Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

“Miss Susie B.” –a new poem by Erwin A. Thompson–91 year-old feminist!

Author Erwin A. ThompsonMy father wrote this poem recently for his mother's friend, Susie Bernheart. He says, "Susie was Sweetheart of the Ag Club, and anywhere else she went at the University of Illinois in 1903. In addition to her nice looks and gracious manner she was intelligent and courageous. Her loyalty and her friendship was as solid as the foundation of the Ag Building."

I think it's a charming story of natural feminism...both on the part of the young women in that different era, and on the part of my father.

Another favorite family story that also has a feminist subtext is of my great-aunt Mim. My father says, "My mother's older sister, Mim was also a crusader. She undertook the management of the family farm and nursery business upon the death of her father. The maddest I ever saw her was one night when they wouldn't let her attend an anti-horsethief meeting because she was a woman."

If you met my father, you would not think of him as a feminist, but this Spring, after my interview on a feminist blog, I started to think of him in this way...mainly because he had the same expectations of both his daughters and his son...and provided all the training he could in whatever he knew how to do--be in geometry, Latin, carpentry, or how to repair an electrical motor--to prepare us for the worlds we would face and wished to face.--JGR


This morning I got to thinking
About Miss Susie B.
Queen of the Ag Club,
U. of I. Nineteen O Three.

I only knew her through
The letters that my mother wrote back home,
Kept and treasured,
All these years.

Good friends, these two,
In those years so long ago
As they explored the college campus
Sometimes braving rain and snow

One night they braved the Ag Club.
"Men only," was the precedent.
But they both wanted to go --
So they went.

Remember; this, a century ago,
When girls just "didn't do" such things,
Their minds supposed to concentrate
On cooking, sewing, wedding rings.

The boys just sat and looked at them.
Speechless, for a little while.
And then they smiled, and let them stay,
Charmed by Susie's smile.

The new arrivals changed the club,
In more than just the social clime,
New ideas, different views
Years ahead of their time.

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3 Responses »

  1. Your father is a pioneer for the feminist movement. What a great poem about a woman paving the way for equality of the sexes.

  2. Susie B exemplifies the spirit of independent womanhood, thinking freely and acting simply. We tend to categorize such women as being "ahead of their times" when such women have truly existed in all times and cultures...thanks to Erwin for commemorating this jewel!

  3. Thanks for sharing your father with all of us. Sounds like a wonderful man.

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