The Littlest Feminist
My mother Mary turned five years old on April 5, 1919, one month before Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote.
She grew up the oldest girl, with seven brothers, on a Midwest farm, where, by 1919, the Great Depression had already begun. Thus, birthdays were celebrated with a homemade cake on a glass pedestal plate, but no gifts.
Until her fifth birthday. The sounds of the barnyard rode the wind into the house.
The birthday girl had only ever owned dresses made of flour sack prints. Never a coveted, store-bought frock. But you wouldn’t know it, the way she eased her fingers under the dress box lid. Serious as the line of bangs across her forehead, she lifted the lid, tossed it aside, and peeled back the folds of white tissue paper.
The light blue fabric matched her eyes and perfectly distinguished her raven hair. Where the rounds of white collar met, a dark blue scarf.
She took the dress by the shoulders, and held it high. Below the hemline, a ruffle of bloomers.
As if she’d grabbed a fist of thistles, she let the dress drop.
She jumped from the chair, turned on her heels, and walked off. “Pants,” she said, “are for boys.”
The morning after the Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton as their candidate for President of the United States, I checked the New York Times “Style” section to see what the fashion experts had to say about Hillary’s celebratory pantsuit. “Why Hillary Wore White,” by Vanessa Friedman, connects white to the suffragettes pictured in all white—dresses, hats, gloves, and banners reading “Votes for Women.” Ann Bauleke is a writer living in Minneapolis.