Friday, July 22, 2011

Isabella Marie Boyd (Belle Boyd)

Isabella Marie Boyd
May 9, 1844 – June 11, 1900

I was born in Martinsburg Virginia, the eldest child of Benjamin Reed and Mary Rebecca (Glenn) Boyd. My childhood was idyllic and I lived a care-free life as a reckless tomboy who loved to climb trees, race through the woods, and dominate my brothers, sisters, and cousins. Despite my family's lack of money, I received a good education. After some preliminary schooling, when I was twelve years old, I attended the Mount Washington Female College at Baltimore. I completed my training at the age of sixteen. My family and friends arranged a debut in Washington. Typical of my good nature, I became a fun-loving debutante.

But a career for espionage beckoned and it began quite by chance. On July 4, 1861, a band of Union army soldiers saw the Confederate flag hanging outside my home. They tore it down and hung a Union flag in its place. This angered me, but I kept my silence. But when one of them cursed at my mother, I became completely enraged. I pulled out a pistol and shot the man down.

Although a board of inquiry exonerated me, sentries were posted around my house and officers kept close track of all my activities. I profited from this enforced familiarity, charming at least one of the officers, Captain Daniel Keily, into revealing military secrets to me.

Captain Daniel Kiely is seated on the right

To him, I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and a great deal of important information." I conveyed those secrets to Confederate officers via my slave, Eliza Hopewell, who carried the messages in a hollowed-out watch case. On this, my first attempt at spying, I was caught and told I could be sentenced to death. Luckily, I was not. This didn’t scare me. It only taught me that I needed to find a better way to communicate.

One evening in mid-May 1862, Union General James Shields and his staff gathered in the parlor of the local hotel.

Union General James Shields

I hid in the closet in the room, eavesdropping through a knothole I had enlarged in the door. I learned that Shields had been ordered east from Front Royal, Virginia, a move that would reduce the Union Army's strength at Front Royal. That night, I rode through Union lines, using false papers to bluff my way past the sentries, and reported the news to Colonel Turner Ashby, who was scouting for the Confederates. I then returned to town.

Colonel Turner Ashby

When the Confederates advanced on Front Royal on May 23, I ran to greet General Stonewall Jackson's men, braving enemy fire that put bullet holes in my skirt.

Stonewall Jackson

I urged an officer to inform Jackson that the Yankee force was very small and to tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all. Well, Jackson did just that and that very same evening, he penned a note of gratitude to me. For my actions, I was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor. Jackson also gave me captain and aide-de-camp positions.

 But my lover turned coat and he gave me up. I was arrested on July 29, 1862, and brought to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington on where an inquiry was held on August 7, 1862 concerning violations of orders that I was to have been kept in close custody.

I was held for a month before being released on August 29, 1862, when I was exchanged at Fort Monroe. I was later arrested and imprisoned a third time, but again was set free.

In 1864, I went to England where I met and married a Union naval officer named Samuel Wylde Hardinge.

After the Civil War, I became an actress in England. After my husband, Samuel, died, I returned to the United States on November 11, 1869. There I met and married John Swainston Hammond in New Orleans. But our marriage was not to last. We divorced in 1884 and I married Nathaniel Rue High in 1885. A year later, I began touring the country giving dramatic lectures of my life as a Civil War spy.

While touring the United States, at the age of 56, I suffered a fatal heart attack in Kilbourne City, Wisconsin on June 11, 1900.

My grave can be found in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Dells.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Franca Viola and the battle against La Fuitina

In Sicily, there was a romantic practice called La Fuitina. Young couples in love would secretly run away from home to be together. They would return in a few days, hand in hand, demonstrating to the world that they had been intimate. Of course, the girl’s reputation would be in tatters. The only way to repair it was to have the couple repair the damage by marrying, a practice dubbed matrimonio riparatore (reparation marriage). For poor families who could not afford dowries for their daughters, the practice was encouraged by the parents. How very romantic indeed!

But all that shines is not gold. The practice could also be used for more nefarious purposes. Girls could find themselves unwilling victims. Rejected suitors or unwanted admirers would kidnap the object of their affection then rape her. In this way, he would get the girl and then rely on a reparation marriage to protect him from prosecution. How could this be? Well, according to Article 544 of the Italian Criminal Code, sexual violence was considered an offence against morals and not against the person. Any girl who suffered the disgrace of losing her virginity had little choice – she either submitted to a reparation marriage to restore her honour and that of her family, or she faced a future as a shunned spinster, labeled as a tarnished slut, and would be forever to blame for the violence she had endured.

Franca Viola

Franca Viola was a beautiful seventeen year old who lived in the small Sicilian town of Alcamo with her farming family. For many months, Filippo Melodia, a young man with Mafia connections, made advances towards her, which she virtuously and repeatedly discouraged and snubbed. Determined to get his girl, Filippo gathered twelve of his friends and dragged Franca and her younger brother kicking and screaming into a car. They were driven to an isolated farmhouse on the outskirts of town. There, Filippo took her virginity by raping her. Soon afterwards, they released her brother, but kept Franca in seclusion, repeatedly raping her for more than a week. Viola's father pretended to come to terms with the kidnappers while actually collaborating with the Carabinieri police in preparing a successful dragnet operation. After more than a week, Franca Viola was released and her kidnappers arrested

Of course, Melodia offered Franca reparation marriage, for a rapist who married his victim would have his crime automatically extinguished. But Franca courageously refused, acting against what was the common practice in the Sicilian society of the time. According to traditional social code, this choice would make her a donna svergognata, without hounour. This marked the beginning of the family’s troubles.

Most of the townfolk ostracized them. Franca’s father received death threats. Their family were menaced and persecuted, to the point of having their vineyard and cottage burned to the ground. During Melodia’s trial, and that of his accomplices, his lawyers worked hard to discredit Franca, alleging she had encouraged and consented to the fiutina. Thankfully, the judges refused to believe it. Melodia received 11 years imprisonment. Five of his partners in crime were acquitted, and those remaining were given very lenient sentences. Melodia appealed his sentence and it was reduced to 10 years with 2 of those years to be served in Modena.

Franca married her childhood sweetheart and together they had three children. The president of the Italian republic sent them a gift on their wedding day and Pope Paul VI received them in a private audience.

Filippo Melodia was released from prison in 1976. Two years later, he was killed in a mafia-style execution.

The case so beguiled the country that a movie, The Most Beautiful Wife, was made of Franca’s story. It brought Franca fame as a national icon for feminism, a status she never took advantage of. The article of law whereby a rapist could extinguish his crime by marrying his victim was abolished ten years later in 1981.

Franca Viola Today

Today, Franca is a grandmother living with her family in Alcamo. When asked to comment on the stance she took against archaic values and behavioural mores, she said, “It was not a courageous gesture. I only did what I felt I had to do, as any other girl would do today. I listened to my heart.”

Brava Franca. You helped transform Italian society and led the way for women everywhere to also say “No!”


Friday, July 1, 2011

Marie de Vicy-Chamrond, Marquise du Deffand

Marie de Vichy-Chamrond, Marquise du Deffand was born in 1697 at Chateau of Chamrond, Burgundy, France.

The Marquise du Deffand is best known for her sharp wit and her bad characer among the French salonnières. She was also known for her ascerbic retorts, pride, cynism, selfishness, and rudeness.

Madame du Deffand was also sceptical, sarcastic; feared and hated even in her blind old age for her scathing criticisms.

When the celebrated work of Helvetius appeared he was blamed in her presence for having made selfishness the great motive of human action.

"Bah!" said she, "he has only revealed every one's secret."

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