Guest Post: Honoring my Foremothers

Can I just say I love Jillian? OK, I’ll say it: I love Jillian. I have been asking her to write this post pretty much since we met, or at least since she told me the story about her grandmother and her name and why it’s important to her to keep it. I hope I haven’t given too much away here, but this post is for anyone and everyone who has ever even considered keeping their name after getting married. Sometimes, names run deeper than patriarchal lineage. Sometimes, like with Jillian, the importance lies in a well-respected matriarchal figure.

Deciding whether or not to keep one’s given name or take on your partner’s remains a deeply complex and personal decision. Regardless of whether or not I decide to legally or socially change my name to my partner’s, I have always known that I would keep my given name professionally. This is the story of why.

Back in 1923, a young woman named Irene was born in St. Louis, MO. Irene held her first job at the age of eight, showing a well-to-do young woman around the city to earn much needed extra money for her family. As a child, Irene always dreamed of becoming a surgeon, confident that her nimble fingers and sharp intellect would serve her well. Not only did Irene dream of becoming a surgeon, but she wanted more than anything to attend Princeton. However, Irene turned 18 in 1941 – a full 28 years before Princeton admitted its first female students and right in the thick of WWII. Like many young American women around her, Irene kept working, just as she had through her childhood, only by now she inspected bomb fuses. There, at Carter Carburetor, she met Reg and fell in love. They married, he went to war, and when he came home they had three beautiful sons. Through all of this, Irene held onto the seed of her dreams, nourishing it deep within her.

Once all three boys were in school, Irene made a long-awaited appointment with a career counselor at the local community college. While there, she expressed her desire to eventually attend medical school. The counselor, noting Irene’s advancing age (she was in her 30s), told her that by the time she actually practiced medicine, she would be near retirement. He convinced her that it was not worth it, and refused to sign her up for classes. Irene, with her dextrous and caring hands, listened to him. To this day, it remains her biggest regret.

Irene is my grandmother. As a child, she taught me to paint, my clumsy and youthful attempts with a brush paling in comparison to her landscapes and still-lifes. We spent hours in front of the sewing machine, the embroidery hoop, and with knitting needles as she patiently tried to transmit to me the skilled motions that came so naturally to her. She taught me to play countless board games and card games, and regularly took me to visit Bear-ly Read Books, leaving with paper bags overflowing with novels of all sorts. Irene has supported my every intellectual, creative, and educational goal, reassuring me at every turn that I could be anything in the world I wanted to be – even President of the United States.

Two months ago, I graduated with my Master’s degree, the first in my family to do so. As I build my career, I hope to add another diploma to my wall – a Ph.D. Although it’s not the MD Irene longed for, it’s a doctorate nonetheless. And I can’t think of a better way to honor her dream, and the long distances women have traveled since 1941, than to practice as Dr. T.

So I will. Where ever my professional interests lead me, I will be known as Jillian T. For now, Jillian T., the therapist. Someday, Dr. T. and Professor T., and hopefully even best-selling author Dr. T. And each time I see my name, whether on my diplomas, business cards, books, or practices, I will think of the woman who taught me that anything – even a female president – is possible. And I will be honored to share her name.

Jillian is a 26 year old couples therapist. She lives in Chicago with her fiance, The Russian, where they enjoy everything from playing Scrabble together to planning trips back to their home in California. Jillian’s hobbies include reading, obsessing over Lady Gaga, researching Ph.D programs, and blogging at Fulfillment of Fireworks. Jillian and the Russian are looking forward to marrying on October 20th of next year.

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7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Honoring my Foremothers

  1. Aww, thanks! It’s always been really important for me to honor the huge role she’s played in my life, and I’m confident this is they way!

  2. Great story. I did keep my name and have no regrets. My kids have hyphenated last names and one day, if they wish, they can choose to drop off one or the other name. Interestingly my daughter (I also have 3 sons) really loves having what she considers an extra special last name.
    That grandmother of yours is gold. She could have become bitter at her bad treatment but instead channelled all the intelligence and energy into making a meaningful life and a special granddaughter.

  3. Thank you everyone for the very kind comments on my post. I agree Michelle, my Grandma is absolute gold, and I am blessed every day to have her in my life. It was a joy to write about her contribution to my life and I am grateful you all enjoyed it as well!

    Of course, I wanted to share this with Irene as well. Her response was “Wow! what else can I say but Thanks, Thanks, thanks….love you all, always will!”

  4. Also, Gram sent along some further information about her job when she was 8, which was for not a wealthy woman but a loving mother who deserves a story of her own:

    My job when I was eight, of showing a handicapped girl, (age 13) around the city and to many matinee shows came about because of the love of a widowed mother for her only child. The mother was a cleaning lady, worked nights in the large St. Louis downtown buildings, scrubbing the floors. I was paid 15 cents each to shampoo and set their hair. On weekends I was given money enough to purchase transportation tickets (25 cents for adults and 15 for youngsters) …and enough money to buy White Castle Hamburgers and fries for our lunch.
    You could ride the street cars and buses all day long with those tickets, and we rode till we got tired. I was only eight years old but had been riding all over St. Louis with my father since I could walk. I knew St. Louis. Tickets to the matinee shows were given to the cleaning ladies by business men who had no use for them, and of course the final appreciative recipient and user was Irene, taking Dorothy along.

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