A message from Abigail Adams to the women of the future

Perhaps you will remember me as the wife of the second president of the newly formed United States of America. I would rather you knew me as I was, a woman who thought deeply and who acted with care. The times of my life placed many limits on the actions and engagements of women. But I believe the women of my time stretched and strained those limits to the best of our abilities.

Our times were times of greatness and of grief. They were times of hope and of desolation. They were times in which a genius would wish to live. Your era has said, ‘keep calm and carry on.’ I think that a calm is not desirable in any situation in life. Humans were made for action and for bustle too, I believe. Indeed, it is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. It formed the habits of a vigorous mind in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. All history will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruit of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.

But let no person say what they would or would not do, since we are not judges for ourselves until circumstances call us to act. No one is without difficulties, whether in high or low life, and every person knows best where their own shoe pinches. Great difficulties may be surmounted by patience and perseverance.

I beseeched my husband and the men of my time to remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than their ancestors. I urged them to not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands; to remember, all men would be tyrants if they could; to remember that members of your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend. I cautioned them that if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

Well, my entreaties went unheard. To you women of the future, I say, if we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me, and accuse me of vanity, but you, I know, have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the sentiment. If much depends upon the early education of youth and if the first principals which are instilled take the deepest root, great benefit must arise from literary accomplishments in women. Even while I argue that knowledge is a fine thing, remember that while mother Eve thought so as well, she smarted so severely for hers. Most of her daughters have been afraid of it since. Women of the future, set aside that fear. Take up your books. Take up your lives of action. Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence. To be good, and do good, is the whole duty of human beings, comprised in a few words. Learn each day. Each day, do your best, for your soul, for your family, for your community.

(the above is a collection of quotes from Abigail Adams, woven together and elaborated with words from my heart.)

Thinking about Ruth and David and Christmas

Tis the season, and so I find my thought turning to scriptures and relationships. I mean, this is the moment when many folks celebrate the birth of Jesus, right? I got to thinking, Jesus was a descendent of David—that was what got Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. And David was the son of Jesse, the grandson of Obed and the great grandson of Ruth.

Now my brain does two things with that.

First, Ruth is one of my favorite People of the Book – Ruth of Ruth and Naomi. And that is what this blog is really about.

But second, there is Ruth my sister, and it occurs to me that I have finally recognized Ruthie’s claim to Christmas. You see, when we were really, really little kids, Ruthie would get miffed, because everyone said “Mary Christmas” (who knew for spelling), and not “Ruthie Christmas”.  But think about it, if it weren’t for Ruth and David and the line of their offspring, there would be NO Christmas! So, “Ruthie Christmas” one and all!!

But back to the other Ruth, of Ruth and Naomi. You might remember that Ruth was from Moab, but she married into a Hebrew family.  After a very little while, all of the men in that family died, leaving Ruth, her sister in law Orpah, and their mother in law Naomi widows. Orpah decided to go back to her people. But Ruth said she would stay with Naomi.

Now, Ruth didn’t just say, “Hey Naomi, look, I know you are getting on in year, so I will hang around and help you out.” Oh, no, nothing like that at all. What Ruth said was something more like, “Oh, Naomi, do not ask me to leave you or to not follow you. Dearest Naomi, where ever you go I will go. Where ever you live, there I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Where ever you die, I will die, and there also I will be buried. May the lord smite me and more also if anything but death ever parts me from you.”

Now, I’m here to tell you, that is one holy and powerful assertion of love! Indeed, it is a vow of love that has been borrowed and used in many heterosexual wedding ceremonies. So, let us remember that it was first and foremost an assertion of love between two women – two women of the bible who then went on to live a long term committed loving relationship together, a relationship that was acknowledged and blessed by their community.  Two women who have a book of Holy Scripture dedicated to them.

And let us also remember that genealogically, Ruth, one of those two women, is the Great Grandmother of King David, the ancestor of Jesus the Christ whose birth we celebrate shortly! Now this, I think is something to remember, and something for all women who love women to celebrate!!

On Seeing an Apparition of Millicent Fenwick

The other day we were driving through Bernardsville and I noticed a statue of a woman in a little park near the railroad station. Now we have driven down that street often enough that I should have noticed the statue before, but nope, this was my first time noticing it.  I thought I knew who it was, but I wasn’t sure. So, we had to pull the car over so that I could explore. The statue captured a woman just about mid stride, with her arms wide open, ready to embrace the world. That woman in that place could only be one person, and indeed it is Millicent Fenwick. All that was missing was the pipe! (And I later learned that if I had looked more carefully I would have seen the outline of the infamous pipe in her jacket pocket.)

