[This story first appeared very briefly Friday morning before it was supplanted by the announcement of the shocking death of our late “Lady of Songs”, Christiana Essien-Igbokwe, and again, yesterday, Fola Adeola’s tribute to his late friend of decades and the man who succeeded him as Managing Director of the bank they both founded, Mr. Tayo Aderinokun. With Mr. Aderinokun’s funeral on Friday, Adeola’s tribute had to supplant Effie Hobby’s very interesting and inspiring life story.
Mine is not a blog that collects news although it may report news – as in Xtie Essien’s case, a very special case for a very special lady.]
[LETTERS TO MY NIECE SERIES US Votes ’04 (II) (From my old newspaper columns)
On November 9, 2002 before your wedding and before you moved to the States, Effie Hobby of Connecticut celebrated her hundred and fifth (105th) birthday. The Bush White House, in the best tradition of American politics, had Laura Bush, the president’s wife, place a call to Ms. Hobby not only to celebrate the woman’s longevity but also to mark two great milestones: women’s suffrage AND Effie’s unbroken record of voting in EVERY election since 1920, the very first year American women earned the right to vote. The call to the Connecticut Yankee was during the mid-term elections of 2002. The Washington Post, reporting the staged phone call, transcribed and released by the White House, remarked on Effie Hobbie’s send-them-a-message repartee to Mrs. Bush: “… citizen Effie Hobby, going a tad off-message yesterday …”
Susan B. Anthony, a lifelong advocate of equal rights for women was also a prominent fighter in the Anti-Slavery movement. She co-authored a four-volume History of Woman Suffrage and her image graces the one-dollar coin. Susan B never voted because she died fourteen years before the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution granted women the vote but I am sure that not only would she feel fulfilled by Ms. Hobby’s tenacity but she must have chuckled at the old lady’s razor-sharp wit at over a hundred. Even though Effie was a little girl when Miss A was winding up her remarkable earthly run, she seems to have been cut from the same political cloth as Susan B.
One thing that has never ceased to amaze me each time it comes to mind, dear, is the fact that while the Western world may be first in democracy, it seems relatively slow, though, in her women’s rise to the top in politics. Allow me to slow down a bit because that statement seems a conclusion that should follow a preliminary! Looking at the part of Africa from which you and I originate, strong political women were no rarities in the past. The exploits of such women are perhaps too well known to be recalled here but we Yorubas hold women like Moremi in awe; ditto Emotan with the Edos. In modern times, as you know, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and Adunni Oluwole were no ninnies and Yoruba women generally remember them with pride. Ask me to tell you about the firebrand Ms. Oluwole when we talk because she visited my village in the 50s. In fact, colonialism in Nigeria (at least in our corner of origin) seems to have brought the idea of women dropping their fathers’ names at marriage. Did you know that?
Now, to the conclusion that women’s rise in politics and their status in Western society have not kept pace with advancement in other spheres. “Underdeveloped” Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) was the first country to elect a woman head of government in July 1960, three months before Nigeria got independence. Mrs. Bandaranaike’s husband was president and had been assassinated late in 1959 until his Freedom Party chose his wife to run. Her victory was described back then as a “resounding victory” by the BBC over her several opponents. Before “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher became the first female British Prime Minister in 1979, Indira Gandhi (Nehru’s daughter) had served her first run as India’s Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977. She was to serve again from 1980 to 1984 before she was assassinated. In the United States of America to this day as you will discover, women generally receive less pay for doing exactly the same work as men. At least you are aware that not even lowly Nigeria practices that! These Third World women were, therefore, trailblazers for their First World sisters.
The Yoruba saying that a pe jeun ki nje ‘baje (not really ‘he who laughs last, laughs best’ but more like patience begetting bounteous harvest) can best be applied to the situation of American women in politics today. The patience, though, was foisted, rather than chosen! While American women did not exactly hit the ground running in 1920 due to barriers in their path, the rise in number of elected women has been nothing less than remarkable, especially in the last decade or so.
The word ‘remarkable’ is not used lightly because we have to remember from where women had started their race. Earlier in women’s search for equality, they were treated like the so-called witches of the Middle Ages or the Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc who was burnt at the stake. Today, the statistics is pretty impressive and it is people like Effie Hobby who have kept the fire very much alive. I have often wondered the proportion of American men that really support women’s march to political glory when it comes to that lone encounter with the ballot box on voting day just as I have often tended to believe that the unaccounted-for African-Americans in censuses are mostly to thank for the surge in elected Ams in recent elections. Sort of what is denied through the front door sneaking up from the backyard door.
Nancy Pelosi heads the Democratic Party in the United States Congress, putting her in line to become the first woman Speaker of the House if and when her party captures (no, not the way PDP captured the Southwest and is intending to add Lagos) the majority in the House of Representatives. There are a hundred United States senators, two from each of the fifty states and right now, fourteen of these are women made up of nine Democrats and five Republicans. Of the four hundred and thirty-five representatives (435), sixty are women representing 13.8 percent of this body.
As recently as 1979, only 3 percent of all seats in U.S. Congress were held by women, a percentage that rose and stayed at 4 percent for two elections. As of 1991, it had risen to only 6 percent. We can then only begin to appreciate the 15+ percentage in 2004, representing a total of 74 women in both Houses out of 488. While the rate of increase at state level is much less, the figures are still very impressive. In 2004, there are 1,661 women legislators out of 7,382 which represents 22.5 percent. Of fifty governors, there are ten women; there have been twenty-eight in history, the first in 1924.
Our African-American sisters may not have impressive figures but the pattern seems to conform to the general proportion of women in politics in the U.S.A. The first Am woman to win a House of Representatives seat was the late Shirley Chisholm back in 1968 and while many have followed her footsteps since, she remains the only Am woman, and possibly the only woman from mainstream politics to have run for the presidency. Carol Moseley-Braun, who took a lot of flak for being one of those people who found friendship with the late General Abacha, remains the only Am woman to have ever won a seat to the Senate. I should mention here, dear, that I think the Abacha link played a role in her serving only a term because I remember some Nigerians in Illinois, the state she represented, were publicly against her re-election. She was Clinton’s ambassador to New Zealand and ran during the Democratic primaries. Of the 74 Congresswoman at the moment (none in Senate), 11 are women, representing about 14 percent of the women’s total, and 2.7 percent of the total in the two Houses.
While the executive arm of government (as in Nigeria) is the presidency and is the most showy because the United States President is the most powerful man in the world, the legislative arm is actually the one that directly touches the people the most. While this arm is filled with men and women of sound education and varied experiences and backgrounds in the U.S., Nigeria’s seems doomed from inception because the majority of men AND women are not armed for success since most lack the formal education that would make legislating comprehensible to most of them. The quality of proceedings in the two Houses at Abuja cannot be expected to be better than what it is at the moment with the quality of legislators. I think the old data processing term was ‘garbage in, garbage out’.
As you are well, I am well.
The Comet on Sunday August 2004.
[Ms. Effie Hobby died on February 7, 2009.]