My childhood, and every other little girl of my era, adored Shirley Temple. The one and only doll I had was one of her, the 12 inch model, with beautiful, exotic hand-made cloths an Aunt made for her. But it’s what she did in her adult life that truly stands out about her character. By her mid-thirty’s Shirley was working as a humanitarian and diplomatic liaison in Washington DC.
Later Shirley became an Ambassador to Ghana, where she worked on women’s equal rights, after Henry Kissinger heard her talking about South West Africa at a dinner party and was surprised she knew anything at all about it. Ghana made her an honorary African Chief.
While serving as Ambassador in Czechoslovakia, she was witness two major changes in the political landscape, the last being the fall of communism, the first, in 1968, when Soviet tanks barreled into Prague to crush a reform movement. Her early film career opened doors while serving these roles, along with her sense of humor, especially during gentle persuasions. In 1976 she became the first woman Chief of Protocol in the United States.
Another huge impact she made during her mid-life, was being an outspoken breast cancer survivor. Doctors of that time were not forthcoming with options, fearing “women couldn’t handle the truth.” Shirley helped change the dialog when McCall’s Magazine published her story, one of the first magazines to do so. Women are much braver than given credit for. In fact, it seems it is men who, for their own reasons, can’t “handle the truth.”
Shirley urged women to do their own breast self-exams. She was criticized by the American Cancer Society which warned women against questioning their doctors. But publicly acknowledging her own diagnosis was a big step towards patient’s right of informed consent and care decisions. Her bravery urged women to stand up for themselves and to take control of their health care needs.
At the Kennedy Center Honors in 1998, President Bill Clinton praised Temple Black’s service. “Shirley Temple had the greatest short career in movie history and then gracefully retired to, as we all know, the far less strenuous life of public service,” Clinton said. “She did a masterful job as ambassador, from Ghana to Czechoslovakia, where she made common cause with Vaclav Havel in the final, decisive days of the cold war. In fact, she has to be the only person who both saved an entire movie studio from failure and contributed to the fall of communism. From her childhood to the present day, Shirley has always been an ambassador for what is best about America.”
In her partial retirement, Shirley served on the board of directors for many large enterprises and corporations, including the Walt Disney Company and the National Wildlife Federation. A force to recon with, she earned her right to be a voice of women all over the planet….and for little girls needing a hero. Today is a good day to reflect on the progress women have made on deciding their own needs. Find your hero. Find your voice. Re-invent yourself. You have the power to be the change the planet needs. When women are equal, the planet will begin to heal.