It’s March—the month we celebrate women.
Although, in my opinion, we should be celebrating women every day—but that’s a discussion for another time.
This month, our social feeds are filled with stories about noteworthy women—politicians, musicians, writers, inventors, history makers—encouraging us to follow in their footsteps on our own path to greatness.
I have discovered a woman you probably won’t see on any of these social feeds. Her life story has been hidden until recently and I want to do my part to make her as celebrated as all the other women we are so familiar with.
Her name was Pamela Coleman Smith. Her friends called her Pixie. She was born on February 16, 1878, to American parents who were living in London.
“Why do I need to add her to my list of women to celebrate?” you might ask.
Her list of accomplishments will make you wonder why she is not more well-known. She was an artist, a poet, a folklorist, an activist, an occultist, an editor, and a publisher. She also delved into costume and stage design.
Your next question might be, “Why have I never heard of this distinguished, gifted person?”
Her life is somewhat of a mystery. From all accounts, she was small in stature but there was nothing small about her personality or her talents. Her ethnicity remained a mystery, although, there were lots of opinions.
Writings by people who knew her indicate she was possibly of Asian, Native American, or Black descent. Some believe her mother was Jamaican, but there is no reliable proof of that. Her sexuality was even a hushed topic in the salons of the day. She definitely preferred the company of women, never married, and had the same close friend and flatmate until she died in 1951, willing the house to her upon her death.
She was an extensive traveler who lived a large portion of her younger life in Jamaica but ended up settling in England. She traveled in all the right circles and her list of famous friends included W. B. Yeats, Bram Stoker, and Alfred Stieglitz.
Okay, okay! I hear your frustration. Why should we celebrate this woman?
Well, you see, you actually might already know of her great talents. Although, it has only been in recent years that she was given credit for her work. You may even own some of her most famous artwork. You have definitely seen it in book stores and movies and quite possibly are or have been a student of it.
Arthur Edward Waite, creator of the secretive occult group known as the Order of the Golden Dawn, commissioned Ms. Smith to do the artwork for what is arguably the best-known set of Tarot decks in the world—the Rider-Waite deck.
What she termed as “a big job for very little cash” was completed in 1909. It only took her six months to create the 78 illustrations that many of us are so familiar with. She never received any commission, only a small flat fee, and was unable to contest this lack of recognition during her lifetime due to her being a woman with questionable ethnicity and sexuality.
In 2009, her name was added to the cards on a commemorative boxed set celebrating the 100th anniversary of the creation of the deck.
She was a woman way ahead of her time and if she had lived in the present-day, she would be celebrated for her many talents, as well as her courageous lifestyle.
If you are interested in learning more about her, check out the book, “Pamela Coleman Smith: The Untold Story.” It is a beautiful telling of what is known about this mysterious woman and includes wonderful pictures of her, her unique artwork, poetry, and accomplishments.