A confession. I love history.
More accurately, I love the great human dramas that make it into history books. Swashbuckling tales of men on galloping horses. The heroism of one man mobilizing an entire country to resist tyranny.
Slowly, it dawned on me that the greatest dramas appeared in the back stories to events. There, I found women. Think Edith Wilson, a woman raised to be a trophy wife – tall, stylish, a society darling.
“Edith, who?” you ask.
Reading about President Woodrow Wilson, his stroke, and the drama surrounding the founding of the League of Nations, I discovered Edith’s story and how she became a woman whom congress members called the “petticoat president.”
Stories like hers led me to others, many others. Like, who knew that more than 100 women (maybe a lot more; they didn’t advertise) served as uniformed soldiers during the Civil War?
Fascinating bit of trivia, right? Really. But women in the 1860s could shoot and wear a uniform and march, which they did ... right into historical oblivion.
The fact is that century after century, our male-led societies systematically ignored or trivialized women’s contributions. That made it possible for history books to portray women, if mentioning them at all, as decorative arm ornaments and domestic creatures.
Even by the late 1950s, when my generation graduated from Cody High School, our history books lacked female role models while career counseling made it sound as if we (presuming we were among the unlucky poor specimens who wouldn’t snag a husband to serve) might only aspire to be low-paid secretaries, waitresses, cabin cleaners, nannies, librarians, nurses, airline stewardesses, or ... I can’t think of another.
So what? Leaving aside the continued frustration of the women who want to do something other than domestic or nurturing work, we’ve had enough experience in the last 40-odd years of women in the workforce to know that we are a hugely underutilized resource.
And that’s why we have Women’s History Month, a badly needed event to consider women’s stories, to select among them to find role models for girls the way boys find them now, to recognize women as a huge and largely untapped national resource. Because by recording the accomplishments of those who came before, we encourage women of the future to better themselves.
Past as prelude to the future ... and all of that.
So, what about close to home? What have women done to develop Cody and the Cody area? Well. Heck. Most of us can look at the women in our families and see the answer.
That said, in the next couple of columns, I want to call out a few of our women’s stories – vignettes about women who persisted, were determined, and showed courage under adverse circumstances.
Here I have to insert a LOL. Laugh out Loud. Because by that definition, almost every woman who arrived in this area from the 1860s well into the 1950s, whether with or without a husband, qualifies.