It’s the 4th of July, America.
2022 marks 246 years since the Declaration of Independence was ratified by the U.S. Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.
Our house did not exist in 1776, but we are pretty sure the original 2-room structure (our current dining room and office) existed in the 1780s.
This means it is very likely that our house and its occupants witnessed history unfold when the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788 and went into effect in 1789. I’ve studied history and know what happened, but I wonder how it FELT to be alive then?
Victory must have been bittersweet. Lives were lost in the war. Families were torn apart. Fields and structures and livelihoods were destroyed. Change and uncertainty were ever-present.
How did they cope?
On top of all of that, the new government needed a way to pay its bills. We needed a singular currency. And don’t even get me started on the enslavement and lack of rights for large swaths of people. There were growing pains related to the birth of a new country and a tremendous amount of work yet to be done to ensure that the country and all its people thrived.
It’s safe to say our fledgling country was a bit of a mess back then.
Some things never change, huh?
I often think about the original occupants of this Colonial Farmhouse who lived through the turbulent first years of this republic. It’s easy to do when you’re scrubbing the same wood floors that they scrubbed 240 years ago!
I wonder if the women in this house were content with how things were going or frustrated to not have a voice. To not be able to vote. To not be able to own property. To not be able to earn her own income and retain it for her own use. To not be able to say no if her husband wanted to commit her to a mental institution. To not be able to hold a patent. To not have protection from an abusive spouse. To not have access to equal education opportunities. To not be able to serve on a jury and therefore have no representation on a jury of peers.
Fast forward 150 years to a time when there were more rights for women in the U.S. and my grandma, radical that she was, got married in secret because teachers in Wyoming in the early 1900s were not allowed to be married. Can you imagine?
When people talk about “the good old days” I’m not sure which good old days they are referring to. I certainly don’t want to go backward in time. I’ll take the here and now however imperfect it is.
Every right the women in the United States have, even being able to keep their citizenship if they marry an “alien,” was not freely given. It was fought for by someone or some community.
That’s something to think about.
It’s also important to think about the strides that have been made by women for the rights of all people since 1776.
Where would the U.S. and the world be without the contributions of Sojourner Truth, Dorothea Dix, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Ellen Swallow Richards, Jane Addams, Florence Bascom, Winifred Edgerton Merrill, Helen Keller, and Jeannette Rankin, among many others?
These women fought for things they believed in like abolition, human rights, voting rights, science, and education.
I’m sure along the way they felt harrassed, defeated, and discouraged.
It must have been hard to not feel cynical or resigned about the state of the country and the prospects for their future and the future of their children.
If you’re feeling that way about the U.S. right now, I encourage you NOT to give in to those feelings. I’m also giving that encouragement to myself because I really, really need the reminder.
Remember, you don’t have to do everything about every issue. Do what you can, where you can, how you can with what you have. Your voice and your vote do matter.
You also don’t have to do it alone. The women changemakers listed above did not do it alone. They all had help in some way, shape, or form to tackle the issues that mattered to them.
Lately, conditions in our society have done a good job of isolating us from our communities, making us feel alone and not at all happy. This isolation leads to polarization instead of cooperation and that’s not a healthy, constructive environment to live in. We have to look out for each other even if we think an issue might not directly impact us today. If we don’t, then when we are the ones who need help there will be no one left to look out for us.
I think Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking to BBC Newsnight in 2017, said it best, “I am optimistic in the long run. A great man once said the true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle, it’s the pendulum, and when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will go back.”
The force that’s pulling that pendulum back is We the People.
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