Amazing Woman: Desdemona Stott Beeson

In Utah, the 24th of July marks a time of celebrating the state’s unique history. Which means, it’s a perfect week to celebrate one of Utah’s most interesting women, Desdemona Stott Beeson.

photo courtesy of Utah State Historical Society

Desdemona was born in Eureka, one of Utah’s many silver mining towns, in 1897. During a time when men’s and women’s roles were very polarized, Desdemona wanted nothing more than to be a part of the mining industry, and not just as a cook or boardinghouse keeper, as most women around the mining industry tended to be, no sir. She wanted to explore the mines themselves and see the veins of silver.

Panorama of the Tintic District at EurekaJuab County, Utah.

Growing up in a mining town, most of her male relatives were involved in silver mining. She would tag along with them whenever she could, riding mine elevators deep down into the earth and watching the men hammer away.

After high school, she wanted to study engineering and geology at the University of Utah. Remember, this was around 1916. Her parents managed to talk her out of it and she ended up studying the less male dominated degree of psychology. When she graduated, she moved to another silver mining town, Alta, where she met her husband – the Stanford-educated Joseph Beeson. Soon after their marriage they discovered a large ore body in the Emma Mine and together they managed the mine until it went bankrupt.

The outbreak of the First World War meant opportunity. Joseph went to Europe as an engineer and Desdemona made her way to Stanford to finally pursue her studies in engineering and geology. It was an uphill battle to maintain respect among the faculty and staff and thankfully she was up for the fight.

Mine Shaft Bldg From W. – Silver King Mining Company, Mineshaft & Main Hoist, Woodside Gulch, Park City, Summit County, Utah

With her credentials securely tucked under her belt she proceeded to join her husband to manage an independent mining venture in Bingham, Utah. When Joseph was away on geologic consulting, she managed the day to day operations of the mine, including correcting and firing men who couldn’t use safe and proper procedures.

Throughout her life she traveled with her family from mine to mine, facing discrimination to do the thing she loved, and doing it anyway.

From my back porch I can see the terraced hills of the famous Kennecott Copper Mine in Bingham Canyon and am thrilled that a woman full of grit and determination made a difference in Utah’s mining history.

Resources


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Amazing Woman: Ada Lovelace

In this exciting world where everything from our cars to our toaster is run by a computer, it’s nice to pay homage to those who made these modern conveniences possible.

Next in the Amazing Women series, we learn about a woman who as been referred to as the ‘prophet of the computer age’, Ada Lovelace.

Charming and fiendishly intelligent, Ada Lovelace deserves attention.

Daughter of the esteemed poet Lord Byron and his mathematically inclined wife Annabella Milbanke, Augusta Ada Byron (1815-1852) was already fit for a fascinating life from the day she was born. Her mother insisted that in her studies with a private tutor she also learn mathematics, in the hopes that, get this, she not fall into her father’s moody and unpredictable attitudes. Don’t forget, in this time period learning anything that even hinted at applied sciences was most unusual for a woman.

Difference engine at the London Science Museum built from Babbage’s design.

In 1833, Ada met Charles Babbage, the inventor of the Babbage Engine – the first automatic computing machines also known as difference engines. These engines are used to tabulate polynomial functions.

Whoa, a little of my nerd popped right out there. Let me tuck that back in…

Long story short, she got to see one of these very early computing machines at the hands of Babbage himself in 1833 and it was magic. She was fascinated at the possibilities that such an engine could offer.

Still being a woman, marriage and motherhood interfered with her mathematical studies and she had to make do with studying about these mathematical engines in her spare time. (I totally understand the feeling – one of my darling children is calling me as I write this…)

One of these undertakings included translating an article on the Analytical Engine, in which she added extensive notes of her own. In fact, her notes were three times longer than the original article. The translation as well as her notes were published in 1843 in an English science journal under the initials A.A.L.

Within these notes is the very first description of a stepwise sequence of operations for solving certain mathematical problems. For this, Ada is considered ‘the first programmer’ to have graced our world.

Her speculations and analytical thinking pushed the boundaries of mathematics beyond merely numbers and into the realm of manipulating ideas and concepts, such as music.

Ada died young, at age 36, of uterine cancer.

Next time you fiddle with your phone, thank Ada for giving rise to the idea of computer programming.

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Amazing Woman: Lilian Bland

Next in the Amazing Woman series, I want to talk about someone who let their passions guide them to accomplishing several world first moments. Imagine, it’s the early 1900’s and we are part of the age of steam power and are starting to realize the potential of the gas engine. Massive steam ships cross the ocean. Zeppelins float across the sky.

