Every Woman has a Story by Gina Messina-Dysert
Recently, Carol Christ wrote about her experience of being interviewed for the Women’s Living History project at Claremont Graduate University. It is a project I have co-founded and am continuing to develop; I am grateful that Carol and others have offered their “herstories” to be archived. While I am not a historian, I do have a strong interest in women’s stories and with important reason…if we do not tell our stories, who will?
I first became interested in oral history during my doctoral program when I took a course with Claudia Bushman focused on women’s autobiography. It was a difficult time; my mother had passed away unexpectedly and I was consumed with grief. Because her death was premature – she was only 56 years old – I hadn’t prepared to lose her. I thought I had years to figure out all the things I would want to remember and pass on about my mom. Yet, she was gone and I could no longer ask her the many things I wanted to know, needed to know about her. Parts of her story would be lost forever and I did not know how to cope with that.
Claudia’s course offered me the opportunity to go back and explore my mother’s life, to learn her history. Of all my mother’s possessions, what became the most important to me where her hand written notes, journal entries, poetry, and recipe books. Food was a key way my mother expressed love and cooking with her is one of the fondest memories I have. Her recipes, poetry, and notes were her creations – they were unique to her and with them I was able to craft a narrative that told my mother’s story; a story I could remember and pass on. It was the most precious gift, one that was cathartic and allowed me to reconnect with my mother in a new way.
The Women’s Living History project was born from the idea that women’s stories are valuable and should not be lost once our physical lives end. While it explores women’s lives in multiple contexts, an important focus of the project is on women’s stories related to religion. Women are not only influenced by their religions, but also have a great impact on their traditions and that must be acknowledged and documented.
While the project is in its very beginning stages, we have collected more than 30 women’s stories that will be archived at CGU in Honnold Library and will also be connected electronically to the National Women’s History Museum. With this project, women’s stories are being told in their own words and will be preserved.
I think it is easy for us each to become wrapped up in our daily lives and not take time to acknowledge key moments. However, our stories are important and deserve to be told. We can preserve these stories in multiple ways and it is crucial that we take the time to do so. I admit, I don’t always do it myself, but I try to keep up with journaling. As of late, I am making an effort to write about my interactions with my daughter, something I want to share with her one day. I also continue to write about my mom, craft her story, and continue our relationship. And, I’ve begun to document my grandmother’s story. At 86 years young, she has a rich history and in a short time I have come to know her as much more than my grandmother. I had discounted her history without even realizing it.
Every woman has a story. We each have a responsibility to craft our narratives, to make sure that our histories are not lost. We so often discount our own experiences; as women it is what we are socialized to do. And so, it is up to us to break that cycle, to affirm ourselves, and to tell our stories.