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A Proper Young Lady
I watch in horror as my mother’s favorite wine glass with gold edging slips from my grasp. I make a wild swooping action to catch it, but the valuable antique continues to plummet through the air. It reaches the floor with a crash. The glass shatters into a million pieces.
I recall the old memory of dropping my mother’s glass with a shudder. I wonder if this scrape I’m in can possibly be any worse than that one was.
I sit at the dinner table, my head bent down, to hide my guilty eyes. The meal on my plate sits untouched. I push it around with my fork to make it appear that I ate something. Suddenly, my mother pipes up.
“Sara, what have you been doing all day? I’ve noticed that you haven’t sewn a single stitch since yesterday morning.”
This is going to be a tough one.
My father glances up from his dinner and frowns.
“Sara…” he warns.
I try to speak and find myself at loss for words. I clear my throat and begin again.
“Well, you see…” I say nervously.
My father interrupts.
“Get to the point, Sara.” I look at the floor, take a deep breath, and prepare for the worst.
“I was studying.”
“Your sewing skills?” my mother genuinely inquires. I bend my head even farther down.
“No.” I whisper. My cheeks are hot. I can feel them reddening.
“What were you studying, Sara?” my father asks. He already sounds angry.
“I was studying to go to medical school.” I mutter under my breath.
“What did you say??” My father is almost shouting by now.
“ I said that I was studying to go to Medical School!” I whisper more clearly. My mother gasps. Father’s face turns red with fury. He stands up and screams across the room.
“Sara Ann Harrison! You will never become a doctor! What utter nonsense! You will stay in this house! You will learn to sew and as soon as it can be arranged, you will marry, like young ladies do. LADIES do not become doctors. That is NOT a women’s place. Go to your room! Now!” I need no second bidding. I am terrified. I jump up and scurry up the marble spiral staircase. I shut the door to my room and lock it.
The tears start to flow. I am literally shaking with fear. They will never be able to understand me, and I don’t have enough courage to go against them. What a coward I am! Even my five-year-old sister, Maria would have more guts than I! Instead I’ll end up learning to sew, and marrying a rich man, to keep the wealth in the family, as my father wishes. HE doesn’t believe that women can be trusted as doctors. HOW STUPID! I can’t be a doctor because I’m female. Deep inside, I can feel my fear turning to anger. I will be a doctor. I know what to do.
I tuck the corners of the baby’s blanket underneath her. I sigh. The children are taking a nap in their rooms, and the baby is finally asleep. I sit down at the table. At last, I can apply for Medical School, and a scholarship. Even while caring for our neighbor’s children, to earn money for Medical School, I’ll need a scholarship. Mr. Harding’s wife died a few years ago. Just as I begin to write, the little girl, Anna, runs into the room, crying.
“Sara, I was tttrrryyying tto bbbe a ggood girl, bbut James kept telling scary stories, and I I I couldn’t sleep.” she spluttered between tears. This is going to be a long day.
I sit at the top of the staircase, terrified. Mr. Harding is sitting downstairs with my father, talking.
“Sara, please come here.” Father says. My heart skips a beat. I walk slowly down the spiral staircase. Father and Mr. Harding are sitting in the front entry room. Father is holding an envelope in his hand.
“Our neighbor, Mr. Harding, has brought a letter for you. It was addressed to his house. Why is that, Sara?” He questions me. I am silent. He doesn’t expect an answer. Father continues.
“Mr. Harding also wanted to pay you for your work. What work, Sara? Why would he pay a wealthy young lady? I silently say the “Hail Mary” in my head.
“The letter is from Geneva Medical College. Why would they write a letter to you? Women do not study medicine.” Mr. Harding seems to sense the tension in the room. He makes a move to get u, and my father turns to him.
“Thank you Mr. Harding.” As Mr. Harding passes me on his way to the door, he slips the baby-sitting money to me. Even before the door clicks shut, Father starts again.
“Seeing as you seem to have no answer to any of my questions, shall we open the letter to find out?” I watch his father’s slide over the white envelope with gold metallic edging. His fingers tear the envelope open. He reads it out loud.
“To the honored Miss Sara Ann Harrison,
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to our Medical School. Yes. You have been accepted. In addition, it is my duty to inform you that you have received a scholarship of some kind. The ceremony will be held on May17, 1906. We look forward to seeing you there. Again, congratulations. Your story was truly admirable.
Catherine B. Brighton
Catherine B. Brighton, office of admissions and financial aid.” I watch as Father rips the letter to pieces. The sight makes me furious. Piece by piece my letter falls to the ground. As he rips, my father yells.
“You will not go! You will never become a doctor! You will marry like young ladies do. Now go to your room! We will talk when your mother returns home. Go!”
I can feel my face reddening, only this time it is from fury. I am shaking with anger. I boldly stand up and shove my chair back, pick up the pieces of the letter, and stomp off to my room. I slam the door as hard as I can. It feels good. 18 years worth of bottled up feelings come flying out.
The maid knocks timidly at my door. She looks terrified when she sees the state of my room, and of me. The mirror is smashed. The chairs are overturned. The dresser is tipped. My hair is messy. I am sweaty and wild-eyed. My skirts are torn. I laugh hilariously at the look on her face.
“Ms. Sara, the head of the house wishes to speak with you.” She says and then scrams. I practically run down the stairs.
“Sit down!” my father thunders. Mother’s face is ashen. I start to shake, then stop myself as I think about that precious letter.
“Don’t even talk to me!” I yell. “You don’t have to support me, but I can still chase my dreams. There is more than one way to become A Proper Young Lady. I would love it if you came to my awards ceremony. But if you don’t, so what!”
A few weeks later, I sit nervously at my chair in the Geneva College Auditorium. I jump when I hear the announcer say…
“The Elizabeth Blackwell Scholarship of 1906 is hereby awarded to Miss Sara Ann Harrison!”
I rise from my seat, walk down the aisle, up the stairs onto the stage. I am overjoyed, but something is missing. That’s when I see them. My parents sit in the fourth row. They look, no they can’t. They do, they look almost proud. PROUD.
My parents look kind of nervous as they approach me, like someone who’s never been wrong just figured out how it feels.
My father mumbles something about some women being capable of being doctors, my hard work, and not understanding my dream before.
“ Congratulations.” my mother whispers. That’s all I need to hear as I run out to embrace them.
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