In my early twenties, I reported for two Massachusetts daily newspapers, The Berkshire Eagle and The Holyoke Transcript. While at the Transcript (1971-1973), as the second wave of the feminist movement surged, I created and edited a new section of the newspaper, Tomorrow’s Woman, featuring investigative reporting on women’s status in the city.
My investigation of sexism in public school history textbooks and the reactions of students to that investigation were written up in Sexism in School and Society by Nancy Frazier and Myra Sadker, Harper and Row, 1973.
Tear sheets of Tomorrow’s Woman are archived with my papers at The Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. You can click on various of the pages below.
One of the columns I wrote for Tomorrow's Woman is reprinted in the college textbook Issues in Feminism (1980, 1991) edited by Shelia Roth. This same column, I Have a Motherland, became part of the audio-cassette program, “Celebration of Women’s History,” produced by the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1986. Here is that column:
Sit down, wretch, and answer me: What have you done with my past?
Years ago you stood before me with a solemn face and told me I was an orphan. With the hand behind your back you pushed the heads of my parents--my proud, strong angry ancestors--under time’s river.
You hid the action of your hand by pointing with your left to my entire history, one sentence in a book: “In 1920, in a battle largely led by Susan B. Anthony, women won the right to vote.”
But you never told me how strong Anthony was. How, year after year, she suffered scorn, ridicule and defeat and kept on working, not merely for suffrage, but for woman’s full liberation.
You never described to me, white man, the courage of hundreds of nameless women who, though raised to be timid, taught to be frightened, nonetheless defied decorum and walked down strange streets, knocked on doors, stood up before hostile faces, and suffered jeers to collect signatures for suffrage petitions--petitions later joked about in Congress and then ignored.
Why didn’t you tell me I had such magnificent foremothers?
Why, white man, in your history books, did you never tell me about spunky Abigail Adams asking her husband John to assign women the legal status of human being, rather than property, in the Constitution of the young United States?
And of her warning that, if forgotten, women were “determined to foment a rebellion”? Women were forgotten and women have been fomenting a rebellion but you hid from me the uprisings of my foremothers.
Why did you reverently describe to me the political and military strategies with which earlier Kissingers entertained themselves but keep from me the stories of how ordinary women lived their lives?
I know all about the glorious deaths of soldiers on the battlefield but nothing about the deaths of women in childbed.
Where is the tomb of the Unknown Mother? Why did she die?
You told me about Carrie Nation, whom you pictured as a ludicrous, axe-wielding teetotaller, but not about Margaret Sanger, who brought to women the most important discovery since fire: contraception.
Why did you hide Anne Hutchinson, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth and Mary Walker from me? I could have been stronger if I’d known of them.
You tried to disinherit me. When I trembled before you like an orphan dependent on your good will, you said, “Oh, I’ll take care of you, little one.”
You kept me meek and grateful for your very small favors. You told me how benevolent you were to an orphan like me. How chivalrous you were, you said.
(Oh, why did you never tell me that way back in 1848, Sarah Grimke had called chivalry “practical contempt”?)
And in gratitude for your chivalry, your patronizing protection, I cooked your food, washed your clothes, cleaned your house, bore and raised your children.
You fraud! I’m your equal and you hid that from me.
When I envied you your freedom, your adventures and dreamed of being, say, a lawyer, you frowned and told me that if I began to use my brain, I’d be sure to have labor pains and it wouldn’t do for me, while trying a case in a court of law, to give birth to a child.
You put on black robes, held a thick book to your heart, rolled your eyes to heaven and solemnly announced that God wanted me to be just as I was.
How cruel of God, I whispered.
Blasphemer! you shouted in my ear. Heretic!
Let me read the thick book, I said.
No, you snapped, your brain’s too small. You’ll hurt it and go mad.
And all that time, all that time when I thought I was a strange mutation of a woman with strange longings to be whole, all that time, damn it, my ancestors had felt the same, thought the same, said the same.
And you, white man, hide their words, their struggles, their very existences from me. You left my ancestors out of history.
But now I know. I have a tribe, a people, a history, a past, an identity, a motherland, a tradition. I’m not an orphan. I’m not alone.
And I’ll tremble before you no more.