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by William H. Benson

July 19, 2001


     Anna Quindlen, the “Newsweek” columnist, describes her defining moment as a mother when she walked into the pediatrician’s waiting room with two children under the age of five, and she herself was pregnant with a third.  She was miserable, hot, nauseated, and tired because her two kids had been up sick all night long.  And then she noticed it–a cross-stitched sampler nailed to the doctor’s wall that read: “God could not be everywhere so he made mothers.”  The emotions that she felt at that moment–incredulity and outright disgust, overwhelmed her physical ailments.

     She and others would concur that despite many very willing volunteers, motherhood in twentieth-century America is not an easy job.

     The author James Michener once suggested that he believed the hardest-working women in the world are American women.  Their job is not the demanding physical labor found elsewhere but is a much more complex occupation, working in public and cultural spheres that demands creativity and punctuality.  They must transport children to and from endless activities, maintain an above-average standard of personal attractiveness and mental alertness, and then emotionally support a husband, besides often hold down a full-time job in an office that they may enjoy. 

     Michener may have been right.  After all he observed women all over the world.  He should know.  However, reaction to his thoughts was mostly negative.  The mail indicated that women did not appreciate Michener’s flattering remarks, and he admitted later that he was astonished by their hostile reaction.

     In a similar vein, another very capable writer, H. L. Mencken, wrote an entire book, In Defense of Women, surprising everyone for his balanced and unbiased approach.  On any given subject, Mencken always attacked, but on this subject of women’s roles he defended the position that life forces upon women.  He was on their defense.

     He wrote, “Women always excel men in that sort of wisdom that comes from experience.  To be a woman is in itself a difficult experience because it consists chiefly of trying to get along with men.”

     What makes Mencken’s view even more confounding is that he was a bachelor when he wrote this.  In fact, he did not marry until much later, past his fiftieth birthday, and then five years later his wife died.  He never remarried.  He perceived much.

     On July 19, 1848 the first women’s rights convention ever met at Seneca Falls, New York, headed by Quaker women, including Lucretia Mott and the fired-up Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who immediately suggested that women should have the right to vote.  A more hesitant Lucretia Mott warned Stanton, “Thou will make us ridiculous.  We must go slowly.”

     All of the convention’s Declarations of Sentiments were passed as resolutions except number 9–women’s right to vote, but then after much debate and prodding by Stanton, it also passed.  A revolution is not won or lost in a few days or even in a few years.  Indeed, seventy-two years passed by before Congress passed the 19th Amendment, and women first voted in the presidential election that same year of 1920.

     Now that we are 225 years past the Declaration of Independence we can see that our republic has constantly and justifiably pushed the boundaries of liberty and equality under the law outward to include virtually everybody.  For a mother, however, the right to vote is one thing, but dealing with sick kids late at night is entirely another.

Of her defining moment Anna Quindlen commented, “If God made mothers because he couldn’t be everywhere, maybe he could have met us halfway and eradicated vomiting and colic, too, and the sugarcoating of what we (mothers) are and what we do that leads to false cheer and easy lies.”