Beginning in the 90’s, Billie began work on a personal history of women’s rights. A combination of essay, historical narrative and family yarn, this unpublished manuscript shows her commitment to both political and personal aims. While it might have turned out as polemic coming from a woman caught up in the movement to pass an Equal Rights Amendment — which transpired as she came of age as an independent professional woman — it instead reveals just as much of her deep sense of family honor and an abiding curiosity about her ancestry.
Far from being dismissive of the bondage — de facto and otherwise — that limited her grandmother and mother, she generously seeks out snips of lore that tell something of the quiet struggles many faced in small town Kansas at the turn of the century. She is also at great pains to chronicle the displaced peoples — native Americans — who were part of the story before her own life began in Arizona.
Now that she too is gone, I am reminded that there is still much work to be done. BusinessWeek reported in 2007 that “One year out of college, women working full time earn 80% percent of what men earn. Ten years later, women earn 69% percent as much as men.”
The ERA’s radical, simple notion that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” proved too controversial for Billie’s own state of Arizona, which was one of seven states never to have ratified it. The state was perhaps too young for big ideas, having been granted statehood only twelve years before Billie was born in the small mining town of Miami-Globe.
Family members have read or skimmed this work before, but I suspect didn’t give it the attention it may receive now that she is prevented from elaborating on some aspect that departed from current thinking on feminism.
As I reread it to post here, I was pleased to see that it reflected a steady writer’s hand and thoughtful analysis despite her oft-stated misgivings about the project.
She begins her essay:
I was born in 1924. The fight for women’s suffrage took place in the years
between my grandmother’s birth and my own. This book will present the
personal histories of my grandmother, my mother, and myself in our American family against the background of the history of women in the United States in their struggle to achieve equality.
The full manuscript is available. You can download the pdf from this post.
You may also want to read her personal history, which covers the period up to the birth of her first child in 1950.