My mom was a bright high school student in the 1950s at Derby High School, she often found herself one of the few girls in upper-level science and math classes. Her family couldn’t afford to send her off to college but with a small family loan she was able to enroll and then eventually graduate from Wesley Nursing School in Wichita. In those days these two-year programs had students living on premise, taking classes, and effectively interning all at same time.
When I was young she continued working part and then full-time as a nurse. Back in the late 60s, two income families were uncommon mostly because of the biases of the times and strict gender roles. She was proud of her accomplishments as a young woman even if others didn’t appreciate her talents. Like I’m sure in many families, it was point of friction with my dad as mom and other women struggled to find a voice and equality in society and our economy.
She was strong proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment - one reason why I made it an issue in my 2018 Congressional Campaign. Shamefully this work is still left undone.
One of my favorite memories of my mom and her “women’s lib” as she would call it, was with my Boy Scout troop. When we moved back from LA to Wichita in 1974 I joined a troop with my cousins (BSA 404). When I let her know of an upcoming annual parents planning meeting, she quickly made plans to attend. Much to her surprise, and her lifelong delight, she was the only mom (and for that matter woman) to attend. As she liked to tell the story, “You should have seen their faces when I walked into the room. It was like, ‘what are you doing here?’” And of course she matter of factually said “I’m hear to attend the parents meeting.”
It rarely works at first, but just showing up is sometimes all you need to do when starting to change others’ biases. They may reject you at first - or far worse. You don’t need to shout, loudly protest or even get arrested, you can start by nudging people to see the truth. And of course the world should be more flat and it’s all of our responsibility to strive for equity. For people of different family histories, race and ethnicity, economic backgrounds, their gender, whom they love, and where and what they call home.
My sister continues the “bright young woman” narrative for our family. A chemistry geek (a compliment), Lea was able to attend college with the help of our mom and got her Chemical Engineering degree from KU and has been doing real chemistry - in a very male dominated profession - every day at Goodyear since the 80s.
Thanks mom for doing your part and helping me understand this important responsibility we all have to make room for everyone at the table.