Thursday, September 28, 2006

Again with a book review

Since reading The Road From Coorain, I have found the next two books in Jill Ker Conway's autobiography. True North takes us from the time she leaves Australia to attend Harvard, through her wedding to John Conway, and to her role as Vice President of the University of Toronto. It ends when she is invited to become the first female president of Smith College, an all-women's college in Massachusetts.

A Woman's Education picks up there -- she is 39 years old, and discovering that she has made a name for herself almost without knowing it, as a champion of women's rights, specifically the right to a quality education and any job she is qualified for. I am not finished with this last volume yet, so don't know if there will be a fourth memoir (she is in her 80's now and lives in Massachusetts, still working as an adunct professor at MIT.)

As I read her words, about her life and her beliefs, I find myself thinking about feminism and how women today do take so much for granted. Ker Conway became president of Smith in 1975. Only a couple of years before I was thinking about college for myself. She writes about how the era of gender-segregated universities was ending, the bastions of male-only schools were becoming co-educational, and the majority of female-only institutions were following suit, suspecting that they would not be able to entice qualified students now that women could attend the elite Ivy League schools which previously had been off-limits to them. Ker Conway ruffled some feathers, but also gained a lot of admirers (particularly amongst Smith alumni) when she insisted Smith would stay a college for women only, and that she was confident they would never have admissions problems. She was proved correct.

She brought about programs to allow women on welfare to attend college (previously Massachusetts law said that if a woman accepted a college scholarship, she lost her welfare benefits.) She started programs to allow middle-aged women to attend college calsses part time on weekends and in the evening, so they could continue with their day jobs or take care of their families. That sounds so simple, so "well, of course!" to us now, in 2006. But only 30 years ago -- in OUR lifetimes - this was radical. Women were still not seen as worthy of an education across the board.

Everything she did was to help women advance. Every battle she fought and won, she did it for women. She made such an incredible difference in the development of women's educational rights - which, in turn, continues to make a difference in the development of women's rights in the world, period.

And she did it all while younger than I am today. I guess that's the part that keeps hitting me over and over again. Where did she get the confidence, the authority, the self-realization to give her the strength and ability to do all that at such a young age? Why am I still floundering for "what I want to be when I grow up" at my age?


A Peterson Family Member said...

OK this is really really weird. I edited this post and when I am "in" blogger it shows the edited version, but when Icome to it on the web as a regular person wanting to read it, it shows the unedited version. I expect it will catch up with itself in a day or two ...

This is, by the way, a mystery post - I entered it all in blogger and then it told me it couldn't post it (after loading for about 9 minutes.) I went away in disgust, then came back an hour later and viola there was the post.


A Peterson Family Member said...

Yup, here it is 9:15 and the edited version has appeared.

Go figure.

Mark and Carla said...

Well, to paraphrase Thoreau, you're not living a life of quiet desparation, you know.

You are a founding board member and active voice in an NGO that is building a 3 million dollar school in Africa to change the lives of hundreds of children in a profound way.

You spearheaded the marketing of said NGO, designing all of the products that advertised us and creating images that are integral to our organization. You also took charge of and manage the volunteer and sponsorship programs.

You're a tireless advocate in the community for better schools, better representation, and better communities for all of the rest of us.

You had the courage to buck the tide and give your children the best education--one they needed--despite the raised eyebrows of many friends and family members.

You always reflect on the choices your're making, the ways you're doing things and aren't afraid to make changes in yourself that will make a difference in your family's life.

You are raising future husbands who will know what women are capable of and will support them in whatever they choose to do with their lives.

AND, you manage to find time for book clubs, women's lecture series, city council fetes, and whatever else that's fun and stimulating.

In my mind, you're your own book in the making. Not everyone can be "big" in what they do and the most influential and admirable often never set out to be anything but true to themselves.

So there.

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