I am truly blessed to be surrounded by strong, educated women. My mother is by far the strongest woman I’ve met, but my co-workers fall under that category and a lot of my family does, too. I am proud to be a woman and all it means to be called one.
Sixty years ago, it was harder to find an educated woman with tenacity and aspiration.
Recently I said goodbye to such a woman, a friend, Carol Dewey. She died at age 80 having led an extraordinary life. She hung with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson.
Born in 1938, Carol learned early that to be a woman who is reckoned with she would have to work three times as hard as a typical man, and that many men, given the opportunity, would stand in her way.
As a woman, there were things that society forced on Carol as she grew up and interesting decisions she made as a result. Carol never learned to type well, telling me it was because she was afraid she’d have to be a secretary. Carol wanted to be a doctor. She also never married because birth control was not available and being married meant being a mother, which meant not being a doctor, she explained.
As it turned out, Carol never was a doctor. She was often discouraged from being one as she continued her studies. Instead, she was a nurse with five master’s degrees.
As a nurse, Carol told me, she experienced the first and only piece of political activism of her life. And she was reckoned with.
She lead the black wing of a segregated hospital in New Orleans back in the 1950s, Carol told me during a 2012 interview. The white wing of the hospital was often less than half full, while the black wing was generally overflowing. Due to this, black patients would line the halls on stretchers and anyone in the hallway was refused medication for “safety” reasons.
Nurses were begging post-surgery patients to give up their beds, Carol said, so that new patients could be treated. It was just too much for her, so she wrote a letter to the hospital board of trustees to approve an order that would supply every bed she had. It was denied.
She tried three times, writing letters saying she was asking for important things like bedpans and it was inhumane to treat people this way, but she was ignored.
So, she did what anyone on a mission back then would do, she called the press. It wasn’t that easy, though. A leader in the hospital contacted Carol and told her he knew what she was trying to do, and they should meet to talk about it.
During the meeting, the leader suggested Carol may be happier working someplace else if her job was causing so much distress. So she turned to him and said, “The day I get the supplies I ordered is the day you’ll get my resignation.”
She got the supplies, resigned her post and was hired by another medical facility in town.
Let this story to inspire all women — all people — to fight for what they believe in. If Carol, a young woman in the 1950s could do something like this, all of us can make a difference.