By Helene R. Lee
March is Women’s History Month, a time to tip the hat to the women achievers in all walks of life. The origin of Women’s History Month began in the 1970s when a group of women decided to look at the roles and achievements of present-day women and women of the past. Each year a theme is presented and those involved, arrange gatherings at various national locales.
As a writer I tend to look at women writers during this historic month. In the past, I have written and spoken about this subject and felt privileged to lead gatherings honoring women writers. It was gratifying to feature so many authors/readers. We clapped, laughed and cried as we listened to the women’s voices reading their short stories, poems or essays. The criteria – all work had to be for, by and or about women. (By the way, there were a few men who read tributes to women writers, mostly their wives.)
So here it is that time of year, March, when I again recall women who years ago fought to be recognized in a predominantly man’s field – women like George Eliot. She submitted her work using a male pseudonym as did others. There were the "gutsy" women like Nellie Bly who insisted she be institutionalized in an asylum so she could write about the horrific conditions. Eleanor Roosevelt became her husband’s legs visiting the troops overseas during World War II. She carried a pistol for protection and wrote about her experiences and the young men, especially the wounded.
So many women authors come to mind – most notably Abigail Adams who wrote over 1,000 letters to her husband who was away on the new country’s business. Several words in this letter dated (appropriately) March 31, 1776, are most important. She wrote: “In the new code of laws I desire you would remember the ladies, to be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” Meanwhile she cared for her family and ran the farm.
More recent women writers come to mind, the late and missed Erma Bombeck, whose books sustained me before and after surgery (though it hurt to laugh) and chemo, Nora Ephron and her sardonic humor, Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell, Agatha Christie, Rachel Carson, Louisa M Alcott (loved Jo), Dorothy Parker and Mary Shelley. And then there are the women journalists, names like Veronica Guerin, assassinated in Ireland by drug lords she dared to write about. And there are women journalists who disappeared or were killed in Russia like Anna Politkovskaya. I also recall the “runners” resistance members in World War II who risked their lives to write about and distribute the latest war news printed on forbidden small presses. Some made it, others were caught, tortured, exterminated. We now have women journalists like Christiane Amanpour and Lara Logan who place themselves in jeopardy to report the news.
Writers learn quickly that words carry power, create an impact whether it is the printed word or words heard from a knowledgeable TV journalist and that in every writer there is a reader.
There is an insatiable hunger to know more, investigate sources, to share the words. Women are especially attuned to knowing that writing is a gift that I believe personally, began in prehistoric times when a young wife used a stone to scribble on a cave wall, “Honey, gone hunting, dinner later.”
Or, in the words of Scarlett O'Hara, “Tomorrow is another day” for all women to write a word, a sentence, a paragraph, to leave their mark.
Helene R. Lee is grateful for the works of women writers.