I clearly expected to work for a living, and I was lucky to have parents who never tried to mold me into any category or career. In fact, I don’t remember a friend’s parent or a teacher ever telling me or my friends that “girls can’t do this” or “girls shouldn’t do that.” Sometimes, though, the message got through in other ways.
I had always been fascinated by exploration and space travel, maybe in part because my dad was so concerned about America lagging behind Russia. President Kennedy’s vow to put men on the moon excited me, and I wrote to NASA to volunteer for astronaut training. I received a letter back informing me that they were not accepting girls in the program. It was the first time I had hit an obstacle I couldn’t overcome with hard work and determination, and I was outraged.
I was interested in politics from an early age. I successfully ran for student council and junior class Vice President. I was also an active Young Republican and, later, a Goldwater girl, right down to my cow girl outfit and straw cowboy hat emblazoned with the slogan “AuH,O.”
My active involvement in the First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge opened my eyes and heart to the needs of others and helped instill a sense of social responsibility rooted in my faith.
My quest to reconcile my father’s insistence on self-reliance and my mother’s concerns about social justice was helped along by the arrival in 1961 of a Methodist youth minister named Donald Jones.
I had never met anyone like him. Don called his Sunday and Thursday night Methodist Youth Fellow ship sessions “the University of Life.”
Because of Don’s “University,” I first read e. e. cummings and T S. Eliot; experienced Picasso’s paintings, especially Guernica, and debated the meaning of the “Grand Inquisitor” in Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. But the University of Life was not just about art and literature. We visited black and Hispanic churches in Chicago’s inner city for exchanges with their youth groups. These kids were more like me than I ever could have imagined. They also knew more about what was happening in the civil rights movement in the South. I had only vaguely heard of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, but these discussions sparked my interest.
So, when Don announced one week that he would take us to hear Dr. King speak at Orchestra Hall, I was excited. My parents gave me permission, but some of my friends’ parents refused to let them go hear such a “rabble-rouser.”
Dr. King’s speech was entitled, “Remaining Awake Through a Revolution.” Dr. King’s words illuminated the social revolution occurring in our country as well as challenged our indifference.
Being a high school senior also meant thinking about college. I wanta be applying to Smith and Wellesley. My mother thought I should go everywhere I wanted. My father said I was free to do that, but he wouldn’t pay if I went west of the Mississippi or to Radcliffe, which he heard was full of beatniks. Smith and Wellesley, which he had never heard of, were acceptable. I never visited either campus, so when I was accepted, I decided on Wellesley based on the photographs of the campus, especially its small Lake Waban, which reminded me of Lake Winola.