Unveiling Centuries of Remarkable Women – Connecting Heart and World

Justine Durrell wrote about the lives of remarkable and surprising women from the past – highlighting their grace, challenges, and creativity to engender their living presence in your life.

HURREM SULTAN – Entering “The Gate of Good Fortune” (circa 1502 – April 15, 1558)

Titian Painting of Hurrem, 1550

This is the culturally complex story of a 13 year old Russian girl―seized by Crimean Tartars, sold at a Black Sea slave market, shipped to Istanbul, and trained as a concubine.  As Islamic law forbade Muslims from enslaving other Muslims, the Ottoman Empire imported thousands of Christians to be trained as concubines, elite foot soldiers (Janissaries), and laborers. After seizure, this young Russian girl captured the heart of the sultan, passed through forbidden gates to become queen, birthed six royal children, and gained worldly prominence for her foreign negotiations and philanthropy.

The girl’s birth name and parentage are unknown and her identity was quickly erased in the accelerated acculturation of Istanbul’s Old Palace. Despite her brutal abduction, she apparently possessed a joyful nature and the Turks named her “Hurrem,” meaning “cheerful one.”

Once within the confined walls of the Old Palace, Hurrem was immersed in a woven tapestry of nationalities, languages, and religions. Power resided with the royal mother who delegated through a hierarchy of administrators, eunuchs, and servants to provide for the needs of as many as 300 concubines and their children. Hurrem received intense schooling in the Turkish language, Islam doctrine, and palace protocol. As a potential sultan favorite or “haseki,” Hurrem bathed in the rituals of beautification―cultivating the mystery of the feminine as a treasured asset.

HISTORY – a sneak peak at my latest collection of poetry


When History came to call
I did not recognize him.
Being so unlike my own recall
I feared perhaps
my mind was wobbling―
which would not be a first or last.
My appraising stare at History
as he stood at my door
wasn’t just at the details he displayed
but the very subject matter
that bulked his mighty physique.

For I have known the glory and pain
of birthing a child and watching him grow,
experienced the glow a lover’s touch bestows,
eaten the food prepared by
someone who loves to serve,
and held the hands of
those who were never
written up in anyone’s books.

I multiply my affairs
through centuries of human living
and I say to History―
as he waits at my door―
“your stories of war ad nauseam,
of brutal conquering generals,
of male, monotheistic gods,
and philosophy, art, and literature
all reflecting and reshaping the same,
is not a past I can praise
nor one I wish to record.”

“But please do come in, History,
sit by my fire
and tell me all you know
of the stories that happened in-between.”


Excerpted from my new poetry collection, My Earthy View.

Buy now on Book Baby | Pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

A WOMAN IN “WHIP’S” CLOTHING: Charlotte/Charley Parkhurst (1812-1879)

Gold rush fever erupted in 1849, as all kinds/sorts/types (mostly men) clambered into the California Sierra Nevadas to join the race to prosperity. Burgeoning boomtowns in out-of-the-way places created the need for stagecoaches. Rugged individuals, known as “whips,” took on the challenge of driving four to six horses down improvised roads, twisting over mountain passes, around craggy cliffs, through dense forests, across swollen streams, and into canyons of wild bear, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes. Thieving bandits and bad weather―ranging from blistering sun to freezing rain and snow―punctuated their adventures. The stage whips were hired to transport passengers, supplies, mail, and gold, and do it on time. Those who paid the fare to passenger over the jolting landscape―with only a roll-down leather window separating them from the dust and elements―often offered a prayer of gratitude upon arriving at their destination, alive!


Dwelling in the city of Ur, in ancient Mesopotamia, an innovative woman―now recognized as the world’s first known author―changed the course of cultural narration. Buried for thousands of years in the sands of modern day Iraq and rescued comparatively recently, broken clay tablets attest to Enheduanna’s life as poet, composer of hymns and liturgy, and abiding high priestess. Details, like dates of birth and death remain unknown but she lived sometime around 2300 BCE.

In the 1920s, Sir Leonard Woolley’s team excavated the layered temples around the city of Ur. Multiple mounds had crumbled atop one another as the city endured and flourished between 5000 and 500 BCE. In sifting through thousands of previously-buried clay tablets, the team salvaged six poems and a collection of 42 hymns authored by Enheduanna. Equally astonishing, in the giparu (temple’s inner sanctum), they unearthed a small, round alabaster disc with Enheduanna’s likeness. Depicted as the high priestess―the tall figure wearing a flounced dress and conical headdress― she offered libations to her revered goddess Inanna. The inscription on the back read:

Enheduanna, true lady of Nanna, wife of Nanna,
daughter of Sargon, king of all, in the temple of Inanna.

“Nanna” was the moon god and patron deity of Ur; “Sargon” was Enheduanna’s father and king of Mesopotamia; “Inanna” was the goddess Enheduanna adored in her poetry