Office of Lynne Cheney
May 16, 2003
Mrs. Cheneys Remarks at the United Way Summit on Women in Philanthropy
United Way Summit on Women in Philanthropy
It is a great pleasure to be here this afternoon. I appreciate that kind introduction, Melanie. People often have trouble figuring out what to call the wife of the vice president. Tipper Gore reports that she was once introduced as the first lady of vice. In any event, Melanie, you overcame all obstacles in your introduction, and I'm grateful for that.
As for what title I ought to have, I got a good suggestion along these lines from my five-year-old granddaughter not long ago. She was in California visiting her other grandparents. One of the disconcerting things you discover as a grandmother is that your grandchildren do have other grandparents they need to pay attention to. So Elizabeth--that's the five-year-old's name--was in California driving across the Oakland Bay Bridge with her mother. And her mother decided to tell her about her own visit to California as a child when a friend of mine and I, accompanied by children, drove across the Oakland Bay Bridge and ran out of gas. Now this story, illustrating the incompetence of adults, is exactly the kind of tale that little kids love, so my granddaughter was very interested, but since she was in California visiting the other grandmother she couldn't figure out exactly who the incompetent adult was. "You mean Grandma Julie?" she asked my daughter. "No," my daughter answered, "it was Grandma Lynne." Which still left the five-year-old puzzled because that's not what she calls me, but as my daughter described it, suddenly a light bulb went on. "Oh," said the five-year-old, "you mean the grandma of the United States." Now that's a pretty great title, isn't it?
Being a grandmother has made me focus more intensely than ever on children and especially on their need for an education that provides them essential knowledge and skills. They need to know how to read and do math. They need the basic skills that will help them to pursue knowledge in many fields.
And there is one course of study that I have become a particularly ardent advocate for, and that is the study of history and American history in particular. Our children should know about the founders and the noble ideals upon which they built our country. Our children should know about abolitionists, and those dedicated to civil rights. They should know about suffragists, all those who since the founding have helped us do a better and better job of living up to our ideals. Our children should also know about the enduring strengths of our nation, and surely among the most important of those is the idea of service to others.
When a young Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States more than a century and a half ago, he was struck by how often he saw Americans helping and supporting one another. He speculated that it was the freedom and right to self-determination that Americans experienced that accounted for our eagerness to work for the good of our fellow citizens.
In the last few years, when we have found ourselves and our great nation under attack, we have seen Americans reaching out to those in need with unprecedented compassion and generosity. The president has noted that this is a moment we must build on. He has asked each of us to renew our commitment to assisting those who need our help. Looking around this room and thinking of all the good things those of you here have made possible and of all you will do in the future, I think this must be a model of the generosity of spirit effectively deployed that the president had in mind.
Since history is my enduring interest, I'd like to take just a few minutes to place the work you are doing in the context of time, to reach back and talk about some of those who preceded those of us here today and made altruism such an inextricable part of the American story.
One of the foremothers of this event today, surely, was a farm girl from Massachusetts who was quite small, very smart, and deeply shy. As a teenager, she discovered that working with children helped her to overcome her painful self-consciousness, and for many years she was a teacher. She left that profession in frustration, however, when she realized that no matter how hard she worked and how good a teacher she was, she would never rise as high in teaching as men she worked with.
She subsequently moved to Washington, D.C., and she was there when the Civil War broke out. She realized after the battle of Bull Run, which occurred close to Washington, that Union forces did not have the supplies they needed to care for wounded soldiers, and so she began to advertise for bandages and anesthetics and to organize ways to get them to the battlefield. The army was not entirely thrilled with her efforts. They didn't particularly want unmarried women out in the field, but she finally got permission, and she arrived at battle after battle with wagonloads of much needed medical supplies. She herself began to help the wounded, bandaging them, comforting them. Clara Barton, for that was her name, soon became known as the Angel of the Battlefield. She had found her life's work, and after the war she sought other ways to help those in distress. In 1881, she founded the American Red Cross, and for many years she was its leader.
