Women’s history has long fascinated me, and lament how the timeline of my college days falls before the window opened wide to women’s and queer studies. Had these disciplines existed at my Keene State in the early 1970s, it would have thrilled me to jump onto these educational tracks.
So much was lost to the narrow mindedness of gender discrimination. Millennia of human history ran one rail, glorifying the importance of war and land boundaries and the dates of their stupid occurrences and alterations, even though every fight evolved out of the failing of the parties involved. Yet until recently, we were expected to revel in knowing the impact of these events upon societies then and societies now, without any similar study of the workings of women.
Reading Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent opened wide my eyes to what we probably lost generation to generation to generation, mother to daughter handoffs reaching all the way down to us. When I read a story of a notable life now, it filters through this lens.
Last Friday night, Evelyn Erika Handler lost her life. Dr Handler served as president of the University of New Hampshire from 1980 to 1983, and as president of Brandeis University from 1983 to 1991.
When I read the short local blurb about her passing, a tragedy that happened perhaps a mile from where I type this, the antennae of my intrigue sparked to life, a need to know more about the person and her accomplishments, and to take a moment to give her life a sliver of an etching into the records of history. You can see for yourself in the linked article, hers was a fulfilled life, albeit cut short by an accident the circumstances of which remain unknown.
Some of you might be the first to walk your path, or one of the first. You earn my cyber applause. No firsts would show on my list, although I suppose there are things where the names by mine are few. With Evelyn, who shared a given name with my grandmother, she served as college presidents to two universities where she was the first woman to hold the positions.
It saddens her life was cut short. It saddens her husband was likely witness to the horrific occurrence. Yet, rather than dwell on the accident, and although I never had the opportunity to meet her, I celebrate what she did for students everywhere, for the schools, for the communities in which she lived, and for women everywhere.
There is a history here, just as there is with every woman. May we no longer be the silent partner in what we pass forward through time.