What Makes A Wench?

Ada_LovelaceCara/Andrea here,
The Wenches are having some fun with redesigning our Facebook page, and as an ongoing feature, we’ve decided to do highlight “Underappreciated Wenches” throughout history—those smart, strong women who dared to defy convention and follow their passions in life. And we invite you to share your own favorite “Wenches” too. So please come join us over at the WW page and tell us about the women you find fascinating.

To start the ball rolling, here are a few women from the Regency era who I find compelling:

Augusta Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace, was Lord Byron’s daughter, though never knew her father as her parents separated soon after her birth. As a child she suffered through a difficult childhood, as her mother was a manipulative woman who used physical pain and guilt to try to control those around her. Ada exhibited a special talent for mathematics and was fortunate enough to meet Mary Somerville, the leading female scientist of the times, who encouraged her to study seriously.

Babbage engineAfter her marriage, Ada helped support Charles Babbage, the inventor of the Difference Engine and Analytical Engine, precursors of the modern computer. They worked together on mathematical problems, and Babbage called her “the Enchantress of Numbers.” Indeed, Ada’s notes on calculating sequences of Bernoulli numbers on the machine is credited with being the first computer program. Today, the U. S. Department of Defense has named one of its programs ADA in her honor. Unfortunately, she became addicted to opium and alcohol, then, on kicking those habits, she turned to gambling on horses. Like her father she died young, succumbing to uterine cancer at age 36.

220px-Mary_Anning 220px-Mary_Anning_paintingMary Anning began digging up fossils from the sea cliffs around her home in Lyme Regis at age twelve to help support her family. Collecting had become popular among wealthy tourists, and Anna showed an uncanny knack for finding spectacular specimens.  Her interest soon became intellectual as well as financial. Fascinated by the extraordinary wealth of life forms preserved in the stones, she carefully preserved and catalogued her finds.

Mary_Anning_PlesiosaurusMary’s shop became known throughout the scientific world, drawing such notable visitors as the geologist George William Featherstonhaugh and King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony. As she gained confidence in her knowledge, she began writing articles for scientific journals, and despite her lack of formal training, she is considered one of the pioneers in paleontology. (Among other things, Mary is credited with discovering an ichthyosaurus and a pterodactyl.) The Royal Geological Society eventually recognized her accomplishments by making her an honorary Fellow.

CarolineherschelCaroline Herschel was a tiny woman who stood only four foot, three inches tall, but she looms large in the history of astronomy. Born in Germany, she was brought to Bath by her brother, William Herschel, who had been appointed organist of the Octagon Chapel in Bath and needed someone to help him keep house.

He soon gave up music in favor of building high-power telescopes, and Caroline (who had already won recognition as an accomplished singer) started to help. In 1782, William was appointed King’s Astronomer to George III. They moved to the Observatory House near  Slough, and Caroline soon learned to “sweep” the skies with the powerful lenses, studying the stars and helping to record the complex calculations of their observations.

Herschel_40_footWilliam is credited with discovering the planet Uranus (which he named the Georgium Sidus—the star of George—in honor of the English King) but Caroline earned her own place in the scientific firmament by discovering no less than eight major comets and meticulously cataloguing countless stars. In 1828, Caroline was awarded a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society for her work. And in 1835 she and Mary Somerville were the first women ever elected to an honorary membership in the Society.

So let’s celebrate the intrepid spirit of bygone Wenches! Please share some of your favorite underappreciated women throughout history, both here and at the blog!

50 thoughts on “What Makes A Wench?”

  1. This made interesting reading. There must be many other interesting and intelligent women through history who have never really been heard of. Maybe the wenches could make known a new one each month (give everyone time to do some research), and bring these interesting women to notice. They deserve recognition, even after all these years.

    Reply
  2. This made interesting reading. There must be many other interesting and intelligent women through history who have never really been heard of. Maybe the wenches could make known a new one each month (give everyone time to do some research), and bring these interesting women to notice. They deserve recognition, even after all these years.

