Before launching into a discussion of this topic, let’s just say I do not attribute my own electoral results to a lack of support from other women. I do think I share a life experience, perhaps, similar to other Nebraska women and it could be productive to look at that journey. When I was a young girl growing up in small town Nebraska, I heard “mixed messages” about supporting other women. My homemaker Mom usually had 1-2 close women friends and their support of each other was something I noticed and envied. On the other hand, 1950’s television, motion pictures and magazines left the strong impression that women were competing with one another and there was a limited number of rewards to be won. For me, that translated into attention and commitment from males and societal and familial recognition for any special attributes or achievement. I did not see that I would have much in the way of personal resources to bring into this competition.
1950’s Micki and me.
My early Elementary School years were not that helpful. I was a painfully shy child who daydreamed a lot. Sitting in a classroom was excruciating for me. I had a running mental picture of more interesting diversions. My youthful fantasies were fueled by what I learned watching T.V. and movies, and also reading comic books. We are talking The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Sky King, and also grown up offerings like My Little Margie, I Love Lucy, Our Miss Brooks, Leave it to Beaver, The Bob Cummings Show, The Jack Benny Program, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and The Ed Sullivan Show immediately come to mind. My first celebrity crush was Howdy Doody closely followed by Peter Pan. The debut of The Mickey Mouse Club was one of the most thrilling days of my young life. The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show was one of my favorites, and I think I know why. George Burns watched his wife and neighbors get into wacky situations and “broke the fourth wall” sharing his observations directly with the audience. This theatrical device always intrigues me to this day. Also, George Burns seemed to truly love his wife Gracie and she conveyed some wisdom apart from the wacky escapades.
On the comic book front, I habitually read Archie, Betty and Veronica, Superman, Batman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman. My favorite superhero was The Flash, I do not recall any reason why. I owe my comic book exposure to my best cousin Micki who was my childhood mentor having lived a year and few months longer than me. My parents did not buy comic books but Micki had a large collection that came to me in bulk for Summer binge reading.
I am sure there is a lot of research on the gender role socialization that evolved from ALL this entertainment. I have read some of it. Needless to say, the expectations I formed for my own existence were pretty limited by my perceived deficiencies. Movie Star was on the top of the aspirations, but it was hard to really see that as a promising goal. Teacher was not so appealing because I suffered through most of my own schooling. Nursing and Secretarial skills seemed pretty difficult and challenged my perceived abilities. Homemaker seemed possible, but I was not sure it was my own mother’s and her close friends’ first choice. Maybe she and her friends knew something I could not see. My Mom’s title for her full time job was always “house wife.” My childhood view of this career was obviously at bit romanticized. In my mind, the major appeal was you did not have to go to school. You stayed home during the day, spent some time on the phone chatting with friends, and you could watch some T.V. The cleaning, cooking, sewing, and laundry duties seemed doable because I did not appreciate the skill and science involved.
But somehow my journey did not go down the path I imagined in my childhood. What happened? I have some thoughts…
MY FIRST JOURNEY INTO FEMINISM
When I was in possibly the 3rd Grade, my parents made a switch from the Methodist to the Episcopal Church. This was probably wise because the congregation membership was less and we could be bigger deals and have more fun. St. Mary’s was just across the street on my block and we had to walk way around the corner and then cross the street to First Methodist. The Episcopal Church was cooler because you had to kneel, wear a hat or scarf, and you could go up to the altar for blessings when your parents took Communion. I earned a few special little medals for learning dogma like the Nicene Creed. Anyway, one year I noticed that a pretty blonde girl was selected to portray St. Mary at Christmas. I obviously did not fill that bill. Then one year, my Mom came to me to announce I had been cast as Mary and that she would coach me on the lengthy Bible passages I would have to memorize. Forgetting for the moment that there was no reason to think I could master this assignment, I immediately understood a few things. My Mom was really into this challenge and her ego would be riding on my performance. Also, when it came to memorizing, my not blonde or particularly pretty self had a shot at the prize. I remember getting through the performance and my Mom did say she was proud. I probably got another little medal. The lesson I learned that day was that I could be smarter than some other little ladies. If I applied this new talent at school, I might get some attention and rewards. This is a aha moment in my “Herstory.”
WOMEN VOTING IN NEBRASKA
Nebraska women have important political history. I remember my Mom going to the polls in the ’50s. She took me with her because this is what some of the moms would do. She probably took my younger sister too, but I have no memory of this. Anyway, voting was a really big deal for my Mom. She would get really dressed up even more so than for weekly church. I could tell how proud my mother was to cast her ballot. It was a choice she made for herself. Even my Dad explained that she made up her own mind and this was her prerogative. I later learned that I had 2 grandmothers who lived as adults in my Country and State at a time they were denied the right to vote. My paternal grandmother died in childbirth soon after the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed. I doubt she voted, but I have no living relatives to ask. My Uncle Phil reports that my maternal grandmother Ina exercised her voting rights. He recalls that she was a Democrat and my Grandpa Joe was a Republican. I know several married couples today in Nebraska who agree to disagree on their political affiliation. The thought that my own grandmother chose this circumstance for herself delights me.
Over the last decade, I have learned a little about the Women’s Suffrage campaign in Nebraska.What I learned was an eye opener. I guess I was not necessarily surprised to learn that certain religious and ancestry groups actively opposed giving Nebraska women the right to vote. I read that a handful of Suffragists marched down Main Street in Fremont and the Sheriff put them in jail. No big surprise there. What initially did surprise me was that organized opposition to Women’s Suffrage in Nebraska came from the Democratic Party. When I speak to women’s groups, I ask which political party they believe opposed Women’s Suffrage in Nebraska. As of today, the overwhelming response, even in bipartisan gatherings, has been “Republican!” As I read some more history and reflected upon my own experience in Nebraska Democratic politics, this discovery did make some sense to me. I am sure I will be reflecting more on these observations in future blogs.
For today, here is a download link to one article published in Nebraska State Historical Society’s NEBRASKA HISTORY about Women’s Suffrage in Nebraska: