Why I Took My Daughters To Susan B. Anthony's Grave

by Anonymous
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Emily Cobb Henry

My dearest girlies,

I know you weren’t thrilled to go with me to the cemetery on Tuesday. You were hungry (we really should’ve stopped at Tim Horton’s before rather than after; sorry about that). You were frustrated about missing certain classes at school. You were annoyed by the long wait.

Emily Cobb Henry

In any case, I know this wasn’t how you wanted to be spending the morning, and I really appreciate you tagging along. I know you don’t understand the historical significance of being able to vote. I’m not sure that I really understand, to be honest. Even though I know it isn’t a right for everyone in the world and that I should be grateful, there are times when — admittedly — I forget. So I understand why going to that gravestone wasn’t high on your list.

But someday, I think it will mean more to you.

As you grow older and travel, meet more people, and learn new things, you’ll come to live the lessons you only heard about in school. You’ll see how people of color are treated differently. Heck, given that you are biracial, you’ll probably experience it personally. You’ll see how LGBTQ folks are mistreated and disrespected. You’ll see differently abled persons mocked and vilified and entire regions maligned even though our faith teaches us acceptance and love for all. The inequities and injustices of the world will blow your mind and break your heart.

I know that you do not — cannot possibly — fully understand these yet, which is why your dad and I are doing our best to help give you even smallest bit of perspective, from volunteering at homeless shelters to marching in Pride parades to making it a conscious effort to discuss race whenever we can.

I didn’t have any understanding of these things until I was much older, and I’m hoping to give you a different start. Maybe you’ll look back on all this stuff and groan with annoyance (okay, who are we kidding, this is so totally happening). But I also hope that maybe you will look back on it with, if not nostalgia, at least an indulgent understanding of why it meant so much to me, and what I hoped to accomplish.

As for why I took you with me to vote and then had you stand in line to see Susan B. Anthony’s gravestone on election day?

You moaned with annoyance, but I did it anyway. Because here’s the thing: I have no doubt that you will experience difficulties, setbacks, and roadblocks simply because you are women. You will, as every woman I have known, be harassed, demeaned, or — at the absolute minimum — significantly underestimated simply because you are female.

When that happens, I want you to be able to look back at moments like Tuesday. I want you to remember how you asked if you could wear a pantsuit in honor of Hillary Clinton, and were so keen to don the blazers I found at Goodwill yesterday (it seems pantsuits are difficult to come by for the 12-and-under set). I want you to remember how eagerly you got out of bed, so excited over the mere thought of a woman having the ability to become president.

I want you to remember how it felt when we exchanged smiles with the other women in their pantsuits at the polling place, members of a not-so-secret club. I want you to remember the woman who ran by every one of us in the more than hour-long line to see Susan’s grave, hand aloft, gleefully calling out, “High fives, everyone, high fives!” and how we all laughed and held our hands toward her. I want you to remember the beautiful fall day, the red leaves of the trees, and the feeling of electricity in the air. (I know you’ll remember the name Mary Smyles Butts on one of the tombstones; I’ll admit, it made me chuckle too.)

I want you to remember how we allowed the woman using the walker to bypass us, even though we had all waited in line, too, because her companion asked if we could let them through. And we did, every last one of us: because that is what we women do for one another — lift each other up, support, cheer. I want you to remember the woman ahead of us who stood for 60-plus minutes with the full bouquet of white flowers. But when she arrived at Susan’s headstone, she had only three blooms remaining — because she had given away the rest to those standing around her, including you and me.

I want you to remember how we practically skipped back down the cobblestone pathway, saying aloud in hushed tones, “Do you really think she can do it?! (For the record: Remember, also, that we did not want Secretary Clinton to become president solely because she is a woman; we had many other reasons. But the woman thing is exciting as hell.) That it is even a possibility for a woman to come this far is because of the efforts of women like Susan B. Anthony, and we owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for our hope and optimism.

Emily Cobb Henry

The simple answer is I brought you to the cemetery so you could pay respects to the women who came before you. I brought you so you can have a better understanding of our past — which, I hope, will give you a better understanding of our future.

More immediately, I brought you so that you would believe. Not necessarily in a Hillary Clinton presidency, but in yourself as women. I brought you so that when you doubt yourself because you’re a girl, when you’re told that you can’t because of your chromosomes, when you’re disrespected for being female — maybe even by our president-elect — you will remember the line of people stretching for ages, sharing high-fives and flowers and letting those who were struggling cut ahead, to honor a woman who risked everything simply so we could have a say — a say! You will remember a world beyond your own, and that we are all connected.

Although Hillary did not end up becoming our president, that she made it this far, that this actually happened, is absolutely, astonishingly wonderful. Because if a woman was able to come this close to being the president of the United States, then you, my dears, can truly do whatever you set your hearts on. And that is something worth celebrating and waiting in line for, regardless of the election result.

Yes, Hillary lost. I’m devastated and, quite frankly, terrified for our country (but that’s another post). I’m heartbroken that you, my courageous, loving, kind, intelligent, wise daughters still do not live in a world where a woman has become president. But we’ve seen it on election day, and every day: Women are brave. Women are strong. Women help one another. Susan and Hillary didn’t give up and neither will we. If not this year, another. We’ll fight together to make it so.

I brought you to the cemetery so you will remember that it only takes one woman to change the world. Her name is Susan. Her name is Hillary.

And her name is yours, too.



Emily Cobb Henry

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