#MindforBooksPrompt – June


I forgot how lush and electrified
it was with you. The shaggy
fragrant zaps continually passing
back and forth, my fingertip
to your clavicle, or your wrist
rubbing mine to share gardenia
oil. We so purred like dragonflies
we kept the mosquitoes away
and the conversation was heavy,
mother-lacerated childhoods
and the sad way we’d both
been both ignored and touched
badly. Knowing that being
fierce and proud and out and
loud was just a bright new way
to be needy. Please listen to me, oh
what a buzz! you’re the only one
I can tell. Even with no secret,
I could come close to your ear
with my mouth and that was
ecstasy, too. We barely touched
each other, we didn’t have to
speak. The love we made leapt
to life like a cat in the space
between us (if there ever was
space between us), and looked
back at us through fog. Sure,
this was San Francisco, it was
often hard to see. But fog always
burned off, too, so we watched
this creature to see if it knew
what it was doing. It didn’t.

“Gay pride weekend S.F., 1992” by Brenda Shaughnessy

A fairly self explanatory prompt for this month. Posts celebrating all that is Pride. Would be great if books used were written by LGBTQIA+ authors.

Women of Note

3 June 1906 Josephine Baker born. American-born French entertainer, French Resistance agent and civil rights activist. There is almost too much to say about her. Picasso painted her. Ernest Hemingway said she was ‘the most sensational woman anyone ever saw. Or ever will.’ Baker was the first African American to star in a major motion picture. After the Second World War she was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance, and was also made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur. She refused to perform for segregated audiences in the US, and helped achieve integration in Las Vegas shows. In 1963 she was the only official female speaker at the March on Washington alongside Martin Luther King Jr. Weirdly, she has, to this day, an agency licensing her image so people are still making money off her.

Toksvig’s Almanac

7 June 1968 Ford sewing machinists’ strike begins. Rose Boland, Eileen Pullen, Vera Sime, Gwen Davis and Sheila Douglass led the strike at the Ford factory in Essex demanding equal pay to men as ‘skilled workers’. The strike, which ended after three weeks, helped pave the way for the Equal Pay Act of 1970, but the women would have to strike again in 1984 to achieve the same wages as male workers. It was joining the EU in 1973 that caused the law to make it mandatory for men and women to receive equal pay for equal work, but in 2019 the gender pay gap for all UK employees was 17.3 per cent.

Toksvig’s Almanac

10 June 1876 Calamity Jane gets famously drunk. Martha Jane Cannary, born 1852, and better known as Calamity Jane, was an explorer, performer, dance-hall girl, ox-team driver, nurse, frontierswoman, cross-dresser and sharpshooter. She liked a drink. On 10 June 1876, she celebrated her acquittal for grand larceny by drinking at the Tivoli Saloon in Cheyenne. The only woman to do so, as she was dressed like a man. She then rented a horse and buggy to travel the short distance to Fort Russell, but was so drunk she ended up about ninety miles away at Fort Laramie.

Toksvig’s Almanac

12 June 918 Æthelflæd dies. Lady of the Mercians, born around 870, she ruled Mercia in the English Midlands between 911 and 918. A female ruler in early medieval history is astonishing. She was the daughter of King Alfred the Great. In the 890s she played an important role in driving out the Danes, which is not all that pleasing to this Dane. She ruled at first with her husband Æthelred, but when he died in 911 she became Myrcna hlædige (‘Lady of the Mercians’) and carried on by herself. There is a statue of her outside Tamworth railway station in Staffordshire. She helped rebuild the town after the Danes had a go at it, so they like her there. 

Toksvig’s Almanac

14 June 1926 Mary Cassatt dies. American painter and printmaker, born 1844. Leading artist of the Impressionist movement. Edgar Degas said of her painting La Toilette, ‘I don’t believe a woman could draw that well. Did you really do this?’ I was eighteen when I discovered her work, and so furious no one had ever mentioned her to me when I was taught about art. She began her studies in 1859 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where female students were not allowed to use live models. She often painted children and domestic scenes, which sidelined her reputation as a great artist.

Toksvig’s Almanac

15 June 1952 Krystyna Skarbek dies. Skarbek, born 1908, was a Polish agent of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War. Reported to be Churchill’s favourite spy. She was described as ‘very brave, very attractive, but a loner and a law unto herself’. Skarbek was the first female agent of the British to serve in the field, and the longest-serving of all Britain’s wartime women agents. She was stabbed to death by a spurned suitor in London.

Toksvig’s Almanac

17 June 1631 Mumtaz Mahal dies. Born in 1593, she became empress consort of the Mughal empire under Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. He commissioned the Taj Mahal in Agra as her tomb and a monument to his love. She died giving birth to her fourteenth child.

Toksvig’s Almanac

19 June 1603 Merga Bien arrested for witchcraft. Merga Bien was a German woman, born in 1560, who was convicted of witchcraft during the infamous Fulda witch trials, held between 1603 and 1605. Over 200 people were executed as a result of the trials. Merga was arrested on 19 June 1603, and forced to confess that she was pregnant due to sex with the devil. She was burnt at the stake.

Toksvig’s Almanac

24 June 1519 Lucrezia Borgia dies. Italian noblewoman, born 1480. The daughter of Pope Alexander VI and his mistress Vannozza dei Catanei, she was a key figure in the infamous Borgia family of the Italian Renaissance. It’s a complicated family, with rumours of murder, incest and much unpleasantness. Borgia reigned as the governor of Spoleto in her own right, and died aged thirty-nine after the birth of her tenth child. Like so many women, she may well have been maligned by history.

Toksvig’s Almanac

UPDATE: Ah, the irony of a woman who died during childbirth and was maligned by history being the same date as Roe vs Wade being overturned! SCOTUS is trash. The patriarchy is trash. Religion being involved in politics trash. I never want to hear another American talk about how America is the greatest country in the world EVER again. Zero healthcare, mass shootings (far too many of which are in schools), rampant racism, mass incarceration of minorities because of the privatisation of prisons, insane numbers of children in foster care, crippling debt for education and now on the way to implementing the dystopia that is The Handmaid’s Tale. Blindly believing a really terrible place is great does not make a really terrible place great!

26 June 1861 Jeanne Louise Antonini dies. Antonini, born 1771 in Corsica, served ten years in the French navy and then a further fifteen years in the French army, disguised as a man during the revolutionary period and the Napoleonic Wars. She was wounded nine times and reached the rank of sergeant.

Toksvig’s Almanac

27 June 1880 Helen Keller born. American author, political activist and lecturer. As a toddler she became deaf and blind after suffering from what is thought to have been either scarlet fever or meningitis. The story of Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan (see 20 October), is rightly famous. Sullivan helped Keller to communicate. Keller became the first deaf-blind person to earn a BA degree. She was a member of the Socialist Party of America and campaigned for women’s suffrage, labour rights and socialism.

Toksvig’s Almanac

28 June 548 Theodora dies. Theodora, born around 500, was Eastern Roman empress by marriage to Emperor Justinian, and one of his chief advisers. He called her his ‘partner in my deliberations’. She was very powerful so (obviously) was accused of both prostitution and acting in her early years. She became the first Eastern Roman empress consort to have coins struck in her name. Saved the throne for Justinian during the Nika riots. Justinian and Theodora rebuilt Constantinople, commissioning amazing buildings including the Hagia Sophia, one of the architectural wonders of the world. She closed brothels and made pimping a criminal offence.

Toksvig’s Almanac

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