The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Women's History Month "A": Marie Antoinette and Antarctica


Portrait of Marie Antoinette in hunting attire, by Joseph Krantzinger (1771)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Marie Antoinette is now known to history as the Queen of France who spent her nation into the ground, leading to a massive and bloody revolution among French citizens.  But her story and her relationship with France, which when she was just a teenager, is much more complicated.

Marie, the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, was born in Vienna, Austria in 1755.  When she was just twelve years old, she was promised in marriage to thirteen-year-old Louis-Auguste, the Dauphin (prince) of France.  Three years later she left Austria behind and was handed over at the French border to the care of the royal court.  A week later she met Louis-Auguste for the first time, and was married to him within two days.

Five years into their marriage, Louis-Auguste became King Louis XVI of France, with Marie as his queen.  But despite her position, she found life difficult at the French court--many court members distrusted her German heritage, and she was regarded with suspicion for trying to change long-held traditions.  Another serious problem Marie encountered was her husband’s lack of interest in sex, which became quite obvious to the public as the years went on and Marie didn’t become pregnant.  She eventually rectified the situation and had a daughter in 1778, followed by sons in 1781 and 1785.

To make up for by being ignored Louis-Auguste, Marie began shopping and gambling to excess and throwing lavish parties.  She also spent copious amounts of money decorating a small house to look like an English country manor, where she spent days pretending to be a gardener and a shepherdess.  Her splurges were especially draining to France’s finances at this time because the country was struggling to pay for the Seven Years’ War being fought in America.  As stories about her spending habits circulated throughout the 1780s, Marie’s popularity among the French citizens greatly declined.

Finally, on July 14, 1789, the French people rose up in protest against the royal family and the French nobility.  Revolutionaries put the Marie, her husband, and her two surviving children under house arrest on October 5, and kept them under strict surveillance for the next two years.  The royal family tried to flee the country on June 21, 1791, but they were captured less than a day later.

Throughout her imprisonment Marie hoped her brother, Austrian Emperor Leopold II, would come to her family’s aid.  Leopold, however, was more interested in attacking France while its government was in chaos, and his military campaigns against France only made the royal family more hated. 

On January 21, 1793, Louis XVI was executed.  No one knew what to do with Marie at this point--some advocated holding her ransom in exchange for French prisoners captured by the Austrians, while other wanted her exiled to America.  Eventually, though, it was decided that she was as guilty as her husband and was put on trial. The charges leveled against her (which were mostly untrue) included throwing orgies at the palace, plotting with her brother to overthrow France, and committing incest with her son.  After a very short trial she was sentenced to death, and on October 16 she was paraded through the streets of Paris and then executed at the guillotine.

For more information on Marie Antoinette, please visit Marie Antoinette Online.


If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.
~Abigail Adams, First Lady of the United States

While democracy in the long run is the most stable form of government, in the short run, it is among the most fragile. 
~Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead. 
~Louisa May Alcott, Author

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. 
~Maya Angelou, Author

I always distrust people who know so much about what God wants them to do to their fellows. 
~Susan B. Anthony, Suffragist and Women’s Rights Activist


In 1935 Caroline Mikkelsen, the wife of a Norwegian whaling captain, became the first woman to walk on the continent of Antarctica.  This milestone occurred more than one hundred years after male explorers first set foot on the continent, because for many years it was widely believed that women were too weak to acclimate to the punishing climate.

Edith Ronne and Jennie Darlington proved this notion wrong in 1947 when they became the first women to spend an entire winter in Antarctica.  They were only allowed to stay because they were the wives of researchers; had they been scientists themselves, they would have been banned by the American government from entering Antarctic military posts.  It wasn’t until 1969 that the United States began allowing women onto Antarctic research bases.

Today about one-third of the scientists working in Antarctica are women.  The issue of women working there recently became more prominent because the U.S. Antarctic Program has issued made it an official policy that every women heading to Antarctica must take a pregnancy test before departure. (you can read a story on the controversy here).

For more information on women in Antarctica, please read "A Warmer Climate for Women in Antarctica."

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