She was 9 years old when women were legally allowed to vote; I wish that I had asked her more about how that impacted her life, although I know it did greatly. She would go on to graduate from Union College just over 10 years later, when less than 4% of women in the U.S. would earn a college diploma. I imagine those numbers were far lower in southeastern Kentucky where she grew up. Instead of going on to teach in a city, she rode a horse miles into the foothills of Appalachia and began teaching in a one room school house. Many of her classmates would go on to take higher paying and more prestigious jobs, but she knew from experience that the education was vital to overcoming poverty; she was truly “pro-life.” She believed that all children, regardless of sex, color, or financial background, not just those born into the right family or circumstances, deserved access to food, clean water, shelter, and an education. Over a career that spanned more than 40 years, she taught hundreds, possibly thousands, of children in a rural Appalachian community. Many of them would go on to overcome poverty themselves by becoming teachers, doctors, and even legislators. This teacher was Rose Garland Cole, and she was my great grandmother.
Every day I have something to be grateful for, but tomorrow I’m very grateful for the opportunity to vote in the Presidential election. I’m sure that my great grandmother would have been able to vividly recall the day that women became legally allowed to vote. I don’t doubt that day impacted her decision to attend college, and influenced her to spend her life in education. She didn’t pursue education for glory, money, or fame, but instead to change the lives of others. Teaching five days a week for almost 40 years wasn’t enough for her. She taught Sunday School for over 35 years and even taught several groups from President Johnson’s “Happy Pappy” program which provided education and on-the-job employment training for unemployed fathers in Appalachia.
Teachers are among the most under appreciated public servants; the pay is low and the stakes are often high, but you will have the ability to impact the life of another person, thus influencing their children and their children’s children. Teachers face the reality that not every child will walk through their classroom door as equals, but a good teacher seeks to balance the scales.
I feel that the same sentiment should resonate with our political leaders too.
My great grandmother taught in a school where most of the kids were poor, but some weren’t as poor as others. Children often came to school in tattered clothes with half-empty lunch boxes. She didn’t have money to help all the children, but she did have the ability to educate them. The education that she offered them often led to jobs that would help feed and clothe them. She saw this as a way to break the cycle of poverty and despair that typically enveloped many communities across the nation.
My great grandparents were poor farmers; a rusty cow bell sits on my downstairs mantle to remind me how far my family has advanced in just a few generations. This is due in no small part to the efforts of my late great grandmother, and the changing opportunities for women in the early 1900’s, including a woman’s lawful right to vote.
Regardless of how you feel about Hillary Clinton, November 8, 2016 is a landmark day for women; for the first time in history we will have the ability to cast our vote for a female President representing a major political party. A century ago Mrs. Clinton wouldn’t have been able to vote, and just like Susan B. Anthony, would have been arrested at the poll.
On November 8, 2016 I will #WearWhiteToVote, and it won’t necessarily be to support any particular candidate. I will #WearWhiteToVote to remember the women suffragettes who fought for my right to vote and for my great grandmother who was born into a world where she couldn’t. Hopefully, November 9th will move us further forward; the gaps in gender inequality will be decreased, saying you’re pro-life means more than just giving someone the opportunity to be born, and where everyone has an equal opportunity for hope and prosperity, just like my great grandmother hoped for her students.
Will you #WearWhiteToVote? If so, who do you wear it for?
My great grandmother and I in the late 1980’s.