lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info, extraordinary women, my books!

M is for Lise Meitner – Physicist, #AtoZ Challenge

Smithsonian Institution(1878-1968), lecturing at Catholic University, Washington, D.C


Lise Meitner was born in Vienna on the 7th November 1878, and died in Cambridge, England, on 27th of October 1968.

Her parents were Jewish. Lise was a clever little girl who loved maths and science – by the time she was 8 she already kept a notebook of her scientific investigations under her pillow.

She had very supportive parents, and even though women at that time were not allowed to study in public institutions, they enabled her to study physics privately, taking external examinations, and to eventually become the second woman to obtain a PhD in physics at the University of Vienna.

She spent most of her scientific career as a physics professor and department head at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute – the first woman to become a full professor of physics in Germany. However, the second world war was about to start and she lost these positions because of  the Nazi anti-Jewish laws, and had to flee to Sweden to live for many years, in the end taking Swedish citizenship.

She was highly regarded in the scientific community and she attended the lectures of and then worked for the famous physicist Max Planck.

She then went on to work with Otto Hahn, they discovered several new isotopes, and a physical separation method known as radioactive recoil (I Have NO idea what this means!), which they then developed.

In 1917, they found the first long-lived isotope of the element protactinium, and she was awarded the Leibniz Medal by the Berlin Academy of Sciences.

In 1922, she discovered the cause of the emission from surfaces of electrons with ‘signature’ energies, now known as the Auger effect. But despite the fact that she discovered and published her findings first, it is named after Pierre Victor Auger, a French scientist who independently investigated the effect in 1923.

She was given many awards and much recognition towards the end of her life, however, was not named in the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for nuclear fission – it was awarded just to her long-time collaborator Otto Hahn.

The records made by the committee that decided on that prize were opened in the 1990s and read, and scientists and journalists called her exclusion ‘unjust’.

Meitner received the posthumous honour of chemical element 109 being named as meitnerium in 1997.

Yet another clever and extraordinary women.


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!




L is for Dorothea Lange #AtoZ Challenge

 Dorothea Lange with a Graflex 5×7 Series D. Image by Rondal Partridge, Farm Security Administration


Dorothea Lange was born on May 26th, 1895, in Hoboken, New Jersey, as Dorothea Margaretta Nutzhorn – she changed her name later to her mother’s maiden name, as she blamed her father for the divorce of her parents.

After she went to High School, Dorothea went to teacher training school – she wasn’t that academic, and after working for a NYC photo studio decided to make photography her career – going on to study it at Columbia University.

By 1918 she was married to Maynard Dixon, a muralist, with two sons and running a successful photo studio.

In the 20s she traveled round the south west of America with her husband and took portraits of Native Americans, and later during the Depression in the 30s portraits of severe poverty right there in her own neigbourhood such as strikes, and her famous image ‘White Angel Breadline’. But she wasn’t happily married and when she met Paul Taylor, an economist, she married him. They travelled together to document the Depression and this was when many of Dorothea’s most famous works, the images of depressed farmworkers, were taken for the Farm Security Division.

Lange’s iconic 1936 photograph, Migrant Mother

She had a such a feeling of empathy and consideration for her subjects, that this enabled her to capture the hardships and pain in a way in a more intimate way than if she had been any other photographer.

Following America’s entrance into World War II, Lange was hired by the Office of War Information and photographed the internment of Japanese Americans.

Children at the Weill public school in San Francisco pledge allegiance to the American flag in April 1942

Lange was a superb photographer, and frequently frustrated by the fact that despite the visceral horrors her images portrayed, they had little effect in instigating any welfare changes. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for achievement in photography in 1941.

She died of esophageal cancer in October 11th, 1965.


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!




K is for Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan #AtoZ Challenge


Helen Keller, 8 with tutor Anne Sullivan on vacation in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

R. Stanton Avery Special Collections


This entry is taken from my new book, Reaching for the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, pub. Macmillan and written with  Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan.

Jan wrote in the book about Helen Keller – watching a film of her as she ran her hand over Anne Sullivan’s face, to ‘feel’ the way Anne was using her muscles to make sounds.

I wrote about Anne Sullivan, who taught Helen Keller to communicate. The following is the entry in the book for my poem:

Helen Keller lost both her sight and her hearing as a baby. She became very frustrated as a child until her family employed Anne Sullivan, who cleverly found ways to help her communicate. Anne was Helen’s teacher and companion until she herself died – by then, she had enabled Helen to get to college, learn to type, speak, get married, tackle issues such as women’s suffrage, and write a book.

