From the beginning of time, certain women—Catherine the Great, Golda Meir, Nancy Pelosi, Margaret Thatcher, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and others—have been beacons, inspiring those who followed to ?ght against injustice and for ultimate equality. They often risked their own lives to shatter barriers and challenge expectations, because they believed that they could bring about a change for the better.
The circumstances of their times brought out a passion, heroism, determination, dedication, talent, and feminine sensibility in these con?dent women, who would stand on the stage of history and ?ght for the political rights of their sisters. These women often su?ered persecution, slander, grief, heartbreak, and imprisonment to achieve their ends. They were laughed at, scorned, ridiculed—and worse.
Here, the inspirational stories of how these extraordinary women have created and demanded change are gathered, in the hopes of inspiring their modern-day sisters to follow in their footsteps.
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POWERFUL POLITICAL WOMENStirring Biographies of Some of History's Most Powerful Women
By JOAN MCMAHON FLATT
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Joan McMahon Flatt
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEsther, Savior of the Jewish Nation
"... will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish."
Esther is a Babylonian name: Esther's Hebrew name was Hadassah. She lived in the fifth century B.C. during the time when the Persians controlled the Middle East from India to Palestine. At that time, many Jews had been deported to other lands by the Babylonians. Nevertheless, they clung to their national identity and religion while at the same time adapting to the cultural mores of their new masters. In some cases, Jews acquired new names to conceal their true identities. In the Book of Esther in the Bible, Esther, an orphan, was raised by her cousin, Mordecai, who encouraged her to hide her Jewish identity.
Xerxes, who reigned from 519 to 465 B.C., was the great Persian king who ravaged the lands of Greeks, Babylonians, and Egyptians and any other nations in his way. According to the Bible story, Xerxes decided to throw a spectacular banquet to show off his wealth in his new palace at Susa. He invited his beautiful wife, Queen Vashti, to the feast, so that she could show off her feminine charms to the invited guests. No doubt, Xerxes wanted to show her off like a prize cow; he regarded her as one of his personal possessions. However, Vashti declined his invitation.
She may have had good reasons for refusing. It is probable that the men at the party would have become drunk and behaved cruelly and lewdly. She may have preferred to have her own party with her female friends and without the watchful eyes of their husbands. In any case, Vashti did not use much common sense in disobeying her royal husband. The consequences were severe.
The other men complained to the king that he must do something about his wife; otherwise, all the women would soon be mocking their husbands and doing as they pleased. How would he punish her? As a result of her misconduct, she would never again be allowed in the presence of the king, and all her worldly possessions would go to her replacement. Soon Vashti was found dead on the street. Then Xerxes decided to arrange a competition, like a beauty contest, where the fairest damsel in the land would compete for Vashti's vacant spot.
During the reign of Xerxes, Mordecai was a member of the Susa City Council, and he decided to promote his cousin Esther in this competition. Women came in from all over the empire and were placed in the care of the eunuch Hegai who was in charge of the royal harem. For one year, the contestants received beauty treatments and charm lessons before they individually went before the king. Hegai gave preferential treatment to the beautiful Esther, for he was impressed with her intelligence as well as her charm and beauty. He sincerely cared about the welfare of the king and believed Esther was the prime candidate to win the contest. He instructed her on how to captivate the king in speech and manner. Thus, as soon as Esther appeared before Xerxes, the king was totally mesmerized. Immediately, he wished to make her his bride. He, too, found her intelligent as well as beautiful, someone who could speak on his level about important and serious matters.
Mordecai happened to hear two guards plotting to kill the king. This he reported to Esther who in turn reported it to her husband Xerxes. Of course, Mordecai became a great hero for saving the life of the king.
Meanwhile, Hamon, the king's right-hand man, secretly was seeking the downfall of the king. Hamon was an arrogant, haughty man who demanded submission from everyone because of his powerful position. On one occasion, Mordecai refused to pay homage to Hamon because he claimed he would only pay homage to God. His conduct was immediately reported to the king.
