lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info, extraordinary women, my books!

W is for Madam C. J. Walker, First Female Self-Made Millionaire in U.S., #AtoZ Challenge

By Scurlock Studio (Washington, D.C.) (photographers). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Madam C. J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove, the last of six children, on December 23rd, 1867, in Louisiana.

Sarah’s parents and four older brothers and one sister were slaves on Robert W. Burney’s Madison Parish plantation, but Sarah was born a free child, as the Emancipation Proclamation was signed before her birth.

Her mum died when she was 5 and her dad died when she was 7 – she lived with her older sister Louvenia, and brother-in-law Jesse Powell in Mississippi, and became a domestic servant at the age of 10.

She married at the age of 14, and had one daughter, Lelia, who was 2 when her husband died – she remarried but left this husband and moved to Missouri. There she married again, Charles Joseph Walker, a newspaper advertising salesman. Although she eventually divorced him in 1912, she kept his name and became known as Madam C. J. Walker.

In 1888 she moved to Saint Louis, Missouri, where three of her brothers, who were barbers, lived. She learned about hair care from them, and ended up selling hair care products for an African hair care entrepreneur, Annie Turbo Malone.

Sarah began to adapt the products and develop her own product line. From there, she started her own career.

Between 1911 and 1919, during the height of her career, Sarah and her company employed several thousand women as sales agents for its products, and employed 20,000 women selling products door to door. She also understood the power of advertising and harnessed this to advertise in African American newspapers and magazines.

She encouraged her employees by giving prizes to the best sales agents – helped other black women build their own careers, and rewarded those who made the largest contributions to charities in their communities.

She became a political activist, promoting black interests, and donating money to black causes. Profits from her business helped her donate to many causes and in 1918 the National Association of Coloured Women’s Clubs honoured her for making the largest individual contribution to help preserve Frederick Douglass’s Anacostia house. She pledged $5,000 to the NAACP’s anti-lynching fund. At the time it was the largest gift the NAACP had ever received. She also bequeathed nearly $100,000 to orphanages, institutions, and individuals and her will directed two-thirds of future net profits of her estate to charity.

She was one of the wealthiest African American women in the US, the WORLD’S MOST SUCCESSFUL FEMALE ENTREPRENEUR of her time, (let alone most successful black woman!) and one of the most successful African-American business owners ever.

She died on May 25th, 1919.

Eventually, by the 1920s, her empire expanded as far as Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Panama, and Costa Rica, carried on by her daughter.

The firm is still going today strong today as evidenced by their reply to my tweet of this post! Hooray!



If you’d like to read about more extraordinary women, why not buy the book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan – link below, press on book!




V is for Remedios Varo – anarchist, philosopher, feminist, para-surrealist painter! #AtoZ Challenge


Remedios Varo was born in 1908 in the small town of Angles in Spain, and developed a style of painting that was a wonderful para-surrealist excursion into her imagination.

Surrealism is a a style of art and literature which started around 1924, after the first world war. Surrealist painting often contains images that are non-rational; arrived at by using unexpected juxtaposition of chance effects and objects.

Her father mentored Remedios and encouraged her first artistic endeavours, helping her to become proficient in technical drawing, and also grow into an independent and philosophical thinker.

Her mother was a devout Catholic and sent her to a convent, which made her critical of religion and opposed to religious ideology.

Her feminism, anarchist political views, anti-religious views, and philosophical thinking all influenced her unique (hence ‘para’ surrealist) paintings.

She died from a heart attack, aged only 45, in 1963.


Remedios Varo

Exquisite painter of

Myth and alchemy,

Ecstasy and agony

Dreamlike canvases of

Illusion, colour, novelty

Original thinker using

Symbols and absurdity


Visions excursively

A journey into


Observational odyssey.


© Liz Brownlee


If you enjoy reading about feisty women, and have young female relatives, perhaps you would like to buy Reaching the Stars by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan, written with 9-11 year olds in mind. Available by clicking the link image below:


All material © Liz Brownlee




Image from Wiki under fair use:

The photographical reproduction of this work is covered under the article 35.2 of the Royal Legislative Decree 1/1996 of April 12, 1996, and amended by Law 5/1998 of March 6, 1998, which states that:

Works permanently located in parks or on streets, squares or other public thoroughfares may be freely reproduced, distributed and communicated by painting, drawing, photography and audiovisual processes.