    Reply
  3. This made interesting reading. There must be many other interesting and intelligent women through history who have never really been heard of. Maybe the wenches could make known a new one each month (give everyone time to do some research), and bring these interesting women to notice. They deserve recognition, even after all these years.

    Reply
  4. This made interesting reading. There must be many other interesting and intelligent women through history who have never really been heard of. Maybe the wenches could make known a new one each month (give everyone time to do some research), and bring these interesting women to notice. They deserve recognition, even after all these years.

    Reply
  5. This made interesting reading. There must be many other interesting and intelligent women through history who have never really been heard of. Maybe the wenches could make known a new one each month (give everyone time to do some research), and bring these interesting women to notice. They deserve recognition, even after all these years.

    Reply
  6. Fanny Mendelssohn (sister of Felix) is a much overlooked Regency wench who actually composed some of the pieces for which her brother was given credit. She was an amazing musician in her own right and eventually demanded to be recognized as such. She died young – at the age of 42 – and I have often wondered what music we missed because of her untimely death.
    And one can never forget the mother of Gothic romance – Ann Radcliffe. Mary Shelley gets so much credit for Frankenstein, but I wonder what influence Radcliffe’s novels had on Mary Shelley’s writing?

    Reply
  7. Fanny Mendelssohn (sister of Felix) is a much overlooked Regency wench who actually composed some of the pieces for which her brother was given credit. She was an amazing musician in her own right and eventually demanded to be recognized as such. She died young – at the age of 42 – and I have often wondered what music we missed because of her untimely death.
    And one can never forget the mother of Gothic romance – Ann Radcliffe. Mary Shelley gets so much credit for Frankenstein, but I wonder what influence Radcliffe’s novels had on Mary Shelley’s writing?

    Reply
  8. Fanny Mendelssohn (sister of Felix) is a much overlooked Regency wench who actually composed some of the pieces for which her brother was given credit. She was an amazing musician in her own right and eventually demanded to be recognized as such. She died young – at the age of 42 – and I have often wondered what music we missed because of her untimely death.
    And one can never forget the mother of Gothic romance – Ann Radcliffe. Mary Shelley gets so much credit for Frankenstein, but I wonder what influence Radcliffe’s novels had on Mary Shelley’s writing?

    Reply
  9. Fanny Mendelssohn (sister of Felix) is a much overlooked Regency wench who actually composed some of the pieces for which her brother was given credit. She was an amazing musician in her own right and eventually demanded to be recognized as such. She died young – at the age of 42 – and I have often wondered what music we missed because of her untimely death.
    And one can never forget the mother of Gothic romance – Ann Radcliffe. Mary Shelley gets so much credit for Frankenstein, but I wonder what influence Radcliffe’s novels had on Mary Shelley’s writing?

    Reply
  10. Fanny Mendelssohn (sister of Felix) is a much overlooked Regency wench who actually composed some of the pieces for which her brother was given credit. She was an amazing musician in her own right and eventually demanded to be recognized as such. She died young – at the age of 42 – and I have often wondered what music we missed because of her untimely death.
    And one can never forget the mother of Gothic romance – Ann Radcliffe. Mary Shelley gets so much credit for Frankenstein, but I wonder what influence Radcliffe’s novels had on Mary Shelley’s writing?

    Reply
  11. Fanny sounds wonderful, Louisa. Please post this blurb over on our Facebook page. I sometimes wonder whether a number of the achievements of famous men were actually done by their wives/sisters. It wouldn’t surprise me.
    And I think Radcliffe had a great influence on Mary Shelley—and on Jane Austen, too. Northnager Abbey is a salute to the Gothic novel, which Radcliffe helped pioneer.

