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Browsing Category "Diversity"
28 Mar
2017

Women’s History Month: Sarah and Grandma’s Inspiration  

“Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.” 

Myra Pollack Sadker*

Women's History Month

Grandma’s Inspiration

My grandmother, Ellen Russell Scott, inspired and motivated me as I was growing up. She was in constant pain from rheumatoid arthritis, yet she seldom complained. She shared a smile with everyone she encountered. As a former teacher, Ellen valued education and encouraged me to get good grades and do the best I could.

I agree with the National Women’s History Project, (NWHP) that “We draw strength and inspiration from those who came before us.” My hope in writing a story based on Ellen’s life, “Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness,” was that others would find inspiration in her courage and her strength.

Sarah

The character of Sarah is devastated by the loss of her husband Sam, as I imagined Ellen must have been when my grandfather H.D. Scott died leaving her a widow with five children. Here is an excerpt from the book.

Immediately after his death, she steps outside…

”I felt myself shiver.  The wind was unusually still for New Mexico, but the air was crisp and cold. I went back inside. I wanted to feel the heat from the fire in the stove. I wanted to be warm, really warm.  I sat down in my rocking chair rocking slowly. The coldness inside moved up my back and tingled at the nape of my neck….

“’I’m, a widow.’ I said aloud. I was alone, completely responsible for the children, not just for a few weeks or the winter season until Sam returned. I felt cold, flat. I opened my Bible, hoping for solace. I began to survey the landscape of my mind, much as I had the landscape outside. My mind was a closed book with all the memories of my life with Sam shut away.  ‘I am alone’…”

But Sarah, like many women alone today, pulls herself together, finds the courage and fortitude to take her five children back to Nebraska.

Sarah Finds Strength and Confidence

The back story of Sam, a fictional character, is based only on limited information about my grandfather, a man not as Sarah experienced him nor what the reader expects. Sarah must face the betrayal of her trusted husband. Like many women who face adversity, Sarah finds through the humiliation of betrayal and her struggle to hold her family together, the strength and confidence within herself to take a position as the first woman school superintendent in the state of Nebraska.

Women’s History Overlooked

Without knowing about the women in our history or in our family stories we lose the opportunity to find role models, be inspired and dream about our future. As we know, women in our diverse American cultures are overlooked in mainstream history. Yet, as the NWHP website states, “they are part of our story, and a truly balanced and inclusive history recognizes how important women have always been in American society.”

I am grateful to the National Women’s History Project founded over 30 years ago in Santa Rosa, CA. NWHP serves as a catalyst, a leader and a resource in promoting women and their role in our American history. In 1978, they initiated a week of celebration of “Women’s History.” Congress ultimately declared March as Women’s History Month in 1987. This month is in recognition of the importance of women in our history. A balanced and inclusive history must not make the mistake of ignoring the critical role and contribution of women.

The Power of History and Inspiration

Knowing the stories of women from our own families, acknowledging the contributions of women in our cultural heritage and giving recognition to the historical achievement of the women overlooked in our history books, helps us know who we are. Then we can feel the power of inspiration and ignite our dreams.

What stories do you know about the women in your family history? What women in your life have inspired and motivated you?


*Quoted on the website of the National Women’s History Project.

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Who Are Your Family Role Models and Inspiration?

In recognition of International Women’s Day, I honor my grandmothers and my aunts who have inspired me  and served as significant role models.

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Years ago, one of my favorite aunts came for a visit when I was in my mid-thirties experiencing a low point in my life.  She gave a life-long gift by reminding me of the role models I had in the strong women in my family.  It was from them, I could always find inspiration and direction.

Both of my grandmothers had been school teachers.  My paternal grandmother, Ellen, also became a school superintendent.  Ellen was a great cheerleader and encouraged me to succeed in school, get good grades and go to college.  My maternal grandmother, Grace, was disappointed that she had to give up teaching school to become a farmer’s wife.  But she continued to read the Atlantic Monthly and other books and periodicals.  She wrote letters about what she read and shared her opinions about the news and politics in letters to her daughters.

My aunt pointed out that both Ellen and Grace had significant challenges in their lives: Grace, reluctantly left school teaching which she loved to manage her husband’s family farm which she resented.  She worked hard to survive the depression and the dust bowl.  Ellen was left a widow when her youngest of five children was a few months old.

