“If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me, and accuse me of vanity, but you I know have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the Sentiment. If much depends as is allowed upon the early Education of youth and the first principals which are instill’d take the deepest root, great benefit must arise from literary accomplishments in women. ”
— Abigail Adams (The Letters of John and Abigail Adams)
July 4, 1776 Independence Day
August 18, 1920 Nineteenth Amendment
June 23, 1972 Title IX Educational Amendments
I just finished a Newsweek article truth-speaking the notion that our forefathers (mothers just don’t get the press coverage they deserve this time of year) were no angels. They, in fact, exhibited many, if not all, of the same foibles, appetites for peccadilloes, and falls from grace which current politicians do. They gamed, chased women, wasted money, and settled conflicts occasionally by taking turns at shooting each other. They also forgot to include a few people in their effort to craft concepts of democratic freedoms and rights for the citizenry of a young nation in the making.
Surely more than a few women of those times must have sat in candlelight and contemplating the actions of the elite politicos of the era, asked the question “what are they thinking?” Living in central Virginia on a beeline between Jefferson’s Monticello and Madison’s Montpelier. I wonder the same tonight.
In reflecting upon July 4, 2011, I am reminded that since our nation began, we’ve lived with and through the imperfections of our forefathers. One of those imperfections was a lack of recognition that they left their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, representing half of the young nation, out of the “let freedom ring” equation. I guess the men fancied only they could be in charge.
I question how soon it will be before we elect a competent female president. The nation abounds with capable women. In life before Title IX, college-educated women found careers of nursing or teaching as the work pathways most open to them (I also remember the not so funny joke about women going to college to get a MRS degree.) Then, Title IX became reality and women began to play almost any sport and choose just about any career – other than teaching or nursing.
Today, there’s no job that prepares a man for the presidency that a women hasn’t done. My generation of women won’t likely generate a presidential candidate, but the one just behind us certainly can. After all, groundwork’s been laid by women going back to Abigail Adams whose voice as a patriot helped shape America’s independence. Adams was no lightweight thinker and her writing has influenced Suffragists of the 19th and 20th centuries as well as the Women’s Movement of the 1960s and 70s.
Recently, I had the chance to watch a young girl, probably about eight, challenge a tough climbing wall at the top of the Rockies. She went through a process of climb, pause, reflect, consider, and move forward. She represents generations of women who’ve led to those who today demonstrate fearlessness on the climbing wall of any career they choose to pursue. I watched her climb and then silently cheered when she reached the top of the wall. She didn’t know that once upon a time girls lived in an America that blocked them from playing certain sports, pursuing certain careers, voting, and running for office. She just knew on a blue-sky day that she could climb as high as her dreams could take her.
I like to imagine that some of our forefathers awoke in the middle of the night and at least considered America’s daughters, not just sons, as they created a pathway to independence. On the other hand, perhaps they just couldn’t think that far out of the box for anyone other than themselves. Because of their mindlessness in how they saw women, we females ended up waiting until 1920 to obtain the right to vote and 1972 to get the chance to climb other walls from which we’d been blocked.
As we celebrate America’s independence, I think the best of who we are represents our hard work as a nation to evolve the concepts of independence – freedom- responsibility. To do so demands that we not limit “we the people” who inhabit our nation from climbing any wall any of us choose to conquer. In the beginning we limited talent in this nation because our forefathers restricted the range of those they saw as having potential. Thankfully, the foresight of those who formed our nation created a Constitutional pathway to make right that which they did not see.
America’s many Independence Days affirm our current need to educate all young people to choose from the best learning hand and footholds available. We need all of our children – regardless of who they are – to reach their potential to climb anywhere. That’s how a woman finally will sit in the Oval Office rather than find herself donating a First Lady’s dress to the Smithsonian.
And, that’s my reflective pause for July 4, 2011.