The Journal Habits of Iconic Women
Big Ideas on Paper
Some of the most impressive and influential women in history kept journals. These women used journals as a way to record their ideas, express their emotions and organise their thoughts.
Marie Curie was one of the twentieth century’s most influential physicists and chemists. Awarded Nobel Prizes in both 1903 and 1911, Curie was responsible for pushing X-ray equipment in the medical field, allowing doctors to see inside patient’s bodies with high-fidelity for the first time.
Along with her husband, Pierre Curie, she also investigated the phenomenon of radioactive decay, opening up an entirely new branch of nuclear physics. Curie did not know the dangers of radioactive decay at the time of her research and described in her journal how she would often walk around her home laboratory with glowing uranium in her pocket that would shine like “fairy lights.” To this day, her diaries are still radioactive.
One of the world’s most influential painters, Frida Kahlo became a voice for freedom and feminism through her nature- and artefact-inspired work. She kept an art journal that gives us insight into the thinking of this remarkable Mexican artist. Kahlo used her diary as a way to escape the deterioration in her health during the last ten years of her life, creating beautiful images that provide a window into her soul. Most of the work in her journal is associative, rather than linear, making it particularly interesting to study.
She was a twentieth-century French essay writer, novelist and erotic writing author. The journal kept by Anais Nin is a reflection of her character: passionate, intimate, personable and deeply sensual.
Nin talks about love in her diary. Love never dies a natural death, she says; instead, it only ends in betrayal, blindness and errors. Every lover who enters into a relationship could be brought to trial for murdering his own love. She also suggests that war is the result of “atrophied love” - a compensating mechanism for those who need violence to feel alive.
Virginia Woolf was one of the twentieth century’s most influential modernist writers. Her diary reveals how she felt before her suicide. What's interesting about her final entries that she does not mention depression. Instead, it seems as if she was merely trying to appease the people around her while planning her death all along. Woolf talks about her wish for death from a very early age. In a diary entry from 1897 when she was just fifteen years old, she says that death would be better than living with the pain of her mother’s passing two years previously.
Mary Shelley was one of the most influential female essayists and story writers of the early nineteenth century, most famous today for her novel, Frankenstein. Her journal is a fascinating read, providing insights into how she felt soon after the death of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. It’s clear from her diary entries that Shelley herself never wanted anyone to read the entry when she says “White paper - wilt thou be my confidence?” The full version of her diaries was released in 1987.