100 Years Before Gloria Steinham, Feminism Was Founded


On a day in June 1848, a group of women, headed up by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, met at Seneca Falls New York.  They were meeting as an organization for the first time, although they did not have any formal name for their group, in short time they became known as “the suffragettes.”  Even though they were wont to name themselves, they were not wanting in declaring their position.  Lucretia Mott, also in attendance, had written a document that bore a striking similarity to a document associated with the beginning of a new nation.  She wrote, pointedly:

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them on such a course.  In the 1930s, Hepburn wore a pants-suit in a movie, something unimaginable, and certainly not ladylike, for the day.  She had also been married and divorced, and made it well-known that she did not need a man to be a success.  She never formally married again.  But Hepburn unapologetically started dating a married Spenser Tracy.  Tracy made it clear that he would never leave his wife.  Hepburn dared the gossip columnists to make much out of her affair with Tracy.  They tried, and they failed.  Hepburn’s message to the Hollywood establishment was that she was in charge of her life, and she would live it as she pleased, not as the movie moguls would have her.  She and West showed Americans that an intelligent and smart woman, could also be very likeable, quite loveable.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long-established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men–both natives and foreigners.

Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.

He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.

He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming to all intents and purposes, her master–the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.

He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women–the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.

After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.

He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.

He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.

He allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.

He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.

He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.

He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation–in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.

In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions embracing every part of the country.”

Within this document are no fewer than a dozen different issues that could have taken of a life of their own.  But Anthony and Stanton understood the importance of a single issue that had the best chance of not only attracting women, but of survival.  Suffrage had to be the issue, and Anthony and Stanton this single cause until 1920 when women were first allowed in the national elections.

In the latter part of the 19th Century, radical women were taken on the leadership of the day by insisting that women’s health issues deserved attention, and more, but to the consternation of every male Politian, it needed a public audience where women could get trustworthy information about their own bodies, and what they could do about their condition.  To be fair, there were a few male physicians who agreed that women deserved to have medical knowledge of their body.  But the rest of the male culture was not having this, and made the discussing of such issues at their hospitals, illegal.  The American Medical Association took the position that doctors had a duty to inform women about their pregnancy to whatever degree they would understand.  There was a caveat, however, they were not allowed to broach the subject of birth control.  In the mind of the powers that were, that was an immoral subject on its face, and not a subject any moral woman cared to have with anyone beyond her husband, and possibly her confessor.

And this is where the next greatest feminist, Margaret Sanger, came in.  She had devoted her entire being to the education of women with regards to their health and birth control.

When Sanger created a pamphlet that she could send out to the women living in the Lower East Side of New York, the Post Office Department promptly put an end to such distribution by getting any document that spoke about birth control as being pornographic, and instituted a law that forbade the transmission of pornographic material through the U.S. Mails.  This did not stop Sanger, but it certainly slowed her down.

The early 20th Century brought into being a new media device, the motion picture.  At first they were mostly a combination of racy movies of women in various stages of undress, and westerns, with a few comedies thrown in for good measure.  The motion picture industry necessarily had its female stars.  One among them, Theda Bara, used her name and her Jewish roots to make a political statement.  Theda Bara is an anagram for “Arab death.”  She quickly claimed top billing, and made a place for women in the movies.

In 1919, Mary Pickford, a silver screen giant, along with Charlie Chaplin, D. W. Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks started the studio, United Artists.  Now a woman had a say in what sort of movie was produced at a major studio.

Competing with the movie theater was Vaudeville.  Vaudeville predates motion pictures, and by the time the silent films turned into “talkies,” the death of vaudeville was at hand.  Deeply invested in vaudeville was Mae West, a woman who was fiercely independent and never found it a problem to speak her mind, which she did regularly.

