Capable Woman

The phrase, “Male chauvinist pig” did not exist back when my Aunt Martha and any male who happened to be in the room with her were tangled up in the argument, “Are women as capable as men?” “A woman can do anything a man can do,” my aunt would say during one of the more strident moments in these arguments.

My Aunt — single, by choice — was a very bright and, yes, capable, woman.She worked for the OSS in Washington during WW II.


Aunt Martha (second from right, facing) in Washington DC at the end of WW II

After that, she was the legal assistant to the attorney for the Air Force Finance Center which was located in Denver. She testified in front of Congress several times and was awarded a medal by Congress for some work that she did.

Back in those days, this kind of job did not require a university education. People learned skills in high school and were assumed to have good reasoning ability with which to apply the skills. In Hardin High School in southeastern Montana my aunt learned everything she needed for a lifetime of challenging and satisfying work.

So, the eternal argument. The line was drawn by my dad and uncles (and later, cousins) on women in the military in the front line. My aunt was sure women could do as well as men on the front lines. For her, that question was apart from whether there should be front lines at all. For the men in my family, there was only one question. Did women have what it took to stand firm in the face of fire? Everyone knows women are the weaker sex.

My mom said my aunt didn’t understand men. I think she did, but differently than the women who were primarily wives. My aunt worked with men every single day of her working life. She was undoubtedly the only woman of her government grade (GS 12) in her office at the Air Force Finance Center. She was respected for the work she did and, as I learned when she was 80 and we were sitting at the table in her kitchen having one of our numerous heart-to-heart talks, she had been considered a hottie. I always thought she was beautiful. I learned in that conversation that her attitude toward male/female sexual relations was unconventional, in my family, anyway. I was tickled when I had the task of cleaning out her dresser drawers and found a packet of condoms and black stockings with lace tops. I hid them from her sisters who were working there in the garage with me.

I thought about her as I watched HRC’s presidential campaign and the big noise about the “last glass ceiling” and “first woman president.” My aunt would have judged her harshly, I think, especially the parading of Bill as part of her stragedy for justifying, supporting, her campaign. I could hear my aunt say, “He’s no great shakes. She should run on her own, not on the coattails of her husband.” I believe my aunt would have found HRC “capable” because of her experience, but cowardly because she seemed to need a husband to bolster her campaign. And, as I recall, Bill Clinton’s lying under oath disgusted her.

My mom sometimes lectured my aunt saying,  “Men need to be needed,” “There’s no competition between men and women,” “Let the men ‘win’ the arguments.” In my aunt’s world, there WAS competition between men and women, a man should be humiliated by being “let” to win the argument, and she really didn’t think she “needed” a man.

Back then there were just not that many women living in my aunt’s world.

After she retired in the mid-1970s (early, age 55) she worked for the Red Cross, first as a volunteer and then as a coordinator for disaster relief efforts worldwide. She traveled to many different countries that had been hit by hurricanes or earthquakes, that kind of thing. When she died, she was worth over a million dollars.

So the real question is not whether women are as capable as men, but how many people are as capable as my Aunt Martha?  ❤

Photo: Aunt Martha, me, my mom, Easter, 1967

15 thoughts on “Capable Woman

  1. What an excellent story, and a great answer to today’s prompt. She sounds like a very cool woman to have known. Big respect to her for staying true to her guns. The stockings in the drawer is a funny detail and says a lot about a woman powering through the sexual revolution.

  2. I suspect we all become capable when we need to be. I never thought about it much. If someone else was willing to do it, I let him (or her). If not, I did (do) it. I’m good at some stuff, not good at other stuff. I never put a lot of mental or emotional energy into the “women can” vs. “men can” issue. It was never an issue. My mother did whatever she needed to do. For that matter, so did my brother and my son. Garry isn’t good at anything involving hand coordination and never way. I wish I were better at electrical work and plumbing, though. There’s a lot of that stuff that needs doing.

  3. Lovely tribute – I get the sense that she lives on, in a way, through you. Are there two Martha’s in the photo up top? Aunt on the right?

    When I feel like pointing fingers, I regret I didn’t have an Aunt Martha in my life. My mom was more than capable, but she was handicapped by a less than capable spouse. I learned to accept “less than” from watching my parents.

    • I’m in the middle and my Aunt is the woman with glasses on my right in the photo. We were very close as friends and as aunt and niece. I loved her very much and I miss her. I’m so grateful she was in my life. ❤

  4. What a lovely tribute to your aunt. Obviously your mother thought you looked like her and named you accordingly. How lucky were you to have such a role model! You seem to have learnt a lot from her and your love for her resounds loudly. ❤

    • My dad named me after my Aunt Martha. He and she had had one of THOSE arguments and were not speaking. When I was born, he was so happy, he just wanted to fix everything everywhere, bury every hatchet, so I am Martha ❤ My mom wasn't happy about it. I was supposed to have been Elizabeth.

      • That’s interesting! I was supposed to be Ruth, but when born didn’t come up to expectation, perhaps, and became Barbara meaning foreigner or stranger! So I became! I’m glad your dad named you Martha.

  5. Yes, a barbarous and uncivilised person leaves me more options when it comes to writing!
    You, Martha are the capable one! Names do matter.

  6. Loved reading this…and then saw the date the photo was taken. I realized I was just born that March and was barely cooing when you were the young woman pictured. Funny how time stretches between people and creates tenuous bridges–family and experiences echo among all women.

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