Another of the foremothers of this event today came from a very wealthy family, but she spent her life among the poor. Her mother died when she was only two, but her father, who counted Abraham Lincoln among his friends, encouraged her to a life of responsibility and high purpose.
In 1889, after she had graduated from college, she and a friend moved into the slums of Chicago and invited their new neighbors into their home. Soon Jane Addams and her friend and other idealistic women who joined them were offering visitors to Hull House, for that was the name of Jane Addams's home, everything from hot lunches to a place to bathe. There were classes in subjects ranging from English to physics to singing. There was medical care, child care, legal aid, and inspiration aplenty for others who wanted to help the poor. By the turn of the century, there were about a hundred centers like Hull House in cities all across the country.
Jane Addams became a political activist, focusing on labor law and juvenile justice. She was a leader in the international peace movement and in 1931, won the Nobel Peace Prize. Convinced that women should have the right to vote, she also took up the suffrage cause, reassuring her audiences -- with, I have to think, a twinkle in her eye -- that she did not think women were better than men. "We have not wrecked railroads, nor corrupted legislatures, nor done many unholy things that men have done," she said. And she added, "But then we must remember that we have not had the chance."
Another woman to whom those of us in this room -- indeed, those of us in this nation -- are deeply indebted had a life animated by the quest for justice for women. Born in Johnstown, New York, she had five sisters and five brothers. But children often died young in the nineteenth century and only one of her brothers survived to adulthood. When he died at the age of twenty, the father of the family was devastated, and the girl, Elizabeth, remembered her whole life how she had crawled onto her father's lap and tried to comfort him. "At length," she wrote years later, "he heaved a deep sigh and said, 'Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy!'" And to her grieving father she replied, "I will try to be all my brother was."
And she did exactly that. "She succeeded in what were then considered masculine fields," her biographer Elisabeth Griffith observes. "She won second place in the Johnstown Academy Greek competition, she learned to jump four-foot fences [on her horse], and she became a skilled debater." But rather than being pleased, her father began to worry. In his eyes--and in the eyes of the world at the time--she was becoming entirely too good at undertakings that were suitable only for males.
And so Elizabeth Cady Stanton decided to change the world, and she had the intellect and analytical skills to do it. For fifty years, most of them spent in Seneca Falls, New York, she, together with her dear friend, Susan B. Anthony, was the driving force behind the movement to improve the lot of American women. Stanton argued, among other things, for property rights, the right to attend college, the right to participate in athletics, and the right to vote. She spoke and wrote and agitated, and, I should note, raised seven children.
I doubt that either Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony knew at the outset that their struggle would be so long or, indeed, that both of them would die before women finally, in 1920, achieved the right to vote. But Stanton and Anthony had supreme conviction that their cause was just and would prevail. As Anthony put it, "Failure is impossible!"
Many women volunteered in the cause of suffrage and there is one other I want to make note of today. Her name was Sojourner Truth, she was born in slavery, and after she gained her freedom she became an eloquent champion of the rights of African Americans and women. She had a voice that boomed with authority. She stood nearly six feet tall, and she became righteously indignant when she heard people claim that women were too weak to be full citizens. "I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns," she said, "and ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man -- when I could get it -- and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman?" She talked about seeing her children sold off to slavery, "and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me!" she said, "And ain't I a woman?"
History offers many lessons, and surely one is about our debt to the past. As Susan B. Anthony so eloquently put it in 1897, "There is not one foot of advance ground upon which women stand today that has not been obtained through the hard-fought battles of other women." Another of history's lessons is about the ties that bind us. It is about "an inescapable network of mutuality," as Martin Luther King, Jr. called it, that connects us, all of us in the present to those in the past and all of us in the present to one another. In doing good for babies and children and the less fortunate adults among us, those of you here today are carrying on the work of women who came before you, and you will inspire others who come after. Like Clara Barton, Jane Addams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth, you are making our country and our world a better place. Your commitment is a gift to us all, and I thank you for it.