By: Caleigh Joyce
As I search for inspiration in my daily life my mind is immediately drawn to the women in my family. Their stories have been told to me my entire life, typically by other people, rarely by these women themselves, and when they do tell their stories it is always with a tone of “well what else did you expect me to do?”
“A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until she’s in hot water.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
My Grandma Nancy immigrated to New York from a tiny, remote farm village in Ireland. She saved up every cent she had and moved to Dublin when she was eighteen, spent a year working in the city, and then booked a ticket to New York, it was the first time she had ever left home. When she arrived in New York, it was completely overwhelming. She was staying with a very strict aunt, who was the only person she knew in America. She spent the first few weeks there walking up and down the streets of Manhattan searching for a job. This was made difficult by the heavy racism that existed towards Irish people in America at this time. Most businesses at the time had signs posted in in their windows saying, “Irish need not apply.” She finally found a position at a restaurant in a small corner of the city. By the time her first year had passed, she could never dream of leaving America. She spent the next decades starting a family with my grandfather and as she had found a love of taking care of people, she became a caretaker for the elderly, a job she had for the rest of her life.
My Grandma Bette was one of the first women to attend the University of Minnesota. She graduated with a degree in journalism. Using the motivation of the female workforce that emerged during World War II, she pushed into the man’s world of journalism refusing to take “no” for an answer. She wrote about the rising world of television, current events, and architecture. Using her new journalist badge and a large amount of pluck, she was able to talk her way into several once in a lifetime experiences. Once she even used her status as a journalist in Minnesota to crash Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco’s wedding. Another time she convinced a security guard to let her into Carnegie Hall when it was closed. She insisted that my grandfather, who was an architect, simply had to see it, and that they would not be leaving until he did. Defying the odds, and working with grit, luck, and perseverance is something that she still does today. She is currently 93, and is about to publish her memoir, A Lifetime of Luck and Pluck, the fifth book she’s written in the last decade.
My mother, Susan refused to pay attention to the boys at school who didn’t believe and didn’t want girls to be smart. She worked hard and proved them all wrong by growing up to attend Harvard. When she graduated, she started what was quickly a successful career in Boston and New York, and then went back home to Minnesota when I was born. After realizing she had way more energy than a sleeping baby, she started a financial consulting business. Again, deciding to ignore the boys who said that girls couldn’t be good at math, she successfully ran her financial business while raising two children. Now she uses her math skills for good, consulting for nonprofits and using impact investing to help change the world into a better place.
“Women have to harness their power—it’s absolutely true. It’s just learning not to take the first no. And if you can’t go straight ahead, you go around the corner.” -Cher
As with so many empowered women before them, the women in my family have a power that is quiet, but obvious. They don’t walk into a room demanding you notice their strength, but you see it with the way they walk anyway. My Grandma Bette, who just turned ninety-three still makes heads turn when she walks into a room.
I see so many women with stories of how other women in their lives have crossed great mountains without ever asking for praise for it and have become embarrassed when it is given anyway. But I think it is so important to acknowledge the odds that women have overcome in their daily lives, and throughout history.
As I look towards the future, I think of graduating college this spring, and heading out into the real world. Inspired by the injustice women, as well as people of color and LGBT people have faced for centuries, I am committed to fighting for equality and human rights, and hope to get a job where I can help to make a difference. I look back at the great women who have come before me and hope that the memory of their victories will empower me with all the strength and courage that has come before me.