Feminist Grandmas

National Organization for Women Equal Rights Amendment Image : University of Florida Digital Collections

Every summer, my family takes a trip up to La Crosse, WI to see my grandparents on my mother’s side. They’re the nearest family I have to Chicago, so it’s a trip I always look forward to making. This time, my grandma recounted one of my favorite stories about her. It’s about how she went to college in 1967 as a mother.

My mom was born in 1965. My grandma was 21, and my grandpa only 19. Needless to say, my mother was not a planned child. My grandma did what was expected of young mothers at the time: she married my grandpa (they’re still married 52 years later) and she dropped out of college. She was halfway to a psychology degree and left it behind to be a stay-at-home mom. That only lasted two years. As the second wave of feminism was growing, my grandma wondered if she could go back to school. To hear her tell the story herself is hilarious. She always says, “I thought to myself, ‘I’m smarter than my husband, why is HE the one going to school?’” In 1967, they moved to La Crosse, WI, to be close to the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse campus.

My grandpa’s mother was outraged. She called my grandma selfish and irresponsible for leaving her daughter to be practically raised by babysitters, but my grandma didn’t budge. She graduated in 1970, nine months pregnant with her second child.

My grandmother was one of the many women who stood up to societal norms for the sake of their education and occupations, and it wasn’t easy.

My grandparents had to live in government housing for a few years, and her relationship with my great grandma was never the same, but it all paid off. My grandma’s college degree allowed her to get higher paying jobs, but most importantly, she was able to contribute to her family and her own life the ways that she wanted to.

So I’d like to take a moment to appreciate the feminist grandmas, the Ladies who took risks and upset the world around them in the name of equality. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to tackle the more in-depth and specific issues we are today. Our feminist elders were far from perfect, but they are still the founders of this movement.

I look up to my grandmother for her courage in the face of adversity and for her love of learning. Even in her 70s, she’s the head of her local Democratic Party chapter, trying her best to make change where she can. It makes me proud to have my very own feminist grandma.

by Lillian Hermes