Women’s History: a Window Into Our Past

Women's HistoryMarch is Women’s History Month – an encouragement to explore that vast and varied history of our gender. I recently found an article that opened up a window into the years when my mother was a young woman – early 1930s into the 1950s. It is entitled “How Marjorie Hillis Changed the Way the World Thought About Single Women With Her 1936 Book ‘Live Alone And Like It’” by Dr. Joanna Scutts. I have never heard of Marjorie Hills. Have you?

She published her first book in 1936 while working as an editor at Vogue Magazine in New York City. That book was titled Live Alone and Like It: A Guide for the Extra Woman.

Dr. Scutts describes the book in this way: “The book offered ‘old maids’ and ‘spinsters’ an enviable new identity. Instead of ‘extra women,’ surplus to society’s requirements, they could reinvent themselves as ‘Live-Aloners,’ defined by what they did, not what they lacked.” She spoke around the country on the topic and department stores did tie-in promotions.  It was quite the splash!  Ms. Hillis followed this book with others which reflected her life changes over the following 20 years. The article scans the societal changes during those years as well and how they impacted women’s lives and expectations.

The last paragraph of Dr. Scutts article is a statement for all of us to ponder:

Yet there is still something subversive in Hillis’s call for women to live exactly as they chose — to “be a Communist, be a stamp collector, or a Ladies’ Aid worker, if you must, but for heaven’s sake be something!” She was radical in her awareness that singleness was not just the happy, voluntary, temporary state of the young but that older women, widows, and divorcées had a right to their own pleasure and needed to defend it throughout their lives. Even today, it’s hard for a woman to declare that she has made her choice to live alone, and not have people assume it’s a fallback option, or denial, or just what she’s doing until she meets someone. There are still limited ways of talking about happiness, fulfillment, and a good life outside of the model of the nuclear family. As Marjorie Hillis preached, exercising the right to live your life as you choose is still a political act.

There is great value in knowing our history. It gives us perspective, appreciation, and a challenge to reflect on who we are and who we can be.
In addition to reading the article, you may be interested in Dr. Scutts 2017 book: The Extra Woman: How Marjorie Hillis Led a Generation of Women to Live Alone and Like It.

DECISIONS ABOUT KEEPING OR RELEASING MEMORABILIA

BoxesAre you a keeper/packrat/archivist? I am, especially of items related to my personal history. As I prepare for another move, one which will be into a smaller space, I am again going through things I have kept, moved, and stored over the years. Many of us downsize at some point and face decisions about what to keep and what to release. How do we make those decisions about keeping or releasing pieces of our history, the memorabilia that we have kept?

If you are in a great time crunch – the deadline for vacating an apartment or house before the next occupants arrive, a moving truck is scheduled soon, etc. – you may tend to go to the extremes. You might either grab boxes that are still packed and pledge to go through them when you arrive at the next destination or discard things without looking at what is there.

Ideally, you won’t be in that extreme a situation and can make some decisions that will serve you in the future. To help facilitate that, it can be helpful to take a little time to consider how you see your memorabilia and treasures being used in the future. If you have already organized things into scrapbooks, photo books, etc. This will be an easier process. If, however, you have boxes of memorabilia, files and photos that are simply organized by time period, it will take more thought and work.

There are a number of factors that you can consider. For example:

  • How do you anticipate using what you save in the future?
  • Will you be looking at these things yourself and showing them to others as a way to share highlights of your life?
  • Do you think you may be doing some reflecting and writing about your life – some type of memoir, or less formal remembrances – to pass on?
  • Might you organize a few key things that symbolize or illustrate key parts of your life legacy?
  • Are there things that other people would treasure if you are ready to let them go?

The type and volume of things you save can be affected by your answers to these and similar questions. You will probably hang on to more things if you will be using them to write and then be able to discard or distribute more.

Lest your eyes glaze over at tackling this process, I share a personal experience. I located a few things that were connected to key experiences in my life that I didn’t know I had or at least didn’t know where they were. They have given me information that will help me pursue contacts from my past that I have been hoping to make for a few years. The items were photos and a yearbook from my sophomore year in college and newspaper clippings about a 6-year old child from Mexico spending a school year with us in our one-room school in Wisconsin. Real treasures!

Laura H. Gilbert has written a book that you may find of interest as you embark on a downsizing or decluttering effort: The Stories We Leave Behind: a Legacy-Based Approach to Dealing with Stuff.