History Isn't Just About Known Heroes. There's Gold in the Footnotes.


Two years ago, the American Historical Theatre in Philadelphia enacted a 4th of July celebration featuring Martha Washington. Martha Washington was our nation's first First Lady and her dedicated and thoughtful management of the Presidential household created a template for this influential role in the executive branch of our government. Martha often held open receptions that brought together ordinary citizens with politicians and other notable citizens with wide-ranging views.


The liberty bell rang out 13 times that day, representing each of the original 13 colonies celebrating the commencement of the War of Independence. A crowd gathered at Independence Hall and I assumed my position, front and center, to hear the words of our nation’s first First Lady while wondering if it would have any relevance to current times. I’m always interested in how women leaders are portrayed so I was curious to hear this colonial reenactment.

The regular banter of the British rule and taxation without representation rang out with her words. The actress portraying her spoke with the stout hardiness and down to earth wisdom of a seasoned veteran, having seen her husband pressed into service as the Commander-in-Chief. A member of the audience asked whether she believed a woman could be elected president of the nation. She waited until the murmur of the crowd subsided and then said calmly, “I’ve watched my husband in the position and, to be honest, I don’t see how anyone—man or woman—would want that job.” She then mentioned a number of females from the past who did step out to lead their people. Her list included Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Mari Stuart, Catherine de Medici, Elizabeth I and others. She followed up with a description of the important efforts and accomplishments of countless women from Philadelphia and the surrounding areas during the Revolutionary War.

And so it goes today, with so many women serving the country in so many different ways, with a weakening but still very real glass ceiling. Our country owes a great amount of respect to women soldiers, sailors, marines, Coast Guard and Air Force personnel for their selfless service to our nation. I am proud to have served in the US Army Signal Corps and to see the progress that women have made throughout the ranks.

As we close on another July 4th celebration of freedom and independence, I salute my friends, colleagues and all those who have served their country, as we give our respect to those who initially fought for our freedoms. This includes countless women who have served selflessly in vital roles throughout history but rarely made it past the footnotes. Image: "Martha Dandridge Custis Washington" by Elizabeth Frazer Andrews (1835—1915), PD Art Old (painting), PD U.S. Gov't (digital image)


Bernie Dixon is the founder of LaunchPad2x, one of the most innovative and successful business boot camps in the U.S. for women leaders. Women entrepreneurs are founding and leading dynamic young companies. Launchpad2x helps these leaders transition from founders to CEOs. Learn more about the Fall Bootcamp.

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