See Commons:Freedom of Panorama#Spain for more information.

U is for Ursula K Le Guin, Author, #AtoZ Challenge


Ursula Le Guin image by Gorthian, by CC Licence.


This special entry is again by one of my fellow authors of my new book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls – the wonderful and talented Jan Dean! The Wizard of Earthsea was one of my favourite books.


Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born in 1929 in Berkeley, and lives in Portland, Oregon. As of 2015, she has published twenty-one novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many honours and awards including Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, and the National Book Foundation Medal.  In 2003 she was made a Grandmaster of Science Fiction, one of only a handful of women writers to take the top honour in a genre that has come to be dominated by male writers.

This poem springs from UKL’s ideas in her book ‘The Wave In the Mind’.  Its title refers to her famous children’s trilogy ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ where magic works through the power of understanding the real names of things and speaking them purposefully.




she makes worlds

from words and mindspit

knows that what she speaks

first rises in the soft machinery

of brain cells


flows through rivers of nerves

to become clicks sighs of speech

understands the science of sound

the bash of air molecules

thumping against an eardrum

the pulse of eardrum

flicking noise back up

into another brain

which reads those quick electric ticks

as words

as meaning


all that stuff – the way sound moves

the way it is one thing

that joins the speaker to the listener –

she knows that

and so she makes worlds

with words and the sudden explosions

of ideas in her head

(let’s call it mindspit)


she does it because it matters

that we join together

it matters that together we imagine

how things could be

if we were kinder

if we were more human

more like family ought to be


© Jan Dean


Ursula Le Guin is extraordinary. So is Jan Dean.
If you’d like to read about more extraordinary women, why not buy the book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan – link below, press on book!




Ursula Le Guin’s Website

T is for Sister Rosetta Tharpe #A-Z Blog Challenge

Sister Rosetta Tharpe – AMAZING!

She was born Rosetta Nubin on a cotton plant in Arkansas, on the 20th of March, 1915, and died in Philadelphia after a long career as a musician, in 1973. Her parents were cotton pickers. Little is known about her father except he was a singer – her mother also was a singer and mandolin player, evangelist, and preacher for the Church of God in Christ, a church that encouraged musical expression.

Rosetta soon began playing the guitar and singing, and by age six was touring with her mother in an evangelical troupe.

By the mid 20s, she and her mother had moved to Chicago, performing religious concerts and also travelling to perform at events all over the country.

Rosetta became famous as a musical prodigy. Black, female guitarists were rare.

When she was 19 she married  Thomas Thorpe, a COGIC preacher, who accompanied her and her mother on their tours, but the marriage did not last – however she kept the name ‘Tharpe’ for her stage name, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

She had a unique style, a mixture of spiritual lyrics and rhythmic accompaniment that was a prelude to rock and roll… she has been referred to as the original ‘soul sister’ and influenced such greats as Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Jerry-Lee Lewis.

The video above was taken when she visited Manchester, England in 1964 – I chose this recording because it’s a song I have sung in choir. But not like this!

It gives a taste of an extraordinary woman.

If you’d like to read about more extraordinary women, why not buy the book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan – link below, press on book!




S is for Murasaki Shikibu, author of first novel ever in 1021 #AtoZ Challenge

Amazingly, this is part of the original manuscript of the first novel EVER to be written, in 1021.

It was written by Japanese noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu. The story contains 400 characters, whose lives are followed as they grow older, without an actual plot but with events, rather like a modern soap opera, showing the lifestyles of high courtiers during the Heian period in Japan.

It only calls the characters by their position in court, as court manners of that era would have meant it was unacceptably familiar to mention a person’s name.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that The Tale of Genji was translated into modern Japanese, by the poet Akiko Yosano.

How incredible is that – writing over 50 chapters containing 400 characters of remarkable consistency without reference to any technology whatsoever…

Many painted depictions of Murasaki and the Tale of Genji have been made in the inimitable and beautiful Japanese style. Here is one of them:

An interior court scene from The Tale of Genji by Utagawa HiroshigeJapan’s National Diet Library


And here are some quotes from the book:

There are as many sorts of women as there are women.”

