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Archive for the ‘Victorian Women’ Category

VIOLET GIBSON (1876 – 1956) Shot Mussolini

In Assassinations, Biography, Dictators, History, Italian History, Mental health, Mussolini, People, People from England, Trivia, Uncategorized, Victorian Women, women on May 17, 2010 at 9:26 PM

Violet Gibson

When Violet Gibson shot Benito Mussolini, everyone except her thought it was a crazy thing to do.  The ensuing debate was to determine whether she was certifiably crazy or not.  Death and illness were themes of her life and perhaps fertilized the psychological soil where a religious seed had been planted.   

Born the seventh of eight children as the Victorian era was starting to wind down, Gibson had an enviable life.  Her father was Lord Ashbourne, the lord chancellor of Ireland, a protestant. Her father’s title bestowed on her the title of Honorable. The Gibsons split their time between London and Dublin, participating fully in the parties, concerts and galas of the elite.  At age 18 the Honorable Violet Gibson was a debutante in the court of Queen Victoria.   

Being sick consumed a lot of her youth and as a result she was quite frail.  She had scarlet fever when she was five, peritonitis at 14, pleurisy at 16 and rubella at 20.  She displayed a violent temper early on.    

Lady Ashbourne, Gibson’s mother, became a Christian Scientist with the expectation that Mary Baker Eddy’s religion would bring her into stronger health.  Gibson tried it out, but in her early 20s, switched to Theosophy founded by Helena Blavatsky.  She was attracted to its mission to build a universal brotherhood without discrimination of any kind. Then at 26 years old, Gibson followed her brother Willie’s lead and converted to Catholicism.  Their father expressed great disappointment at this decision, and it became a wedge in their relationship.    

Gibson started receiving a private income from her father at age 21, which allowed her to be independent.  In 1905 there were several deaths in the family, and her father’s term as the lord chancellor was up.  Gibson dealt with so much loss by moving to Chelsea, an artsy section of London.  She explored a bawdier side of life and became engaged to an artist at age 32.  One year later he died suddenly and Gibson had another death to grieve.   

Six times within the next year Gibson became ill with the “fever.”  The only diagnosis the doctors could offer was influenza or a nervous disorder called “hysteria.”    

In 1913, Gibson’s father died, and she tried to cope by fleeing to Paris where she worked for pacifist organizations.  Later that year she contracted Paget’s disease, a type of cancer, and had a left mastectomy which left a nine-inch scar across her chest.  She worked hard as a peace activist until she fell sick again and went back to England.  At age 40 she had surgery for appendicitis and peritonitis.  Unfortunately, the surgery was not successful and she suffered from chronic abdominal pain for the rest of her life.   

While she was recovering, Gibson became a disciple of Jesuit scholar John O’Fallon Pope. This is when she started grappling with the notion of killing and martyrdom, perhaps inspired by experiencing so much death.  In her notebook she had a quote from Pope:  “The degree of holiness depends on the degree of mortification.  Mortification means putting to death.”   

In 1922, Gibson had to deal yet again with a death in the family: her brother Victor who was her favorite sibling.  This was more than she could bear.  One month later, at age 46, Gibson had a nervous breakdown.  She was pronounced insane and committed to a mental institution.   

Two years later, Gibson was released and went to Rome accompanied by a nurse, Mary McGrath.  They took up residence in a convent in a working class neighborhood with a high crime rate.  Her crisis of conscience was growing as she became more and more convinced that killing was the sacrifice that God was asking of her.  Somehow she got possession of a gun.   

On February 27, 1925 Gibson went to her room, read the Bible and then shot herself in the chest.  The bullet missed her heart, went through her ribcage and lodged in her shoulder. She told McGrath that she wanted to die for God.  Had she been successful, she wouldn’t have had to endure the grief of the death of her mother in March 1926, one month before the Mussolini assassination attempt.      

On Wednesday, April 7, 1926 Gibson left the convent after breakfast. In her right pocket she had a Lebel revolver wrapped in a black veil, and in her left pocket she carried a rock in case she had to break a windshield to get to Mussolini.  She also clutched the address of the Fascist Party headquarters written on a scrap of envelope.  She had read in the newspaper that Mussolini would be there in the afternoon.    

Mussolini appeared as if on cue, walking through the Palazzo del Littorio, soaking in the praise of the crowd as they shouted, “Viva Il Duce!”  He stopped about a foot from where Gibson was standing.  Just before the gun went off, Mussolini leaned his head back to acknowledge the crowd’s adoration, and the bullet grazed his nose.  Gibson shot again, but the gun misfired.  There was blood pouring down Mussolini’s face, and he staggered backwards but managed to stay standing.    

