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They are Suffragettes

It was a lovely Summer morning, the 14th of July in 1903. I was 12 years old and I felt as though it was up to me to change things in my small, traditional world. I remember the day in much detail. I remember the smell of fresh biscuits on the breakfast table, the taste of sweet berry jam on my lips, the sound of a newspaper crunching and shuffling in my father’s hands, the small drop of sweat on the back of my neck due to not just to the summer heat, but also to my long and thick layers of clothing. One detail in particular stands out the most in my mind when I return to this old memory.:The spot of red from blood on my mother’s white collar, dripping from her split lip.

My name is Anna Lawrence. I have lived in Boston, Massachusetts my entire life. I lived with my mother, father, and our house staff. Our family was quite rich, although Mother did not allow me to say rich, she would say that we were‘“well-off.” Because we were well-off, I had many nice things:. Pretty dresses, toys, and plenty of books. However, I could not seem to be bothered with these things very often, I had much rather listen to the topics of conversation between grownups.

I suppose it was not lady-like to eavesdrop into a conversation, but I could not seem to stop myself. In fact, that was the very thing that had caused such a ruckus that day.

“It is a shame of what the women of this century are turning into. Running in the streets, causing scenes, making disturbances. Completely barbaric! It is not what is to be done. I can not fathom how their families walk the street without shame.” Father says these things, in a gruff voice, while not once looking away from his morning paper. I assume he is reading the articles that are with the pictures of ladies wearing strange white sashes across their bodies. These have taken up the front page of Father’s paper more and more often.

Mother is silent for a moment, and then in a small voice she says, “I believe they are simply attempting to make things better. They do not seem barbaric, I rather think they are quite brave. They are simply acting as men have for many years, I think this makes them Suffragettes.” It was very surprising to hear something like this come from my mother. She had always been the perfect woman. Never talking back, always following proper manners, and above all else, she always respected father. Mother and Father had always loved each other very much. Much more than other marriages I had seen in my short life. They always complemented each other very well; Mother being quiet, well kept, and treating me as though I know more than most little girls, then there was Father who had a short fuse, loud voice, and always saw me as his little baby. You could tell by the look on Father’s face, a good mix of confusion, anger, and surprise, that he had not expected this from mother as well.

The tension is so thick that you could cut it with a knife. I know that while Mother is aware of my eavesdropping, Father did not seem to notice it. If he had, he would have not dared to speak of such thing in front of a child.

“What is a suffragette?” I could not keep the question contained inside me, and when it spilled off my tongue, I instantly could instantly see it was a mistake.

Some days I wonder what would have happened if small things had been changed. If I had been more lady-like and not eavesdropped onto other’s words. If Father had not felt to bring up the ‘barbaric’ women. If Mother had just once again decided to keep her eyes on her plate, her mouth shut, and her thoughts quiet. If I had simply been a good little girl and not asked questions that was of an adult matter.

Though, I suppose this is not the first time I realized that Mother and I are far more alike than Father and I. Mother, would tell me many stories when I was young about day to day life for both men and women. If I had questions she would answer them, and not in a way an adult would speak to a child but the way an adult would speak to a peer. She only did these things when we were alone. It was not proper for a lady to speak to a child about adult matters. However, I think you are only able to keep you head down, your mouth shut, and you thoughts quiet for so long. Mother and I broke that day, and it changed me for the rest of my life.

Father had folded his paper and said, “Anna, be a good little girl and go to your room.”

“But Father, I-” I barely had the words out of my mouth before they were shot down.

“Anna Lawrence, go to your room this instance!” Father said in a booming voice I had never heard before in my life. I did not dare to speak another word, so with my hands slightly shaking, I stood from my chair and left the room. Once I was in the hallway, and out of sight, I did not go to my room. No, I went to our drawing room, which only I knew was the perfect spot to hear every word that came from the dining room. I put my ear to the slight crack in the wall, not daring to even breath, I listened for what would come next.

“How dare you allow her to hear you speak such insolence. What would have happened if she had been in public and asked someone else what in the devil’s name a suffragette was? In all my years, Clara, I would have expected more from you.” Father said all this as though he were scolding me rather than Mother. He loves us very much, but like all other men in the world, he also loved our reputation. He and Mother both had worked hard to paint the picture of our life, to show people that we were where we are meant to be. The high-class part of society.

“Charles, it was you , not me, that brought up the issue in the first place. And what is wrong with Anna asking what a suffragette is? She needs to know things about this world so she can make the right choices when it comes time for her to be a woman and to decide what she wants to do with her life.” I could see in my mind’s eye that when Mother spoke such words to Father’s face, she did it with her head held high, eyes unblinking, and with confidence I rarely saw her show in the presence of others.

