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Story 3: Olympia Brown — A Voice and a Vote

Reprinted from A Lamp in Every Corner: Our Unitarian Universalist Storybook by Janeen K. Grohsmeyer (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 2004).

When Olympia Brown was little, girls weren't supposed to whistle. Girls weren't supposed to climb trees or run fast or catch frogs. But ?> Olympia did; she did all those things, all those things and more. "You can do whatever a boy can do," her mother and her father told her, and Olympia knew it was true. She climbed trees and ran fast and caught frogs, and when she was in school, she answered the teacher's questions loud and clear.

Little girls ought to be quiet," Said one lady in town. "Little girls ought not to make themselves heard." But Olympia did. She had a voice, and she was going to use it, every day.

When Olympia Brown was a teenager, young women weren't supposed to go to college. Young women weren't supposed to leave home to go off and learn complicated things. But Olympia did; she did all those things and more. Olympia left home and went to Antioch College . She went to class and studied and learned all kinds of complicated things.

"Young women ought not to be in college, "said one professor at that school. "But since they are here, they must read their reports. Young women ought not to give speeches from memory, like the men." But Olympia did. When it was her turn to present her report, she rolled up the papers in her hand and said each and every word, loud and clear. Olympia Brown had a voice, and she was going to use it, every day.

When Olympia Brown was in college, women weren't supposed to wear pants. Women weren't supposed to wear anything except very long dresses that came all the way down to their toes. But Olympia did. She wore dresses that came down only past her knees, and under them, she dared to wear pants! "Bloomers" the pants were called, after Amelia Bloomer, the woman who had created them a few years before.

"Women ought not to show their ankles in public!" exclaimed some of the men. "And women certainly ought not to wear pants!" But Olympia did. She wore her bloomers every day, no matter how much the men sneered.

When Olympia was finished with college, women weren't supposed to be ministers. Women never stood up in front of a congregation and talked about God. But Olympia did; she did all those things and more. Olympia graduated from the Theological School at St. Lawrence University in 1863, and she was ordained as a Universalist minister in June of that year, the second woman ever to be officially ordained by that church. She became the Reverend Olympia Brown.

"Women ought not to speak in public," said a minister at that time. "Women ought not to take the pulpit or discuss the nature of God." But the Reverend Olympia Brown did. During the next thirty-five years, she was a minister in five different congregations, and she visited other congregations, too. She took the pulpit in every single one, and she spoke on the nature of God and love, and she did an excellent job. Olympia Brown had a voice, and she used it, every day.

When Olympia Brown was born, women weren't allowed to vote. Women weren't allowed to have any say in who was elected president or senator or mayor of the town. But Olympia had something to say about that. Olympia had a lot to say about that.

She traveled all over the state of Kansas in a horse and buggy, giving speeches to convince people that women deserved the right to vote. She wrote hundreds of letters. She spoke to the representatives and senators in Congress. She marched in parades. Olympia and her friends worked hard to get women the right to vote. Olympia Brown had a voice, and she used it every day... every day for over fifty years.

And finally, when Olympia Brown was old, women were allowed to vote. In November of 1920, when Olympia was eighty-five years old, she voted for the very first time.

Olympia had always had a voice, and she'd used it to make sure that she--and all the other women in the United States --had a vote as well.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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