In honor of Women’s History Month, I want to write about the incredible women in my family tree and in my life who have made something of themselves going all the way back to colonial times.
Let’s start with Sarah Bradlee, my fifth great aunt who made a name for herself during the Revolutionary War. On the night of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, Sarah Bradlee Fulton’s husband, John Fulton, and four of her brothers -- David Bradlee, Thomas Bradlee, Nathaniel Bradlee, and Pvt. Josiah Bradlee -- all met at Nathaniel’s house. Sarah painted her husband and her brothers to look like Native American Mohawk Indians in order to hide their faces. In the middle of the night, the men boarded the British ships docked in the Boston Harbor, and dumped their tea over into the harbor to protest British taxation. After this event, Sarah was dubbed “The Mother of the Boston Tea Party” by a Boston newspaper.
Another heroic moment in Sarah’s life came during the Battle of Bunker Hill. In June of 1775, the wounded from the battle were brought into the nearby town, and Sarah, along with a few other women that she rallied, helped the wounded soldiers by not only bandaging them up, but by even removing a bullet from one soldier’s cheek. A few years later, he paid her a visit to thank her for her medical services.
Sarah’s incredible commitment to the revolution continued in March of 1776 when an American officer, Major Brooks, arrived at the house of Sarah and John. The major asked John to deliver dispatches that were given to him by General George Washington across enemy lines. However, John was unable to undertake the job due to physical issues, and so Sarah took on the dangerous mission herself. She successfully delivered these dispatches from Major Brooks, who later became Mayor of Boston, to Gen. Washington on the war front. There is a play written about her entitled “Sarah Bradlee Fulton, Patriot: A Colonial Drama in Three Acts.”
My paternal grandmother, Josephine de Gersdorff (1896-1975), was a force in her own right. During World War II, she helped French children get to America to escape the Nazis. She was later given the French Legion of Honour from the French government, the highest honor a civilian or someone from the military can receive. She received the rank of Chevalier, a knighthood. Her daughter, Constance Bradlee (1923-1993), became one of the first female models at Vogue magazine and the first Fashion Editor for Vogue’s junior department. She was also a volunteer for the Red Cross during World War II.
Two current notable women in my family are my mother, Sally Quinn, and my wife, Fabiola Bradlee. My mother is a journalist, author and an all-around force of nature. She majored in theater at Smith College and went on to star in several summer stock plays in the U.S. and also in Europe. She had a number of jobs in Washington after college – she worked for Senator Barry Goldwater and also on the campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy, for the CBS News president, and as social secretary to the Algerian ambassador to the U.S. Then, she was hired as a reporter at The Washington Post for the paper’s new Style section, which is how my parents met. She also helped my father create the Style section of the Washington Post which was the first of its kind, and was one of the first party reporters in the country. In 1973, she was named the first female anchor in the U.S. for the CBS Morning News, but when things didn’t work out, she returned to the Post, which she continues to contribute. She is also a bestselling author of several books, most recently of Finding Magic: A Spiritual Memoir.
When I met Fabiola, she worked at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, where she had been for 11 years as a senior bilingual call center specialist and then executive assistant to the chief executive officer. She has since joined me in my work advocating for people with Learning Disabilities. On a more personal level, she has shared with me her worldly knowledge and pushed me to do things when I sometimes don’t want to do them. She is not afraid to correct me with kind intentions to help me better myself. What more could you ask of a wife?
And there is another young lady in my family that I would like to mention, my step daughter Khloe. They say that kids teach you more than you teach them, and that is certainly true of Khloe. The main thing she has taught me is patience. Khloe, who is now 9, is very interested in history, and one of the things we do together is read who-is-this-in-history books. We have read books on Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart and several American presidents. I also read a book on the Boston Tea Party with her and told her how the Bradlee ancestors were involved in its planning and execution – which she thought was pretty cool. I can’t wait to see what she achieves in the future to add to the legacy of the women in my family.
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