One woman shared her journey from Estonia to Sweden to America. Another shared her struggle to overcome addiction and adversity. Still others shared stories of service and leadership.
They all shared those stories in celebration of International Women’s Day.
“What an amazing day. Such upbeat, uplifting and courageous speakers,” Mary Laborde said after the first International Women’s Day Coffee on Saturday, March 3 at La Poste in Perry.
Organizer Carol Jackson-Cavanaugh first discovered International Women’s Day while living abroad in Kazakhstan. She wanted to bring the celebration back to Perry.
Around 75 women were in attendance on March 3 at La Poste. The event featured five speakers, coffee, desserts and a drawing for a painting. International Women’s Day was celebrated globally on March 8.
Speaker Viivi Shirley spoke about her journey as a woman being born in Estonia in 1940 and then moving to Sweden and America.
In Estonia, Shirley said, the most important person in a daughter’s life was the father.
“He was the ruler, he was the king,” she said. Brothers, even if they were younger, were more important than the daughter, followed by grandfathers and uncles.
Shirley said that the woman’s role was to be obedient and take care of the men.
“You were never to be smarter, or better or stronger than any man,” she said.
Her family then moved to Sweden in 1945, where she learned a different lesson about women.
“The number one thing that women were in Sweden was strong,” Shirley said. “They were strong physically, they were strong intellectually, they were strong emotionally and on top of that, they were very beautiful.”
They also, she said, had the right to choose who they were and what they wanted to be.
“And I found myself living in two worlds,” Shirley said. She would go to school and then “come home and close the door to our apartment and there I was, a mouse.”
The family moved again to North Dakota in 1955.
“Here is what I learned about women in North Dakota. Number one, be very, very strong. Physically strong and emotionally strong,” Shirley said.
She also learned that it was OK to be smart.
“But it wasn’t really smart to be too smart. Especially when it came to the boys,” she said.
Those messages shaped the woman Shirley is today.
“Now I look around this room and I see women, most of you I have known for gosh, almost 50 years, and I am amazed at how far women have come in my 77 years,” she said.
Heather Watson shared how far she has come in her own life. Watson, who identifies as an addict, shared how she was able to overcome addiction and adversity.
“My story really starts at a very early age with challenges of identity. I was given a perception based on media, my peers, television of exactly what a woman was supposed to look like,” she said.
Watson didn’t fit that mold and she struggled with a negative image of self.
“That led to some destructive behaviors moving forward. It led to some mental health issues, low self-esteem, some isolation issues,” she said.
She pointed out that a lot of her adversities were of her own doing.
“I’ve been in recovery for seven years. And during my journey, I have overcome a lot of the consequences of my actions. And I feel that I’ve been very successful,” Watson said.
She was successful by following a few simple rules. She first recognized that she wasn’t alone.
“I have so many amazing people in my life who supported me and allowed me to see the good in me and the importance of diversity and individualism,” she said.
Watson said the second thing she did was accept the challenges that were before her from her past.
“I have to accept what’s done is done. And do my best to move forward in a healthy and productive way,” she said.
She also embraced a spiritual lifestyle.
“I really have abundant faith. I have to have faith that I am still around for a reason,” Watson said.
Another thing she followed was to develop a set of facts about herself.
“I am a good mother. I have overcome adversities already and I can get through whatever challenges are in front of me. I also know that I am smart,” Watson said. “These things really drive my emotional health to get through whatever I’m going through at the time.”
Women in the audience like Laborde enjoyed hearing those stories from Shirley, Watson, Nancy Collins, Janie Meyers and Ann Connors.
“I’m glad we came together as women to support each other. These women have amazing stories,” Cherlyn Miner said after the event.
“It was social, it was fun, it was intriguing,” Sally Spellman added.
And, she said, also inspirational.
“We all have daughters. We want them to go farther,” Miner said of the importance of celebrating women through International Women’s Day.