At the end of a long summer a woman named Sue White, a lawyer from Henderson, Tennessee, one of the younger and more radical of generations of suffragettes, finally watched the 19th amendment ratified. The deciding vote, which broke a tie, was cast in White’s home state by a 23-year old man named Harry T. Burn (History.com tells me that Burn’s mother urged him to put the “rat” in ratification) on August 18, 1920. It had not happened overnight.
This NPR interview with Elaine Weiss, author of The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote (Viking: 2018) is my muse this week because Weiss frames the major players and the historical context for how women finally won the basic right to vote.
When I found this NPR interview, it got me thinking about why I write about women on quests. I love watching women light up when they land on the quest that drives them. Something changes in the air.
My quest is to bring multigenerational stories alive and to demonstrate the long term-context of our mothers and grandmothers’ lives which has the power both to calm and energize–as well as offer timeless lessons that remain strong through the vicissitudes of trends.
What does it mean to live your quest? What brings you to a light in your stomach and a driving clarity of purpose? Quests are about seeking–about laying bare to the world what you value most–and then committing yourself to the path you must follow.
As I research a book about women on quests, I am asking many women out there: What is your quest? Or another way of putting it is: What’s your magic question? Quests are a built-in touchstone and map. Quests themselves offer a container, as well as fuel to push back with the life-giving force of creative inspiration and purpose.
And women, who have been excluded from the motif as quest-takers for centuries, benefit from embracing the verb like a fine sword, whether they are organizing their business plan, researching their ancestors, sending relief money for those in need, writing their life story or singing their children to sleep.
For me, the quest lives and breathes on the written page. Writing is my way of discerning symbols and patterns and universal truths and meanings that can bring me relief, the oxygen of shared (and yet singular!) experiences.
“Actually, writers like to ask annoying questions in movie theatres, Mommy,” my daughter likes to tease me.
Ah, yes, but, the habit of NOT being afraid to ask awkward questions, I remind her, can lead to hard-won long-term achievements built over time. More still, when we neglect to ask vital questions at the appropriate times, well you might want to imagine a door slamming shut.
Whether it is writing, advocating for legislation, or succeeding in business, your quest has to matter deeply to you and get you back to where you feel most alive and engaged.
As I just shared, the quest for me lives and breathes on the written page.
What’s your quest?