Most of you have probably seen the NY Times op ed by Jill Lepore (use up one of your free NY Times hits…you won’t be sorry 🙂 – about the youngest sister of Benjamin Franklin (maybe you’ve heard of him, or at least one of the hip hop community’s numerous odes to his currency-enshrined-visage).
Chances are you’d never heard of Jane Franklin Mecom, who married at 15, had 12 children, exchanged numerous letters with her illustrious brother but could barely write and struggled to find any time to read. Though she clearly had an active, curious mind, the workload involved in keeping wayward sons and husbands out of debtors prisons and asylums left no time for the patriotic erudite pursuits her brother enjoyed. As Lepore put it:
. . . the story of Jane Mecom is a reminder that, especially for women, escaping poverty has always depended on the opportunity for an education and the ability to control the size of their families.
Here is a list of the things I would not have done if I had been married and pregnant at 15, with no further access to learning:
- Danced at a prom
- Finished high school
- Learned to argue about politics, principles and historical context
- Found a sense of self through music, theater and writing
- Had an opportunity to study all these things in-depth
- Left the country to study in India
- Learned Spanish, Hindi, Italian, and a little German, French, and Latin
- Held a job and learned to support myself
- Read the complete works of Jane Austen
- Gotten involved in pro-choice activism
- Wandered New York City until I finally figured out my life’s ambition
- Become the first student commencement speaker at Wellesley
- Become the first female partner at Rose Law Firm
- Met and married Bill Clinton at the age of 28 and used her platform as First Lady of Arkansas and the United States to reform education, propose health care reform, and advocate for children and families
- Become the first First Lady to run for public office, and serve the state of New York for 8 years as its first female senator(!!)
- Forever changed the face of American presidential politics with her campaign
- Served as Secretary of State and represented the interests of women around the world at an unprecedented level
I know exactly how lucky I am, and I’m endlessly grateful for the encouragement and the support that let me grow up over time, that pointed me at self-fulfillment instead of teen motherhood and unattainable dreams.
Hillary Clinton may be the conservative wing’s worst nightmare, but winding up like Jane Mecom is mine. Where would you be if your right to self-determination had ended at 15?