Meet the Liverbirds, Britain’s First Female (and Now Forgotten) Rock Band

We never ever got as famous as the Beatles. But we started as friends, and we ended as friends. —Sylvia Saunders, The Liverbirds’ drummer

John Lennon (a member of a band who in a parallel universe might’ve been billed as the male Liverbirds) announced that the all-female quartet would fail, a deeply inaccurate prediction.

The band got a lot of attention, toured with The Kinks and The Rolling Stones, dismissed Brian Epstein when he pooh-poohed their desire to play in Hamburg, rejected an offer to play topless in Las Vegas, and were sought out by Jimi Hendrix, owing to their bassist’s joint-rolling skills.




They also learned how to play the instruments they had optimistically purchased after seeing The Beatles in Liverpool’s famed Cavern Club.

Respect to any grandmother with bragging rights to having seen The Beatles live, but it’s heartening that these 16-year-old girls immediately pictured themselves not so much as fans, but as players.

As bassist and former-aspirant-nun Mary McGlory recalls in Almost Famous: The Other Fab FourBen Proudfoot’s New York Times’ Op-Doc, above:

"Oh my god!" I said to my cousins, "We’re going to be like them. And we’re going to be the first girls to do it."

Mission accomplished, in trousers and neatly tucked-in shirts, buttoned all the way to their collars.

It’s not terribly hard to guess what put an end to their six-year-run.

Motherly, wifely duties…

Sylvia Saunders, who became drummer by default because sticks were a better fit with her small hands than frets, got pregnant, and recused herself due to complications with that pregnancy.

Valerie Gell, the Liverbirds’ late guitarist and most accomplished musician, married a handsome fan who’d been en route to Hamburg to propose when he was paralyzed in a car accident, devoting herself to his care for 26 years.

The other two members carried on for a bit, playing a Japanese tour with a couple of female musicians they’d met in Hamburg, but the chemistry couldn’t compare.

The dream was over, but fortunately rock and roll stardom was not their only dream.

Unlike the fourth Liverbird, Pam Birch, who descended into addiction after the band broke up, neither Saunders nor McGlory seems angry or regretful over what could have been, smiling as they mention their long, happy marriages, children, and grandchildren.

They were awfully tickled by Girls Don’t Play Guitars, a recent West End musical that tells the story of the Liverbirds.

And McGlory is admirably sanguine about Lennon’s famous diss, revealing to the Liverpool Echo that:

He had a smile on his face when he said it—he wasn’t being malicious. But it would have been nice to have bumped into him a few years later and for him to say, "Well done, you proved me wrong," which I’m sure he would have been happy to do.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join Ayun’s company Theater of the Apes in New York City for her book-based variety series, Necromancers of the Public Domain, and the world premiere of Greg Kotis’ new musical, I AM NOBODY., playing at The Tank NYC through March 28 Follow her @AyunHalliday.

America’s First Drag Queen Was Also America’s First LGBTQ Activist and a Former Slave

Negro Dive Raided. Thirteen Black Men Dressed as Women Surprised at Supper and Arrested. —The Washington Post, April 13, 1888

Sometimes, when we are engaged as either participant in, or eyewitness to, the making of history, its easy to forget the history-makers who came earlier, who dug the trenches that allow our modern battles to be waged out in the open.

Take America’s first self-appointed “queen of drag” and pioneering LGBTQ activist, William Dorsey Swann, born into slavery around 1858.

30 years later, Swann faced down white officers busting a drag ball in a “quiet-looking house” on Washington, DC’s F street, near 12th.

"You is no gentleman,” Swann allegedly told the arresting officer, while half the guests broke for freedom, correctly surmising that anyone who remained would see their names published in the next day’s newspaper as participants in a bizarre and unseemly ritual.




A lurid Washington Post clipping about the raid caught the eye of writer, historian, and former  Oberlin College Drag Ball queen, Channing Gerard Joseph, who was researching an assignment for a Columbia University graduate level investigative reporting class:

An animated conversation, carried on in effeminate tones, was in progress as the officers approached the door, but when they opened it and the form of Lieut. Amiss was visible to the people in the room a panic ensued. A scramble was made for the windows and doors and some of the people jumped to the roofs of adjoining buildings. Others stripped off their dresses and danced about the room almost in a nude condition, while several, headed by a big negro named Dorsey, who was arrayed in a gorgeous dress of cream-colored satin, rushed towards the officers and tried to prevent their entering.