    Reply
  12. Fanny sounds wonderful, Louisa. Please post this blurb over on our Facebook page. I sometimes wonder whether a number of the achievements of famous men were actually done by their wives/sisters. It wouldn’t surprise me.
    And I think Radcliffe had a great influence on Mary Shelley—and on Jane Austen, too. Northnager Abbey is a salute to the Gothic novel, which Radcliffe helped pioneer.

    Reply
  13. Fanny sounds wonderful, Louisa. Please post this blurb over on our Facebook page. I sometimes wonder whether a number of the achievements of famous men were actually done by their wives/sisters. It wouldn’t surprise me.
    And I think Radcliffe had a great influence on Mary Shelley—and on Jane Austen, too. Northnager Abbey is a salute to the Gothic novel, which Radcliffe helped pioneer.

    Reply
  14. Fanny sounds wonderful, Louisa. Please post this blurb over on our Facebook page. I sometimes wonder whether a number of the achievements of famous men were actually done by their wives/sisters. It wouldn’t surprise me.
    And I think Radcliffe had a great influence on Mary Shelley—and on Jane Austen, too. Northnager Abbey is a salute to the Gothic novel, which Radcliffe helped pioneer.

    Reply
  15. Fanny sounds wonderful, Louisa. Please post this blurb over on our Facebook page. I sometimes wonder whether a number of the achievements of famous men were actually done by their wives/sisters. It wouldn’t surprise me.
    And I think Radcliffe had a great influence on Mary Shelley—and on Jane Austen, too. Northnager Abbey is a salute to the Gothic novel, which Radcliffe helped pioneer.

    Reply
  16. There are so many unsung heroines but I’ll pick Rose Schneiderman, the suffragist and labor organizer. She coined the famous phrase about women needing bread, but roses too. She started out as an immigrant seamstress and ended up as a friend and advisor to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Plus she was a flaming redhead!

    Reply
  17. There are so many unsung heroines but I’ll pick Rose Schneiderman, the suffragist and labor organizer. She coined the famous phrase about women needing bread, but roses too. She started out as an immigrant seamstress and ended up as a friend and advisor to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Plus she was a flaming redhead!

    Reply
  18. There are so many unsung heroines but I’ll pick Rose Schneiderman, the suffragist and labor organizer. She coined the famous phrase about women needing bread, but roses too. She started out as an immigrant seamstress and ended up as a friend and advisor to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Plus she was a flaming redhead!

    Reply
  19. There are so many unsung heroines but I’ll pick Rose Schneiderman, the suffragist and labor organizer. She coined the famous phrase about women needing bread, but roses too. She started out as an immigrant seamstress and ended up as a friend and advisor to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Plus she was a flaming redhead!

    Reply
  20. There are so many unsung heroines but I’ll pick Rose Schneiderman, the suffragist and labor organizer. She coined the famous phrase about women needing bread, but roses too. She started out as an immigrant seamstress and ended up as a friend and advisor to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Plus she was a flaming redhead!

    Reply
  21. Tracy Chevalier’s novel “Remarkable Creatures” is about Mary Anning. I haven’t read it yet (although I’ve read and liked other Chevalier novels) but it does sound interesting.

    Reply
  22. Tracy Chevalier’s novel “Remarkable Creatures” is about Mary Anning. I haven’t read it yet (although I’ve read and liked other Chevalier novels) but it does sound interesting.

    Reply
  23. Tracy Chevalier’s novel “Remarkable Creatures” is about Mary Anning. I haven’t read it yet (although I’ve read and liked other Chevalier novels) but it does sound interesting.

    Reply
  24. Tracy Chevalier’s novel “Remarkable Creatures” is about Mary Anning. I haven’t read it yet (although I’ve read and liked other Chevalier novels) but it does sound interesting.

    Reply
  25. Tracy Chevalier’s novel “Remarkable Creatures” is about Mary Anning. I haven’t read it yet (although I’ve read and liked other Chevalier novels) but it does sound interesting.

    Reply

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