I certainly agree with that.

One ought not to be unkind to a woman merely on account of her plainness, any more than one had a right to take liberties with her merely because she was handsome”

This sounds as if it could be Jane Austen writing centuries later!

It is indeed in many ways more comfortable to belong to that section of society whose action are not publicly canvassed and discussed”

This could be one of the Royal Family, or any celebrity now.

It’s amazing to see into her mind like this – and see how very little some concerns have changed!

What an extraordinary woman!


If you’d like to read about more extraordinary women, why not buy the book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan – link below, press on book!

R is for Ruby Bridges, first black child in a white school, #AtoZ Challenge

By Uncredited DOJ photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s blog is by the other fellow author of my book, Reaching for the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, the wonderful and talented Michaela Morgan:


The poem My First Day at School, by Michaela Morgan, commemorates Ruby Bridges, who, at the age of six, made the historic walk towards her local elementary school as the first black child to enter a school previously denied to black children.

She had to be marched in surrounded by US marshals to protect her from the angry mob, and for some time was the only child taught in the school, as other parents kept their children out of school rather than send them to a non-segregated establishment.

Ruby Bridges is now a grandmother. She continues to make her voice and presence felt in the fight for human rights.


My First Day at School


I remember . . .

Momma scrubbed my face, hard.

Plaited my hair, tight.

Perched a hopeful white bow on my head,

Like a butterfly hoping for flight.

She shone my shoes, black, shiny, neat.

Another hopeful bow, on each toe,

To give wings to my feet.

My dress was standing to attention, stiff with starch.

My little battledress.

And now, my march.

Two marshals march in front of me.

Two marshals march behind of me.

The people scream and jeer at me.

Their faces are red, not white.

The marshals tower above me, a grey-legged wall.

Broad of back, white of face and tall, tall, tall.

I only see their legs and shoes as black and shiny as


They march along, stern and strong. I try to march in


One hisses to another, ‘Slow down it ain’t a race.

She only take little bitty girlie steps.’

I quicken my pace.

Head up.

Eyes straight.

I march into school.

To learn like any other kid can.

And maybe to teach a lesson too.


© Michaela Morgan

Appears in Reaching for the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls.


If you’d like to read about more extraordinary women, why not buy the book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan – link below, press on book!


The above facts and poem appear in Reaching for the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women  and Girls, Pub. Macmillan Books.

Image – Wikipedia

Q is for Queen Æthelflæd first female ruler in England #AtoZ Challenge

Image by Hel-Hama, by CC licence.


Æthelflæd (pronounced Ethel-fled) was an Anglo-Saxon princess born around 870, the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great, who was the King of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Wessex. In those days there was no overall ruler or Monarch of England. The map above shows Wessex as it was being claimed back from the Vikings.

The Vikings has invaded from Denmark and held a fair portion of southern England – in 1877 they took over Mercia, throwing out the King of that region, Burgred. They then halved Mercia and ruled the east themselves and they appointed a King Ceolwulf to rule the west with their support.

Æthelflæd was well-educated, and as she grew up, while her father Alfred the Great was at war with the Danish Vikings, taking back huge parts of captured territory, she witnessed a lot of military action. In her teenage years she saw Alfred claim back parts of captured Wessex and parts of Mercia.

In 882, Æthelred (pronounced Ethel-red, rather a similar name to Æthelflæd!) became King of the west of Mercia after Ceolwulf, and it is thought that he asked Alfred to help him regain the rest of his territory.

Alfred agreed to help, and managed to win back London from the Vikings and Æthelred acknowledged Wessex as the dominant power over Mercia.

It is not known exactly when, but Æthelflæd at some point married Æthelred, even though he was much older than her. This may have been when Alfred won London back or afterwards – what is sure is that it was a tactical move on both Alfred and Æthelred’s part, strengthening ties and making strong army allegiances.

Æthelflæd and Æthelred proved to be a good team – they fought over the years to regain more of Mercia, and it is thought that Æthelflæd helped by suggesting tactics and carrying them out – such as fortifying borders after they had been regained. Among the towns where she built defences were Bridgnorth, Tamworth, Stafford, Warwick, Chirbury and Runcorn.

