What better way to honor March’s celebration of Women’s History Month than with the most honorable of mentions to a handful of remarkable Cape Cod women spanning two centuries? These inimitable ladies have indelibly carved out the central role of women in society, inspired remembrance and learning, and continue to serve as the vital role models and teachers of history essential especially to girls everywhere. It is these footsteps that ignite the confidence of future triumphs.
Mercy Otis Warren
Historian, playwright, and early pioneer of women’s rights Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814) of West Barnstable emerged as a premier woman of the American Revolution, breaking conventional gender roles of her time every step of the way. A champion of liberty, Warren promoted the Patriot cause with unrestrained passion, publishing politically motivated satirical plays and poems despite being squarely seated in the station of men. She persevered in her work, despite criticism from leading figures like John Adams, standing by her every word. After the war, she wrote and published a highly influential three-volume history of the American Revolution, designating her as “The First Lady of the Revolution”. Mercy eventually settled in Plymouth with her husband and greatest supporter, one of the many men in her family noted to have encouraged her efforts, and treated her both as a confidante and equal. And why shouldn’t they have?
Dedications: You’ll find a statue of this steadfast first lady on the Barnstable County Courthouse lawn, bronze book in hand. Kudos to the Cape for celebrating women’s history and demonstrating leadership through the Mercy Otis Warren "Cape Cod Woman of the Year Award," presented annually to a resident who has made significant contributions to the Cape community while embracing the ideas of patriotism. A brilliant example of the ways we draw power and inspiration from the women who came before us.
Inspired by the waters of Woods Hole her first summer studying at the Marine Biological Laboratory, biologist/ecologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964) was one of the first conservationists to create a worldwide awareness of environmental pollution and pesticides. Her prize-winning, prolific trilogy of books - “Under the Sea-Wind,” “The Sea Around Us,” and “The Edge of the Sea” - were all inspired by local waters, and comprised a biography of the sea that distinguished her as an influential naturalist teaching people about the beauty of the living world. Now part of NOAA, Carson worked for the Bureau of Fisheries, and broke the barrier for women going to sea on its research vessel, the Albatross III. Unique to a writer, Carson was popular with both the public and the scientific community. When her highly controversial, groundbreaking 1962, “Silent Spring” was published and attacked for powerfully presenting the reckless use of pesticides and their poisoning effect on living things, she was unwavering in her duty to inform the public and advocate for stricter environmental laws. She courageously testified before Congress in 1963, calling for protective policies for both humans and the environment, all the while enduring a long battle against breast cancer before she died in 1964. True heroism. Awards? Positively! The Rachel Carson Award is presented each spring by the National Audubon Society’s Women in Conservation recognizing advancements in the environmental movement locally, and globally. Check out those honorees for some more inspiration! Women inspiring women.
Dedications: Is it any wonder Carson’s very first time seeing the ocean from the shores of the Cape would prove so inspiring? Locals will love contemplating the life-sized statue erected in the Marine Biological Laboratory’s Waterfront Park in Woods Hole commemorating Carson’s ties to the Cape, remembered as “a marine biologist who kicked the hornet’s nest.” A role model to adults and kids alike, her courage and trailblazing role as pioneer and undisputed founder of the American environmental movement lives on today, inspiring students’ school biography and “wax museum” projects locally and around the country (got kids?)
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy
Just reading her name invokes the legacy of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (1890-1995) of Hyannisport. Matriarch of the Kennedy political dynasty, and mother to president John F. Kennedy, she was a model and devoted parent to nine children, and known as the magnet that pulled the family together from wherever they were. She supported her sons’ political careers with the great spirit and stamina she brought to every duty and interest of her life, including her charitable work uniquely recognized by the Vatican. Kennedy’s reach went well beyond her family, as she was passionately involved with charities that assisted children with intellectual disabilities as her eldest daughter lived with, and was devoted to finding support for the public’s education of these challenges. Resolute to her core, throughout tragedy or triumph, she once said: “Willpower, just willpower, and doing what’s necessary is what keeps me going.” Words to live by. She was 104 years old when she died in her Hyannisport home.
Dedications: There’s no better way to explore the Kennedys’ footsteps than walking the 1.6 mile, self-guided Kennedy Legacy Trail in downtown Hyannis. With 10 sites linked to informational audio and video, you can uncover local, significant events just steps from the family’s Cape compound. Marking her 101st birthday, the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Garden was dedicated on town-owned land also in Hyannisport where you’ll find a commemoration plaque…and roses. The first park named for Mrs. Kennedy is the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, stretching for one mile across several downtown Boston locations, and connecting communities with landscaped gardens. The JFK Hyannis Museum on Main Street holds a complete archive of the Kennedy family history in an exquisite display of photos, films, and personal artifacts. Traveling to Boston? Visit the JFK Presidential Library and Museum for a complete personal and historical record of his era.
Read the first in our Women's History Month blog series here>
Read the second in our Women's History Month blog series here>