Posts Tagged ‘history’

The 1940s were a tumultuous time on both sides of the ocean.  Nobody knew who to trust and both sides of the war were looking for allies they could confide in.  During this time General Dwight D. Eisenhower, more commonly known as Ike, was rumoured to have found his calm centre in his chauffeur turned secretary, Irishwoman Kay Summersby. 

England --- England: This girl has much to do with the smooth, efficient running of the working day of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, as he maps out plans for the coming invasion of Europe. Photo shows Kay Summersby, driver and personal secretary to the General. Miss Summersby is a British subject, born in Ireland and has been with the General in North Africa. She can take shorthand at 200 words per minute. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Kay was née Kathleen Helen MacCarthy-Morrogh in Ballydehob, County Cork, Ireland in 1908.  Her father was a black Irish retired Lieutenant Colonel and her mother was English.  In her 20s she moved to London and worked on movie sets and as a fashion model.  At 28 she married British Army officer Gordon Thomas Summersby, divorcing him within a few years, but keeping his name for life.  When Britain joined WWII in 1939, Kay joined too.  She enlisted herself in the Mechanised Transport Corps and quickly became known as a reliable driver after successfully navigating the London streets during the blackouts of the London Blitz in 1940 & 1941.

BELATED V-E DAY CELEBRATIONWhen Ike arrived in London in 1942 Kay was assigned to be his driver.  They worked closely together until 1945 when the war was over and he dismissed her from his staff by letter. “I am terribly distressed, first because it has become impossible longer to keep you as a member of my personal official family. . . .” he wrote.  Kay won multiple awards for her bravery and service in the British army and married stockbroker Reginald H. Morgan in 1952 for a short time.

So why the rumours that they were lovers?  Why would a powerful man working side by side with a smart and independent woman lead to these malicious tales?  If Ike had never become president would their “affair” have stayed under wraps forever?

One major piece of evidence of their romantic connection was the record of their written correspondence, one letter in particular stands out from the bunch. He wrote “Irish– How about lunch, tea & dinner today? If yes: Who else do you want, if any? At which time? How are you? D.”  Her post-mortem memoirs state that she kept this note intact in her personal belongings for her whole life, it was later auctioned off by Sotheby’s in the 1990s.  Another big piece of evidence was a statement by Truman claiming that in 1945 Eisenhower asked him and General Marshall if he could divorce his wife, Mamie, and marry the Irishwoman.  They denied his request and convinced him that it would lead to political suicide.  They just may have been onto something….

Sadly, Kay passed away from cancer in 1975 at age 66.  Her memoirs – scandalously titled “Past Forgetting: My Love Affair with Dwight D. Eisenhower” and rumoured to be ghost written by Barbara Wyden – were released the following year.  If you are looking for more information on this tittilating topic, I would recommend this book as your next read- apparently she spills all the juicy wartime gossip. 

transgender

Bruce Jenner just came out publicly as transgender and in the process of transitioning from a man to a woman. He identifies as a woman even though he is (still) physically in a man’s body. Bruce was interviewed by Diane Sawyer.

Frankly, I didn’t know who Bruce Jenner was until the story broke. I don’t keep up with the Kardashians or reality TV or much of the gossip column stuff. I know, I miss out on a lot of juicy bits, but hey…

However, I was able to catch some of the interview, which I found quite mesmerizing. I thought Bruce was very honest and real and it made me even more sensitive to what he, and many like him, have gone through since the age of six or seven years old. Imagine the struggle.

What I also found fascinating was gaining more insight into the differences in gender identity. Bruce is not gay. He is not a cross-dresser. He truly feels like a woman in every way but the physical. There are differences.

It is a complex business, gender identity. It has been part of our history and has been recorded since the dawn of time. Men and women of various sexual orientations were muses, court jesters, entertainers, androgynous lovers of rulers. Ancient art depicts sexual acts that seem shocking even in this day and age. Many times in history, unconventional sexual practices were completely accepted, were a normal part of life. Other times, anything nonconforming was more than scorned. And so it goes…

I was in an eight year relationship with a man who eventually came out as gay. Looking back, I don’t think his sexual identity was that simple or straightforward either.