“My word, Clara! You sound like those barbaric women shouting in the streets, and what is this about what Anna choosing what she will do with her life? She will do as all women do. She will grow to marry a man that is a good match for her and have a family of her own.” The moment the words entered my ears I was hit was an anger I had never felt before. I always knew deep down, this is what was expected of my life. But hearing it out loud, it made me feel as if something was stolen from me before I had a chance to receive it.

“And who will decide what a good match is for Anna? You? Why should she have her whole life planned for her before she can become the person she is meant to be? And those women are not barbaric. They are trying to make a world in which our daughter can have some say in her life. So every woman can have some say in her life.” I could hear the same fire in Mother’s voice that I was sure Father could see.

“Now listen here, Clara! I will not have this kind of talk in my house! I will not stand for it. You will not speak of this matter again, especially in front of Anna.” Father was more than angry now. I quite feared of what was to happen next. But Mother did not back down.

“Or what?”

SMACK! I jumped when I  heard this noise. I knew Father had hit Mother, though I could not wrap my head around it. He never hit mother, but I could not deny facts that I was present for. I also heard a clang, and clatter after the slap. I assume that mother fell and hit some of the silver and knocked down a chair when after it happened. I counted the seconds, waiting for the next sound. First five, next twelve, and then twenty seven. Not one sound from Mother, Father, nor myself.

It was this moment I had gathered enough courage, from where I don't know, to go back in the dining room. I saw Mother on the floor, slightly drawing herself back up. Father was nowhere to be seen. When he had left, I had no idea. I went to Mother’s side and, with the most care, helped her to sit up. That's when I had a good look of her. Her beautiful, long, chestnut brown hair was falling out of it’s pompadour arrangement. Her morning gown was not properly seated. Her blue silk, lace trim, gored skirt that normally went down to the floor, was risen above her ankles all the way to her mid-shin. Her most favorite white, cotton, smart blouse was ruined by the drops of blood falling from her split lip. After all that, she simply stared at me and smiled her one of a kind smile. She held on to my shoulder and slowly stood from the floor. We made our way up the long staircase in what I expected to be ten minutes.

When we had got her to her room, she sat down at her vanity and tried to take her hair down. To fix it correctly, I suppose. I stopped her. I took her hair down, grabbed her silver handle brush and slowly brushed out the tangles that had made their way into her hair.

Next, I went to her water bowl and retrieved a small basin and wash cloth. I dampened the wash cloth with the water and proceed to clean Mother’s wound. Even with the brave face that she bore, I knew it smarted but did not once stop cleaning it, for risk of an infection.

After that, I went to her clothing chest and picked out another white blouse for her. This one was not as soft, but it would do. When I placed it in her hands, she did not put it on straight away as I expected her to do. Instead she looked at it for a moment and did nothing.

“Mother?” I said, only for the fact that it appeared she had stopped breathing for a moment. My voice, the first to speak since our retreat from the dining room.

She looked up at me, she seemed surprised that I was even there, as though she had not realised time had passed. It was a single tear that ran down the face that so resembled mine. I took the blouse from her hands and set it on the vanity table, and then hugged her and let her give way to tears that I now suspect had been hidden for as long as she had been quiet in her life. I'm not sure hold long it was until she stopped crying. A minute, an hour, longer? But they did.

“Anna?” She said my name with no sign of emotion. Still, I looked her in the eyes and saw all the emotion that was absent in her voice. Had that emotion always been there? Had it been hidden from the world until now? Or was I to blind not to see it?

“Listen to me very carefully. I want you to remember this. If you forget everything you have learned and will learn, I simply want you to remember this. Never let anyone tell you who you can or can not be. Do not let anyone take your future. Make your mark on this world. Make people remember you for something great. Please don't just let your life pass in fear. Do something. Change the world.” Mother did not once look away from my eyes when she said this. I understood what she wanted of me. She did not want me to live in a world of ‘barbaric women.’ She wanted me to live in a world of strong, brave women. To be one of those women. She had spent her whole life being told what to do, who to be, what to say, what not to say. She did not want this for me. To one day not be able to keep my thoughts to myself and the result being my own daughter having to clean the blood from my face.

I did as Mother told me. I never forgot her words. I lived by them, and for many years people thought of me strange, stupid, or mad for not being another lady with a family and being content with that alone for the rest of my days. No, I spent my life watching women demand for the opportunities that we deserved.

Without the words my mother gave me, I do not for one second believe that I would be here today. Sitting in the hospital’s maternity ward, holding my great-granddaughter. The year is 1962, and I have seen my own daughter, and granddaughter lead by my mother’s example. Telling each of them the words she told me. Watching each of them become strong women that never backed down from a world that told them at one time or another that they were just women. I look into the eyes of my great-granddaughter and I know for a fact she will hear those words as well. But I also know that she has the same look that I saw in my mother's eyes that day. I know she will be strong and will not leave this world until she can show it that a woman can be anything. Anyone.

Even a suffragette.

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