You and GenderAvenger: Why Grandmother Bea O'Rourke Is a GenderAvenger

This is part of our You and GenderAvenger series. We want to hear why you are part of the GenderAvenger community. Is it philosophical, personal, or a part of your activism? Whatever it may be, write a short (or long) blog entry, and we will post it so fellow community members can understand what brings us together and inspires us. Click here to share your story.


 Bea O'Rourke

Bea O'Rourke

I'm getting ready to celebrate August 15th, 2015, the 95th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Women finally got the right to vote thanks to those early GenderAvengers who rejected complacency, pushed hard, and risked all for equal places at our society's tables. It has been worth it. It just makes sense.

Now, at almost seventy-eight years of age with four adult children (three daughters and a son) and nine grandchildren (five granddaughters and four grandsons), it just makes sense to support the mission of GenderAvenger.

In high school, I attended an all-girls academy. I found it difficult to stick to all the rules, but I did fine there – most of the time. But in my senior year, my friends heading off to women’s colleges, I announced I wanted to go to a Jesuit university in NYC. My angry father told me those priests were communists. I told him I wanted to be a lawyer. He told me nice girls didn’t do that and that Fordham was a men’s school. True, women were not welcome at the beautiful, gated, ivy-walled Bronx campus. But I got into the Manhattan campus, an office building a block from City Hall – Fordham on Broadway. 

 by Howchou (Own work) [ CC-BY-SA-3.0 ],  via Wikimedia Commons

by Howchou (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Fordham downtown housed the schools of education, business, and law with women and men from all over the metropolitan area, lots of international students, and, for the 1950s, a rather diverse racial community. I took a chance, ran for class president, and won. I joined the downtown debate team and loved debating the guys from Fordham’s Rose Hill Bronx team. The Catholic Worker mission was nearby on the Bowery, and I found the courage to go there to help poor families and homeless men.

My father was worried but relieved when I found my future husband there. We graduated, married, and both became NYC school teachers in “difficult” neighborhoods. Some friends and family thought this was taking a foolish risk, but it gave me a chance to work in the community, teaching and organizing. Over the years I marched, picketed, wrote, appeared on local radio and TV, and supported causes that I thought were just. In the late 50s and 60s, that meant race, war and peace, church, women’s rights, voting rights, and even motherhood. Often I had to take the heat for stepping out as a young mother, and sometimes my children suffered for having a mom who was “annoying and pushy and radical.”

 In the 70s, I held positions with a congressman, worked in a zillion campaigns, and raised money for candidates. Sometimes this took me away from home. Leaving my family was hard on us all. I became involved with moms against gun violence and still am. In the 80s, I accepted a leadership role in a local college, then opened my own non-profit, and finally went back to school. In the 90s, I became a social worker focused especially on anti-hunger efforts. I ran for office in my state and spoke about justice of all kinds. I lost, but I was supported by so many women who had never been in a political race or who had never done any campaign work. Some of them are still doing it.

 by Carl Deeg [Public domain],  via Wikimedia Commons

by Carl Deeg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As I write this, it’s August 18th, the 94th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Women finally got the right to vote thanks to those early GenderAvengers who rejected complacency, pushed hard, and risked all for equal places at our society’s tables. It has been worth it. It just makes sense.



Bea O'Rourke, CSW is an activist grandmother still searching, after so many years, for a woman's right to a place at the table.