Posts Tagged ‘Women’

Grace Mugabe

Posted: May 13, 2015 in Africa, Women
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Grace Mugabe ( 23 July 1965) is the wife of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and the First Lady of Zimbabwe from her marriage to the leader in 1996.

Grace was previously married to Stanley Goreraza, an air force pilot, and now working in the Zimbabwe embassy in China. As secretary to the president, she became his mistress while still married to Goreraza and together they had two children, Bona, named after Mugabe’s mother, and Robert Peter, Jr. The couple were married in an extravagant Catholic Mass, titled the “Wedding of the Century” by the Zimbabwe press, after the death of Mugabe’s first wife, Sally Hayfron.

In 1997, Grace Mugabe gave birth to the couple’s third child, Chatunga. Grace is popularly known in Zimbabwe as “Dis Grace”, a reference to her extravagant lifestyle while maintaining political responsibilities as first lady.

In 2014, Grace Mugabe was given a doctorate in sociology by the University of Zimbabwe, only two months after registering at the university and although a dissertation does not exist. The degree was widely described as fraudulent. Grace Mugabe is under personal sanctions in the European Union and the United States for her role in the Mugabe regime.

Grace Mugabe was designated as head of the ZANU-PF Women’s League in 2014.

ZANU-PF

In late 2014, Grace Mugabe was fiercely critical of Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who was alleged to have plotted against President Mugabe. Ultimately the accusations against Mujuru resulted in Mujuru being eliminated as a candidate to succeed Mugabe and effectively becoming an outcast within ZANU-PF by the time it held a party congress in December 2014. Meanwhile, Grace Mugabe’s political prominence increased. She was nominated as head of the ZANU-PF Women’s League, and delegates to the party congress approved her nomination by acclamation on 6 December 2014. In becoming head of the women’s league, she also became a member of the ZANU-PF Politburo.

Sanctions

After observers from the European Union were barred from examining Zimbabwe’s 2002 elections, the EU imposed sanctions on 20 members of the Zimbabwe leadership and then, in July, extended them to include Mrs Mugabe and 51 others, banning them from travelling to participating countries and freezing any assets held there. The United States instituted similar restrictions.

Controversies

Real estate

During her tenure as first lady, Grace Mugabe has overseen the construction of two palaces. The first, referred to commonly as “Gracelands”, became controversial for its extravagance, and Grace Mugabe later explained that she had paid for its construction with her own personal savings. It was later sold to Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. The second, completed in 2007, was reported to have cost $26 million to construct and to have been funded by the ZANU-PF party as thanks for Robert Mugabe’s political service.

In 2002, Grace Mugabe toured farm properties in Zimbabwe, looking for a new location for herself and her family. She chose the Iron Mask Estate, which had been previously owned by farmers John and Eva Matthews.

The first family owns property in Malaysia, and in early 2008, it was reported that Grace Mugabe hoped to move there with her children. The intention behind the move was to escape the stress of leadership and to address fears that the first family faces assassination. Recent reports indicate that Grace acquired property holdings in Hong Kong, including a diamond cutting business and a bolt-hole at House Number Three, JC Castle, 18 Shan Tong Road, Tai Po, New Territories. The media speculates that this property acquisition is intended as both a weekend getaway pad for their daughter Bona who is studying at The University of Hong Kong under an assumed name and that she and her husband expect to escape to China should they be ousted from power in Zimbabwe.

Diamond trade allegations and lawsuit

In December 2010 US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks brought up again earlier allegations that high-ranking Zimbabwean government officials and well-connected elites, including Mugabe’s wife Grace, are generating millions of dollars in personal income by hiring teams of diggers to hand-extract diamonds from the Chiadzwa mine in eastern Zimbabwe. Grace Mugabe is currently suing a Zimbabwean newspaper over its reporting of claims released by Wikileaks she had made “tremendous profits” from the country’s diamond mines. The president’s wife is demanding $15m (£9.6m) from the Standard newspaper.

