Liam – June 12, 2017
This past Mother’s Day was the first my mom had with her daughter-in-law. My mom always wanted girls but ended up with just me and my brother, so having my wife, Kim, officially in the family was a pretty big deal for Mom. It was strange that Mom was grateful to me on Mother’s Day. Sure, she raised me and was always there for me, but I had given her a daughter, something she felt trumped all of her lifelong efforts.
And that got me thinking. There is so much more to motherhood than just being a mom. A woman’s identity can be so completely overrun by her role as mother that all her other interests and desires can get folded up and stuffed way in the back of the basement storage closet. Because being a mom is a lot of work. And it wasn’t that long ago when that kind of work was all that was expected of and, in many situations, encouraged of women to do.
But not my great-great grandmother, Isabella, or “Fafa Izzy,” as I call her. The roles of women in the late 19th century were far more restrictive than they are today, and the demanding state of the Patriarchy was, too. So when I think about the societal obstacles and motherly responsibilities Fafa Izzy and the other women who founded The Danish Home may have had to maneuver to get the job done, I’m impressed. Not to take away from their own initiatives, but considering the times—and considering any healthy marriage—I have to give some credit to my Papa George, Isabella’s husband, for supporting her.
The women who opened The Danish Home weren’t radicals in the standard sense, but they were a far cry from the standard. By the time the Home opened, it had only been two years since the National American Woman Suffrage Association was formed and Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr founded the Hull House in Chicago. Women like Addams and Elizabeth Cady Stanton saw as much value and importance in advancing a woman’s individuality as a whole as they did in tending to the family. Fafa Izzy shared this spirit and embraced the cause of providing for the community. Provide. Isn’t that just what mothers do?
The Women’s Movement is not just an American ideal. The Danes have their own feminist waves, the first stretching from 1870 to 1920. I don’t think it’s simply a coincidence that this took place in the prime of Fafa Izzy’s life. It was this movement that led to legislation that allowed for women to have access to education, marital rights and other obligations—legislation that still holds in Denmark today. This freed women from the shackles of the home so they could set out to do more, if they chose to do so.
In any progressive movement to lift up the underdogs, there needs to be at least some support from those with power and influence. It may be true that Man Cannot Speak for Her, but it doesn’t hurt if he supports her. That’s what a family should do…support one another. As the Spirit of Family event draws near on June 24 as part of The Danish Home’s 125th anniversary celebration, we should be sure to pay homage to those who support us and recognize the sacrifices that were made by all those involved in building The Danish Home of Chicago, including Fafa Izzy and her encouraging and supportive husband, Papa George. He understood, as all reasonable feminists of his time did, that a good mother in her own home could do even more good beyond it in other homes.