Hamon maintained that Jewish immigrants were trying to undermine the king's authority and should be exterminated, when in reality it was Hamon who was the traitor. Furthermore, Hamon agreed to put up a vast amount of silver as bounty money for the murder of these supposed Jewish insurgents. The king agreed, and a decree was sent out for all Persians to rise up against their Jewish enemies on the thirteenth day of the last month of the year. This date was chosen by a roll of Hamon's dice (Purim). All Jews were to be killed everywhere in the kingdom.
All was not lost, however, for Mordecai sent a message to Esther, informing her of the edict and requesting that she beg the king to retract his order. Now Esther had a problem; no one, including the king's wife, was allowed in the king's private apartment without a proper invitation. A person could be executed for this incursion, depending on the king's mood. Moreover, the king did not know Esther was Jewish; she had not revealed it. Thus her life, too, was in danger.
At this point, Esther sent a note back to Mordecai, advising him to spread the word that all Jews in the city should fast for three days. She and her maids would do the same. After that time, Esther would go to the king in spite of his decree not to disturb him under penalty of death. Esther's famous words will live forever: "And if I perish, I perish."
Fortunately, the king was in a good frame of mind. When he beheld Esther, he was so overcome by her beauty and charm, he promised her anything. She decided to play a little game of strategy, inviting him and the evil Hamon to a party in her apartments. When they arrived, the king again asked Esther what she would like as a gift. She invited them to return the next day at which time she would present her request.
Meanwhile, Hamon's anger against Mordecai increased every time they passed each other. Hamon perceived he was being insulted by this lowly man who would not bow down to him. Yet, Hamon's ego was inflated from having been invited to the queen's party. He shared his feelings with his wife who advised him to have a seventy-five-foot-high gallows built from which to hang Mordecai. Of course, Hamon would have to get the king's permission first.
Xerxes requested that his servant bring him his favorite book, The Adventures of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, so that he might read some stories to help him sleep. (Ahasuerus was Xerxes' Hebrew name.) In fact, he was reading stories about his own reign, no doubt written like a journal. The book fell open to the account where Mordecai saved the king's life. This reminded the king that he had not rewarded Mordecai properly for his great service.
Shortly after, Hamon came back to the palace to seek permission to hang Mordecai. But the king asked Hamon first how he would reward someone for a great service. Hamon misinterpreted, thinking he was going to be the one honored. So he naturally held lofty expectations: a grand parade, a royal horse for the honoree, magnificent robes and royal heralds proclaiming his great deeds, a great feast marking him as one of the king's favorites. Then the king added that Mordecai would be the honoree. Realizing he had made a huge blunder, Hamon retreated home.
The next day in the queen's apartments, Xerxes, in the presence of Hamon and attendants, again told the queen that he would give her whatever she requested. This time she decided to be forthcoming. She told him that she and her people had been condemned to be slaughtered by Hamon. Not just exiled but killed! Of course, the king was flabbergasted. The Jews for the most part were living in peace. He had been tricked by honey-mouthed Hamon into signing the edict to kill the Jews. Hamon at the same time begged forgiveness from Queen Esther. The king, however, had had enough and ordered that Hamon be hanged on the gallows constructed for Mordecai. Immediately, Mordecai became the king's right hand man; honorable, honest, humble Mordecai was elevated to one of the highest positions of royalty in the land.
The order passed by the king to kill Jews still was in effect. Once the king signed a decree, according to Persian law, it could not be revoked. Xerxes could not even countermand his own law. Consequently, the lives of all Jews in the kingdom were in jeopardy. So Esther appealed even more strongly to the king to save the lives of her people. The king decided the way around the problem was to issue a proclamation allowing the Jews the right to raise a militia to defend themselves. They could even seek revenge against their enemies. As a result, many of the Jews' enemies were killed, including the ten sons of Hamon.
Esther was a devout Jew who practiced her religion, often in secret, with great diligence, dedication, and devotion. As a consequence of this near extermination experience, she left a mark in Jewish history that would be remembered for all time. Thus, she and Mordecai established the Feast of Purim throughout the Persian Empire as a reminder of her people's deliverance. This reminder is still with us. Purim is an annual celebration usually celebrated in March or April. Purim is so-called because the villain of the story, Haman, cast the "pur" (lot) against the Jews to destroy them. It is one of the most fun holidays on the Jewish calendar when people dress up in all manner of costumes to celebrate the time the Jewish people were saved from extermination. A horrible genocide was averted because of the strength of one woman who risked her life for her people. She is an example of an historic woman who used her beauty, wits, and intelligence to reach a position of power in which she was able to change the course of history.
