Monday, February 16, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness: Martha Putney

I don't make a habit of reading the New York Times obituary column though I came across one for Martha Putney in December that bears repeating. She is a model for all of us on how to stand-up to adversity, find our passion, and pursue new avenues to improve out lot in life. Featured very prominently by Tom Brokaw in his book, The Greatest Generation, Putney defined her own life and potential on her own terms.

A black woman who came of age in the Roaring 20's, she heard the phrases "you're not allowed" and "you can't do that" all the time. She won a scholarship to Howard University where she earned a BA in 1939 and a Masters in 1940. She joined the Women's Army Corps upon the outbreak of World War II. She earned her doctorate from UPenn (which makes me very proud as I am an alum of UPenn, making it all the more remarkable that I never heard of Putney, especially since we both studied history there.) From Philadelphia, she went on to a long teaching careeer - her dream job from the time she at Howard - at Bowie State College (she was the Chair of the Histry Department) and at her alma mater, Howard University. She also published several well-respected books on the history of Blacks in the US military.

Education was the cornerstone of her success and her happiness. This is remarkable considering the years when she went to school, her gender, and her race. She refused to let anyone or anything stand in the way of her education. She did what she had to do to survive, and even though she faced extraordinary opposition, she refused to give up her dream of teaching. 15 long and frustrating years after graduating from Howard, she got her wish. Her persistence and steadfast belief if herself is an inspiration for all of us.

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