Hey, enough about our Forefathers this Independence Day! Back in 1915, my Great Grandmother Emily Hoppin gave this speech about “Our ForeMothers” to a Fourth of July celebration in Yolo County, California.
I’ve transcribed her words from my copy of her handwritten notes. To read her full speech go to Emily’s Speech. Here are some excerpts:
For over a hundred years, on this anniversary of our nation’s birth, men have written and poets have sung of our forefathers. Today, for the first time in the history of – well – I will not say our nation, but will say of Yolo County, you are to hear not only of your forefathers but your foremothers, and I wish I had the eloquent tongue to tell of them.
Neither do I today expect to give a small meed of praise to these foremothers of ours – but I would try to win for them some of the gratitude we give our forefathers.
Often women are the leaders and organizers of great enterprises. Our own country owes its discovery to the masterful mind of a woman. (note: I assume Queen Isabella of Spain, who financed Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World. She also took an unusual interest in the Native Americans he brought back to Spain as slaves, by ordering the Indians returned to their homeland and freed. However, she and her husband, Ferdinand, also started the Spanish Inquisition! Now back to 1915).
In the history of this beautiful state of ours where the pioneers of ’49 were enduring their hardships – the women were by their side and endured with them the hardships and lessons of the plains.
Women have however been content with no praise at all, or the praise such as the old pioneer settler out west gave to his wife when an old grizzly bear came into his cabin one day.
Perhaps you recall the man’s scream to his frau.
There’s a bear in the kitchen as big as a cow.
And how she advised him to murder him then.
And how his reply was, Yes! Betty, I will if you’ll first venture in.
So Betty leaped up and a poker she seized.
While her man shut the door and outside he squeezed
And then you remember, she laid on the blows.
While her man, through the keyhole kept shouting with din,
Well done, my brave Betty. Now hit him again.
So with rapping and poking, poor Betty alone
at last laid old Bruin as dead as a stone.
Then when the brave man saw the bear was no more,
he ventured to poke himself in at the door.
And off to the neighbors he hastened to tell,
all the wonderful things –that morning befell.
And he published the wonderful story afar,
How “Me and my Betty we just slaughtered that bar.”
Now my dear friends there is nothing personal in this story – nothing that is applicable to you – for you have never said to us in regard to taking hold of work. Yes! Darling we will, if you’ll first venture in. We all know how energetic you men of Yolo County are, and how anxious you are that our county shall be well governed.
How glad you are to give due praise to women today, we who are proud to stand beside you and tell of the grand women of the past. Tis like stirring living embers when one calls to mind “all the achings and the quakings of the times that tried men’s souls.”
(Her speech continues with descriptions of women’s roles in the major events of America’s history. The complete speech is on my website: Emily’s Speech).
We who live in these days of railroads and telegraphs and books cannot realize the lonely days and nights of these women.
Speak of (women’s) brave words, their true hearts, their noble deeds. Tell of their purity, their faith, their heroism, and let this fourth of July celebrate their deeds, as well as he deeds of our forefathers – and if between the living and the dead, is stretched, as some believe, a spirit wire, let it signal to them the words we speak today, and may their spirits – our guardian angels watch o’er our country and may the God of our fore fathers and mothers, who through the gloom and night has guided our people.
© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.
It’s clear you belong in your ancestral line a amazing women!
I never cease to be amazed at Great Grandma Emily. I feel honored, as I know you do, to be her descendent, and graced to be named after her.
Yes, you are graced to share her name, and I’d say, many of her qualities. Great Grandma’s story started me on my journey of writing “The Desk” – which was inspired by her lifetime of advocacy for women and the earth – and always with humor and integrity. Her life made me ponder what I am doing with today’s issues, and what our female descendents’ stories will be.