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?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Women's History Month "Z": Zenobia and Zoology


Queen Zenobia's Last Look Upon Palmyra, Herbert Schmalz.  Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

In the 3rd century AD, Zenobia led her people in revolt against the Roman Empire.  Zenobia became queen of the Palmyrene Empire after the death of her husband King Septimius Odaenathus in 267.  Within two years, Zenobia had conquered Egypt and greatly expanded the Palmyrene Empire.

Zenobia was born in Palmyra, Syria, and appears to have been of Aramean ancestry.  Zenobia herself claimed to be descended from Queen Dido of Carthage and Cleopatra VII of Egypt.  Though there is no solid evidence of these claims, her claims of strong female lineage could well have been possible, and whether true or not, these claims were powerful propaganda that could only have served her well.  In addition, Zenobia was considered by all sources beautiful, chaste, and intelligent.  She was well educated, and spoke Greek, Aramaic, Egyptian, and Latin, and spent time with philosophers and poets.  

In 267, Zenobia's husband and stepson (she was Odaenathus' second wife) were assassinated.  As her son and heir was only one year old at the time, Zenobia assumed the throne. In 269, she invaded Egypt and beheaded the Roman prefect of Egypt (who unsuccessfully tried to expel her from Egypt), claiming the crown of Egypt for herself.  These events led to her being known as the “Warrior Queen,” an image that was probably not hurt by the fact that would go riding, hunting, and occasionally drinking with her officers.  Sadly however, her empire was short-lived, as in 272-273, the Palmyrene forces were defeated by the Romans near Antioch.  Although Zenobia and her son initially escaped, they were ultimately captured and taken to Rome.  At that point, there are several versions of her death: she may have been beheaded, died of illness, or gone on a hunger strike.  The most cheerful version, however, is that Emperor Aurelian was so impressed by Zenobia that he freed her and gave her a villa in Tibur, where she continued to study philosophy and became a socialite and wife of a Roman governor and senator.  As there is evidence of descendants of Zenobia (mentioned in inscriptions found in Rome), this is happier ending is possible.


All of my life I have always had the urge to do things better than anybody else.
~Babe Didrikson Zaharias, American Athlete in Golf, Basketball, and Track and Field

As long as I'm improving, I will go on, and besides, there's too much money in the business to quit.
~Babe Didrikson Zaharias, American Athlete in Golf, Basketball, and Track and Field

I'm a mother, I'm a journalist, I'm an American; I'm all of those things, and it really complicates your job when you have all these things come into play.
~Paula Zahn,  American Journalist

I spell woman Z-I-Z-E-S.
~Lauren Zizes, Glee (character played by Ashley Fink)


Although Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall are perhaps the two most famous female zoologists, many women have contributed greatly to zoology and our knowledge of the animal kingdom.  There are women mammologists—including Diane Fossey, Jane Goodall, and Birutė Galdikas, all of whom focus on primatology—female ichthyologists, and women herpetologists.  Below are just a small sampling of women in zoology and their contributions.

Dian Fossey was an American zoologist who, over a period of 18 years, extensively studied gorilla groups in Rwanda, observing them every day.  She changed how people viewed gorillas, showing them to be gentle, and not the savage beasts they were often portrayed to be in movies.  Her book, Gorillas in the Mist, is the most popular book ever written on gorillas, and was made into a movie of the same name.  She was murdered in 1985, and the case remains open.

Jane Goodall is generally considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees, having worked with and studied them over 45 years in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania.  She primarily studies family and social life amongst chimps, and because she had limited formal training, it is thought that her observations may have included things that strict scientific teachings would have missed.  Some of her findings led to the discovery that chimpanzees are not vegetarians as was previously observed, and that chimps have rudimentary tool-making skills.  She was made a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2002 and a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2004.

Birutė Galdikas is the third member of Leakey's Angels.  Archaeologist Louis Leakey hand-picked three researchers (Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, and Birutė Galdikas) to study primates in their natural environments.  Birutė Galdikas went to Borneo at the age of 25 to study orangutans, where for more than 30 years she not only contributed greatly to the world's understanding of orangutans, but also to our knowledge about Indonesia's biodiversity and rainforests in general.  She founded Orangutan Foundation International, in order to further her efforts in rehabilitating orangutans and protecting and conserving their natural territory.

Eugenie Clark is an American ichthyologist who has researched poisonous fish of the tropics and studied the behavior of sharks.  More popularly known as the Shark Lady, she has investigated shark bites, and been diving with sharks for more than 30 years.  She also discovered that the poison secreted by the Moses sole will repel sharks (it is also toxic to humans, unless the fish has been washed in red wine).  She has published two books: Lady with a Spear and The Lady and the Sharks.

Helen Beulah Thompson Gaige was an American herpetologist and specialist in neotropical frogs.  She was the curator of amphibians at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and later became curator of herpetology (the study of amphibians and reptiles).  She helped to create the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, and she was later named honorary president.  She co-authored The Herpetology of Michigan with Alexander Grant Ruthven, and has two species of reptiles named for her, the Many-lined Skink (Eumeces multivirgatus gaigeae) and the Big Bend Slider (Trachemys gaigeae).  She passed away in 1976.

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