Me Too: For My Daughter
In 1960 when I asked my dad to sign my application forms for admission to Bennington College, a high-powered liberal arts school in New England, he ripped them up and said that it was a waste of money to educate a girl. He said I should look for a job as a secretary, a job more suited for a girl who would “just get married and have kids.” I went to a state university where I could afford to pay the cost myself by working summers and having a job on campus. I vowed, that if I had a daughter, I would send her to the best school in the country, and I did.
At my university, freshman girls were required to be in their rooms by 7:00 PM on weeknights. Boys had no curfew. We could not go even to the library. Since I was a double major in science and journalism, my days were filled with labs and classes, so I broke curfew and went to the library only to be disciplined in the dean’s office. We picketed, petitioned, wrote letters to the editor, and formed committees to no avail until my senior year when consideration regarding this curfew finally began at the administrative level. I vowed that if I had a daughter, she would go to a school where men and women were treated as equals, and she did.
During my undergraduate studies, my advisor suggested to me that girls didn’t usually take physics, that I would find the labs “dirty and gritty,” and my clothes would get “messed up,” and there would be no other girls in the class. She also pointed out that boys did not like girls who carried slide rules. I took physics despite them. I promised myself that if I had a daughter who had physics as part of her required course work, I would encourage and support her all the way, and I did.
When I graduated and looked for a job teaching science, I was told that women couldn’t be high school science teachers. I applied for 25 or more open science teacher positions in Massachusetts and received letters from all but one that said, “We have never hired a woman science teacher and we never will.” I hoped that no daughter of mine would face this type of discrimination. A woman was chairperson of the science department at the one school that hired me. She told me that she began teaching in this school when it was tiny, and at that time taught all the science, language arts, and social studies. I had high hopes that my daughter would find a job and be hired easily, and she did.
Later, in my pursuit of a master’s degree in wildlife biology at another state university, a professor spotted me, the only woman in a class of 30 wildlife management students. He told me that I was in the wrong class, that women could not be wildlife managers as no one would hire them. In the late 1960’s laws did not protect women regarding hiring practices. I told him I would be prepared with credentials when the laws changed, and women could apply for positions in wildlife management. I had high hopes that any daughter of mine would not have to face archaic laws that kept women from pursuing their careers to the fullest. This hope materialized.
When I completed my master’s studies, I wanted to continue to pursue a PhD. After I applied, I received a letter from the university saying that their policy was to allow women, one each year, to take up studies for a master’s degree, but women were not accepted in the PhD program in Biology. My tears stung as I dreamed about a world that any daughter of mine would live in, a world where she could seek higher education to her heart’s content. And she did.
The laws changed, and women were given equal opportunity to all jobs and careers. There I was, prepared and ready with a master’s degree in wildlife biology. I was the first woman hired by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in a professional position: Assistant Manager of a wildlife refuge. One of the duties outlined in my official position description was to do field research on a wildlife-related issue on the refuge. After submitting several proposals to management, I was told that they would not allow women to do field research. My job was to do “office work.” I filed a discrimination complaint that went on for three years. I won the complaint with back pay and other compensation. When I submitted my research proposal again, it was turned down. The letter said they would not allow a woman to do field research. I would have had to file another complaint and fight the same battle again! I resigned with the hope that for the time I was there, I made a difference for the women who came after me. I hoped that my little daughter would never have to face such treatment from the men in her workplace.
When I decided I wanted to follow my dream of writing a high school biology textbook, I learned that this was also a field dominated by men, in every sense of the word. Publishers thought that if a woman was listed as author, no one would buy the book. However, when a major publisher hired a woman to write a science textbook and it became a “best-seller,” times changed, and the door opened for me. In my years of writing for a major textbook publisher, men assumed that women wouldn’t want management positions as it would “interfere with family life.” So, women were not often moved into these jobs, and if they applied, they were talked into believing that they “really didn’t want the responsibility because it would interfere with family life—” a subtler way to discriminate against women. I hoped my daughter would never have to deal with this type of discrimination.
Daughter of mine, I know that as you have followed your dream, the road was rocky with both outright and subtle discrimination. You have not let it deter you from your goals. Good for you! I am so proud that not only have you defended yourself against bullies in post-graduate education and the workplace, but you have helped others in similar positions. Unknowingly, you chose to be a pioneer when you became the first female in a cardiology fellowship at a prestigious state university. Thank you, daughter, for carrying on the fight! Because of you and me, and hosts of other women around the world, your daughter will not have such a difficult path to her dream.
I wrote this snapshot of my life to let you know, my daughter, that I have been fighting for 50 years, not only for my rights, but for your rights, for your friend’s rights, and for the rights of women everywhere. I want to see a life where CEO’s, managers, and bosses say to women, “Go for it!” “You can do it.” “Live your dream!” I want to see a life where CEO’s, managers, and bosses ARE women. I am optimistic because in both the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in textbook publishing, and in many other work settings, woman now have many more professional and management positions. Half of the students in medical school are now women. However, women are not complacent now that strides were made. I am sure that with action, more positive changes will continue to happen for women everywhere.