Careers for Women: When It’s Your Turn to SPEAK OUT

Since our founding, we have believed in speaking out about causes relating to equality in the work place, and this article, originally published in 1979, addresses that ethos. 

When It’s Your Turn To SPEAK OUT

by David W. King
Originally published in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner
, December 13, 1979

            They marched in small rows in my grandmother’s day. And for short distances. Her name was Marie Louise Arthur: “Molly” to her husband; “Mama” to her children. My generation never met her, my mother’s mother, but we all knew of her.

We were proudly shown the reprint from the newspaper, with the photograph of her ten children pyramided in front of her: one of them my mother, the uncles and aunts. The story was almost too faded to read, but it was fun to see what Aunt Gladys looked like at age 22, and Uncle Dave – the baby – at age three. And all the others in between, except for Uncle Eddie, who hadn’t been born yet. The story was framed and proudly hung on a wall in our living room. She even made the cover.

“The New York World Magazine and Story Section” was dated August 16, 1914, and a crowd of fifty marchers must have been a pretty big deal in those days – in the days before a demonstration was a demonstration. I imagined all 50 to be just like grandmother: big-bosomed, dresses to the ankles, and all with hair piled on top of their heads like dark brown popovers.

It was long ago when I first heard the family story about the man who tossed a beer on my grandmother as she walked in her parade, and how she stopped and faced him just long enough to say, “That will not stop us. Nothing will stop us!”

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I was so young when I heard the story, I didn’t even ask why he had fizzed the beer, or why she was walking in a parade, or why the man wanted her to stop.

Besides, the point of the story was the way she had handled the man. I remember the pride in my mother’s eyes while she described the regal dignity of this imposing, Germanic-looking woman whose photograph still stares back at any one who stands close enough to read the article framed on the wall.

When I first heard the story, I thought a “Suffragette” was someone who suffered.

I could stare at that woman’s face forever and never understand what really happened that day. I know the man didn’t hate her, because he didn’t throw a rock. And, if he didn’t want to hurt her, what did he want? What was the meaning behind that puny gesture? And how did he feel when she looked into his eyes? Did he look back, or did he look away? Did he think about it the next day? Did he ever tell a single soul for the rest of his life? Did he ever forget what he must have seen in the mirror of my grandmother’s eyes?

“That will not stop us. Nothing will stop us!”

She marched for the right to vote, and a man sprayed her with beer. A man she never knew shook up his beer at this woman whom I never saw or knew either, and in the insult of an alcohol mist, their eyes met, probably just long enough for her to have her say. Then they each went their own ways, continued their lives, disappeared from each other’s path, probably never saw one another again. Certainly, they never had the effect on each other that their moment together forever had on me.

I presume that after the 26th Amendment was passed, my grandmother went home and took care of all those kids until she died. Some of the kids have died since, as well. The only contact I ever had with my grandmother was through stories, and the last story was about that parade – only I realize now it was a march, not a parade.

In any case, when my daughter’s turn comes, I hope she does as well as her great-grandmother did.

And she will have her turn, just as each of us will have our own turn. Our chance to march in a parade, or to watch. Our chance to face a heckler and either look away, or to bite our lip, or to speak our piece. It’s part of the times – for all of us – and there’s no room in the back seat.

My mother said her mother taught her to not be afraid of making a scene. “Don’t let someone intimidate you into silence when you’re right,” said the woman with the popover-hairdo.

Strong words. Absolute words. Nothing tentative or uncertain about those words.

“That will not stop us. Nothing will stop us!”

Nothing did.

It is so unpopular to speak out on unpopular issues. It is no wonder that we become buried in our traditions, beneath “the way things have always been done.”

Ah, Grandma. Wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, you did all your work so well. I would have been proud to take a walk with you, anywhere.

August 16, 1914. Seems like that was only yesterday.