Women Who Carry Their Baskets
In praise of women who carry their own basket. The purpose of this page is honoring women who make choices regarding their lives and live by them
My mother, Paula Leachman, is a woman who has always carried her own basket. By that what I mean is, she is a woman who has made a series of choices regarding her life, and has lived by them. She did this when times were good and it was easy, and she did this when times were hard. In particular, she made the choice at 18 to marry my dad. She chose him and that was that, as she would say. She signed on to a vagabond life in football; orchestrating over 13 major moves; raising 3 children alone for half of every year; handling all of the banking and finances; dealing with all of the educational issues; and, even dressing my dad due to his horrible taste.
But the heaviest basket she has carried was my father’s decline from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). That decline started early (in the mid 1990s), when my father was in his early 60s, and progressed slowly over 18 years, until my dad’s death in 2012. My mother covered for him in the early years. She taught him to read again when he lost that function. She made sure he was clean, and shaved, and properly dressed. She made sure he was well taken care of in the nursing home. She made sure he was fed every day even if it required 2 hours to get that job done. She made sure we, his family, always honored him and held him close. She loved him until the end and made sure we did too.
Pauli Murray (Anna Pauline Murray) lived from 1910-1985. She was an American civil rights activist, a women’s rights activist, a lawyer, a poet, a writer, an academic, an Episcopal priest. She was the first woman in her law school class at Howard. She was the first African American to earn a doctor of juridical science of law from Yale. She was the first woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. She was the first black deputy attorney general for the state of California. She was The National Council of Negro Women’s woman of the year in 1945. Mademoiselle named her their woman of the year in 1947. She was the co-founder of the National Organization for Women. She was an advocate for women and minorities all of her life.
Pauli Murray called out the NAACP for sexism. She refused to be denied an education, a profession, or a voice in the the national dialog on race and sexism. She refused to dress in a feminine manner and accept a traditional role. She preferred women and relationships in which she was the “man.” She never hid her preferences or her intellect. She never accepted less than
what she deserved without a fight. And, over time her faith in herself and her abilities earned her respect, and a place in history. She carried her own non-traditional basket with moxie.
Nancy Tuttle May
Nancy Tuttle May is my friend and mentor. She is a woman who came of age in the early 1960s. As such, she fulfilled all of the traditional expectations of a daughter of the South; college graduation, marriage, motherhood. But she went beyond the short list by supporting her husband through graduate school, and then leaving him to strike out as an artist, all the while raising in two young girls.
Nancy started her career as an artist in 1970. She sold her first painting in 1971 while still married. She honed her craft and sales techniques by doing sidewalk art shows part-time, while heading up a neurosurgery lab. Eventually her talent and drive lead to National Endowment for the Arts grants, artist in residence awards, and the Durham Women of Achievement Silver Medallion award, among others. Her work can be seen in such venues as Duke University Medical Center, Weatherspoon Gallery, The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach and American Airlines Admirals Club.
From the moment Nancy dedicated her future to art and raising her two girls, Nancy carried the basket SHE had chosen, rather than the basket society and family thrust into her hands. She did it with a sense of freedom and purpose. She did it with a song on her lips, and vibrant colors on canvas. She did it with kids in tow, and skeptics all around. She did it by herself, in spite of her family, and because she wanted her two daughters to know what it means to truly carry your own basket. She did it quite simply, because she could not do otherwise.
Madeline Albright is a woman I only know from the media—that about her, and that which she has produced. In 1997 she became the first female Secretary of State. In 1993 she became the first woman Ambassador to the U.N. But before those things, she did a number of other impressive things. In the mid 1950s she earned a full scholarship to Wellesley College. She graduated from there in 1957, and went to work in journalism. In 1975, she earned a ph.d. In political science form Columbia. During the 1970s and 1980s Madeline served in a variety of advisory roles for an array of democratic candidates. At the same time she was working as an academic at the Woodrow Wilson Center, followed by a position at Georgetown University. She was holding a demanding academic position, advising on foreign policy and raising three young daughters as a single parent, after her husband left her for another woman.
Throughout her career Ms. Albright has sought to tell truth to power. She has continually spoken and written about the role of the press in democracy, what is required for leadership in the modern world, and the role of the U.S. in the world. She has sounded the alarm in her new book Fascism: A Warning regarding authoritarianism and the suppression of opposition in democratic systems. She has carried her basket of professionalism, honesty, and integrity in a climate that is increasingly hostile to the truth. She has continues to speak her truth with courage and conviction.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a woman who has carried her history and her basket with grace and dedication. She was raised in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn in a family who prized education and hard work. Ruth’s graduation from Cornell in 1954 at the top of her class was the embodiment of her family’s ethic.
After her graduation Ruth married her husband Martin and two years later they both enrolled in Harvard Law. She was one of eight women in a class of 500. Ruth was balancing mothering with law school when Martin developed cancer. Ruth took on the job of being his note taker for his law classes while continuing her own, and managing their young daughter. When Martin graduated and took a job with a New York law firm, Ruth transferred to Columbia. She graduated from Columbia Law School in 1959, first in her class.
Ms. Ginsberg clerked before joining the faculty of Rutgers University. She then moved to Columbia where she became the first tenured woman law professor. In the 1970’s she served as director for the Women’s Rights Project for the ACLU. In 1980, she was appointed by Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Appeals Court. In 1993, she was appointed by Bill Clinton to the U.S. Supreme Court. She continues to serve with grace and restraint to this day.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg has been carrying the basket of gender equality, worker rights, and separation of church and state for over two decades. Consistently she has been a voice of honest restraint from the left. She has supported the working class, the uninsured, the immigrant, and minorities throughout her tenure on the courts. She has called out colleagues and public figures for their lack of civility and compassion. She continues to do these things even though she is now 85, has had her own battle with cancer, and is surely ready to rest.