When my granddaughter was twelve years old and had declared her intention to be the first woman president, she was shocked to learn that in 1940, a widow supporting two children earned half the salary of her male co-workers at a public relations firm. “That’s not fair,” she declared. Indeed, it is not, but it still happens today. This is what my granddaughters need to know.
My granddaughter and I were talking to a woman in her ninth decade of life who still teaches folk-dancing. The woman shared what happened to her family after her father died in 1946, leaving her 40-year-old mother with two children and her own mother to support. Luckily, her mother had a degree in journalism, which was unusual in those days. My granddaughter was surprised women who came of age in in the 1920s didn’t routinely go to college. The widowed mother got a job at a public relations agency. The men were paid $25,000/year, which was a good salary back then. Her mother was paid $12,500/year for the same work.
This young widow lived a long life, dying in 1996. But even in her old age she said she never understood the women’s liberation movement, despite being the only woman executive in the agency and earning half as much as her male colleagues. The men were friends of hers but no one thought there was anything wrong this scenario. Similarly, my mother was told by her father when she graduated high school in 1941 that women didn’t need to go to college. She took a short secretarial course, worked for a few years, and married in 1944. While there were exceptions here and there, very few women held positions of power in government or companies back then.
I’m sharing these stories with my granddaughters today, the International Women’s Day:
When I was in college in the mid-sixties, an acquaintance became pregnant. Birth control pills were not easy to come by. In fact, the birth control pill was not approved by the FDA until 1960, and the Supreme Court gave married couples the right to use birth control in 1965. There weren’t many choices back then for a college sophomore who wanted to complete her education. She decided to go to New York for an abortion. She was lucky she could afford to have a safe abortion and thus the opportunity to finish her education and have a family when she was…