Mae West had begun writing her own plays and one, “Sex,” landed her in jail on charges of obscenity.  The play was the story of a Montreal prostitute.  West starred in her own film.  She was convicted on the obscenely charge and spent 10 days in jail because of it.  West was a very talented, and much to Hollywood’s male studio heads and others, she was very intelligent.  She wrote many of the movies she starred in.  She was succeeding in a male dominated industry.  Even more, at the height of her popularity, West, who was not particularly pretty, certainly did not look the part of the 1930s movie actress, young, very skinny, and flat chested.  West was none of these, and every man in America wanted to marry her.  She was not interested.

In the mid-1930s a “decency committee,” sometimes improperly referred to as the “Hays Commission,” held sway over the content of every movie released from its inception forward.  The tenants of the Hays Commission were as follows:

General Principles

1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.

2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.

3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation. Sex The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.

1. Adultery, sometimes necessary plot material, must not be explicitly treated, or justified, or presented attractively.

2. Scenes of Passion

a. They should not be introduced when not essential to the plot.

b. Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.

c. In general passion should so be treated that these scenes do not stimulate the lower and baser element.

3. Seduction or Rape

a. They should never be more than suggested, and only when essential for the plot, and even then never shown by explicit method.

b. They are never the proper subject for comedy.

4. Sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.

5. White slavery shall not be treated.

6. Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races) is forbidden.

7. Sex hygiene and venereal diseases are not subjects for motion pictures.

8. Scenes of actual child birth, in fact or in silhouette, are never to be presented.

9. Children’s sex organs are never to be exposed.

III. Vulgarity The treatment of low, disgusting, unpleasant, though not necessarily evil, subjects should always be subject to the dictates of good taste and a regard for the sensibilities of the audience.

IV. Obscenity Obscenity in word, gesture, reference, song, joke, or by suggestion (even when likely to be understood only by part of the audience) is forbidden.

V. Profanity Pointed profanity (this includes the words, God, Lord, Jesus, Christ – unless used reverently – Hell, S.O.B., damn, Gawd), or every other profane or vulgar expression however used, is forbidden.

VI. Costume 1. Complete nudity is never permitted. This includes nudity in fact or in silhouette, or any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture.

2. Undressing scenes should be avoided, and never used save where essential to the plot.

3. Indecent or undue exposure is forbidden.

4. Dancing or costumes intended to permit undue exposure or indecent movements in the dance are forbidden.

VII. Dances 1. Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passions are forbidden.

2. Dances which emphasize indecent movements are to be regarded as obscene.

VIII. Religion 1. No film or episode may throw ridicule on any religious faith.

2. Ministers of religion in their character as ministers of religion should not be used as comic characters or as villains.

3. Ceremonies of any definite religion should be carefully and respectfully handled.

IX. Locations The treatment of bedrooms must be governed by good taste and delicacy.

X. National Feelings 1. The use of the Flag shall be consistently respectful.

2. The history, institutions, prominent people and citizenry of other nations shall be represented fairly.

XI. Titles Salacious, indecent, or obscene titles shall not be used.

XII. Repellent Subjects The following subjects must be treated within the careful limits of good taste: 1. Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishments for crime. 2. Third degree methods. 3. Brutality and possible gruesomeness. 4. Branding of people or animals. 5. Apparent cruelty to children or animals. 6. The sale of women, or a woman selling her virtue. 7. Surgical operations.

Hemlines were lowered while dress-tops were raised.  Even the cartoon figure of Betty Boop fell victim.  But West would have none of it.  She exuded sexuality in every movie she made.

West took it on as a challenge and well-crafted phrases slipped right past the censors.  She was an absolute master of the double entendre.

“When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better. ”

“A dame that knows the ropes isn’t likely to get tied up.”

“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”

“Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

“I’ve no time for broads who want to rule the world alone. Without men, who’d do up the zipper on the back of your dress? ”

West had hundreds of such one-liners, but that final one clearly states that she knew who was in charge, she was.

At this same time a young actress named Katherine Hepburn, was making a name for herself as being avant-garde.  Hepburn was born into an upper-middle class family, her father a respected physician.

