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From the professor’s desk:

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We’re quick to judge historical figures by today’s cultural standards.  Many of us struggle with the “founding fathers'” attitudes toward slavery, the role of women, and other aspects of social life – but we must remember, they were men of their time.  Similarly, we like to think of literary figures such as Lizzie Bennet or Jo March as early “feminists.”  While these characters pushed against the societal constraints imposed on women, they were still limited to operating within the social mores of the time.  We see early glimpses of feminism, but not feminism as we understand it today.

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It’s important to consider this idea of “person of their time” when reflecting on the behaviors and accomplishments of those who came before us, especially when they’re family members.  Let’s be especially careful not to blame our mothers and grandmothers for not “breaking out” of traditional roles, when they were living under social constraints that are hard for us to understand today.

If you’ve watched “Mad Men,” that was the era when I grew up.  Single women couldn’t apply for credit cards, and married women couldn’t apply without their husband’s permission.  Career choices were limited to roles like nurse, secretary, teacher – and you were expected to give up your job when you married.  A married man was shamed if his wife “had to” work.  It wasn’t that long ago.

We’ve made great strides, and there’s more work to do.  Let’s honor the challenges faced by those who came before us.  We stand on their shoulders when we enjoy our rights and privileges today.

Dr. Hamel