Our staff regularly hears from people who learn about the achievements of one of our Inductees and exclaim, “How did I not know about this person before now?”
Of course, we know the answer.
Women have been left out of the history books. Their contributions were not valued, or their achievements were forgotten… sometimes even stolen. Their stories did not matter.
Yet when we take time to understand someone else’s story, we gain a little more appreciation for our own. That is exactly why the National Women’s Hall of Fame exists.
So it seems appropriate on this Mother’s Day weekend to share my story.
My mom grew up in Waverly, Illinois, a rural farming town with fewer than 1,000 residents. Mom’s parents – my grandparents – married after Grandpa returned from his World War II service in the Marines. Mom grew up in a farmhouse with seven siblings and no bathroom until her parents could afford to put one in.
It was not an easy life. But what Grandma and Grandpa lacked in resources, they made up for in the unconditional support of their children’s possibilities. My mom and her sisters were treated no differently from their brothers. They worked hard, had the same expectations on the farm, and there were no excuses. If the bean fields needed to be weeded, they toiled together in the Midwest sun. If canning corn for long winter months needed to be done, everyone was expected to make it happen.
When my mom graduated high school in 1966, she was the first in her family — and the only girl in her class – to go to college. Later, she decided to pursue a career and financial stability before marriage.
Today, it’s common for young women and men to wait to get married and have children until they feel secure. But at that time? My mom was a radical woman.
How lucky am I that this is the woman I get to call my mom?
My mom’s story is part of my story. Growing up, no matter what my family faced, no matter how many financial hardships we encountered, Mom made sure that my brother and I knew that she and Dad would never let society’s arbitrary rules about gender dictate our path through life. Her lessons about independence and choice rubbed off on me at a very early age.
When I was eight years old, I wrote an essay at school about what I’d do if President of the United States. In addition to reducing the hours we’d have to spend in school, my major promise to the nation was to give everyone a piece of my mind that girls can do anything that boys can do. Because we can. And we do. (And perhaps one way to measure my passion for gender equity should be the sheer number of exclamation points!)
This is a fun essay that I love to share with people who ask me where my passion for gender equity came from. It always gets a laugh.
And yet, if I’m being honest, reading this essay also makes me sad. Even at the tender age of 8, I already understood that being a girl meant proving something to stand equal with the boys. I also clearly understood that it was people with power who could do something about it.
I suspect this story helps you understand why I am so passionate about the National Women’s Hall of Fame’s mission. I have no desire to be president now. But I do understand that my position affords me the chance to help change the narrative and amplify voices and stories of women. Those are the stories that can lift up 8-year-old girls… and 8-year-old boys…. and 8-year-olds who are figuring out their identity.
The National Women’s Hall of Fame serves as a platform to inspire growth and equitable change for people of all backgrounds, at every stage of life. The Hall is home to 302 Inductees and millions of their incredible stories. Through its work, the Hall gives voice to women’s historical and contemporary contributions to fields including poetry, social justice, environmental conservation and more.
Our stories matter. Your mom’s story matters. Your grandmother’s story matters. The third-grade teacher who sparked your love for engineering? Her story matters.
YOUR story matters too.
I invite you. I encourage you. I ask you:
Tell your stories. Collect your family’s stories. Get to know the stories of your colleagues. Your peers. Your mentors.
Tell those stories. Lift up the stories of our past. Allow them to provide the context for the present. And use them to help understand how to create a bright future.
Happy Mother’s Day!