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home : readerswrite : yourthoughts October 18, 2017

YourThoughts March 2017
Coming Up:

April's theme is "Global Women" What's your global story?Tell us about it. Send up to 150 words to editor@womenspress.com
Deadline: March 10, 2017

May's theme is Generations" How would you like your generation of women to be remembered?" Tell us about it. Send up to 150 words to editor@womenspress.com
Deadline: April 10, 2017


Each month we ask our readers to respond to a question. For March we asked: Given the chance, what woman from history would you interview and what would you ask?

Maya Angelou
Is 'Maya Angelou' the most obvious answer to this question? Because it is for me. When the topic of anger came up [in a conversation with comedian Dave Chappelle], Angelou said something that has stayed with me. "If you're not angry, you're a stone," she said. "You should be angry."

The important thing, she said, is to be able to transmute that anger into something more productive, to use the anger. "You write about it, you paint it, you dance it, you march it, you vote it, you do everything about it. You talk it. You never stop talking it."

So, yes. Maya Angelou. I'd pick her. Fierce, tender-hearted, beloved soul, Maya Angelou. I wouldn't so much "interview" her, wouldn't even talk really, I don't think. But I would listen. I would listen with reverence and gratitude and deep admiration. I would listen, with everything I've got.
Hilal Isler, St. Paul

Marian Berry Hafnor
I've been fortunate to interview thousands of women, but the one I want to return to, to talk with more, is my mother. Marian Berry Hafnor (born in 1915) was a woman of history - one of the last of the pioneer babies in western South Dakota. She lived in a sod house with no running water nor indoor toilet, no refrigeration except that provided by a cave carved in the banks of a small dam. Here are some of my missed opportunity questions: As a child, what was the hardest part of your life on the prairie? Did you resent the lack of career choices? Did you ever contemplate divorce? What was the hardest part of raising four children when you became a widow at 42? When did you start feeling like an older woman? What decision would you like to re-do? I want more time with her! Carpe Diem!
Mary Hafnor Hanson, Minneapolis

Grace Metalious
If I had the opportunity I would like to meet Grace Metalious, the author of my favorite book "Peyton Place." I read this book, under the covers, in bed at age 16, after I bought it when I worked at the WT Grant store in St. Paul. How delicious! When it was made into a movie I watched it on TV, back in the late 1960s, recorded it on VCR tape, and now own the DVD. It is my go-to movie when I need to chill out. My question would be "What did she think of the movie and on what did she base her novel ... real experience?"

My paperback novel, yellowed pages, ripped and taped in parts, has a place of honor on my bookshelf as inspiration.
Nancy Johnson, New Richmond, WI

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Abigail Adams
"Don't forget the ladies," Abigail Adams wrote to her husband when he was helping to put together a government for the new country, later known as the United States. I would like to interview her and ask how she would have changed laws or our constitution so she wouldn't have to get her husband's signature on the many transactions she made when she ran their farm in Massachusetts while he was in Philadelphia working on forming our government. I would ask her why she was interested in education. I would ask her what she would have done differently if she had been a representative to the Continental Congress to make women more equal citizens in the new country. Finally, I would ask her what she thinks is missing from the many biographies written about her.
Arvonne Fraser, Minneapolis

Zora Neale Hurston
Who would not jump at the chance to pose questions to a creative, talented, resourceful, classy and self-confident writer, author, folklorist and anthropologist? A woman who had the audacity to say, "Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me."

I'd ask Zora Neale Hurston, "What were the events in your life that let you know that you were a force to be reckoned with?" and "What advice, strategies or techniques would you give to young women in support of their efforts to be change agents in their communities?" "For what do you most want to be remembered?" Then I would sit back and listen carefully to every word she said.
Beverly Cottman, Minneapolis

Ida B. Wells
My dream interviewee is Ida B. Wells. I admire her mastery in wielding her pen for the advancement of racial equality and racial justice. She skillfully waged war through her publications and work as editor of Memphis Free Speech and Headlight. She continued to strategically advance social change while serving as a journalist with Chicago's Daily Inter Ocean and the Chicago Conservator, one of the oldest African-American newspapers in theUnited States. She used her power of writing as advocacy for the powerless.

Our interview would explore the following questions: How can writing be used to educate diverse audiences, organize social change initiatives, and advocate for societal reform? You once stated, "the way to right wrongs is to shed a light upon them" - what is the source of your moral courage? What is one small action we each can take to make a difference in the world?
Artika R. Tyner, St. Paul

Hannah Duston
I would go back to 1697 and talk with my ancestor Hannah Duston - the first American woman to have a statue erected in her honor.

