How Queen Victoria Turned Switzerland Into a Vacation Hotspot

A postcard of Lucerne circa 1870
A postcard of Lucerne circa 1870
Swiss National Library, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The reason that many people associate Switzerland with vacations and relaxation isn't entirely due to the European country's spectacular natural vistas, incredible skiing opportunities, and even more incredible cheese. In the English-speaking world, at least, it has a lot to do with one important figure: Queen Victoria.

In 1868, the British monarch was still struggling with the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, seven years earlier. She was depressed and sickly, as swissinfo explains, having withdrawn from the world to mourn. She kept out of the public eye for years, remaining in extreme isolation; she wore black for the rest of her life.

To get away from it all, she decided to take a trip. She chose Switzerland, in part because Albert had had a deep fondness for the country—in 1855, he had even imported a replica Swiss chalet to Britain for their children to play in.

The trip took years to plan, and Victoria traveled with three of her children under the name the Countess of Kent. But it was difficult for monarchs to travel incognito—by the time she finally arrived at the railroad station in Lucerne, Switzerland, there were hundreds of fans there waiting for her.

During her time staying at Pension Wallis (now the site of a castle known as Chateau Gütsch), she did the typical sightseeing rounds, visiting monuments and local landmarks, buying souvenirs, and painting watercolors of the scenery. Thanks to her German skills—both her mother and Albert were German—she didn't need an interpreter, and despite her self-imposed isolation, she did interact with the locals. At one point, she visited a nearby farm, inquiring with the farmer about Swiss cattle practices, later writing in her diary that she was surprised to hear that Swiss cows were given names.

Though it might seem like a standard royal vacation today, at the time, it was groundbreaking. Victoria was a trendsetter, and being associated with the queen was great press for Switzerland. The country was largely an upper-class destination at the time, but as it became easier to travel across Europe, the queen's vacation choice proved influential, sending Brits in particular flocking to the Alps.

Suddenly, Victoria was a brand in Switzerland. The name "Victoria" was associated with luxury and quality, and plenty of businesses and towns catering toward tourists took note. There were hotels named after her, town squares named after her, buildings named after her. There was a steam boat with her name on it.

Her five-week trip affected the Swiss tourism industry so deeply that it's still memorialized today—it was recently the subject of an exhibition at the Historisches Museum Luzern, the history museum in Lucerne. And you can still find plenty of tourist destinations named after her. There are more than 20 hotels called Victoria across Switzerland today, museum director Christoph Lichtin told swissinfo.

5 Fast Facts about Madam C.J. Walker

 Madam C.J. Walker items at The Women's Museum in Dallas, Texas
Madam C.J. Walker items at The Women's Museum in Dallas, Texas
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

During a time when Jim Crow laws were actively being passed by state legislatures and segregation was total, one self-made businesswoman managed to stand out and serve as an inspiration for female entrepreneurs and people of color in America. Born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867—the sixth child in her family but the first not born into slavery—the future Madam C.J. Walker developed a line of hair products and cosmetics and became likely the first female millionaire in the country. Here are a few quick facts about her historic success story.

1. Madam C.J. Walker first worked as a laundress.

In 1888, the woman who would become Madam C.J. Walker was Sarah McWilliams, a 20-year-old widow with a toddler. After her husband's death, she moved from Mississippi to St. Louis, Missouri, where her elder brothers were working as barbers. To support herself and her daughter, Lelia, she took a job as a washerwoman. She earned roughly $1.50 a day, but managed to save up in order to provide for her daughter's education.

2. Madam C.J. Walker's hair products were made especially for black women.

At the turn of the century, many African Americans suffered from issues of hair loss and dandruff, possibly due to the harsh irritants in the lye soap used by launderers and some combination of poor hygiene conditions, low-protein diets, and damaging hair treatments. Walker herself had a chronic hair-loss problem. According to the biography On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker by Walker's great-great-granddaughter A'Lelia Bundles, "if Sarah used the widely distributed patent medicines that were heavily laced with alcohol and other harsh chemicals, [she would only make] the malady worse by stripping her hair of its natural oils."

In 1904, Sarah joined African-American businesswoman Annie Turbo Malone's team of agents after using Malone's "Great Wonderful Hair Grower" product to treat her own ailments. She began investing in creating her own product, and in 1906 she married her third husband, a Mr. Charles Joseph Walker. Walker launched her own "Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower" line of ointments and other products and began selling them door-to-door.

3. Madam C.J. Walker created a beauty culture empire.

Once Walker's business was nation-wide and incorporated, she expanded internationally to the Caribbean and Central America in 1913. Within the next few years, she acquired over 25,000 sales agents; she had a beauty school called the Lelia College of Beauty Culture in Pittsburg that trained her "hair culturists." By the time she died on May 25, 1919 at age 51, her business profits had skyrocketed to over $500,000 in sales annually. In fact, products inspired by Walker's can still be purchased today.

4. Madam C.J. Walker's Irvington, New York mansion will soon host more female entrepreneurs.

By the end of her life, Walker had amassed sizable wealth—she's widely considered to be the first self-made female millionaire, though specific numbers are vague. (Her New York Times obituary noted that "Estimates of Mrs. Walker's fortune had run up to $1,000,000 … She spent $10,000 every year for the education of young negro men and women in Southern colleges and sent six youths to Tuskegee Institute every year.") She also had ventures in real estate, and in 1918 her 20,000-square-foot mansion, called Villa Lewaro, was completed in Irvington, New York, about 20 miles north of her famed Walker townhouse in Harlem. In 2018, the estate was purchased by the New Voices Foundation, a group that has invested $100 million into a fund focused on providing support and leadership initiatives to women of color seeking their own entrepreneurial endeavors. Even 100 years after her death, Walker's legacy remains strong.

5. Octavia Spencer is set to play Madam C.J. Walker in an upcoming TV series.

As first reported by Deadline in 2018, Netflix has ordered an eight-episode series about Walker's life and legacy. Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer is set to star in and produce the series, and LeBron James will serve as an executive producer. While there isn't a firm release date set, the series is certain to be an eye-opening one for those unfamiliar with Walker's incredible story. The show will be based on the 2001 biography by Bundles.

Hundreds of 17th-Century Case Notes of Bizarre Medical Remedies Have Been Published Online

Illustrated portrait of Simon Forman.
Illustrated portrait of Simon Forman.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As medical texts, the writings of Simon Forman and Richard Napier aren't very useful. The so-called "doctors," regarded as celebrities in 16th- and 17th-century England, prescribed such treatments as nursing puppies and wearing dead pigeons as shoes. But as bizarre pieces of history, the 80,000 case notes the two quacks left behind are fascinating. The BBC reports that 500 of them have now been digitized and published online.

Forman and Napier were active in the English medical scene from the 1590s to the 1630s. They treated countless patients with remedies that straddled the line between medicine and mysticism, and their body of work is considered one of the largest known historical medical collections available for study today. After transcribing the hard-to-read notes and translating them into accessible English, a team of researchers at Cambridge University has succeeded in digitizing a fraction of the records.

By visiting the project's website, you can browse Forman and Napier's "cures" for venereal disease ("a plate of lead," "Venice turpentine," and blood-letting), pox (a mixture of roses, violets, boiled crabs, and deer dung), and breastfeeding problems (using suckling puppies to get the milk flowing). Conditions that aren't covered in today's medical classes, such as witchcraft, spiritual possession, and "chastity diseases," are also addressed in the notes.

All 500 digitized case notes are now available to view for free. And in case you thought horrible medical diagnoses were left in the 17th century, here some more terrifying remedies from relatively recent history.

[h/t BBC]

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