Tag Archives: women in history

Happy Women’s Labor Day!

We Can Do It

Labor Day, 2017 is now past history, but just barely. So I thought I’d take a moment and reflect on how, or whether, things have changed for working women between the years my mom hung up her chalk as a young, pregnant schoolteacher, and this summer when my adult daughter, newly minted Master’s Degree in hand, began her professional life.

Most obvious to me is that my daughter is 30, several years past the age my mother was when she put her teaching career on the shelf. And while she has many friends who are already starting families, many more are right with her when it comes to delaying motherhood in favor of career. In an article published this past spring by CNBC, a US Census Bureau report found that in 1970, 80 percent of adults were married by age 30 while today that same number will marry by age 45. Indeed, my mother married in 1955 at 23 and I was married in 1979 at the tender age of 21. And although I am trying to be patient while awaiting the arrival, someday, of grandchildren, I wholeheartedly support my daughter’s focus on her education and career.

One of the most obvious changes, at least to me, lies in my daughter’s choice of career. She is passionately dedicated to the business of sports. In fact, she’s been a sports junkie all her life, participating in a wide variety of team and individual sports and being an avid fan. But rather than sit on the sidelines, she pursued both an undergraduate and a graduate degree that positioned her to pursue sports as a career. And she’s not alone in finding opportunities. Her current boss, also a woman, has moved through the ranks of leadership in college athletics and is still climbing. Admittedly, women continue to face significant challenges in the sports world, but the fact is, the door is open and women like my daughter are marching confidently through. Weigh this against the advice my grandfather gave my mother when she expressed a desire to attend law school, “Nice Jewish girls don’t become lawyers, you should be a teacher.” I was horrified when I learned this, especially since my grandfather had been a lawyer! In fact, a New York Times article from last year reported that for the first time, women make up the majority of law students!

It’s no secret that women’s pay continues to lag behind that of men. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women still earn 20 percent less than men. That’s despite the fact that women are half the American work force, are the sole or co-breadwinner for families with children and have higher education. So while we’ve “come a long way baby,” there is still work to be done.

I think the most significant change I’ve experienced is that women are finding their voice. Women of my mother’s generation were so often belittled, minimized and ignored. I still, occasionally, am ignored when I’m with my husband despite the fact that I am every bit as educated and intelligent and do most of the talking! But my daughter and her friends are forces to be reckoned with. Young women today have no qualms when it comes to speaking up for themselves, taking charge and expecting to have opportunities. We, their mothers, have prepared them for a world that includes them and in fact, needs them. Life is about change; some comes slowly and with great difficulty, some comes fast and furious. I believe today’s young women stand on some very broad (no pun intended) shoulders. Their burden is to continue the struggle, continue to raise their voices and to do what women do best, build bridges of opportunity for yet a new generation.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a small business owner, journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor of Acquitaine

Eleanor of Aquitaine was the most powerful woman in medieval Europe, due to her inheritance and her marriages.  She “leaned in” long before modern women were urged to do so.

Eleanor was born in 1122 as heir to the Aquitaine, which was roughly a third of modern France.  At the age of 15 she married Louis VII, King of France. Eleanor’s life as Queen of France is notable for three things. First, she invited herself along on the Second Crusade which outraged the political and religious leaders of the day.  Second, she had only daughters with Louis. Third, at the age of 25, Eleanor fell madly in love with a younger man, Henry Plantagenet. He was 18 years old when they met and he had prospects that far exceeded what Louis could offer.

Eleanor convinced the pope to grant her an annulment so that she could marry Henry.  After Henry became King of England, they controlled territory stretching from Scotland to the Pyrenees. Louis was left with little more than Paris and its surrounding counties. To compound Louis’ humiliation, Eleanor’s new marriage produced sons including, Richard the Lion-Hearted and John (of Magna Carta fame).

Eleanor ran their vast kingdom while Henry II was off fighting wars with the Scots, Welsh, Irish, and French.  But their marriage eventually soured and Eleanor conspired with her sons against Henry and almost won a civil war against him. In retaliation, Henry imprisoned Eleanor in one of his more inaccessible castles.  She was not freed until Henry died.

