Monday, October 26, 2020

Thank You Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and Others!

There have been a lot of news stories recently following the death of Ruth Bader-Ginsberg. She was a giant who fought for the equality of all citizens but particularly women.  As I have listened to the stories, it made me reflect on how I experienced that inequality in my lifetime.  Justice Ginsberg is not the only woman who fought this battle, there were many others, but her passing has encouraged me to tell my story.  I am an ordinary woman who has had an ordinary life.  If that inequality impacted me, then it impacted us all.  I don't want the current generation to take for granted the current environment for women, nor do I want them to be satisfied with partial equality.

  I was born in 1947, the beginning of the baby boom. My parents divorced when I was seven. I graduated from high school in 1965 and earned a teaching degree from Purdue University in 1969.  I married in 1970 and had three children between 1972-1977.   These are some of the experiences that I had.   Some of them chafed at the time.  Some were just the way it was, and so I didn't realize how unfair it was until the times changed, and I could look back.  Some still can make me steam. Some were little things but some were big and still impact my life. It was a time when men opened doors for you, pulled out a seat for you to sit in but sat and read the paper at the end of the day while you made and cleaned up dinner, and helped the children with homework and baths because he had "worked" all day!

  I don't remember much from my early years so we can skip that, but once when I told my middle school  students that we couldn't wear pants to school, they shrieked and couldn't believe it.  In typical middle school fashion, they proclaimed that they would do it anyway!  I never thought about it at the time because it was just the way it was.  There was no school rule, and I don't remember being troubled by it except when I waited for the bus in winter. It didn't have to be a rule because it was the style of the times. My students considered it unbelievable!

  But that awareness changed when I went to Purdue.  At that time, Purdue had a rule that women could not walk through the Union unless they were wearing a dress or skirt.  While I grumbled about what a stupid and unfair rule it was, I went back to my dorm on several occasions and changed before meeting a friend at the Sweet Shop there.  I even had a Textile Technology professor who required all female students to wear a dress or skirt to class.  Again, it was winter that made me aware of the complete unfairness of this, and as styles changed, I had more pants/jeans in my wardrobe.  Luckily, this was eliminated during the time I was there because I don't think I would have remained so willing to abide by these rules.

  Another situation that astounded my students was the fact that there were no girls sports teams in my high school.  "So what did you do then?" they shouted at me.  Well . . . we got to cheer for the boys.  Hmmm . . . I knew I could run as fast as many of the boys on the track team, but there was no team for me to join.  Thank you Title IX.  Today's girls have many sports options and the scholarships that go with them. 

  Now back to Purdue.  During my freshman year in 1965, female students had "hours".  That meant female students had a curfew, and we had to be back to our dorms by a particular time or we would be locked out.  The male students had no such curfew, and we were told that they didn't need one because once the girls were in the boys would be too.  Obviously, the men making these rules didn't remember their youth very well. This changed in 1966.

  Some random situations that I witnessed at Purdue and that friends had to endure:  1.) During this time period, the Vet program at Purdue required females to have a higher GPA than males to get in because they assumed that females would marry and leave the profession and they were limited as to how many they could graduate each year. I guess it never dawned on them that you could do both. 2.) A female engineering senior wondered why her job offers were so much lower that her classmates when her grades were outstanding and she had been president of the engineering association.  Then an interviewer told her that they always offered women 10% less!  Wow, not only were they discriminatory but unafraid to admit it.

  After my graduation, I took a teaching job in South Bend, Indiana.  My first contract was for $6300/year.  I was renting a room from a sorority sister's mother and paying for my first car - a used monster size Oldsmobile Delta 88.  I wanted a Mustang ,but my father thought the Olds would be safer, not to mention cheaper. Money was tight, and so I applied for and received a Sears Credit Card.  My reasoning was that I could buy panty hose with the credit card if I was out of money before I got my paycheck.  Female teachers in 1969 always wore skirts or dresses with hose and panty hose were usually preferred for comfort. This worked well until I got married and needed to change my name on the card.  It turns out that Sears automatically made my husband the primary on the card, and I now had to get his permission to use it. Now, he never had to give them his financial information, but he was the primary and my new card had my name change -- Mrs. Robert Soderberg!  My name is not Robert!  A couple of years later, when I used the card to purchase some type of tool for my husband but then needed to return it, I was told that only the "primary" user could do that.  After I called corporate from a store phone and screamed at them for a half hour, I cut the card in pieces in front of the male clerk and let it drop to the floor.  I think they eventually changed this policy, but they lost my business long before that.

