Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Beside Every Great Man is a Great Woman

by Rhiannon Jenkins

“Behind every great man is not a woman, she is beside him, she is with him, not behind him.” - Tariq Ramadan

from Hamilton: The Musical
The recent Broadway musical Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, the most printed man on American currency. As well as also appearing on stamps, Alexander Hamilton not only founded The New York Post, he also created the centralized banking system in America, was the first Secretary of the Treasury and is one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He fought during the Revolution, made an enemy of every other Founding Father and was killed by “the damn fool”, Aaron Burr. Despite being a largely undocumented historical figure in modern culture, there are hundreds of records and readily available information about Alexander Hamilton. Why are we able to know so much about him?

Elizabeth Schuyler.

Mother of eight, wife of Hamilton and widow for more than fifty years, Eliza Hamilton founded the first private orphanage in New York, helped contribute funds to the building of the Washington Monument and organised Hamilton’ thousands of writings. During her marriage to Hamilton she endured long periods of time away from her husband, the death of her first son in a duel and Hamilton taking a mistress and publicly and explicitly admitting to it. The commitment presented by Eliza to her husband and her complete determination to preserve his work and ensure his legacy remained intact enables Hamilton to be remembered and known nationally, even globally, for his contribution to the founding of the United States, whilst she herself remains unthanked and unremarked upon in the history books.

Another stage production which has helped in bringing to light the actions of a commonly passed- over woman, is Photograph 51 recently opened again with Nicole Kidman playing the X-ray crystallographer, Rosalind Franklin. Despite the extent of her role in the discovery of the structure of DNA being debated, it is not arguable that she did play a vital part in it and yet it is the three men, James Watson, Maurice Wilkins and her student, Raymond Gosling, who were awarded the Nobel Prize for the identification of DNA’s structure whilst Franklin was not credited for it during her lifetime.

The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science (written by Julie Des Jardins) explores other woman unmentioned in textbooks.

However, science isn’t the only field where they are passed over.

Anyone who has studied the First World War or the Roaring 20’s in America will have heard of Woodrow Wilson. His second wife, Edith Bolling, a widow when she met Wilson, is less known. As First Lady she acted as hostess in the White House, following the example set by the First Ladies before her. It is her acting during her husband’s second term of Presidency though that makes her a notable First Lady. Following Wilson’s stroke she took over much of his work, studying all matters of state and deciding what was to happen with them. Effectively, she ran the executive branch of the government whilst her husband was bedridden, unable to run the country he had been elected to run.

Edith and Woodrow Wilson
Countless other women every day are acting unknown and making history without ever being talked about and these three women are merely examples, known to us because someone has taken the time to write their story, and not just their husband’s or student’s. They are not completely forgotten and yet they are not remember either.

It is our duty to ensure the hundreds, thousands, of others are remembered too and do not remain hidden behind a Mr.  

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