Shopping

Grace Mugabe is known for her lavish lifestyle. The Daily Telegraph called her “notorious at home for her profligacy” in coverage of a 2003 trip to Paris, during which she was reported as spending £75,000 (approx US$120,000) in a short shopping spree; and in the years leading up to 2004 withdrew over £5 million from the Central Bank of Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe she is known sarcastically as “Gucci Grace” or “The First Shopper” in reference to her numerous, lavish European shopping sprees. When Grace Mugabe was included in the 2002 sanctions, one EU parliamentarian said that the ban would “stop Grace Mugabe going on her shopping trips in the face of catastrophic poverty blighting the people of Zimbabwe.” Mrs Mugabe faces similar sanctions in the United States.

Assault on photographer

The Times reported on 18 January 2009 that, while on a shopping trip in Hong Kong, where her daughter Bona Mugabe is a university student, Mrs Mugabe ordered her bodyguard to assault a Times photographer Richard Jones outside her luxury hotel. She then joined in the attack, punching Jones repeatedly in the face while wearing diamond encrusted rings, causing him cuts and abrasions. She was subsequently granted immunity from prosecution ‘under Chinese diplomatic rules’ because of her status as Mugabe’s wife.

Daughter’s controversies in Hong Kong

Early reports indicated Bona Mugabe was a student at the University of Hong Kong. A protest started on the University of Zimbabwe campus on 3 February resulting in about 30 students needing medical treatment including police forces being used against defenceless citizens and harassments of students. Zimbabwe students were protesting to the P. R. Chinese embassy that Bona Mugabe should return home to Zimbabwe and study in the same conditions as her peers. Colleges and universities in Zimbabwe have failed to open at some point in 2008 due to dollarisation of fees and other economic problems.

On 17 February the University of Hong Kong distanced itself from the controversy, denying a report that she was a student there. The school statement said “We do not have a student by the name of Bona Mugabe on our student register, and we do not have any lady student from Zimbabwe who is reading for an undergraduate programme or is at the age of around 20.” Subsequent reports clarified that Bona is in fact enrolled in a second school, the City University of Hong Kong, which said she met normal admission requirements and her enrolment was not influenced by her parentage. Due to the attention surrounding Robert Mugabe’s daughters her family enlisted the help of a female ex-government official to provide safety and supervision during her time in Hong Kong.

According to Vice chairperson of the HK democratic party Emily Lau said the government should study whether to follow international practice in barring certain foreign politicians as many people might be looking at buying properties, investments or education in Hong Kong. Lee Wing-tat said Beijing should be making the decision since this was a foreign affair. Spokesperson Jiang Yu from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China said she was not aware of the Mugabes’ alleged house purchase in Hong Kong and would not comment further. A professor at the University of HK said Beijing was trying to stay out of the controversy. The Beijing central government dismissed the concerns, adding that Falun Gong members were allowed to buy properties in Hong Kong.

Education

Controversy ensued when Grace Mugabe was given a doctoral degree in sociology in September 2014 from the University of Zimbabwe two months after entering the program. She was awarded the degree by her husband and University Chancellor Robert Mugabe. Her doctoral thesis is not available in the University archive and she has faced calls to return her PhD. This caused backlash in the Zimbabwean academic community, with some commenting that this could harm the reputation of the University.

Dahomey Amazons

Posted: May 11, 2015 in Africa, History, Women
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The Dahomey Amazons or Mino were a Fon all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey in the present-day Republic of Benin which lasted until the end of the 19th century. They were so named by Western observers and historians due to their similarity to the semi-mythical Amazons of ancient Anatolia and the Black Sea.

Origin

King Houegbadja (who ruled from 1645 to 1685), the third King of Dahomey, is said to have originally started the group which would become the Amazons as a corps of elephant hunters called the gbeto.

