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Good News in History, November 5



415 years ago today, a remarkable woman was born. Anna Maria van Schurman, was a Dutch painter, engraver, poet, hyperpolyglot, and scholar who was the first woman to attend a Dutch university. A fierce defendant of a woman’s right to education, she remained celibate her entire life in order to protect her reputation as a learned woman. CHECK OUT her marvelous resume… (1607)

Jan Lievens’ Portrait of Anna Maria van Schurman

From her very early ages, it was clear that Anna Maria was, in her own words “immensely gifted by God in the arts.” At the age of ten, she learned embroidery in three hours. In some of her writings, she talks about how she invented the technique of sculpting in wax, saying, “I had to discover many things which nobody was able to teach me.” Her self-portrait wax sculpture was so lifelike that her friend, the Princess of Nassau, had to prick one with a pin just to be sure it was not real.

From about 11 years old, Schurman was taught Latin and other subjects by her father along with his sons, an unusual decision at a time when girls in noble families were not generally tutored in the classics. To learn Latin she was given Seneca to read by her father.

In 1636 she became the first female student in a Dutch university. When she attended lectures she sat behind a screen or in a curtained booth so that the male students could not see her. At the university she studied Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldee, Syriac and Ethiopian, and by her mid-30s she was fluent in 14 languages and wrote in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, French, Arabic, Persian, Ethiopian, German and Dutch.

She pioneered an engraving method of diamond on glass, and excelled at sculpture, wax modelling, and the carving of ivory and wood. She became the first known Dutch painter to use pastel in a portrait. She gained honorary admission to the St. Luke Guild of painters in 1643.

She published many books in multiple languages, including The Learned Maid or, Whether a Maid may be a Scholar, On the End of Life, Minor works in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and French in prose and poetry by the most noble Anne Maria van Schurman, as well as a theological defense of the Ladbadists, and most likely others that were lost.

Schurman argued in The Learned Maid for education on the basis of moral grounds, because “ignorance and idleness cause vice”. But Schurman also took the position that “whoever by nature has a desire for arts and science is suited to arts and science: women have this desire, therefore women are suited to arts and science.”

More Good News on this Date:

  • The Gunpowder Plot failed when Guy Fawkes was seized from the cellar before he could blow up the English Parliament (1605)
  • Suffragist Susan B. Anthony voted in her hometown of Rochester, New York, in defiance of the law prohibiting women from casting ballots—she later refused to pay the $100 fine, and continued her fight until in 1920 the right for women to vote became the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1872)
  • Parker Brothers released the board game Monopoly, the property trading game based on streets in Atlantic City, New Jersey that became licensed in more than 103 countries and printed in 37 languages—with charity versions that have raised thousands for nonprofits (1935)
  • Ella Grasso was elected governor of Connecticut, becoming the first woman to win gubernatorial office without succeeding her husband (1974)
  • NPR news show Morning Edition premiered (1979)
  • Apartheid fighter Govan Mbeki was released from South African jail after 24 years (1987)

Happy 81st Birthday to Art Garfunkel, the singer, poet, and actor who rose to fame in the 1960s and 70s with the world renown folk duo Simon and Garfunkel.

2013 photo by Adam Schartoff, CC license
Adam Schartoff, 2013 – CC license

Born in Queens, New York, the son of a traveling salesman, he met Paul Simon in school while acting in a play. After earning 8 Grammys with Simon, he performed as a solo act (alongside his son)—and attained a Top-10 single, All I Knowuntil his voice gave out.

In 1989, he released an acclaimed collection of prose poetry. He has also walked across Japan, Europe, and America, writing poetry along the way. Garfunkel’s memoir What Is It All But Luminous: Notes From An Underground Man, was published in 2017. WATCH a touching Note to Myself, woven in a bio of his best works… (1941)

And, 105 years ago today, a historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling decided that a city ordinance prohibiting the sale of property to blacks in white-majority neighborhoods or buildings violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

1917 Supreme Court – Library of Congress

In Louisville, Kentucky, the city ordinance forbade any black individuals to own or occupy buildings in an area in which a greater number of white persons resided. After a white property owner, Charles H. Buchanan, filed suit so he could sell to a black man, the high Court unanimously agreed in Buchanan v. Warley that the law “destroy(ed) the right of the individual to acquire, enjoy, and dispose of his property,” and therefore was unconstitutional. (1917)

Also, 553 years ago, Guru Nanak, the spiritual teacher and founder of Sikhism, was born. A poet, mystic, philosopher, and singer, Guru Nanak’s philosophy centered on belief in one God for all of creation, a God that is formless, omnipresent, compassionate, and attainable through prayer, humility, service, meditation, and virtuous living.

Nanak was born in Punjab, an area of Northern India and Pakistan. After a revelatory experience at the age of 37, Nanak traveled extensively to spread his message, that there is one God and one human race. He denounced ritualism, discrimination against women—and against those of lower socioeconomic status. This philosophy became the foundation of Sikhism (meaning: seeker or truth or disciple), which is today the fifth largest religion in the world. (1469)

Happy 62nd Birthday to the stylish Scottish actress Tilda Swinton.

The Human Voice

She won an Oscar for her performance in the film Michael Clayton, a BAFTA Award for We Need to Talk About Kevin and was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in The Deep End. She is also known for her performance as the ‘White Witch’ in The Chronicles of Narnia series—and many other films.

Born into a Scottish aristocratic family, she now lives in her ancient homeland in Nairn, Scotland, with the twin children she had with her former husband, playwright John Byrne.

One recent project, produced during the pandemic last summer by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, was a one-act 30-minute short called The Human Voice. Capturing our isolation in lockdown, a woman in her apartment is on the verge of a breakdown as she takes a phone call from the lover who has ended their 4-year relationship. WATCH the trailer below. (1960)


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