Mary Bennett - NZ's first and only female lighthouse keeper

The Bennett children in 1859 (source: NZHistory, family collection)

The Bennett children in 1859 (source: NZHistory, family collection)

From 1855 - 1865, Mary Bennett was New Zealand's first female lighthouse keeper at the Pencarrow lighthouse, near the entrance to Wellington Harbour. (The lighthouse still stands but is inactive today; it can be reached on foot or by bike from Eastbourne.)

Mary Bennett was born in England in 1816. In 1840, she sailed to New Zealand and married George Bennett. George was appointed Pencarrow's first 'Keeper of the Light' in 1852, and he and Mary moved there with their five children.

Conditions at the remote lighthouse, with its wild weather and poor lodgings, were dire (old letters mention that there was no working stove, the house was not protected from rain or wind, the nearest water source was half a kilometre away, and during strong gales the family sometimes fled in terror to a nearby cabin). One of their children, two-year-old Eliza, died at the lighthouse within their first year.

Just a couple of years later, poor George was killed when he was washed overboard from a boat during a storm. Mary, with five surviving children and another on the way, took over the job – she probably didn't have much choice – and ran the lighthouse.

The existing light, which was just a gas lamp in the window of their two-room cottage and difficult to see in rough conditions, was replaced in 1859 and New Zealand's first permanent lighthouse was finally set up,  after much public demand and loss of life (it was an essential signal point for vessels). Mary was asked to run the new lighthouse, an impressive endorsement particularly in the 1850s, and she accepted, despite having six children to care for in such a wild, remote area. Records show that she was organised and meticulous in her role, although her assistant initially complained about working with a woman.

After five more years Mary passed on the light in 1860 and headed back to England with her children. One of her sons returned to New Zealand in 1880 to work again at the Pencarrow lighthouse. Mary died in 1885 and the lighthouse became inactive in the mid-20th century. To this day, there hasn't been another female lighthouse keeper in New Zealand.

Sources: Ellen Ellis. 'Bennett, Mary Jane', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, NZHistory.net, Maritime Museum

Marie Curie, Nobel-Prize Winning Physicist and Chemist (1867-1934)

Marie Curie, 1920

Marie Curie, 1920

Marie Curie was a pioneering physicist and chemist. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize – and the first person to win twice, for multiple sciences to boot (her family racked up a total of five Nobel Prizes – smart family!). She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and helped to develop x-ray machines.

Maria Salomea Skłodowska was born in 1867 in Poland, which at the time was part of the Russian Empire. She was the youngest of five children and her father was a physics teacher. She was a top student at school, but wasn't allowed to attend the men-only University of Warsaw so she studied at the "Floating University", a set of secret, informal classes held across the city. She and her sister Bronya pledged to work to finance each other's continuing educations.

Marie completed her Masters in Physics in Paris, where she met and married the scientist Pierre Curie. They both carried out pioneering scientific work, and discovered the theory of radioactivity (which she named) and two elements, polonium and radium. Together they won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903, but Pierre was tragically killed a few years later when he stepped in front of a horse-drawn wagon. They had two children.

In 1911 Marie won another Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry. She also founded the Curie Institute, still one of the world's top institutes for medical and scientific research. 

Marie died in 1934, aged 66, of radium exposure from the test tubes she had carried around in her lab coat pockets over the years, and from the mobile x-ray units she had helped to set up during World War One. In 1995 she and her husband were interred in the Pantheon in Paris, a great honour, and she is the only woman to be interred there.

Information from Wikipedia.com and Biography.com

For more about Marie Curie:

Rey, Star Wars Lead Character and Galactic Warrior

Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (image from starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Rey)

Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (image from starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Rey)

Rey is the lead character from Star Wars: The Force Awakensthe seventh film in the Star Wars series. The 19-year-old is (currently) of unknown parentage, but shows powerful Jedi traits: at one point she picks up a lightsaber and is able to use it without training. She's a skilled fighter, she's independent, and she - shock, horror - doesn't need rescuing!

