Last week, while most of the media was focused on whether President Obama’s optimistic view of the private sector, concern over security leaks, and the abysmal European economy, two events took place that reminded me of the foundations and common values that we hold dear to the American national identity. I’m referring to the auction held in Dallas of sharpshooter Annie Oakley’s mementos as well as the first annual National Take Your Daughter To the Range Day.
Mementos of hers include photographs, her Stetson hat, and her famed rifles used while performing for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee; the items sold for a combined total of nearly $520,000. The figure speaks volumes about the continuing allure of Annie Oakley, and her iconic status as a Western woman during a time of transition in America.
I admire Annie Oakley for many reasons and won’t be able to cover them all in this article. Her ability to shoot well was paramount, and her ability to draw in crowds in spite of her gender allowed her to become the first female performer to tour with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show -- a show meant to replicate the scenes of the Wild West, that was waning at the time. Annie Oakley provided ample entertainment and even managed to charm Chief Sitting Bull, who adopted her as his ‘daughter’ and nicknamed her ‘Little Sureshot’.
Feminists however, had a hard time trying to reconcile with Oakley’s stance on the suffrage movement, but at the same time recognized that her talent allowed her to gain fame without having to lean on the feminist label. Oakley achieved fame and success through her own hard work and talent.
For women who aspired to be like her, Oakley's advice was straightforward: “Every intelligent woman should become familiar with the use of firearms.” This fascinates me given that all throughout my childhood the message that I received was that guns were bad.
Certainly, in the wrong hands, firearms can pose dangerous and often fatal consequences. How many times have we read stories of kids playing around with a gun thinking that it’s a toy, when the gun accidentally goes off and a fatality occurs? But, given proper training, the benefits of firearms outweigh the negative possible consequences.
Given the social constraints during the Victorian age, the idea of a woman being responsible to ensure her own safety was remarkable and prescient. At the time, doctors held the belief that one-quarter of the female population were irrational, emotional, and thus a weaker sex which made them more prone ‘hysteria’. It’s only recently that women have started heeding her advice.
Most people remember Annie Oakley as the famed American icon known for her sharpshooting skills borne in the age of an untamed, rugged, dangerous America. But her strong advocacy for firearm training for women -- for self-defense and equality purposes -- is something that is lesser known.
It is rumored that Oakley also instructed nearly 15,000 women in the proper use of handling firearms, a practice recently adopted as evidenced by the skyrocketing increase of women holding concealed carry permits.
Oakley urged women to make themselves knowledgeable in firearms training as a defensive measure: the very same reasoning given towards the creation behind The National Take Your Daughter To The Range Day (NTYDTTRD).
It’s a sad fact of the modern world that women are targeted for being vulnerable, but adequate training in the use of firearms can thwart would-be attackers.
The reasoning behind NTYDTTRD is to introduce girls to have the proper foundation in using firearms, allowing girls to become better equipped in handling dangerous weapons if a situation ever occurs. The ultimate goal is for women to gain a certain level of comfort and security in their choice of firearm(s). Boys are introduced to shooting as a sport by fathers or under the Boy Scouts program, but girls are brought up to have different expectations of guns and NTYDTTRD seeks to change that. This national day of recognition, is a way to increase one’s self-esteem while acknowledging the potential danger of a firearm.
Annie Oakley’s unshakable belief in women’s ability to defend themselves extended to protecting this right nation. Twice, she offered 50 of her best trained female sharpshooters to defend the nation in times of war (during the Spanish-American War, and World War I). To make these offers even more appealing the women would come equipped with their own ammunition: both Presidents McKinley and Wilson declined her offer.
We’ve come a long way since then. I’m proud that women are able to serve in the armed forces. Although we still face some setbacks with discrimination, I look forward to the day when an elite group, such as the S.W.A.T, is comprised of women who are viewed as just as capable as their male counterparts.