In 1923, 90 years ago, the Equal Rights Amendment drafted by feminists and suffragists Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, was introduced to Congress with the intention of securing equal rights for women.
On September 23 of the same year, in Los Angeles, an all-girls, college preparatory school named Marymount High School opened its doors to twelve eager female students. It was founded at the request of the request of the Most Reverend John Cantwell, the first Archbishop of Los Angeles and directed by Mother Marie Joseph Butler, Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, with the acknowledgment that, “The world never needed women’s intelligence and sympathy more than it does today. The education that will equip women to meet modern conditions effectively will not neglect any medium in which true American womanhood may find its best expression.”
This tyrannosaurus sized argument, standing on the leg-work of hard won, more often lost, battles by pioneering women like Paul and Eastman, was salient, though unpopular, and had been making its rounds for centuries. The oldest female institution in the United States is Salem College, founded in 1772. In 1848, at the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, NY, suffragists and feminists had gathered to discuss the women’s rights movement, as well as gain support for female education, human rights and equality– issues we continue to struggle with globally.
Only three years prior to Marymount’s opening, in 1920, were women finally granted the right to vote. And well into the 1930s and beyond, women were pervasively expected to marry and find a place in the home– to run and greet a suitcase with a smile. Men dominated jobs, government, and home, and in 1923, it was incredibly rare for women to be afforded educational opportunities that did not revolve around teaching or nursing, or at all.
Marymount was ahead of the curve, and eight years after admitting its first class of twelve, the school moved to its current location along Dead Man’s Curve, aka Sunset Boulevard., across the street from UCLA. And the high school celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, ever still committed to the mission of “empowering young women to live lives of consequence as ethical leaders with a global perspective and an unshakable commitment to the common good.”
At 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday of this week, a 90-year-old water main on Sunset, burst through the pavement between Marymount Plaza and Stone Canyon Road and advanced indomitably down the street like a bat-out-of-its-paved-road hell. Within hours, gallons of precious water covered the road, turned steps into waterfalls, stranded 739 vehicles in underground parking structures, and drenched UCLA’s Drake Stadium and newly renovated Pauley Pavilion.
Above the eruption, sat Marymount: high on a hilltop, standing serene, as the school’s Alma Mater states, presiding over city streets turned river, untouched; water flows downhill after all. (Marymount’s students are also known as “The Sailors,” apt to weather the storm or apparently, any inclement display of water main acrobatics.) The school’s pool can be seen in many of the aerial shots documenting the catastrophe.
Los Angeles city officials, the fire department, and the Department of Water and Power (DWP) responded to the crisis in kind, rushing to the scene to solve the problem– a complex series of issues that required finesse and engineering expertise. It was not, because nothing ever is, simply as easy as turning off the spigot.
Jim McDaniel, with the DWP, explained that “Every city that has aging infrastructure has issues like this, and we’re no exception.” There is no “magic technology” to determine when a new water line is needed, he said.
Because in a very public, quite disruptive manner, the water main flare has reminded us that, though it has been 90 years since its installation, the introduction of the ERA, and Marymount High School, the past is not dead. It is very much alive, surging under our feet or through our school systems. There is always work to be done, and infrastructure that needs repair.
The Equal Rights Amendment, though passed by Congress in 1972 (yes, nearly 50 years after it was introduced), was never ratified by the states or made part of the Constitution. It remains in limbo to this day. Water distribution systems work much the same way as they always have — still akin to the days of the Romans. And as noted by McDaniel, as there is no magic technology for the pipe system, there is no more a magic law that will provide women with equal rights. It is a battle still being fought, evidenced by the gender gap in Silicon Valley, the under-representation of women in science and engineering, the recent Hobby Lobby decision, and the often-noted fact that equal pay does not exist.
While we have developed as a society, we are never ‘done’ developing; we are in perpetual motion, glass ceilings are broken and then renovated, and we must respond with due diligence to new issues as they erupt.
This broken pipe cues up a well-worn record– that although some systems become so commonplace that we take them for granted, we cannot forget that they need to be nurtured and maintained. Each ‘celebration’ of age is a reminder the job is never done.
Oh, and that you can’t hold a good woman or a bursting pipe down.