Three generations of women exemplify Women’s History Month goals

Friday, March 25, 2011 | 6:44 p.m. CDT; updated 6:54 p.m. CDT, Friday, March 25, 2011
Two-year-old Sally Chevalier, bottom left, points out her great-grandmother Dorothy Varian in a photo Tuesday while her grandmother Susy Hammond, left, and mother, Kelsey Hammond, right, watch.

COLUMBIA — Dorothy May Hill Varian was never typical, either in life or death.

At her memorial service in 1992, a group of women who scaled Annapurna in the Himalayas gathered to honor her as the climber who inspired them as early mountaineers.

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Women’s History Month Committee, the MSA/GPC Craft Studio, the women’s and gender studies department, the Women’s Center and the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative

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Beside them, members of the National Park Service stood in full uniform at the service to honor Varian for her conservation work.

She was a pioneer. After Varian climbed peaks in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, she made up her mind that women could do anything. Thus began a legacy for her daughter, Susy Hammond, and later, her granddaughter, Kelsey Hammond.

Women in the Hammond family made their own marks on their generations. Their achievements, often unheralded, are at the heart of Women's History Month.

“The theme for this year at MU, 'Our History is Our Strength,'  applies to women like the Hammonds,” said Struby Struble, a support staff member in the Department of Student Life.

“The point of Women’s History Month is to honor the women of our past and then take what we've learned to continue their journey,” Struble said.

Kelsey Hammond, granddaughter of Dorothy Varian, believes she is “living proof” that a woman’s strength has everything to do with her history.

Hammond, who works in the Department of Student Life, has helped organize Women’s History Month at MU for five years.

“I’ve always been interested in women and what women experience," she said. "In high school, I started a women’s student organization, and at community college I helped plan Women’s History Month for the first time.”

But inspiration for Hammond started long before college and even high school.

“My grandmother was one of the first women rock climbers,” Hammond said. “She also played football with the boys and worked side by side with her husband in their electronics company after graduating with a degree in economics from Berkeley in 1928. That woman wore pants before most other women knew what that even meant.”

Varian wasn’t the only strong woman Hammond learned empowerment from. 

Her mother, Susy, was a protester during the Vietnam War.

“I was very influenced by Joan Baez and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and non-violence as a way to protest," Susy Hammond said. "Vietnam was on the news every night. I typed fliers, attended marches and held meetings at school. I even went to Sacramento to protest against then-Gov. Ronald Reagan.”

She said she believes, as her mother did, that women could accomplish anything they want and be “just as good as any man.”

“Most of the social changes in the world came from women,” Susy Hammond said. “The child labor laws, the abolition of the workhouses, contraception, equal education, abolition of slavery.”

Women don't get enough credit, she said. 

“I think it’s criminal that the white, European male has determined what 'history' is. History is written about wars and accomplishments of men, but half the population is missing,” she said.

Kelsey Hammond agreed that contributions by women have been overlooked.

“Women are still left out of history books, and we have a month to highlight women’s contributions to society,” she said.  “We need a whole year … we need every day.  But that’s not how the power structure is set up right now … so we have to take this month and rock it.”

The bright side is that change is contagious, Susy Hammond said.

“Nowadays, there are women astronauts and women candidates for high office,” she said. “These are things little girls can wonder about for themselves, but they can also still dream about being mommies and writing books and making music.”

She said she's happy for whatever part her family has played in making this possible. 

Proud of the women that have come before her, Kelsey Hammond said she plans to extend the legacy to her 2-1/2-year-old daughter, the next in line.

Standing up for what you believe in, she said, is the only real way to create effective change. If there’s one thing she wants to pass on to her daughter, it’s that speaking up for what you know to be right, even when it isn’t popular, is rarely wrong.

“The most rewarding part about advancing the women’s cause is knowing that things will be better for my daughter because of it,” Kelsey Hammond said.

“We’re changing the world.”

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