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It’s time to shine a light on our unsung heroines

Lori Rose photo My mom and her sisters on dish detail, circa 1961. The women of our family have been the backbone of our clan for decades.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following column was written by former Daily Press staffer Lori Rose, who is filling in for usual Friday columnist Karen Rose Wils.

ESCANABA — Many of my relatives have become fans of those backyard or deer blind “trail cameras.”

They allow a person to catch a detailed glimpse into the real world of the critters we all think we know so much about. Some of the footage is mundane, but there are other times it’s positively fascinating. Habits you’ve never heard of, allegiances you never imagined, are there on full display for all to see.

Similarly, there are things we don’t know about other humans until a spotlight is shone upon them.

In August, the United States marked 100 years of women’s voting rights and that milestone prompted a renewed look at women’s role in American history. Like the silent deer of night, women seem to have slipped in and out of the picture without the history books and society at large giving them their due.

In school, we were taught the names of great presidents and generals but the contributions of the female gender were often downplayed. There were exceptions, like Betsy Ross and Rosa Parks, but to me it was a majority dudefest.

I’ve always fancied myself a pretty well-informed person, but I’ve come across a few items this summer that I’m surprised never crossed my radar.

For example, did you know it was a woman who did the first de-bugging of a computer? Back in the days when hardware filled an entire room, a lady named Grace Hopper took it upon herself to open a panel and look inside when experiencing difficulties. She discovered a moth within and plucked it out, becoming the first technician to perform such a feat way back in 1947.

I knew the story of the literal “de-bugging” from a class in school, but I never knew it was a woman who helped coin the term.

As a big music fan, I like stories about performers and the behind-the-scenes history as well. However, I never knew that singer Peggy Lee wrote her hit “Fever,” along with many other tracks. In a tribute piece to Aretha Franklin, I learned that in her early days she demanded to be paid in cash up front because female performers were so often stiffed by unscrupulous managers.

Some good journalism this summer also relayed an untold tale from the World War II days.

A unit of African-American women were assigned the task of sorting and sending an enormous amount of mail to G.I.s overseas. It was the 6888th Postal Battalion that singlehandedly sorted warehouses of backed-up mail from a base in England.

Imagine how morale may have suffered if those precious letters had never gotten through. Some of the missives may have kept soldiers alive just as much as rest and rations, I’d imagine.

In these tense days as the world awaits a COVID-19 vaccine, most of the researchers I have seen interviewed have been men. However, who’s to say it might not be a female who completes the most accurate and effective clinical trials?

Exhibit: Gladys Henry Dick. Another not-so-well-known name, I learned not long ago that she was the primary developer of the test for scarlet fever.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. Why hadn’t I been exposed to these stories before, and why did this “old lady” in her 50s just discover these things?

I guess I’m fortunate to have been raised in a family with a long history of outspoken, interesting women.

My grandmother Ella Stasewich raised a very large family with her immigrant Russian husband, looked after boarders and helped run the family ice cream parlor/convenience store. She also helped out as a midwife in the old Bayshore location and taught many Eastern Europeans how to read and speak English.

My grandmother Bertha Rose was ahead of her time in many respects. She made her own darkroom and developed her own film at home, and also wore pants long before it was fashionable. She married a mild-mannered Kansas farmer and convinced him to live in her hometown of Gladstone instead of homesteading on family property up north of town.

My own mom, as many of this column’s regulars know by now, was a passionate and fascinating person. Luella Stasewich Rose helped raise her siblings when her folks passed away at a young age, then married my dad Jim and had six children of her own.

I simply cannot fathom how she did it all, but in addition to putting up with all our nonsense, Mom also worked weekends at a supper club, taught catechism classes, volunteered for the local cancer crusades, chaired the local pollution review committee, served on our grade school board and found time for darts, choir and church clubs.

My amazing sister Karen is a reprise of Mom and, in addition to her medical struggles, raised two wonderful kids, works full-time, writes a weekly column, cares for a kennel of beagles and makes weekly treks to the woods and water.

Maybe I hadn’t gone out of my way to find strong female role models before because they abounded around me. Maybe I looked askance at all the daily sacrifices women are often asked to make and fell into the trap of undervaluing home life, nurturing and informing the next generation.

Nonetheless, it’s never too late to look around and absorb those hidden gems of history. Also, we have to look to the future with an open mind when it comes to gender.

——

Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.

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