Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Women Missing from Terre Haute's "Walk of Fame"

What about the women?

Terre Haute’s Walk of Fame (see The Tribune-Star, Nov. 12, 2013) is a welcome reality thanks to a committee that works hard, on a volunteer basis, without a real budget, to create something meaningful and lasting.

Citizens proud of our city and its past should visit and gaze on the plaques embedded along Wabash Avenue. The Walk of Fame, those recognized on these beautifully cast iron plaques, are all deserving of celebration. They are all an important part of Terre Haute’s heritage.

But heritage is a tricky term. Heritage is not history, history being that hard, messy business of collecting evidence and asking and trying to answer questions about what happened in the past.

Heritage? Not much in the way of inquiry going on. The plaques along Wabash Avenue smile up at us, factoids, evidence not history.

Historians a thousand years from now may dig through the debris of a past civilization, calling their government research grant something exciting, maybe, “The Search for the Hautean People of the River.” You can imagine their excitement when they find these Walk of Fame plaques buried deeply in the sediment of hard, sun-baked clay. What might they make of them? What questions would they ask of this evidence? What conclusions might they draw from the story told by these mute memorial facts?

So far, thirty individuals have been chosen for the Walk of Fame heritage project. Of the thirty only four are women. Why is this?

Heritage has been a man’s game. Visit Rome and count the marble heads in museums and the saluting generals and emperors on columns and plinths. Men rule — literally and in stone and bronze. And now it seems in cast iron plaques along Wabash Avenue. In the not-too-distant past, inheritance (a legal form of heritage) was about property and power being passed on father to son. But history has changed. Historians ask new questions of the evidence. Questions along the lines of “What about the women?” are now standard among historians.

Women are half the population, hold up half the sky, and have lived among the “Hautean People of the River” almost since Terre Haute’s origins.

So how does our silent but impressive Walk of Fame contribute evidence to answering the question: “What about the women?”

At present, this “What about the women?” question can only be answered with a quizzical shrug or a cynical “not much.” But here’s a start, one long overdue. Tomorrow the selection committee for inductees should announce that Ida Husted Harper will be added to the Fourth Class of Walk of Fame inductees.

This short-hand run down lists some of Harper’s national and international accomplishments:

• Journalist and editor for Terre Haute newspapers for 20 years.

• Early organizer of Indiana’s woman’s suffrage organization.

• Handles press relations for California suffrage amendment in 1896.

• Close friend and biographer of Susan B. Anthony.

• Editor of volumes 4-6 of History of Woman Suffrage,

• Head of Leslie Bureau of Suffrage Education for National American Woman Suffrage Association.

• Delegate and head of press relations for International Woman Suffrage Alliance.

• Nationally syndicated writer for many newspapers and magazines

If you think gaining the vote for women, half the population of this nation, was a good thing, an amazing achievement, a banner marker in the history of our nation’s representative democracy, then think of Ida Husted Harper as one of the top 10 leaders instrumental in achieving this.

I look forward to seeing Harper added to the list of recent Walk of Fame inductees.

The next group of inductees should all be women. Suggestions for this catch-up list are forthcoming.

Gary Daily

Terre Haute Tribune Star, Readers Forum,  November 24, 2013.
http://www.tribstar.com/letters/x143683833/Readers-forum-Nov-24-2013

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