A New Generation

November 2, 1896
Anna Cushing

It was curiosity which led me to the back alley staircase. My discovery was by accident or at least it seemed that way. I was standing on the sidewalk waiting for my roommate, Victoria to collect a dress she had ordered. At first I was barely paying attention but after several minutes I began to notice there was an unprecedented number of women turning down into the alley. They were cautious, looking about themselves as though afraid they might have been followed and then in a dash they would disappear in the shadows of the alleyway.

I might well have ignored it were it not for the fact I recognized some of the women as fellow students. My mind entertained a number of possibilities, all of which I knew without doubt were false. So, without waiting for Victoria I crossed the street and disappeared into the shadows.

Nervously, I watched as women arrived alone and in pairs. The all quickly descended a staircase and then I would hear the opening and closing of door. Some of them looked curiously at me before descending but most ignored me entirely, which felt strange. Obviously they were worried about being spotted by someone but clearly I appeared to be no threat.

I decided I had to descend the stairs myself and find out what was beyond the door. Stepping carefully to the stairs and grabbing hold of the rail, my heart nearly stopped when a voice I recognized spoke to me.


Calming myself I turned to find not only Sarah, but Elizabeth, Penelope, Margaret and Miss Bowen as well. I felt as though my mother had just caught me sneaking an extra lump of sugar into my tea, although I cannot say precisely why. I had done nothing wrong, unless pursuing a curiosity is wrong.

“It’s all right. You are not in trouble.” Miss Bowen said.

I hardly respect Miss Bowen authority to determine whether my actions mean trouble or not, but it was a relief to know there would be no argument this day.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“To be honest, we aren’t quite sure.” Penelope answered.

“We have these notes.” Margaret said, holding one up.

“Do you know what this about?” Elizabeth asked.

“No, I saw a number of women coming down this alley and I was curious to see what is going on.” I said.

“Let us find out then.” Sarah said.

She started down the stairs at a rapid pace. The rest of us followed.

Inside, the basement room was packed with women and only women. There was not a man in sight. It occurred to me, I have never before seen so many women together without men. There was chattering but it sound of the nervous kind. Everyone was waiting for something and to one side there were some extra lights and a few crates pushed together creating a makeshift stage.

Sarah moved toward the stage and the lights. We followed her, keeping close together. As we came to a stop an older woman stepped out of the shadows and smiled at us. She was dressed in a white blouse and long black skirt, her graying hair was mostly hidden by a red scarf tied around her head. She stepped up onto the stage and the room fell silent.

She cleared her throat and began to speak.

“Thank you all for coming. I know how difficult it is to be here. You worry about your husbands, your fathers, or your guardians, however you call them, the men in your lives. If they knew you were here, what would they do? What would they say?

You are afraid, but we cannot live in fear. You are here today because you know that simple truth. You are here because you think for yourselves, because you believe yourself as capable as any man, because you are ready not to ask but to demand equality.

This is the path of my life. From the time I was a small girl first allowed to attend school I dared to dream of a world in which I was not allowed to learn because a man said I could but because I had the very fundamental right to it. No woman should have to dream in secrecy and beg for a man’s approval of her heart’s desires. We are not furniture, but living breathing entities and we are entitled to the same rights as the Constitution affords the men of this great nation.

I believe in this, but despite decades of prodding for the realization of my dreams, they have not come to pass. But, there are new dreamers in this room today. I have been watching and I have seen courage from women as men would say belongs solely to them. I have seen strength of will, bravery, selflessness, camaraderie, and brazen defiance in the face of overwhelming defeat. My generation has failed to produce the change in the attitude of men that we set out for, but it would seem we have not failed to pass on this fight to our daughters.

I see before me today a new generation of women who are ready to take this fight forward. Some will lead, others will follow and others still will work from the shadows, to bring forth a single coherent message. We are not window dressing in the home, we are not beds or couches or stoves, we are women and we are strong.”

The old woman paused for a moment to catch her breath. She sipped beer from a mug and for just a moment I wondered how much beer she had drank before stepping up to speak. As quickly as the thought came, I sent it away again. This woman did not need liquid courage to stand her ground and speak. She only needed her voice and a box to stand upon.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Ashley, this is very good.
Warm hugs,