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Hillary's historical run would have pleased immigrant grandmothers

Hillary Clinton speaks during the David N. Dinkins

Hillary Clinton speaks during the David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum at Columbia University April 29, 2015 in New York City. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Kevin Hagen

My first thoughts after hearing that Hillary Clinton was officially running for president were not of the candidate herself. Not the images of her, or her voice or the road to her momentous announcement.

Instead, I thought about my two long-gone grandmothers.

There was Rebecca Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania with a steely side - a nongrandmotherly grandmother, who taught me early in my life that my biggest obligation was to be strong.

Not sweet. Not dependent. But yes, strong. Strong was the biggest "must" of all.

I thought of how Rebecca was widowed young and figured out how to support herself by launching a sewing school at her rambling Philadelphia home.

She taught women how to run power sewing machines so they could get work, earn money and, yes, become independent.

What she wanted for them was freedom from the almost-certain underclass lives ahead of them if they were passive.

So Grandmom Schwartz would surely have cheered Hillary on. She would have sent money in an envelope, addressed in her scratchy hand, to wherever it needed to go. That would have been her way of helping. She had learned, in her immigrant years, that money talks.

My maternal grandmother had a totally different take on life. She was born, I always conjectured, wearing an apron over her ample middle.

And she was determined in a different way.

Gertrude Goldberg wanted her three daughters, including her middle child, my mother, to have a better life than she had had. Also an immigrant, she and her husband, the gentle Joseph, worked long hours in their fruit store.

She wanted her daughters to marry well because it was the only way out that she saw in the 1930s. Marriage was the finish line for women, including for my late mother, Lillian.

I didn't realize until I was a young adult that, when my mother was born in 1909, women did not have the right to vote. That changed 11 years later, with the passage of the 19th Amendment. But my astonishment lingers.

My own daughters know their grandmothers. They know that their paternal grandmother Helen Friedman, was an immigrant from Russia whose dream was to become an American citizen. When she did, she surely wasn't going to miss casting her vote. It was her voice in this Golden Land.

They knew my mother had an easier road. But I still feel a sadness that only in her later years did she finally establish a modest career. Only then did the culture deem it acceptable for a lawyer's wife to have a job.

Oh, the enlightened times these ancestors of mine had missed. So yes, when Hillary announced, I did it.

I took out the credit card - the one in my name. (In 1960, when I married, I had to use my husband's because cards hadn't been issued to women yet.) I rejoiced - and got a little teary - as I made a small contribution to Hillary's campaign.

I did it for so many reasons.

I did it for Rebecca Schwartz and Gertrude Goldberg, and for Lillian Schwartz and Helen Friedman. I did it for my three daughters and my three granddaughters. And I did it for their babies, the ones I may never meet, but who will be part of our legacy of women.

And this I know.

In 2016, when I cast my vote, my grandmothers, my mother-in-law, and my mother will be in that voting booth with me.

Sally Friedman is a writer in Moorestown, Pa. She wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer.


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