Mussolini maintained his composure and consoled the crowd saying, “Don’t be afraid. This is a mere trifle.”   Gibson was immediately captured and beaten by the crowd, and the police got control of the situation and took her off just before she succumbed to vigilante justice.    

In prison, when Gibson was undergoing interrogation, she admitted that she shot Mussolini to glorify God.  She said God’s message to her was clear, and that he had sent an angel to keep her arm steady as she took aim.    

Gibson’s family, wary of the impact that her actions could have on their reputation and afraid for her future, sent letters of apology to the Italian government and congratulated Mussolini on his escape from death.    

The fate of Violet Gibson was not clear.  Her punishment hinged on whether she would stand trial as a political criminal or be declared insane.  A violent reaction to a note given to her by another inmate that read “Viva Mussolini” did not help convince the authorities of her stability. In contrast, her conversations were rational and her correspondence was lucid and thoughtful.   

Gibson had to endure a grueling regime of tests.  In addition to a full medical exam, she was subjected to 20 days of psychiatric exams. She hoped to gain her release by convincing the doctors that she was mad.  Four months after the assassination attempt, a 61 page report declared Gibson as a “chronic paranoia” and recommended she be committed to a lunatic asylum.   

To complete Gibson’s profile, the investigating magistrate wanted to create a psychosexual portrait.  She was considered abnormal because she never expressed an inclination to start a family. It was a common belief that a woman’s mental state could be affected by repressed sexuality. A complete gynecological examination was ordered.  No abnormalities were found, but her independence, violent anger and self mutilation were enough evidence to declare her insane and not to try Gibson as a political criminal.   

Gibson was released to the custody of her sister to return to England.  She was committed to St. Andrews Hospital, a renowned mental institution.  Her behavior was generally manageable, but each year when April rolled around she exhibited her violent tendencies.  On April 2, 1930, she was found with a noose around her neck made of scrapes of cloth she had been collecting.  A nurse found her and loosened the rope.  Gibson was unconscious but still alive.   

In January 1951, Gibson suffered from a high fever.  She was down to 84 pounds.  She managed to hang on for a few more years, and finally, on May 2, 1956, Violet Gibson died.  No one attended her burial.   

QUESTION:  Do you know anyone who has been killed by another person?  How did that affect your life?   

                                  ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved   

 Sources:   

 Saunders, Frances Stonor, The Woman Who Shot Mussolini. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010.

JOSEPHINE COCHRANE (1839-1913) Invented the Dishwasher

In American History, Biography, Entrepreneurs, Feminists, Inventions, Millionaires, People, Trivia, Victorian Women, women on April 20, 2010 at 9:03 AM

Josephine Cochrane

Josephine Cochrane believed that if you want something done right you better do it yourself.  But when it came time to doing the dishes, she really didn’t want to, so she invented a machine to wash them for her.

Cochrane’s early childhood is not known.  After her mother died and her sister moved out, she lived with her father, John Garis, in Ohio and Indiana.   He worked as a supervisor in mills and as a hydraulic engineer, perhaps instilling in Cochrane an instinctive knack for the mechanical.  She attended a private high school, but when it burned down, Garis sent his daughter off to live with her sister in Shelbyville, Illinois. 

After high school graduation, Cochrane’s life took a traditional turn.  At age 19 she married 27 year old William Cochran.  In 1857, after a disappointing four years trying to strike it rich in the California Gold Rush, he returned home to Shelbyville and made his mark and fortune in the dry goods business along with other investment opportunities.  No doubt the comfortable life he could offer his bride was one thing she was attracted to. 

In spite of her young age and the societal norm at the time, Cochrane was guided by her independent nature and personal confidence.  She assumed her husband’s name but preferred spelling it with an “e” on the end, a point of contention with his family. 

The Cochrans had a busy social life, and in 1870 when they moved into what could be considered a mansion, they had the perfect house for entertaining.  They threw dinner parties using heirloom china allegedly dating from the 1600s.  After one event, the servants did the washing up and carelessly chipped some of the dishes.  Cochrane discovered this the next morning while she was putting the dishes away.  She was furious and refused to let the servants handled the china any more. 

