Home / Blog / Local opinion: The women in the box are the perfect gift

Local opinion: The women in the box are the perfect gift

Jul 13, 2023Jul 13, 2023

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

Kathleen Bethel

Somehow, I have become the curator of my family’s museum of memories. The sterling silver tea set, the crystal decanters, the antique brooches, they all live at my house for some reason.

Mostly, I love it. But there is another house guest I do not love as much — those boxes of old photos passed down from my various relatives. They haunt me like ghosts from the past.

With my first grandbaby on the way, I’m running out of space and time to deal with the boxes. Strollers and highchairs need to replace bins of sepia-toned mystery men. So finally, I decided to dive in. What I found there might just be the perfect gift for my granddaughter.

Rather than folders and envelopes of old white men, I found photos of my feisty mother. I had a moment of outrage when I saw the scanty shorts she wore in the 1930s. I needed those photos when she told me my teenage mini-skirts and hot pants were too short. There were controversial articles she wrote as a newspaper reporter back in the 1940s. I laughed when I read her notebooks full of heart-rending love poems written to more than one soldier at a time. And after finding a wartime journal, I learned she may have been occupied with something more dangerous than Civil Service during the war. The National Archives Registry is researching that for me now.

Digging further down, I discovered my grandmother was a sassy suffragette, fighting for women’s rights. She, along with hundreds of women in Connecticut, formed a legion of women who made battle plans to convince the most powerful men in the state that granting them the right to vote would be in their best interest. Looking into the public archives, the lists of business leaders and which woman would tackle each seemed endless. When the 19th Amendment finally passed, they must have been elated. I wish they were around now to finish their battle to ensure women have equal rights — especially to their own bodies.

I found proof my grandmother thought her body was her own, and it tickled me. There, lying on the beach in front of a cottage by the sea, was my Nana. She and her best friend were properly dressed in their voluminous bathing costumes, but they were reclining in the arms of several men, something that must have been rather scandalous back in the day.

She is smirking at the camera, almost daring the photographer to protest. Behind them hangs a small, hand-lettered sign on a post, “Camp NOYGDB.” That intrigued me.

I had a guess which beach they were on, but what kind of camp was this that would allow such shenanigans back in 1917? I asked a few cousins, but nothing rang a bell for them either. Finally, I did what my daughter told me to do hours ago. I “googled” what the acronym stands for. Imagine my surprise when I saw that “NOYGDB” stands for “None Of Your God Damn Business.”

Many more images follow. Nana, sitting astride a cannon in the park, looking naughty. Nana, striding down the street, openly laughing with her friend. Nana, striking a pose with her gal pals in wide-brimmed hats adorned with feathery plumes. They all reveal the core of the woman I wish I knew better — the fighter. The one who raised another fighter, who raised me, another fighter.

These women in the box will be the legacy I leave my granddaughter. It was definitely the right time to find them. I’m taking the time to label photos and write their stories. And in doing so, I’ll tell what the women of today are fighting for — the right to control our own bodies.

Maybe one day we can all stay at Camp NOYGDB.

It’s time to reopen the box.

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Kathleen Bethel is a retired CEO and school principal. She is a woman of words and many opinions.

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