And here is the poem:


Anne Sullivan, teacher to Helen Keller


I started with the word for doll,

finger-spelling on her hand.

This child could neither hear, nor see —

how could I make her understand?


To fill the space for song and bird,

all that sound and light explain;

out of reach did not exist

and dark and silence had no name.


Until I spelled into her hand

under a pump — though deaf and blind,

the word for water and the water

flowed together in her mind.


That living word grew in her hands,

gave her ways to hear and see,

let in hope and joy and love

with words that set her free.


© Liz Brownlee


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



Reaching for the Stars.

J is for Dame Jane Goodall #AtoZ Challenge


The more we learn of the true nature of nonhuman animals, especially those with complex brains and corresponding complex social behaviour, the more ethical concerns are raised regarding their use in the service of man – whether this be in entertainment, as ‘pets,’ for food, in research laboratories or any of the other uses to which we subject them. This concern is sharpened when the usage in question leads to intense physical or mental suffering – as is so often true with regard to vivisection.”

This quote is from Jane Goodall’s book, Through a Window, written in 1990.

Jane Goodall was born Valerie Jane Morris-Goodall in London, 1934. She was given a stuffed chimpanzee as a child and her love for the toy sparked her interest in animals. (My first toy was a panda – I still have him here on my desk – that and an early visit to Bristol Zoo sparked my interest in animals!)

Her journey to where she became such a passionate scientific observer and advocate for chimpanzees was interesting – she visited the farm of family friends in Tanzania, Africa, and through other friends she met the famous anthropologist Louis Leakey, and became his secretary.

Leakey was particularly interested in chimpanzees, and was looking for someone to do a long-term study on them – he thought Jane fitted the bill. She would need to spend long, patient hours in isolation, gaining their trust, and making meticulous notes.

She did fit the bill. After one false start she started on her defining work at Gombe Stream National Park.

Jane had no training to do scientific work and this meant her methods and observations were governed by a wider interest in just exactly how they behaved – she observed them to have unique and individual personalities, an unconventional and contentious idea at the time.

it isn’t only human beings who have personality, who are capable of rational thought and emotions like joy and sorrow.”

She also observed behaviours such as hugs, kisses, pats on the back, and even tickling and insisted;

these gestures are evidence of “the close, supportive, affectionate bonds that develop between family members and other individuals within a community, which can persist throughout a life span of more than 50 years.”

Her research there is best known to the scientific community for challenging two long-standing beliefs of the day – that only humans could construct and use tools, and that chimpanzees were vegetarians.

She observed chimpanzees using blades of grass, often modified, to stick into termite mounds and gather the insects to eat, rather like they were using a long-handled spoon.

Until this time,  science had distinguished humans from the rest of the animal kingdom as ‘toolmakers’. In response to Jane Goodall’s revolutionary findings, Louis Leakey wrote:

We must now redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human!”

Her other revolutionary observations were chimps pursuing, killing and eating other monkeys, birds and small deer. Chimps were thought to be vegetarian before her study.

We have since found out that chimps, although possessing the same muscles as us, have them structured slightly differently, and they use fewer neurones to control them – which means they have less motor control but much more power as all the muscle is used. They are at least four times as powerful as us and can pull a man’s arm straight off.

In 1977, she established the Jane Goodall Institute, which supports the Gombe research, and she is a global leader in the effort to protect chimpanzees and their habitats.

Jane Goodall has in the past and continues to promote the need for and encourage African nations to develop nature-friendly tourism, which helps them with a living.

She has written a book for children in 1989 called The Chimpanzee Family Book – it won a prize and she used the prize money to have it translated into Swahili to educate children who live areas near chimpanzees, to foster a pride, interest in and love for the local environment and its wildlife.

Campaigning to get scientists to find alternatives to the use of animals in research has also been part of her unflagging work – although she opposes militant animal rights groups as she believes extremists on both sides of the issue polarise thinking and make constructive dialogue impossible.

She has been the recipient of many awards – culminating in 2002 when he was named a Messenger of Peace by the United Nations and in 2003 being made a Dame of the British Empire.

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!




I is for Ida B Wells, Early Fighter Against Institutional Racism #AtoZ Challenge

Mary Garrity Restored by Adam Cuerden Based on image originally from NAEMVZELXQV2iw

at Google Cultural Institute

I wish I had more room to tell the complete story of this extraordinary woman. She was intelligent, she was brave, she never gave up, despite many, many setbacks…

Ida B Wells was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, on July 16th, 1862, and died on March 25th 1931.