Houegbadja’s son King Agaja (ruling from 1708 to 1732) established a female bodyguard armed with muskets. European merchants recorded their presence. According to tradition, Agaja developed the bodyguard into a militia and successfully used them in Dahomey’s defeat of the neighbouring kingdom of Savi in 1727. The group of female warriors was referred to as Mino, meaning “Our Mothers” in the Fon language, by the male army of Dahomey.

From the time of King Ghezo (ruling from 1818 to 1858), Dahomey became increasingly militaristic. Ghezo placed great importance on the army, increasing its budget and formalizing its structure from ceremonial to a serious military. While European narratives refer to the women soldiers as “Amazons,” they called themselves ahosi (king’s wives) or mino (our mothers).

Recruitment

Ghezo recruited both men and women soldiers from foreign captives, though women soldiers were also recruited from free Dahomian women, some enrolled as young as 8 years old. Other accounts indicate that the mino were recruited from among the ahosi (“king’s wives”) of which there were often hundreds.Some women in Fon society became soldiers voluntarily, while others were involuntarily enrolled if their husbands or fathers complained to the king about their behaviour.

Membership among the mino was supposed to hone any aggressive character traits for the purpose of war. During their membership they were not allowed to have children or be part of married life (though they were legally married to the king). Many of them were virgins. The regiment had a semi-sacred status, which was intertwined with the Fon belief in Vodun. The mino trained with intense physical exercise. Discipline was emphasised. Serving in the mino offered women the opportunity to “rise to positions of command and influence” in an environment structured for individual empowerment.

Combat and structure

The women soldiers were rigorously trained, given uniforms, and equipped with Danish guns (obtained via the slave trade). By the mid-19th century, they numbered between 1,000 and 6,000 women, about a third of the entire Dahomey army, according to reports written by visitors. The reports also noted variously that the women soldiers suffered several defeats, but that the women soldiers were consistently judged to be superior to the male soldiers in effectiveness and bravery.

The women soldiers were said to be structured in parallel with the army as a whole, with a center wing (the king’s bodyguards) flanked on both sides, each under separate commanders. Some accounts note that each male soldier had a mino counterpart.

In the latter period, the mino were armed with Winchester rifles, clubs and knives. Units were under female command. Captives who fell into the hands of the mino were often decapitated.

Conflict with France

European encroachment into West Africa gained pace during the latter half of the 19th century, and in 1890 King Béhanzin started fighting French forces in the course of the First Franco-Dahomean War. According to Holmes, many of the French soldiers fighting in Dahomey hesitated before shooting or bayoneting the Mino. The resulting delay led to many of the French casualties.

Ultimately, bolstered by the Foreign Legion, and armed with superior weaponry, including machine guns, along with cavalry and Marine infantry, the French inflicted casualties that were ten times worse on the Dahomey side. After several battles, the French prevailed. The Legionnaires later wrote about the “incredible courage and audacity” of the Amazons. The last surviving Amazon of Dahomey is thought to be a woman named Nawi who died in 1979.

Saartjie Baartman

Posted: May 5, 2015 in Africa, History, Women
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Saartjie Baartman was born in 1789 into the Griqua tribe of the eastern Cape, a subgroup of the Khoisan people who are now thought to be the first aboriginal inhabitants of the southern tip of Africa. Her family moved to a shack near Cape Town and, while working as a 20-year-old servant to a local farmer, she attracted the attention of a visiting English ship’s surgeon, William Dunlop. What made her a curiosity in the doctor’s eyes were her extraordinary steatopygia — enlarged buttocks — and her unusually elongated labia, a genital peculiarity of some Khoisan women of the time.

She agreed to go with Dunlop to England where, he promised her, she would become rich and famous as a subject of medical and anthropological research. She was 21 when she left Cape Town for London. At first, she was indeed put under anatomical scrutiny by scientists, who named her genital condition the ‘Hottentot apron’. ‘Hottentot’ was a word coined by early Dutch settlers to South Africa to describe the strange clicking language of the Khoisan. But the only success she achieved was as an exhibit before the general public.

