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Life Arts

Uppity Women in History/Herstory: Interview with Author Vicki Leon

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I'm baffled; and dig further. As the facts unfold, it touches me to learn that in the 1600s and 1700s, Venice had big-city problems, the same kind our world has: unwanted pregnancies and even more unwanted children, mostly girls.

At some point, the bigwigs that ran Venice thought of a visionary solution. They built four huge ospedali or orphanages. These weren't bleak, Dickensian workhouses, either. They were training grounds, with classical music programs run by musicians the caliber of"Vivaldi! He worked at the Ospedali de la Pieta, teaching violin, flute, guitar, and voice lessons to girls from nursery-school age on up. (Girls who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket were taught other useful skills, as were orphan boys.)

Each of the Ospedali put on regular programs for the public, the revenues going to support the orphanages. These spectacular performances became famous around Europe -- and visitors fought to get tickets.

Now, each time I hear or play Vivaldi, his music gains depth and poignancy, realizing that much of it was written for the tender voices and young fingers of talented girls, who were given a chance in a harsh world.

A writer's life is strange and interesting, isn't it? I write a travel book to the strains of "Four Seasons" -- and two decades later, I find that the music that gave me inspiration was played by girls, 300 years ago. Knowing the story behind the story now lets me "return the favor." I can bring these talented youngsters into the spotlight again -- through my books.

Catherine the Great by Fyodor Rokotov (det. 1763) col. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow by Public domain via wiki

MAB: Wow, what a great story, Vicki! And you might say you are not a prizewinning author, but you certainly get a prize from me for inspiring me for almost two decades! The fun part about interviewing a storyteller is that the responses are always so fascinating, and yours are stunning! I also love listening to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" specifically to enhance creativity, and of course it is well known for producing the Mozart Effect (although I can imagine his chagrin since it was not labeled the Vivaldi Effect!)

I love the problem-solving aspect of the Ospedali story that you shared - poiticians today could learn a lot from that example of a "win-win" model!

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To close, can you share one of the stories of an "uppity woman" from your new book so our readers can get a delicious taste of what to expect?

Self -portrait, Sofonisba Anguissola, 1556. Col. Lancut Palace, Poland. by Public domain via wiki

VL: Sure, here's one:

England's First Avon Lady

A career woman with calves of iron, Joan Dant pioneered the door-to-door sales pitch in 17th Century England. Her peddler prowess became famous in London and environs, where working conditions included grouchy dogs, no sidewalks, filthy cobble-stones, and flying chamberpots."

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Only after becoming a weaver's widow did Mrs. Dant decide to become a traveling entrepreneur. She started with socks, then built up her inventory to carry a whole line of hosiery and haberdashery.

Joan Dant was Quaker by faith, and the honesty of her business dealings--and the great networking she did among fellow Quakers--soon made her the peddler to watch. In time, Dant enterprises went international. Modest by nature, and a thrift queen at heart, Joan schlepped her wares to faraway Paris and Brussels, all the while amassing the Renaissance equivalent of money market funds.

Thanks to her daily cardiovascular workouts, she did not perish until age 84. At that time, sorrowing friends and startled beneficiaries found that the dauntless marathoner was worth a small fortune. Most of the 9,000 pounds and other assets she left went to Quaker widows and fatherless children.

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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing for over 25 years. She studied art with Harold Ransom Stevenson in Sea Cliff NY for seven years before opening her own art school. Stevenson had (more...)

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This was one of the most fun interviews I have con... by Meryl Ann Butler on Thursday, Mar 20, 2014 at 10:40:45 AM
Great piece, already ordered her book on uppity R... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Mar 20, 2014 at 12:58:47 PM
Thanks, Robert!  Glad you liked it, and the ... by Meryl Ann Butler on Thursday, Mar 20, 2014 at 3:46:58 PM
Thank you for this informative interview with Vick... by Amy Schreiner on Thursday, Mar 20, 2014 at 6:41:29 PM
Glad you liked the interview. Amy, and thanks for ... by Meryl Ann Butler on Thursday, Mar 20, 2014 at 8:33:08 PM
What a fabulous lady and a great interview, Meryl... by Joan Brunwasser on Thursday, Mar 20, 2014 at 10:16:44 PM
Well, I assure you that it will be a tasty experie... by Meryl Ann Butler on Friday, Mar 21, 2014 at 7:22:44 AM
As the child of an uppity woman myself, I've alway... by Greg Tamblyn on Friday, Mar 21, 2014 at 10:26:52 AM
LOL, Greg, any progeny of an uppity woman is a fri... by Meryl Ann Butler on Friday, Mar 21, 2014 at 11:21:48 AM
This book could assist many if included on the "r... by Cynthia Piano on Friday, Mar 21, 2014 at 6:22:04 PM
Yes I agree that our young girls need to read thes... by Meryl Ann Butler on Friday, Mar 21, 2014 at 8:04:38 PM
Yes, both young boys and girls would benefit grea... by Cynthia Piano on Saturday, Mar 22, 2014 at 7:44:36 AM