What Was It Like for You, Mom?

by Beth Clark, Advocate editor

March, 2021 –What It Was Like for Caroline Sanchez

This month, Caroline Sanchez shares her experiences in times when expectations for women were different than today.  Thank you, Caroline, for sharing your story.

How it was for us with education…

My parents wanted their three daughters to go to college. I always wanted to be a teacher. I lived on a farm in Colorado, in a county with a small population. I attended a one room school with ten students. To attend high school, we walked to the highway and took a 35 mile bus trip. I had some disadvantages because of starting high school at the young age of 12 and graduating at age 16. I also was unable to attend extracurricular activities because of living so far away. Of the students that rode the bus no one else went to college. Of the 55 seniors that graduated in 1952, maybe five went to college. When the principal heard that I was planning to attend Adams State College, he helped me apply for a scholarship which I received.

The college campus had 100 students in each class. It was a nice size, so I was able to get to know all the students and attend activities.  While I was going to college my mother’s farmer friend commented, “Why is she going to college, just to wash diapers?”  I was very insulted, and I told my mother to tell her, “Maybe I can learn a better way to wash them.” When I was getting married at the end of my junior year, my parents only consented if my future husband promised that I would graduate from college.

Moving to California, my husband rented a very expensive Berkeley apartment. It was walking distance from the University of California so I could attend classes in September. He also paid out of state tuition, but he kept his promise. It was difficult adjusting to a campus of 30,000 students. I couldn’t continue the spring semester because I was expecting a baby near finals. The following September I returned, making arrangements for a babysitter. Thanks to my husband keeping his promise, I was able to graduate.

How it was for us financially…

Moving to Pleasant Hill, I became a stay-at-home mom raising our five daughters. Since I did not work out of the home, I used some of the talents I had learned on the farm to save money. I helped by sewing, canning fruit and refurbishing furniture. I taught my daughters and other members sewing and other activities through the 4-H Club, and I became involved in PTA in grade, intermediate and high school.

When my youngest daughter left for college, I was offered a teaching job at Carondelet High School where I taught for six years. With a Real Estate License, I have done property management for over 40 years.

February, 2021 – A first collection of experiences from our members

How it was for us with education…

  • “My mother sent me to college to find a husband.”—Karen from Portland, who started college in 1969. She left college after two years to get married.
  • “My father, who was a Jr. high math teacher at one time, told me that “girls just can’t do math like boys.” It was the cultural norm. One of my school chums told me, in recent years, that she was good at math but as a female was so discouraged from pursuing it that she never did.”—Dianne Tinnes
  • “In the mid-1980s I told my parents that I wanted to switch careers and become a technical writer. My father told me that only men were technical writers. That was how things were in his workplace, I suppose, so he didn’t see beyond that. He had been quite supportive regarding education otherwise. My mother told my father that he didn’t know what he was talking about.”—Beth Clark, Berkeley
  • “I was a junior in high school and, even though I was a decent student, I had not thought about planning my courses etc. with college in mind. That is until I watched my friends getting college acceptance letters. I said to myself “What in the world have you been doing?” I went home to tell my mom that I wanted to go to college. She said “Forget college. You learn how to type and take shorthand so you can support yourself.” I can see why/how she said this and I can clearly hear our conversation today.”—Linda Jimerson
  • “I was raised with the idea that I could do or be whatever I wanted. Time has made a difference.”—Kathy Harkins

