Radical feminist that I was, I was shocked to discover when my first daughter Emma was born in 1973 that motherhood empowered women, made them much stronger and braver. I decided to write a book reconciling intense motherhood and feminism. Twenty -six years later I am trying to gather up writings scattered in untranscribed noteboks, on floppy discs most computers can’t read, too many blogs under too many pseudonyms.
During the primary campaign, I was chagrined to discover that I had gifted my 4 daughters with brilliant nonsexist childrearing, but apparently felt it unnecessary to grow young feminists. They often had never heard of authors that had shaped me.
My grandmother was born in 1898. She voted in the first election open to women. At 40 she was a widow, with 7 children, including a two year old. She had lost a daughter and both her parents were dead. My mother had to abandon her journalism dreams and go to secretarial school. Looking back in 1980 at 1939, she wishes she would have become a lawyer, like her dad and two brothers. If she were born 25 years later, I am certain she would have gone into politics. My daughter Jane, who is both a lawyer and a writer, has succeeded where my mother and I faltered.
The book will concentrate on my mom and me, but I will also discuss my grandmother, my daughters (stressing education, career, combining motherhood and career), my niees. I have two granddaughters, 8 months and 5 months; another is due in early September. I also have 2 great nieces. I hope my granddaughters and grandnieces grow up in a family friendly America, but I was sure my daughters would as well. I hope we will have a woman president before they are eligible to run in 2044.
I have an abundant of original source material, including well over a thousand letters my mother wrote to my soldier father from November 1942 to February 1946, when he first met his 7-month-old daughter. My mother lived in Uniondale, 3 miles away from my home in Baldwin from 1947 to 2002. She was a community leader and the mainstay (close to assistant pastor) of her church, St. Martha’s. She went to nearby colleges, Nassau Community and Hofstra. She taught American History at Uniondale High School from 1969 to 1980.
I decided to make St. Martha’s my church home, at least for the time being. I went to the weekday mass this morning and talked to five people who knew my mother well. I am now in the Uniondale Library, looking at their strong local history collection. I have all the documents from my mother’s hard drive, with long lists of phone numbers. At least five of her closest friends are still alive, including two who have known her since they were 13.
My uncle, another history teacher, has a huge archive of family letters, including the ones my grandmother wrote to them when he was pursuing graduate study at Notre Dame. He moved from Long Island to the finger lakes when he retired. We are spending our summer vacation four miles away from where he lives. I teased him if he leaves me his archives, I will write his biography. He never ever throws anything out.
I have never thrown out the journal I kept from the time I dropped out of Columbia Law School after two weeks in 1971 through my pregnancy in 1972-73. Most of it is about feminism, wrestling with the possibilities of combining ambition and mothering.
My daughters never experienced discrimination through their brilliant college and graduate school careers. It is only now, when three of them are new mothers, that they realize their daughters do not live in a post-feminist world.