Sarah’s Diary Episode Thirty-Three

Jenny was anxious to see how students would react to the instructions that drove Harriett’s career. Could anger be a source of innovation? That’s what she wanted to explore.

“You may recall that Harriett led the challenge that got the Governor to open up state colleges and universities to women. Elizabeth became one of the first women to study at the state’s university. Mary followed a year later. Eventually Harriett would also be admitted to the University.”

“You would think that when Harriett arrived, things would be easier for women in attending higher education. But that was not the case for her. Harriett wanted to major in Agriculture. She was motivated by her earlier interest in the seed library she proposed. Initially she was told that she couldn’t pursue an agriculture major. When the University President discovered that she was the trouble maker who had the University open its doors to women, he told her she could study agriculture.”

“That was a short-lived victory. She was told to sit the back of each class and not ask questions. She was not given a partner for classroom projects. Her tests were harshly graded.”

“In what was uncharacteristic of Harriett, she dropped out of the University. This resulted from a discussion Harriett had with Mary’s benefactor, a wealthy woman who was also a social activist. At the time, the dominant women’s cause was the right to vote, but Mary’s benefactor saw that education access was just as important.”

“What Harriett did was to create a social movement to open access to higher education in every state. But this was just the start. The movement that Harriett began created a college women’s league on every campus. They were trained in how to bring about positive change for women. They opened majors that were formerly closed to women. They challenged discriminatory practices. They compiled lists of abusive faculty. They led boycotts of higher education institutions that were toxic to women students.”

“I stand in front of you today as a testament to what Harriett began. But I want you to reflect on the broader impact of Harriett’s work. She was an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and his practice of Satyagraha, which used civil resistance to achieve social ends. While the women’s suffrage movement got more attention, Harriett and her colleagues also made huge strides in the women’s movement.”

“What Harriett started became a model for the Civil Rights Movement, the fight for immigrant worker’s rights, and many other social justice movements. While Harriett never received her undergraduate degree, he was awarded many honorary doctorates in her life time.”

“Today women dominate the fields of law and medicine.”

“Again, I ask the question, was Harriett an innovator? And if you think she was, what role did anger play in her innovation spirit?”

* * *

“As women achieve power, the barriers will fall. As society sees what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.” – Sandra Day O’Connor (Supreme Court Justice)

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