because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ethel Walker

When Ethel Walker's physician father died in 1884, her British mother fairly quickly married another man and moved to Washington, D.C. with her new husband. How ever and why it worked out that way, Ethel -- barely an adolescent -- wound up first in Connecticut and then in Pennsylvania, separated from both her mother and her beloved older sister and largely responsible for her own financial well-being.

This hardship, coming so soon on the heels of the loss of her father as well as the loss of her brother (who died a year before her father did), could well have collapsed the resolve of a less strong and independent soul. But with aplomb that would characterize her all her life, Walker finished high school and then college, with a bachelor's degree in history and economics from Bryn Mawr.

Spending the next couple of decades teaching and serving in various administrative posts, despite her lack of resources and business experience, Walker began to get the itch to start her own college preparatory girls' school. "I learned to teach by teaching," she later said, "and secretarial work by doing it, and I took a chance that I might learn how to manage a school from having one."

So, in 1911, at thirty-nine-years of age, she opened The Ethel Walker School with ten students utterly committed to a highly rigorous regimen of academic study, athletic achievement, and unfailingly demanding discipline. The first five years, the school survived only on a wing and a prayer. But by her death in the 1960's, Walker had watched her school -- her dream -- take root and grow capable of facing the challenges that marked the second half of its first century.

Some in-your-face women march into battle. Some rob banks. But some in-your-face women -- like Ethel Walker -- put off marriage to focus on their work, turn a dream into a reality with little more than determination, and so, are instrumental in producing generation after generation of other in-your-face women. Not a bad legacy, is it?

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