Friday, March 24, 2006
March is Women's History Month, a time when notable, remarkable, exceptional women take center stage. This week the Massachusetts Commission on Women honored 240 "Unsung Heroines" across the Commonwealth who, without significant fanfare, made their communities better places to live. Among this distinguished group was our own Susan Emmons, nominated by the Board of Selectmen, for "quietly [making] a difference in many important areas" and making Carlisle a better place to live. At Old Home Day the town will honor one or more such citizens; in the past, many have been women.
Looking back through Carlisle history, unsung heroines are hard to find because they were — well, unsung. When this was a farm community in the 18th and 19th centuries, strong, quiet, uncomplaining women helped their men, who were busy shaping the town. They worked in the fields, cared for their families, attended church and helped their neighbors. When their lives ended, they were laid to rest in Green Cemetery, alongside their husbands and all too often their babies who died of childhood diseases. They lived and died in obscurity.
Dot Clark, now in her 91st year, described the life of the farm wife in the early 1900s: "The farmer's wife worked very hard," she said. "Many took care of the vegetable garden, they might have chickens, they did the cooking, looked after the family, washed the milk pails and the cream separator every day." For Mrs. Clark, who married Guy Clark in 1934, life on their Concord Street farm was hard, too — for many years it even included caring for her sickly mother-in-law.
Carlisle women no longer work in the fields or wash milk pails. They are professional women, working in offices or staying home to raise their children. Many serve on town boards and committees, doing the town's work after a long day at the office or chasing after toddlers. They serve on church committees, volunteer in myriad school activities, collect money or clothing for those less fortunate and cope with the stresses of 21st-century family life.
Most women in Carlisle would not consider themselves exceptional — no state or national elected office, no Nobel Prize, no Olympic medal affirms their notability. Comparing oneself with such towering figures as Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks or Sandra Day O'Connor is quite a stretch. But women who contribute to the richness of community life, who teach their children kindness, who help preserve our beautiful land are exceptional.
Look around you. They are our friends, our family members, our co-workers, our neighbors. They are unsung heroines, quietly and effectively making a difference in our town.
Trouble in paradise
A fair amount of ink has been spilled on these pages over the years about planning, preservation, conservation, 40B and, on occasion, the underlying subject: the values of our respective homes. Heck, a fascination with real estate might be the thing we have most in common as Carlisleans (at least once the kids leave the school system). But we forget at our peril that real estate values are a derivative of education, jobs, economic growth and wealth in the larger economy.
Carlisle is a veritable Nerdistan where, as of the 2000 Census, a phenomenal 83% of adults had at least four years of college. The result: the wherewithal to afford good public schools, two-acre lots and really, really nice kitchens.
While the last 25 years have been awfully good to those of us living at the Hub of the Universe, our collective complacency is closing in. Let me put it this way: if the world is flat, then Massachusetts is about to sail off the edge. And there is no reason to think that Carlisle will be spared. The good news? Many of you, dear readers, are in a position to help fix what is broken:
· Greater Boston has fallen behind Washington, DC and San Francisco in the percentage of the population with a B.A. degree, and Raleigh, Austin, and Seattle are very close on our heels.
· Investment in public higher education is widely acknowledged to be essential for innovation, business formation and job creation. Per capita spending on higher education in Massachusetts has fallen to approximately half that in California, and well behind a number of other industrialized states. Over the last 20 years North Carolina and Texas, among others, have invested heavily in public higher education while Massachusetts' funding has fluctuated erratically. Our two-year community college system is disconnected from business and dysfunctional. Recent graduation rates from some Massachusetts community colleges have dropped as low as 6%.
· Massachusetts has steadily lost share of research and development dollars. As of 2005, we were only sixth in the nation in industry R&D spending and only fourth in university and federal R&D spending.
· Since 2001, Massachusetts has lost some 62,500 jobs and several corporate headquarters. Job creation in Massachusetts was so anemic last year we ranked 46th in the country. Only Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Michigan came behind us. How do we like living in that neighborhood?
· Massachusetts was the only state in the Union to lose population, in absolute numbers, in 2004, and again in 2005. Domestic out-migration has been accelerating since 2001. Loss of Congressional seats after the 2010 census seems inevitable.
· At nearly $65,000, the estimated annual family budget for greater Boston is the highest of all our competitor regions, and an eye-popping $20,000 a year more than in Raleigh or Austin.
· In each year from 1998 through 2003, while housing prices soared building permits for housing fell, due largely to local regulation. From 1990 to 2004 the ratio of median income to the income needed to purchase the median-priced house in greater Boston dropped from a comfortable 1.2 to a clearly unaffordable 0.8.
· Compared with most of the rest of the country we are saddled with an expensive, highly fragmented system of local government, a political culture that goes out of its way to find reasons to say no to business and development, and a deeply partisan metropolitan newspaper with no serious coverage of business affairs.
· Last but not least, we face increasingly vibrant international competition.
But hey, nobody can fault our ability to produce Presidential candidates.
© 2006 The