Contemporary descriptions of her shows at 225 Piccadilly, Bartholomew Fair and Haymarket in London say Baartman was made to parade naked along a “stage two feet high, along which she was led by her keeper and exhibited like a wild beast, being obliged to walk, stand or sit as he ordered”. People paid one shilling to gawk at her, where she was depicted as a wild animal in a cage, dancing for her keeper. For several years, working-class Londoners crowded in to shout vulgarities at the protruding buttocks and large vulva of the unfortunate woman.

The aristocracy were no less fascinated at what they saw as a sexual freak, but they had private showings. Baartman was supposed to earn half of the proceeds from her performances, but in fact she saw little of the profits. In 1814, after spending four years being paraded around the streets of London, Baartman was taken to Paris and, according to the archival accounts, was handed to a “showman of wild animals” in a travelling circus. Her body was analysed by scientists, including Baron Cuvier, one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s surgeons. A number of pseudo-scientific articles were written about her, testimony at the time to the superiority of the European races.

Her anatomy even inspired a comic opera in France. Called “The Hottentot Venus” or “Hatred to French Women”, the drama encapsulated the complex of racial prejudice and sexual fascination that occupied European perceptions of aboriginal people at the time. It appears Baartman worked as a prostitute in Paris and drank heavily to cope with the humiliation she was subjected to. Sad and homesick, she died a lonely alcoholic on January 1 1816, probably of pneumonia. But even then she was to suffer indignity. Less than 24 hours after her death she was carved up by Baron Cuvier. He had her body cast in wax, dissected and her skeleton articulated. Her genitalia and brain were pickled and displayed at the Musee de l’Homme (Museum of Mankind). They were finally withdrawn from public view in 1974, and her remains were assigned to a storeroom and forgotten.

But some Africans never forgot Baartman. Nelson Mandela made a request to France in 1994 for her remains to be handed back. Her cause gained momentum amid post-apartheid South Africa’s new awareness of tribal identity. All over the country, aboriginal peoples are asserting their heritage rights, claiming not only political and cultural recognition, but also the restitution of ancestral land and the protection of intellectual property rights. The San, once known as the bushmen of southern Africa, have successfully reclaimed historic tribal land and won a share in the proceeds of internationally marketed drugs made from their traditional medicinal plants. And now Baartman’s Khoisan tribe, which has been recognized by the United Nations as an indigenous “First Nation,” has won a victory for tribal recognition by securing the return of the ‘Hottentot Venus’ to South Africa.

It took years of negotiations and wrangling before a law was voted in on March 6 2002 allowing for her return. French legal analysts said the text was carefully worded to prevent it from being used in other cases. French Research Minister Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg said: “France wants to restore the dignity of Saartje Baartman, who was humiliated as a woman and exploited as an African.” Ambassador Thuthukile Skweyiya stated:

“Saartje Baartman is beginning her final journey home, to a free, democratic, non-sexist and non-racist South Africa. She’s a symbol of our national need to confront our past and restore dignity to all our people.”
“I’ve come to take you home –
home, remember the veld?
the lush green grass beneath the big oak trees
the air is cool there and the sun does not burn.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white
and the water in the stream chuckle sing-songs
as it hobbles along over little stones.

I have come to wrench you away –
away from the poking eyes
of the man-made monster
who lives in the dark
with his clutches of imperialism
who dissects your body bit by bit
who likens your soul to that of Satan
and declares himself the ultimate god!

I have come to soothe your heavy heart
I offer my bosom to your weary soul
I will cover your face with the palms of my hands
I will run my lips over lines in your neck
I will feast my eyes on the beauty of you
and I will sing for you
for I have come to bring you peace.

I have come to take you home
where the ancient mountains shout your name.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white –
I have come to take you home
where I will sing for you
for you have brought me peace.”

