Rosalie Duthé was the First Dumb Blonde

Rosalie Duthé was the first dumb blonde
A Young Duthé by Lié Louis Salbreux-Perin. Public Domain.

Despite Rosalie Duthé being considered the first dumb blonde, she attracted the attention of some of the most distinguished men in Europe and France, including monarchs and future monarchs. This attraction also resulted in her becoming one of the most celebrated courtesans of her time. A nineteenth century writer noted that Duthé’s fame “equalled the renown of the Laises or Phrynes of ancient Greece, or that of the Imperias and Marozias of the Rome of the Middle Ages,”[1] and although a twenty-first century writer agreed, she described Duthé as

“[A] famously vacuous creature who had taken the polite conventions of feminine modesty to an extreme. She had developed a habit of long pregnant silences. Perhaps she had nothing to say, but her mystery and her secretive allure, combined with a number of other more tangible attributes, meant that she gathered appreciative customers from the highest social and political ranks.”[2]

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Mathematician Extraordinaire Sophie Germain

Sophie Germain at Age 14. Public Domain.

Mathematician extraordinaire Sophie Germain was born on 1 April 1776 in Paris, France, to a wealthy silk merchant (or perhaps a goldsmith) named Ambroise-François Germain and a woman named Marie-Madeline Gruguelu. Thirteen years later, in 1789, the French Revolution broke out, and it was during this time that Sophie became interested in mathematics.

Her interest in mathematics began after her parents confined her to her home. That was because there were many revolts and a lot of danger when outside. Stuck indoors, Sophie began to explore her father’s library and one day found a book about the legend of Archimedes’s death. According to legend, when Roman soldiers invaded Archimedes’s city, he was “so engrossed in the study of a geometric figure in the sand that he failed to respond to the questioning of a Roman soldier. As a result he was speared to death.”[1]* Archimedes’s story so impressed Sophie, she decided mathematics must be a very interesting subject and immediately began devoting herself to its study. Continue reading

Château de Bagatelle

Château de Bagatelle. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Château de Bagatelle, located in the Bois de Boulogne, initially existed as a small hunting lodge for the Maréchal d’Estrées and was designed for brief stays while hunting. Later, the daughter of  Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé owned it. Her name was Louise Anne de Bourbon, Mademoiselle de Charolais, and she occupied it for twenty years. When she died on 6 April 1758, she left it to her nephew, Louis-François-Joseph de Bourbon-Conti, who was the last Prince of Conti, and, in 1770, the Prince de Chimay became the owner. Continue reading

Brighton Dipper Martha Gunn

Brighton dipper Martha Gunn
Martha Gunn. Courtesy of Royal Pavilion and Museum.

Seawater and sea bathing became popular in the 1700s as a method to improve a person’s health and well-being, and Brighton was one of the hot spots for sea bathing because of its close proximity to London. When bathing in Brighton, bathers were separated by sex. They climbed inside bathing machines (wooden, enclosed crates) using a small ladder and changed their clothing before entering the water. Horses then drew the bathing machine into deep water and bathers emerged into the water either nude or dressed in bathing costumes with the help of a bather (a man) or a dipper (a woman).

After sea bathing became popular, so too did Brighton dipper Martha Gunn. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Gunn was about one of twenty of the bathers or dippers who helped the horses and operated the bathing machines at Brighton. She dipped bathers into the sea, kept them afloat, aided them in the water, pushed them through the waves, and helped them return to the bathing machines when they were finished. To perform this job, dippers had to be strong and sturdy, and Martha Gunn was said to possess both of these qualities. Continue reading

Keeping Victorian Preemies Warm: French Couveuse

Dr. Stéphane Étienne Tarnier, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Dr. Stéphane Étienne Tarnier. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Up to the late 1800s, it was difficult to keep a premature baby warm. This inspired the creation of infant incubators and although French Doctor Stéphane Étienne Tarnier did not invent the first infant incubator, he did invent what he called a “couveuse” or “brooder.” His baby warming device was inspired by devices used to incubate poultry. At the time, Dr. Tarnier was a well-respected obstetrician, and, today, he is often considered the doyen of French obstetrics of the late nineteenth century because of his many groundbreaking ideas related to this field. 

