The Sibyls Salute: Merle Thornton and Ro Bogner

by Kerry Cue

Sibylesque Merle ThorntonQuote

Fifty years ago on 31 March 1965 Merle Thornton* and Rosalie Bogner chained themselves to the Regatta Hotel bar rail in a strategic and planned protest for women’s rights.

The protest was aimed at lifting the marriage bar whereby women were forced to resign from the public service when they married. Merle had not informed her employer, the ABC, of her marriage, but when she fell pregnant she was forced to resign.

Merle and Ro staged the protest in a hotel opposite the ABC buildings in Brisbane in time for the evening news. Their husbands handed out leaflets and both news reporters and the police turned up. Following the publicity that ‘the wives of two well know university lecturers’ had staged a protest, both Merle and Ro received death threats and abuse over the phone but also some support.

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Questions asked in the Queensland parliament included: ‘Where were their children?’, ‘Should the children be put in care?’ and ‘Should their husbands be psychologically examined to see if they are fit to be academics?’

Merle and Ro went on to form The Equal Opportunities for Women Assoc, the first in Australia and possibly the world. Neither the unions nor the political parties were interested in lifting the Marriage Bar.

After much lobbying Bill Hayden, a member of this association and a federal member of parliament introduced a private members bill to lift the ban. An emergency Cabinet meeting was called, followed by an announcement that the ban would be lifted under a Commonwealth Act.

In August 1966, 18 months after Merle and Ro’s bar protest, the lifting of the marriage bar was signed into law along with the introduction of the first accouchement leave or (unpaid) Maternity leave.

We, the Sibyls, salute Merle Thornton and Ro Bogner for their strategic brilliance, gutsy determination and political nous. We also thank them for kick-starting the 2nd Wave Feminist Agenda 50 years ago to the benefit of all Australian women.

*Merle is the mother of well-known actress Sigrid Thornton. In 2014, the Regatta Hotel named a bar after Merle Thornton.

More details:

TV interview Merle Thornton and Ro Bogner, ABC, aired 10 April, 1965.

The National Library of Australia

Photo Source: DYIDESPAIR Website

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Notable Women: Christine de Pizan

by Lorna Ebringer

 Sibylesque Virginia Woolf Quote

A lot has been written about the life and work of Christine de Pizan, late medieval scholar and writer but I had never heard of her until Sibyl in chief Kerry asked me to write about her for Sibylesque. Here is a potted history for those of you who would like to become acquainted with this extraordinary woman.

Sibylesque Christine de Pizan in her studyAccording to the British Library Christine de Pizan was born in Venice in 1365, the daughter of Tommaso de Benvenuto da Pizzano who was a physician and a court astrologer. After her birth the family moved to France where Tommaso accepted an appointment as court astrologer to Charles V. It was here at the court that Christine received an extensive and wide ranging education supervised by her father, an education that was normally reserved for men of the wealthy class in that time.

City of Women by Christine de Pizan. She supervised the production of the illustrated manuscript.

City of Women by Christine de Pizan. She supervised the production of the illustrated manuscript.

At the age of 15 Christine married Ettiene du Castel. She had three children before being widowed 10 years later. It is clear from her poems that Christine loved her husband and felt her loss deeply

Alone and in great suffering in this

deserted world full of sadness has my

sweet lover left me. He possessed my

heart, in greatest joy, without grief.

Now he is dead; I’m weighted down by

grievous mourning and such sadness has

gripped my heart that I will always weep

for his death.

(from One Hundred Ballads, completed before 1402, translated by Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski)

As her father had also died four years earlier Christine had to find a way to support herself, her children and her mother. She turned to writing and in the following 30 years published both prose works and poetry enjoying great success serving as court writer for several dukes and the French royal court of Charles VI. It is claimed that she was the first woman in western literature known to have made a living as a writer.

 Sibylesque Christine de Pizan being instructed by the Sibyl in the spheres of heaven

Initially she wrote love ballads for wealthy patrons often on commission. These proved very popular and she wrote 300 in all. Her prose works include The City of Women, the Faytte of Armies or The Deeds of War and Chivalry, The Book of Peace and the book of the Changes of Fortune.

Nowadays Christine is of interest to feminist scholars for her writings on the position of women in society. Simone de Bouvoir wrote in 1949 that she was the first woman to take up a pen in defence of her sex. In her plea for the education of girls Christine wrote

“If it were customary to send little girls to school and teach them the same subjects as are taught to boys, they would learn just as fully and would understand the subtleties of all arts and sciences.”

Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies

 Sibylesque Christine de Pizan and 'The City of Ladies'

and on domestic violence

“How many women are there … who because of their husbands’ harshness spend their weary lives in the bond of marriage in greater suffering than if they were slaves among the Saracens?”

Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies

At the age of 55 Christine retired to a convent at Poissy.

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LORNA EBRINGER

LORNA EBRINGER

Lorna Ebringer’s passions include trekking  in remote areas of Georgia, China and Japan, opera appreciation and rock ‘n roll dancing. Her previous post was When god had a wife.

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Photo Source: British LIbrary Manuscripts online.………………………………………………..

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When God had a Wife

by Lorna Ebringer

Roman border  dark red

dark red quote 1 “Respect only has meaning as respect for those with whom I do not agree.” dark red quote 2


― Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

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Where have all the goddesses gone, long time passing?

Where have all the goddesses gone, long time ago?

history of godIn the ancient world before there was one god there were many. Each one had a limited domain of power and different responsibilities. Karen Armstrong in her book “A History of God” pub.1993 tells us that they were often gods of place and as you moved from one location to another you would encounter a new set of gods and a different form of worship. These gods were both male and female and were served by both priests and priestesses. Because there were many gods the pagan religions were tolerant, there was always room for one more deity.

Asherah God's Wife

Asherah
God’s Wife

The founder of the idea of one god was Abraham, born in Ur in Mesopotamia in around 2000BCE though no one is quite sure of the date. Legend has it that for some reason Abraham and his family decided to migrate west. For many years they lived in Haran and then at the age of 75 he heard the voice of God for the first time. God instructed him to go to the land of Canaan.

On arrival Abraham encountered the gods of Canaan. In charge of the pantheon was El. He, together with a council of deities, kept order in the cosmos and in the human realm. El had a wife named Ashereh, goddess of fertility and symbolised by the tree of life. Their son Baal was the god of storm, their daughter Anat was the goddess of the harvest and in addition there were gods of the dawn, dusk, plague and death amongst others.

Erythean Sibyl Sibylesque with Text

The people of Israel were slow to adopt the idea of one god. The women in particular did not like the idea of losing their female fertility goddesses and there is evidence that for hundreds of years they refused to do this. Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, biblical scholar, suggests that archeological finds at Ugarit in Syria and in the Sinai and in the bible itself show that worship of Asherah as the wife of God persisted for at least a thousand years until the Babylonian conquest of Israel. The loss of the temple in Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE led the scribes of the bible to abandon the pantheon of gods and turn to the one God for protection.

Dr. Stavrakopoulou suggests that the loss of Ashereh has led to religion becoming more masculine. If God is male then to be a man is to be like him.

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‘Monotheism then has disempowered women.’

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Lorna Mountains 2……………………………………………………

Lorna Ebringer’s passions include trekking  in remote areas of Georgia, China and Japan, opera appreciation and rock ‘n roll dancing.

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