Diana Ferrus, “A poem for Sarah Baartman”

Almost 200 years after she suffered indignity and hardship in Europe, a box containing Baartman’s remains, draped in a South African flag and flanked by six Khoisan children, was wheeled into Cape Town airport in May 2002.

Sister Elizabeth Barton

Posted: March 10, 2015 in History, Religion, Women
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Sister Elizabeth Barton (1506? – 20 April 1534), known as “The Nun of Kent”, “The Holy Maid of London”, “The Holy Maid of Kent” and later “The Mad Maid of Kent”, was an English Catholic nun. She was executed as a result of her prophecies against the marriage of King Henry VIII of England to Anne Boleyn.

Life

Little is known of Elizabeth Barton’s early life. She was born in 1506 in the parish of Aldington, about twelve miles from Canterbury, and appears to have come from a poor background. She was working as a servant when her visions began in 1525. At the age of 18, while working as a domestic servant in the household of Thomas Cobb, a farmer of Aldington, she suffered from a severe illness and claimed to have received divine revelations. These predicted future events, such as the death of a child living in her household, or more frequently took the form of pleas for people to remain in the Roman Catholic Church. She also urged people to pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to undertake pilgrimages. Thousands believed in her prophecies and both Archbishop William Warham and Bishop John Fisher attested to her pious life.

When certain events she foretold apparently came to pass, her reputation spread. The parish priest Richard Masters referred the matter to Archbishop Warham, who appointed a commission to ensure that none of her prophecies were at variance with Catholic teaching. When the commission decided favourably, Warham arranged for Barton to be received in the Benedictine St Sepulchre’s Priory, Canterbury.

In 1528 she held a private meeting with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the second most powerful man in England after Henry VIII, and soon thereafter met twice with the king himself. King Henry accepted Barton because her prophecies did not at that time challenge the existing order. Her prophecies warned against heresy and condemned rebellion at a time when the King was attempting to stamp out Lutheranism and was afraid of possible uprising or even assassination by his enemies.

However, when the King began the process of obtaining an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and seizing control of the Church in England from Rome, he turned against her. Barton strongly opposed the English Reformation and, in around 1532, began prophesying that if Henry remarried, he would die shortly after. She said she had seen the place in Hell where he would go. (Henry actually lived for another 15 years.) Remarkably, Barton went unpunished for nearly a year – largely, it appears, because of her popularity. The King’s agents spread rumours that she was engaged in sexual relationships with priests and that she suffered from mental illness. Many prophecies, as Thomas More thought, were fictitiously attributed to her.

Arrest and Execution

With her reputation undermined, the Crown arrested Barton in 1533 and forced her to confess that she had fabricated her revelations. However, all that is known regarding her confession comes from Thomas Cromwell, his agents, and other sources on the side of the Crown.

Friar John Laurence of the Observant Friars of Greenwich gave evidence against the Maid and against fellow Observants, Friars Hugh Rich and Richard Risby. Laurence then requested to be named to one of the posts left vacant by their imprisonment. She was condemned by an attainder (25 Henry VIII, c. 12); an act of Parliament authorising punishment without trial. She, along with five of her chief supporters, four of whom were priests, including Risby and Edward Bocking were hanged for treason at Tyburn. She was buried at Greyfriars Church in Newgate Street but her head was put on a spike on London Bridge, the only woman in history accorded that dishonour.

Legacy

Churches such as the Anglican Catholic Church of St Augustine of Canterbury and the Nephite Church of Christ continue to venerate Sister Barton.

The case of Elizabeth Barton is dealt with extensively in the 2009 historical novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and in its TV adaptation, where she is played by Aimee-Ffion Edwards.

Li Yuqin

Posted: December 28, 2014 in History, Women
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Li Yuqin (15 July 1928 – 24 April 2001), sometimes referred to as the “Last Imperial Concubine”, was the fourth wife of China’s last emperor Puyi. She married Puyi when the latter was the nominal ruler of Manchukuo, a puppet state established by the Empire of Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Biography

Li Yuqin was a Han Chinese by birth and her ancestral home was in Shandong. She was born in a peasant family in Changchun, Jilin.

