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Remarks of Lynne V. Cheney
New York City
April 24, 2002
Service: An Enduring American Strength-- Volunteerism Awards, New York City, April 24, 2002
Thank you very much, Anne. It's a great pleasure to be here at this awards luncheon, and I would like to congratulate both Seventeen and Cover Girl for the recognition they are giving to young women who are doing so much to help others.
Service to others is one of the enduring strengths of our nation. 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.
Certainly in 2002, when we have found ourselves and our free institutions 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, and as we set about answering President Bush's call to service, the young women we honor today are wonderful inspiration.
Since history -- and particularly the history of our country -- is my enduring interest, I'd like to take just a few minutes to place our honorees and their good deeds in the context of time, to reach back and talk about some of those who preceded our honorees 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 anaesthetics 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 to 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 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."
Two other women to whom those of us in this room -- indeed, those of us in this nation -- are deeply indebted were very good friends. They were very different from one another. One, for example, married and had seven children. The other never married. One, the mother of the seven children, was a radical who repeatedly scandalized her contemporaries. The other, the unmarried one, was much more cautious when it came to public opinion. But they worked together in a single cause -- the cause of woman's equality -- for more than fifty years. 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 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 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 children and babies and battered women and needy families and students going to school far away in South Africa, our honorees today, carry on the work of women who came before them; and they will inspire others who come after. Like Clara Barton, Jane Addams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth, the young women we honor today have made our country and our world a better place. Their dedication of time and commitment is a gift to us all and for it I thank them.
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