   Of course, I also ran into the usual "Why don't you bring your husband back so we can talk." when I went shopping for a new car, and the wife's income was never included when applying for a mortgage.  WHY??  

  Then in 1969 I was hired by the South Bend Community School Corporation to teach 7th and 8th grade Home Economics at Harrison Elementary/Jr. High. I loved teaching and enjoyed my students.  I spent most of my childhood in a small town and South Bend felt like a big city to me.  There were many situations that I found frustrating and unfair during my three years teaching there, however, there is one big problem that I am still living with.  At this time South Bend had a policy that women had to quit teaching when they were 4 months pregnant or before.  I married in 1970 and was pregnant with my first child who was due late October 1972.  At this point, I would just be slightly over the 4 month cut off policy.  Another teacher, a couple of rooms down from me had to quit the beginning of May due to this policy.  I guess they picked 4 months because they assumed that no one would know your were pregnant yet.  So I stayed home through the next year - they did not hold your position for you.  When I tried to look into returning there were no openings and it remained that way for several years.  I was frustrated but resigned to the situation and went on to other things.  During this time South Bend had been taken to court for this policy and naturally they lost so they could no longer compel a female teacher to quit when she was pregnant. I celebrated this victory despite it being too late for me. 

   I had two more children, but when I finally returned to teaching in the South Bend School system, I discovered their policy would forever impact me.  They had a two tier seniority system - years teaching in district and years teaching out of district.  BUT, if you had taught less that 5 years with South Bend, those years were in the "out of district" column.  So multiple times I lost out on positions to people with fewer years teaching in South Bend than I had because three years of my SB experience were in the "out of district" column.  Finally, near my retirement, there was a calculation for retirement monies based on our years of service - but they only counted in district years!  Of course, I came up three years short!  

   I wish I had been more politically active, but my nature is to be a rule follower.  Some might say a complaining rule follower but . . . I am grateful for all of the women before me who raised their voices and fought for equal rights.  My children and grandchildren, both male and female, are the better for it, but we are not done yet.  The fight goes on.






Monday, June 1, 2020

When Were You at a Historic Event?

   It has been a long long time since I wrote anything on this blog, but  over the years I  would go back and write down an idea that I had for a blog post, thinking that when I started writing again I would have some topics to get me started.  Sadly, it has been so long that I am not sure what I was thinking for some too many of the topics.  This should be a lesson for me to write a bit more that just a title in the future. However,  the idea of  being present or involved in a historic event has always interested me.  As I research my ancestors, I always find it interesting, and sometimes uncomfortable, when I discover them at a historic event such as the San Francisco earthquake, the surrender of John Burgoyne at Saratoga, or the saddest, the Sand Creek Massacre.  Most of us intersect history at some point in our lives, and I believe we should record our experiences for our descendants because history does not tell the story or experiences of the common person during these times.
    For me it was April of 1968 and the recent events have encouraged me to write about my experience during Spring vacation during my junior year at Purdue University.
  Let me preface this by telling you that I was always the Good Girl.  I was the oldest in my family, a good student and definitely a rule follower! My mother never learned the truth until several decades later.
   Early in 1968 as winter was winding down one of my sorority sisters, Christy Fisher, planned to visit Washington D.C. over Spring vacation and begged everyone trying to find someone to go with her.  I don't remember her exact reason, but I agreed.  The question was how could I sell this to my parents? I went through several options but then I went with the tried and true method - I lied!  Christy was driving her car so the transportation was cheap affordable, but what about where we would stay.  We found out that there was a chapter of our sorority located at American University in D.C. so we told our parents that we would be safely staying at their chapter house.  The only problem was that they didn't have houses, and they lived in the dorms. So the first thing we had to do when we got there was to contact them in case our parents called - but why would they - and that way they could cover for us.  We actually stayed in a very cheap motel outside of D.C. in Maryland.  I still remember the sign out front, "Truckkers Welcome".  No that is not a typo.