Li attended Nanling Girls’ Academy in Jilin, then known as Hsinking, the capital of Manchukuo. In February 1943, Li and nine other girl students were taken by their principal Kobayashi and teacher Fujii to a photography studio for portraits. Three weeks later, the school principal and teacher visited Li’s home and told her that Manchukuo’s emperor Puyi had ordered her to go to the palace to study. She was first taken directly to Yasunori Yoshioka, who thoroughly questioned her. Yoshioka then drove her back to her parents and told them Puyi ordered her to study at the palace. Money was promised to the parents. She was subjected to a medical examination and then taken to Puyi’s sister Yunhe and instructed in palace protocol. Li then became a concubine of Puyi and was given the title of Noble Lady Fu .

In 1945 the Manchukuo regime collapsed following the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II. Li attempted to flee from Changchun, alongside Puyi, Empress Wanrong and other remaining members of the old Qing court. Empress Wanrong was experiencing significant opium withdrawal symptoms at that time. She, as well as the rest of Puyi’s family was evacuated with him by train from Changchun to Dalizigou. From there, however, Puyi continued by plane with only two of his sisters, his brothers, three nephews, his physician and a servant to Mukden, where he was arrested and taken to the Soviet Union. According to Puyi, Li Yuqin was very frightened and begged to be taken with him, when he left from Dalizigou to Mukden, but he assured her that she and Wanrong could reach Japan as well by train.

They were shortly arrested by Soviet forces and sent to a prison in Changchun. Li was released in 1946 and sent back home. She worked in a textile factory and in a library in Changchun, studying the works of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. In 1955 she began visiting Puyi in prison. After applying to the Chinese authorities for a divorce, the government responded on her next prison visit by showing her to a room with a double bed and ordered her to reconcile with Puyi, and she said the couple obeyed the order.

Li officially divorced Puyi in 1958. She later married a technician named Huang Yugeng, with whom she had two sons. During the Cultural Revolution Li became a target for attack by the Red Guards because she used to be Puyi’s concubine. She died in 2001 at the age of 73 in Changchun after a six-year battle with cirrhosis.


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Katherine Kennicott Davis (June 25, 1892 – April 20, 1980) was a composer, pianist, and author of the famous Christmas tune “The Little Drummer Boy”.

Life and career

Davis was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on June 25, 1892, the daughter of Jessie Foote (Barton) and Maxwell Gaddis Davis. Her father was descended from John and Mariah Jane Boylan Murphey, one of the early pioneer settlers of Morgan County, Ohio and a foreman during the construction of the National Road — also known as the Cumberland National Road, as it pushed westward from Cumberland, Maryland through Ohio and on to Vandalia, Illinois. She composed her first piece of music, “Shadow March,” at the age of 15. She graduated from St. Joseph High School in 1910, and studied music at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. In 1914 she won the Billings Prize. After graduation she continued at Wellesley as an assistant in the Music Department, teaching music theory and piano. At the same time she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Davis also studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. She taught music at the Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts, and at the Shady Hill School for Girls in Philadelphia.

She became a member of ASCAP in 1941. and was granted an honorary doctorate from Stetson University, in DeLand, Florida. Katherine K. Davis continued writing music until she became ill in the winter of 1979-1980. She died on April 20, 1980, at the age of 87, in Littleton, Massachusetts.[3] She left all of the royalties and proceeds from her compositions, which include operas, choruses, children’s operettas, cantatas, piano and organ pieces, and songs, to Wellesley College’s Music Department. These funds are used to support musical instrument instruction.

Music

Many of her over 600 compositions were written for the choirs at her school. She was actively involved in The Concord Series, multiple-volume set of music and books for educational purposes. Many of the musical volumes were compiled, arranged, and edited by Davis with Archibald T. Davison, and they were published by E.C. Schirmer in Boston.

