The word freedom brings to American minds the birth of our nation: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, the Liberty Bell, and the Statue of Liberty. However, the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines freedom as, “the quality or state of being free,” as associated with slavery, necessity, compliance, no cost, et cetera. The words liberty, independence, autonomy, and sovereignty number among its synonyms. No matter what you call it, the feeling of being free is exhilarating.
The opposite of freedom is slavery, an issue over which our nation was once bitterly divided. We fought a war and lost a President because of it, but we abolished the immoral and un-Constitutional practice of slavery. There are, however, other types of slavery involving gender rather than the color of one’s skin. While women in many nations still suffer from gender slavery, American women found a way to break free of these bonds. They fought for and won the right to vote, be gainfully employed, compete in professional sports, and control what happens to their own bodies rather than allow the government dictate that for them. American women realized all of these accomplishments while still retaining their ability to bear children, maintain their homes, and build loving families.
These freedoms are a far cry from what many of our female predecessors endured. The entire task of maintaining the household fell to women, including cooking meals from scratch, cleaning up pots, pans, and dishes, washing and ironing clothing, scrubbing floors, raising children, and of course, keeping the breadwinner — the man — happy. At night, women fell into bed exhausted and woke up to same old grind all over again.
If all of this sounds exhausting, consider how women have historically accomplished their Herculean chores. There were no washing machines, only nearby creeks and rocks on which to pound laundry. Someone later invented the washboard, which, for all intents and purposes, only saved the trip down to the creeks and the rocks. Old-fashioned elbow grease was needed to use a washboard. Afterwards, the clothes had to be ironed with a heavy flat iron heated on the stove. They had to be dampened to keep them from burning, for steam irons were a thing of the future. Jack LaLanne had yet to be born and weight loss equipment had yet to be invented, but in days of old, there was no need for them. Women kept in shape through their daily drudgery/slavery.
Yes, women have come a long way from their humble beginnings.
When God created the Earth, he populated it with the beasts of the land, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea. In breathing life into these creatures, He made the males of the species the most beautiful, for it was incumbent upon them to attract females in order to propagate each species. Apparently, this slipped God’s mind when he forged his last creation, Man, who was made in his own image (well, He was working feverishly for six days). But before God rested on the seventh day, He surveyed what He had created. He’d found that man, his crowning achievement, was beginning to act like an animal. “He needs a female to keep him in line,” said God. “Let there be woman!” And so, Eve came into being. That’s when God finally let out his breath and said, “This is good!”
But then, Eve tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. This original sin got the lovebirds kicked out of Eden, and we’ve been denied heaven on earth ever since. Adam was forced to haul his cookies out into the cruel world and bring home the bacon, or maybe the wooly mammoth. Eve got to stay home and take care of the cave and the kids. As a result of these unhappy domestic circumstances, women became subservient to men.
Down through the ages, they struggled to be free. They displayed extraordinary valor in the face of adversity, particularly in America. In the battle of Monmouth in June of 1778, the wife of Army gunner Private John Hays carried pitchers of water to the gun crew during the heat of battle. This bravery earned Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley the nickname “Molly Pitcher.” But Molly’s courage did not end there. After her husband was wounded in that battle, she took his place behind the gun to keep the British at bay. This made her a Revolutionary War heroine.
Then, there was Betsy Ross, who gave us our national symbol of pride. The stars on the red, white, and blue flag that she sewed represented the 13 original colonies.
Despite achievements such as these, women could not vote or hold office in any State Before the Civil War. On November 5, 1872 a group of women attempted to vote in a national election. For this action, they were jailed and fined. Among the notables was Susan B. Anthony, who refused to pay her fine, stating, “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”
Twelve years later, in a small church in Seneca Falls, New York, the National Women Rights Group gathered to discuss women’s civil and legal rights. Dubbed “The Amazons” for their groundbreaking work, the assembly was led by Elizabeth Cody Stanton and Lucretia Coffin Mott. Their struggle resulted in the passage of laws that empowered women. The legislation included:
1. the right to control their own earnings
2. equal guardianship of children after divorce
3. the right to maintain and control property
4. the right to share in the estates of deceased husbands
5. the right to enter into any occupation or profession, including attorney-at-law.
Finally, in 1919, after many States quibbled, the Congress of the United States of America passed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment of 1872; it was our 19th Amendment. This determined that, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied by the United States or any State on account of sex.” The Amendment became law on August 28, 1920. It made the U.S. the 27th country in the world to allow universal suffrage. In the years to follow, many women contributed to the process of establishing and retaining the hard-won struggles of women in America.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter honored Susan B. Anthony by placing her likeness on a silver dollar; it was modified from the existing silver dollar by size and weight. On July 2, 1979, the U.S. Mint released the Susan B. Anthony Dollar. Because of its size, it closely resembled the quarter and that caused confusion among consumers and merchants. As a result, it was replaced with a gold dollar coin.
During World War II, I saw native women in the Philippines washing clothes by beating them on a large flat rock by a stream. This scene was indicative of how other countries have kept their women silent and subservient. American women have led the charge in establishing freedoms for their gender. But freedom always comes with a price. There was an old saying, “A man works from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.” Today’s women have the aid of major appliances to accomplish what were once backbreaking jobs. But it was a trade off, as more women now suffer from heart attacks and strokes. And in changing their role as fully functioning members of society, women have become less dependent upon men. As a result, the divorce rate has escalated and created another trade off: the fracturing of the family unit.
Perhaps the evolution of the American woman can best be summed up in the words of the Dalai Lama (2006):
“Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.”