these nine women

Ida B. Wells Barnett, antilynching activist
Mother Jones, an advocate for coal miners
Dr. Alice Hamilton, a proponent of workers’ rights in the chemical industry
Frances Perkins, who helped establish Social Security
Virginia Durr, who fought to end poll taxes
Septima Poinsette Clark, an advocate for the rights of black voters
Dolores Huerta, farmworker organizer
Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias, a reproductive rights activist
Gretchen Buchenholz, a child advocate
It is Women’s History Day in Women’s History Month.
As I listened to my NPR station driving back from my daughter’s yesterday, the host of one of the programs was interviewing Al Gore’s daughter, Karenna Gore Schiff, the author of Lighting the Way: Nine Women Who Changed Modern America
Schiff had chosen the nine women she wrote about because these women not only had a strong sense of women’s rights and a devotion to making social change; while they were trying to change their world, they aslo took care of family and friends.
As my grandson revs up to start Kindergarten in the fall, I think of all of the children whose parents can’t/don’t have the time, resources, energy, expertise, will (or all of those) to help their kids love to learn even before they start school.
Gretchen Buchenholz has devoted her life to to helping those who need a helping hand, especially kids.
In an article Karenna Gore Schiff wrote for Readers Digest, she tells about meeting Buchenholz for the first time:

After I married and moved to New York, I began hearing about Gretchen Buchenholz. People told me how this native New Yorker and mother of six had worked on behalf of needy and marginalized families for years in the city, and how she was a hands-on, skilled advocate. She did everything from buy groceries for homeless families to start schools for children. In 1974 she founded Merricat’s Castle, a nursery school that opened its doors to kids of all racial and economic backgrounds, the able-bodied as well as those with disabilities or terminal illnesses. (It’s still going strong.)

She also ran a soup kitchen for the homeless and worked on behalf of children born with HIV, helping to get the care they needed from the moment they tested positive. I thought, I want to meet this person. Still, I felt a little intimidated. What would she be like? She was a pioneer, after all. And what had I really done in my own life to compare?

Having been brought up to value public service as well as family, Schiff understands the motivation of women such as those nine above to reach out and mother the world. In her Readers Digest piece, she says:

Growing up as the daughter of Al and Tipper Gore, I’d always known my work would involve helping others in some way. When I was 11, my mom, sisters and I were walking in downtown Washington, D.C., when we passed a group of homeless people in tattered overcoats, sleeping on grates. My sisters and I asked my mom why people were out on the street like that. She replied, “Actually, we should try to help them,” and then marched us over to a nearby soup kitchen to volunteer. The idea of becoming part of the solution to a problem stuck with me.

I, who for the time being, am constrained by caregiving, wonder what small thing I might be doing, the effects of which would be felt beyond this mountain. I guess I’ll never know.

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