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The Soul of the Rose by John William Waterhouse, 1908

I think Taylor Swift said it best “a break-up is worth a few songs, a heart break is worth a few albums.” So it goes, the demise of my engagement has inspired a slew of blog posts and I foresee it continuing on for a least a year. I will make an effort not to mention it so frequently, but then again . . . who knows who will be discovering 19th Century Modern on any given day.

My dear sweet mother is convinced (CONVINCED!) I will be married with children in the next ten years. Part of me wants to snort derisively at her capping it off at a decade. Nice to know she’s giving me “time.” The other part of me feels I need to steel myself for the very possibility that I might never marry. More ever, it is OKAY if I do not make it down the aisle. To be fair, I have not wholly convinced myself of this, but I am working on it. Trying to see the bright side of this period in my life.

There have been and will be countless single women all over the world, who do well for themselves, financially and emotionally after suffering “the heartbreak of their life.” Dying as a single person does not mean dying unloved nor dying alone. It was simply that person lead a different life. Trying to bolster my own spirits and looking for 19th century examples of such women, I discovered about two dozen who fit the bill. Below are my top eight ladies who went on to achieve great things and lead fabulously colorful lives without a husband. That is not to say, they did not have lovers. They did, both male and female, but in the end these fearless ladies did not tie the knot. And yes, some of them struggled mightily with their loss, others never recovered, but their pain was a muse and impetus for their passion.

Christina Georgina Rossetti

The youngest and lively sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood fame. Before she was 20 years old she was engaged to the painter James Collinson, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite but the engagement was broken (!) During the following years, she was proposed to twice more but turned them down. She occasionally modeled for the Brotherhood. She wrote poetry throughout her childhood and was soon published around the time of her engagement to Collinson. She was published in a literary magazine the same year she split with James Collinson. It was one of the Brotherhood publications, but made others take notice. It wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she received acclaim for her collection of poems Goblin Market and Other Poems.

Jane Austen

How could we not include, Ms. Austen??? It was said that Tom Lefroy was the love of her life, but both families did not find the match suitable (read: the money situation was not ideal) and thus they strove to keep the love birds apart. For better or worse, the families succeed in their endeavor. When she was “seven and twenty years of age,” she was proposed to by a prosperous gentleman (read: a suitable match) and she accepted. Then turned around and changed her mind within 24 hours, declining his offer, for she did not love the man. What followed was her Career. She became a literary giant! It took roughly eleven years from the withdrawing her proposal to get the first book published, but then it snowballed soon after with the succeeding five novels.

Anne Bronte

Poet and author, Anne Bronte was the youngest of the three Bronte Family. (What is with authoresses being marriage-less??)  At the age of 19 she was demised from the horrible experience at Blake Hall. Anne became enamored with her father’s new curate upon her return home. It was not for certain if there was a romance between the two, or unrequited affection from Anne. Three years later, the gentleman died of cholera, while in the middle of her second governess post. Four years after the death of “her darling” she published Agnes Grey, followed two years later by The Tenants of Wildfell Hall. In between times, she wrote poetry.

Clara Barton

Born Clarrisa Harlowe Barton, Clara entered into a romantic relationship at the age of 42 (there’s hope for me yet!) with a Colonel in the Civil War. By that time she was already known as “The angel on the battlefield” for her work as a nurse. After the war ended she worked for the War Department, helping missing soldiers reunite with their families. “While visiting Europe, Clara Barton worked with a relief organization known as the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–’71. . . She began to lobbied for an American branch of the organization.The American Red Cross Society was founded in 1881 and Barton served as its first president.” (from biography.com)

Florence Nightingale

During her late ‘teens/early 20s, Florence began a nine year courtship with politician, but rejected his suit. Over the years she had plenty other suitors, but felt God had decided she was one whom He “had clearly marked out . . . to be a single woman.” She was certain nursing was God-given calling. “Aged 33, she then became superintendent of a hospital for ‘gentlewomen’ in Harley Street, London. In March 1854, reports flooded in about the dreadful conditions and lack of medical supplies suffered by injured soldiers fighting the Crimean War. With a party of 38 nurses, Florence arrived in Scutari that November and set about organizing the hospitals to improve supplies of food, blankets and beds, as well as the general conditions and cleanliness. The comforting sight of her checking all was well at night earned her the name “Lady of the Lamp”, along with the undying respect of the British soldiers. The Nightingale Training School was established in 1860 using donations from the Nightingale Fund. Its reputation soon spread and Nightingale nurses were requested to start new schools all over the world, including Australia, America and Africa. Florence was awarded the Royal Red Cross in 1883. Then in 1907 she was the first woman to receive the Order of Merit, Britain’s highest civilian decoration.” (from http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk/)

Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt was one of the most famous female Impressionist painters known for her depictions of mothers and children. Mary decided early on that marriage would not be compatible with her career. She made her choice, because clearly it was either or. “She was a “New Woman;” a successful, highly trained woman artist who never married.” Mary was around 15 years old when she came to this conclusion and went on to paint for the next 55 years until she went blind. However, she lived for another 14 years after that. “In 1966, Cassatt’s painting The Boating Party was reproduced on a US postage stamp. Later she was honored by the United States Postal Service with a 23¢ Great Americans series postage stamp. In 2003, four of her paintings (Young Mother (1888), Children Playing on the Beach (1884), On a Balcony (1878/79) and Child in a Straw Hat (circa 1886)) were reproduced on the third issue in the American Treasures series.”

Helen Keller

Helen Keller is my home girl. I can identify with her on many levels and not just the hearing loss, but was legally blind. The frustration and anguish with invisible disabilities? Been there. Brilliant and determined? I like to think so . . . Helen’s story, like Jane’s is a familiar one. Precocious baby falls ill and loose her sight and her hearing, becomes a holy terror, determined teacher makes a breakthrough, Helen goes on to be achieve a whole different kind of awesome. “In 1890, Keller began speech classes at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston. She would toil for 25 years to learn to speak so that others could understand her. By this time, Keller had mastered several methods of communication, including touch-lip reading, Braille, speech, typing and finger-spelling. Keller graduated, cum laude, from Radcliffe in 1904, at the age of 24. She became a well-known celebrity and lecturer by sharing her experiences with audiences, and working on behalf of others living with disabilities. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Keller tackled social and political issues, including women’s suffrage, pacifism and birth control. She testified before Congress, strongly advocating to improve the welfare of blind people.” (from biography.com)

Mary Eliza Mahoney

“Patients tended by Mahoney throughout her career gave glowing testimony of her expert and tender care. She graduated from the New England Hospital for Women and Children Training School for Nurses in 1879. She was one of only three persons in her class to complete the rigorous 16 month program. In 1909, Mahoney gave the welcome address at the first conference of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). In recognition of her outstanding example to nurses of all races, NACGN established the Mary Mahoney Award in 1936. When NACGN merged with the American Nurses Association in 1951, the award was continued. Today, the Mary Mahoney Award is bestowed biennially in recognition of significant contributions in interracial relationships.” (taken directly from nursingworld.org)

 

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