Dear Susan B. Anthony:
I have very bad news for you. You’re dead. Really dead. Like, over one hundred years dead. Like, right now, you are dust and bones in the cemetery of your old hometown, Rochester, New York.
You are probably thinking, What the heck? If I am dead, why are you writing to me?
Congratulations! Even though you are dead, you are not forgotten! You are still remembered for being a brave and determined defender of women’s rights, especially women’s suffrage. That is the fancy name for women voting, even though I think suffrage should be the name for not being able to vote, because it sounds like the suffering you would have to go through if everybody thought your voice didn’t matter one speck.
Since I am also a brave and determined defender of all the rights of all the people, I thought you would like to know that I am thinking about you.
Plus, Mr. Springer is making me.
Mr. Springer is my fifth-grade teacher. Every year he assigns this thing called the Hero Project. All of his students have to choose a personal hero. They can choose anyone they want, as long as the person is dead. Mr. Springer used to let kids choose living heroes, but then the live heroes kept doing horrible things and ruining everyone’s projects. Luckily, dead heroes can’t surprise you like that. We are going to do a bunch of research and assignments on our heroes and basically use them to learn stuff about language arts, history, and even math and science. Mr. Springer is always trying to find sneaky ways to get us interested in what he’s teaching.
One of the main things we have to do for the Hero Project is write our heroes letters, and—duh—that is what I am doing.
Since this is our first letter, we are supposed to tell you a little bit about ourselves. So, hello! I am a Susan B. too. My B stands for Babuszkiewicz.
Don’t freak out! It’s easier to pronounce than it looks. Ba-boo-ska-wits. Hear how it rolls off the tongue? It’s actually kind of pretty, don’t you think? It sounds like something a bird might sing or that a Tupperware might burp.
Unfortunately, most people—especially teachers—don’t seem to agree on the beauty of my last name. They see a word like Babuszkiewicz on the first day of class, and their eyes get kind of squinty, and their voices get kind of stuck in their throats, and, after a pause, they say, “Susan?”
Sometimes it ends there. When I started my tap-dancing class, for example, my teacher did the old squint, throat-stuck, pause, “Susan?”
And I did the old “You can call me Susie.”
And we both sort of pretended I was one of those Beyoncé-type celebrities who only have one name.
But that is not what happens here at Mary Routt Elementary School in the beautiful town of Claremont, California. That is because there is another Susan in fifth grade, Susan Gupta. She goes by Susie too, but she is original and hip and spells her name Soozee, which I wish I had thought of doing first, but those are the breaks.
This is the first year that Soozee and I haven’t been in the same class. And so—until this year—teachers would always look at me, Susie Babuszkiewicz, with my regular, boring clothes and my goofy cowlick right in the front of my boring, not blond, not brown hair, and then they would look at Soozee Gupta, with her interesting French braids and her fun, hip outfits that often involve cool hats and sometimes even scarves, and they would give her the glorious name “Soozee” and me the name “Susie B.”
As a person who cared about equality, I bet that this upsets you. I bet you’re thinking, Hold the phone! Why should she be plain Soozee and not you? Why should you be stuck with an initial tacked to the back of your boringly spelled first name? If anything, you should be plain Susie because B comes before G in the alphabet. It makes sense that the first person on the roll sheet should get dibs on being called by just their first name.
I hear you, Susan B. Anthony, and there was a time when I used to feel the same way, which is maybe why I keep my distance from Soozee Gupta, even though she is a pretty nice person who I have no other complaints about. But then something happened, and I learned to really like being called Susie B.
You’re going to like this story, Susan B. Anthony. It’s good.
It all happened back in second grade, when I was in reading lab.
Now, seeing that you lived from 1820 to 1906 (which is an important fact that I am supposed to include in this letter), you are probably asking yourself, Holy moly, what in the world is reading lab?
Reading lab is this place kids go if they need extra help with reading, except that it is not really a lab. It is just a little bitty room next to the library with lots of posters of kittens hanging onto branches and file folders full of short readings that are supposed to help you read better. I was in reading lab until the end of third grade.
