When I began contacting American women in their 80s and 90s a week ago, I thought that I was gathering quotes for an article I'd be publishing on the eve of a historic moment for our country. I focused my interviews on the emotion these women would feel, should they finally see the United States break the glass ceiling and elect its first female president. I asked if they ever thought they'd see a female president during their lifetime. I asked them to try to articulate what the moment would mean for them on an emotional level.
While speaking to these women about a Hillary Clinton victory, I also found myself just wanting to absorb as much of their advice, perspective, and knowledge as possible. I threw in a seemingly simple question at the end of my interviews: Is there anything else you want millennial women in America to know? Now, I'm glad I did. Now, the election is over. America has voted a racist misogynist man into office over a well-qualified woman. And quotes about the emotion behind a hypothetical moment in history are pretty useless. Instead, we need the words and advice of the women who came before us.
Enid Kushner, 86
"When I first got out of college, there were really only three professions that women aspired to, and those were nursing, teaching, and social work. I ended up in social work, and then, later on, as women's horizons expanded, I went to law school.
"I wish I had been forward-looking enough to have done it originally; I would have had a longer, more successful career."
Rita Babin, 84
"I just think that women can do everything. And they should look forward to a bright future, and don't let anything stop them. Just forge ahead and do what you can. And accept change. The big thing is to accept change."
Marie Gaynor DeVenezia, 84
"Don't forget that many women struggled hard to win the advantages you now take for granted. Pay attention. You could lose them."
Mary Blane, 86
"I think [young people] need to listen to the news but to use their own judgement. You can listen to everybody but you still have to have your own judgement."
Lila Howard, 92
"I have tried to analyze why Republicans have been able to get people elected when they are primarily backing the financially elite, and there are many more poor people than wealthy people [here].
"What I have figured out is that the Republicans very cleverly bring up items that affect people emotionally. For example, abortion, same-sex marriage, things of that kind, which have nothing to do with running the country properly, affect people emotionally. The more we are able to get people to think logically instead of emotionally, the better chance we have to keep this country on the right track."
Ruth Shire, 92
"Young women should be proud of themselves and have confidence in themselves. I also think family support is every important to young women. It has been in my life, and I'm giving support to my own grandchildren.
"[Young women] should value themselves. That doesn't mean to going around thinking they are better than everybody else, but having confidence is great."
Barbara Berman, 89
"[Young women] are equal to men, in many ways. And superior in many ways. And deserve a chance."
Images: Courtesy of Barbara Berman (1), Ruth Shire (1), Lila Howard (1), Mary Blane (1), Marie Gaynor DeVenezia (1), Rita Babin (1), Enid Kushner (1)