Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sandi Toksvig's top 10 unsung heroines

Sandi Toksvig is a Danish-born English comedian, author and presenter on radio and television. Her many books for children include Hitler's Canary, based upon her family's experiences in Nazi-occupied Denmark, and Girls Are Best, a look at the overlooked achievements of women down the ages.

For the Guardian, she named a top ten list of unsung heroines. Her spur to thought:
"When I was a student at Cambridge I remember an anthropology professor holding up a picture of a bone with 28 incisions carved in it. "This is often considered to be man's first attempt at a calendar" she explained. She paused as we dutifully wrote this down. 'My question to you is this – what man needs to mark 28 days? I would suggest to you that this is woman's first attempt at a calendar.'

"It was a moment that changed my life. In that second I stopped to question almost everything I had been taught about the past. How often had I overlooked women's contributions? How often had I sped past them as I learned of male achievement and men's place in the history books? Then I read Rosalind Miles's book The Women's History of the World (recently republished as Who Cooked the Last Supper?) and I knew I needed to look again. History is full of fabulous females who have been systematically ignored, forgotten or simply written out of the records. They're not all saints, they're not all geniuses, but they do deserve remembering."
One woman on Toksvig's list:
Catherine Littlefield Greene (1755-1814)

As a child growing up in the United States I was taught that a man called Eli Whitney changed the face of the American economy with the invention in 1793 of the cotton gin, a machine that mechanised the cleaning of cotton. In fact it was Catherine's idea but in those days women didn't take out patents.
Read about the other women on Toksvig's list.

--Marshal Zeringue