   At first everything went well, and we did the usual tourist stuff. We went to the Lincoln Memorial, and climbed the Washington Monument taking the elevator for the trip down.  I strongly suggest you do it the opposite way. We even went to the Capital and met with our local senator who at that time was Vance Hartke.  The weather was beautiful, and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. We took our photo in front of the White house and planned to visit the next day.  Ahhhh, the best laid plans . . .

  Early that evening we learned that Martin Luther King had been shot, but we kept on sightseeing.  What can I say . . . we were foolish and young.  It seemed quiet and that evening we even walked up to a White House guard building and started flirting with the guard.  He flirted back and then got coffee from inside the White House for us. We stayed downtown as everything appeared calm but had little money for dinner so when we saw a bar that advertised free cheese and crackers with a drink order, we decided that cheese and crackers sounded like the perfect dinner.  Then it got weird when the middle-aged owner of the bar and his friend joined us uninvited.  We stuffed down as much cheese and crackers as we could while we nursed one beer each and made our exit quickly.


 Now Washington D.C. was ahead of the times with roundabouts in 1968.They had many of them and the same street didn't always go off directly opposite from where you got on.  Somehow, we always seemed to get off our intended route.  Admittedly, I was the navigator and was not the best map reader at that time.  So the next morning we again headed back into D.C., and as I was gazing out of the window, I noticed a building that had burned and casually remarked on it, but then there was another, and by the third one which was still smouldering, it finally dawned on me what must have happened.  Christy and I were both nervous at this point but continued on into D.C. following an African American soldier in a car ahead of us who waved for us to follow him. Remember we were young and foolish.  Once in D.C. we sadly discovered that our White House tour was cancelled.  Actually the White House had barricades and armed military around it. We saw tanks rolling through the streets!  The military was everywhere.  Of course, we continued touring D.C. but there were constant fire trucks as the day went on.  On the back of one photo of a fire truck it said, "One of fifteen fire trucks in 15 minutes".  We wisely decided to cut short our day and head back to our motel early.
  Now in addition to a ungodly amount of roundabouts, the street names are also a confusing mess.  There are two 1st streets - First street NE and First street NW and that pattern continues numerically.  The cross streets are similarly named alphabetically - F street NE and F street NW.  Remember that I was the navigator, and somehow I read the map wrong because we ended up going in the exact opposite direction that we needed to travel. I just didn't realize it. The traffic became heavier and more and more fire trucks went by announcing a curfew from bull horns as they
went through.  We saw more evidence of riots and burned buildings.  Several of the buildings had been boarded up and the message on them said, "Soul Brothers and Soul Sisters work here. Please don't put us out of work."  I was frantically turning the map round and round trying to figure out where we were as the fire trucks announced earlier and earlier curfews.  When they said all men women and children should be off the street by 4 p.m. I decided we needed to turn around because we were definitely NOT headed toward our hotel. Christy agreed and immediately turned into the closest business parking area.  As I looked across the lot to the destroyed building with broken windows I realized it was a liquor store that was currently being looted by two young men who paused momentarily to stare at us.  I remember screaming at Christy to get us out of there - multiple times!  The traffic was bumper to bumper as we drove north.   I finally realized the confusing naming pattern for the streets as we passed 2nd street twice.

  Remember when I assumed that our parents would never need to phone us - oops!  Luckily, we were saved, by the fact that all of the phone lines were overloaded, and so there was no way to call in or out of the city.  I think I had a total of $1 in my purse at the time, and Christy didn't have much more.  We found a McDonalds, and we each got a 25 cent hamburger and fries.
  I don't remember much about the trip home.

