The Goddess Speaks

Tuesday, March 23, 1999

One woman’s history
should be shared

By Mary Anne Raywid
and Suzanne Meisenzahl


WOMEN'S History Month is of recent vintage. The idea of supplementing the history we used to teach with a focus on the contributions of women began in 1978 in California as "Women's History Week." Ten years later it became Women's History Month, by congressional resolution and annual presidential proclamation.

Hawaii has a number of women who have had major impact on the events that have unfolded here. Marion Saunders was one of them who struggled to make the territory, and then the state, a genuine democracy -- and to instill the practices and traditions that sustain democracy. When she died last August, an editorial observed "When someone writes the definitive modern history of Hawaii and profiles the select group of people who had an impact, educator Marion Saunders will likely be among them."

And yet her contribution lay less in dramatic achievements and definitive victories than in dogged persistence . She helped launch the League of Women Voters and the ACLU in Hawaii. She testified before the Legislature repeatedly on education bills, and with the candor and integrity that marked everything she did. She warned from the start, for example, that having the Department of Education oversee School Community-Based Managementwas, in her terms, "putting the fox in charge of the henhouse." As a member, she fought to make the Board of Education "an instrument of the public, not a shadow of the DOE." And when a school superintendent made the mistake of giving her an order, she replied that he was her employee, not vice versa!

But she was not just a feisty defender of the good. Her tough stances were accompanied by a great deal of warmth and graciousness and compassion, and she was always accessible to the many who sought her help. She also displayed a great deal of quiet courage when that seemed needed. For instance, she was, in the early''50s, a victim of McCarthyism, and 3-inch, Page 1 headlines daily denounced her with absurd charges. She quietly and without rancor weathered the episode -- and 15 years later led the slate when she ran for school board membership.

Her conviction and quiet confidence gave her the ability to validate others. And when they doubted themselves, she would convince them of their merits. She made a hit of the University of Hawaii program she launched, Continuing Education for Women, to assist those whose college careers had been interrupted or never begun. The central challenge, said Marion, was "to restore their self-respect, and imbue them with a sense of their own worth and ability to succeed."

As we observe Women's History Month, we need to tell the stories of women like Marion. Hawaii will need more of them in the new millennium -- women who will model civic responsibility, as well as teach it, along with community participation, compassion, courage, and the unrelenting urge for a just, equitable society.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
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