My Gathering of Women

6 years ago

I have a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt on my home office wall that my sister gave me. Eleanor peers down at me through her glasses and inside the frame I’ve attached the Eleanor quote: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

I am surrounded by women. I have postcard images of Toni Morrison, Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn being Rosie in The African Queen. I have a Frieda Kahlo light switch. A souvenir Hillary for President bumper sticker.

Every March since 1987 Women’s History Month has been officially celebrated throughout the country, the intent to identify women artists and writers and astronauts who have contributed to the nation, not to be outdone by the mighty men who once dominated history. The project was organized by the National Women’s History Project in Sonoma County, Ca., where I live, and spread across the country.

As a newpaper columnist, now blogger, I’ve been writing about Women’s History Month and celebrating practically every March since then, but I realize I also require daily reminders from the different women I look to for courage, grace, spirit, humor and resolve.

There’s my photo of Rebecca Latimer from Sonoma who was married to a diplomat and became liberated in her 60s when her husband left government, they became pacifists and Rebecca started writing books.

I have a birthday card from one of my daughters that shows a woman in a red dress dancing barefoot. The text, by Anne Lamott, says, “Dance hungry, dance full, dance each cold astonishing moment.”

There’s a postcard of Mayan women in brilliant dress holding hands with children and standing up to a police barricade. A cut-out doll of Simone de Beauvoir. A moody photo of a middle aged woman sitting comfortably alone in a bar, maybe Chicago, maybe Berlin.

Almost every book in my office is written by a woman. My mouse pad is an image of the Mona Lisa.

I do adore men and children and dogs and pictures of foggy beaches and lush French country scenes of tables set with yellow cloths and a bottle of wine.

But in the small working space where I go to think, write and be alone I need my women speaking to me.

There’s a newspaper photo of Indian women lining up to vote. A calendar picture of a Victorian woman stretched out on a couch, holding a book, in a swoon over something she just read. A photo of the Angel of the Waters, the full-skirted and winged sculpture at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Plus a bulletin board packed with photos of daughters and girlfriends, my sister, my mother, my book club.

A witch doll with curly red hair hangs from the window next to a figurine of a peasant woman with her hair in a bun leaning on a broom.

I look over my shoulder at delicious Josephine Baker with her big eyes and shake-a-tail feather attitude, who fled America to take her talent to Paris, saying she was too afraid to be black in this country.

Gloria Feldt, the feminist author who used to run Planned Parenthood, in the even more embattled years than today, says that we all make history, whether or not we end up on a poster or a greeting card.

In her book, No Excuses, about women and power, she writes: “Every action you and I take moves women forward, takes them back or maintains the status quo.”

Given this point in women’s history, when some seem bent on halting our progress, I think it’s important to keep all our women around us.

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