Grandma ScottEllen, in particular has been an inspiration to me.  I am currently writing a fictionalized story of her life.  As a widow without a means of support, Ellen applied for widows benefits.  The Government Agent who came in April of 1912 to interview her in person, filed a sensitive descriptive report, (which I recovered from the National Archives).  She was living in a tent south of Thedford, Nebraska where she had filed a land claim.  He reports that

“she hopes to establish a home for herself and children; but it looks like a most hazardous undertaking as she is practically an invalid because of rheumatism (sic), and her children are undersized puny looking little fellows, and they are more than a mile from the nearest water….In their present desolate surroundings their condition is pitiable in the extreme.”

This was the occasion when she learned that her husband had a former wife and family.  The agent describes,

“until I informed her of the fact, claimant declares she had no knowledge of the existence of a former wife.  Her grief and tears where convincing of the truth.  She begged me not to tell anyone in her home neighborhood.”

This helps explain why no one in the family knew about a prior family.  Ellen shared no information about him with her children.  Despite her crippling rheumatoid arthritis, she pulled herself together; returned to teaching school; became a school superintendent; and raised her family.  See my blog series, “A Journey to Fiction” on my genealogical journey to learn about my paternal grandparents.

Both Grace and Ellen were also models of strength, resilience and accomplishment for their daughters.  All five of my aunts completed college educations at a time when the lack of financial resources and societies’ cultural norms were major deterrents. Yet, they were persistent and resourceful.  They found work to pay their way.  Between the first wave of feminism and the second, during my young adulthood, all these women had successful careers and raised a family.  They worked hard and overcame many obstacles.  To me they were pillars of strength and fortitude.  They were role models of how meet challenges and find a satisfying life.

These seven women have been my inspiration and my role models.  I honor and pay tribute to them on International Women’s Day.

Who are the women role models in your family?  How have they influenced and inspired you?   Are there other strong women who have served as role models and inspired you?

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6 Feb
2014

Coming Out as “Old”

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The young woman got up and offered me a seat.  The signs behind her state that the front seats on the commuter train are reserved for seniors and others with disabilities.  But not everyone pays

I have not made any effort to hide my age as I advanced through middle age and into that category we refer to as “senior” and now approaching “old”.  I have appreciated the privileges of being senior such as reduce price fares on public transportation and at the movies.  At the same time, when I look in the mirror, I reluctantly accept my changing appearance with graying hair, the permanent creases in my face and the wrinkling skin.  Although I am fortunately healthy, my body is slowing down.  I don’t have the energy I used to have to carry a full work load, give attention to my family and engage in social and volunteer activities.  But I am not willing to hide my age.  Indeed, I have “come out” publicly as I turned seventy writing “Seven Thoughts of Gratitude on Turning 70” and publishing an essay “Writing My First Novel at 70” in the new book “Seventy Things to Do When You Turn 70” edited by Ronnie Sellers and Mark Chimsky. attention to them.  And, not all seniors want to admit their age or infirmities.  I sat down gratefully not wanting to try to balance myself and my bags on the lurching train.

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This public “coming out” has shocked some of my friends who refuse to reveal their age.  Their refusal reminds me of my aunt who lied about her age until she was well into her eighties, even though we knew how old she was.  Why are we not as proud to proclaim our age at 55, 60 or 70 as we were when we turned 12, 16 or 21?  I have written elsewhere about the impact of ageism and an uncaring society on its elders.   The discrimination in the workplace, caricatures in the media and the political environment that threatens Social Security and Medicate tells us that we are not valued as now vulnerable seniors who have contributed to our communities and our society.  We absorb those beliefs into our own mental models and we judge ourselves as unimportant and worthless as we get “old”.

Instead, we need a sense of purpose, a way of contributing to our communities, engaging with others in activities that give us meaning and an attitude of appreciation for the wisdom of our experience, for the pleasure of the present moment and for the opportunities the future can bring us.  Coming out as a vital, healthy, active senior enables us to counter the images we carry of elderly being synonymous with decline, deterioration and despair.

This coming out as a senior or as “old”, is similar, for me, to coming out as a lesbian.  Rejecting and overcoming the societal mental models of aging is analogous to rejecting and overcoming the societal judgment of homosexuality.  The wisdom of increasing acceptance from others by coming out has been a proven benefit in the progress of the LGBT movement.  I believe coming out as a senior and admitting my age openly will also benefit all of us in finding more acknowledgement and appreciation of  the value and wisdom of our life’s contribution.

This blog was published in The Transition Network newsletter in November of 2013, generating unprecedented  response.  You can see the responses in the TTN January Newsletter.
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