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… damned if you do and damned if you don’t​!

 The phrase above is used to say that you cannot escape being criticized, whatever you do. This is the story of my life in my early days of being wife, mother, factory worker, cashier, member of the Women’s Army Corps, and how it all came about.

1968, Me and the Vietnam War

When I enlisted in the Army in 1968, the Vietnam War was raging and the anti-war people made it hard on soldiers returning home. I had a number of reasons for enlisting including that I love my country and I felt sad that those who did what the government sent them to do, were condemned for doing it. It seemed to me they were “damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.”

It Became Personal 

But there were also personal reasons for my enlistment as well. I married in 1958 at the age of 19 and had 3 children by the time I was 23. I never learned any skills other than what I thought would be my life; housekeeping and taking care of my babies. In my town, it’s what girls did at the age of 18 or 19, or when they graduated; it was “expected.” How could I know my life in so few years would change so drastically?

Divorced, With Children and No Job Skills

Marriage and motherhood didn’t turn out the way I expected; my husband and I divorced in 1968 and he agreed to pay for the divorce if I asked for no child support. Indiana law at that time considered a couple still legally married if the divorce fees for lawyers and court weren’t paid. I had no money to pay those fees, although I was working. So I agreed not to ask for support. He wanted to get on with his life and so he paid those bills.

The Inequality Between Men And Women

Remember, this was 1968 and so many of the things we take for granted today, were not in place at that time. Even the thinking about such things was different. Women were then considered an extension, like property, of their husband. They had little in their own name and the man had the last word over much of the decisions of the household. It would be 1972 before the Equal Rights Amendment would be signed into law in our country. Striking out completely on my own was terrifying and I lacked confidence in myself.

Work Became My Life

Let me tell you…..you think it’s tough on women now? You have no idea…….In 1968, women were paid little in comparison to men. The inequality between men and women extended to many things, including earning the same pay for doing the same job. To bring in enough for a family of four to survive, without a man’s income, meant the woman had to work two jobs. Even with that, the pay most of the time did not add up to a man’s income. He was always considered “head of the household,” so the woman’s pay was much less than what a man received. Never mind that a single woman could also be the sole support of a family, it’s just the way it was; the woman was never given that designation in labor laws. Nobody questioned it, or protested it publicly, women just did what they had to do and found a second job.

Factory Work, Tough and Exhausting

Factory work paid the best and fortunately, we had a number of factories, mostly for furniture. Television cabinets were being manufactured in two different local factories. It was tough, exhausting work, mostly on a moving assembly line, where you had to be quick to keep up with the line and the items on it.  I eventually held two different jobs, though not at the same time, at two Television Cabinet manufacturers.

Later, I also worked at a factory making wiring for kitchen refrigerators and ranges. We were always on our feet in all of these jobs, with the exception of a half-hour lunch and two 10-minute breaks for the restroom. God forbid if your kidneys didn’t get with the program and needed to void more than those two times. You could be “written up,” or even fired for too many breaks.

Double Trouble, Help From Mom

For a couple years I worked at a factory during the day, came home in the afternoon and showered, changed clothes and went to work as a cashier at the first Kmart in our town in Indiana. This job also required 8 hours of standing…during which we were allowed two 15-minute breaks and a half-hour dinner.  I left the house in the dark in the morning, briefly saw my children in passing in the afternoon as I rushed to get ready for my second job. I showered, changed clothes and went to my cashier job, kissing my three little girls goodbye on my way out the door. My mother, God Bless her, was the one who awakened my children, got them washed, teeth brushed, fed, dressed and off to school. At night she was the one who made their dinner, made sure they ate, supervised their play, made sure they showered, brushed their teeth, said their prayers and tucked them into bed. I saw them on weekends, tried to spend as much time as possible with them then. However, their father still had visitation rights, with a court required 48-hour notice to me. Those weekends I mostly slept while they were gone with their Dad.

Radio Commercial

Finally, as I got ready for work one day,  I heard a commercial on the radio (yeah, we still used those then!) about the Women’s Army Corps, and how you could be housed, fed, clothed and trained for a job; improve your education; see more of the world. All that sounded like just what I needed to get a start on a life for me and my girls, but I needed to find out more. I went to the Recruiting Office that day, and eventually took my oath of enlistment on March 9, 1968.

Life in the Army

In 1968, women in the military were NOT allowed to have minor dependents. In order for me to enlist, my mother accepted legal custody of my daughters. It was heartbreaking for all of us, but I hoped it would give me what I needed to build a better life for me and for my kids. I came home as often as possible and missed them so much. Eventually I would manage to be stationed in my home town as a Recruiter, so that I could be able to be with my children, but it was a long way off from the time I enlisted.

Many times I’ve been asked by people why I went into the Women’s Army Corps. I hope this story helps to explain why I took that opportunity. I had no chance, where I lived, of ever being able to make enough money to support my family. I had no education, no advantages to help me along the way. I needed an “exit” onto the “freeway of life” and the Army offered that to me.

So, why am I writing this story? Probably because I’ve grown tired of hearing how tough it is to be female now, how we’re discriminated against, how we’re treated badly, how we’re objectified, sexually harassed and held down by a “glass ceiling.” Do the women of today think they’re the only ones who ever had those things to deal with? Women now have more opportunities and advantages than the women of any century before this. But oftentimes, rather than reach out and grasp those opportunities for advancement, they prefer to complain about what they DON’T have. Look around you, keep your eyes and ears open for new ventures. THINK out of the box where your thoughts currently reside. There ARE ways you can improve your abilities, your income, your life’s renewal. I know, because I did it.

We, the women in the years leading up to the present day had all those things to contend with, along with one definitive difference. WE didn’t have a “glass ceiling,” we had a “STEEL ceiling” that was impenetrable because nobody ever, EVER admitted there WAS such a thing, and the “good old boys network” kept it firmly in place. Women were extraneous baggage, used for sex, birthing, keeping house and cooking. If we tired of being treated as “servants” at home, we had the choice of receiving a pittance of pay while treated as servants at work. We were damned if we did and damned if we didn’t.

But we persevered, we found a way, we managed to draw attention to a problem that was not even recognized as BEING a problem until then. At first people couldn’t figure out what we complained about.  When they finally realized we wanted to be “first class citizens” like the men, the light bulb clicked on, and things changed.