How it was for us with our careers and in the workplace…

  • “In the mid-1980s, I was working at a local tech company as a Middle Manager. I was discussing with my boss the candidates we had interviewed and I recommended one of the women for the position. He said “great” and then offered that he liked to hire women because they were smarter and he didn’t have to pay them as much. I think he was actually trying to give me a compliment! It was OK to pay women less in those days. I think we have made some progress since then, but we have more to do!”—Chris Ritter
  • “I began working for the State of California about three days after college graduation (1969, Sacramento). I was married at the time; my husband was still in college. The head of the department where I was hired made it quite clear that women were hired only to be clerical staff and I bought into that. Eventually, in about 1980, I was in a semi-administrative position at UC Berkeley and did well there. I never questioned the earlier restrictions, and that seems troubling now. But then it seemed OK. I likely was not alone in my acceptance. It just was the way it was and, truly, I never ‘took it personally’ or felt demeaned or limited, despite a college degree.”—Marie Bowen, Napa
  • “In 1984, I joined a company that required me to travel. After racking up big credit card bills (we got reimbursed but it took time), I learned that everyone else on the team—all men—had a company credit card that they used for their travel expenses. When I asked the department VP why everyone but me had a company card, he told me that women aren’t to be trusted with credit cards the way men were. I was floored; yes, I was the only female on the team who was not an administrator but how did he come up with that explanation! I persisted and he finally relented and ordered a company credit card for me. When it arrived, he called me into his office and explained how I was to use it only for company business and that I was not allowed to go shopping with it to buy items for myself. He emphasized that I wasn’t to take it to the mall for a spending spree.”—Karen Abbruscato, Bay Area (with an engineering degree)
  • “When working as a technical writer in Silicon Valley in the 1980s and 1990s, I didn’t let anyone at work know that I had children. I was afraid that they would think that I wouldn’t be able to do as good a job as a man because my duties as a mother would interfere.”—Beth Clark
  • “My father, who was an executive in a medium size company, called his secretary his “girl.” It was the cultural norm as in “I will have my girl send the papers over to your girl.”—Dianne Tinnes

How it was for us financially…

  • “In 1970, we started an investment club of 20 AAUW members in the Tri-Valley. It was very novel at the time. We had a male broker from Merrill Lynch work with us. He told us, hesitantly, that Lynch rules said we each had to have a note from our husbands saying it was OK for us to invest $10 a month in the investment club! One of our members was Helen Tirsell, mayor of Livermore at the time! Can you imagine being told that today, 50 years later?”—Betty Nostrand, Pleasanton
  • “It wasn’t until 1974 that it was possible for a married woman to get a credit card in her own name and, therefore, establish a credit history of her own. I suspect that a lot of women were like me and didn’t pursue getting their own card. In 1985 I got divorced. I had no separate credit history. It was all in my Ex’s name. Plus, having been home raising the children I had no recent salary history either. I couldn’t get a car loan without the bank requiring me to tie up that same amount of money in my bank account as collateral. I was going to have to get someone to co-sign for a house loan. Maybe it was just business for the bank and not discrimination. But it was infuriating because when I was married, I was the one who made sure all the bills were paid on time. Unfortunately, I had no separate credit history to show that.”—Beth Clark

How it was for us with family life…

  • “I was a teacher before I got married. In India where I live, it was expected that I would quit my career when I got married and take care of the house and my family, including extended family. Although my children are now grown, I am still taking care of them and extended family. I wouldn’t go back to teaching now because I want to eventually have some time for myself. I have never had time for myself. I have always wanted to travel but my husband does not want to. Women of my age are not really encouraged to travel alone. Modern Indian girls are totally different. Thank God.”–A 55-year-old Indian woman, in December 2020

How it was in other interactions…

  • “In the last 25 years since my divorce, I have bought seven cars for me and my children. In the early 1990s I brought a boyfriend with me to the dealership because I thought that the salesman would give me a better deal if a man was with me. But I did the talking. The first question that salesman asked me was “What color do you want?” I doubt that would have been the first question he would have asked a man. To me the underlying message was you’re a woman so you’re not smart enough to care about anything else but color. A couple of times since then a car salesman has asked me about color first thing. I still find it insulting. I walked out the door and moved onto a different dealership. Buying cars over the Internet is a very nice alternative to dealing with disrespectful car salesmen.”—Beth Clark, Pleasanton

What young women today are saying…

  • “My granddaughter, who is now a Senior at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton, is one of two girls in an Engineering III class of 50 students. STEM is needed! She says the boys don’t listen to her at first. But if she gets things right several times then they start to listen. Lesson: keep on speaking up!”—Betty Nostrand, Pleasanton