Friday, March 08, 2013

Volunteers and International Women's Day

And here, drum roll please, are the official winners of my unofficial award for best display at yesterday's volunteer fair at Carpenter's Hall, co-sponsored by Lucas County Health Center Volunteer Services and Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street.

Master Gardeners Kay Brown (left) and Karen Mundt put the display together to encourage volunteer support for a variety of community gardening projects, including Constitution Park, the Post Office garden, town square planters and new projects on the Lucas County Historical Society campus. They also brought cookies (I had three).

Most of my time from 4 until 7 p.m. was spent at the historical society table with a display of vintage photographs. It's always fun to visit with people about these --- but the best part was the fact a couple of people well under 30 signed up to volunteer at the museum.

I do not mean in any way to disparage older volunteers --- Chariton wouldn't get very far if it weren't for the vast cloud of retirees underpinning every community project. But you've got to keep the future in mind, too, and youthful involvement in increasingly busy times is to be highly prized. It's not that younger people aren't interested in volunteerism, just that the volunteer opportunities need to be narrower and better defined than some of us are used to in order to offer opportunities to people who have only limited time to offer.


It was fun to visit with Karen, a native of Hanlontown --- way up north in Iowa and a town I know a little about. My memories of Hanlontown, however, are dominated by the fare served up at the annual fall festival at Grace Lutheran Church, wonderfully heavy on the Norwegian.

She also cemented my idea for a new organization which I've tentatively named, the Survivors Network of Women Who Encountered That Former Head Librarian.

This is an experience apparently shared by several Lucas County women that dates back a good many years and implicates neither the current library staff nor the staff administered by my friend Roberta, formerly library director. I've heard a similar story before.

At the time Karen and others moved to Chariton, the head librarian adamantly refused to issue married women library cards in their own given names. If a women was married and went in to the library to apply for a card, it would be issued in the husband's name --- Mrs. John Doe, for example; never Mary Doe --- or not at all. And it sounds like the librarian could be rather rude about this.

Times have changed and it's no longer an issue --- but it fits into the general theme of thoughtfulness about what exactly it is about a community that forms the initial impressions of it.


Of course libraries weren't the only places where similar silly debates about how to identify women were conducted. I'm old enough to remember newsroom discussions about this. The line of (generally male although a few women were implicated, too) reasoning went something like this: "But how will our readers know who this women is unless we identify her by her husband's name?"

If one were single or fortunate enough to be a widow, then a woman's given name could be used. Divorced women, presumably, were expected to have good manners enough not to do anything newsworthy at all.


Some of this comes to mind because today is International Women's Day and I have this great idea that Chariton should celebrate by organizing a Lucas County Women's Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, I don't have the volunteers needed to do it. But I do have a couple of nominees, pulled from the recesses of history.

The first would be Jessie (Mallory) Thayer. Her father, because he had big bucks, generally gets all the Lucas County glory. But it was Jessie who organized the first Chariton Improvement Association --- all women --- which lobbied for the cities first clean-up projects as well as for sidewalks, parks and other amenities considered superfluous by the male establishment. She also was a formidable promoter of the arts.

And then the amazing Branner women --- Victoria and Virginia --- who were, well, just amazing. I'm going to have to think more about this.

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