She wrote “The Little Drummer Boy” (originally titled “The Carol of the Drum”), in 1941. It became famous when recorded by the Harry Simeone Chorale in 1958: the recording sailed to the top of the Billboard charts and Simeone insisted on a writer’s royalty for his arrangement of the song. Another famous hymn by Katherine Davis is the Thanksgiving hymn “Let All Things Now Living” which uses the melody of the traditional Welsh folk song The Ash Grove.


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Christine Jorgensen (May 30, 1926 – May 3, 1989) was an American trans woman who was the first person to become widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery. Jorgensen grew up in the Bronx, New York City. Shortly after graduating high school in 1945, she was drafted into the US Army for World War II. After her service she attended several schools, worked, and around this time heard about transitioning surgery. She travelled to Europe, and in Copenhagen, Denmark, obtained special permission to undergo a series of operations starting in 1951.

She returned to the United States in the early 1950s and her transformation was the subject of a New York Daily News front page story. She became an instant celebrity, using the platform to advocate for transgender people, and became known for her directness and polished wit. She also worked as an actress and nightclub entertainer, and recorded several songs.

Early life

Christine Jorgensen was born George William Jorgensen, Jr., the second child of the carpenter and contractor George William Jorgensen Sr. and his wife, Florence Davis Hansen. She grew up in a crime-ridden area of the Bronx, New York City and described herself as having been a “frail, blond, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games”.

Jorgensen graduated from Christopher Columbus High School in 1945 and shortly afterwards was drafted into the US Army.

After being discharged from the army, Jorgensen attended Mohawk College in Utica, New York, the Progressive School of Photography in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School in New York City. She also worked briefly for Pathé News.

Sex reassignment surgery

Returning to New York after military service and increasingly concerned over (as one obituary later called it) a “lack of male physical development”, Jorgensen heard about sex reassignment surgery. She began taking the female hormone ethinyl estradiol and researching the surgery with the help of Dr. Joseph Angelo, the husband of a classmate at the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School. Jorgensen intended to go to Sweden, where the only doctors in the world who performed the surgery were located. During a stopover in Copenhagen to visit relatives, she met Dr. Christian Hamburger, a Danish endocrinologist and specialist in rehabilitative hormonal therapy. Jorgensen then stayed in Denmark and took hormone replacement therapy under Dr. Hamburger’s direction. She obtained special permission from the Danish Minister of Justice to undergo a series of operations in that country.

On September 24, 1951, surgeons at Gentofte Hospital in Copenhagen performed an orchiectomy on Jorgensen. She referred to how the surgery affected her in a letter to friends on October 8, 1951:

“As you can see by the enclosed photos, taken just before the operation, I have changed a great deal. But it is the other changes that are so much more important. Remember the shy, miserable person who left America? Well, that person is no more and, as you can see, I’m in marvelous spirits.”

In November 1952, thirteen months after her first procedure, doctors at Copenhagen University Hospital performed a penectomy. In Jorgensen’s words, “My second operation, as the previous one, was not such a major work of surgery as it may imply.”

She then returned to the United States and eventually obtained a vaginoplasty when the procedure became available there. The vaginoplasty was performed under the direction of Dr. Angelo, with Harry Benjamin as a medical advisor.

Jorgensen chose the name Christine in honor of Dr. Hamburger. She became a spokesperson for transsexual and transgender people.

