Formidable Females in History by Sarah Terry
I’m a writer, sometimes comedic, sometimes dramatic, and always neurotic. I understand that self-doubt comes with the territory, but that doesn’t keep the nerves at bay when I get the jitters about a new project. So when my confidence takes a nosedive, I turn to the courageous, formidable women in history for a boost in the form of these fabulous biographies.
Though many know Cleopatra as a masterful seductress who brought conquerors to their knees, Stacy Schiff sifts through historical records to present us with a picture of a strong, powerful leader who wasn’t an immoral tramp, but was in fact a shrewd ruler willing to use every angle to protect her home and her people. The book portrays the famous queen as an intelligent and cunning woman; Schiff even presents the possibility that Cleopatra was not the great beauty we imagine, but rather an average Jane who seduced some of Rome’s greatest men with her intelligence and wit, not her looks. My favorite scene depicts Cleopatra smuggling herself into Caesar’s room inside a simple sack after he conquered her capitol city of Alexandria. She appeared before Caesar not to seduce him, but to plead for her life and her kingdom. Schiff quips, “Many queens have risen from obscurity, but Cleopatra is the only one to have emerged on the world stage from inside a sturdy sack.…” If a woman like Cleopatra can believe strongly enough in her communication skills to surprise Julius Caesar and talk him out of killing her, then I can certainly have a little faith in my own words.
I discovered this very special read while researching possible screenplay ideas. I searched online for “famous dressmakers,” but I didn’t realize what I’d find. Elizabeth Keckly, a slave in the south, put her skills as a seamstress to use and bought her freedom with her earnings as a dressmaker (included amongst her clients was Mary Anne Randolph Custis Lee, wife of future General Robert E. Lee). When she was freed, Lizzie, as she was called, dreamed of working in the White House. With recommendations from some of the most powerful families in America, Lizzie’s dream came true, and she began working for Mary Todd Lincoln, the new first lady. Lizzie and Mary became fast friends, and Lizzie witnessed intimately many of the dramas and tragedies of one of the most famous White Houses in history. When her friend Mary crumbled following her husband’s murder, Lizzie stuck by her and helped all she could, even when the rest of Mrs. Lincoln’s society had deserted her. Lizzie’s artistic talents and stalwart heart brought her from the horrors of slavery to Washington D.C., working as a free woman for the most powerful family in the United States. How’s that for courage?
Elizabeth I is one of my favorite historical figures, and the epitome of a courageous woman in history. Elizabeth was a queen in an age of male rulers, and throughout her reign, her advisors were trying to find a man to marry and rule for her. She held strong, seeing England through wars with Spain and France, and even had several famous love affairs, though she kept her reputation as the Virgin Queen. She also somehow managed to stand up wearing 300-pound gowns and a corset, which is an incredible feat, since any fashion more challenging than a 3-inch heel causes me major disaster. If Queen Elizabeth managed to stand up to the most powerful men of her day without being able to breath, I can certainly manage to drum up a little confidence to deal with writer’s insecurity.
Sarah Terry is an aspiring TV writer and screenwriter. Her chocolate chip cookies are world-renowned, she can do 5 boy pushups in a row, and her Basque heritage is the reason she talks so loud. She writes TV pilots, screenplays, and the occasional rambling blog post for her blog, That Ridiculous Fantastic.
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