Rey is introduced as a scavenger who was left behind on the desert planet Jakku, making a living from collecting old ship parts. After rescuing a droid in distress and encountering a runaway stormtrooper, she's attacked by First Order troops and steals the Millennium Falcon ship to escape the planet, soon meeting Han Solo and Chewbacca.

Despite being the main character in the film and a strong warrior figure, Rey was excluded from much of the film's merchandising, resulting in a #WheresRey hashtag campaign on Twitter. For example, Hasbro didn't include her on its Monopoly board of Force Awakens characters. Hasbro claimed they hadn't wanted to reveal spoilers about her character, but the head of Lucasfilm admitted they had underestimated the interest Rey's character would generate. Director JJ Abrams called her initial exclusion from the bulk of merchandising "preposterous and wrong".

For all things Rey:

Sources: Wikipedia, Wookeepedia

 

 

 

 

 

Harriet Tubman, Abolitionist and Humanitarian (1822 - 1913)

A woodcut image of Harriet Tubman holding a rifle during the Civil War.

A woodcut image of Harriet Tubman holding a rifle during the Civil War.

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."

On 20 April 2016, it was announced that Harriet Tubman will be the new face on the US $20 bill – the first woman to appear on an American banknote in over a century. 

Araminta "Minty" Ross was born in the early 1820s to slave parents in Maryland. She was beaten and whipped during her childhood and suffered permanent injuries, as well as witnessing the sale of three of her sisters. She married a free black man named John Tubman in 1849 and around this time also changed her first name to Harriet, after her mother.

With the threat of her own sale looming, Harriet escaped from slavery in 1849 using a secret network of people and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad, heading 145km north to Pennsylvania. There she was safe, but returned to Maryland over a dozen times to rescue 70 other slaves, including her parents and some of her siblings, during dangerous night-time missions. (She also returned for her husband, but found he had taken another wife.) She was looked up to as a hero and earned the nickname "Moses" after the Biblical prophet who led Jewish slaves to freedom.

During the Civil War Harriet joined the US Army, working firstly as a nurse and then as a spy. She led several raids, including one which liberated 700 slaves. After the war ended she moved to New York, was active in the women's suffrage movement, and eventually retired to a rest home for African-Americans which she had helped set up and was named in her honour. Since her death in 1913, she has been celebrated as a symbol of courage and freedom.

To learn more about Harriet Tubman, read Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground RailroadHarriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom and Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero.

Source: Wikipedia. 

Georgina Beyer, World's First Transsexual Mayor and MP

Georgina Beyer (source: parliament.nz)

Georgina Beyer (source: parliament.nz)

“It is important to allow people who want to be positive contributors of our society regardless of sex, race, creed and gender to reach their human potential.”

Georgina Beyer was the world's first transsexual Mayor and Member of Parliament.

Born as George in 1957, she had gender reassignment surgery in 1984. Before becoming a politician, she had a career in film and TV acting in the 1980s and later worked as a singer, stripper, and drag performer. She also became a prostitute.

After moving to the small town of Carterton in the Wairarapa, she became a radio host and worked on Paul Henry's breakfast show. She also entered local politics and was elected Carterton District Mayor in 1995 until 2000, making her the world's first transsexual mayor.

In the 1999 general election she became Labour's Wairarapa MP, winning by a landslide over National candidate Paul Henry (National was considered a safe seat), and was re-elected for the same seat in 2002.

In her first Parliamentary speech, she brought up her world-first status and said: "We need to acknowledge that this country of ours leads the way in so many aspects."

Georgina was a strong supporter of the Civil Union Bill, which came into effect in New Zealand in 2004 and gave couples more legal rights regardless of whether they were married, in a de facto relationship, of the same sex or different sexes. (Same-sex marriage became legal in 2013.)

She was a keynote speaker at the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights in Montreal in 2006. She stood down from Parliament in 2007 and in 2013 announced that she was suffering from kidney disease.

An award-winning documentary was made about her life in 2001 called Georgie Girl, and she also shared her story in the book Change for the Better.

Sources: Wikipedia, LGBT History Month