Whenever the word "history" is spoken, there is an almost immediate temptation to think about events of the distant past, performed by people long-since gone.
This year's Academy Award to "The King's Speech" as movie-of-the-year reinforced that tendency, depicting a royal episode that began over 70 years ago and concerning a King of England and his unorthodox speech therapist, both of whom have been dead for over half a century.
There was a reason in this case, that history was put on hold. The reason was a woman, Queen Mother Elizabeth.
A year after the King's death in 1952, the therapist, Lionel Logue, also died. His family inherited his diaries detailing how Logue's work had helped the King overcome severe stammering at a war-torn time when his nation needed the inspiration of clearly enunciated leadership.
Eager to tell the story, the Logue family properly sought the okay of the surviving Queen Mother. She approved, with one condition. She exacted their pledge that the story should not be revealed until after her death. At the time she was 51. She would live to be 101.
History delayed still makes for good reading and good theater, but history ignored, as in the chronicling of women's achievements, can lead to a collective lack of awareness that is as damaging as it is insulting.
Vision 2020, a national initiative to promote shared leadership among men and women, has its eyes on the future, and its Campaign for Equality recognizes that studying yesteryear inspires women to become agents of their history rather than its spectators.
Three reasons surface as to the worth of women's history.
- It's real.
- It's relevant.
- It's revolutionary.
Real because so many acts of courage and conscience by women of another time have helped bring Vision 2020's goal of equality genuinely into sight.
Relevant because any reasonable review of the obstacles women faced in the 19th and 20th centuries in America are not unlike the hurdles still to be overcome.
Revolutionary because the women who valued change knew that they did so at considerable risk. Every breakthrough, every triumph, was earned, usually at the cost of ridicule, abuse, obstruction.
If more women’s history was taught in schools, we might have heard of Anne Tracy Morgan, who could have chosen a life of comfort as the daughter of financier John Pierpont Morgan. She chose instead to use her talent and resources to devote most of her 79 years to improving conditions for women in the workplace, and conducting relief programs for the hungry.
As early as 1927 she said: "I envisage a time when women will take their places beside men as partners, unafraid, useful, successful and free."
Or, we might have heard of Daisy Adams Lampkin, who put her considerable organizational skills and street-corner speechmaking to work to organize housewives into consumer protest groups. "Men are so busy with their private interests that nothing gets done unless women do it,” she said. Businesswoman and a founder of the National Council of Negro Women, her combination of dignity and duty made her the very first recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt-Mary McLeod Bethune World Citizenship Award.
Or, we might have heard about Doris Fleeson, the first syndicated woman political columnist. Called, not affectionately, "a tiger in white gloves and Sally Victor hat," by her male colleagues, she covered presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson and spared no criticism of any of them. Subjected to insults and indignities, she responded with rage. She felt few men were her peers and none her superior. In her private life she was devoted to her husband and on the day of his death in 1970 she wrote eloquently of him, then she herself died 36 hours later from a stroke.
Women's history awaits the curiosity of every girl and woman eager to believe in herself.
That kind of confidence is the goal of Vision 2020’s Educators’ Guide for middle school teachers. It was written with the belief that middle school girls – and boys – can gain a better understanding and respect for the talents of each other by learning some of the history that justifies that mutual respect.
Women's history keeps happening every day. Properly defined, history is not a noun, it is a verb. An active verb.
Mark down the date of Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.
One of Vision 2020's goals is to honor the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, by a concentrated effort to get every eligible woman out to vote on that Election Day. Can't be done, say skeptics. Where have we heard that before? Maybe it can't be done. But why not try?
Talk about making history.