“By ‘matriarchy,’ we mean a non-alienated society: a society in which women (those who produce the next generation) define motherhood, determine the conditions of motherhood, and determine the environment in which the next generation is reared.” — Barbara Love and Elizabeth Shanklin
As I mentioned last week, I have designated May: Matriarch’s Month. One day in May is not sufficient enough to show our gratitude toward the mothers who have fearlessly carved paths for other mothers who otherwise, would not have found their own sense of freedom.
There are certainly a number of notable “matriarchs,” like Gloria Steinem, Mother Theresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Indira Ghandi, whose names have become increasingly recognizable (and rightfully so) over the years. But how about the other unsung “matriarchs” among us, like Ruth Nadal, the 98-year-old woman I met in Washington, D.C.? There are plenty of amazing, powerful matriarchs in our midst, who ought to be celebrated (posthumously or not) this month. But who are they?
I decided to answer this question by creating my own list of matriarchs whose names and personal stories need to be heard. Here are three so far:
Ms. Jibrell founded an agency, “Horn Relief,” to help families suffering from famine due to Somalia’s civil war. She has pioneered education for girls of mobile nomadic families and is campaigning to abolish female genital mutilation in Somalia’s northeastern state of Puntland.
In Rwanda, in 1994, eight million people were killed and half a million women were raped. Two million were driven from their homes. After the massacre, Violette and her children laid on the floor of a church pretending to be dead. Violette never found her husband in the aftermath, and she struggled to support her children. She couldn’t pay for school, food or medicine.
In 2004, Violette joined the year-long Women International program, and was matched with a sponsor sister in the United States. Though the program, she learned job skills and leadership. Her life changed. She now has a home. She became a businesswoman and has even hired other women to work with her. What’s more, Violette started a crafts cooperative and is now helping to foster reconciliation in the world.
I was honored to meet Violette in 2007, when I visited Rwanda with the Women for Women organization.
Connie Douglas Reeves (September 26, 1901- August 16, 2003):
I would have NEVER heard about this feisty cowgirl had it not been for my own mom, another feisty cowgirl who tries to emulate Connie Reeves on a daily basis. Here is what the authors of Wikipedia had to write about her: She was the oldest member of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, and one of the first women to study law at a Texas law school.
Reeves was born in Eagle Pass, Texas. She received her undergraduate degree in speech from Texas Woman’s University. She enrolled in the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, but the economic conditions of the Great Depression forced her to withdraw and seek work to help her family. Reeves taught high school in San Antonio and worked part time as a riding instructor at a local stable. She had always been around horses, and was quoted as saying that she sat on a horse before she could sit up by herself. In 1936, she joined the equestrian program at Camp Waldemar in Hunt. It is estimated that she taught 30,000 girls how to ride at the camp.
Reeves met her husband Jack at the camp and the couple married in 1942. They managed a 10,000 acres (40 km2) sheep and cattle ranch for more than forty years when camp was not in session. Jack Reeves died in 1985.
She was elected to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1997, and rode in the parade to honor the Hall when it moved to new headquarters in Fort Worth in 2002. She was over 100 years old at the time.
In 2003, Reeves died from injuries suffered when she was thrown from her horse. She had been injured several times in the last few years of her life, including having been kicked by the same horse, resulting in a fractured thigh.
Her autobiography, I Married a Cowboy: Half Century with Girls & Horses at Camp Waldemar, was published in 1995. Her motto was, “Always saddle your own horse.”
Who are the matriarchs you would choose to honor? Please share!