#MindforBooksPrompt – December

The last prompt for this challenge! I didn’t totally keep on top of it but I did manage to post them all, eventually! This didn’t go as I had envisioned, I had such grand plans, but we did what we could! 😀

My favourite part from all the prompts were the women of note. So many women get lost to history and I’ve loved sharing some of their stories!

Yule

After October and November I think it’s time for something cheerful so for December the prompt is all the holidays celebrated in December.

Hannukah, Yule, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yalda, Hogmanay, Ōmisoka and the many I’ve surely missed! Pick whatever you celebrate/love and hype it up or post about a book you love that takes place during one or even a trip you take for one of these celebrations.

Photo by Nicole Michalou on Pexels.com

‘Roasting turkeys! Rich mince pies! Cakes of every shape and size!’

Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles LeCron, ‘December’, A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband with Bettina’s Best Recipes (1917)

Please imagine my massive side eye! 😀

Women of Note

2 December 1923 Maria Callas born. American-born Greek soprano, also known as ‘La Divina’. One of the most renowned and influential opera singers of the 20th century. She endured much scandal in her personal life but remains the definition of opera star and is still one of classical music’s bestselling vocalists.

Toksvig’s Almanac

4 December 1884 Dewi Sartika born. National hero of Indonesia and education pioneer. Sartika campaigned for education for Indonesian women. In 1904 she founded the first school for women in the Dutch East Indies. She was diabetic and died from a leg wound while evacuating from Bandung, which was under siege from the Dutch during the Indonesian War of Independence in 1947.

Toksvig’s Almanac

5 December 1941 Amrita Sher-Gil dies. Sher-Gil, or Shergil, was a pioneer painter of the modern movement in Indian art. She was born in Hungary but the family moved to India when she was a child. I love the fact that she was expelled from her convent school for declaring she was an atheist. She trained in Paris in the 1930s and there are both Western and Indian influences in her vibrant art. She is one of India’s most celebrated modern artists and the Indian government has declared her work as National Art Treasures. She died aged twenty-eight, possibly following a botched abortion.

Toksvig’s Almanac

7 December 1878 Yosano Akiko born. Pen name of Shō Hō. Japanese author, poet, pioneering feminist, pacifist and social reformer. The critics didn’t like her first volume of poetry because it didn’t promote traditional Japanese values for women. She saw women as active, not passive, in every aspect of their lives including sex. She was accused of ‘corrupting public morals’. She had thirteen kids, of whom eleven survived. Yosano has come back into popularity in recent years.

Toksvig’s Almanac

14 December 1898 Ann Cole Lowe born. When it was announced in the summer of 1953 that Jacqueline Bouvier was to marry John F. Kennedy the world went mad. She was a high society gal marrying into one of the most distinguished families in America. When they married it was considered the social event of the season. Jackie, as I feel relaxed enough to call her, wore a fabulous ‘you shall go to the ball’ white wedding dress made of ivory silk taffeta. I say that like I know what I’m talking about. All I know is, it was a gorgeous dress which any fairy godmother would have been thrilled to have conjured up. In fact, it was made by Ann Lowe, the first African American to become a noted fashion designer. Ann was born in Clayton, Alabama, at a time when the oppressive Jim Crow laws were still in operation. She learned to sew from her mother and grandmother. She got married in 1912 but, when her husband demanded that she give up her work as a seamstress, she packed up her needles and left. She took their son and moved to New York City, where she enrolled at S. T. Taylor Design School, but this was 1917, the school was segregated, and she had to attend classes in a room by herself. Nevertheless, she graduated and in 1919 opened her first dress salon in Tampa, Florida. It was a triumph and within ten years she was back in New York City designing for the top stores.

In 1946, she designed the dress that Olivia de Havilland wore to accept the Best Actress Oscar for ‘To Each His Own’, but the dress was credited to someone else.

The dress she made for Jacqueline Bouvier to float down the aisle was stunning. It remains one of the most iconic wedding-day looks of all time. The story behind it, though, makes anyone who has ever sewn anything shudder. For two months, Lowe and her team worked on the fifty yards of silk taffeta creating the elaborate folds that make the gown so unique. They were ten days away from the wedding when there was a flood in their studio and everything – the wedding dress and those of the bridesmaids – was ruined. Ann rolled up her sleeves. Bought more fabric, hired more staff and worked night and day to recreate the wonder she had already made once. She never told anyone and she ended the commission $2,000 in debt. You can imagine her exhaustion as she arrived to deliver the dresses. An exhaustion that must have been mixed with pride. She had delivered on time. When she got to the house a member of staff told her to use the service entrance in the back. Ann looked him in the eye and replied that she would rather take the dress back. Carrying her creations, she walked in the front door. Every newspaper in the country wrote about the frock in exquisite detail. No one credited Ann. Most painful of all, when the bride herself was asked who designed the dress, she reportedly responded, ‘A colored dressmaker did it.’ I think there is a nice end to this story. Years later when Ann was losing her sight and had fallen into debt, an anonymous benefactor stepped in to help financially. She always believed it was Jackie Kennedy.

