Inés of Herrera

Today I’m tipping my hat to late 15th-century conversa mystic, Inés of Herrera, as I find myself once again reading about a woman (well, a girl, actually) who was investigated—and in this tragic case, executed (1500)—by the Inquisition as a result of not only practicing her religion, but also publicising it. That said, most of the women mystics I come across are Christian. Thus, Inés and her ardent followers remind us that Christians were hardly the only Europeans filled with religious zeal in this period.

Inés was born c. 1488. In her late childhood, Inés began to have visions and transcendent experiences in which her deceased mother and angels accompanied her on ascents to heaven. As a result of her experiences, Inés began to prophesy about the deliverance of her co-religionists, Spanish conversos/conversas (Jews converted forcibly and otherwise to Christianity), to the Promised Land, as well as the coming of Elias (who would announce the coming of the Messiah in 1500). Despite having been coerced and even violently forced to convert to Christianity, many of her co-religionists lent her their eager ears. Adults and children alike travelled to Herrera to hear her prophecies, as well her messages about the importance of following the 10 Commandments, fasting, and observing the Sabbath. What I love most about this is that many of those who came to visit Inés were (or claimed to be?) tanners and shoemakers travelling under the guise of doing business. Inés’s father, Juan Esteban, was a shoemaker and tanner by trade, and would invite travelling colleagues ostensibly in Herrera to buy leather to his home to meet his daughter.

In 1499, Inés and her enthusiastic followers came to attention of the Inquisition. Although she and many of her followers were investigated and punished (with various degrees of severity and “lenience”), surviving inquisitorial records literally testify to the expressions of Jewish joy that Inés and her prophesies generated in the community. Many children were especially fervent followers of hers, and records mention how they played, danced, and sang in her presence.

Haim Beinart, throughout her chapter in Inés in Women and the Inquisition: Spain and the New World, points out that the records surrounding Inés’s case reveal how the Jewish faith remained very much alive among many conversos/conversas (at least those in and around Herrera) following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Despite having been coercively converted (at best), testimonies from Inés’s case show Jewish perseverance in their frequent references to passages from the Hebrew Bible, as well as the reports of fasting and Sabbath observance.

~S

 

Bibliography

This entire post is based on information found in:

Beinart, Haim. “Inés of Herrera del Duque: The Prophetess of Extremadura.” In Women and the Inquisition: Spain and the New World. Edited by Mary E. Giles (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 42-52.

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Inés of Herrera

Rosalind Franklin

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[An absolutely fantastic photograph of Rosalind Franklin, found in “Rosalind Franklin: A Crucial Contribution” http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/rosalind-franklin-a-crucial-contribution-6538012 ]

Rosalind Franklin, born July 25th, 1920 in London, England, was an Ashkenazi Jewish woman who contributed key scientific advances in the mid-twentieth century. Born to a well off Jewish family in England, she considered herself to be an agnostic Jew who kept many of her cultural traditions while being skeptical of the existence of a higher power.

She was privileged enough to attend one of few London schools that taught the sciences to girls, and at the young age of fifteen she decided that she was going to become a scientist. Enrolling in 1938 at Cambridge where she studied physics and chemistry, she graduated in 1941 and went on to earn a PhD. Franklin went on to fill a post-doctoral position in France, after which she returned to England and worked as a researcher. Throughout her entire career within the academy, she constantly suffered under the extremely sexist climate which prevented women, for example, from entering the dining halls at English universities and therefore keeping them from fully engaging in the scientific community on university campuses. Rosalind Franklin’s most famous contribution to the scientific world involves her research on DNA, specifically related to its double-helix shape.*

Unfortunately, Rosalind Franklin passed away in her mid-thirties from ovarian cancer. Despite being gravely ill towards the end of her life, she continued to research and publish within her field of molecular biology, and was even appointed to a new position mere months before she died. Rosalind Franklin is a testament to the struggles that countless brilliant women have endured working in patriarchal spaces such as Western universities. We here at the Historical Hotties Blog consistently try to address – in our own academic lives – the injustices we see in academia, and we are forever grateful that women such as Rosalind Franklin came before us to help pave the way.

While neither Spirit nor myself are scientists or read much within the various scientific fields, we feel it is important to acknowledge the struggles that women in the sciences have faced and continue to face to this day. Importantly, by highlighting a scientist such as Rosalind Franklin on the Blog, we hope to also force our readers to grapple with the uncomfortable reality that very often women in the sciences (as with other disciplines) face consistent objectification and in mainstream media portrayals of their fields. By featuring Franklin today, we want to acknowledge how oftentimes social constructions of “beauty” or “attraction” are used against various historical subjects in order to invalidate their full, nuanced, and complicated humanity as persons.

