beat.” With his genius for combining diverse musical influences, Handy established himself as one of the original genre-mixers.

In time, “St. Louis Blues” would be interpreted by hundreds of artists, but few of them did it more brilliantly than the “Empress of the Blues,” Bessie Smith, whose 1925 version remains a landmark in musical history.  Representing the pinnacle of what is now termed the “classic female blues,” Smith’s “St. Louis Blues” is a masterwork of control balanced with emotion. The young Louis Armstrong joins her for the first time on cornet, adding smooth and elastic phrases in what Smith biographer Chris Albertson has effectively cited as a duet between complementary voices (“one might mistake this effort for the fruit of a long and happy association”). It is through the Smith/Armstrong version that “St. Louis Blues” has most effectively journeyed into modern times, influencing a generation of rock vocalists—Janis Joplin once commented how Smith “showed me the air and taught me how to fill it”—and gaining a permanent spot in the American musical canon.


Recording: W.C. Handy – St. Louis Blues

Video – Music: Bessie Smith – St. Louis Blues


I hate to see the ev’nin’ sun go down
I hate to see the ev’nin’ sun go down
It makes me think of all my left go ‘round

Feelin’ tomorrow like I feel today
Feelin’ tomorrow like I feel today
I’ll pack my trunk and make my getaway

St. Louis woman with her diamond rings
Pulls my man around by her apron strings
Wasn’t for powder and his store-bought hair
The man I love, wouldn’t go nowhere, nowhere

I got the St. Louis blues just as blue as I can be
He’s got a heart like a rock cast in the sea
Or else he wouldn’t have gone so far from me

Dancing Around

 ragtimeThe Ragtime Era

At the end of the 19th century, many Americans were becoming bored with the old music and dances, which were essentially those of their grandparents.  The Twentieth Century was seen as a time to make great changes, so most people were ready for innovations, probably with the expectation that the changes would come from society’s cultural leaders.  But instead, many Americans began to find it “modern” to dance their Two-Step to the new Ragtime music from the rural South and Midwest.  Some high society ballrooms embraced the African American Cake Walk as “the popular fad of popular society.”  In the early 1900s, Ragtime music gained a wider acceptance and was soon accompanying the new Four-Step (soon to be re-named the One-Step) and a spontaneous menagerie of “animal dances” such as the Grizzly Bear, Turkey Trot, Bunny Hug and Camel Walk, especially among the lower classes.  By 1910, the popular phrase was, “Everybody’s Doin’ It Now,” but in fact most of middle and upper class society was only talking about it.  Many could not yet accept the new ragtime dances because of lower-class associations.

In 1911 the newlyweds Irene and Vernon Castle found themselves in the right place at the right time, exhibiting their versions of the new American dances in a Parisian dinner club.  They became immensely popular in Paris, and their fame spread through Europe.  When the Castles returned to Irene’s New York home in 1912, their dancing set a new prototype for Americans to follow.  The Castles were a young, elegant, attractive, wholesome, married couple who had become the rage of Parisian high society.  In a word, they had class.  If they could dance the new ragtime dances with propriety, then all levels of society could, and did.  The Castles were joined by other exemplars, such as Joan Sawyer, Maurice Mouvet and Florence Walton, all becoming catalysts in an explosive new dance mania.  And after two centuries of Americans dancing in the European manner, Europe was now importing the latest music and dances from America.

During the ragtime dance craze, the ballrooms were dominated by the One-Step, a dance where a couple merely walked one step to each beat of the music.  Its immense popularity was due primarily to its simplicity, so that even novices could be modern.  Those who were especially fond of the new dancing had a wide variety of other steps and styles to choose from.  The Argentine Tango, which had been received with great acclaim in Paris, was renowned for its flirtations with sensuality, previously forbidden in public dancing.  In contrast, the Hesitation Waltz was characterized by an elegant, almost balletic grace.  The Maxixe was a swaying Brazilian two-step (polka) that was thought of as a Brazilian Tango.  Vernon and Irene danced the One-Step in a unique style that became known as the Castle Walk.  The Half-and Half was an unusual hesitation waltz in 5/4 time, accompanied by even more obscure experiments in 7/4 time.  Lastly, the Fox-Trot, which combined slow and quick steps in a wide variety of patterns, was introduced in the last months before “The Great War.”


Music: – Peerless Quartet – “While they were dancing around”


St Petersburg goes to the movies

parisianaSt Petersburg, 1914

The palaces were like those you’d find in France, Italy or Germany; the canals were like Amsterdam or Venice. Even the city’s name, Sankt Peterburg, had been deliberately chosen by Peter the Great to sound more Dutch than Russian. Over the centuries, architects, engineers, shipbuilders and shopkeepers travelled here from across Europe, taking part in this unique project to westernise Russia. Many of the visitors put down roots and foreign communities became part of the fabric of St Petersburg. In 1914 the city boasted German butchers, Austrian bakeries, English sweet shops. At the city’s grandest delicatessen, the Yeliseyev, goods were advertised in Russian, French and German.

