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Don't Blame Circumstance For A Lack of Success

Great Dames --

Saturday, when Sylvia Farnham stopped at The Coffee House, she was carrying Great Dames: What I Learned From Older Women.

When Agnolia stopped to take Sylvia's order, Sylvia looked up from Great Dames and said, "Have you read this book?" "No!" said Agnolia and then asked, "Is the book a collection of biographies?"

Sylvia responded, "I would call it a collection of essays about why each of the great dames was so outstanding." "I notice Jacqueline Onassis's name on the cover. Were all the great dames from wealthy families, and did they all marry rich men?" asked Agnolia.

"No!" said Sylvia, and then went on to explain,

In the first chapter, called "They were Outstanding", the author points out what the great dames had in common. It was not being born in to privilege and wealth, but rather it was a commitment and attitude, "(t)hey broke barriers, they had fierce ambitions and egos, a sense of destiny. They seemed to share childhood moments when they saw the possibility of their journeys, snapshots of their future." This all occurred, at a time, when many graduate schools were closed to women and many careers were also closed to women. In the '40's, women were even discouraged from dining at "21" without a man.

The subsequent chapters are based on interviews with the women the author calls "great dames.".

Some of the women,like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, came from privilege and married men of money and prominence; but after the death of her husbands, she demonstrated she was not dependent on her husbands for identity, or for a life of contribution and meaning.

Kay Thompson, creator Eloise, the most famous resident of New York's Plaza Hotel, was born to a middle class family. "At age seventeen, she moved to Los Angeles and took a job teaching diving at a summer camp." Kay succeeded in the performing arts and with her writing because she was "strong-willed. ferociously ambitious and would not compromise."

Claire Boothe Lucy, whom Time Magazine called the "the pre-eminent Renaissance woman of the century" did not come from money or prominence. Claire's childhood was spent in poverty after her father abandoned the family. Her first husband was physically abusive. When asked about her life she said, "You know, I have had a terrible life, I married two men I really didn't like. My only daughter was killed in a car accident. My brother committed suicide. Has my life been a life of envy?"

I think the answer is quite obvious, and the lesson is quite valuable. It is commitment and ambition that determine what each of us, men and women alike can achieve, it is not circumstances.

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