Prior to Dr. Tarnier’s invention of the couveuse or brooder, babies were kept warm by swaddling and were swaddled in the following manner:

Take a square baby-blanket and place it diagonally on the table or bed. Turn down one corner … four inches … to come up over the baby’s head. Spread over this blanket a lap of raw cotton. Have the baby’s napkin and binder on, and a flannel undervest. Make a cap out of the cotton, fitting it over the baby’s head and bringing it down … under the chin. Then roll the baby up in the cotton lap. Bring the blanket around this firmly, so as to hold it; the portion of the blanket on the baby’s right being brought over and tucked in on the left side, the portion on the left being correspondingly folded over toward the right. The corner of the blanket left at the feet is then folded up over the front, and the whole held in place by … a strip of muslin bandage or ribbon. The bandage is first applied beneath the chin, crossed under the back, again crossed in front, the end being brought forward [and fastened in a bow] … at the feet.[1]

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Heavenly Visitors and the Credulous in the 1700s

Heavenly Visitors in the 1700s: Saint Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna
Saint Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna, 1482. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The belief in heavenly visitors in the 1700s resulted in one credulous 62-year-old woman coming face-to-face with Saint Paul and the angel Gabriel. It all began because the widow had an incredible devotion to the gospel and such unshakeable faith in Saint Paul that she would spend several hours each day at an altar dedicated to Saint Paul. Because she came so frequently and so regularly, two villains observed her, and as they knew she was rich, they decided to take advantage of her believing and gullible nature.

One day, about the time of her devotions, one of the villains hid behind the altar. When the widow arrived and when she was not looking, he threw a letter out that she assumed had dropped from Heaven as it was signed, “Paul, the apostle.”

In the letter the widow was praised for her devotion and for the many prayers she offered up to the saintly apostle. Moreover, she was told that because of her remarkable faith and devotion, the apostle and the angel Gabriel would come from Heaven and sup with her that very evening at 8pm. Continue reading

How Paris Was Painted in the Victorian Era

How Paris was painted in the Victorian Era: Charles Carroll Fulton
Charles Carroll Fulton, Public Domain

An American editor of the Baltimore American newspaper, visited Europe in the 1870s. His name was named Charles Carroll Fulton. During Fulton’s visit to Europe, one of the places he traveled to was Paris, France. While there he made several interesting observations. One interesting observation was how Paris was painted in the Victorian Era. Here are Fulton’s observations almost verbatim:

It would astonish some of our old house-painters of Baltimore if they could witness the manner in which the painters of Paris climb over the fronts of these six- and seven-story houses and paint them from roof to door-sill without the use of ladder, scaffold, or any other wooden contrivance, either for themselves or the paint-pots. One man, without assistance of any kind, can paint the entire front of one of these tall houses in two or three days. Continue reading

Lightning Strikes of the 1700s

Lightning Strikes
Benjamin Franklin’s Lightning Experiment in 1752, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Benjamin Franklin was the first to discover that lightning consisted of electric matter. This discovery helped people to understand “that lighting in passing from the clouds to the earth, or from the earth to the clouds, runs through the walls of a house, the trunk of tree, or other elevated objects.” Since Franklin’s time people have learned more about lightning. For instance, lightning strikes occur more in the summer than in winter, and from noon to midnight than from midnight to noon. Knowing these facts helps people to stay safer today. But in the 1700s, just as today, lightning strikes could occur anywhere, anytime, and just about anyone could be struck down by lightning. Continue reading

Paris Opera House Fire of 1763

Fire at the Opera House of Paris in 1763, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Over the years, several fires happened in Paris, but one of the most interesting was the Paris Opera House fire of 1763. Columns of thick black smoke were noticed at the Opera House the day after Easter on 6 April around midday. Word quickly reached officials, and they immediately rushed to the Opera House hoping to put it out. Unfortunately, by the time they arrived, the building was beyond help. Within an hour and a half, the Opera House was completely consumed by fire. Continue reading

François-René, Viscount of Chateaubriand: His Childhood

François-René, Viscount of Chateaubriand
Young Chateaubriand portraited by Anne-Louis Girodet (ca. 1790). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

François-René, Viscount of Chateaubriand was born on 4 September 1768 in Saint-Malo, France. He was the youngest of ten children. His father was René de Chateaubriand, a sea captain, turned ship owner, and slave trader. René was an eccentric, taciturn, uncommunicative, despotic, and ill-tempered person. He inspired fear in his family and was as harsh to them as he was haughty to nobles.

Chateaubriand’s mother was Apolline-Jeanne-Suzanne de Bedée. She was dark complected with large features. She was also small and not someone anyone would describe as beautiful. Nevertheless, she was intelligent and imaginative. She loved to read, and her personality and disposition were in stark contrast to that of her husband: where he loved solitude, she loved society, and where he was cold, she was animated. Continue reading