A Woman And Her Journey To Better A Community

2016-2017 Rising Voices Fellow Lili Klayman with her grandmother, mom, and brother.

My grandmother Elaine Fallon was born in 1938 and grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts. Social activism has played a major role throughout her life, even though her involvement started later than one would expect. Since her introduction to feminism and activism, Elaine has been a key figure in voicing the importance of education throughout her community. In addition, she has raised two daughters, and is a loving grandmother to four.

At 17 years old, Elaine started college at Tufts University. Soon after graduating, she became pregnant with my mother, and not long after that, my aunt. Her job as a student quickly switched to that of being a mother, as she worked as a stay-at-home mom for several years. During that time, she realized that being a mother was not the only thing she could contribute to society, and a fire to go back to school was ignited within her.

After countless friends expressed their concerns about her going back to school, she applied for an education grant. To get the money, Elaine had to finish her Masters in Science and Education within one year at Boston University. In that year, she had her first brush with activism when a mentor at BU gave Elaine a clinical rotation job designed to benefit mental health patients in the community. The overwhelmingly negative attitude towards people suffering from mental illness astonished my grandmother, and she started speaking out.

It was during this same time, during the 1960’s, that my grandmother was introduced to feminism. As she started graduate school, she noticed that many of the women around her displayed anger toward men and toward a society that was holding them back. She didn’t disagree with these views, but she also felt that the voices of her and her fellow women would be disregarded if their anger was more prominent than their arguments. With this realization, she started doing research. She took a course by author and professor Carol Gilligan at Harvard University, and started formulating scientific research on the cognitive differences between men and women. This research helped shape her opinions on men and women’s roles in society.

After earning her degrees and raising two daughters, Elaine still felt that there was more for her to do in the world. She took job after job helping marginalized women gain access to education. One of her favorite jobs was at a women’s center where she tutored and led support groups. Astonished with the stories that the women told her about their lives, she officially made it her life's work to help women achieve greatness through education. Her own experiences had taught her that education was the key to success, so she knew that focusing on women’s education was the best way to help women rise.

I’ve grown up in family where education is highly valued, and I often hear my grandmother refer to education as one’s “ticket.” Whether that ticket is taking someone out of a bad situation or neighborhood, or negative state of mind, education is one of those rare things that can truly change a person’s life. My grandmother has taught me countless lessons, but the ones that have stuck with me the most are the ones about education, feminism, and the relationship between the two. I feel so lucky to have this smart, educated, independent woman in my life. Through her experiences, she has taught me about her values, and helped me to discover my own. 

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How to cite this page

Klayman, Lili. " A Woman And Her Journey To Better A Community." 3 May 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 20, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/woman-and-her-journey-to-better-community>.