Sunday, January 18, 2009

On January 18

On this day in ...
... 1930, Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo (left), a "pioneer feminist," was born in Abrantes, in Portugal's Tagus Valley. Having "she opted for a 'man's subject' so as to demonstrate the abilities of women," in 1953 she earned an engineering degree in industrial chemistry. She was active in Catholic women's political groups beginning in her university days, and served as the 1st woman on an advisory group to the country's long-in-power dictatorship. But after that dictatorship ended in 1974, Pintasilgo served in the new government, 1st as Minister for Social Affairs, then as UNESCO minister, and, in 1979, as the 1st woman Prime Minister of Portugal -- and the 2d woman to hold such a post anywhere in Europe. Her later bid for the presidency having failed, she served as a Member of the European Parliament for 2 years in the late 1980s. Pintasilgo, who died in Lisbon in 2004, once said of her male colleagues:
'You know, they never forgive me for having dared to enter their world.'

... 1689 (320 years ago today), Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, known through history simply as "Montesquieu," was born at his family's chateau near Bordeaux, France. Following education and marriage he launched a career as "one of the great political philosophers of the Enlightenment." An enduring work is his 1751 treatise De L'Esprit des Lois (Spirit of the Laws) (right). In it Montesquieu articulated a theory of separation of powers that -- in an early instance of comparative constitutionalism -- inspired the framers of the U.S. Constitution and bedevils commentators on the powers of the U.S. President in this new millennium.

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