Thank you, Rosalind Franklin, for dedicating yourself to the study of science and for doing so unapologetically.

~ M

*While I would explain more about her marvellous work as a scientist, I am remiss to admit that no matter how much I have tried to understand it, this cultural historian has no idea what is going on within the study of DNA – but I encourage you to learn more about her contributions!!

Bibliography

Maddox, Brenda. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012.

Rosalind Franklin

Joan Nestle

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[A wonderful photograph of Joan Nestle, found on her website http://www.joannestle.com/]

Born in May 1940, Joan Nestle is a Jewish working class lesbian icon of the twentieth century. Nestle grew up in the Bronx, New York City, with her mother Regina working as a seamstress in the Garment District to support her family.

Nestle, in her seventy-five years, has been an activist, a writer, an historian, an archivist. She is a self-described “queer, pre-Stonewall fem [sic]” for whom “sex and politics are inseparable,” each informing “the other; passions spilling over into social visions; social visions carried on every entry” (Nestle, xii). Nestle actively defended femme-butch relationships and gender identities at a time when there was no space or tolerance to do so in mainstream America. She fought on behalf of  and alongside Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, stood up for her community of working class lesbians, and was actively pro-sex during the sex wars of the 1980s.

Nestle even took on history itself, writing of how history is “a place where the body carries its own story” (Nestle, xv). She wrote herself and her communities into American history through her writing and teaching, claiming erotic writing as “a documentary [as much] as any biographical display,” a “people’s most private historic territory” (Nestle, xvi). Her writing did not, however, go without controversy, leading to her books being banned at various times and places during the sex wars and afterwards. Alongside her writing, she helped found and curate the United States’s oldest and largest lesbian archival collection, the Lesbian Herstory Archives (which were housed in her New York City apartment for decades).

Nestle is most definitely worthy of the title of Historical Hottie. We here at the Blog tip our proverbial hats to her beautiful spirit.

~ M

Bibliography

Nestle, Joan. A Restricted Country. San Francisco: Cleis Press Inc., 2003.

Joan Nestle

Samuel Pallache

Last week, Monique touched on the importance of acknowledging the existence of people who don’t fit neatly into specific social categories. In a similar vein, today I’m featuring a man who did not fit neatly into given social spaces. Meet Samuel Pallache, a Portuguese Jew who lived and worked in Muslim-ruled Morocco and both Catholic- and Protestant-ruled parts of Eurasia in the early 17th century. Despite belonging to a marginalised religious minority that existed in tension with all of the aforementioned, Pallache exemplifies the permeability of identities and borders in a period that is generally considered to have observed hard and fast religious divisions.

Pallache came from a family that had relocated to Morocco after the mass expulsion of Jews from Portugal. In 1603, Morocco became a site of civil war between the Sultan’s competing sons. The Spanish crown opportunistically intervened in these conflicts, often employing Jewish intermediaries. Jews became targets for looting, and were subjected to specially-imposed taxes by rival claimants. Many converted to Islam as a survival tactic. Pallache chose instead to leave.

From 1603 to 1607, he worked in Spain and Portugal, currying favour with the Spanish monarchy (mostly by supplying intelligence about North Africa). Some of Pallache’s co-religionists converted to Catholicism in order to work for nobles in Spain and Portugal, where some also provided Jewish instruction to conversos* eager to reconnect with their roots. Pallache avoided converting, though biographers Mercedes García-Arenal and Gerard Wiegers suggest that tutoring conversos is probably what caused him to come under inquisitorial suspicion in 1607 (no known records indicate a fully-fledged trial).

Under suspicion, Pallache returned to Fez before moving to Amsterdam in 1609. In the same year, he gained a new royal benefactor, Sultan Muley Zaydan, for whom he worked as an agent, brokering commercial and military deals between Morocco and the Dutch Republic. Pallache lost favour with Zaydan in 1614 when (true) rumours spread that he had been informing the Spanish about Moroccan intelligence for years. His position lost, he hastily left Morocco and privateered his way to England, where he was arrested, tried and acquitted of piracy.

As his eclectic résumé suggests, Pallache undertook a lot of risks in his career, often crossing the already blurry lines “between legitimate commerce, smuggling, and privateering.”[1] Pallache returned to Amsterdam where complaints against his dodgy dealings had mounted in his absence. The Dutch and Moroccan governments were disenchanted with him, but he remained an informer for the Spanish crown. After a career of extreme peaks and valleys, Pallache died in poverty in 1619.

