I am very grateful to the girls and young women with whom I shared the first twenty-plus years of my life. You meant a lot to me during that time. You contributed much to my development. You had a tremendous impact on my beliefs, my attitudes, and on the person I have become.
Many of you were my closest and most special friends during the years we were together. I bonded with you. I respected you. We worked and played together. We helped each other. We challenged each other. We could share strengths and weaknesses, admit them in ourselves and point them out in each other, and maybe help each other to use that knowledge to build upon.
You demonstrated that you were intelligent, self-confident, caring, sensitive, articulate. We could talk about ideas, cares, concerns, hopes, dreams, sorrows, plans. As you grew into young women, those important characteristics grew as well.
The community where we lived and the schools we attended were major factors in the attitudes we developed and the nature of the relationships that followed.
An important part of the lives of many of us during those earlier years was Park Circle and the variety of programs offered by the community center located there. The playground sports programs which were a popular part of the activities at Park Circle were available for both boys and girls beginning at elementary school age. While the leagues were separated by gender, the girls’ programs were given equal emphasis and were well-supported and well-attended. The girls’ athletic abilities were respected. Boys attended and cheered for the girls’ competitions and the girls did likewise for the boys. When we moved from playground to high school sports, the girls continued their participation and received the boys’ enthusiastic support.
The schools also had a profound influence on our development and our attitudes. North Charleston Elementary School and North Charleston High School valued and encouraged educational achievement. In classes both girls and boys were among the best students. The same group was usually together in most classes, girls and boys together, learning together, challenging each other, helping each other, respecting the abilities and accomplishments of each other. We enjoyed each other. Outside classes both girls and boys were involved in leadership and support roles in school organizations and clubs. The successful functioning of all the school activities depended on the contributions of girls and boys working together.
Because of these and many other early experiences, I never had any question about the equality of the sexes. I knew that females were at least as able as males. Sometimes boys came out ahead at something and sometimes it was girls who were ahead, but usually it was a mixture. It wasn’t one’s gender that made the difference in performance; it was one’s individual abilities and how they were applied that mattered.
When the women’s movement became a prominent force in the 1960s, there was no question in my mind that the changes sought were, of course, long overdue. Too frequently our society has relegated females to second-class status and has made it more difficult for girls and women to gain the recognition, respect, and rewards they merited. I knew that girls and women deserve to have their abilities, achievements, and value acknowledged by all of society. The importance of the girls and women with whom I had lived in North Charleston had always been abundantly clear. And in the years since my youth in North Charleston my spouse, my daughter, my granddaughters, my daughter-in-law, and numerous other girls and women have reinforced the lessons I learned during those early years.
While talking with some friends recently I’ve had the opportunity to tell them about the special relationships I shared with girls and women during my early years in North Charleston. I’ve not been in contact with most of the people I knew back in North Charleston, but I really wanted to tell my female friends and acquaintances from those days how much you have meant to me. I thank all of you and am forever grateful for the influence you have had on my life. I expect you have continued your development into even stronger individuals than you were during the years I was with you in North Charleston. And I hope that you have received appropriate recognition for all your achievements and true respect for your abilities and your contributions to those around you.