Æthelred was quite sick and elderly, and in 911 he died – leaving Æthelflæd the ruler of Mercia as it now stood, with the title Lady of Mercia. This was a unique position, Wessex did not recognise female rulers, and she was the only known case of a female ruler in Anglo-Saxon history.

She continued to fight the Vikings using her considerable tactical expertise along with her brother Edward, as they both believed the same as their father – in a united England. They came some way towards that goal.

She died on 12 June 918.

Æthelflæd was a heroine in her own time, and thereafter. In the twelfth century, Henry of Huntingdon paid her a rather touching tribute in this poem, saying she was as good as a man:


Heroic Elflede! great in martial fame,

A man in valour, woman though in name:

Thee warlike hosts, thee, nature too obey’d,

Conqu’ror o’er both, though born by sex a maid.

Chang’d be thy name, such honour triumphs bring.

A queen by title, but in deeds a king.

Heroes before the Mercian heroine quail’d:

Caesar himself to win such glory fail’d.


Extraordinary woman!


If you’d like to read about more extraordinary women, why not buy the book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan – link below, press on book!





P is for Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin Astronomer #AtoZ Challenge

When I first read about this woman, I could hardly believe it!

She was born Cecilia Helena Payne in Wendover, England on May 10th, 1900.

In 1919 she won a scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge University, to read botany, physics, and chemistry, where she attended a lecture by Arthur Eddington on an expedition he had made off the coast of Africa to observe and photograph stars near a solar eclipse to test Einstein’s theory of relativity. This sparked her interest in astronomy.

She completed her degree but was not awarded it, as Cambridge did not award degrees to women before 1948 – she did not want to become a teacher, her only option if she remained in the UK, so she needed to obtain a grant to move to the United States.

Cecilia was introduced to Harlow Shapley, the Director of the Harvard College Observatory, who had just begun a graduate program in astronomy, and because of a fellowship to encourage women to study at the observatory, she was able to take up a position there, and left England in 1923.

Harlow Shapley persuaded Cecilia to write a doctoral dissertation, and in 1925 she became the first person to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College (now part of Harvard).

Her thesis was “Stellar Atmospheres, A Contribution to the Observational Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars”. Astronomers Otto Struve and Velta Zeberg called it

undoubtedly the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy.

Basically until then scientists though that the sun and stars were made of the same elements as Earth – but she showed that in fact they were made up of mainly hydrogen and helium, and that hydrogen was the most abundant element in the universe.

However – this finding was so at odds with the prevailing view she was dissuaded from publishing her findings by astronomer Henry Norris Russell. Strangely enough, not four years later he published his own findings, arrived at by a different method, which came to the same conclusions.

He did acknowledge her work briefly in his paper, but Henry Norris Russell was nevertheless often given credit for the discovery even after Cecilia Payne’s work was accepted.

Despite this achievement, Cecilia Payne had no official position at Harvard and served as a technical assistant to Shapley – she even considered leaving Harvard because of her low status and poor salary. However, Shapley made efforts to improve her position, and in 1938 she was given the title of “Astronomer”.

She went on to long and distinguished academic career at Harvard, being elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1943, then the first woman to be promoted to full professor from within the faculty at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1956, and later with an appointment to the Chair of the Department of Astronomy, she also became the first woman to head a department at Harvard.

And lastly today, a little personal idea of her – her daughter remembers her as

an inspired seamstress, an inventive knitter, and a voracious reader.




Many of the stars we watch in the night sky no longer exist. Millions and millions of years ago they may have exploded and died… leaving only stardust to carry on out into the universe and the last millions of years of light they shone, because it takes so very long to get to us… we will never know if they still exist or not.


The Reality of the Existence of Stars


Who would think

they could discover

the secrets of stars


though they track

their mathematical paths


over distance

imagination cannot size


when though they shine

each night long


as their whispers

of light travel on


they know that what

they’re made from


may be gone?


© Liz Brownlee

If you’d like to read about more extraordinary women, why not buy the book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan – link below, press on book!




O is for Georgia O’Keeffe, Artist, #AtoZ Challenge 2017

Today there is another blog from guest blogger,  Jan Dean!

