Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Write Women Back Into History

It is not every day that someone says to me, "It never would have happened without you." Maybe the three days when my boys where born fall into that category, but little else. That is one of the reasons why I was so touched when my neighbor stopped by to hand-deliver a letter that included those words. Rose and I live less than 40 yards from each other, but I hadn't met her until a few days before I gave my genealogy talk at our local library. She had been frustrated by the experience of having secured an agent to help her find a publisher for the book she had written, but seeing nothing come of the agent's commitment. She ditched the agent and was tentatively wading into the pool of self-publishing when someone at our library steered her toward me.

Rose has written a biography about Katherine Gibbs, the (1911) founder of the secretarial schools that bear her name and which became the best in the world. I am confident Rose's book, Katherine Gibbs: Beyond the White Gloves, will have broad appeal among alumnae, educators, women's history experts, New Englanders, and many others. It is wonderful that the bureaucratic world of commercial publishing did not prevent Rose's book from being published. I am very proud and honored that my guidance and encouragement played a small role in the publishing of her book.

As I look forward to reading Rose's book, I read about Rose's subject and see why Katherine Gibbs was recently honored by The National Women's History Project as a woman of character, courage, and commitment. I see my grandma's adaptability in Katherine Gibbs' story. I also see in the Gibbs story my great-grandmother, Maggie Kelley Saunders, who succeeded for many years in business after, as a young mother of two toddlers, losing her firefighting husband in a winter blaze -- advancing on no more than a high school education, her natural skills, and her determination to succeed.

Our history is full of women who have adapted to difficult circumstances. The National Women's History Project encourages us all to write women back into history. This is what Rose Doherty and I have done - Rose with a famous subject and I with a family subject. Writing my grandma's story was a very personal project for me, but it took on a broader perspective as I dove into her story, better appreciated what she overcame, and recognized how understanding the lives of our ancestors gives our own lives deeper meaning and value.

When I delivered my presentation at our local library, I focused primarily on genealogy, with just a small primer on self-publishing. My goal was to come out of that talk having inspired at least one person to begin or restart their genealogical journey. I'm pretty sure that happened, based upon the conversations I had after the talk. So to have also helped someone overcome the publishing hurdle is a wonderful bonus.

Do you know someone who should be written back into history? Man or woman, it is well worth the effort.

If you are on the west side of Cleveland this July 23rd, please consider stopping by the Rocky River Public Library for my 7:00pm presentation: "Are You Ready to Find Your Family Story?" If you know someone in the area who likes genealogy or is interested in self-publishing, please spread the word. It is a bit of a homecoming for me and I promise to give it everything I've got!

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