Just a little while ago, I rode my bicycle to a church just a couple of minutes from my house and voted in a national, state and local election. I was wearing the first thing I grabbed out of my dresser – not an uncommon occurrence – which happened to be my 2002 Women’s Final Four T-shirt and blue shorts.
In other words, I just did something that I know that my hero and idol never did get to do. She spent her whole life working to give me that right. Susan B. Anthony, how can I ever begin to thank you?
Of course, I don’t want to leave out all the other women – and men _ who worked for the cause of American women’s suffrage, too. Especially not Susan’s B. Anthony’s close friend and fellow women’s rights champion Elizabeth Cady Stanton. We all owe her a boundless debt of gratitude, too.
It’s a beautiful, warm, sunny day in Kansas – something you really notice and appreciate greatly in November – and yesterday was the same way. I went for a long ride on my bike yesterday, and the whole time thought about the election and the opportunities that women have now. And how much of that is because of people who worked so hard for so many years because they could clearly envision what so many others around them couldn’t begin to see.
But I also thought about pragmatic things in that regard. Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820, and I’m pretty sure she never got to go ride a bike wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Many of us react, rightfully, in horror, anger and revulsion at the burqas that women are forced to wear in some countries even now. But the concept of clothing as a way to control and confine women has always existed.
I visited the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, N.Y., five years ago, on a very toasty August morning. I thought about her traveling the country by carriages and trains, wearing all those clothes women used to have to put on – pounds and pounds of unnecessary bondage. Of how hot they must have been in the summers and how cold – despite all the clothes – in the winters. And how unbearably uncomfortable it would seem to us now if we had to do it for even one hour.
Standing in Susan B. Anthony’s long-ago bedroom, looking at the washing dish and pitcher, I imagined waking up in that atmosphere 150 years ago … on the day when you get your period. (Like on one of the bad days, when all want to do is take your anti-cramping drug of choice -in a very large dosage – get a hot shower and then go back to bed.)
But instead of doing that … because it’s 150 years ago and you’re Susan B. Anthony … you get up and just deal with it. It’s hotter than hell, but you still have to put on your 15 pounds of clothes or whatever, and then go about your day. Which may include speaking some place where you’re really not supposed to be “allowed” to speak, with the local minister claiming your upsetting the natural order of things, and both men and women wondering why you’re being such a rabble-rouser. And, by the way, why don’t you just get married and stop this nonsense?
Then, I imagined that it was a bitterly cold day … and you don’t want to get out of bed but you do, and you wash up in your dish, teeth chattering, and put on your 20 pounds of clothes and take a freezing buggy ride to a gathering where some folks roll their eyes when you speak and some laugh condescendingly … but some listen.
Now, I know I’m just “imagining” what it was like and maybe I don’t have all the details right. But I don’t think I’m so far off, and it leaves me even more awed.
It is the everyday “just showing up” in the lives of the greatest people that matters – just as it is for all the rest of us. People such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were extraordinary – in their resolve, their intellect and their courage. But just getting up and getting through the day was part of their achievement, too.
Both of them died before women got the right to vote in 1920, but they were sure it was going to happen. Susan B. Anthony’s motto, of course, was the simple but profound “Failure is impossible.”
And passing through the autumn leaves on my blue bike over an asphault path in the gathering dusk the day before the election, I thought of Susan B. Anthony, “I hope she might have had a glimmering on all those mornings _ waking up, facing the challenges, never stopping _ that someday some other woman would be so amazingly free … and so grateful to her.”