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“Ode to a Russian Canadian Suffragette”

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Photo of Ellen Beener taken by me, with Ellen’s camera! Women’s History Month holds special meaning for Ellen Beener, a poet, artist, and photographer who resides in Spring Hill. Aside from being a devoted, lifelong women’s rights advocate herself, Beener draws some incredible inspiration from a very special source—a grandmother who was a part of history, and who made her own mark in the ongoing battle for justice and equality.

Minnie Aronoff Cohen, Beener’s paternal grandmother, was a Russian immigrant who made some definite ripples when she and her family crossed the ocean to make their new home in Nova Scotia, Canada.
“My grandmother fought for women’s rights,” she said. “She encouraged women to speak their minds—including her daughters and granddaughters.”

Beener memorialized her trailblazing relation in her poem, “Ode to a Russian Canadian Suffragette,” a long-form work that appeared in her poetry collection, “Shut Up Shakespeare and Other Poems.”

In the lines and stanzas of this epic-style poem, Beener recounts the life and times of a woman who came to Canada in the late 1800s as a wife and mother of five. “She was the wife of a successful businessman and a mother of five, including my father,” said Beener. “She loved and doted on her family—but still she wanted more.”

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And in the eyes of this activist, ‘more’ entailed giving a real voice to women. “In those days, government and church leaders told women to keep quiet,” said Beener. “Whenever Grandma spoke up about much of anything except for cooking, she would get strange and condemning looks.”

Undaunted, Cohen became involved in the Canadian arm of the suffragette movement; joining in Votes for Women protest marches while also speaking out in support of educational, marital and professional equality for women.

“She handmade signs and marched,” said Beener. “She was arrested several times during protests and charged with public disturbance.”

Cohen kept up the good fight, which culminated in victory. “In 1918, women got their right to vote in Nova Scotia, Canada,” said Beener. “In 1963, her granddaughters marched with Martin Luther King for civil rights.”

In Cohen’s later years, Beener revealed that she became both a professional teacher and a devoted grandmother, passing on her passion for justice as well as her expressive articulacy to her granddaughter, who wrote a very special poem in her honor.

“Ode to a Russian Canadian Suffragette”
by Ellen Beener

On a boat she came across rough oceans of discontent
Waved farewell to Bielorussia
Into the land of gratitude
Nova Scotia cold like home was that Canadian land
A fishing village across the Bay of Fundy
Built on sticks and stones on water’s edge like home
Not a Program in sight
Massacres persecution and death
Not the welcoming bandwagon of this land
Where dreams came and went and some stayed the course
Of home, hearth and soft beds and
Beets soup, with meat bones, the color of happiness
Young but not innocent together with a husband of some means
Life in this new land would not be destitute
But plentiful in flavor, culture and choices
Behind her, she left old tattered memories of deprivation of
Women’s rights, where even in this new land persisted
To be unequal, denied and unjust
Right to vote weighed heavily on her soul
She could not sit passively, enjoying riches of her comfortable circumstance
A joiner she was and did just that
A Woman’s Suffragette of unyielding devotion
She marched to the tune of public protests and unrest
Detained and charged with public disturbance
Never satisfied, persevering, until unjust laws amended
A life full of promises kept

Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey
Megan Hussey is a features journalist and author who is the winner of Florida Press Association honors and a certificate of appreciation from LINCS (Family Support Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force) and Sunrise Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center for her newspaper coverage of these issues. She graduated cum laude from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., with a journalism major and English/sociology minor, and previously wrote for publications that include the Pasco editions of The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. A native of Indiana, she lives in Florida.
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