Raisin’ Cane with Julia Carpenter

Julia Carpenter
Photo by AJ Reynolds.

Meet Julia Carpenter, Washington Post reporter and newsletter extraordinaire.

When asked about whether the move to the swamp weather of Washington, D.C. was because she couldn’t live without the humidity of her native Savannah, Julia Carpenter’s response is succinct: “Ugh. Just Ugh.” But while the Washington Post reporter may have gotten out of Savannah to find herself in similar weather, she certainly doesn’t find herself in the same kind of town.

From the Women’s March on Washington (“I followed a family of marchers on the Washington Post Snapchat”) to her local hang, Kramerbooks (“my favorite neighborhood haunt! Part bookstore, part bar, part restaurant.”), the UGA grad is on the move, and in the thick of things. Big, international things. Her latest project, A Woman To Know, is a newsletter sharing the stories of women both past and present, and with a millennium of stories to share, things are just getting started.

Is it true that well behaved women rarely make history? 

You know, I like the saying. I have it on a shirt and some tote bags. But honestly, some would say Dolly Madison is a pretty well-behaved woman. I’m thinking about other women like Emily Post or Lulu Hunt Peters or even Anna Julia Cooper. You can “behave well” and still make a difference. Honey and vinegar and all that.

Where did the idea for “A Woman To Know” start?

I had noticed a tweet from another writer on Twitter, Rose Pastore of Fast Company. She had tweeted a link to Alice Bunker Stockham’s Wikipedia page, with just a few words: “A woman to know.” The phrasing stuck with me! I responded to her and said “This would make a great Tumblr. Or a newsletter.” And then I claimed the newsletter domain—sat on the idea for months. Months! I kept an iPhone note of all the interesting women I’d want to Google or read about later, and then one day it hit me: I have to do this. I have thousands of women to feature! I should go ahead and share them.

How do people react to it?

My favorite thing about starting the newsletter is the thousands of people who will send me recommendations! Things like, “I studied art history in Kentucky and I don’t think enough people know about Enid Yandell,” or “As a black woman in medicine, Rebecca Lee Crumpler is my hero.” I still have a backlog of somewhere around 1,000 replies from people, all suggesting fantastic women to feature. It’s so encouraging to think that so many people care enough about these women’s lives to forward my newsletter and share their own recommendations.

 

Words to live by: “Good things happen to those who hustle.” – Anaïs Nin

Words to live by: “Good things happen to those who hustle.” – Anaïs Nin

Is there a lack of acknowledgement about women’s accomplishments?

The No. 1 motivating force in my newsletter is anger/frustration! I’ll come across the name of some fantastically forceful, influential, important woman and think “How come I didn’t know about her?” Why did I learn about every important man from the last three centuries, but I still don’t know about so many of the women who shaped our history? God, I’m getting heated just even writing this all down!

How are you going to measure the success of the newsletter?

I want it to be a book. Maybe even multiple books. I’m writing the proposal right now. Hold me to this dream, y’all! I’m trying to tell as many people as possible so I don’t drop the ball in 2017.

How do you pick subjects of your newsletter?

Not very scientifically! I have an ongoing list I keep on my phone, jotting names from books, street signs, Tumblr posts and more. And then I get so many suggestions by tweets or replies to my newsletter. Those are my favorites.

Fanny Eaton

Head of Mrs. Eaton, 1861. Joanna Boyce Wells, Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

 

Do you have a favorite woman that you’ve highlighted?

Fanny Eaton always comes to mind. This is a woman who starred in so many portraits, sculptures and other artworks of the era, as contemporary painters’ favorite “exotic” subject. And yet so few people know her story, or even know her name. I think about her a lot.

What do you hope this information will inspire?

I hope it inspires more people to peer closer at the established narrative we agree is history. To ask more and more often, “Well, where were the ladies? Where were the lesbians? The trans women? The POC?” Because they were there, y’all!

My secret weapon is…”A private Facebook group created by myself, for a group of badass ladies, where I can vent and scream and share.”

Do you think feminism is still a bad word?

Not at all! I’m proud to say I’m a feminist.

The women you feature are all nationalities, not just American. Why is that important?

As little as we know about women in American history, we know even less about women in world history. And there’s millenia worth of stories to find!

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