If you are not from Central New Jersey, you are probably saying, “who on earth is Millicent Fenwick? She is the politician with the pipe. She is ‘outhouse Millie’ for her work to secure better working conditions (including sanitary facilities) for migrant workers. She was the Katharine Hepburn of politics.

Mrs. Fenwick was widely known for her wit, zest and idiosyncrasies like her pipe. The story goes that her doctor told her to quit smoking cigarettes and so she took up the pipe.  She has been described as tall and patrician, but down-to-earth. She was the inspiration for Garry Trudeau’s Lacey Davenport character in his “Doonesbury” cartoons.

Mrs. Fenwick came to politics as something of a second career. Before politics, she modeled briefly for Harper’s Bazaar, then worked as a writer and editor at Vogue magazine and compiled “Vogue’s Book of Etiquette” (Simon & Schuster, 1948), which sold a million copies. Her first election was to the New Jersey State Legislature at the age of 59 and then to the US Congress at 64.

Mrs. Fenwick was a lifelong Republican, but she was a woman of her own mind. Even while she was strong willed, she often charmed her ideological adversaries. Her advocacy included a wide variety of issues such as civil rights, peace in Vietnam, aid for asbestos victims, help for the poor, prison reform, strip-mining controls, reduction of military programs, urban renewal, campaign spending limits, gun control and restrictions on capital punishment, and establishing a mechanism to monitor compliance with the 1975 Helsinki accords on human rights.

Walter Cronkite dubbed her the “Conscience of Congress.” She was a strong voice of honesty, integrity, and ethics. When congress voted itself a raise, she thought it improper to give yourself a raise, so, she wrote checks to the U.S. Treasury to reimburse the government for those pay raises members. Not only that, she returned more than $450,000 to the U.S. Treasury in unspent office expenses. She was, not surprisingly, opposed to PAC money and she practiced what she preached. She advocated for campaign finance reform and refused to accept any PAC money.

In 1983, after she lost a race for the US Senate, President Ronald Reagan appointed Mrs. Fenwick as the first U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in Rome. It was the perfect ending to a 50-year career in public service that began with the local school board and ended in a country for which she felt at home and where her brother-in-law was an Italian Count. Fenwick’s fluency in Italian and French, and passion for the issues, served her well at the FAO.

In 1987 Fenwick returned home to Bernardsville, New Jersey. It is there that she was raised, and there that she died in her sleep in 1992, at the age of 82 years old.

Those are some of the facts as I have teased them out from various web sources and from Amy Shapiro’s book, ‘Millicent Fenwick her way.’

For all of the facts, my favorite Millicent Fenwick bit of trivia is this slightly apocryphal attribution to her debating skills: In a debate over equal rights for women, Mrs. Fenwick once recalled that a male legislator said: “I just don’t like this amendment. I’ve always thought of women as kissable, cuddly and smelling good.” To which she replied: “That’s the way I feel about men, too. I only hope for your sake that you haven’t been disappointed as often as I have.”

Oh, and the statue? It was first unveiled in 1995. At that time it was the first outdoor statue of a woman in New Jersey – and one of the first in the country. In 1996 a statue honoring Eleanor Roosevelt was unveiled in Riverside Park in New York City. But by and large most statues of women in the United State are of mythological figures.

Ah, Millie we miss you. We so need your wit, wisdom and integrity.


For very woman who has wanted to be strong/er

Who among us has not spend a moment or two feeling tired, over wrought, overwhelmed, inadequate to the demands of the situation, feeling just not enough, feeling weak? Well, for those of us who have, I offer up this most wonderful of poems by Marge Piercy.  May it touch your heart with a gentle hand, even as it binds up your wounds and strengthens your soul!

For strong women by Marge Piercy


A strong woman is a woman who is straining.

A strong woman is a woman standing

on tip toe and lifting a barbell

while trying to sing Boris Godunov.

A strong woman is a woman at work

cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,

and while she shovels, she talks about

how she doesn’t mind crying, it opens

the ducts of her eyes, and throwing up

develops the stomach muscles, and

she goes on shoveling with tears in her nose.


A strong woman is a woman in whose head

a voice is repeating, I told you so,

ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,

ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,

why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t

you soft, why aren’t you quiet, why

aren’t you dead?


