Taking the Cow by the Horns

I want to share a story with you that I find to be truly inspirational. It is a story about a woman named Anna Marie Quinn. Born and raised in Ireland, Anna Marie knew nothing beyond the rolling green hills of the Irish countryside. Though the country bequeathed much natural beauty to its residents, during the nineteenth century it was a very difficult place to live. As we all know, during this time Ireland faced great economic difficulties and devastations including the Great Famine in the 1840’s. Ireland was a male-dominated agricultural society so during the Post-Famine Period, Irish women faced even more restrictions than they had seen prior to the destruction of the typical rural lifestyle.


Anna Marie and her husband were among the many rural families struggling in the post-famine stage and she was asked to go to town one day to sell their cow so that they could make some money from it. However, Anna Marie had a different plan for her life. She decided to do something that may even shock the modern day woman. Following her husband’s instructions like a dutiful wife, she sold the cow in exchange for money. And then she went straight home and delivered it to him, right? Well, not exactly. She took the money, bought a ticket to America, and marched straight onto the boat, not stopping to look back for even a second. It wasn’t until arriving in America that Anna Marie sent a message to her husband, telling him that she was in America and that she hoped he would follow her there one day.


Talk about taking the bull (or should I say cow?) by the horns, right? I mean here she is, a woman living in a world where the most important decision she was granted was when to feed the chickens, taking the family cow and selling it to buy herself a ticket to an unknown land, halfway across the world. Something like that was just unheard of. But, here’s the bottom line. She wasn’t happy with her life in Ireland, so she decided to take charge and do something about it. So, she physically and metaphorically set sail in pursuit of a new life, not knowing what was ahead for her, but embracing the ocean breeze as it whipped through her newly freed hair. That’s what life is all about: diving headfirst into the unknown and figuring the rest out along the way. When she arrived in America did she find that the streets were actually paved with gold? No. However, what mattered was that she made this decision for herself and that’s worth more than any amount of precious mineral.


Anna Marie Quinn was my great-great-grandmother. I am proud to say that I come from a long line of strong, independent women and I can only hope to live my life in reflection of their countless leaps of faith and displays of courage. My late aunt was the first (and still only) appointed female District Attorney of Delaware County, PA. That was after being a history teacher for years, raising a family, and then deciding to go back to school to become a lawyer. Was it risky to go to law school and try to begin a completely new career at the age of 40? Absolutely. But, was it worth it? I am positive her answer would be “yes.”

As for me, I’m still working on living up to the family legacy. I will, however, say that I am still, to this day, the only female who insisted on playing “Bunny Foo Foo” instead of the “Good Fairy” in the Playmate’s Nursery School class play. And if that isn’t something to be proud of, then I don’t know what is! In all seriousness, I have been taking tips from my go-getter female relatives my entire life and am proud to have those genes in my makeup to fuel my tenacity and fight for what I want out of life.


I graduated from college with a degree in English and originally thought I wanted to be a copywriter, particularly in the fashion industry. I got a job in NYC fairly soon after graduating at a big fashion company, thinking I could test out the industry and see if it was really where I wanted to be. Soon after moving to the city, in addition to realizing that fashion and furthermore sitting at a desk all day was not for me, I started volunteering at a cancer center in the pediatric unit. This was something I had always wanted to do and I am glad I followed my gut with this decision because it ended up bringing me to a career I never would have known about otherwise, which is “child life.” After doing endless hours of research on the field, talking to child life specialists at the hospital I volunteer at and attending open houses for graduate programs, I was left with a cow of a decision to make. Should I trade in my stable career at a company that most girls would die to work at, for a ticket to an unknown land? I decided to take the plunge. I left my job in New York, knowing that there was no way I would be able to save enough money for graduate school while paying the rent there, basically threw all my eggs in one basket, and had to have enough faith in myself to know that I would get into one of the only two schools I applied to (there are currently only about ten schools in the country who offer a graduate degree in child life rather than a concentration, and even fewer who make it possible for career-changers like me to enroll). Well, I’m glad I got the risk-taker gene because just before the holidays I was accepted into the graduate program which was my top choice and I will begin my journey towards becoming a child life specialist this upcoming fall.


Just as my great-great-grandmother embarked on a journey to America to make a new life for herself, not knowing what she would face when she got there, I have gone forth with my dreams like an immigrant seeking new opportunity. The decisions I have made along the way have been difficult and I will undoubtedly face many more of these throughout my lifetime, but that is what keeps life going. If we aren’t willing to take risks, then our lives will turn into broken records. It is called the circle of life for a reason. What goes around, comes around. What you give out, you get back. These are all phrases we are very familiar with. But what if we just stopped making changes in our lives? Would life still be a circle? Probably not. It’s like we’re all discovering our own America. The first people to journey to the New World weren’t sure if the world was round or flat, so they had to take a leap of faith and risk the chance of falling off the face of the earth. But, they discovered that it was indeed round and that there was a world of opportunity waiting for them around the bend. Be a pioneer in your own life. Take chances. Jump. Plunge into the unknown. Think big. Our time on this earth is limited, but what we choose to do with that time is not. Maybe the decision you make today will not be as monumental as selling the family cow to buy a ticket to America and hoping that your husband will someday follow you there, but it will still be a decision and those are what will keep your record spinning.


As we embark on this new year with our minds packed with resolutions, goals and desires, think of Anna Marie Quinn. Whether it be something as big as changing careers or as small as gathering up the courage to ask your secret crush out for coffee, take a chance. What is there to lose? Anna Marie went to America with no set plans, no job lined up, no family to comfort her on the other side. She took a colossal risk. If she could do it, so can you.

fat nan

Anna Marie Quinn is located in the center of the photo, surrounded by her five daughters. PS: Her husband chased after her.

To learn more about the immigration of Irish women in the 19th century please visit: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2546070?uid=3739864&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21101613745277

For more information on the child life profession, please visit: http://www.childlife.org/

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