 The photos were taken with an inexpensive disposable  point and shoot camera which was standard for the time, but there was no zoom and the quality is terrible.  I thought I remembered other photos but these are all that I have found.  It was a historic time and place.  

When were you swept up in history?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Girls of Providence Identified . . . I Think!

Wow, it has been so long. What are my excuses?  I have none . . . or at least nothing earth shaking. My life was hectic, and I thought I would just take a short break from writing this blog.  That short break has been almost three years now. If my style seems a little stilted, you are probably correct.  I felt comfortable with my "voice" before, but now don't know if I can regain that comfortable feeling.  Regardless, I HAD to write this post . . .

Text Box: 1940 Providence High School Yearbook
Intermittently since then I have received emails from individuals who read an old post and wanted to contact me about a connection or opinion.  I ALWAYS responded.  As you can imagine though, they are few and far between.  Then last February while I was sitting in a hotel room in Tucson on a short vacation, I opened an email from Tony that left me very excited - I am downplaying this as I have a vague recollection that I screamed!  He had read my post, The Girls of Chicago's Providence High School  . . . What Became of Them? His email explained that he had a friend who graduated from Providence High School in 1943 and she had a 1940 yearbook. My mother and her friends graduated in 1942 so they would definitely be in that yearbook, although two years younger.  After multiple emails, he very generously offered to send me scans of the pages with photos of the sophomore class to see if I could identify the girls in my mother's photos - no problem, I thought!

So began my arduous task of trying to match the faces in my mother's photos to the younger girls in the yearbook.  I THINK I have matched most of them, but it was so much more difficult that I thought it would be, and, of course, there are a couple that seem similar to five different girls so making a decision is impossible.  Even a couple of those I have "identified", have been done with my fingers crossed.  My process was as follows:  I cropped all of the faces from my mother's photos and labeled them as girl 1, girl 2, girl 2b (for those in multiple photographs), girl 3 etc.  This way I wasn't distracted by the other girls in her photos and, in several cases, had multiple views of a particular girl.   Then I began my comparison by opening one window with the cropped faces side by side with another window which had the yearbook pages enlarged so I could see 6-9 girls at a time.  I then scrolled through the 5 pages of sophomores in the yearbook scans Tony sent me.  Confidently, I started but soon realized this was going to be difficult.  I often had to look for hairlines, chins, eyebrows to try and distinguish between multiple possibilities.  Girls change in two years and as an example, here is my mother, Gloria Kennelly, as a sophomore and as a senior. 



 I invite you to refer to my previous post to see the complete candid snapshots of these girls not just at a pivotal time in their lives but also for our nation.  For many their dreams would have to wait as their world turned upside down with the start of World War II, but the photos my mother took were before all that happened. This was the time in their lives when all things were possible.

Here are my identifications.  Please correct me if I am wrong. I would love to hear from you if you know or are related to any of these Providence graduates.

Girl 1 – Lorna Doone

Girl 2 – Patricia Lee

Girl 3 - Marie Gagnon

Girl 4 - Manetta Caulkins

Girl 5 - Anne Donohue

Girl 6 - Rita Mae Miles

Girl 7 - Jayne Shine

Girl 8 - Evelyn Gibbons

To help you realize how tough this was will you help me decide?

Is this Kathleen Keane or Merle Nickels?

Kathleen Keane
Merle Nickels

There are some, just a few, that will remain unidentified, either because the photo is not clear enough, they have heads turned, or there are way too many possibilities from which to choose.  But, I feel so satisfied to have identified the girls above and that will have to do until I find a later yearbook or a relative contacts me.  

Many, many thanks to Tony who had a friend, who had a yearbook, saw the connection and contacted me, then scanned the yearbook pages making it possible for me to identify these young ladies.  The stars aligned . . .

A lesson for all - identify the people in your photos!