A strong woman is a woman determined

to do something others are determined

not to be done. She is pushing up on the bottom

of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise

a manhole cover with her head, she is trying

to butt her way though a steel wall.

Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole

to be made say, hurry, you’re so strong.


A strong woman is a woman bleeding

inside. A strong woman is a woman making

herself strong every morning while her teeth

loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,

a tooth, midwives used to say, and now

every battle a scar. A strong woman

is a mass of scar tissue that aches

when it rains and wounds that bleed

when you bump them and memories that get up

in the night and pace in boots to and fro.


A strong woman is a woman who craves love

like oxygen or she turns blue choking.

A strong woman is a woman who loves

strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly

terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong

in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;

she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf

sucking her young. Strength is not in her, but she

enacts it as the wind fills a sail.


What comforts her is other’s loving

her equally for the strength and for the weakness

from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.

Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.

Only water of connection remains,

flowing through us. Strong is what we make together,

a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

Katharine Lee Bates

My interest in finding women heroes continues unabated.  Recently I was reminded about Katharine Lee Bates and thought I would share a bit of her life with you. She was born on August 12, 1859 on Cape Cod in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Bates died in Wellesley, Massachusetts, on September 28, 1929, and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery at Falmouth.  She lived just 69 years, but what a 69 years they were.

Katharine Lee Bates is best known for the song, “America the Beautiful,” but she was also an accomplished author and educator. She also popularized “Mrs. Santa Claus” through her poem Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride (1889).

She graduated from Wellesley College with a B.A. in 1880. In 1888 she returned to Wellesley as a member of the faculty, first as an English instructor, later to become the head of the English Department.

In 1893 Bates spent part of the summer in Colorado where she lectured at Colorado College. During her visit, she went on a hike to Pikes Peak. Later she remembered:

“One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.” That view inspired her to write “America the Beautiful” her most famous poem. She quickly wrote the first draft in a notebook she had with her on the trip.  “It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind,” she later said, according to the Library of Congress web page on “America the Beautiful.”

Bates’ teaching career was the central interest of her adult life. She believed that through literature, human values could be revealed and developed. She wrote for popular magazines to supplement her income and was quite prolific. She was also involved in social reform activities, working for labor reform and planning the College Settlements Association with Vida Scudder. Over the years, she became an accomplished academic and a respected scholar of English literature. She retired from Wellesley in 1925.

Bates never married. But for 25 years she lived with Katharine Coman, who was a history and political economy teacher and founder of the Wellesley College School Economics department. Bates and Coman until Coman’s death in 1915.

In 1910, when a colleague described “free-flying spinsters” as “fringe on the garment of life”, Bates answered: “I always thought the fringe had the best of it. I don’t think I mind not being woven in.”

Of course some of us describe the couple as lesbians citing as an example Bates’ 1891 letter to Coman: “It was never very possible to leave Wellesley [for good], because so many love-anchors held me there, and it seemed least of all possible when I had just found the long-desired way to your dearest heart…Of course I want to come to you, very much as I want to come to Heaven.” Others people will contest the use of the term lesbian to describe what they see as a “Boston marriage”.  Those who contest the use of the word lesbian say that we cannot know the sexual activities of a couple. Maybe so. But to be a lesbian is not only about sex. We do know that Bates and Coman live together for 25 years. After Coman died, Bates said, “So much of me died with Katharine Coman that I’m sometimes not quite sure whether I’m alive or not.” We know that they were intellectually deeply engaged with each other, that their letters and Bates poems expressed love between them.  For me that is enough. As I have often said to my life partner, I always assume the best of everyone I meet. I always assume everyone I meet is lesbian or gay. And I can count on heterosexual to declare their heterosexuality within the first 5 minutes of conversation. Given these threads of evidence about the relationship between Bates and Coman, I will continue to assume the best about them and will believe that they were women who loved women and were lesbians who lived together for 25 years.

In 1922, seven years after Coman’s death Bates published Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance, a collection of poems written “to or about my Friend” Katharine Coman, some of which had been published in Coman’s lifetime.

So, the next time you find yourself singing “oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain  . . .” do remember that it was written by Katharine Lee Bates of Cape Cod, a professor of English, and the life partner of Katharine Coman.


If you find yourself on Cape Cod, be sure to stop by the town of Falmouth were the Bates family home on Main Street is preserved by the Falmouth Historical Society.


