No matter how near we are to our biblically allotted three score years and ten, we always remember our milestone firsts: first kiss, first car, first horizontal episode. Mothers are likewise big on firsts: first word their child spoke, first step, first lost tooth. These events constitute the magical moments, forever tucked away in the tissue paper of the heart.
While these firsts serve as the Proustian madeleine that summon remembrance of things past, trailblazing women opened doors that affected the world, thereby allowing entry to those who followed. Because of these pioneers, generations of women have felt empowered to reach for their own brass-rings. The runner ups make the hole wider and the edges duller until the ceiling starts to disappear, leaving behind the oasis of opportunity. Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice, and she helped usher in other females to attain the same lofty position.
Of course, behind their monumental achievements lies an unfortunate truth: had gender discrimination not been entrenched since Eve caused the exit from Eden, women’s entry into erstwhile all-male domains would nary have raised an eyebrow. The fact that intrepid females used their variations of battering rams to muscle their way into the realm of equality is all the more remarkable as they did so against a prevailing zeitgeist that dictated they were not welcome in the polling stations, pinnacles off power or boardrooms. Rather, the bedroom and the kitchen were their domains. The triumph of female accomplishments is enhanced as they succeeded despite biblical and societal sexism.
When I was coming of age in my Torontonian hometown, the boys took shop class; we attended home economics classes-the other type of economics was never in our provenance. And why would it be? After all, we were going to be a Mrs., and our husbands would worry about all matters financial. Similarly, at recess, while the guys raced by on the school’s skating rink, dreams of becoming the next Bobby Orr, gals congregated on the non-icy patches of the playground.
Our accomplishment was mastering the intricacies of Double Dutch on our skipping-ropes while belting out the equally difficult task of correctly spelling M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I, the rhyme that accompanied our jumps. We did not aspire to more athletic pursuits because no sports scholarships existed for our gender and thus the lack of parental nudging. Inside our school, the teachers were predominantly female; the principals were men.
At home, our mothers greeted us with cookies and milk and the admonishment to be on our best behavior so as not to tax our fathers after a hard day at the office. Given such a non-fertile environment, my friends and I only competed to be the first to be married, the first to own a house, the first to procreate. Perhaps in some future utopian clime, our daughters will look at the concept of glass ceilings as baby boomers do bobby socks, saddle shoes, and poodle skirts, a nod to a bygone milieu.
Hope is on the horizon. Language is a litmus test of societal mores and the sexist diction of my youth has gone the way of the dodo: postman, policeman, fireman; the titles Mrs. and Ms. have evolved to Ms. In 2017, Merriam-Webster chose their word of the year that speaks to possibilities rather than limitations. Their decision was based on the avalanche of online hits after three events from that year: the Woman’s March, the movie Wonder Woman, and the hashtag Me Too: the word was “feminism.”
Currently, on a similar wave of optimism, there has been a number of female advancements into key leadership roles in business, higher education, and government, a sign the winds of change are blowing. For example, the College of William & Mary, the second oldest institution of higher education in the United States, recently named Katherine Rowe its first-ever female president. The 2018 midterm election witnessed a record number of women elected to Congress, including several firsts: the first Native American woman, Muslim woman, Somali-American woman, openly LGBT woman, and youngest woman.
Hillary Clinton gave her best shot to strike a hammer at the glass ceiling in the political arena when she became the first female major party presidential nominee in United States history. She acknowledged this momentous occasion in a video played at the Democratic National Convention where her face appeared among shards of glass after a montage of previous all-male presidents. She had plans to hold her election night celebration in Manhattan’s Jacob K. Jarvis Convention Centre that has a literal glass ceiling. In her concession speech, she metaphorically crossed her fingers, “I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday, someone will.” Indeed, that will be a monumental first.
The concept of female firsts is a shout-out to those who refused to view anatomy as an impediment to success. As Susan B. Anthony so eloquently expressed the need for gender equality, “Men their rights and nothing more/Women their rights and nothing less.” Because ladies were able to rise above chastity belts, bound feet, and corseted bodies, they deserve the shout-out, “Let’s hear it for the girls!”
About the Author: Marlene Wagman-Geller is the author of several books, including Once Again to Zelda: The Stories Behind Literature’s Most Intriguing Dedications (Perigree/Penguin 2008), Eureka!: The Surprising Stories Behind the Ideas That Shaped the World (Perigree/Penguin 2010), and And the Rest Is History: The Famous (and Infamous) First Meetings of the World’s Most Passionate Lovers (Perigree/Penguin 2011) Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the world’s Famous and Infamous (Source Books 2015) Still I Rise: The Persistence of Phenomenal Women (Mango Press 2017) Women Who Launch: Women Who Shattered Glass Ceilings (Mango Press 2018) and Great Second Acts: In Praise of Older Women (Mango Press 2018) The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Post have reviewed her books.
Wagman-Geller received her BA from York University and her teaching credentials from the University of Toronto and San Diego State University. She currently teaches high school English in National City, California, and lives with her family-and cat- in San Diego.
Dorothy Parker observed, “It’s a man’s world;” the lady entrepreneurs and game-changers profiled in Women Who Launch would beg to differ. Unlike the matrons of the 1950s-the women who lunched-these kick-ass females left their DNA in the annals of time.
A history of women in business and beyond: Julia Ward-Howe showed what’s good for the goose is good for the gander when she created the Girl Scouts of America. Sara Joseph Hale-authoress of Mary had a Little Lamb– convinced Lincoln to launch a national day of thanks while Anna Jarvis persuaded President Wilson to initiate a day in tribute of mothers. Estee Lauder revolutionized the cosmetics industry. The tradition of these Mothers of Invention continued when, compliments of knitter Krista Suh, the heads of millions were adorned with pink, pussy-cat ears in the largest women’s march in history. These women who launched prove-in the words of Rosie the Riveter, “We can do it!”
Biographies of women creators, innovators, and leaders: Women Who Launch is filled with inspiring true stories of women activists, artists, entrepreneurs who launched some of the most famous companies, brands, and organizations today and changed the world. It is at once a collection of biographies and a testament of female empowerment.
Readers will find:
- The stories behind renowned companies, brands, and organizations and the diverse women who launched them.
- empowering quotes from strong women and those who refused to be kept down.
- motivation to all women who want to succeed in their careers, launch companies, and change the world.
Find motivation in your career and life with the amazing history of women entrepreneurship, activism, and leadership.