Mistress of History


by mraynes

I once had a boyfriend who told me that women have no history outside of their husbands and children.  I was a young history major at the time and was only just discovering where my interests lay but his ignorant remark sparked in me a profound desire to prove him wrong.  Needless to say, our relationship did not last much longer but I was left with a new found feminism and a love of women’s history.

Over the next couple of years I would study the lives of Hildegard Von Bingen, Martha Ballard, Alice Paul, Betty Friedan…all women who left a mark on history outside the framework of domesticity.  Also around this time I received a copy of my grandfather’s memoir which included his version of the end of my grandparents’ marriage.  As I read through this story of my grandfather’s life, I wondered how different my grandmother’s version of their divorce would be.  She probably would not have painted herself in the light my grandfather had.  Unfortunately, her story is lost to history and what remains of her life is only in the memories of her sons and ex-husband.

By the time I graduated from college, I knew the importance of women’s stories but I also understood that historically, women have had to go to greater lengths to get those stories heard.  As an idealistic young feminist, I was determined to create my own history; husband and children might come but I would not allow them to define my life, let alone allow myself to be lost in their history. 

What I did not understand as an idealistic young feminist was how easy it is for any woman, feminist or not, to fall into this trap.  I fully admit that I have lost some of my resolve.  None of us can write our history in advance and so as my life has failed to follow the course I imagined, it has become easy to define myself in terms of my husband and children.  It is so easy to proudly talk about my husband, the orchestral conductor who is so smart and so talented.  dsc000174

It is a delight to revel in my beautiful Monster who dances and laughs in and out of my presence or Baby Valkyrie who thrives on my love and brightens my life with her smile.  I have re-defined myself in the terms of my family because it is the one thing that I feel truly good at, that I am proud of.  Yes, I have a life and a career outside of my home but those things are not as fulfilling as I imagined them to be. 

I feel at times that my life is at a standstill, waiting for my husband to finish school and get a job, or for my babies to grow up a little or for me to go back  and get my graduate degrees.  Often I feel like I am just waiting for my real life to begin.  I suppose that we all need times of limbo to help focus ourselves, to make the way forward more clear.  But how sad if I allow myself to get stuck here.

And so in honor of Women’s History Month, and in honor of my fore mothers, I resolve once again to make my own history.  But this time I make my resolution with a little less naivete, with the understanding that my husband and children are part of my history.  Part of my history because I have given so much of myself to them and in return they have given themselves to me.  And with this gift I realize that it is up to me to be the mistress of my own history.

Who are the women from history that inspire you?  How do you define your own history? 


  1. Thank you for this wonderful post. As a newly married self-defined feminist who wants to finish up her graduate degree and have a family (etc etc), I really do love reading perspectives like this. They acknowledge the complicated and intertwined lives women often have and give me hope in the future of women’s studies: defining women by the diversities of their happiness and not some prescribed list of this-then-that-then-this-not-that.

  2. One thing I often think of doing – but never begin – is suing my camera or laptop to just video myself talking. I could describe my current life and ideas and priorities, I could describe my recent political and news related memories, I could advise my children on stuff in case I’m not around later… i dunno. It just seems like it would be great to have image and sound of myself at various ages and look back at how things changed, and how lucky we are that the technology exists in every household to do this sort of thing! I wish I had my grandma’s stories, I know so little even about the everyday facts, and though they’re alive it seems too late to ask them. (dementia, lost memory etc.)
    An wouldn’t it be cool history 20 or 40 years from now to show your kids what you remember and feel about 9/11 or Obama’s election or whatever while the news was still fresh in your mind?

  3. Thank you for referencing Hildegard! She’s been a favorite forever!

    I am one of those single feminist who is avidly writing my story daily. I’ve been able to pursue every career
    dream and every educational goal and every travel
    adventure I could ever conceive of.

    I have such a happy and full life. But I do wonder,
    at times, what it would be like to have a life
    with a husband and children. I wonder if that
    giving of yourself REALLY does help you to find
    another part of yourself that you may not tap into
    as a single person.

    Great post.

  4. MRaynes,
    As always, fabulous post! I love the way you portray women in history and your own life story.
    And, of course I love the photo of you and your baby daughter. She is so adorable.
    Also, I identified with your description of the limbo period, where we’re not sure what’s happening next, and when we’ll get to the next stage. But, looking back, I always wish I was more “present” during that period.
    Thanks for the great post.

  5. mraynes, a lot of what you talk about is resonating with a class I’m taking called “The Moral Agency of Women.” In it we’re learning about the ways feminist ethicists have actually redifined morality and moral agency to encompass relationships (spouse, children, friends) in a way that previous philosophers never did. They argue a person is not just some autonomous being sprung from space, but rather that we are absolutely products of our relationships, and that those relationships give us opportunities to devolop and grow in moral dimensions, so long as we don’t fall into traps of self-sacrifice. (I’ll give a little presentation on this stuff if I see you in SoCal in March.) It’s fascinating stuff.

  6. Thank you for a very interesting post. I think it underlines a major problem we have in the way history is taught in schools: as a story that men wrote and women passively accepted. So many women, just like your grandmother, have only had their stories told the men in their lives.
    But the truth is that women have made and shaped history just as much as men–and they have done this as part of and in addition to raising children.

    I think you would love Women Making America, a new book that was recently published by two women who have already been quite involved in Exponent–Heidi Hemming and Julie Hemming Savage. It is an absolutely fabulous read and has incredible images to accompany it. It addresses many of the issues you brought up in this post and encourages Americans to think of this country as a creation of women and men. It talks about the women that you love- Bingen, Ballard, Paul, etc.- and also tells the story of lesser known women who played crucial roles in their communities.

    The authors also made a point of sharing equal time with diverse races and socio-economic backgrounds instead of only telling speaking of white middle class women.

    If you’re interested, you can buy the book on or at

  7. Here’s another book suggestion for you: Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, another founding mother of Exponent II. It is an amazing and empowering book that helps put women back into history through the ages. She also spends time talking about how writing is central to a woman’s creating her own history.

  8. Thankyou so much for this post. I found myself coming to tears as I read it. I have been struggling lately with feelings of loosing myself. I feel that I am just a wife and mother (to my three beautiful boys) and I feel so disconnected to what I used to be. As you said I am in limbo trying to get myself back and feel important, feel like I am worth more. Being a mother is greatest privilege in my eyes, I just never thought it would consume my life. Thankyou for the motivation to stop waiting around and make my own history the way I want it to be.

  9. What a great way to kick of Women’s History Month. Thanks, mraynes!

    Margaret, Julie will be doing a post for us this month–aren’t we lucky?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Click to subscribe for new post alerts.

Click to subscribe to our magazine, in circulation since 1974.

Related Posts

Poll: Degrees of Motherhood

Mother's Day is a tricky subject, especially among feminists. It's hard to know what to say that will please everyone and not cause...

Calling the Midwives: A Personal Essay: WHO Year and the Nurse and the Midwife

Guest Post by MarieC   Marie C is mother to one human, two felines, and a husband, living in Gippsland, Australia. She does aerial fitness in...

Family Home Evening, Les Miserables, and Teaching Ethics to the Kids

I didn’t grow up doing Family Home Evening. In my small, less-than-orthodox family with a widowed mother and one brother, having a formal night...

Journeys of Faith: Portraits of LGBTQ Mormons

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to go to the exhibition opening of Journeys of Faith: Portraits of LGBTQ Mormons, a collection of portraits...
submit guest post
Submit a Guest Blog Post
subscribe to our magazine
Subscribe to Our Magazine
Social Media Auto Publish Powered By :