My Favorite Feminist

patronsaintsmidwivessynchroblogI published this post last year, but in honor of Sarah Bessey’s Synchroblog on Patron Saints & Spiritual Midwives I want to repost My Favorite Feminist who is also my favorite Spiritual Midwife.

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Pauline Brown with baby girl Marilyn en route to Pakistan, 1960

A 50 year-old picture from an album shows a woman complete with white gloves and pearl earnings holding a baby in her arms. She is standing on the deck of a ship with a slight smile on her face. Her name is Pauline Brown and she is my favorite feminist.

Raised in a small town where few went on for higher education, she knew early in life that she wanted to go to college. Her father, a Polish/Lithuanian immigrant who had arrived at Ellis island as a child, dismissed the idea of education for girls. The emphatic words “What do girls need with college” from the dad she deeply loved, instead of discouraging, gave her more purpose. At her college graduation he was the proudest man in the room.

The ship shown in the picture documented one of several journeys she took with her family to her adopted home in Pakistan. Picture a young woman from Massachusetts, who had independently driven throughout Catholic New England as a traveling Bible teacher just a couple of years before, adjusting to a newly formed Muslim state, the country of Pakistan. Veiled women became dear friends and curry and chapatis a staple. Redirecting her independence to fit cultural norms but never losing a bit of spirit were all part of  the life of my favorite feminist, as she settled into life  in the Sindh region of Pakistan.

Pauline (Polly to friends) was not content to know how to read herself, she taught other women to read through adult literacy methods at her kitchen table, often in the midst of skinning a chicken, boiling milk, going over bills with the cook, and yelling at the chawkidar (guard).

She was, and is, a model of a strong woman. She is smart, strong, and articulate. She gave birth to 5 children reading to them before they had finished breast-feeding. She helped produce two PhD’s, two masters degrees, and another feminist who never, despite being raised in a primarily male-dominated society, doubted that women were amazing and could do anything. She wrote one book and co-authored a second, an introductory course on learning to speak Sindhi, a first of its kind.

The great thing is that Pauline never drank the Koolaid that would brainwash her into a mold of what women should or should not be.

As the matriarch in a clan of many, she believes in fulfilling her God-given role as a strong woman, living out the words of Deborah, my hero from the book of Judges, “March on my soul, Be strong” (Judges 5:21)

Pauline advocates for women, and I have occasionally been a spectator to passionate arguments with her beloved husband Ralph about women: their role in the holy scriptures and the church, their ability to do jobs as well or better than men, and their right and need to be heard in all spheres of society.

My favorite feminist may never have a book written about her but she has a lasting influence on two generations of women that include daughter, daughter-in-laws, nieces, nieces-in-law, and a boat-load of feisty smart granddaughters. She will probably live long enough to influence a third generation. I will call it third wave feminism. So – here’s to you Mom! You are indeed my favorite.

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47 thoughts on “My Favorite Feminist

    1. Thank you so much for reading Leah! She continues to be amazing even as I watch her age. I just went over to your blog and love. love your post on Soulbreak. I’d never heard the words put that way before – so descriptive and a beautiful piece. Thank you.

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  1. I was introduced to your blog by your Mom with whom I had lunch at Rodney Pierce’s this week. I am absolutely thrilled to have connected again with your amazing family. My heart is full tonight. So many memories of Klondike Ave and an entire year of having you all as neighbors.. It was life changing. I have always loved your Mom. She was always quiet and unassuming around me. A woman full of wisdom. She filled my soul just being in her presence. A truly amazing woman of God,

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    1. Sandy – I can’t believe I never responded to this. My mom has always loved you! The Waaramaa have been in our life for so long and Klondike Avenue was a gift to our family. I am going to blog about Klondike Avenue one day. Love you –

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  2. Well said, Marilyn. I’ve always known that about Aunt Polly, just never articulated it this way. Her strength, feistiness and unwavering sense of purpose despite life’s challenges have been characteristics that I have admired greatly. One occasion that stands out in my mind is when the discussion turned to childcare. Uncle Ralph commented that women are innately better at caring for children. Aunt Polly’s immediate, curt response was, “Oh, Ralph. You know better than that. What about … She has no more skills than …” I think it was the first time I saw him speechless!

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  3. Oh, Marilyn, you are far to complimentary, and so kind to ignore all my flaws. Thank you, and I thank God for my wonderful, brilliant children, grandchildren, the people they have married, and the love they show to me. I am so proud of all of you, the work you are all doing to make life better for people, and the creative ways you are serving God in so many places and ways.

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  4. Dear Marilyn,
    Great, Marilyn.!!Thanks for letting me know that my dear wife is a feminist. It must be because she has a male mind!!! That should draw some comment from our feisty granddaughters.!!! Love, Dad

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    1. Very nicely done, Marilyn. And with the greatest respect possible for the Feminist’s Husband, one thing Mom could *never* be accused of is having a male mind. :) We’ve all known some women who took that route – she is not one of them. Of course, she has caused a fair amount of heartburn as the males in the family have had to learn to cope not only with a sister of this persuasion, but a whole generation of feistiness in the granddaughters. One shudders to think what the great-grands will come out looking and sounding like… ah well – at least the men can cook. :)

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      1. Ed you are so right about the scariness of generations of feist (is that a word? – well now it is!)
        The men in the family are amazing cooks from curry to cream puffs. No one could ever accuse the men in the family of shirking domestic chores!

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      2. Ed, you need to know that your Dad uses that phrase “male mind” with his eyes twinkling and tongue in cheek. He used to say Dr. Mary was good on the Exec comm. because she had a “male mind”, meaning she thinks logically, unemotionally, etc, etc. To which I replied, “If that’s true, I know a few men with female minds!”
        As to my taking responsibility for my granddaughters’ feistiness (we are overworking that word, I think), perhaps it could have something to do with the women my sons married, and my favorite son-in-law!

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  5. Shabash Marilyn. I concur in every word you wrote about your mom, and my friend. Our history goes way back and I thank the Lord upon every remembrance of her.

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    1. Thank you Bettie! You have been a part of my life since my first memory. Thank you for that and for teaching me that even the most ugly house could be made beautiful.

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  6. What a wonderful write Marilyn. really enjoyed getting to know a little about your mother, such an exceptional person. Do share more about her with us

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  7. Marilyn, how blessed you are to have this remarkable woman as your mother, and what a role model she is! Mrs. Brown, you don’t know me, but through your daughter, I have come to admire you. I look forward to more stories that tell of how you have embodied the strength of Deborah for those whose lives you’ve touched!

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  8. This is such an honoring article. I imagine you felt like you were just giving the tip of the iceberg as you went through all the memories you have of your mother embodying the strength of Deborah.

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    1. Yes to the iceberg! I am writing a longer piece that I hope will be in a book (my book?!) called Tea at Lintotts where I look more at this. Thanks so much for reading.

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