Egypt’s First Great Female Pharaoh

Everybody’s heard of King Tut. He's Egypt’s most famous pharaoh by far, with countless films and TV shows dedicated to the boy king. But if his tomb hadn’t been so nicely preserved for posterity, we’d see him as little more than a historical footnote. Before dying at age 18, Tut’s brief reign had been relatively uneventful. Throughout Egypt's long history, there were many more accomplished pharaohs that deserve such celebrity status. Among these, Hatshepsut is quite possibly the most incredible. 

Why? For starters, she was a woman. In the 15th century BCE, bona fide female rulers were almost entirely nonexistent. And even those few who appeared to be powerful generally weren’t. Before Hatshepsut came along, the evidence for female rulers is scant. There were queen regents—for which there wasn't even a word in the Egyptian language—and a few possible pharaohs, such as Sobeknefru. However, their reigns were short, and most historians don’t believe that they were particularly powerful.

Hatshepsut, on the other hand, was a force to be reckoned with. When her husband, King Thutmose II, passed away circa 1478 BCE, his only male heir was Thutmose III, who’d been born to a concubine. Since the child was too young to rule, Hatshepsut took over as his co-regent. At some point during the next seven years, she controversially went above and beyond this role by proclaiming herself pharaoh instead of handing her power over to Thutmose III—and, over the subsequent 3.5 millennia, such boldness has led many to condemn her as a usurper.

In an effort to legitimize her position of power and appease centuries of tradition, Hatshepsut took pains to masculinize her image. For example, in keeping with period custom, she was depicted with a false beard. She ordered sculptors to give some of her likenesses broader shoulders and manly chests. And she even went so far as to occasionally call herself “Hatshepsu” since, linguistically, her given name was more feminine. 

Egypt under Hatshepsut was relatively peaceful and prosperous; she engaged in little military pursuit, focusing instead on infrastructure within the nation and diplomatic ventures. The dynasty experienced increased trade under her watch by exploring such civilizations as Phonecia. Nine years into her rule, an expedition she’d organized to the mysterious land of Punt returned with droves of wood, gold, frankincense, myrrh, and even exotic animals. 

This particular episode was immortalized upon the walls of Hatshepsut’s most breathtaking project—her gorgeous, extant Djeser-Djeseru temple, which was built to glorify the great god Amun. Inside, the pharaoh’s name and likeness were proudly displayed. Or at least, they were until someone erased them. 

Hatshepsut remained in power right up to the day she died, meaning that her stepson, Thutmose III, wouldn’t become Egypt’s solitary ruler until 1458 BCE. It has been suggested that after Hatshepsut's death, Thutmose III set about spitefully chiseling out numerous references to her at the temple and elsewhere as part of an orchestrated attempt to obliterate her memory, but the timing for this sort of posthumous revenge doesn't quite line up. The destruction of Hatshepsut's various likenesses didn't occur until many years into Thutmose III's reign and continued into that of his son, Amenhotep II. The goal was likely to remove Hatshepsut from the annals of then-recent history, but not out of a particular hatred for the female pharaoh. Because Thutmose III was born to a concubine, his claim to the throne was relatively weak. He likely worried that after Hatshepsut's successful reign, her true blood relatives would stake a claim to the throne, threatening him and his descendants. By defacing her temple, Thutmose III was not trying to insult her memory, but rather protect his future authority.

Regardless of whether someone actually tried to make the world forget that Hatshepsut had ever existed, they obviously failed. And, given her amazing life story, she certainly won’t be forgotten anytime soon. After all, as historian James Henry Breasted put it, she was “the first great woman in history of whom we are informed.” 

5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.


Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.


Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.


If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.


While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.


Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

George Washington’s Incredible Hair Routine

America's Founding Fathers had some truly defining locks, but we tend to think of those well-coiffed white curls—with their black ribbon hair ties and perfectly-managed frizz—as being wigs. Not so in the case of the main man himself, George Washington.

As Robert Krulwich reported at National Geographic, a 2010 biography on our first president—Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow—reveals that the man “never wore a wig.” In fact, his signature style was simply the result of an elaborately constructed coiffure that far surpasses most morning hair routines, and even some “fancy” hair routines.

The style Washington was sporting was actually a tough look for his day. In the late 18th century, such a hairdo would have been worn by military men.

While the hair itself was all real, the color was not. Washington’s true hue was a reddish brown color, which he powdered in a fashion that’s truly delightful to imagine. George would (likely) don a powdering robe, dip a puff made of silk strips into his powder of choice (there are a few options for what he might have used), bend his head over, and shake the puff out over his scalp in a big cloud.

To achieve the actual ‘do, Washington kept his hair long and would then pull it back into a tight braid or simply tie it at the back. This helped to showcase the forehead, which was very in vogue at the time. On occasion, he—or an attendant—would bunch the slack into a black silk bag at the nape of the neck, perhaps to help protect his clothing from the powder. Then he would fluff the hair on each side of his head to make “wings” and secure the look with pomade or good old natural oils.

To get a better sense of the play-by-play, check out the awesome illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton that accompany Krulwich’s post.


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