Pallache is not a paragon virtue; he’s more of an anti-hero (anti-hottie?) than anything. But he embodies the complexities of identities and spaces that can initially seem mutually exclusive. As a Jew, Pallache was marginalised in both Christian-ruled Eurasia and Muslim-ruled Morocco. However, his world was one in which (much like today) a variety of religious, socio-political and economic factors paradoxically mutually reinforced and undermined hostile social divisions. Though he died broke, during his career Pallache played different prejudicial regimes against one another in order overcome (to an impressive degree) the marginalisation that Jews faced in North Africa and Eurasia alike.

~S

*converso is the term generally used to refer to Jewish converts to Christianity, forced or voluntary.

This post is indebted to García-Arenal and Wiegers’ revisionist biography of Pallache.

[1] Mercedes García-Arenal and Gerard Wiegers, A Man of Three Worlds: Samuel Pallache, a Moroccan Jew in Catholic and Protestant Europe, trans. Martin Beagles (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 75.

 

 

Samuel Pallache

Jack Greenberg

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[A photograph of a young Jack Greenberg, found on the Smithsonian’s educational website http://americanhistory.si.edu/brown/history/5-decision/challengers.html]

Where to start with Jack Greenberg? Greenberg served as the second Director-Counsel —  after none other than Thurgood Marshall — of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) from 1961 to 1984. The NAACP LDF was founded in 1940 with the mission of “achiev[ing] racial justice, equality, and an inclusive society” under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall.

Greenberg was born to a Jewish family in the Bensonhurst neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York in 1924. At the age of twenty-four in 1949, he joined LDF, initially because Marshall needed an assistant well-versed in American law to help him fight the legal, state-sanctioned system of Jim Crow in the United States. At the age of twenty-seven, Greenberg became the youngest lawyer who brought one of the most important civil rights cases of the twentieth century — Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, 1954 (commonly referred to as Brown v Board) — before the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. approached Greenberg as Director-Counsel of LDF to take on cases involving the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition (SCLC). Part of his legal representation of Dr. King included representing him in Birmingham, Alabama, winning him the right to march from Selma to Montgomery. Greenberg continued to fight for the rights of Black Americans for decades, being integral to “landmark legal cases” in relation to employment, education, housing, and voter registration during the 1960s and 1970s. Some of these cases include Meredith v Fair, 1961 (the integration of the University of Mississippi) and Griggs v Duke Power Company, 1971 (employment discrimination). Greenberg retired from LDF in 1984, later serving as dean of Columbia College.

Greenberg’s activism is, however, important to contextualize within broader histories of racialized oppression in the United States and the solidarity between non-Black Jewish Americans and Black Americans.* As noted in the freely accessible LDF @ 70 document published by the NAACP LDF, “Greenberg saw a resemblance between anti-Semitism and black oppression in the United States. Raised in a family committed to fairness and justice, Greenberg became part of the black world of the Civil Rights Movement.” Greenberg’s work in the Civil Rights Movement is representative of the important coalitions that have historically existed between two (often overlapping) groups of marginalized and oppressed peoples in the United States: Jewish Americans and Black Americans. The solidarities formed are much longer, and much older, than can properly be explained here, but it is nonetheless important to recognize them as interlocking histories of injustice and resistance.

By highlighting Greenberg today, we do not intend on decentering the Black Americans that fought valiantly during the Civil Rights Movement (and continue to fight today in the Black Lives Matter Movement, for example). We wish to instead highlight people like Greenberg who were not Black but dedicated their lives to the fight for the rights of Black Americans. The experiences of Greenberg’s own community in relation to anti-Semitism in part spurred him to fight for the civil rights of Black Americans, and he should continue to be a shining example for those of us who wish to stand in solidarity with Black folks who are struggling against systematic oppression today.

~ M

* It is important to make this distinction, as often times Black Jews are completely erased from histories of anti-Black racism and anti-Semitism, and the fight against these injustices, in the United States. This erasure of Black Jews from modern American history is not something that we at Historical Hotties Blog want to perpetuate, and therefore feel it necessary to address.

 

Bibliography

Greenberg, Jack. Crusaders in the Courts: How a Dedicated Band of Lawyers Fought for the Civil Rights Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 1994.

LDF. “History.” Accessed January 21, 2016. http://www.naacpldf.org/history.

LDF. LDF @ 70 Defend, Educate, Empower: 70 Years Fulfilling the Promise of Equality. 2010. http://www.naacpldf.org/files/publications/ldf@70_0.pdf.

Jack Greenberg