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For Immediate Release
Office of Lynne Cheney
October 13, 2005
It is a great pleasure to be here this evening. I appreciate that kind introduction, President General Watkins. People often have trouble figuring out what to call the wife of the vice president, but you overcame all obstacles, and I am grateful.
On the subject of exactly what title I ought to have, I got a good suggestion 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, a course of study that this organization has long encouraged, and that is 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, suffragists, and those dedicated to civil rights. They should know about all those who since the founding have helped us do a better and better job of living up to our ideals. I've been particularly mindful of late of women who have helped write America's story, women like the Massachusetts farm girl, who, quite small, very smart and deeply shy, discovered that she could overcome her painful self-consciousness by helping others. She was living here in Washington when the Civil War broke out. She realized after the Battle of Bull Run, which occurred nearby, 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 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!" There are so many women that our daughters and our sons should know about, and that's why I have written my second children's book, which will be published in September. It is entitled A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women, and Abigail, of course, is Abigail Adams. She lived in a time when women didn't go to school and couldn't vote. Neither could they enter a profession, own property once they were married, or even speak in public. In spite of these strictures, Abigail Adams ran the family farm, saw to it that not only her sons, but her daughter was educated, helped soldiers fighting in America's cause, and wrote hundreds of letters to her husband, including one in which she told him that when he was considering laws for the new country, he ought "to remember the ladies." "If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies," she wrote, "we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation." Abigail Adams was a remarkable woman, and this organization has done a particular service to our country in helping preserve the memory of such heroines. I was reminded of that when I accompanied my husband to West Point this spring. As we were driving to the stadium where he was to give the commencement address, I saw a sign directing visitors to a memorial honoring Margaret Cochran Corbin, a woman who fought alongside her husband in the Revolutionary War. When her husband John, who was firing a canon, was killed, Margaret took up the task of loading and firing until she herself was wounded. The memorial to her at West Point was erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution, who also saw to it that her remains were interred where they properly belonged, with other soldiers behind the Old Cadet Chapel at West Point. I was reminded again of the DAR's important work when I visited Manchester, New Hampshire and had the privilege of visiting the home of Revolutionary War hero John Stark and his brave and lively wife Molly. That important historic site is owned and maintained by the Molly Stark chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. A story I tell in my new book is about Sybil Ludington, who at sixteen learned that the British were burning a town near where she lived in New York. She rode miles over dark roads on horseback, sounding an alarm to rally patriot forces; the militia gathered and drove the British back to their ships. One of the reasons I know the Sybil Ludington story and can tell children about it is that the Daughters of the American Revolution have kept it alive, marking the trail Sybil took and commemorating her with monuments. One of these days I want to bring my granddaughters down here to DAR headquarters to see your statue of Sybil Ludington. This is a wonderful tale for little girls. Susan B. Anthony once said, "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." I'd like to express my profound appreciation to the Daughters of the American Revolution for preserving the memory of the women and men to whom we owe so much. I am honored to receive your medal, and I thank you very much.
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