As a busy working professional with a full time job as a high school teacher, a part time job (complete misnomer, by the way) as an adjunct professor, a speech and debate coach and golf coach depending on the time of the year, I treasure my weekends as a time to really slow down and look at my two children; a six year old named Noah and a three year old named Gretchen. My second child, I have found, seems to be growing at an exponential rate. This could be because she is my second. It could also be because she is the strongest willed little person I have ever met, which ages her beyond her three years.
I knew I was in for trouble with this one from pregnancy on. With Gretchen I was sick as a dog, unlike the easy pregnancy I had with my son. Also unlike Noah who took 12 hours to bring into this world, Gretchen was born from start to finish in less than two hours. She came screaming into this world and took it by storm immediately. While Noah as a newborn had to be woken up and brought to me to eat in the hospital, I knew Gretchen was on her way down the hall just from her loudly voiced complaints.
Today my beautiful girl is just as strong, passionate, even scary at times with her refusal to back down from anything or anyone. She is creative, smart and determined, even earning her first set of staples under the age of two when she refused to stop climbing (she beat her brother who got stitches at 2 1/12). These are qualities that I know someday I will be thrilled Gretchen possesses, but that currently make it difficult to do anything, like loading her in a car in a timely fashion. I have absolutely no doubt that someday she will have causes she will devote her passionate little heart to.
She will raise her voice loudly and proudly and with great conviction. I’ve seen this first hand anytime that her brother does anything at all that displeases her, of if she isn’t fed fast enough (she comes by this honestly). What makes me most happy is that I know, as I watched footage of the Women’s March today, that most importantly, she will have opportunities and platforms to express her views and work for change. And as I thought about my daughter and the women she will follow as examples, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the women who came long before her, who raised their voices despite strong efforts to silence them, who marched before it was mainstream to do so.
In the southern corner of Bellefontaine cemetery, overlooking one of the ponds in Wildwood Valley is one of those women who spoke volumes about the rights of women without even saying a word at times. Edna Fischell Gellhorn, despite being brought up as a Missouri woman of privilege dedicated her life to improving the lives of others. One of her major passions was improving the quality, safety standards and inspection of milk, which, if not treated properly could cause diseases such as listeria, a major cause of miscarriages during this time.
And while she did make tremendous strides in areas such as public sanitation, her greatest contribution came from her role as the first Vice President of the National League of Women Voters. She helped to found the Walkless Talkess parade in which women, wearing white dresses with yellow sashes formed the Golden Lane through which male voters walked through from their hotel to the democratic convention. The presence of these women helped to move forward the suffrage movement which earned women the right to vote in 1919, a century ago.
Edna, even after her death, left behind a tremendous legacy. Her daughter, Martha Gellhorn, was a famous journalist and the only woman to land on the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion of World War II (she was also married to Ernest Hemingway for a time, and was played by Nicole Kidman in an HBO special). Edna was also a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, who also played a major role in the fight for women’s rights. But as we stand in the year 2019 and we see women continuing to advocate for equality, we cannot forget women such as Edna Fischel Gellhorn and Virgina Minor (a story worthy of another day) who marched before the time of social media. Who faced risk, jail and public shame for speaking up for the rights of women everywhere.
Today, the marker of Edna Gellhorn sits silent, just as her ladies of the Golden Lane did decades ago. But sometimes we have to remember that silence can truly speak volumes if we are willing to listen. And that is of the gravest importance.