My Granddaddy and women’s education

UNICEF Girls education

According to UNICEF,

“Investing in girls’ education transforms communities, countries and the entire world. Girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families.”

My granddaddy never heard the exact quote above as it was published approximately 125 years after his birth and was included on something called a website that he had never heard of by the time he died in 1989. But Granddaddy didn’t need the United Nations or anyone else telling him that girls needed education. He already knew it. In fact, Granddaddy made a commitment to women’s education that shaped the choices of generations of his descendants. Here’s a little background.

A bright young man

When Jesse D. Martin was in grade school, his teachers had high hopes for him. They were certain little JD would become a medical doctor, the pinnacle of academic success in his day. His smarts led us, his grandchildren, to create a game that became one of our favorite pastimes when we were with him. One of us operated the latest technology, a handheld calculator, while the other called out computations. The goal was to see if the calculator could arrive at the correct solution before Granddaddy did. It was no competition: Granddaddy (in his 70’s by then) always won. He was just that sharp.

But JD Martin never did become a doctor. In fact, he did not even finish two years of college before he dropped out to go to work. Here’s what happened.

Granddaddy’s sisters

JD, had a bunch of siblings. Among them, twin sisters, just ahead of him in school, and a sister two years younger. Money was short for the Martin family, as it was for most back then, and college education seemed an extravagance no one could afford. But my granddaddy thought differently.

“See,” he would explain decades after the fact, “I knew I could get work even without an education. Men find jobs a lot easier than women.” What keen insight for that turn-of-the century Georgia boy! “But the girls,” he’d shake his head, sighing; “The girls would have to have an education to support themselves.” Please note he said an “education,” not a “husband.” Radical thought in his day. Radical.

So Granddaddy went to work, freeing up family finances so his sisters could get their degrees. And as far as I know, Granddaddy never looked back. My great aunts all finished college. The twins, Elma and Wilma, both became teachers and taught from graduation to retirement. Elma taught elementary school; Wilma taught Latin and eventually got her Master’s degree. Their younger sister also became a teacher.

Granddaddy’s daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters

Granddaddy and GrandmamaIn the early 1920’s, JD Martin met Louise Cobb, they fell in love, and married. They had five children: three sons, two daughters. Just as with his sisters, Granddaddy was determined to see his daughters finish college. His oldest, Marie, graduated around 1950 with a degree in Home Economics; she later took up teaching. One of her daughters, my cousin Linda, achieved her bachelor’s and then her master’s in education and served in the classroom over 30 years.

My mother graduated with her bachelor’s in 1960, my sister in 1985, and I in 1987. My sister and I both have graduate degrees. Like Aunt Wilma, my sister became a Latin teacher. She’s built a strong Latin program and is renown in her field. My mother has four granddaughters: my girls, Trellace and Margaret, my sister’s daughter, Emma, and my brother’s daughter Allie. All four have completed their bachelors degrees. Two are working on doctorates and the other two plan to pursue advanced degrees.

Granddaddy’s radical ideas

Nearly 100 years ago, around the time women got the right to vote, my Granddaddy made a sacrifice, a sacrifice that would have appeared completely foolish to his contemporaries. He had crazy ideas, my Granddaddy. He believed that women were independent individuals, separate from their husbands. He believed women were capable of and deserving of higher education. And he believed the cost of that education—whatever it was—was worth it.

Of course, the women who have descended from JD Martin have been blessed with a host of other forbearers along with role models and mentors who valued learning. But Granddaddy’s sacrifice is certainly one of the gifts we have been given. See, because he paid that price, thousands of children have been educated in the classrooms of his sisters, daughter, and granddaughters. Because Granddaddy didn’t go to college, because he knew the education of women was worth the sacrifice, his daughters and theirs, his granddaughters and their daughters not only went to college, but inherited the legacy that Granddaddy left behind: education of women must be a priority, no matter what the cost.

“The good leave an inheritance to their children’s children . . .” Proverbs 13:22

By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.