Hannah Arendt and Banality

There is something about the word banal. I just find myself liking the way it feels in my head, on my tongue. Banal – for an ordinary, common, cliché, overworked, overused, kind of word, there is just something about banal that feels fresh, original and interesting to me. But that probably has to do with my earliest substantive encounter with banal. I was introduced to the word through Hannah Arendt, and her use of the phrase “the banality of evil.”

Hannah was a Jewish German born political theorist. She escaped Europe during the Holocaust and became an American citizen. Her theoretical work dealt with the nature of power, democracy, authority and totalitarianism.

In 1961 she was working for the New Yorker, and was sent to observe the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Her observations and reporting evolved into the book: “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the Banality of Evil.”  That was where she coined the phrase “the banality of evil.” In the book she wondered if evil is always intentional, or if perhaps some people thoughtlessly obey orders or follow group opinions without critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inactions, none the less, leading to the perpetration of evil in the world.

Here are two of the many quotes from Hannah that resonate for me

The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.

The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.

So, for all of this? Let us always remember to be awake, to be aware, to think about the long and short term implications of our everyday actions. What we do, what we choose to do, it all makes a difference. Life lived fully, life lived well is anything but banal.



Corrie ten Boom and forgiveness

Sometimes being ordinary is enough. Sometimes being ordinary is extraordinary.

On April 15 1892, Cornelia ten Boom was born to an ordinary family in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Ten Boom family was devoutly Christian and they were serious about putting the principles of their faith into practice. Family, friends and neighbors were always welcomed into their home and at their table. After May 1940 when the Nazi’s invaded the Netherlands and began arresting Jewish people, the Ten Boom family remained an ordinary family who welcomed family, friends and neighbors into their home and at their table. They did not discriminate based on religion. If someone came to their door, the Ten Boom family welcomed that person into their home.

So one day in 1942 a Jewish woman appeared at their door, suitcase in hand. Her husband had been arrested. Her son had gone into hiding. The police had already questioned her, and she was afraid to return home. She had heard that the ten Booms had helped other Jewish people, and so she came asking for their help. Corrie’s father Casper welcomed the woman into their home and promised to help her.

Corrie managed to acquire extra ration cards, and they became very active in the Dutch Underground, hiding Jewish families and helping them to escape to freedom.  In February 1944 a Dutch informant told the Nazi’s about the Ten Boom family’s work. Later that day the entire Ten Boom family was arrested and sent to prison. Casper, Corrie’s father died ten days later. Corrie’s brothers were released, but Corrie and her sister were to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany. Betsie died there on December 16, 1944.  Corrie was released on December 28, 1944 through a clerical error.  Shortly after her release, all of the women in the camp were executed.

All of the Jewish people that the Ten Booms had been hiding at the time of their arrest remained undiscovered, and all but one, an older woman, survived the war.

After the war Israel honored Corrie ten Boom by naming her “Righteous Among the Nations”. She was also knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands in recognition of her work during the war. Sometimes being ordinary is indeed extraordinary

But this story that Corrie tells about her experiences after the war is what I find most extraordinary. She says that she was traveling in Germany in 1947, giving lectures on the importance of forgiveness. After one of her lectures she was approached by a man who she recognized as one of the cruelest of the guards from the Ravensbruck prison camp. She understandably felt a myriad of emotions – forgiveness not among them. Having lived all of her life as a devout Christian, Corrie did what she had done all of her life. She prayed. She took the hands of the former prison guard, and she prayed from the depth of her heart. And she found the grace to forgive him. That I find most extraordinary.

She also wrote that in her post-war experience with other victims of Nazi inhumanities, those who were able to forgive were best able to rebuild their lives.

In 1977, 85-year-old Corrie moved to Placentia, California. In 1978, she suffered two strokes, the first rendering her unable to speak, and the second resulting in paralysis. She died on her 91st birthday, 15 April 1983, after a third stroke. Corrie ten Boom was an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things. I think we can all learn a lesson or two from her – forgiveness among them.

Corrie ten Boom wrote a number of books, perhaps her most well-known book is The Hiding Place, which describes the work of her family during the war years. You should give it a read.

Emily Greene Balch a Woman for Peace

Time and place do matter. Where and when you were born, who you know and associate can make all the difference in how your life plays out, and in how your actions and work are regarded and remembered. Sometimes even monumental greatness is overshadowed by another person’s fame.

For example, Jane Addams comes as close to achieving household recognition as is probable for any social worker. And rightly so. She is a grand mother of the settlement house movement in the United States. Her Chicago based Hull House was the home to dozens of nationally recognized reform minded women. She helped to found the Women’s International League for Peace and freedom, and she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

And then there is Emily Greene Balch. “Who?” you ask.  To which I reply, “my point exactly!” Emily Greene Balch, born on January 8, 1867 in Boston, MA; died January 9, 1961, 94 years old. And what a 94 years they were.

Emily Greene Balch won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 when she was 79 years old. It is interesting to me that even discussions of her as one of very few women Nobel Laureates often begin by noting that she was a colleague of Jane Addams.  But, Emily Greene Balch stands as her own woman who warrants recognition for her contributions and accomplishments.

Emily Greene Balch graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1890, a member of the college’s first graduating class. She was awarded Bryn Mawr’s first Fellowship and used that to study Paris’s economy which led to the publication of her first book, Assistance of the Poor in France. She was 26 when the book was published.  She then returned to the United States, took a job as a social worker with the Boston Children’s Aid Society, and founded the Dennison House Settlement. After further studying economics, in 1897 she became a professor at Wellesley Women’s College where she taught for 21 years until 1918.  Of course while she was teaching she remained internationally active, working to improve economic and social living conditions, and actively advocating for peace throughout the world.

So, she ‘left’ Wellesley in 1918. Why would she leave an academic position when she was only 51? Clearly that was too young to retire. Depending on how you read the story, the long and short of it is that she was ‘let go’ by the college for her outspoken peace work.  Emily had taken a leave from Wellesley to study the living condition of Slavic people.  As the conflict of World War I spread throughout Europe in 1914, she became more vocal and active in her work for peace, working with Jane Addams and Alice Hamilton.  Emily asked Wellesley to extend her leave so that she could continue her work for peace, and Wellesley not only declined to extend her leave but choose to terminate her contract instead.

Undaunted – well, daunted but undeterred, she took an editorial job with the Nation and continued to write books analyzing economic and social conditions and advocating for peace.  She was active with the International Congress of Women and helped to cofound the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She remained active within the women’s peace movement throughout her life.

Her Nobel Prize acceptance speech is titled: Toward Human Unity or Beyond Nationalism. If you are of a mind, you can read it at http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1946/balch-lecture.html.

It is worth the read.  Here are the last few paragraphs:

I have spoken against fear as a basis for peace. What we ought to fear, especially we Americans, is not that someone may drop atomic bombs on us but that we may allow a world situation to develop in which ordinarily reasonable and humane men, acting as our representatives, may use such weapons in our name. We ought to be resolved beforehand that no provocation, no temptation shall induce us to resort to the last dreadful alternative of war.

May no young man ever again be faced with the choice between violating his conscience by cooperating in competitive mass slaughter or separating himself from those who, endeavoring to serve liberty, democracy, humanity, can find no better way than to conscript young men to kill.

As the world community develops in peace, it will open up great untapped reservoirs in human nature. Like a spring released from pressure would be the response of a generation of young men and women growing up in an atmosphere of friendliness and security, in a world demanding their service, offering them comradeship, calling to all adventurous and forward reaching natures.

We are not asked to subscribe to any utopia or to believe in a perfect world just around the comer. We are asked to be patient with necessarily slow and groping advance on the road forward, and to be ready for each step ahead as it becomes practicable. We are asked to equip ourselves with courage, hope, readiness for hard work, and to cherish large and generous ideals.


Shortly before she died, Nobel Peace Laureate Emily Greene Balch wrote a poem she addressed to the “Dear People of China.” The last stanza read as follows:

Let us be patient with one another,

And even patient with ourselves.

We have a long, long way to go.

So let us hasten along the road,

The road of human tenderness and generosity.

Groping, we may find one another’s hands in the dark.


Let us all hasten along the road of human tenderness and generosity, groping to find one another’s hands in the dark!  Not a bad way to spend a life, I think!

Sheryl WuDunn and Women of the World

I’ve been wanting to do more here about strong women. Apparently Sheryl WuDunn’s is also very interested in highlighting the accomplishments of strong women.  Ms. WuDunn has a good bit more focus and discipline than I do however. She has written a book “Half the Sky” that investigates the oppression of women globally. Her stories can be shocking. They can also be exhilarating. Her emphatic conclusion? Only when women in developing countries have equal access to education and economic opportunity will we be using all our human resources and will there be any hope for social and economic justice and human rights.