And then there were the cinemas, with their exotic, non-Slavic names. St Petersburg’s main street, Nevsky Prospekt, was full of them – the Crystal Palace, the Majestic, Folies Bergere, foreign titles which conjured up images of European grandeur. In 1914 a new cinema opened up on Nevsky, the Parisiana. It was, by all accounts, a remarkable building. The auditorium was built in the style of Louis XVI of France, with stucco walls and a giant marble staircase. Some of the stalls and the balcony lodges even had their own telephones. And the cinema roof could be opened mechanically so you could relax, watch a film and gaze at the stars.

The Parisiana symbolised everything Russia wanted to be in 1914 – a world leader, an innovator, an industrial, technological and cultural powerhouse. I try to find the Parisiana on Nevsky Prospekt. Sadly, it’s no longer there. It’s been replaced by a Swedish clothes store. Still, I suppose that even Swedish sweaters, socks and bras keep up that St Petersburg tradition of embracing Europe.

If the spectacular St Petersburg cinema halls of 1914 projected a brash confidence, a country oozing money and ambition, the films themselves told a different story. That year, Russian silent movies were obsessed with destruction and violence.

In the film Life in Death, a doctor is so keen to preserve his wife’s beauty that he kills her and embalms her body. And in Child of the Big City, director Yevgeny Bauer foretells the disintegration of Russian society. Desperate to escape her sweatshop existence, seamstress Mary seduces a wealthy gentleman called Viktor. She then drains him of all his money and throws him penniless onto the street. Viktor shoots himself. On seeing his lifeless body, the heartless Mary is quoted as saying, “Well, they do say that meeting a dead man brings you good luck.” She steps over his corpse and never looks back.

In many ways, the silver screen reflected the dark reality of St Petersburg 1914. True, this was a city of plenty, where you could buy anything from foreign maple syrup to coats made of kangaroo fur. But it was also a place of abject poverty for many of the workers, of poor housing, appalling sanitation and widespread disease.In many ways, the silver screen reflected the dark reality of St Petersburg 1914. True, this was a city of plenty, where you could buy anything from foreign maple syrup to coats made of kangaroo fur. But it was also a place of abject poverty for many of the workers, of poor housing, appalling sanitation and widespread disease.


Video: A Film Johnnie

Life before Chaos

1913Britain on the way to big changes

It was the year the bra was invented, Vivien Leigh was born and Charlie Chaplin signed his first film deal. Britain still had her vast empire, London had the largest port in the world and the Liberal Government’s sweeping reforms promised to wipe out extreme poverty with the creation of a welfare state.
In 1913, George V had been on the throne for just three years and the summer seemed to last forever. Women wore modest bathing suits to paddle at the beach from Scarborough, North Yorkshire, to Cornwall and public displays of affection were scandalous. Londoners revelled in the simple pleasures of admiring the Pearly Kings and Queens. It was seen as the age of Edwardian innocence, conjuring up images of sleepy village life and croquet on the lawn. Even style was to be transformed. Flowing sleek lines would replace the rigid look of Edwardian times thanks to the first fashion designer, Paul Poiret.
Many see the pre-war era as an idyllic time. But, 100 years on, historians say Britain was already heading towards massive social upheaval. Historian and author Prof Martin Pugh said:
“The march of modernisation was already under way when war broke out. In many ways the conflict simply accelerated the changes. In 1913, there was already great political controversy between the Government and the House of Lords over Irish Home Rule, the suffragettes were at the peak of campaigning and Emily Davison died when she threw herself under the King’s horse at the Derby in Epsom, Surrey. There was great worker unrest and 1,400 strikes took place that year. The feminist movement, which had already been building through Edwardian times, also took a back seat for a while but re-emerged with the issue of equal pay and voting rights. After the conflict, the war was blamed for all the political, economic and social problems of the day but the truth is many of the issues were already brewing pre-1914.”
Far from being the sleepy rural nation shown in popular TV programmes such as Downton Abbey, in 1913 Britain was a forward-thinking modern country. Her ports were rich and mining brought wealth to the country. It was also a nation of explorers and adventurers, who strived to set new records on land, at sea and in the air. In Europe the roots of modern culture were forming – often causing controversy. In Germany, soldiers and sailors were banned from dancing the Tango. In Paris, the first performance of Stravinsky’s avant garde ballet The Rite of Spring caused a riot. America was experiencing dramatic change, too. Henry Ford began a revolution in personal transport by launching the first car production line. Louis Armstrong, whose jazz style would help transform music, picked up a trumpet for the first time. The household fridge, the crossword and – back here in Britain – stainless steel were all invented. Britons’ private lives were starting to change, too.
Prof Pugh said: “After the war middle class ladies no longer had chaperones and working class women were much better paid in the workplace. The idea that pre-war years were totally idyllic came from the belief that moral standards had broken down post-war. For instance, women were now independent and going out to dance halls and cinemas by themselves. Contraceptives were also more available.There was an idea that society had somehow broken down. The truth is many of those changes were on their way to taking place even without the Great War.”