Eleanor lived for 82 years and remained feisty to the end. At the age of 80, she crossed the Alps on a trip to the Norman kingdom in Sicily to find a husband for one of her granddaughters.

For a fictionalized account of Eleanor and Henry watch the movie, “The Lion in Winter”, starring Kathryn Hepburn and Peter O’Toole (and a young Anthony Hopkins as Richard).  The movie captures the soap opera behavior of the Plantagenet’s although it compresses actual historical events.  For a biographical study, read “Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings”, by Amy Kelly.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

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Frankenstein’s Mother


Mary Wollstonecraft was an unusual woman. She left home at the age of 19 to escape her bullying father and his many failed business ventures.  She worked as a school teacher and a governess before settling on a writing career.

Wollstonecraft’s political writings focused on the hot topic of the day, the French Revolution. She was a “republican” supporting the ideals of the French Revolution. In 1790 she became the first intellectual to challenge Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution when she published Vindication of the Rights of Man. Most intellectuals, however, sided with the conservative Burke as news spread of the violent Reign of Terror.

Wollstonecraft’s social writings also diverged from the mainstream.  In 1792 she published Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which advocated gender equality and better education of women. She believed a better education would enhance their self-respect and self-worth. She also published a novel in which the women enjoyed sex and considered it ridiculous to pretend otherwise.  (She beat Erica Jong by almost 200 years.)

Wollstonecraft’s private life shocked conventional society as much as her political and social views. While living in Paris she met Gilbert Imlay, an American businessman, and agreed to be his common law wife. However, Imlay deserted her after the birth of their daughter, Fanny.

Wollstonecraft returned to London and eventually moved in with William Godwin, another political and social radical. They both despised marriage as tyranny but married when she became pregnant.  Wollstonecraft died soon after at the age of 38 about a month after the birth of their daughter Mary.

Daughter Mary is known to us as Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley was overshadowed in her own life by her parents’ notoriety. It left her feeling like a freak and a social outcast, much like the Creature in her famous novel.  Psychologists might be able to explain it better; for the rest of us, it means that Mary Wollstonecraft was Frankenstein’s mother.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

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Rebel With A Cause


Emily Dickinson







Emily Dickinson was a rebel. She’s an excellent role model for any woman (or man) who wants to demur from the mainstream but not be handled with chains, to paraphrase one of her more famous poems.

Her rebellion was unobtrusive, quiet, and almost invisible at first viewing. Consider her poetry; She wrote poetry that often did not rhyme. The convention in her day was that poems consisted of four-line stanzas in which alternating lines rhymed.  Her style was so radical that it was rejected by one of the leading poets of the day. The rejection must have crushed Emily because she never again submitted a poem for criticism or publication and her poetry was first published after her death. Now her non-rhyming style serves as a  transition to the free-form style prevalent with today’s poets.

Her poetry memorializes her rebellion against the constrictions in her life. One widely  anthologized poem begins with an observation (paraphrasing again) that people who fight silently are braver than those who fight openly as soldiers. This sentiment will resonate with anyone who has fought an up-hill battle against oppressive authority or stupid social conventions.

Emily rebelled by using satire in her poetry. Her satirical eye was as sharp as Jane’s Austen’s, but perhaps not as gentle. One of her poems pokes fun at a preacher who preached so long on a broad topic that he made it narrow. We all love to skewer pontificating bores, but we rarely do so as elegantly as Emily.

Emily was also a rebel in her personal life. At a time when marriage and motherhood was the only socially acceptable career for women she remained unmarried. She carved out an unofficial career as a poet.

I discovered the rebellious life of Emily Dickinson when I began reading my copy of her collected poems, bought long ago and forgotten on the shelf. I never realized how radical she was when I was forced to read her poetry in English literature class. Now I want to become a rebel like Emily Dickinson.

About the author:

Norma Shirk helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.


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