So, please by all means give her book a read.

If you need a bit more motivation, so hear her TED Talk, where you can hear her tell stories like this one:

So, let’s start off in China. This photo was taken two weeks ago. Actually, one indication is that little boy on my husband’s shoulders has just graduated from high school. (Laughter) But this is Tiananmen Square. Many of you have been there. It’s not the real China. Let me take you to the real China. This is in the Dabian Mountains in the remote part of Hubei province in central China. Dai Manju is 13 years old at the time the story starts. She lives with her parents, her two brothers and her great-aunt. They have a hut that has no electricity, no running water, no wristwatch, no bicycle. And they share this great splendor with a very large pig. Dai Manju was in sixth grade when her parents said, “We’re going to pull you out of school because the 13-dollar school fees are too much for us. You’re going to be spending the rest of your life in the rice paddies. Why would we waste this money on you?” This is what happens to girls in remote areas.

Turns out that Dai Manju was the best pupil in her grade. She still made the two-hour trek to the schoolhouse and tried to catch every little bit of information that seeped out of the doors. We wrote about her in The New York Times. We got a flood of donations — mostly 13-dollar checks because New York Times readers are very generous in tiny amounts (Laughter) but then, we got a money transfer for $10,000 — really nice guy. We turned the money over to that man there, the principal of the school. He was delighted. He thought, “Oh, I can renovate the school. I can give scholarships to all the girls, you know, if they work hard and stay in school. So Dai Manju basically finished out middle school. She went to high school. She went to vocational school for accounting. She scouted for jobs down in Guangdong province in the south. She found a job, she scouted for jobs for her classmates and her friends. She sent money back to her family. They built a new house, this time with running water, electricity, a bicycle, no pig.

A Tale of Beatrix Potter

Better than half of the human beings in our world are women. Women work hard and long. And yet, far too often our stories are not told, our contributions to the life and well being of our communities, countries, and planet go unrecognized.  So, I say, let’s celebrate women and our accomplishments, for better or worse, and more often than not for better. Today I would like to celebrate Beatrix Potter.

Many of you will know Beatrix Potter for her Peter Rabbit books. Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter were early joys and first friends for many of us. And for that contribution alone we owe Beatrix much. Her drawings still adorn pottery, clothing and an array of home goods. Her animals are both realistic and unthreatening, they are downright cute. And Beatrix Potter was so much more than that.

Beatrix Potter was born Saturday, 28 July 1866. She grew up in Manchester England with all the comforts of a home with its own staff of servants.  One of her earliest fascinations was with sketching the pets and small animals that populated her home and surrounding lands.  By the time she was seven her drawings had an individual personality to them.  By the time she was 31 she had submitted a scientific paper to the Linnean Society in London. By the time she was 35 she had produced almost 300 water colors of mushrooms and fungi which are now in the Armitt  Museum in Cumbria, United Kingdom.

But it was her ‘picture letters’ that she looked to as a way of earning a living. She produced the Tale of Peter Rabbit herself as a Christmas gift for family and friends in 1901. Shortly after that Frederick Warne & Company in London began discussions with her about printing it.  By 1902 the Tale of Peter Rabbit was published, and she had The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tailor of Gloucester ready for publication as well.

One thing led to another and in July 1905 Beatrix and Norman Warne were engaged.  But on August 25, 1905 Norman died of pernicious anemia.  Beatrix was grief stricken. She left London and moved to the Cumbria where she had already been planning to buy a small farm, Hill Top. There she continued to create characters and to write, and she began to develop merchandise that would make her a woman of considerable means.  She steeped herself in the land and the community. She became a champion of farming causes. And she began to buy tranches of the beloved lands around her, gathering together as much as four thousand acres, all of which she left to the National Trust.

In 1913, eight years after Norman died, she married William Heelis, the country solicitor who worked with her to acquire the lands around her Hill Top Farm.  Frank Delaney tell the story of Beatrix Potter walking along the road near Hill Top Farm when she came upon a tramp walking along road. The tramp assumed that she too was a homeless traveler, and he greeted her, “Brave hard weather for the likes of thee’n me, missus.”  Delaney says that she had in that moment done the thing she most desired, she had merged with her countryside.

Indeed, Beatrix Potter merged with her countryside, she lived its life, told its quiet hidden stories, and left it better than when she found it.  What a marvelous legacy.  What a delightful contribution to the dignity of all living beings.