Next Tuesday, I will be voting for Mrs. Earl Shepard.
Her name won’t sound familiar. It’s not on any ballot. She’s been dead for years.
Mrs. Earl Shepard was the wife of Dr. Earl Shepard, a member of the first graduating class of Washington University’s School of Dentistry and a pioneer in orthodontia. He has his own Wikipedia page.
I don’t mean to brag, but my two older brothers used to mow Dr. and Mrs. Earl Shepard’s lawn.
You won’t find it on Wikipedia, but Mrs. Earl Shepard was also a pioneer. In 1910, she was a founder and second vice president of the Jeffress Chapter of the American Women’s League in Marine, Illinois, population 685.
She helped secure the $1,200 grant needed to build the tiny arts-and-crafts-style meeting house where members gathered to make handicrafts, read and discuss women’s suffrage. Theirs was one of the smallest chapters in the country, one member shy of the 30-person minimum.
I’m not sure who these 29 women thought they were or what they thought they might accomplish on behalf of women’s rights in a Midwestern farm town out in the middle of nowhere.
Nevertheless, they persisted.
I stumbled across this information by accident. I was doing some other research and, long story short: I was really, really hoping to find my grandmother’s name on the membership roster.
No such luck. Still, when I saw Mrs. Earl Shepard’s name, I took heart. I knew her. In her old age, she was dignified and kind to little girls. And when it comes to women’s rights, you sometimes take what you can get.
On Election Day 2018, I will vote for Mrs. Earl Shepard because 100 years ago she had not yet won that right. I mean, come on. She couldn’t even call herself by her own first name, which was Wilma, which I first learned from her husband’s Wikipedia page.
Because Mrs. Earl Shepard knew what being denied the right to vote felt like, I believe she would vote today on behalf of those who still cannot vote, whether because their lives have been stolen by gun violence, or they live in places that make voting needlessly difficult.
Because she believed women’s voices should be heard, I think she would have leapt at the chance to vote for a woman – presuming that candidate used her voice to speak for the less fortunate and wielded the power of her office to check government officials who did not uphold the truths she believed to be self-evident. Even in old age, Mrs. Earl Shepard did not suffer fools.
Mostly, I am voting for Mrs. Earl Shepard because in 1910 she had the audacity to think 29 rural women could make a difference in America. My hope is that today, 118 years later, they still can.