She may have regretted her decision, but she didn’t give in.  The morning after every subsequent dinner party she begrudgingly endured dishpan hands wondering why someone hadn’t invented a machine that could clean dirty dishes.  This was, after all, the late 19th century, and if someone could invent a machine to sew clothes and cut grass, then how hard could it be? 1 

One such morning while she was up to her elbows in soap suds, she had an epiphany.  Why not invent a dish washing machine herself?  Consumed with the idea, she immediately went into the library to think it through, forgetting she was holding a cup in her hand.  Within half an hour Cochrane had the basic concept for the first mechanical dishwasher.  Just like she had been doing by hand, it held the dishes securely (in a rack) while the pressure of spraying water cleaned them off.

William Cochran was a rising star in the Democratic Party, but too much alcohol led to a violent temper and illness.  While Cochrane was busy with the details of her invention, William went away for a rest. Unfortunately, he didn’t get well, and he died two weeks later in 1883.  

While the Cochrans appeared to be successful socialites to their friends, all was not well at home.  Her husband left Cochrane with a mound of debt and only $1,535.59.  Now, developing the dishwasher was not only for convenience, it was for survival.

Her creation had wire compartments for plates, cups and saucers.  They were put inside a wheel that lay flat inside a copper boiler.  A motor turned the wheel pumping hot soapy water from the bottom of the boiler over the dishes.  Cochrane showed her design to a few men for their input which ended up being a frustrating experience.  “I couldn’t get men to do the things I wanted in my way until they had tried and failed in their own,” she said.  “And that was costly for me. They knew I knew nothing, academically, about mechanics, and they insisted on having their own way with my invention until they convinced themselves my way was the better, no matter how I had arrived at it.” 2   Finally she got help with the construction from mechanic George Butters and received her first patent on the Garis-Cochran Dish-Washing Machine December 28, 1886. 

Cochrane’s first customers were not the housewives she thought she was helping. They didn’t want to spend the money on something they didn’t really need, so she turned to hotels.  After selling a dishwashing machine to the Palmer House hotel in Chicago, she had one recommendation.  Then she did one of the hardest things she’d ever done: she made a cold call to the Sherman House hotel in Chicago, waiting in the ladies’ parlor to speak with the manager.  “You asked me what was the hardest part of getting into business,” she once told a reporter. “…I think, crossing the great lobby of the Sherman House alone. You cannot imagine what it was like in those days … for a woman to cross a hotel lobby alone. I had never been anywhere without my husband or father —the lobby seemed a mile wide. I thought I should faint at every step, but I didn’t—and I got an $800 order as my reward.”2

In 1893 Cochrane convinced restaurants at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to use her invention, and it was an exhibit in Machinery Hall.  That success led to her opening her own factory in an abandoned schoolhouse.  Her customers extended to hospitals and colleges for whom the sanitizing effects of the hot water rinse were important.  Homemakers finally started using it, too.

In 1912, at 73 years old, Cochran was still personally selling her machines.  She died in 1913.  In 1916, her company was bought out by Hobart which became KitchenAid and is now Whirlpool Corporation.  Cochrane is considered the founder.

 QUESTION:  Which modern convenience do you think it would be impossible to live without?

                       ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

 Sources:

 1 http://www.enchantedlearning.com/inventors/1800a.shtml

 2http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/1999/2/1999_2_54.shtml

  http://www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/256.html

EUGEN SANDOW (1867-1925) First Bodybuilder and Perfect Physical Specimen

In Biography, Bodybuilders, Bodybuilding, Entrepreneurs, Exercise, History, Inventions, People, People from Germany, Uncategorized, Vaudeville Acts, Victorian Women on March 15, 2010 at 9:15 PM

Eugen Sandow

Eugen Sandow had a body that men envied and women drooled over, and it brought him fame and fortune.  The only person who didn’t appreciate his success was his wife. 

Sandow was born Friedrich Muller, the son of a green grocer in a German city in East Prussia.  He was a draft dodger and changed his name to Eugen Sandow to avoid conscription.  His family didn’t appreciate that.  When his parents said, “What are you going to do, join the circus?” Sandow said yes, and ran away with one that was passing through town.  

He toured and performed as an acrobat until the circus went bankrupt in Brussels.  In this city he met Louis Attila who helped Sandow develop his physical structure and showmanship.  Together they made ends meet showing off their strength in music halls.  In 1889 Attila moved to London and sent word to Sandow of an irresistible challenge.  

The popular duo Sampson and Cyclops were posing as strongmen on stage with a cleverly choreographed act that concealed their lack of strength.  Each night Sampson issued a challenge to the audience: he would pay 500 pounds to anyone who could match the stunts he performed on stage.  Sandow was intrigued, so he went to London and briefly resumed training under Attila.  One night he answered Sampson’s call to prove his physical prowess and handily won the prize. 

