Monday, June 11, 2012

In Honor of a Brave Woman

I meant to post this on June 3rd, in honor of what would have been my grandmother's 109th birthday. (I was thinking it would have been her 110th, but I'm off by a year).  I have more history on her, but given the times we are in, I felt this would be a nice little introduction.

My grandmother, born Juanita (June) Catherine Bose,, was the only girl in a small Nebraska farming family. Born into a male dominated household, her father felt that educating a girl was frivolous. Education was for boys. However, my grandmother adored school and endured some tremendous difficulties to get to the local one-room schoolhouse.

Born in June of 1903, she was the only daughter and was very talented in math and science, as evidenced by her calculus homework from the 5th grade. Each morning, before she could go to school, she had to complete her household and farm chores. She often had to wait for her brothers as well, because she was not allowed to ride the horse by herself until she was much older.

My great-grandfather was a very autocratic taskmaster. All three children endured severe whippings in the woodshed for even minor infractions. Grandma was not allowed to have her candles lit past a certain hour. She would often get up late at night, after she was certain her parents were asleep, to complete her studies. She was a voracious reader her entire life, even though near the end of her life her eyesight had significantly worsened.

Upon her death I discovered a lot of her homework. Her elementary school math papers had scores of 98% on the low end, with the majority at 100%, for math problems that only college students see now. (And today's college students do not do these problems without a calculator at hand). Her report cards rarely showed a final score of less than 95% in any subject, and never below 90%. I also located letters from her former schoolteacher; they had kept in touch all of their lives. Miss Selma had remained in Nebraska, but had written to my grandmother on a regular basis. It was a very long-lived friendship. Grandma’s younger brother, Hop, visited Selma during a family reunion several years ago. Miss Selma was over 100 at the time, but was very lucid and spoke glowingly about my grandmother’s scholastic abilities.

Grandma went back to high school in her late 30’s and graduated as valedictorian around her 40th birthday. This was during the 1940’s and before my father completed his own high school education. She never did explain why she didn’t go onto college herself, but she made sure my father had at least some college education.

My mother holds a degree in teaching, which my grandmother helped make possible, and insisted we went on to college. After my sister dropped out of college, my grandfather wasn’t sure if I would finish college and refused any financial assistance. Grandma overrode him from time to time and helped me out with my college tuition or books. I was the only one of her grandchildren to have her present during their college graduation. It was 104° in the shade that day and she was dressed to the nines, as usual. She told me much later that it was one of her proudest days. Grandma was thrilled that my mother, sister and I had better educational opportunities that she had. And she was very proud of the fact that all of her grandchildren had been to college.

My sister followed my grandmother’s example and went back to school to finish her Bachelor's degee in her mid-30’s. She graduated before she turned 40; I know that grandma was there in spirit. My brother and I both graduated from the same college and with the same degree. Grandma was not physically able to attend my brother’s graduation, but she had wanted to go very badly.

I had learned a lot from Grandma about her own educational woes when I lived with my grandparents, off and on, throughout my undergraduate career. She traveled several miles, often in extreme weather, to attend school. Grandma was definitely born too early. With her math and science skills, she probably would have obtained a doctorate in Math or Computer Science had she been born in the 1950’s or 1960’s.

Grandma was always very interested in my math and computer classes. I taught her how to use my programmable calculator and she thought it was the most amazing thing ever created. Even into her late 80’s my grandmother insisted on keeping her books by hand, insisting that the manual task kept her mind sharp.

My father moved back home to help my grandparents after my grandfather had a heart attack. One weekend while I was “grandparent-sitting” I showed Grandma how to play Solitaire on his computer. She had never used a computer before, but eventually got the hang of using a mouse. She never did ask to use the computer though, after all it wasn’t hers, but she did have fun when I’d put her on it. She was always amazed at what such a small device could do.

Grandma had seen women go from not having the right to control their own biological destinies and voting rights to walking in space. She was a silent pioneer for Women’s education. If our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had not insisted on being educated, allowed to vote, or have any number of other advantages, I would not be who I am today. I would definitely have had an extremely difficult time getting into an MBA program, if I’d even been allowed to apply. My grandmother is my hero because she did what she had to in order to get the education she yearned for. I can only hope to be such a role model for other young women.

And I really hope today's young women understand how some of them are undermining what women like my grandmother fought so hard for.