Iconic Pioneering Women (Spring, 2017)

SPRING is in the air.  Time for re-birth, thoughts of gardening, the smell of lilacs,  and pasque flowers covering pastures, river banks, and highlands. It’s time for me to make some changes too. By the beginning of April, I will have a new webpage that I can actually use.  I decided since technology is not my thing, to turn this brain-killing job over to a professional.  For a few days, my old webpage will come down as the new hops up into action.

March is (maybe WAS by the time I get this blog posted) Women’s History Month.  PBS has aired some amazing programs that show what many women, mostly in the U. S., have sacrificed for equality, the vote, same pay for the same job held by a man, legal, financial, and educational rights, advancements in healthcare–especially birth control benefits, and even the right to cut my hair, wear wear slacks, shorts, unencumbering swimsuits, and makeup without being called a Hollywood vamp or siren.

Today, I excitedly watched Melania Trump’s speak at the International Women of Courage celebration.  These awards were set up by Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State in 2007, to recognize those women who have made great strides helping others such as standing up to tyrannical powers  and in underprivileged countries break their own glass ceilings.

I remember the 60’s. Those of us who call ourselves baby-boomers experienced life-changing events: the two Kennedys and Martin Luther King’s assassinations, the Beatles, the Vietnam War, bra-burning, flag burning,  civil disobedience, rioting, Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem,  and the PILL.   I was reminded of the “scene” when I watched Women of ’69, Unboxed on PBS. Pretty conservative and almost lady-like, I was shocked as I watched the sit ins, the love ins, and the whole  hippy world spin around me..  I may have worn bell-bottoms, granny glasses, and granny boots, but I pretended to be in this new world while others rebelled.

It seems throughout history  those who took on the biggest challenges–Elizabeth Cady Stanton who wore bloomers, Sojourner Truth who was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Rosa Parks who refused to give up her bus seat for a white person,  Margaret Sanger who went to jail because she dared teach women about their reproductive health, Alice Paul and other who fought for suffrage, went to prison, and were forced to eat during a hunger strike (watch Hillary Swank in Iron-Jawed Angels to see the cruelty these  women endured in prison)–did so to gain attention to their causes and were the most radical.  Yet,  as one person said in Women of ’69, Unboxed, “Well-behaved women don’t make history.”

All of this is to say, I don’t have to watch specials, open history books, or even search on Google  to see women who made a difference in my early life.  I was influenced by Jennie Phillips, Clearwater’s early druggist who apprenticed under her father and passed all the tests to become a pharmacist, but Minnesota wouldn’t give her a license because she wasn’t a man.  She went to Dr. Drew’s School of Pharmacy (eventually sold to Hamline University and later to the University of Minnesota) at the turn of the 20th century where, according to her sister Ruth, she was number 1 in her male-dominated class.  I developed her story in my first novel, Scruples & Drams, A Novel of Minnesota’s Main Street Women.

Maude Porter, one of the first women born to  pioneering parents in Wright County, Minnesota,  was an icon and pioneer in her own right.  She never married, lived in Clearwater her whole life, was a member of Women’s Christian Temperance Union and a staunch suffrage activist in the community. She saw her river town from its burgeoning beginning through three wars, the Great Depression, and through its near demise. I can only imagine her delight when electricity turned, as the phone connected her to friends and family, when the automobiles took her places horses couldn’t,  and when television provided a larger glimpse of the world.   Readers have more to learn about this woman in my upcoming sequel to Jennie’s story, Pins & Needles.

And recently, I re-learned the story about my own United Methodist preacher, the Reverend Mary MacNicholl, who served our local church for eight years in the sixties. She was my MYF leader, confirmation teacher, and my mother’s friend.  I had no idea when I, along with the rest of the choir, walked behind her on the beat of “Holy, Holy, Holy” that she earned the honor of wearing her long black robe the hard way.  She went to a liberal arts college in the late 30s, adding another degree so she could teach.  She  taught sewing, Latin, History, and civics courses to the Navaho in New Mexico and mixed races in Florida before receiving a scholarship to attend theology school.

Even though she, like Jennie Phillips, graduated with honors, Miss Mary could preach and counsel, but she could not marry, bury, or be called a reverend.  Deaconess  MacNicholl worked hard carrying out her duties until 1956 when she earned the right to be called Reverend Mary MacNicholl, the first woman minister in Minnesota.

Many women have worked hard to take on leadership roles in all the realms– political,  religious, educational, medical, and many other areas,–all I can say is thank you for footing the rocky pathway for the rest of us.