She was taken, with her infant daughter and midwife, and marched, with a 14-year-old boy, away from her life in Haverhill, Massachusetts - and her eight children - toward the Canadian border as a hostage of the French. Her six-day-old girl was smashed against a tree. Six weeks later she led the three of them in a late-night attack against their captors. They escaped by canoe, returning with scalps as proof.

I would ask my 10th generation grandmother, whose descendants included a long line of strong-minded women, including my grandmother and mother (and daughter), how she found the determination, through such a physically and emotionally draining ordeal, to not only keep going, but to stand up and fight so she could live to see a brighter day. Did maternal rage fuel her?

I'm proud to come from a line of "nasty women."
Mikki Morrissette, Minneapolis

Elizabeth Bisland
Given the opportunity, I would interview Elizabeth Bisland, the woman who raced Nellie Bly around the world in 1889-1890.Their stories are told through the riveting and well-researched double-biography "Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World." They traveled at a time when passenger routes around the world were just making the journey possible, and the thought of a woman making the journey alone was unfathomable.

While I admire Bly's unceasing and courageous pursuit of her dreams, I find myself drawn to Bisland's curiosity and humility as she bravely undertook this race that was thrust upon her quite suddenly. With her intelligent and unassuming nature, it would be a delight to ask about the lessons of her travels, from the fascinating cultures she encountered in the far-flung ports of the British Empire to the self-reflection such a journey must have inspired.
Alison Heebsh, New Brighton

Mother Antonia McHugh
I would like to interview Mother Antonia McHugh, the founder of St. Catherine University. Her vision of the role of women is desperately needed. Speaking some 80 years ago to parents whose great-granddaughters are in college today, Mother Antonia said this: "I would urge you to fill the lives of your daughters not alone with the profession or the job, but cultivate other interests that will help the girl to concern herself not with materials alone but with things of a higher order. ... We can be sure that an education that inculcates these principles cannot be counted as lost, even if they seem not to apply to the daily job of earning a living. We surely can apply them to knowing better the business of living, which is, after all, the great concern."
Mary Treacy, Minneapolis

Ermelinda (D'Angelo) Vagnoni
I would talk with my Grandmother Ermelinda (D'Angelo) Vagnoni. I would ask her why the family decided to leave their home country of Italy. I would ask how she and the family were treated as immigrants to America. I would ask her how it was learning to live in the South and then the Midwest in the United States. And I would ask what was different for women here compared to her birth country.

Women have not been given much space or respect in our history books, and learning from those who lived it would be amazing! And, I would really like to see and hug my Grandma again.
Susan Vagnoni Murphy, St. Paul

Nellie Stone Johnson
For different reasons and with different questions, I would like to interview Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger, Sally Hemings, Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Florence Nightingale, Sacagawea, Joan of Arc, Mary Brave Bird and Black Buffalo Woman. From Minnesota: Congresswoman Coya Knutson and civil rights activist/union organizer Nellie Stone Johnson. From Wyoming: Esther Hobart Morris, the first woman justice of the peace, and Nellie Taylor Ross, the first woman governor. From The Bible: Mary Magdalene.

What do these women have in common except the anatomical parts we call female? What are their differences except skin color, cultures, historical time periods? Which one do I pick? (I'm thinking ...)

I'd choose Nellie Stone Johnson, and I'd ask her: what would you say and do to let police, gang bangers, white supremacists, and others know that Black Lives Matter? (For more history, see "Contributions of Black Women to Minnesota History.")
Carol Cochran, Minneapolis

Accomplished Swedish immigrant women
The Linnea Home building in St. Anthony Park (now condominiums) was constructed in 1917 as a home for elderly and single immigrant women. I would love to interview the Swedish women who banded together around an identified need and raised money to build and staff this home, running ice cream socials and a State Fair booth. These women spoke little English, had no men on their board and welcomed men and women of all nationalities as guests in their facility. We could learn from them about the power of women working together.
Ann Derr, St. Paul

Editor's Note: On July 23, 2017, there will be a community celebration at Linnea Gardens Condominiums, 2040 Como Ave., in St. Paul and at nearby Alden Park to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this building and honor its history. Stories are being collected about Linnea Home, staff, guests, and founders. Contact Derr at annderr@gmail.com





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