When she was 16 she was visiting her grandmother when she received information that both of her parents and her youngest brother had died in a yellow fever outbreak.

To save the family (6 other children) from being split up she went to work as a teacher in an elementary school. She resented the fact that she was only paid $30 whilst her white counterparts were paid $80 for exactly the same job – and this sparked a lifetime interest in suffrage, racial equality and improving the education of black people.

She moved to Memphis where teaching pay was better, and in her spare time attended two universities.

In 1884 a train conductor ordered her to give up her (paid for) seat in first class, and she refused – SEVENTY years before Rosa Parks did the same thing. She was dragged out and took the railroad to court – and won $500, which sadly she lost again on appeal, having to pay court costs.

She went on to become an activist, documenting lynching, showing it was often used as whites to control or punish black people who were in some way competing in business or otherwise with whites – and the usual excuses of ‘rapes’ or ‘criminal acts’ spurring the lynchings were in fact codswallop. (My word!)

As well as working in the Civil Rights Movement, she became prominent in the suffragist movement, establishing severable notable women’s organisations, and her ability with rhetoric earned her work as a journalist which she used as a mouthpiece for her contentious but entirely justified views.

An extraordinary woman indeed.


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!


Facts from:




H is for Hypatia of Alexandria, Philosopher, AD 370-415, #AtoZ Challenge

Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all. Hypatia of Alexandria, 370-415

Hypatia of Alexandria was born in around 370 AD – the exact date is not known, and was murdered in 415, at roughly 45 years of age.

The daughter of a great mathematician, Theon of Alexandria, she lived in Egypt (part of the Byzantine Empire at that time) and was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher. She was the head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria, where she taught philosophy and astronomy, sharing the knowledge of Plato and Aristotle to students.

Obviously there are no photographs or paintings of her – but the quotes attributed to her speak of the acute and intelligent mind that enabled her to rise to such a prominent position.

Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond. Hypatia of Alexandria, 370-415

Apart from her quotes, probably the best way to get a feeling for what she was like is to read this account of her by Socrates in his Ecclesiastical History:

There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.

She clearly had a commanding presence!

In fact men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth – often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you cannot get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable. Hypatia of Alexandria, 370-415

What a woman! Sadly she was murdered by a mob of Christian zealots known as the Parabalani, after being accused of exacerbating a conflict between two prominent figures in Alexandria; the governor, Orestes, and the bishop, Cyril of Alexandria.


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!





Brainy Quotes

G is for Frances Glessner Lee – First Forensic Scientist #AtoZ Challenge

Frances Glessner Lee working on a diorama, by Lorie Shaull, licensed by CC with attribution.


The amazing Frances Glessner Lee is alternatively known as the ‘mother of forensic science’. She developed a system of educating forensic scientists in the police force that is still used today.

She was born in Chicago in 1878. Her father was an industrialist and had become wealthy from the ‘International Harvester’. She and her brother were educated at home, but although her brother went to Harvard, Frances was was not allowed to, because her father felt that ‘a lady didn’t go to school’.

As she was growing up, Frances soaked up a great deal of knowledge about interior design, metalwork, sewing, knitting, crocheting, embroidery and painting from her mother and aunts. This was to stand her in good stead as later in life she drew on this knowledge in a very different setting!

She married a lawyer, Blewett Lee, but it ended in divorce.

It was only after after her brother’s death in 1930, aged 52, that she started towards her own career  – inspired by a classmate of her brother, George Burgess Magrath, who was studying medicine at Harvard, she had long had an interest in forensic pathology. Having inherited the Harvester Fortune she was now able to study how detectives examined and drew conclusions from clues.

She endowed various institutions, Harvard Department of Legal Medicine (in 1931, the first such department in the country), and Harvard Associates in Police Science, a national organization for the furtherance of forensic science that has a division dedicated to her, called the Frances Glessner Lee Homicide School, and together with George Burgess Magrath, lobbied to have coroners replaced by medical professionals.

Through the 1940s and 1950s, Lee hosted a series of seminars for students of homicide investigation, during which she showed the students intricately constructed dioramas of actual crime scenes. The dioramas had working windows, doors and lights and each detail of the rooms under scrutiny were reproduced down to working mousetraps and rocking chairs and corpses with the right amount of lividity. They were called the ‘Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death’ and the students had 90 minutes to study the scenes and to gather the clues as a real detective would.

The 18 dioramas are still used for training purposes by Harvard Associates in Police Science, and in 1943, Frances Glessner Lee was made an honorary captain in the New Hampshire Police, the first woman to join the International Association of Chief of Police.

And the first real forensic Pathologist. 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 – 5.99!


