Saturday, December 10, 2005

Margaret Skapes, Women's Rights Activist

Born Arhondula Skapetorahis in Doumenia, Patras, Greece on March, 1892, Margaret lived in Greece during her middle school and high school years. She grew up in a very domineering family and with her determination and drive, she decided to disobey her family and not honor the marriage they had arranged for her. She escaped to New York in 1917. From this point forward, she was self-educated and also learned from her children's textbooks and materials from the public library. She lived in New York with her brother and a cousin for three years before she married.

While in New York she secretly worked as a seamstress in the garment district to save money to move on if she felt so inclined. While working as a seamstress she hired a woman to teach her how to read, write and speak English. She was determined not to be considered a "dumb" foreigner. She also joined the suffragettes in New York to work for the equality of women. She marched in parades and protested wherever they needed her. Her family still has, to this day, the cape and flag that she carried in those marches.

She fell in love and when she decided that the time had come to consider marriage, she did two significant things. First, she told her fiance that she would not marry him until women got to vote. Secondly, she designed a marriage contract that stated that she was to be her husband's full partner in any business ventures he or she would have. In the contract, too, there was a provision that should she give birth to any daughters, they, too, would be entitled to the same shares in the businesses as the sons, and that the girls would have a college education if they so desired.

She moved to Cleveland, Ohio where she became a leader in the Greek community. She helped to found the first school to teach English to Greek immigrants. The school also had Greek classes for the children born in America so that they would not lose their cultural heritage. The school also taught job skills and networked to provide employment for newcomers.

Margaret taught herself to drive by rolling the car out of the driveway in the dead of the night, pushing it down the street and then starting its engine. Because she was so small in size (4 feet, 8 inches tall and weighing about 95 pounds), her husband had forbidden her to attempt this on her own as he was afraid she would "strain" herself. He was also concerned that her fiery temperament would be a negative influence on her driving etiquette.

She became an American citizen long before her husband did and claimed it to be her proudest accomplishment. She did send her daughter to college and encouraged her to take flying lessons in order to help the war effort. Although her family members returned to Greece to visit frequently, Margaret never returned to her homeland. She considered America as her home.

In July, 1968 she passed away in Cleveland, Ohio and is buried at the Saint Theodosius Cemetery.

Copyright M. A. Webb, 2005. All Rights Reserved.

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