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The Voice to Roar

by Liz Flaherty

It's Women's History Month. I've never been particularly fond of March, but reading up on this has made me more so.

In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in the US with a medical degree. In 1853, Antoinette Blackwell became the first American woman to be ordained a minister in a recognized denomination (Congregational). In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first black woman to receive an M.D. degree. Lucy Hobbs, in 1866, became the first woman dentist. In 1869, Arabella Mansfield, became the first woman to be admitted to the practice of law, practicing not in cosmopolitan and forward-looking New York, but in Iowa.

In 1887, Susanna Medora Salter became the first woman elected mayor of an American town, in Argonia, Kansas. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives. The 'firsts' are endless. Edith Wharton won a Pulitzer, Amelia Earhart flew alone across the Atlantic. Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas became the first woman elected to the Senate. Diane Crump was the first female jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby. Elizabeth Seton was the first native-born North American to be canonized.

Sandra Day O'Connor and Sally Ride both went boldly where women had not gone before. Mae Jamison became the first black woman astronaut and Janet Reno the first woman attorney general. Madeline Albright was the first woman secretary of state, to be followed shortly by Condoleezza Rice, the first black woman in that position.

In 1920, twenty-seven years behind New Zealand and 85 years ahead of Kuwait, American women got the vote.

Betty Ford had breast cancer, a face lift, and an addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. And went public with it all.

Rosalyn Carter, Barbara Bush, Hilary Clinton, and Nancy Reagan "stood by their men" even when standing there undoubtedly put their teeth on edge.

Time magazine said Eleanor Roosevelt "gave a voice to people who did not have access to power. She was the first woman to speak in front of a national convention, to write a syndicated column, to earn money as a lecturer, to be a radio commentator and to hold regular press conferences." I remember it being said that she would "rather light a candle than curse the darkness." I can think of no higher aspiration. She's still a hero.

I grew up reading Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Bront. These were women who wrote books when women weren't supposed to.

And then there are women closer to home. My grandmother, heavy with pregnancy, carried a treadle sewing machine down the stairs and outside when her house was on fire. My mother-in-law, growing up in rural Kentucky, delivered mail on horseback. My mother, and my friends' mothers, were the foundations on which our lives were built.

I don't know if any of these women set out to make history; I doubt it. I imagine they were just women who wanted to do the best job they could. And they did. But they did so much more.

In the 2004 presidential election 65 percent of eligible women voted, as opposed to 62 percent of men? In September 2004, there were 212,000 women in the armed forces and more than 35,000 of them were officers? There are more than 1.7 million women who are veterans.

My daughter and daughters-in-law all go to women doctors. I went to a religious retreat where all the attending clergy were women (I believe by accident and not design) and where I learned the immortal words, "Clergy chicks rock!" and they did. They did.

When I vote, the gender of who I'm voting for is way down there on my list of considerations, right along with "do they have a nice smile?" I believe, thanks to these women in history, that it's way down there on my husband's list, too. (That being said, I must admit that I remain disappointed and angry that neither of the last two supreme court justices named was a woman and do not expect to get over it soon.)

Reading Little Women until the covers literally fell off made me know all the way to my soul that someday I was going to write, too.

All of this then is the legacy of Women in History. Because of them, we can vote and work outside the home or choose not to; we know that strength and power take many forms. Breast cancer and heart disease in women have become Matters of Importance in medical research and development.

"I am woman, hear me roar," sang Helen Reddy.

Thank you, Women in History, for giving us the voice to roar.

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