My maternal grandmother, Linda Clay, was one of 11 children, born and raised on a tenant farm outside of Woodbury in middle Georgia. From an early age, the children began helping in the fields and house and by tending livestock. The boys wore overalls, the girls wore dresses made out of sackcloth. They all attended public school, where Linda played on the basketball team. The boys mostly quit school before high school to work full-time on the farm.
My great-grandfather had expected Linda would do the same once she finished high school. But, assisted by her mother -- who had saved her egg money -- Linda finished high school and left the farm, moving 50 miles south to Columbus, Ga., to further her education.
For a young woman in early 1930s in the Deep South, such a move was rare.
Mad at her for defying his wishes, Linda's father threatened to disown her. She left anyway, went to nursing school and received her RN degree three years later. They reconciled near the end of his life when he became ill and she returned to take care of him.
Linda was a woman full of self-determination.
She knew exactly what she wanted, and would not let anyone -- not even her father -- stand in her way. She knew that she had the intelligence and fortitude to become a nurse; her mother had confidence in Linda's ability to accomplish what she wanted. Both were right.
Linda's daughter -- my mother -- took that independent streak a step further and majored in mathematics at Auburn University, where -- in the1950s -- she was often the only woman in class. She taught high school math, worked in an office after my parents divorced and returned to teaching. This year, a former student asked her to accompany him when he received an outstanding alumni award.
As a teacher, she transferred the faith her mother had in her to others, inspiring them to be their best, while being her best.
By the time I went to college in the 1980s, there were many women in my undergraduate program, fewer in my master's program and even fewer earning the Chartered Financial Analyst designation. With the examples provided by my mother and grandmother, my gender has been a fact, not a limiting factor in my career.