Joseph’s interest did not flag when his reporting class project was turned in. House of Swann: Where Slaves Became Queens will be published in 2021.

Meanwhile you can bone up on Swann, Swann’s jail time for running a brothel, and the Washington DC drag scene of the Swann era in Joseph’s essay for The Nation, "The First Drag Queen Was a Former Slave."

Please note that William Dorsey Swann does not appear in the photo at the top of the page. As per Joseph:

The dancers — one in striped pants, the other in a dress — were recorded in France by Louis Lumière. Though their names are lost, they are believed to be American. In the show, they performed a version of the cakewalk, a dance invented by enslaved people, and the precursor to vogueing.

via The Nation

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join Ayun’s company Theater of the Apes in New York City this March for her book-based variety series, Necromancers of the Public Domain, and the world premiere of Greg Kotis’ new musical, I AM NOBODY. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How the Female Scientist Who Discovered the Greenhouse Gas Effect Was Forgotten by History


In the early 19th century, Aristotle’s Meteorologica still guided scientific ideas about the climate. The model “sprang from the ancient Greek concept of klima,” as Ian Beacock writes at The Atlantic, a static scheme that “divided the hemispheres into three fixed climatic bands: polar cold, equatorial heat, and a zone of moderation in the middle.” It wasn’t until the 1850s that the study of climate developed into what historian Deborah Cohen describes as “dynamic climatology.”

Indeed, 120 years before Exxon Mobile learned about—and then seemingly covered up—global warming, pioneering researchers discovered the greenhouse gas effect, the tendency for a closed environment like our atmosphere to heat up when carbon dioxide levels rise. The first person on record to link CO2 and global warming, amateur scientist Eunice Newton Foote, presented her research to the Eight Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1856.




Foote’s paper, “Circumstances affecting the heat of the sun’s rays,” was reviewed the following month in the pages of Scientific American, in a column that approved of her “practical experiments” and noted, “this we are happy to say has been done by a lady.” She used an air pump, glass cylinders, and thermometers to compare the effects of sunlight on “carbonic acid gas” (or carbon dioxide) and “common air.” From her rudimentary but effective demonstrations, she concluded:

An atmosphere of that gas [CO2] would give to our earth a high temperature; and if as some suppose, at one period of its history the air had mixed with it a larger proportion than at present, an increased temperature…must have necessarily resulted.

Unfortunately, her achievement would disappear three years later when Irish physicist John Tyndall, who likely knew nothing of Foote, made the same discovery. With his superior resources and privileges, Tyndall was able to take his research further. “In retrospect,” one climate science database writes, Tyndall has emerged as the founder of climate science, though the view “hides a complex, and in many ways more interesting story.”

Neither Tyndall nor Foote wrote about the effect of human activity on the contemporary climate. It would take until the 1890s for Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius to predict human-caused warming from industrial CO2 emissions. But subsequent developments depended upon their insights. Foote, whose was born 200 years ago this past July, was marginalized almost from the start. “Entirely because she was a woman,” the Public Domain Review points out, “Foote was barred from reading the paper describing her findings."

Furthermore, Foote "was passed over for publication in the Association’s annual Proceedings.” Her paper was published in The American Journal of Science, but was mostly remarked upon, as in the Scientific American review, for the marvel of such homespun ingenuity from “a lady.” The review, titled “Scientific Ladies—Experiments with Condensed Gas,” opened with the sentence “Some have not only entertained, but expressed the mean idea, that women do not possess the strength of mind necessary for scientific investigation.”

The praise of Foote credits her as a paragon of her gender, while failing to convey the universal importance of her discovery. At the AAAS conference, the Smithsonian’s Joseph Henry praised Foote by declaring that science was “of no country and of no sex,” a statement that has proven time and again to be untrue in practice. The condescension and discrimination Foote endured points to the multiple ways in which she was excluded as a woman—not only from the scientific establishment but from the educational institutions and funding sources that supported it.

