To quote Annie Lennox: “There was a time, when they used to say that behind every Great Man, there had to be a Great Woman. But in these times of change you know that it’s no longer true…”
Now I’m not one to disagree with Annie Lennox, but the truth is: It’s always true. It was true then and it is true now. There are women who have secretly ruled the world since a woman worked out how to record time (probably).
Here are just some of the remarkable women that history has overlooked in favour of their more famous male partners:
1. Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great.
Alexander once ruled an empire that stretched across Europe, into Asia and North Africa. He was the original “Great” man – but historians believe that he was also the original “Mummy’s boy”. Beautiful and powerful in the cult of Dionysus, Alexander’s mother Olympias ruled from behind his throne.
When Alexander’s claim to the throne was threatened, Olympias put around that Alexander was born from a dalliance that Olympias had with the God Zeus underneath an oak tree, effectively putting a kybosh on any plot to unseat Alexander (as a demi-god, he could not be denied).
When her husband divorced her and married another woman, Olympias had her husband assassinated. She also had her ex-husband’s children murdered, so that there would be no competing claim to Alexander’s throne.
While Alexander was off conquering, his mother ruled in his stead, ignoring the decrees issued by the regent Antipater who had been appointed to that job. Even after Alexander died, Olympias waged wars and conducted all affairs of state. When Antipater died, his final words were a warning that women should never lead.
2. Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, wife of American President Woodrow Wilson.
Woodrow Wilson oversaw America’s engagement (and thus, Australia’s) engagement in WW1. He also granted women the right to vote in the US, shaped the pre-cursor to the UN, won a Nobel Peace Prize and established the first Mothers’ Day.
What few people know is that in 1919, Wilson suffered a stroke that left him no longer capable of exercising his Presidential duties. His doctors said that it would kill him to stand down as President, and it would kill him to continue. So the solution? Have his wife Edith undertake the lion’s share of the decision making that defined his Presidency and, in many ways, set the framework for international relations that we still use today.