For many years our nation's women fought
the damaged self-esteem that disrespect invites.
They overcame the odds - they nursed, they taught,
they came to advocate for other people's rights.
The women came as little more than slaves,
indentured servant girls among the waves
of immigrants. Both black and white were used
for sex and toil, and oftentimes abused.
Equality invaded the frontier,
where woman, same as man, would persevere,
but elsewhere she was reckoned to be pure,
submissive, reading little to ensure
her lower class, and homely - all advice
from those who felt tradition would suffice,
like Jefferson and Franklin. Lacking votes
and property, the best in petticoats,
but most confined to "horse's druggery,"
or spinning cotton (spinsters): dust, debris,
and smoky oil for sixteen hours a day.
Against the greatest odds they found a way
to counter the injustice of their time,
to educate themselves in ways sublime:
they battled poverty, they taught, they nursed,
they fought for children's rights. And they reversed
(in part) the sexist thought. And they'd persist:
like Dorothea Dix, an early feminist,
who challenged heads of hospitals - they clashed
about asylum inmates chained and lashed.
And Frances Wright, who fought for birth control.
Sojourner Truth, who bared a tortured soul
with thirteen children sold as slaves, endured
"a mother's grief, and none but Jesus heard."