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Guest Post: Michelle Obama and Me

In honor of Women’s History Month, we solicited a guest post from an expert on women’s history. Julie Hemming Savage and her sister, Heidi Hemming, have recently had their book, Women Making America published. Check out their website…better yet, order the book!

The other day, I slumped into a comfy chair after getting my kids off to school and glanced through the Washington Post. I began reading an article about Michelle Obama showing up at a soup kitchen to help serve breakfast to the homeless. And suddenly, I was bawling. Really bawling. I was overwhelmed by the power of her gesture. A woman on the scene said, “It’s unbelievable for our guests that the first lady will be here. It reaffirms the notion they matter. That people care about them. For the most part, people ignore them. But today, arguably the most popular person in America is coming and shaking their hands. We tell them every day how much they matter. But coming from the first lady of the United States, that is a powerful statement.”

Wow. But why the bucket of tears? I believe it has everything to do with my love of women’s history. I couldn’t read about Michelle Obama without bringing along all the other historical gals that I know and love. Not only was Michelle so wonderfully Eleanor Rooseveltesque, but she wouldn’t have been there without the hard work of so many women who have gone before her.

Susan Anthony once said, “Young people think that all the privileges, all the freedom, all the enjoyments which women possess always were hers. They have no idea of how every single inch of ground that she stands upon today has been gained by the hard work of some little handful of women in the past.”

I’ve spent the last six years writing about America’s women with my sister Heidi. We just published a history entitled, Women Making America. What we hope that readers, young and old, will take away from our book, is that what they do and the choices they make every day really matter. It mattered that groups of women throughout the years got together to create playgrounds, start school lunch programs, and improve conditions in mental institutions, prisons, and hospitals. It mattered that Ida Wells carried on an anti-lynching campaign amidst tough opposition. It mattered when Iris Rivera refused to make coffee for her boss. And it matters what you and I do today.

This is one of the primary lessons I have learned from studying women’s lives. I am the maker of my own history. I have scores of women standing behind me reminding me of how much I matter. And coming from such a phenomenal bunch, that is a pretty powerful statement.

Julie Hemming Savage

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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9 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Julie, this is wonderful! I too am sometimes struck to the point of tears by gestures like Michelle Obama’s.

    And I love that quote from Susan B. Anthony.

    Thank you!

  2. esodhiambo says:

    Love it!

  3. Lashley says:

    Thank you for your post. I recently finished the biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and had the same feelings. Even the small things struck me. I am so thankful that I’m not imprisoned in layers of crinoline, hoops, and corsets! Thank the radical foremothers and their bloomers.

  4. EmilyCC says:

    This makes me a bit misty. Thanks for sharing, Julie!

  5. Alisa says:

    I don’t have much to add other than a loud Amen. Thank you for reminding me what women can do even when we had such limited power. Think what we can do now we have more ways to have influence (we can vote, for example). What a wonderful, positive thought!

  6. Kirsten says:

    Julie,
    Thanks for the post. I recently bought your book and have thoroughly enjoyed it. However, the best thing has been watching my 13 year old daughter pick it up and learn about those amazing women who have made her choices possible. She keeps saying, “Wow, I didn’t know that!” I’m glad that she’ll be further along in her own history than I was at her age. Thanks to you and your sister for all of your research and work.

  7. Steph says:

    There are a lot of women who do just this without the fan fare and photo opps. It is these women that I choose to focus my daughters attention to. There are many great women who will never show up in history books who give of them selves in amazing ways everyday. They make a a huge difference to those around them without ever seeing the results or receiving the accolades. Sometimes I think we fail to notice these people in the need to have someone of promance recognize us. Not to belittle what Mrs. Obama did but I am sure there are many that go unnoticed even by those who are served.

  8. Julie says:

    Thanks ladies, for your great comments–they resonated with me in many ways. Lashley, I’m first in line to visit Ms. Stanton when I die. She had visions for women that haven’t come to pass even still. I had such fun writing about her in the book. Kirsten, I am so grateful for your post and the thought of your daughter taking in the stories in the book. I can only believe that that kind of knowledge will strengthen our girls in ways we can’t even imagine. And Steph, I agree that most women’s work goes by without fanfare. That’s why we wrote this book. The famous women are there, but they are not the focus. We wanted to shed light on the lives of all the women in American history. Our own mom is in there with her kids and her laundry. She did a lot of laundry in the 1970s, and she finally got some credit for it. I hope you’ll check out the book.

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