"Don't think about making women fit the world — think about making the world fit women.” -Gloria Steinem
Big news this month! I just moved into a new place and now for the first time I have a designated home office! I love having a space that is designed for my work; it’s incredible to have a place that feels productive, healthy, and engaging.
As I was unpacking, I found family heirloom oil paintings of my great-grandmother, Carolina, and of my great-aunt, Rita. I knew, immediately, that I wanted them near me in my new workspace.
I placed the painting of Carolina to my right and Rita to my left to remind myself of the intelligent, industrious, creative, and entrepreneurial-spirited women in my family. I see how these strong women passed down to my mother their values and she in turned passed them down to me. I would not be who I am today, and I would not have the values I carry today, without them and without their histories behind me.
The story goes like this.
Carolina came to the United States from Tuscany, Italy with her new husband in the late 1890s. She was a talented seamstress and, to help raise her four daughters, opened up her own millinery shop.
Each of her daughters (Seraphina, Antoinette, Helen, and Rita) learned needlepoint, crocheting, sewing, and hat making. Caroline believed it was important – and necessary – that each of her daughters knew how to support themselves and had a skill that would help them earn money, if necessary.
Two of the daughters, Seraphina and Antoinette, married and had children. Rita and Helen remained single their entire lives and, rather than moving into the millinery field like their mother, studied to become executive assistants.
The sisters ended up owning a home together and helped their married sisters raise their children by providing the “extras” – you know, things like piano and dance lessons. Not only that, they instilled in their nieces and nephews an avid love for reading and for learning.
My great-aunts made sure my mom had everything she needed as she grew up during the Depression. They were there for my mom (and my mom’s siblings) when my alcoholic grandfather left my grandmother with three sons and a daughter to raise. Aunt Rita and Aunt Helen were truly instrumental in showing my mom the way to independence; they helped her develop into an intelligent and confident young woman.
Here's how the story continues.
The year was 1940 and my mom was 19 years old. She joined the Navy and trained as a Navy nurse. She married my dad in 1947 and had two boys right away. Rather than staying home, as was the norm in that time period, mom was a school nurse; she worked full-time AND raised my brothers in the 1950s.
My dad owned a restaurant and was working all the time, too. Of course, this is the 1950s! So the idea of “shared household duties” wasn’t really a thing. So it was mom who worked full-time AND did all of the child rearing and the cooking and the cleaning, too. She was…unstoppable.
Once her boys were in their teens, she went back to school to get her bachelor’s degree in nursing. As she was about to graduate, she found out she was pregnant with me. It didn’t stop her.
(I pause to think about what it was like for her being in her mid-forties, surprisingly pregnant, working inside the home AND out of it, and in school. My mind is blown.)
She graduated, had me, and kept on going. She embodied the determination of her grandmother, and the drive and intelligence of her aunts.
The story continues with me and with my work today.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to share a bit of my history with you. It’s history that lives in me every day as I get up to live my passion doing the work I love as an independent financial advisor who owns her own firm serving awesome, inspiring, capable, determined, and high-achieving women.
Prior to unpacking some boxes and setting up a new home workspace, I honestly haven’t ever really thought about how all of these women of my past have shaped me into my present.
You know, they were forced to only do the work that was available to them. They didn’t have the right to choose what they wanted to study or what work they wanted to do. They didn’t even always have the right to educate themselves – Rita, for example, desperately wanted to go to college, but my great-grandfather (her father) forbade it.
My mom would have been an incredible doctor – and that’s what she really wanted to do – but as a woman without a lot of means in the 1940s, it was a nearly impossible goal. Both Rita and Norma (my mom) did what was available to them. They pushed the boundaries that they could.
I didn’t have to compromise and didn’t feel like there were any boundaries. I went to college, graduate school, left a big firm and started a boutique firm. Yes, true, I also did this while raising children and maintaining a home, but I have more support – and had many more choices – than my female relatives did. Today, I get to live my dream.
The history of women in the world isn’t pretty. And taking one month out of the entire year to “honor” their accomplishments often feels hollow and shallow. (To me, at least.) Women’s struggles are real and still exist today – no one would argue with that. I think we’d also agree that no one would argue that it takes GENERATIONS of women to make a real difference.
March should be a month where we decide NOT to forget about or ignore the struggles and the challenges of the past. A month to honor the women who earned us the vote, the women who fought (but didn’t win) the ERA, the women who pushed for all of us to have the right to make choices with our own bodies, which is, again, threatened today.
March should also be the month when each one of us sits down for ten, fifteen, thirty minutes…and remembers the women of our own histories. The women who fought and pushed and struggled so that we wouldn’t have quite as big of a fight in our own lives. March should be the month that we remember that the women of our past, the women in our history, live within each of us today.