Facts from:



F is for Veronica Franco – Extraordinary Woman, #AtoZ Challenge

Veronica Franco by Tintoretto


Veronica Franco was born in  1546, in Venice, Italy, to a family of the ‘citizen’ class.

Her mother insisted that she was given the same education as her three older brothers. This helped her when, married in her mid-teens to a Doctor, she wanted a divorce. At that time in Italy it was possible for a woman to initiate divorce proceedings, but not to get any kind of monetary support afterwards.

Veronica had a young child. She had to earn a living – and she chose to become a courtesan, or cortigiana, an intellectual courtesan or mistress to wealthy men.

She was clever, good company and quickly rose through the ranks to consort with the leading notables of her day. She even had a brief liaison with Henry III, King of France. She was listed as one of the foremost courtesans of Venice, and supported her family in luxury.

Because of her mother’s insistence that she was well-educated, Veronica was able to indulge her tastes for literacy and poetry and herself wrote two volumes of poetry: Terze rime in 1575 and Lettere familiari a diversi in 1580. She also published books of letters and collected the works of other leading writers into anthologies.

She also founded a charity for courtesans and their children.

Sadly in 1575 an epidemic of the plague swept through Venice and she was forced to flee and leave behind her house and possessions, which were looted. When she returned in 1577 she was also charged with witchcraft, although the charges were dropped – probably thorough the intervention of her wealthy friends.

Her later life is poorly documented and it is likely that she died in obscurity and poverty.

However – her work lives on!

We danced our youth in a dreamed of city, Venice, paradise, proud and pretty, We lived for love and lust and beauty, Pleasure then our only duty. Floating them twixt heaven and Earth And drank on plenties blessed mirth We thought ourselves eternal then, Our glory sealed by God’s own pen. But paradise, we found is always frail, Against man’s fear will always fail. ~Veronica Franco


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!






E is for Shirin Ebadi – first Iranian to win a Nobel Peace Prize #AtoZ Challenge

Shirin-Ebadi, in Amsterdam, 2011 image by Persian-Dutch Network


Shirin Ebadi was born on 21st June, 1947 in Iran.

As well as being an Iranian lawyer, a judge and human rights activist, she was also the founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre in Iran.

Ebadi was the first Iranian to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her tireless work in the fields of democracy and human rights. She was a fierce advocate of  women’s, children’s, and refugee rights. 

Ebadi has lived in the UK as an exile since June 2009 due to the persecution of Iranian citizens who are critical of the current regime.

She is a brave and extraordinary woman to be sure.


The Nature of Courage


Who will extend a word

for those that cannot speak?


Who will extend a word,

for the powerless, the weak?


Who will extend a hand,

to those that have no rights?


Who will extend that hand

and despite fear, stand, and fight?


If not you?


© 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!




D is for Emily Dickinson, Extraordinary Women #AtoZ Challenge

Daguerrotype of 16 year old Emily Dickinson, Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.


Emily Dickinson – what a lovely, gentle expression she had- was born on the 10th of December 1830, and died on the 15th of May, 1886, in Ameherst, Massachussetts.

She studied at Ameherst Acadamy for seven years and then went for just a year to Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.

But then she hardly left home again – practically a recluse she mixed mainly with her family, and became more reluctant to greet visitors as she became older – her friendships were carried out mainly by correspondence.

She spent much of her time in her bedroom, writing poetry; only a handful of which was published in her lifetime, and that altered by the publishers to fit the conventional rules of the time.

On her death, her sister Lavinia discovered her collections of poems – and the breadth and quantity of her work became clear.

Emily had invented her own system of bookmaking by folding paper and sewing sixteen to twenty four pages into ‘packets’. These contained poems written in a unique style for that era – usually without titles, using slant rhyme as well as conventional, and she had invented her own sort of punctuation which consisted of feather light marks, often vertical, on the manuscript.

It may be that we will never know how she would have liked her poems to be printed, as she also used unconventional capitalisations and line and stanza divisions.

Many of the poems were about death and immortality, subjects also often discussed in her letters to friends. Many of the people in her close world died. Other subjects were flowers and gardens, nature, gospel, poems that were confessional and which could be addressed to individuals or a muse (opinion is divided!).

What is sure though is that her poems have given much pleasure since their publication, and that she is one of the great American poets, and an extraordinary woman.

Below is the manuscript of her poem Wild Nights – Wild Nights!


Wild Nights – Wild Nights!


Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!
Futile – the winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden –
Ah – the Sea!
Might I but moor – tonight –
In thee!
Emily Dickinson
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!