Toksvig’s Almanac

20 December 1859 (or thereabouts) Elsie de Wolfe born. ‘I opened the doors and windows of America, and let the air and sunshine in.’ Also known as Lady Mendl, de Wolfe was an American actress and interior decorator. She was one of the first interior designers. She had a marriage of convenience to English diplomat Sir Charles Mendl but her lifelong companion was Elisabeth Marbury, the pioneering American theatrical and literary agent. According to The New Yorker, ‘Interior design as a profession was invented by Elsie de Wolfe.’

Toksvig’s Almanac

26 December 1780 Mary Somerville born. ‘I resented the injustice of the world in denying all those privileges of education to my sex which were so lavishly bestowed on men.’ Scottish science writer and polymath, Somerville was known as ‘The Queen of Science’. She was nominated with Caroline Herschel as the first female members of the Royal Astronomical Society. Somerville was a suffragist and hers is the first signature on a huge petition organised by John Stuart Mill in 1866 to give women the right to vote. She owed much of her education to her father’s library. She refused to take sugar in her tea as a protest to slavery. Among her works were ‘On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences’, ‘Physical Geography and Molecular and Microscopic Science.

Toksvig’s Almanac

27 December 1980 Nadia Anjuman born. Anjuman was an Afghan poet. When the Taliban captured her home city of Herat in 1995, all schools for girls were closed in northwestern Afghanistan. Anjuman joined other local women attending an underground educational circle called the Golden Needle Sewing School, where women would receive education while pretending to sew. She continued to write and, when the Taliban were displaced, went to Herat University. She published a popular book of poetry, Gul-e-dodi (‘Flower of Smoke’) followed by Yek sàbad délhoreh (‘An Abundance of Worry’). She wrote about the oppression of women. In 2005 her husband beat her to death when she wanted to go out. He was convicted, but later forgiven by Anjuman’s father who was promised the murderer would stay in prison for five years. Anjuman’s husband was released a month later. Her death was ruled a suicide.

Toksvig’s Almanac

29 December 1886 The dishwasher is patented. The dishwasher was invented by a woman called Josephine Cochrane, born 1839, and I for one will always be grateful. I’m not sure about some of the background to this. Cochrane was a wealthy woman living in Shelbyville, Illinois. She loved to entertain but you know how it is with servants – they’re not quick enough with the washing-up, they break dishes, etc. Cochrane thought she could find a machine that would be more reliable than the staff, but there wasn’t one so … necessity, mother of invention, and all that … she invented it. She was methodical – measured all the plates, cups, saucers, and then went out into her shed and made wire compartments to fit all the different bits of crockery. These she put inside a wheel on top of a copper boiler, and used a motor to turn the wheel while hot soapy water squirted from the bottom of the boiler and fell back down on the dishes. Triumph. She showed the dishwasher at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair where she won a prize. Restaurants and hotels thought it was marvellous. Ordinary fold not so much. The dishwasher didn’t become a thing until the 1950’s, but that may have been to do with access to the amount of hot water the machine needed. Not one to rest, Cochrane also founded a company to manufacture her inventio. The company would grow up to become KitchenAid.

Toksvig’s Almanac

30 December 1889 Peggy Hull born. Pen name of Henrietta Deuell, an American journalist who covered the First and Second World Wars. Hull was the first female correspondent accredited by the US War Department. She always dressed in her own version of military garb.

Toksvig’s Almanac

31 December 1881 Elizabeth Arden born. Canadian-American businesswoman who built a legendary cosmetics empire. Arden opened her first salon in 1910. Nineteen years later she owned 150 salons worldwide, with hundreds of products sold in twenty-two countries. She was the sole owner and one of the wealthiest women in the world. In addition to being an entrepreneur, Arden was a dedicated suffragette. In 1912 she marched for women’s rights and provided the red lipstick – a sign of solidarity – worn by the 15,000 suffragettes who marched with her.

Toksvig’s Almanac

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