Chapter TwoHatshepsut, King-Queen of Egypt
"My command stands firm like mountains, and the sun's disk shines and spreads rays over the titulary of my august person, and my falcon rises high above the kingly banner unto all eternity."
How aptly Hatshepsut's mother named her, for her name in Egyptian means "foremost of women." Her exact date of birth is unknown. However, we do know she belonged to the eighteenth dynasty of pharaohs in an age called the New Kingdom. Historians believe that she died between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-five, probably around 1458 B.C., after having ruled for about twenty-two years. She reigned from about 1479 to 1458 B.C.
Hatshepsut was the daughter of Pharaoh Thuthmosis I, who was a successful military general not of royal blood. He served Amenhotep I well and because Amenhotep had no sons, he named Thuthmosis his successor. Thuthmosis had many wives but only one could be named queen, and Ahmose was the chosen one. Hatshepsut was born of this union, which gave her special prestige. However, other wives bore sons. When Thuthmosis I died, one of his sons became pharaoh. Hatshepsut married Thuthmosis II, her half-brother, probably at age twelve. Thus, the power, money, and royal blood line were kept in one family through incestuous relationships.
Giving birth to a son was the most important role for the queen. Hatshepsut bore only one child the female, Neferure. One of the minor wives produced a son who would become pharaoh after Thuthmosis II. Hatshepsut, no doubt, was not thrilled about this but accepted the fact.
Hatshepsut's next most important role was to serve as "God's Wife." The king was regarded as a god, and she was responsible for carrying out many religious duties. The pharaoh gave unity to the Egyptian religion that was sacred, solemn, splendid, and sensuous. Archeologists maintain Hatshepsut assisted the king in serving sacrificial feasts to the gods at the temple in Karnak. Because she was queen, she was allowed in the inner sanctuary of the temple to make offerings to the god Amun. In addition, she performed rites to defend the kingdom against its enemies in time of war. It was believed that by burning the names of her enemies, her enemies would be destroyed. Moreover, her duties also required her to accompany her husband on ceremonial processions through the holy city of Thebes. It must have been a beautiful sight seeing the entire royal family in their royal regalia parading through the streets.
When Hatshepsut was about thirty years old, her husband, Thuthmosis II, died after reigning fifteen years. The son of Isis, one of the lesser wives, inherited the kingship. Since Isis was not royal, neither was her child, but he would grow up to be pharaoh if he married his half-sister. History suggests that he married Neferure, Hatshepsut's daughter.
Until Thuthmosis III was old enough to reign, Egypt needed a regent during the interregnum. So Hatshepsut, aunt and step-mother of Thuthmosis III, stepped boldly into that position. She had had many years of experience in palace life. She knew the protocol and how to handle her advisers. She was experienced in handling foreign diplomats, military leaders, and priests of the various gods. Women had acted as regents before in Egyptian history, so Hatshepsut was not the first Egyptian woman to own and inherit property. She already had considerable power and influence. In many ways, Egyptian women had more rights in ancient Egypt than they do today. Thuthmosis III was probably less than two years of age when Hatshepsut took the reins of office.
At first, Hatshepsut appeared to rule in the name of her stepson, but at some point, she made a bold move. She took on the very identity of a king, and she began to take on the religious duties that formerly belonged to the king. Next, she had herself crowned king with the double crown of two Egypts, north and south. Her coronation name was Maatkare, which signifies cosmic order. A woman serving as king would certainly need some cosmic order!
In the Egyptian language, there is no word for queen; the spouse of the king was simply referred to as wife of the king. Hence, Hatshepsut had to call herself pharaoh. Moreover, she decided to dress like a man: she donned a short kilt, put on a king's broad collar around her neck, and attached a faux beard to her chin. Often, she referred to herself as a male. Her daughter, Neferure, acted as God's wife at various public, state, and social functions. This was good training for the roles she was expected to fulfill as the wife of Thuthmosis III in a future time.