This is nothing to be ashamed of, by the way, and if people tell you otherwise, you are allowed to give them a good stink eye and tell them to park their prejudice at the door. Some brains just need more help with reading than others. I needed help because my brain is easily distracted by—wait—is that a butterfly?
Ha! There wasn’t really a butterfly. I was just trying to give you a sense of how easily my brain can get off course when it is not interested in something. But I’m interested in this, so don’t worry. Writing and reading are things I can do forever and ever because I love them so much. It was the learning them that I didn’t like because—what the heck?—English does not make any sense at all! What kind of language, for example, has one way to pronounce three entirely different words, like “pair,” “pare,” and “pear”? Honestly, I’m still not sure which one is which. Would you like to eat a pare? Don’t ask me! Or, in what kind of world would “through” be pronounced throo and “cough” be pronounced coff? It makes no sense! Look hard at those words! They are exactly the same except for the beginning letters. They should at least rhyme! And don’t get me started on “dough”!
Luckily for me, once my Is that a butterfly? brain was finally able to get past all that boring stuff, I was able to catch up. Now I can read as good as anyone. But I’m still a terrible speller. (Confession: only last year did I finally remember how to spell my own last name. Then again, I think it might take anyone a long time to remember how to spell Babuszkiewicz because there are a crazy lot of consonants in there.)
It is because I am such a terrible speller that I get to write my letters to you on a tablet and use spell-check. Other kids can write their letters on tablets too. Everyone in our class gets one. But for me, writing on a tablet is an actual right. It’s what you call an accommodation, on account of my butterfly brain. Accommodations help make things fair for everybody.
Which brings me back to reading lab and how I learned to love being called Susie B. Don’t drift off, Susan B. Anthony. I promise you’ll like this.
Anyway, it was one of my very first days of reading lab. I was there with Carson, who still goes to reading lab because he is a work in progress like the rest of us. The reading specialist pointed us toward this one particular file cabinet and told us to pick a reading that looked interesting.
I was flipping through all these different readings when I saw one called “Susan B. Fights On.” I still remember the name because I was thinking: Gosh, is this about me? Did the reading specialist hide this here for me to find? Is it a present? Did she make one for all of us, each with our own name on it? Is it supposed to make us feel better about going to reading lab even though we shouldn’t feel bad in the first place? And—most importantly—what the heck am I fighting on about this time?
I told all that to Carson, and his eyes were like, Ba-boing! I want one too! But his brain is even more butterflyish than mine, so he started flipping through all the files and trying to find a reading with his name on it. He climbed right onto a chair so he could pull files down from the high cupboard.
When the reading specialist found us, she said, “For heaven’s sake”—that was a real favorite phrase of hers.
She asked us what we were doing, and I explained right away. Then she admitted that she had not been cool enough to make us each our own special readings, but that I still might like “Susan B. Fights On” since it was about a very interesting woman named—wait for it—Susan B. Anthony! Ha, ha! That’s you!
Now, don’t get mad, but at first I was a little bummed. I liked believing that the reading specialist had done all this work to figure out who I was and how I like to fight on about things. It made me feel special. Since I have always suspected that I am actually a little fabulous, that was pretty cool. But my disappointment passed quickly because I realized that the reading specialist was right. You were very interesting, Susan B. Anthony!
When most of the women of your time were focused on getting married and having kids, you were all, “How in the world can we say we fought a revolution over taxation without representation and then deny women the right to vote? How can we harp on about freedom and liberty and then say to women, ‘No freedom or liberty for you’? I will not accept this! I will spend my life fighting for women’s rights, and I will not give up until every woman in this land has the same chance to vote as your common, garden-variety man.”
When I finished the reading, I was blown away. I learned something important. I learned that being a Susie B. wasn’t something to be annoyed by. It was something to be proud of. Being a Susie B. meant being a Susan B. Anthony, a fighter of good fights. And who wouldn’t want to be that?
So this year, when Mr. Springer read roll for the first time and did the old Susan Buuuuuuu… Susan, I told him, “Hey, Mr. Springer, just call me Susie B. Everybody else does. It’s fine with me.”
And he was all, “Okay, Susie B.!”
See? I told you that you would like that story.