When I was in eighth grade, Riverdale School had an annual oratory contest. We had practiced speech throughout the year, doing such exercises as 3 minute extemporaneous talks on objects handed to us by our teacher. The later half of the spring was devoted to writing and rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing our speeches.
I chose as my topic The Importance of a College Education for Women. In 1960 this was an issue still actively discussed by the adults around me. Many people thought that college was wasted on women who were, after all, just going to be wives and mothers. I framed my argument within that framework, but argued that college made women better mothers.
55 years later, I watched one woman speak in support of a woman candidate for the President of the United States. I watched women Senators cast delegate votes. For girls in the eighth grade today, this may seem very ordinary. But my grandmother couldn’t vote until she was 32 years old. And 55 years ago I won the oratory contest by tackling what the judges saw as a “controversial subject.”