Following in My Mother’s Footsteps

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This is an excerpt from the journal of Lizzie Marie Johnson. She is a sixteen year-old girl living in Washington D.C. during the early 1900s.

March 13, 1919 — I had no idea that today would be different from every other Thursday. I woke up, got dressed and ready for school, ate breakfast, walked Ashley and Blake to their classes, and continued on to my locker. I got home from tutoring Jacob this afternoon, and Mom wasn’t home. I thought she would already be home from work at the hospital, but maybe she picked up a late shift to earn extra money to buy a gift for Ashley’s upcoming birthday.

March 15, 1919– Mom still hasn’t come home yet. I am getting very scared and nervous. She could be hurt or in danger, and I don’t even know it! Maybe I should call the police. They will know what to do and will help me look for her. I hope she is okay and that we find her!

March 16, 1919– My heart is racing faster than it has ever before! I called the police this morning, and they told me that my mother isn’t missing because she is in jail! If she would have just stopped protesting when she was told, she wouldn’t be behind bars!

How am I going to tell Blake and Ashley? It was hard enough losing their father, and now I have to tell them they don’t have a mother either! How am I going to take care of my younger siblings without the help of an adult? I will need to take on a bigger role in this house, but will I be able to do it?

March 21, 1919– I’m starting to get used to having no parents or help. I have been spending more days tutoring, Blake and Ashley have been helping me at the farmer’s market and running errands, and so far we are doing okay. However, I am starting to get a little ticked off. Even though the rights Mom and other women are fighting for can help achieve equality for women, there are also disadvantages to consider. Our neighbor, Mr. Parker, says if they win, these new rights might pose a threat to the safety of women, endanger child custody and alimony protections, and create a loss of privacy. Did my mother know about those, or did she just ignore them?

Why would my mother run off and do something she knows she wasn’t supposed to do? Now that she’s been arrested, the burden is on me, and I’m the only one left to raise my brother and sister. Why couldn’t she just let things go as they were because now it’s impacting MY life? I have to keep this household going, so I can’t hang out with my friends. Plus, I have to stay up late every night doing homework because I also have to do the dishes, laundry and housekeeping. I do feel a little guilty for being angry with Mom, but I don’t think this is fair. Will I ever get my own life back?

April 1, 1919– This afternoon I came home from tutoring, and Blake and Ashley weren’t there! At first I thought maybe they were hiding from me as a prank since it’s April Fool’s Day; however, they never turned up. How did I lose my younger siblings, too? I am in full panic mode, so I went to the jail to visit my mother. After a long and emotional discussion, we figured that Social Services had come to the house, took Blake and Ashley, and placed them in a foster home. She told me to just continue with my everyday life and that she would be out soon. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just did exactly what she said.

April 27, 1919– It has almost been a month of being on my complete own, and after spending several hours thinking, I finally realized the importance of what my mother has been fighting for all along. Why do women have to be the ones who stay at home? Why don’t I have the right to vote and help shape the laws in our country?

Our country’s founding fathers stated that “all men are created equal” in the 2nd Amendment of the Declaration of Independence, but I believe they were referring to mankind, not just males. So it makes sense that women should have the same “unalienable rights” as men including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

So I am going to pick up where she left off –writing articles championing the Women’s Rights Movement, putting up signs, and talking to others about why equal rights are so important. The adoption of women’s rights would allow women to vote and also open more job opportunities, provide access to education, and allow participation in political events. I just hope everyone else also realizes that men aren’t the only ones capable of leading our country. If approved, these rights also will provide a safer and more improved quality of life for women everywhere.

June 6, 1919– The past forty-eight hours have been the best two days of my life! First, the Nineteenth Amendment was just passed stating that both men and women have equal voting rights! All of the hours women have spent campaigning have finally paid off! Also, my mother was released from jail and came home around noon yesterday, and my little brother and sister were returned home a few hours later –it felt like we haven’t seen each other in years! Love, happiness, and comfort has been spread around our house in ways I can’t explain. We talked for hours and celebrated Ashley’s eighth birthday! I loved watching her blow out the candles on her chocolate cake. I wonder what she wished for because I have everything that I ever wanted right now! 

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