Her disappearance, until recently, from the history of science “plays into the Matilda Effect,” Leila McNeill argues at Smithsonian, “the trend of men getting credit for female scientist’s achievements.” In this case, there’s no reason not to credit both scientists, who made original discoveries independently. But Foote got there first. Had she been given the credit she was due at the time—and the institutional support to match—there’s no telling how far her work would have taken her.

Just as Foote’s discovery places her firmly within climate science history, retrospectively, her “place in the scientific community, or lack therof,” writes Amara Huddleston at Climate.gov, “weaves into the broader story of women’s rights.” Foote attended the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848, and her name is fifth down on the list of signatories to the “Declaration of Sentiments,” a document demanding full equality in social status, legal rights, and educational, economic, and, Foote would have added, scientific opportunities.

Learn much more about Foote and her fascinating family from her descendent, marine biologist Liz Foote.

via Public Domain Review

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Celebrating Women Composers: A New BBC Digital Archive Takes You from Hildegard of Bingen (1098) to Nadia Boulanger (1979)

Recently, we published a post about Nadia Boulanger, the 20th century's most influential music teacher. While a composer and conductor in her own right—indeed, she was the first woman to conduct major symphonies in Europe and the U.S.—Boulanger is best known for her list of illustrious students, including Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, and Quincy Jones.

One reader of the post rightly pointed out a not-so-glaring irony in the way Boulanger has been remembered. While celebrated as a powerful woman in music, in a sea of more famous men, her many distinguished female students go unmentioned, perhaps more due to ignorance than prejudice (though this may be no great excuse). Most people have never heard of former Boulanger students like Grażyna Bacewicz, Marion Bauer, Louise Talma, Peggy Glanville-Hicks and Priaulx Rainier.

Not many have heard of Lili Boulanger, Nadia’s sister, a child prodigy who died at 24, after composing two dozen innovative choral and instrumental works and becoming the first woman to win the Prix de Rome in 1913, at the age of 19, for her cantata Faust and Hélène, with lyrics, by Eugene Adenis, based on Goethe's Faust (top).




Polish composer Bacewicz, who began studying with Nadia Boulanger’s former student Kazimierz Sikorski at 13, traveled to Paris to “learn from the great pedagogue herself,” notes the BBC Music Magazine.

Bacewicz was an incredibly talented violinist (see her further up in 1952) and a widely admired composer, just one of many noteworthy female composers, of the past and present, who don't often turn up in conversation about classical and avant-garde music. The BBC aims to correct these major slights with their “Celebrating Women Composers” series, which features archival interview clips from legends like Nadia Boulanger, Dame Ethel Smyth (profiled above), and Elisabeth Lutyens.

You’ll also find interviews with dozens of contemporary female composers, a series on composers’ rooms, profiles of historical greats, links to performance recordings, and several informative articles on women composers past and present. Most of the composers profiled have found some measure of fame in their lifetime, and renown among those in the know, but are unknown to the general public.

Some of the composers you'll learn about, like the five in a feature titled “The Women Erased from Musical History,” might have disappeared entirely were it not for the work of archivists. Learn about these rediscovered figures and much, much more at the BBC’s Celebrating Women Composers, one of many such projects making it harder to plead ignorance of women’s presence in classical music.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Love the Art, Hate the Artist: How to Approach the Art of Disgraced Artists

Hate the sin, never the sinner. - Clarence Darrow

As a culture, we've largely stepped away from the sentiment described by the famed lawyer’s 1924 defense of murderers Leopold and Loeb.

Apply it to one of the many male artists whose exalted reputations have been shattered by allegations of sexual impropriety and other ruinous behaviors and you won’t find yourself celebrated for your virtue in the court of public opinion.

But what of those artists' creative output?

Does that get bundled in with hating both sin and sinner?




It’s a question that historian and former curator Sarah Urist Green is well equipped to tackle.

Green’s PBS Digital Studios web series, The Art Assignment, explores art and art history through the lens of the present.

