Lori Falce: Women’s history is quiet, nameless
My grandmother didn’t make history.
She made home.
Grandma was a force of nature. She was barely more than 5 feet tall and was as delicate as the robins she fed on the porch, but I never knew anyone who did more in a day.
She raised a family of four on a Minnesota dairy farm, and she did it every day looking like an MGM starlet. She milked and plowed, planted and harvested, brought cattle from the pasture and weeded the tomatoes, and when everyone else came in for dinner, that’s when she got to cook.
March is Women’s History Month, and no one will be making a commercial about my grandmother or most grandmothers because the attention is, obviously, on the history-makers. We will hear about Katherine Johnson’s out-of-this-world math and Hedy Lamarr’s balancing of a movie career and engineering. We will celebrate Sandra Day O’Connor joining the Supreme Court and Amelia Earhart taking flight. We will cheer Abigail Adams and Nellie Bly.
We will remember the accomplishments of women long forgotten and we will encourage girls to be the next Geraldine Ferraro running on her party’s presidential ticket and Katharine Graham helming a Fortune 500 company.
But we should remember that not all history is loud, especially when it comes to women.
The accomplishments of women were often not recorded, but no less important. My grandparents were a team. What Grandpa did was written down. He owned a business and land and signed contracts. Grandma was his partner, at least his equal in everything he did, on top of her own work of family and home.
In census records from the past, men are recorded according to their paycheck. Carpenter, farmer, banker, doctor. The women are almost uniformly listed as homemaker. A woman might have had her name recorded at death, but even then it is more likely to have said Mrs. John Smith than Jane Smith. Her headstone might even have said simply “wife.”
The lives lived at the top of their lungs are amazing. Thank God for the Clara Bartons and the Harriet Tubmans and Elizabeth Blackwells who showed us the stars we could stretch toward.
But if “well-behaved women rarely make history,” as Pulitzer Prize-winner Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote when she turned a light on the hidden history of women, we should remember that our collective history is also not made without them.
My grandmother was very well-behaved. She anchored a family that spread over 2,000 miles, holding us together for 70 years. She saved cats and cows and refused to go to the emergency room for a broken wrist when she fell off a hay rack because she wasn’t dressed for the Mayo Clinic.
Marie Dehn will never be a footnote in a history textbook. Most of the women who came before us are like that. But we can’t honor our history without honoring the quiet, often nameless women who brought us here.
Thank you, Grandma.
Lori Falce is a Tribune-Review community engagement editor. You can contact Lori at [email protected].