The last of these great women, before there was an organized women’s rights group, was Rosa Parks.  A black man could have done the same thing, but a diminutive black woman who was also a mother, put an exclamation point on her ascertation of equal rights.

While the “feminist movement” did not get its name until the late 1960s, it, by this recollection, can claim its roots in early 19th century America.  I mentioned only a few of the many famous women from the 19th century and early 20th century who, in her own way, made a statement that forwarded the position of all women in America.  Gloria Steinham and Betty Friedan deserve a lot of credit for energizing women’s rights to a degree it needed to be at, but their causes, all, had been handed down to them, none was new.

Good Manners, and Other Alien Ideas


I was with a group of friends today when the subject of using bad language came up.  Someone had the idea of gently suggesting to all in attendance that it would be nice if we all refrained from using bad language.  The exact thing said, I believe, was, no one has ever been offended by a lack of bad language.   Well, you would have thought it had just been suggested that hence forth all speech was to be censored.  The discussion was suddenly rich with self-absorption with a healthy amount of entitlement.  My suggestion of being respectful was met with disbelief and followed by looks of incredulity that I could make such a suggestion.  One woman suggested it was an obvious attempt to muzzle her.

I feel like I missed something, somewhere.  I had long-held the belief that, for the most part, when a person uses bad language it is either because they are not smart enough to use better language, or they think people will be impressed by the bad language.   To be fair, and honest, once in a while I drop a four-letter word or two into what I am saying.  But shortly after saying it, I think less of myself for having done so.  The fact is, save for the rare primal scream, there really is no place for bad language in our society.

That takes me to the next point, good manners, or lack of them.  Our society seems to have gotten away from the once popular idea of thinking of the other person first, before yourself.  Now, that seems to have been reversed.  It is a toss-up between me first and what is in it for me.  It was once believed to be good form for a man to hold the door for a woman.  It was almost a law that you referred to your elders, particularly those who were family members or in a position of authority, as mister or misses, aunt or uncle, as so forth.  That seems to have gone into disfavor, and I do not, for the life of me, understand why.

The world has gotten the idea that it has a right to know the most personal and intimate details of every public figure without exception.  And while I think public figures can expect a much higher than normal notice than the rest of us, they have a right to a very private life, a life free of the unyielding paparazzi, the withering shine of bright lights, the daily intrusion into their private lives.  The yellow journalism meant to thrill a voyeuristic society does not say much for our priorities.

During my last two years of elementary schools, grades 7 and 8, when boys messed up there was this teach who would require of us, as punishment, to copy, word-for-word, a short document named “The Gentleman.”  Its meaning was meant to give us contrast, what we had done via our bad actions, as opposed to what a gentleman would have done.

We seem to now live in a society that feels entitled to do or say whatever it desires.  And, strangely, along with that entitlement is the total absence of personal responsibility.  When confronted with our misdeeds we immediately go into “excuse mode.”  Excuse mode is that instance at which we recognize our misstep, we come up with an excuse rather than take absolute responsibility by making the painfully obvious solution of admitting that we messed up.  The truth has fallen victim to permissiveness and entitlement, along with a huge dose of irresponsibility.

Well, here is the reality: bad language is always unacceptable.  Being polite and showing good manners is always in vogue.  Being respectful of others is always a good idea.  Admitting to our short-comings is always better received than our best excuse.  But most importantly, showing ourselves to be decent and kind people,  makes us more memorable than pretty much anything else we can or will do.

Which God of Our Fathers?


Americans seem to love the phrase “God of our fathers,” but how is that God defined?  If you listen to today’s religious conservatives you will most definitely get a version which they will swear by.  They will also quickly point out that the founders of our country were all God-fearing men.  That is an impossible position to defend because it mostly lacks for definition.

The founders of our country were, in the first place, English merchants who saw an opportunity in the New World at the Virginia plantation.  Their allegiance, such as it was, was to the Church of England.  But the colony the founded at Jamestown was far more interested in it commercial value than allying itself to any particular religion.  As was true in later settlements, these Englishmen did not first erect a church and then a community to surround it.

