In the past several weeks, I have had a couple of women credit me as influencing them at some point in their lives. In one instance, a high school girlfriend told me that I was one of the first "progressive" people she had met. She reminded me that as someone who grew up in a Navy family, she had never been around anyone with progressive ideas. The second instance was a chance encounter with a former colleague in a restaurant. We had worked together almost 30 years ago. She was ebullient, reminiscing of our working days together. Then she said--"you were one of the first women I knew who had everything--career, family and home--and kept it all balanced. I really admired that."
Well, I had no idea that I served as such a role model. But these encounters made me reflect on the women who had been my role models.
I grew up with strong women. Among the missionaries were three types of people--at least so classified by my childish brain--men who were married, women who were married, and women who were not married. I didn't know it at the time, but these women were going against the norm of the bland 1950s.
In an era when women were largely defined by being married and having children, these women were different. My guess is that for a good number of them, they might have wanted to be married but were not asked. They redirected their lives--they went to college, became teachers, nurses, doctors, administrators. I don't doubt that some of these women also heard God's call and decided to go into mission work. Perhaps they were asked to marry but when they learned the man asking wanted to stay on the farm, or wherever, these women demurred. They believed their lives held a different path and purpose.
As a young girl, I had a favorite missionary "aunt" (we missionary children called all women aunts) who was a registered nurse. I adored Rhoda. It seemed she could do everything. Having never married, she had an independent career. She was not all work--she could also knit, smock, tat--she knitted various sweaters and smocked dresses for me. When my sister died (written about previously), she helped other women line a simple wooden coffin with fabric.
One time, on the mission station in then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), someone brought a dog to her. The dog had been in a nasty fight with another dog--and its side had been ripped open. Rhoda operated on the dog, stitching it up. My recollection is that, in spite of the heroic effort, the dog did not survive.
When my parents were moved to another mission, this time in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Rhoda was also there. She was the sole medical provider in the small mission clinic. She delivered many African babies--and, given the quasi-colonial atmosphere of the times, she would sometimes allow me to name the babies.
I do remember one specific medical emergency. The mission station was near a major road, and one night word came that a bus had overturned. There were multiple injuries. As the only medical provider, Rhoda was the one who worked to remedy the severe injuries--crushed limbs, crushed bodies.
The marvelous role models of strong independent women who made their mark in the world through their vocations greatly influenced me. I never doubted that I would go to college, that I would have a career. While I certainly hoped to find a life mate, and to have children, the example of these women helped me know that my personal definition did not come only from being someone's daughter, wife or mother. I could be a strong woman in my own right.
Brief addendum: my best role model of a strong woman has always been my mother--some day, I will have to write about her.