Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Nation Comes from the Nursery

By Laurie Gatrell

Recently, as my husband and I ate dinner at a rustic steakhouse, I noticed a large portrait of a mother and child above our booth. In the picture, the young woman, in her blue satin Victorian gown, gazed adoringly into her child’s cherubic face as they sat serenely on a pastoral bench. Across the bottom of this tranquil scene blazed the bold statement: “A Woman’s Place is in the Home.”

In our politically-correct society, “them’s fightin’ words!” Therefore, one could almost dismiss them as sentimental; an out-dated, irrelevant Victorian platitude. But I couldn't; not since learning about the importance of statesmanship and leadership education in the home at the “Face-to-Face with Greatness” seminars.

Statesmen, I learned, are ordinary people who choose to live good, honest lives and pay the price of greatness; who become the change they want to see in the world and who make a difference in society. Leadership education is the type of education our Founding Fathers had.

One presenter, Laura Bledsoe, quoted Samuel Smiles, who said, “The nation comes from the nursery.”

These words resounded in me.

Before our country was founded, before the Boston Tea Party, or the Stamp Act, and before Thomas Jefferson heard Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death” speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses, and before the men who made our country had paid their price to be great-- there was a woman. You probably haven’t even heard of her, but her legacy influenced the founding of our country. Her name was Margaret Walker Wythe.

Margaret and Thomas Wythe, a plantation owner in Virginia, had two sons and a daughter together before Margaret was widowed at a young age. Her second son was having difficulty in the public school, so she brought him home and taught him herself.

It was rare in those days for a woman to be educated, and Margaret was not merely ‘literate,’ she was a ‘highly educated woman’. She mentored her son until he was about sixteen in Latin, Greek, mathematics and more. Most importantly, she helped him acquire the greatest gift: a life-long love of learning.

Margaret passed away about this time, but building on the foundation she gave him, he decided to study at the College of William and Mary. Unfortunately, he couldn’t afford it. He didn’t let that stop him, however. Indeed, over time, Margaret’s son became Virginia’s foremost classical scholar, the colony’s Attorney General, a delegate to the Continental Congress, a speaker of the Assembly, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, the young man who’d been too poor to even attend the College of William and Mary eventually became its, and the nation’s, first law professor!

This man went on to mentor the generation of lawyers, judges, ministers, teachers, governors, senators, congressmen, and ambassadors who surrounded the events and laid the foundation that birthed our nation, and who led it in its infancy. Two of his students became president, two others were attorneys general, and, as Professor Forrest McDonald put it, this man mentored “enough other Founding Fathers to populate a small standing army!”

Who was this great man who was educated at his mother’s knee? He was George Wythe, and the impact of his mother, “of this amazing woman…cannot be overemphasized.” 1 How would it be to have such a positive impact on your child; on your community? By obtaining a leadership education for myself, it’s possible.

I soak up every opportunity I can to learn about the principles of great teaching, mentoring the classics, and creating within the walls of my own home a great environment for freedom and self-governance. Through studying the classics and coming Face to Face with Greatness, I am building my own superb classical education. I’m making a difference to my family and my community.

I can be like that Victorian lady in the picture. I can be like Margaret Wythe. So can you. When it comes to educating our children, a Stateswoman’s place is in the home.

1Brown, Imogene E., American Aristides: a biography of George Wythe, Rutherford N.J: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1981.

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