In the episode titled Hate the Artist, Love the Art, above, Green takes a more temperate approach to the subject than comedian Hannah Gadsby, whose solo show, Nanette, included an incendiary takedown of Picasso:

I hate Picasso. and you can’t make me like him. I know I should be more generous about him too, because he suffered a mental illness. But nobody knows that, because it doesn’t fit with his mythology. Picasso is sold to us as this passionate, tormented, genius, man-ball-sack. But Picasso suffered the mental illness…of misogyny.

Don’t believe me? He said, “Each time I leave a woman, I should burn her. Destroy the woman, you destroy the past she represents.” Cool guy. The greatest artist of the 20th century. Picasso fucked an underage girl. That’s it for me, not interested.

But Cubism! He made it! Marie-Thérèse Walter, she was 17 when they met: underage. Picasso, he was 42, at the height of his career. Does it matter? It actually does matter. But as Picasso said, “It was perfect—I was in my prime, she was in her prime.” I probably read that when I was 17. Do you know how grim that was?

Grim.

A different sort of grim than the horrors he depicted in Guernica, still an incredibly potent condemnation of the human cost of war.

Should exemptions be made, then, for works of great genius or lasting social import?

Up to you, says Green, advocating that every viewer should pause to consider the ripples caused by their continued embrace of a disgraced artist.

But what if we don't know that the artist's been disgraced?

That seems unlikely as curators scramble to acknowledge the offender’s transgressions on gallery cards, and emergent artists attempt to set the record straight with response pieces displayed in proximity.

Green notes that even without such overt cues, it’s very difficult to get a “pure” reading of an established artist’s work.

Anything we may have gleaned about the artist’s personal conduct, whether good or ill, proven, unproven, or disproven, factors into the way we experience that artist’s work. The source can be a paper of record, the Internet, a guest at a party repeating a personal anecdote…

It can also be painful to relinquish our youthful favorites’ hold on us, especially when the attachment was formed of our own free will.

What would Hannah Gadsby say to my reluctance to sever ties completely with Gaugin’s Tahiti paintings, encountered for the first time when I was approximately the same age as the brown-skinned teenaged muses he painted and took to bed?

The behavior that was once framed as evidence of an artistic spirit that could not be fettered by societal expectations, seems beyond justification today. Still, it’s unlikely Gaugin will be banished from major collections, or for that matter, the history of art, any time soon.

As Julia Halperin, executive editor of Artnet News observed shortly after Nanette became a viral sensation:

A Netflix comedy special is not going to compel museums to throw out their Picassos. Nor should they! You can’t tell the story of 20th-century art without him…. Although glossing over, whitewashing, or shoe-horning stories of Picasso’s abuse into a comfortable narrative about passionate genius may be useful to maintain his market value and his bankability as a tourist attraction, it also does everyone a disservice… we can understand Picasso’s contributions better if we can hold these two seemingly incompatible truths in our minds at once. It’s not as uplifting as a straightforward tale about a visionary creative whose flaws were only in service to its genius. But it is more honest—and it might even help us understand the evolution of our own culture, and how we got to where we are today, a lot better.

Green provides a list of questions that can help individual viewers who are reevaluating the output of "problematic" artists:

Is the work a collaborative effort?

Does the work reflect the value system of the offender?

Are we to apply the same standard to the work of scientists whose conduct is similarly offensive?

Who suffers when the offender’s work remains accessible?

Who suffers when the offender’s work is erased?

Who reaps the reward of our continued attention?

As Green points out, the shades of grey are many, though the choice of whether to entertain those shades varies from individual to individual.

Readers, where do you fall in this ever-evolving debate. Is there an artist you have sworn off of, entirely or in part? Tell us who and why in the comments.

Watch more episodes of the Art Assignment here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, January 6 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates Cape-Coddities (1920) by Roger Livingston Scaife. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Download Beautiful Free Posters Celebrating the Achievements of Living Female STEM Leaders

Remember the posters that decorated your childhood or teenaged bedroom?

Of course you do.

Whether aspirational or inspirational, these images are amazingly potent.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit what hung over my bed, especially in light of a certain CGI adaptation…

No such worries with a set of eight free downloadable posters honoring eight female trailblazers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

These should prove evergreen.