Apparently, however, Hatshepsut maintained her femininity, for one inscription describes her as "more beautiful than anything." No doubt she applied creams, lotions, and cosmetics, and adorned herself with gold jewelry and precious gems that befitted her position. She must have been an impressive sight decked out in her royal garb either as king or queen.
As Hatshepsut started her reign, she immediately launched an attack on her Nubian enemies who were quickly subdued. Then she focused on trade. Egypt needed wood from Lebanon and copper and turquoise from Sinai.
Hatshepsut's reign was peaceful except for the war against Nubia. Under her leadership, Egypt's power lay not in military conquests but in great architectural monuments, some of which have lasted almost two thousand years. Her greatest architectural achievement was the Deir el-Bahri Temple near Thebes dedicated to Amun, the divine father of all pharaohs. She called the Deir el-Bahri Temple "Holy of Holies." She possessed a great artistic sensibility. The temple was constructed in three tiers supported by columns and set into the side of a mountain. A tree lined avenue of sphinxes led up to the temple, and ramps led from terrace to terrace. Reliefs still visible today on the lowest terrace depicted the transport of obelisks by barge to Karnack. This temple was to be Hatshepsut's tomb. When she became king, she was eligible to be buried in the Valley of the Kings. However, she chose a site surrounded by the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. But as was discovered in 2007, this was not her final resting place. Many archeologists claim Hatshepsut's mummy is enshrined in one of two Royal Mummy Rooms in the Cairo Museum.
Hatshepsut had artists carve and paint reliefs on the temple walls, telling her life story. According to her, she was conceived by the god Amun and Queen Ahmose, a divine conception. Carvings of her coronation and performance of sacred rites and rituals were engraved on the sacred walls of the temple. These depictions suggested that she was chosen by the gods to rule as pharaoh; apparently, the gods did not care about her gender. The architect Senenmut designed the temple and many other monuments during this age of architectural grandeur. Whether they were closer than friends is hotly debated in academic circles. Thus, Senenmut left for history the story of Hatshepsut's life, which would never have been known without him. Egyptologists in the nineteenth century began interpreting the carvings on the walls and, in a sense, brought Hatshepsut back to life.
Excerpted from POWERFUL POLITICAL WOMEN by JOAN MCMAHON FLATT Copyright © 2012 by Joan McMahon Flatt. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Esther, Savior of the Jewish Nation....................1
Hatshepsut, King-Queen of Egypt....................7
Cleopatra, Seductress or Politician?....................15
Livia, Rome's Ideal Woman....................29
Boudica, Legendary Warrior Queen of the Britons....................35
Theodora, Empress of Byzantium....................43
Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France and England....................55
Isabella I of Spain, "Mother of the Americas"....................63
Elizabeth I of England, "Virgin Queen"....................73
Catherine the Great, Prussian Princess to Russian Empress....................83
Mary Wollstonecraft, "Mother of the Feminist Revolution"....................99
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Never Lose Faith....................113
Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Phyllis Schlafly....................133
Betty Friedan, Breaking the Barriers....................133
Gloria Steinem, Revolutionary Under Celebrity....................143
Phyllis Schlafly, Sweetheart of the Silent Majority....................153
Golda Meir, Mother of Israel....................161
Indira Gandhi, Democratic Leader of India....................181
Margaret Thatcher, the "Iron Lady"....................193
Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani Martyr....................215
Aung San Suu Kyi, "The Lady of Burma"....................227
More Women of the 21st Century: Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo....................237
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
You are a female college student checking out courses in Women's Studies. This book is for you. You are a faculty member teaching Women's Studies courses. This book is for you. This book is for women everywhere eager to learn about the powerful political women in world history from ancient times, the Middle Ages, and the present day. The book starts with Ester, in fifth century B.C. Persia. She's "in a position of power" and using "great diligence, dedication, and devotion" she leaves "a mark on Jewish history that would be remembered for all time." In ancient Byzantium, it is the remarkable Empress Theodora, "a champion of women." She pressed for "the rights of women under the law." Altogether there are 28 women discussed in this book, each one seemingly more impressive than all the others. I found the book impressive start to finish. So many of these women have been just names to me. Now I know them all and I have an excellent reference book to turn to when I need it. Never did I realize how much the world owes to these women for their accomplishments.