It’s an age of discovery and today’s featured historical figure wanted to be right in the middle of it.

By Screenshot by uploadineditor, original photo uncrdited – Screenshot from Flight Iternational archive, http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1910/1910%20-%201027.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23984699

On to April’s Amazing Woman!

Everyone has heard of Amelia Earhart and her accomplishments in flight, but I guarantee you no one has heard of Lilian Bland. In short, Lilian Bland was the first woman to design, build, and fly her own airplane in 1910.

In this time period, hardly anyone had even seen a plane, let alone ridden in one. The Wright Brothers performed their first flight only seven years earlier in 1903. Amelia Earhart’s first solo flight across the Atlantic occurred in 1928.

Lilian’s story is nothing short of incredible. She became interested in flying after her uncle sent her a postcard of the Bleriot monoplane from Paris. With that picture, she studied the measurements and added her own thoughts to the design.

Her plane, the Mayfly, was built in her late uncle’s workshop after testing a series of models and prototypes. With each test she modified and improved the design until the plane was strong enough to lift four policemen. She reasoned that if it could lift four men, it could carry one English engine and then ordered one from A. V. Roe & Co.

A further demonstration of her passion is revealed when she wanted to test the Mayfly with it’s new engine before the petrol tank was ready so she improvised using an empty whiskey bottle and her deaf aunt’s ear trumpet.

By Uncredited(Life time: Uncredited) – “Flying in Ireland”, Flight. 18 February 1911. P. 139, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41310208

The Mayfly’s first successful flight was on a hill in Randalstown in August of 1910. The controls consisted of a bicycle handle bar. The pilot, none other than Lilian Bland herself, sat in an open air canvas seat. This attempt resulted in an engine powered glide of about 30 feet. The Mayfly’s longest recorded flight was approximately 400 meters.

This flight made Lilian the first woman to fly an aircraft in Ireland and was also the first flight of a powered biplane in Ireland.

Seeing as flying airplanes in this time period was still extremely dangerous, Lilian’s father was extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of his daughter. He convinced her to give up flying by buying her a car. Turns out she loved cars almost as much as she loved planes and she ended up running her own car dealership by April 1911.

Resources:

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Amazing Woman: Winifred, Countess of Nithsdale

In honor of St. Patrick’s day and the whimsical month of March, this month’s ‘Amazing Woman’ hails from Scotland.

Lady Winifred, Countess of Nithsdale

Winifred Maxwell, the Countess of Nithsdale (c. 1680-1749) met her husband, William Maxwell the 5th Earl of Nithsdale and a Catholic Nobelman at the French court.

At the time, Lady Winifred’s father, the 1st Marquess of Powis, was in exile and Winifred’s mother became the governess for James Francis Edward Stuart, the son of the late King James II of England (James VII of Scotland).

Lady Winifred met William Nithsdale while he was visiting France to pay his respects to the former King James II and were married soon after. They lived in Terregles, Dumfriesshire, Scotland.

Sixteen years into their marriage, William Nithsdale joined the famous Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. He was captured at the Battle of Preston and tried for treason and sentenced to death, which effectively landed him in the famous Tower Prison of London.

Winifred, now a mother of five, traveled to London and made a personal appeal to King George I to ask for clemency, but received none. On the night before William’s execution, she visited the prison with her maid and two friends and gave the guards a generous amount of drinking money. Inside the prison, she shaved off William’s beard and dressed him in woman’s clothing. She then proceeded to smuggle him out of the prison.

Smuggling William Nithsdale out of the Tower Prison

The cloak she used that night is still held by the family.

The couple hid in London until William could escape to France disguised as a servant of the Venetian Ambassador. Winifred then traveled to Scotland to manage her family’s estate. She eventually reunited with her husband at the exiled court of James Francis Edward Stuart – yes, that James, the son of King James II, the same man that Winifred’s mother had cared for as a child. This James Francis Edward Stuart came to be known as the Old Pretender and sought the British throne during the Jacobite Rebellion – yes, the same rebellion that sent William to his death for treason.

It sounds like the plot of a brilliant movie.

For being brave enough to risk her neck to save her husband and smuggle him out of prison dressed as a woman, Lady Winifred Maxwell is my Amazing Woman for the month of March.

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Updates

While this isn’t my first conference, I still love when I get shiny pictures to share. If you are in Northern Utah on April 27th this is a terrific conference for a great price. Head over to the League of Utah Writers webpage for more information.

I’ll be teaching “Helping Characters through Tough Transitions using the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle” at 5 PM.