A lot of older women claim they didn’t have the diverse role models younger women enjoy today, but to be fair, the older generation did grow up reading Louisa May Alcott, Carolyn Keene and learning about Clara Barton and Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. History books mentioned Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dolores Huerta, not to mention the three Margarets: Margaret Mead, Margaret Thatcher and Margaret Sanger. However, it is also fair to say that women’s history and viewpoints weren’t as accessible as they are today. Currently, Penguin Publishing Group has 46 books about women who changed the world, including works by and about astronaut Sally Ride, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. There are many web sources offering lists of wonderful quotes written by women revealing their thoughts about a woman’s character, status, uniqueness, emotional capacity, accomplishments, and view of the world. And we have young heroines like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai who have raised their voices and are being quoted in the press!
Reading these quotes recently, I was reminded that there are women I’ve personally known that changed my life because of who they were and what they said about what was possible for my life as a woman.
In college, I had the good fortune to meet professor Dr. Dorothy Rambo, who became a role model and mentor. I will never forget the expression of horror on her face when I told her I was getting married at the end of my junior year. She saw in me the promise to be an accomplished professional or scholar and had a way of gently pushing me to do things I felt unable to do; for example, she “strongly suggested” (ahem!) I do my thesis on “Aristotle’s concept of the Golden Mean Applied to the Oral Interpretation of Poetry.” Yikes! The topic seemed way beyond me, but the truth was I wanted to please her. Ultimately, I felt great pride in completing the project. And just as she predicted it would, being a young married college student and soon thereafter a young mother did derail my graduate studies and career for a time, but the tenacity I gained under her mentorship served me well through many career transitions.
I’d also love to pay tribute to journalist Gloria Steinem, who appeared at the perfect time to inspire me to stretch beyond expectations. She was a founder of New York magazine in the 1960s, and was among the founders of the National Women’s Political Caucus and the feminist Ms. magazine in the 1970’s. I was in awe! She demonstrated what an attractive, articulate woman could sound like when she challenged conventional thinking, and voiced the frustration of many educated and/or ambitious women who were kept in pink ghettos. More than a pretty face, she used sassy humor to make her point, as when she wrote: “If We’re So Smart, Why Aren’t We Rich?” Even now at 86 years young, her wisdom helps me cope with the expectations of aging and the push-pull between love and work. She wrote that “The idea of retiring is as foreign to me as the idea of hunting.”
Dr. Rambo and Gloria Steinem both changed my life. Who changed yours? Think about one woman in your past who lived large and affected you in terms of selecting and achieving your goals, your lifestyle, and the work or advocacy you chose. Then, in honor of Women’s History Month and using some of the prompts below, share your tribute with a friend, whether in person, on the phone, or in an email.
- Articulate what this woman accomplished or did that impressed you. Was she a role model or mentor?
- How did she challenge the establishment or status by defying expectations or stereotypes?
- Did she speak up and assert her opinions and beliefs at the dinner table or in a professional role? What were her opinions and beliefs?
- Did she break new ground by being “the first and only woman” in her field, industry, business, profession, or role?
- How did she affect your life, lifestyle, values, or choice of a career path?
If your role model or mentor is still alive – a relative, a colleague, even a celebrity – would you be willing to contact her and thank her for what she’s meant to you in shaping your history? And, might someone do the same for you?