A Letter to My Granddaughter on Women’s Rights, Part 1

by CJFosdick on May 2, 2010

My granddaughter called asking questions about my childhood memories of my status as a woman in a man’s world. It was for a class project on women’s rights. I answered her questions off the top of my head, but I feel my childhood was atypical of the average American girl growing up in the 1940s and ‘50s. It is for this reason that I decided to write her an open letter on women’s struggle here in the United States for equal rights:

Dear Granddaughter,

You, granddaughter, come from a line of strong women. This is part of your heritage. One of your great-great grandmothers taught in a one-room country school before the turn of the 20th century. She was sixteen and had boys as students older than she. Can you imagine a sixteen year old woman controlling boisterous young men older than she? It took courage to even try, and she succeeded. When they asked her how old she was, she said sixty-one, (sixteen reversed) I have her school bell which someday I’ll pass on to you if you want this family keepsake. Later, married, she wrote poetry and had several published. She also wrote a song after World War I that was set to music and published. She had grit to do these activities while married. She and my grandfather were married over fifty years.

Your other great-grandmother got a high school diploma when most women never even went to high school. This was also prior to the twentieth century. Before she was married, she worked in a newspaper office in Chicago, unheard of then. When she married my grandfather, she took the train to rural Colorado. She said that she felt she got off at the end of the world. She made a home in the bleak wilderness she had come to, raised four children, and worked full-time all her life as a telegrapher for the Santa Fe Railroad. A strong, capable woman? You bet. She and my grandfather were also married over fifty years. Your mother will get her chest of drawers which I still have, another memorial to a strong woman in our family tree.

My mother, her daughter, not only graduated from high school, but also from Colorado University in 1927, Magna Cum Laude. At this time, most women never even got a high school diploma, let alone going to college. After graduation, Mom had her choice on whether to get married or accept a teaching fellowship at CU and continue her education. At that time, it would have been unacceptable to get married and continue her education. She, luckily for you and me, chose marriage to my father. She raised two children. She also worked full time as a telegrapher for the Santa Fe Railroad until after World War II. She said she did not know Morse Code when she got the job, so she taught herself the night before she went to work. Real gutsy! Your father has her telegrapher’s key, a family keepsake. Again, at this time most women, once married, did not work outside the home. Mom was independent, yet fiercely loyal to her husband and children and she taught me that I could do anything I wanted. As she fed me my pablum, (baby food of the day) she was telling me to plan on going to college. She’d say, “Even if you never work outside the home, you will be a better wife and mother with an education.” She and my father celebrated sixty years of marriage.

I never made the decision on whether or not to go to college. I knew I was going. My decisions were where to go and what to take. I graduated from Colorado State University with a BA and was the first in my family to get a Masters Degree. I taught school for thirty-three years, am a professional artist, have published three novels since retiring, and helped run the family ranch, all while raising three children, your father being one. So far, my husband and I have been married over forty-seven years and we’re still going strong.

Can you see how the chain of strong, capable women was carried down from your great-great grandmothers through me, and on down to you? These women are your examples for achieving whatever you want. Dear Granddaughter, cherish your proud background. The women in your personal history had to fight all the restrictions on womanhood back in America’s past to achieve. My mother was sixteen when women got the right to vote here in America, 1919. Social change for women’s rights has been a long, hard slog, but believe me, you will reap the benefits of this struggle for equality by hard-working and dedicated women like your family tree, and not face society’s bondage over what is called the “weaker sex”. The world is open to you to do what you choose and not face standards that society sets on you that will constrain and confine you. Get an education, and remember the legacy from the strong women in your past.

Your loving Grandmother

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