For Immediate Release
Office of Lynne Cheney
October 13, 2005
It is a great pleasure to be here this afternoon. I appreciate that
kind introduction, Pat. 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, Pat, 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 title to be proud of, isn't it.
I'd say we all have a lot to be proud of. And right at the top of the
list I would put the fine men and women of our military. They serve
this great country of ours with such skill and courage. In the first
alphabet book I wrote, America: A Patriotic Primer, there were so many
letters that were truly moving to work on. A is for America the land
that we love, F is for Freedom and the flag that we fly, P is for the
patriotism that fills our hearts with pride. But none was more
important to me than V-V is for the valor shown by those who've kept us
free. Around the edge of the illustration were the names of some of our
military heroes: Joshua Chamberlain, Abraham Cohn, Mary Walker, John
Ortega, Joe Nishimoto, Mitchell Red Cloud, Frank Mitchell, Roy
Benevidez. It's an honor roll that reflects our nation. It's an honor
roll that reflects the valor of America's fighting men and women.
My goal in writing America: A Patriotic Primer was to help children
understand how fortunate we are to live in this great country and how
well worth it is defending. I wanted children to know about our
nation's founders and the noble ideals upon which they built our
country. And I wanted them to know about abolitionists and suffragists
and all those who since the founding have helped us to do a better and
better job of living up to our ideals.
In the last couple of decades we haven't always done a good job of
conveying how positive our national story is, and so when I was thinking
about a second book, I decided I wanted to tell one of the most
inspiring parts of our story, and that has to do with the transformation
of women's lives from our country's beginnings to now. The second book,
A is for Abigail, begins with Abigail Adams. When she lived, women
could not go to college, become professionals, own property once they
were married, or vote. And they weren't supposed to complain about any
of these things. Well, Abigail did, and she blazed a path that other
women have followed and extended, so that today our daughters and
granddaughters have a world of choices before them.
So that's part of the story, and the other part is about the amazing
things women did even before their rights were fully recognized.
Abigail made it possible for John to help create the country. She ran
the family farm, deciding whom to hire, what to plant, and when to
harvest. She saw to it that her children were educated, including her
daughter, though it was not thought very important to educate girls.
She gave shelter to soldiers fighting for America's cause, wove homespun
cloth during the Revolutionary War and made clothes for the whole
family. And she wrote John hundreds of letters that not only informed
and sustained him, but left us one of our most historical records.
Some of the most amazing American women have had lives like
Abigail's-lives of service to others. One I write about 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 who had a life of service 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 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, 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 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. I know how much
those of you in this room do to help others. You serve family and
country, and you don't stop there. I've seen the way that military
wives reach out to babies and children who need help and to the less
fortunate adults among us. In your daily lives, you recognize the
network of mutuality that Dr. King talked about. In so doing, you 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.