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NHC Beyond 4 Walls Podcast

The personal papers of NHC’s founder, Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch

This week, I’m in Boston for the Urban Land Institute’s 2018 Fall Meeting. In addition to some thought-provoking meetings, I had a chance to visit the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University. The purpose of my visit to Radcliffe was to explore the personal papers of NHC’s founder, Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch. NHC has a long and proud history of advocating for every major piece of housing legislation since the creation of the Federal Home Loan Bank System in 1932. Since then, we have successfully fought for the creation of the Federal Housing Administration in 1934, the creation of the Federal National Mortgage Association and federally-subsidized low-income housing in 1938, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 to name a few.

In light of recent events outside of housing in Washington that continue to threaten to tear our country apart, one document stood out to me. In a speech prepared for the Junior League in 1949, Ms. Simkhovitch was asked to address the unique challenges faced by the modern women of her time. They are both inspiring and disturbing in their prescience. Rather than opine on housing policy, I’d prefer to share them with you instead.

Noting her role as a “middle-aged woman… naturally interested in the girls who so soon will take their place in the world,” she noted that “curiosity and hope egg us on to close watchfulness. The fear of being conspicuous, the gentle neutrality in all things, the desire to please by agreement, are all in process of rapid disappearance… The girl who loses fear has to justify her convictions and more positive action by an intelligent conception of what she is undertaking. This fearless note of the modern girl is her finest quality and it proves of special value when it is related to some practical end. The modern girl despises, and properly, amateurish inefficiency. She wants to see results. This means capacity for sustained effort…”

A veteran of the fight for a woman’s right to vote, Simkhovitch also noted that “I know that there are times when one has to fight for one’s life, but one is stronger for those infrequent contests…” However, “it isn’t particularly interesting to be fearless, hardworking and efficient for one’s self alone. That’s lonely and gets tiresome very soon. But in working for any aspect of life that means a new world freed of sordidness, poverty, disgrace, ugliness and weakness, all the powers of the modern girl will find ample room for full play.”

As a father of two young adults who are direct beneficiaries of the legacy of giants like Ms. Simkhovitch, I choose to be encouraged that we can be inspired by those like her who continue to fight for a “new world freed of sordidness, poverty, disgrace, ugliness and weakness.” Ms. Simkhovitch believed in bringing people of widely divergent points of view together to achieve a common goal: safe and affordable housing for all. I hope that you will join us as we continue our work to make her vision a reality. Memberships in NHC start at just $100 for retirees and $400 f or sole proprietors. Please join us today.

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