Commissioned by Nevertheless, a podcast that celebrates women whose advancements in STEM fields have shaped—and continue to shape—education and learning, each poster is accompanied with a brief biographical sketch of the subject.

Nevertheless has taken care that the featured achievers are drawn from a wide cultural and racial pool.

No shame if you’re unfamiliar with some of these extraordinary women. Their names may not possess the same degree of household recognition as Marie Curie, but they will once they’re hanging over your daughter’s (or son’s) bed.

It’s worth noting that with the exception of the undersung mother of DNA Helix Rosalind Franklin, these are living role models. They are:

Astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison

Robotics pioneer Dr. Cynthia Breazeal

Mathematician Gladys West

Tech innovator Juliana Rotich

Pharmaceutical chemist Tu Youyou

Biopharmacist and women rights advocate Maria da Penha

Biotechnologist Dr. Hayat Sindi

Kudos, too, to Nevertheless for including biographies of the eight female illustrators charged with bringing the STEM luminaries to aesthetically cohesive graphic life: Lidia Tomashevskaya,Thandiwe TshabalalaCamila RosaXu HuiKarina PerezJoana NevesGeneva B, and Juliette Brocal

Listen to Nevertheless’ episode on STEM Role Models here.

Download Nevertheless’ free posters in English here. You can also download zipped folders containing all eight posters translated into Brazilian PortugueseFrenchFrench CanadianGermanItalianSpanish, and Simplified Chinese.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, January 6 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates Cape-Coddities (1920) by Roger Livingston Scaife. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Women Scientists Launch a Database Featuring the Work of 9,000 Women Working in the Sciences

“Why are there so few women in science?” has almost become a tiresome refrain over the years, given how little the answers engage with the thousands of female scientists working all over the world. “Too often,” writes the project 500 Women Scientists, “high-profile articles, conference panels, and boards are filled with a disproportionate number of male voices. News stories are reported by more men by a huge margin, and this imbalance is reflected in how frequently women are quoted in news stories unless journalists make a conscious effort to reach out.

“Most keynote speakers at conferences are men. Panels are so frequently all-male that a new word evolved to describe the phenomenon: manels. These imbalances add up and reinforce the inaccurate perception that science is stale, pale and male.” The next time the question arises—“why are there so few women in science?”—or any other question needing scientific expertise, one need only gesture silently to 500 Women Scientists, a grassroots organization consisting of far more scientists than its title suggests.




Described as “a resource for journalists, educators, policy makers, scientists and anyone needing scientific expertise,” the project began in 2016 as an open letter penned by its founders, then graduate students at Colorado University, Boulder, who decided to re-affirm their values against reactionary attacks by amassing 500 signatures on an open letter. They’ve since built a searchable database of over 9,000 women researchers from around the world, and a resource that helps build local scientific communities.

Since launching last year, their Request a Scientist database has shown “the excuse that you can’t find a qualified woman just doesn't hold,” says co-founder and microbial ecologist Dr. Kelly Ramirez-Donders. It has also provided much more detailed data on women in science, which was published in a paper at PLOS Biology in April. “The group has ambitious plans to keep expanding its reach,” writes STAT. “They’re raising money to start a fellowship for women of color… and they have already launched an affiliate group, 500 Women in Medicine.”

“We’re scientists. We’re lovers of evidence and data points,” says co-founder Maryam Zaringhalam, a molecular biologist. “And so now anytime somebody tells us they couldn’t find someone or there just aren’t enough women in STEM fields, we can point them to [the database] and say, ‘Well, actually, this is the tip of the iceberg, and there’s over 8,000.’… ensuring that women’s voices are represented in the media narratives is really essential for showing that, ‘No, we are here, it’s just that people haven’t necessarily been aware of us or done the work to find us.’”

Correcting misperceptions not only helps reduce biases within scientific communities; it also encourages budding scientists who might otherwise be discouraged from the pursuit. “It’s not that girls are not interested in science,” co-founder Jane Zelikova tells Good Morning America. “Something happens where they don’t see women or girls represented as scientists and they don’t think it’s for them.” 500 Women in Science proves that notion wrong—science is for them, and for everyone who wants to devote their lives to scientific research. Just look at the data.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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