Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Women and Their Heroes

When asked, most women will list as the people they consider as heroes men of great reknown, or their fathers or their grandfathers. Seldom do they mention another woman's name. I find this very odd.

I find this odd because so many of the great social, religious and governing accomplishments of the last five centuries have been due to the courage, dedication and leadership of some very outstanding women.

The reason your six year-old daughter is not working beside you in a coal mine or balancing on a narrow platform in a textile mill coughing in clouds of cotton fiber is because of the decades of struggle by a handful of people, most of whom are women. You have no reason to fear the bedlam and sheer Hell of a 19th century mental hospital where women with "nervous" disorders often wound up, because of the efforts of a remarkable woman. The reason you do not have 13 children and are old..old..old at the age of 35 is because of the fight for available birth control, considered a sin by men whom, I might add, wrote the book on sin.

And not the least, and maybe the most important, was that wonderful concept of government called "Suffrage" known to us..the beneficiaries of these great women's sacrifice and voting rights.

As for ordinary everyday heroes for women we might recall that in the 1960's the World Health Organization released the results of a study that showed 70% of the world's labor was being performed by women. I doubt if that has changed much.

So to all the young readers of this blog, (I am sure there are at least two), I am going to introduce you occasionally to some women who deserve to be remembered.

Margaret Fell

If you hate war or are black or have aspirations of church leadership you owe a great deal to Margaret Fell or Margaret Fox (1614 - 23 April 1702) a founder of the Religious Society of Friends. She is known popularly as the "mother of Quakerism", and considered one of the Valiant Sixty early Quaker preachers and missionaries.

Born Margaret Askew in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, England, she married Thomas Fell, a barrister,(lawyer) in 1632, and became the lady of Swarthmore Hall. After her husband's death in 1658, she retained control of Swarthmore Hall, which remained a meeting place and haven from persecution for the embryonic Quaker movement. She subsequently married George Fox, a founder of the Quakers. It is doubtful that he or his movement would have survived without her support.

Her formal petitions to King Charles II and his parliament in 1660 and 1662 for freedom of conscience in religious matters can arguably be the forerunner to the submission later signed by George Fox and other prominent (male) Quakers stating their case that, although Friends wished to see the world changed, they would use persuasion rather than violence towards what they regarded as a "heavenly" (i.e. spiritual) end.

In 1664 Margaret Fell was arrested for failing to take an oath and for allowing Quaker Meetings to be held in her home. She defended herself by saying that "as long as the Lord blessed her with a home, she would worship him in it". She spent six months in Lancaster Gaol, whereafter she was sentenced to life imprisonment and forfeiture of her property. She remained in prison until 1668, during which time she wrote religious pamphlets and epistles. Perhaps her most famous work is "Women's Speaking Justified", a scripture-based argument for women's ministry, and one of the major texts on women's religious leadership in the 17th century. There is no argument that her writings are greatly responsible for the Friends' stance that all souls, mens' and womens' are equal with equal rights and responsibilities.

Surviving both husbands by a number of years, she continued to take an active part in the affairs of the Society well into her eighties. In the last decade of her life, she firmly opposed the effort of her fellow believers in Lancashire to maintain certain traditional Quaker standards of conduct (for example, in matters of dress). She died aged 88.


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