Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Very Special Woman in My History

March is “Women’s History Month.”  First celebrated officially in 1987, the month-long tribute grew out of a week’s celebration first begun back in 1982.  As an American history teacher, I always tried to make sure that my students worked on projects that would celebrate the lives of important women in the history of the United States during the month of March.  That was often fairly difficult to do because so few women were mentioned in the history books back in those early days of observing the place of women in the history of our nation.

Evelyne Wallace around 15 years old
On March 18, 1991, I participated in my first Women’s History Workshop, learning new and exciting strategies designed to help me teach women’s history to my students.  I remember sitting at a table in a huge auditorium when an unknown man walked up to the open doorway and just stood there as if he were looking for someone. I had a feeling of unease as he kept standing there, wondering if he were looking for me.  I don’t know why I thought that, for of course he wasn’t.  Keep in mind that this was before we all had cell phones that are able to instantly connect us to anyone and everyone, so it was entirely possible that the man was looking for someone to give them a message.
He stood there for the longest time, never entering the room, and when he finally left the doorway, I tried to shake off that uneasy feeling.  Unfortunately, a small part of it stayed with me for the remainder of the day, which in some ways helped prepare me for what I learned when I got home.  That was when I found out that the strongest and most important woman in my life was gone.
My Mother, Evelyne Frances Wallace Love, was born on January 10, 1919, in Helena, Arkansas, to Baxter Halstead Wallace and Lorena Grace Sanford.  Baxter was a soldier, and upon returning from World War I, he apparently felt unready for a wife and family.  He left Lorena and their small child and headed west for California and a new life.  I’ve often felt great resentment about that, but I know that their lives would have been completely different had he stayed, and that I would probably not have even been born. That old saying that ‘things work out for the best’ is apparently very true in this situation!
My Grandmother and my Mother both became even stronger women because of their need to 'just get by' during the days of the Great Depression.  Mother had to drop out of school in the ninth grade so that she could go to work to help out with the bills.  While in school, she had written poetry (some of them even appeared in our hometown newspaper), had been an excellent artist, and had developed a love of reading that she passed along to her daughter.  People who met her later in life could not believe that she didn’t have a college degree.
I won’t go into all of the details of her life right now, but I did want to make sure that the most important woman in my own history was honored on my blog during Women’s History Month.
During the workshop on that momentous day back in 1991, we were asked to make a list of the most important men we could think of in American history.  The facilitator had to stop us after about two minutes because we were all still writing down names, and the lists were growing so long.  Then she asked us to begin a similar list of women.  Needless to say, many people became bewildered after writing down only a few names.  What an interesting and original way that was to get us to realize how few women we had ever learned about in our history classes and how important it was for us as teachers to remedy that fact.   I never forgot that lesson, nor will I ever forget that day. 
Looking back, I’m pretty sure that the unknown man standing in the doorway had indeed come for me.

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