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.
This week, I am participating in Camp CEO, a Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta program that pairs women with high-school girls, providing them with the chance to hear from those who have helped blaze new trails for women. The Girl Scouts' mission is to imbue girls with courage, confidence and character.
This week's speakers include women who have broken corporate barriers, entrepreneurs and a fertility doctor who has helped usher more than 6,500 babies into the world.
When a girl asked how she had made it with no female role models, the doctor choked up as she related that her grandmother believed in her and had told her she could do anything.
That kind of self-determination was apparent in the headlines about this week's political primaries.
South Carolina State Rep. Nikki Haley and U.S. Rep. J. Gresham Barrett are in the race for the runoff for the South Carolina Republican governor slot. The winner will face State Sen. Vincent Sheheen in the November general election.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., defeated Bill Halter in the Democratic primary, upsetting predictions. She will face Rep. John Boozman, R-Ark., in the general election.
In Nevada, former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle won the Republican primary against Sue Lowden, former state senator and Republican Party Chairwoman, and real estate developer Danny Tarkanian. She will face Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in the general election.
California has two successful businesswomen who have won their primaries. Meg Whitman beat out California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner for the Republican nomination for governor. She will face former Gov. Jerry Brown in the fall. Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, defeated former Rep. Tom Campbell and Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, winning the Republican nomination for Senate. She will face Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in the general election.
All these women have faced enormous odds and have, so far, come out ahead. They all share self-determination.
It makes me surmise they had mothers, grandmothers, fathers -- someone who believed they could accomplish anything they worked toward.
Last night, as we chatted about the challenges the high-school girls will meet, we realized that they would be different from the challenges we had faced. But, if history is any guide, one thing will be the same: Those who succeed will have what Linda Clay had and passed along -- self-determination.
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