Regardless, I for one breathe a sigh of relief that we, as human beings, are becoming more educated and accepting of one another.  #nothingnew #fullcircle #astheworldturns

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We hear a lot of talk about how technology messes with our privacy – our social lives and our sex lives.

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Last week we discussed courtly love in the middle ages and saw how nobles had private affairs – famously played out for the ages.

But what of courtship in the 20th century? How did big inventions like the car affect us?… At the time, many said this ‘brothel on wheels’ was terrible for our much loved privacy and social segregation.

Even the very idea of privacy didn’t really appear until the 1800’s.  But by the 1890’s it had worked its way into American culture, when it was fashionable for courting men to call on the family home where its badge of honor – privacy – could be found.  Meanwhile, despite the illusion of privacy, bourgeois parents hovered over their children sitting in the front parlor even more, using their veto power to preserve the family honor.

Check out some of the styles of the Mauve decade.

All this honor-preserving led to some serious boredom. In the Gay Nineties, the new bohemians ventured out into the city, just like the poor folks, discovering and establishing their own private spaces on the other side of the tracks, so to speak. They felt more privacy among strangers from other classes than in their own parents’ homes – and the leisure class played on in the ‘mauve’ decade, literally inventing the idea of the date. This not only meant escaping all of that chaperoning but also getting away from the watchful female sphere and out into the male sphere. Bourgeois mothers lost control over the whole thing.

Then came the tipping point – the automobile.

In the Jazz Age, going out on dates in an expensive car turned courtship into dating – driven by cash. For hipsters in the 1920s, the car had actually become a ‘brothel on wheels’ as women became more and more commodified. And while Americans have certainly had a lot of backseat sex in the 20th century, the car can’t be targeted as purely negative technology. It is a private space for social change. The leisure class had already been dodging their parents for years, sneaking out at night and hooking up with working-class youth out on the prowl. Their cars just gave them a little privacy to do it.

Learn more on HistoryToday about sex and the automobile in the jazz age.

 

Its everywhere.  Advertising overflows with it.  Its all people talk about.  Do you love someone but aren’t in love with them?  Are you in love love?  Is it just about the sex, then?  We think about it, dream about it, go online to get closer to it ~ and of course, we write stories about it.  Modern ideals of falling in love and discovering romance find their beginnings in exactly that – stories.  In this week’s History of Sex, we’ll have a look at the origins of love.

During the crusades, a flow of soldiers, merchants and culture brought Spanish and Islamic traditions into the lives of Europeans.  There were the troubadours of Provence, basically Spanish romance poets – traveling throughout Europe singing mythical songs about chivalry and love.  The motifs developed in Arabic literature soon influenced French, English, Italian and German culture:  love as sickness and cure, romance as torment and delight.  The idea of ‘love for love’s sake’ and even the notion of ‘unrequited love’ have their roots in Arabic poetry of the 9th and 10th century.

From far-off places, courtship and an eroticized ‘real love’ worked its way into the European story.  The practice of courtly love was developed in the castle life in a few regions in France around the time of the First Crusade (1099).  At the time, marriages for nobles were ‘arrangements’ and had nothing to do with what we know as ‘love’, so ‘lovers’ were something different.

Here are the stages of courtly love:

  • Attraction to the lady, usually by a glance
  • Worship of the lady from afar
  • Declaration of passionate devotion
  • Virtuous rejection by the lady
  • Renewed wooing with oaths of virtue and eternal faithfulness
  • Moans of approaching death from unsatisfied desire (and other lovesickness)
  • Heroic deeds of valor which win the lady’s heart
  • Consummation of the secret love
  • Endless adventures avoiding detection

Well, today we’d probably call them “cheaters”.  They were definitely secret trysts…often sexual, but sometimes just escalating emotional affairs.   They were never purely platonic – all courtly love was erotic.  At the very least, all these noble cheats helped to break up some of the chauvinism of the upper classes.  At most, they helped to spread an imaginative view of romantic love where sex was something to achieve…they made fashionable the very idea that it was a game worth playing.