The History Of Our World

November 13, 1896
Sarah Waters

“It has come to my attention that some young women here believe they should have the right to vote alongside men.” Mr. Bard said.

I noticed Caroline Birchwood shift uncomfortably in her seat and felt a twinge of sympathy for her. She had endeavored on her own to do that which I and my new friends had succeeded, vote. Everyone knew she had been caught, arrested and dragged before the Judge to face penalties and further we knew her husband, our music teacher, had paid the fine without complaint and left with her smiling on his arm. Mr. Birchwood is a difficult man to know, but the incident with Caroline causes me to believe he is more friend than foe.

“Therefore, our esteemed Dean has requested I remind you of why women are not the equals of men.” Mr. Bard continued, “ There are of course the physical difference between men and women as designed by our Lord and Creator. Women’s bodies are obviously for the continued population of our species. In these regards a woman’s body is sacred, but she was not provided the strength or endurance to protect or defend herself. Men provide this role. Just as the woman’s body is dependent upon the man for protection so is her mind. The female brain is designed to nurture and teach the young but it lacks the necessary logic and reasoning to comprehend the political complexities of government which serves to protect us all.”

My father once told me, water always travels the path of least resistance and because it is one of the building blocks of life we as people are often inclined to do the very same. Of course that does not mean we are adverse to change, quite the contrary in fact, just as water will slowly erode a new path over hundreds of years, so shall people change the course of society. It was meant to be a lesson about patience, but then a man named Alfred Nobel invented something called dynamite.

Sometimes, you see, a new path is of such urgency you have to do a little more than wait for nature to take its course. Alfred Nobel understood that and he also understood that sometimes the path needing carving is not through the soft rock but instead straight through the hardened and entrenched rock. Those are the times you light a match to lead the way and plug your ears so as not to be dissuaded by the desperate cries for mercy in the face of inevitable and immediate change.

Dad said someday I would find my place in this world and Sam told me I was meant to change it. I think they might have been both saying the same thing and just now, I am starting to believe them. Suffice to say, Mr. Bard’s classroom seemed as good a place to light a match as any other. Patience and consequences be damned.

“Some of the greatest leaders in the history of the world have been women. I cannot believe you would dismiss them all as failing to understand the complexities of government. Nor would it seem appropriate to say they are unable to defend themselves.” I said.

Mr. Bard was not amused. He scowled at me like a naughty schoolgirl.

“I do not recall giving you permission to speak, Miss Waters.” He said.

“You did not and I would not ask you for it.” I replied.

“In my classroom you will pay me the respect I am due. In this room, I decide who speaks and who does not.”

“Then I shall await you in the corridor to discuss the fallacy of your grandiose statements.”

I pushed my chair back and stood as if to leave. The girls around the room were staring at me with a mix of horror and delight. I curbed my impulse to smile and kept my lips flat. I heard another chair scrape on the floor behind me.

“I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m with Sarah. If we cannot debate in civil fashion the merits of our sex then this classroom holds no lessons worth learning.” Anna Cushing said.

It took only a moment. Every girl in the room was on her feet. Most were smiling at the liberating feeling of standing up against oppression. I felt a surge of pride but did my best to keep it at bay. This was not the time nor the place for gloating. No battles had been won.

“Sit down. All of you.” Mr. Bard ordered.

“Why should we?” I asked.

Our eyes met across the room. He was scared. I was emboldened. The truth was laid open between us and while I will likely always see him as a small man, I must grant him some credit for his courage.

“If everyone will just sit down, we will discuss Miss Waters’ views.” He said.

All eyes turned to me. I think they expected me to march out the door, but it was in truth never my goal. I had wanted him to blink and now that he had, it was my turn to be gracious. I sat down in my seat and turned my attention back to Mr. Bard. Slowly, reluctantly, the girls followed my lead.

“Now that everyone has stretched their legs, are we ready to continue?” Mr. Bard said.

The classroom remained silent.

“Good. Now Miss Waters, you say some of the greatest leaders in history were women. Please identify some of these to whom you refer.” He said.

“Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Catherine II of Russia, and Queen Victoria of England.” I said.

“Cleopatra? An interesting choice to be sure, the woman responsible for the downfall and end of the Ancient Egyptian Empire. She was in fact so overwhelmed by the disasters she wrought that in the end the woman killed herself.” Mr. Bard said.

“The downfall of Egypt was assured long before she became the final Pharaoh. It was through her actions and alliances with Rome that Egyptian culture survived at all. She took the time to learn the language of her people, something no Pharaoh had done in over 100 years before her, so that she could understand for herself their needs and concerns. In my estimation, that is a great leader.” I responded.

“Your views are clearly tainted by your sex, but let us continue. Joan of Arc. If the stories are to be believed, she was a mere messenger from God. It is not to belittle God’s choice of a girl to carry his message but it was the power of God which lifted her above men, not the power of womanhood.” Mr. Bard said.

“God chooses a girl to lead in a time of war and you think he simply overlooked her gender? She gave hope to the French at a time when it was crucial and restored their faith as it was failing. God may well have been responsible for all that she did but is he any less responsible for the acts of any of us?” I said.

Mr. Bard appeared as if he would like nothing more than to beat his idea of sense into me.

“I will concede that their have existed women who have defied their station in life, but surely you have noted that they all end in death and destruction.” Mr. Bard said.

“Surely you would not call Queen Victoria dead or Britain in the throws of disaster?” I said.

“The Queen knows her place and relies on men for what they know best.”

“I believe she might take offense at your suggestion that she does not rule Britain.”

“Miss Waters you are but young and naïve.” Mr. Bard said.

“Perhaps, but I could as easily call you old and senile, though I shall not.”

Off in the distance the bell rang, ending our discussion and the class. Mr. Bard was boiling with anger but there was also relief in his eyes. I suppose there will come a day when I must face the consequences for my arguments but it is not this day.

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