Blue and Green Music by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1921


Georgia O’Keeffe was born in 1887  and died in 1986.

Georgia O’Keeffe was an important and influential American painter.  Although most of her work portrays landscape, bones, shells and stones, she is best known for her flower paintings.  She was the first person to paint flowers much larger than life; she wanted people to be stopped in their tracks by the beauty that she saw in the flowers and painting them big was the way she chose to do it.  Hers was a very original vision.

She spent most of her life in the deserts of New Mexico, immersing herself in the natural world which she wanted to paint. When she grew old she lost her sight and instead of painting she made sculpture.  She once said:

I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.



she paints the many-petalled poppy


lush lava red and layered

it’s black heart soft            enveloping as soot

I stand outside the frame

and know that I could fall

into its flame

though petals seem like orange silk

they burn              it is a furnace of a flower


this is how she sees the poppy

fierce and beautiful

and so she paints the blaze of it

not as a red dot in a safe green space

but an inferno roaring wild across the canvas


a forest fire which cannot be put out



the poppies scream


this is who we are

we are unlocked now

and never going back

into the place where you ignored us


© Jan Dean



If you’d like to read about more extraordinary women, why not buy the book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan – link below, press on book!



Article Title

Georgia O’Keeffe

Author Editors

Website Name

The website


Access Date

March 31, 2017


A&E Television Networks

Last Updated

August 26, 2016

N is for Florence Nightingale, Nurse, #AtoZ Challenge

Florence Nightingale

This special entry is by one of my fellow authors of my new book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls – the wonderful and talented Jan Dean!


Florence Nightingale is famous for being the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ – the woman who organised the nursing of sick and wounded soldiers during the Crimean War, where she ran the hospital in the Scutari Barracks.

Her greatest achievement was to transform nursing into a respectable profession for women and in 1860, she established the first professional training school for nurses, the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’ Hospital.

Florence’s influence today includes:

  • ward designs (known as Nightingale Wards), which she developed when she realised that hospital buildings themselves could affect the health and recovery of patients
  • infection control measures
  • the championing of a healthy diet as a key factor for recovery.
  • specialist midwifery nurses – she established a School of Midwifery nursing at King’s College Hospital which became a model for the country.

Nightingale is also credited with inventing the pie chart and was the first woman to be elected to the Royal Statistical Society. She was also the first woman to be awarded the Freedom of the City of London, which she received in 1909.

She inspired the founding of the International Red Cross which still awards the Florence Nightingale Medal for nurses who have given exceptional care to the sick and wounded in war or peace.


Miss Nightingale’s War


she did not sit and mop a fevered brow

she was not gentle by a bedside

she was about the numbers

the running total of the dead

who never should have died


it wasn’t cannon fire that killed them

not bayonets or bullets

but infection

gangrene devoured them

and Nightingale was powerless to stop it


the enemy was filth

the squalor of the wards

the soldiers stretchered-in alive with lice

their uniforms a mass of blood and dirt

no towels         no washbowls


think now of one slow-motion bullet

singing through the air at Balaclava

making for the shoulder of a young enlisted man –

it hits the woollen fabric of his coat

cuts through it to his cambric shirt


from shirt it shoots through saltsweat skin

to muscle ligament and bone

speeds out again  (a through-and-through)

into the howling of the battlefield

to fall into the mud –


the hole will heal          the shoulder mend

but still that bullet carried death

it took the fibres of his foul-stained clothes

and pushed them deep inside his flesh

and there they brewed and bred bacteria


she knew she fought a losing battle

a woman nursing in Scutari Barracks

would drown in drudgery

be lost for want of bandages and fresh washed bedding

so she collected evidence


she took the numbers of the dead

and made a fist of them to punch the army with

she was not tender     was not nice

she was a force          who loved the desperate

and saved them with the sharp blade of statistics


© Jan Dean


If you’d like to read about more extraordinary women, why not buy the book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan – link below, press on book!



The Florence Nightingale Museum

(Which you can visit opposite the Houses of Parliament in London)

St Thomas’ Hospital
2 Lambeth Palace Road
T: +44 (0)20 7188 4400