As a transgender spokesperson, Jorgensen entered the public eye. She influenced other transsexuals to change their sex on birth certificates and to change their names. Christine Jorgensen’s case is significant because for the first time, it led to complications over sex and science and the changing definition of sexuality. Gender was thought of as a set binary (where one could only be male or female) that was permanent, but Jorgensen questioned that stability. This case is an example of something that undid gender binaries that were thought to be permanent. Gender was not the set binary as people once thought of it, and doctors were redefining gender with the term “psychological sex”. This new “psychological sex” showed that psychologically, one might not relate to your biological sex. Jorgenson was an example of this; her sexuality was not a result of her biological sex. The question of what determined sex emerged, and the spectrum of sexuality identity included: chromosomes, genitalia, and body actions. This spectrum was not clear and people did not know whether chromosomes, genitalia, or body actions determined someone’s sex. Due to Jorgensen’s surgery, her definition of sexuality changed, and this led the public challenged to think about the definition of biological sex. The topic was overall complicated, as doctors tried to define and reclassify sexuality, but it did not come easily. For example, doctors tried to distinguish transexuality from transvestism and homosexuality, but at the same time also tried to decontextualize them to make it simpler for people to understand. Traditional gender norms were questioned, and Jorgensen reinforced what it meant to be a woman despite her original sexuality. She took on the notions of femininity. She saw herself as a founding member in what became known as the “sexual revolution.”

Publicity

When the New York Daily News, December 1, 1952, carried a front-page story (under the headline “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Bombshell”) announcing that Jorgensen had become the recipient of the first “sex change”, it caused a sensation. However, the claim that this was the first was not true, as this type of surgery had previously been performed by pioneering German doctors in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Danish artist Lili Elbe and “Dorchen”, both patients of Magnus Hirschfeld at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research) in Berlin, were known recipients of such operations in 1930-31. What was different in Jorgensen’s case was the added prescription of female hormones.

Jorgensen was an instant celebrity when she returned to New York on February 13, 1953. The first authorized account of her story was written by Jorgenson herself in a February 1953 issue of The American Weekly, titled “The Story of My Life.” The publicity created a platform for her, and she used it to advocate for transgender people. New York radio host Barry Gray asked her if jokes such as “Christine Jorgensen went abroad, and came back a broad” bothered her. She laughed and said that they did not bother her at all. However, another encounter demonstrated that Jorgensen could be offended by some questions. When she appeared on an episode of The Dick Cavett Show, the host asked an inappropriate and misguided question about the status of her romantic life with her “wife”, Jorgensen walked off the show’s set. As she was the only scheduled guest, Cavett spent the rest of that show stating that he had not meant to offend her.

Later life

After her vaginoplasty, Jorgensen planned to marry John Traub, a labor union statistician, but the engagement was called off. In 1959, she announced her engagement to Howard J. Knox, a typist, in Massapequa, New York, where her father had built her a house after her reassignment surgery. However, the couple was unable to obtain a marriage license because Jorgensen’s birth certificate listed her as male. In a report about the broken engagement, The New York Times noted that Knox had lost his job in Washington, D.C., when his engagement to Jorgensen became known.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Jorgensen toured university campuses and other venues to speak about her experiences. She was known for her directness and polished wit. She once demanded an apology from Spiro T. Agnew, the U.S. vice president, when he called another politician “the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party” (Agnew refused her request).

Jorgensen also worked as an actress and nightclub entertainer, and recorded several songs. In summer stock, she played Madame Rosepettle in the play Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad. In her nightclub act, she sang several songs, including “I Enjoy Being a Girl”, and at the end made a quick change into a Wonder Woman costume. She later recalled that Warner Communications, owners of the Wonder Woman character’s copyright, demanded that she stop using the character; she did so and instead used a new character of her own invention, “Superwoman”, who was marked by the inclusion of a large letter S on her cape. Jorgensen continued her act, performing at Freddy’s Supper Club on the upper east side of Manhattan until at least 1982, when she performed twice in the Hollywood area: once at the Backlot Theatre, adjacent to the discothèque Studio One, and later at The Frog Pond restaurant. This performance was recorded and has been made available as an album on iTunes. In 1984, Jorgensen returned to Copenhagen to perform her show and was featured in Teit Ritzau’s Danish transsexual documentary film Paradiset er ikke til salg (Paradise Is Not for Sale).

Jorgensen said in 1989, the year of her death, that she had given the sexual revolution “a good swift kick in the pants”. She died of bladder and lung cancer four weeks short of her 63rd birthday.