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Don't take grandmothers' accomplishments for granted

The YWCA of Charleston buried a time capsule on Thursday, wrapping up a year of events marking the organization's 100th anniversary. That makes the YW younger than my grandmother would be, probably younger than lots of grandmothers still remembered today.

When I was younger, I did not appreciate the value of efforts like the ceremony this week at the Mary Price Ratrie Greenspace across from the Clay Center.

I always saw merit in pausing to look back and think ahead. But now I see value in formally marking the occasion and deliberately communicating with the heirs of a legacy, in this case an organization that houses and helps victims of domestic violence, provides good preschool and after-school care for children whose parents may have trouble affording it and helping victims of elder abuse.

The YWCA's event reminded me how much we owe the people hard at work in the early 20th century, many of them women. The Woman's Club of Charleston celebrated its centennial in 2009, the same year as the Kanawha County Public Library, a project of the Woman's Kanawha Literary Society. The women of those days labored away at their most pressing issues -- reducing premature death from childbirth and preventable illness, clean drinking water, literacy and education, all before women could even vote.

The YWCA in those days started out providing safe lodging for young, single women who came to a growing, industrial Charleston looking for work.

By the time I was a young, single woman who came to Charleston to work, I could rent an apartment on the East End, same as any man. By then, the YWCA had moved on to other issues important to my generation -- helping domestic violence victims and sheltering homeless women and their children. The YWCA pioneered educational child care for low-income children and, from its early days, worked toward racial equality.

Improvements pushed by women a century ago have made this community more livable, healthier and more prosperous.

Yet, sometimes, it seems we are in danger of squandering our great-grandmothers' legacies. I think this when public libraries and education are not supported. Or when we fail to recognize the value of good child care. Or when water systems, fire departments or public health are neglected. None of these efforts occur automatically. Each had to be carefully bought, built and maintained.

The YWCA's time capsule is scheduled to be opened in 50 years, and includes space for the people of 2062 to collect their own artifacts, and rebury the whole collection for their heirs.

It is important to recognize the work of those who came before us, lest we value their legacy too cheaply and lose it.

Miller, the Gazette's editorial page editor, can be reached at dawn@wvgazette.com.


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