Growing up, the women in my life who were not relatives were teachers. When we got a television in the-50’s I remember Betty Furness in the commercial for a kitchen product. Not sure if it was Westinghouse, GE, Frigidaire…but I clearly remember her standing by the appliance and telling all women watching about its features.
There were no women news anchors or reporters.
There were no women principles or superintendents in the schools.
There were no women/girls sports in school.
I never saw a woman doctor or dentist until much later in my life.
So where were the women who influenced me?
I had a couple of teachers, Mrs. Good and Miss Hutchinson are names I remember but they were not the only women teachers I admired, looked up to, and who influenced my decision to become a teacher. Do you know how hard it is to learn to spell Llewellyn when you are in the first grade?
The heroines in the books I read. The princess in the tower waiting for her shining knight to rescue her (a lovely fantasy that provided lots of day dreams but in my real life he’s not shown up … yet).
The real life heroines: Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Joan of Arc, Pocahontas come to mind. I remember reading Marie Curie’s biography and crying at the end. She struggled in the male dominated world of science and research. In some ways we’ve not progressed as far as I’d like. Think the Lily Ledbetter Law…
Political heroines? Barbara Jordan, Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, and other women who breached the all-male world of Congress as well as local women in politics. My home town has had women mayors and my home state has had a woman governor as well as women in other high ranking offices. Then there is Hilary Clinton: a political spouse, a U.S. Senator, and currently Secretary of State, and a former candidate for President of The United States.
Gloria Steinem and other women of the 70’s and 80’s brought women’s issues into the headlines.
While I don’t remember her name, it was a woman who founded MADD. Due to the efforts of that organization and the laws they’ve championed, thousands of people are alive today.
While it is true I grew up in a male dominated world (my career options were teacher, nurse, secretary, beautician, wife/mother), there were women close to home whose influence I’ve come to appreciate. My mother put her dreams on hold forever when she married my father. So many women of her generation did because that was what was expected. It took me a very long time to see the sacrifice she made for her husband’s career and her children’s lives.
I’ve long-lived aunts (one is 103), who’ve shown me through the daily living of their lives how to age with grace and gratitude.
I’ve friends who’ve overcome enormous odds in their childhoods and adult lives to be special people because of or in spite of their backgrounds.
And lastly, my granddaughters, age 16 and 22, influence me by showing me a different world than the one I grew up in. They invite me into their diverse, tolerant worlds where they see a bright future full of many different options. Career choices? There is very little closed to them if they want it and are willing to work for it. It isn’t unusual for me to wonder ‘what if’ about my own life after spending time with them, listening to them chatter with friends about their lives.
I find this time of year to be one of reflection – grey cloudy days often with wind and rain – days to sit by a fire with a good book or in front of the computer writing one. When I look back over my life I see the influence of many women - at different times, through different experiences, for different reasons. And I know my life is richer because of them.
On this day (11/01/2012) I’m adding a P.S. to honor a man who influenced my life in so many ways. Elmo B. Lambert died on 10/16/2012. He was 72. We shared the same birth date (the 19th) and grew up listening to the same music. Severely injured when he was 20, confined to a wheelchair, dependent on others for food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, etc., he lived a full life in many ways. He was always focused on the people around him and while, due to a head injury, his memory was very poor, he’d remember the people who helped him and cared for him. His laugh was infectious and even when his speech was intelligible, those of us around him would be laughing with him. Elmo was my first private care management client, my first ward as a professional guardian and over 31+ years, we formed a tight-knit team. He taught me many things during our time together. I miss him as a person and I miss all he stood for in my life. Rest In Peace, Elmo.
© 11/2012 Judith Ashley