This turned Sandow into a sensation, and he spent the next four years touring the music halls of Britain, wowing audiences with his feats of strength.   In 1893 he followed fame and fortune to New York where his act was under appreciated, perhaps because he had to share the stage with some third rate burlesque talent.  

This was not the American dream he was promised until one patron noticed how the women in the audience responded to Sandow’s flexing and posing.  Florenz Ziegfeld took him under his wing and coached Sandow to play to the audiences’ fascination with his bulging muscles.  He downplayed the heavy lifting for these “muscle display performances” and added some sensationalism such as breaking a chain around his neck.  Ziegfeld used the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to debut Sandow’s new routine.  The audiences went wild, and for the next three years, Ziegfeld and Sandow toured extensively.  They continually added new ways to demonstrate Sandow’s physical prowess such as fighting a lion, or tearing apart furniture. In addition, Sandow made a short film with Thomas Edison featuring his poses.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wLJtjEv-Ik)  

Sandow got the inspiration for his manly physique from Greek and Roman statues.  He measured the sculptures and crafted his body to their exact proportions, thereby creating “The Grecian Ideal” as the representation of the perfect male body.  After a thorough examination, doctor and Harvard professor Dudley Sargent pronounced Sandow “the most perfectly developed man in the world.”  His stage performances exploited this image by featuring him standing on a rotating pedestal encased in glass.  With physical perfection came lots of female attention, and Sandow became a sex symbol, something he didn’t seem to mind at all.  

The intense schedule and demands of celebrity caused Sandow to have a nervous breakdown.  At some point on a trip to England, Sandow had married Blanche Brookes.  When he became ill, he retreated back to England and the care of his wife. 

Away from the limelight, Sandow became passionate about helping people maintain personal fitness.  He created a place for people to learn about and practice bodybuilding and exercise called Institutes of Physical Culture.  The popularity of these gyms inspired other teachers to do the same, and a fitness craze started gaining momentum.  In order to reach the masses, Sandow published a magazine and five books.  The book that gave the sport its name, Body Building or Man in the Making, was published in 1904.  In Body Building, Sandow states his intention.  “What I live to teach is the gospel of health, and the bringing of the body to the condition to which Nature intended it.”  He outlined his system for achieving maximum physical potential as well as exercises for both men and women that dealt with specific ailments such as constipation, digestion and liver problems. (http://www.sandowplus.co.uk/sandowindex.htm#lied

Sandow capitalized on his success by developing equipment to enhance the efficacy of the exercises.  His spring-loaded dumbbell and weighted resistance band were available through mail order, which made it possible for the general population to get in shape in the comfort of home. In Body Building, he insisted, however, that rote repetition of the exercises was not enough. He emphasized the connection between the body and the mind. “The secret of success does not lie in the construction of the apparatus, but in the proper application and use if it, and this can only be obtained through the brain.  In other words, it is not a question as to how much you exercise, but how you exercise.” 

Sandow’s entrepreneurial spirit extended beyond the gym.  He produced Sandow Cigars and Sandow Health and Strength Cocoa.  In addition, he was one of the first proponents of mandatory physical education in school.  He believed that employers should give their employees time off for daily exercise, and he developed exercises for pregnant women to ease the pain of childbirth. 

Perhaps his biggest contribution to the sport of bodybuilding came in 1901.  Sandow organized the first bodybuilding contest, called the “Great Competition,” held in Royal Albert Hall in London to a standing room only crowd.  One of the judges was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories. 

Being a perfect physical specimen and sex symbol had its price. Despite his physical strength, Sandow’s emotional weakness for women did him in.  When he died, the public story was that he had a stroke, but many believed he had succumbed to syphilis.  In retaliation for his philandering, his wife insisted that he be buried in an unmarked grave. 

Sandow hasn’t faded into total obscurity, however.  He has been immortalized by a bronze statue sculpted in his image which is the prize for winning the Mr. Olympia contest. It is called The Sandow. 

QUESTION: What physical feature do other people appreciate most about you? 

                              © 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved 

Sources: 

http://www.eugensandow.com/story1.html 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugen_Sandow 

http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Eugen-Sandow 

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g1epc/is_bio/ai_2419201071/ 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wLJtjEv-Ik 

http://www.sandowplus.co.uk/sandowindex.htm#lied