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.” 

You Can Now Rent the Montgomery, Alabama Home of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Through Airbnb
Chris Pruitt, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The former apartment of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps the most famous couple of the Jazz Age, is now available to rent on a nightly basis through Airbnb, The Chicago Tribune reports. While visitors are discouraged from throwing parties in the spirit of Jay Gatsby, they are invited to write, drink, and live there as the authors did.

The early 20th-century house in Montgomery, Alabama was home to the pair from 1931 to 1932. It's where Zelda worked on her only novel Save Me the Waltz and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of Tender Is the Night. The building was also the last home they shared with their daughter Scottie before she moved to boarding school.

In the 1980s, the house was rescued from a planned demolition and turned into a nonprofit. Today, the site is a museum and a spot on the Southern Literary Trail. While the first floor of the Fitzgerald museum, which features first-edition books, letters, original paintings, and other artifacts related to the couple, isn't available to rent, the two-bedroom apartment above it goes for $150 a night. Guests staying there will find a record player and a collection of jazz albums, pillows embroidered with Zelda Fitzgerald quotes, and a balcony with views of the property's magnolia tree. Of the four surviving homes Zelda and F. Scott lived in while traveling the world, this is the only one that's accessible to the public.

Though the Fitzgerald home is the only site on the Southern Literary Trail available to rent through Airbnb, it's just one of the trail's many historic homes. The former residences of Flannery O'Connor, Caroline Miller, and Lillian Smith are all open to the public as museums.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]

Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]


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