My mother had 6 children and 15 grandchildren. Born in 1921, she wanted to be a lawyer. Her father died when she was 17, and she had to go to secretarial school, not college. Her family required her financial support. From 1945, she raised 6 kids, was an active volunteer in her church and community. When my youngest brother was 5, she returned to college, graduated the same day I did in 1967, became a fervent feminist, got her master’s degree in American History, and taught high school.
After she retired, she worked for Bread for the World, an international organization fighting world hunger. When my dad developed Alzheimer’s Disease, she became a support group leader, then the Long Island legislative lobbyist for the Alzheimers Association. Later she became a lobbyist for long-term health care. She was an officer of the Women’s Ordination Conference, fighting for women priests. She would have been a superb congresswoman or senator, much more effective because she didn’t go to law school. Her obituary characterized her as a trailblazer.
I was raised Roman Catholic and have 45 younger first cousins.
Like my mother, my aunts, their friends, my friends’ mothers could not afford to attend college before they had children. They had their large families very young, then got their degrees and started their careers by the time they were in their early forties. Since their children were largely grown, they were able to focus their tremendous energy, talent, and experience on their jobs.At that time being a mother of a large family was considerably more respected than it is now. My grandmother had 8 children; my mother had 6; I had 4. The extensive volunteer executive experience of my mother and my aunts was more likely to be acknowledged. My aunt went to law school when she was 40 and in a few years was chief counsel to the president of a large university. Now even many professional women don’t seem to value women who chose to emphasize mothering instead of careers while their children were young.
I stayed home with my children full-time for 14 years, then got two master’s degrees. I was a political activist, editor, childbirth educator, breastfeeding and parenting counselor, researcher, nursery school vice president and treasurer, PTA leader, volunteer teacher and librarian, mental health advocate. i Even in the traditionally female fields of library science and social work, I often felt that my experience as a mother and community activist was not acknowledged and valued. In social work school, I often was regarded as a beginner, and the tremendous amount of knowledge I had gained by reading, childrearing, and counseling, activism was regarded as cheating, because I hadn’t put in the requisite years on the job.On the job,. I was given the responsibilities of an experienced librarian and social worker, but paid and promoted like a beginner.
Ann Crittenden has a provocative book, If You’ve Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything.” Anyone who doesn’t think PTA activism is political experience has not been involved in Long Island PTAs:) Mothers’ executive experience seems invisible to most people because they are not highly paid.
We need to broaden our conception of political experience. We cannot draw our political leadership from graduates of Yale and Harvard Law Schools. Sixty US Senators are lawyers. That certainly rules out most people, who could not possibly afford law school. How much of the adversial, partisan character of our politics is shaped by the exceess of lawyers? A Congress of PTA presidents would be considerably more effective.
Women need not follow the traditionally male path to political power. Otherwise they have to be Hillary Clinton’s age before they can aim for major office and then are dismissed as too old, too entrenched in the status quo.
Women who have raised families are the most untapped resource for political talent. The mother bloggers who list a truly impressive list of achievements and experiences, claiming that doesn’t make them qualified for being vice president are undervaluing themselves. Women who run for political office are relatively successful. The problem is most women, not graduates of elite law schools, aren’t confident enough to run because work that mostly women do is often unrecognized and even scorned.