(H/t The Daily Beast.) Thirty years ago, in the spring of 1979, my family drove from Sylvania, Ohio to Washington, D.C. for a vacation during my brother’s and my spring break week from school. I was 10 and my brother was 8, and it turned out to be a civics lesson that was disguised as a family vacation. (My parents were big on the National Parks and monuments as vacation destinations.)
We arrived just as the cherry blossoms were opening, although the weather was cool and cloudy enough that we shivered inside our windbreakers most of the time. I fell in love with the Smithsonian Instituion museums–of course, American History was my favorite. We toured the White House, and also went to the U.S. Capitol to see Congress in action–I met Senator John Glenn, the former astronaut and our then-U.S. Senator in Ohio. I remember watching a debate in the Senate from the visitor’s gallery, and seeing Senator Edward M. Kennedy make an impassioned argument about noise restrictions to protect people who lived near Logan airport in Boston. (Yeah, it wasn’t exactly a Charles Sumner stemwinder or moral throwdown, but remember, this was 1979, and Kennedy had enough buzz on him as a possible challenger to President Jimmy Carter that even an apolitical ten year-old in suburban Ohio knew that he was the guy to watch that day.)
My big souvenir purchase from the trip was a bookbag that said, “A Woman’s Place is in the House. . . and in the Senate.” I loved it! It was bright blue, with white letters and white handles. I was so proud of it. Surely, I thought, by the time I was twice ten, and definitely by the time I was three or four times ten, women would be represented equally in Congress! Surely by that point, women wielding political power won’t be singled out for ridicule or suffer nasty attacks just because of their sex!
All children are natural Whig historians, I guess. I’m sorry I know better now.