This is not a political blog. I have no desire to rant and rattle on about my political views and why you should or should not vote for this one, that one, or the third one who really shouldn't even be running because he's just mucking up the chances of the second one. There are plenty of blogs exactly like that, though, so if that's the horse you want to ride, well, do a search and saddle up, cowboy.

This is not a blog about the short-comings of the American education system or the stupidity of the next ( or any) generation. If you think the school system failed you and you can still read this, then congratulations,Kilroy! You managed to rise above it. Kudos to you.

This is absolutely not an anti-American blog. I may have named it "Stupid America", but as corny as it sounds, I really do love this country. I will, however, admit I am often embarrassed by it. I just don't understand how a country that once gave us Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Sojourner Truth and Walt Whitman could now be serving up Real Housewives, teen vampires, info-mercials, Humvee limousines and all things Kardashian. Where, exactly, did we go off-script? This blog is my journal of musings on American culture and mores as I try to find some answers.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hear Us Roar

In the United States, March is designated "National Women's History Month". Most of us don't give this a second thought, or if we do, it's mostly just to give ourselves a congratulatory pat on the back that we remembered it.  But when you think about even the recent past, it is astonishing how much my generation of women takes for granted. We grew up knowing we were as good, smart and worthy as any man. We were told we could and would do anything we wanted to do, we could reach any goal, no matter how lofty. We were not expected to simply get married and have babies. We now go to college, law school, med school, we can and do go to war, and we also get ourselves elected to office and appointed to the Supreme Court. We are everywhere. We are everything. And this is not unusual. This is what we grew up knowing. We are equal. We are as good as any man, and very often, we're better.
      Sure, I wrote that last line with a wink, but on second thought, maybe I do mean it. Women have historically had an uphill battle to fight, and fight we have. Our female ancestors fought so hard and so well, we now take the very things they fought for completely for granted.  You may not like that jury duty notice you've been ignoring for months now, but the right for a woman to serve on a jury was not officially and fully  established as a federal right until ( astonishingly) 1975, in the case of Taylor v. Louisiana, which overthrew an earlier decision from a 1961 case. And no, I'm not kidding. Look it up. Until then, states could and did exclude women from sitting on juries if they so wished. And many did exclude women up until the 1950's-60's.
       Some of us (you know who you are) don't even bother to vote. It's too much of a bother to register, you say. Or, hey, my candidate is going to win, they don't need my vote this time around.  If your great great grandmother were alive today, I bet she would tell you different. Voting is a hard won privilege, lest we forget. The 19th amendment, which officially gave women of the United States the right to vote, was not ratified until 1920. The 15th amendment, although imperfect and not fully realized in some respects, gave African American men the right to vote when it was 1870. That's a full 50 years before women were given that same right. And that is really saying something, given the way the United States has historically treated African Americans.
      Now, as we all know, when black men were given the right to vote, they were largely used as political pawns by power hungry white candidates.  The whole "40 acres and a mule" practice would be called into play.  But you're nuts if you think that women, when finally given the right to vote, were not used in much the same way.  No, they weren't promised land and money. But they most definitely were used as political pawns, and it is a strongly held opinion that the manipulation of the newly enabled group of women voters is what clinched Warren Harding's election in 1920.  The fact that it took fifty years longer for women to get the vote than African American men means that women were truly regarded as second class citizens. Both, the Abolition and Suffrage movements were historically linked for many years.
      As for today, yes, we really have come a long way. And yes, I think many of us do take it all for granted at times. I know I do. Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for the office of vice president ( in 1984) , passed away  earlier this week after a lifetime of public service.  What most of us do not remember is exactly how groundbreaking that run for vice-president was. It was unprecedented. Forget about a woman actually running for president!  Yet today, it would raise nary an eyebrow. When Hilary Clinton was vying for the democratic nomination in 2008, she gave Barack Obama some stiff competition and no one thought it strange that a woman should run for the top office in the land. Today, 140 years after black men were given the right to vote, we have a black president. I am so glad I got to be a witness to that huge event in American history. And in the future, when we have another president who happens to be black, it won't be a big deal because Barack Obama paved the way, he crossed that great hurtle and brought the nation with him. I remember how full of joy the African American community was when Obama was elected, and I get that. In my lifetime, I ardently hope I get to feel some of that same joy when the returns come in on a chilly November night and America finally elects a woman president. (And no, I'm not talking to you, Sarah Palin. Go away!!)  We've come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.

     And so another  National Women's History Month passes into the annals. But before it is completely gone, I wanted to mention that this one is extra special. March 25, 2011 is the hundred year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which is still regarded as the biggest industrial disaster in New York City history. The fire caused the death of 146 garment workers, most of them hard-working immigrant women, between the ages of 14 and 48. You can read more about the Triangle Factory fire here.  Many of the fire's victims were girls who just a few years before were bravely protesting and fighting for the rights of workers to fair hours and safe workplace conditions. The fire, and its terrible outcome, incited public outrage and in its wake, many labor laws were passed, ensuring future generations of workers ( again, many of them women) would have safer workplaces and more rights therein.
     Today there is nothing to mark the tragic site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire except a series of small plaques on the Brown Building, which housed the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in 1911.  Whenever I walk past it I make a mental note of them, and remember the tragedy. But so many people each day walk right past and never know what happened there so long ago. It's easy to miss, but it is a very important part of New York City history, and in a larger sense, American history. Think of those Triangle Shirtwaist victims as you enjoy your next weekend off. Without labor legislation, the idea of a two day "weekend" might never have come into being. The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition is trying to raise public awareness about the Triangle fire and fund a public art memorial to commemorate it. This is their website:

Below is a photo of a commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. I thought it was a particularly lovely shot of a processional of shirtwaists, each bearing the name of a fire victim, floating ephemerally in the morning light.

                                                               photo by Liza Dey
                            See the entire album here:

And finally, I'll end this with a quote from writer/diplomat/politician Clare Boothe Luce:
Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, "She doesn't have what it takes". They will say, "Women don't have what it takes". 

Food for thought. And still true, even today. Just ask Hilary.


  1. Great piece, Kerry! It hadn't dawned on me before that the Triangle anniversary fell during Women's History Month; I'd just never put the two together before, for some reason. And the fact that Geraldine Ferraro passed away during March adds to the focusing of history. I often think that by the time we die, we'll look back and realize that all the random pieces of our lives have come together like a puzzle, and the picture will become clear. Right now that seems to be happening in so many ways with women's history. (And don't get me started on labor history. The synergy going on there is obvious to see, what with WI, Maine, et. al., all occurring the same month as the Triangle Centennial!)

  2. Glad to find you via SheWrites, Kerry! Thanks for this... Embarrassingly enough, I didn't know much of anything about the Triangle history. Isn't it something to note how so many of our struggles are so interdependent - gender, labor - and, like Liza said, consider what's going on right now with current labor rights and women's reproductive rights funding and privacy?

    Happy to find some kindred spirits here. Thanks for sharing.

  3. So glad to find you on SheWrites. Looking forward to reading more.