Next you have the “Pilgrims” who settled Plimouth Plantation.  This group, very left-wing for its day, denied the Church of England any power over them.  When they landed in what is now Massachusetts, they formed their own religion.  They committed the ultimate heresy, of that day, by allowing a woman to preach the word of God!  This woman, Anne Hutchinson, was physically assaulted by the good men of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, when she dared venture to the environs of Boston and talk about God.  When arrested in the vicinity of Salem she was “dragged” behind a horse back to the Plimouth Plantation where she was warned to never stray from again.

The inhabitants of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were the Puritans who, although they found themselves in conflict with the Church of England, did not harbor the radical beliefs of their erstwhile brethren, the Pilgrims.  Even so, once settled in Massachusetts they formed their own church, or more correctly a church defined by their leader John Winthrop, which became known as the Puritan Church of America.

Then there came the people who founded New York City, then known as New Amsterdam, who were Lutherans, more liberal than their English cousins, but far more conservative than the Pilgrims.  Further south, in the Delaware Maryland peninsula, came the Catholics.  To this day the flag of the state of Maryland reflects old Catholic emblems.  Further to the south, southern Virginia and the Carolinas, came the Scots who brought with them their Presbyterian ideals.  This all points to the vast differences in religious ideology that existed at the very beginning of America.  What can be said with good certainty is that most Americans believed in a God of some definition particular to their own personal belief.

By the time Americans declared themselves an independent nation, 1776, Puritanism had given way to Congregationalism.  The Pilgrims had, in part, evolved into the American version of the Quakers.  But America, that which attended a church, basically identified itself with Protestantism.  Even so, American Protestants were divided between that religion which governed agrarian Americans and that which American merchants gave sway.  This division first showed itself in 1692 during the hysteria of the Salem witch trials.  Those most affected by those proceedings were the farmers, the people outside the main village, who were far more compliant with the preaching of the pulpit than were the merchants living in the village proper.  A study of the “afflicted” showed all but 2 of the 30 or more women brought to trial on charges of witchcraft came from the farming areas.

Our American Constitution was, for the most part, written by five men. Gov. Morris of Pennsylvania, one of the chief contributors was an Episcopalian.  Alexander Hamilton is difficult to nail down as to his beliefs.  He had called himself an Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Huguenot.  Thomas Jefferson was a “deist” or, as we would probably call him today, an agnostic.  John Dickinson was a Quaker.  Though his input was minimal due to his advancing years, Benjamin Franklin declared himself a “scientist” when queried about his religious beliefs.  Franklin was known for his outspoken ways but his beliefs were truly not much removed from the beliefs of his peers.  These men, all, were American aristocrats, scholars, statesmen, and merchants.  Theirs was a detached respect for the various religious institutions.  The inclusion of the word “God” in any American document was as much to mollify the masses as to express any personal beliefs.

The founders of the United States had just finished a war with England over the right to “self determination.”  The cry of “taxation without representation is tyranny” was the tip of the political iceberg of that day.  Colonial leaders had long and loudly complained over their lack of representation in the English Parliament.  They recognized, however, that if they were to become a united country the idea of dictating religion, as was true in England, had to be outlawed in the new nation.  The Constitutional delegates represented, at the very least, eight different religions.  It was obvious to them that an agreement over a uniform God and religion was an impossibility.

The brilliance of these men was over their ability to compromise and come to terms on a document that was acceptable to all the colonies involved.  For example, John Adams and other vocal northerners desperately wanted a clause that outlawed slavery in the Constitution.  The powerful Virginians, not entirely opposed to such language, correctly pointed out that the 3/5 vote needed to accept the Constitution was impossible under the present circumstances.  They knew at its adoption the Constitution was an imperfect device but one which allowed for challenges and changes as such things allowed.  And to that end, as soon as the new republic was formed, the adoption of the first ten amendments, what we refer to as the “Bill of Rights” was under way.  The first five amendments reflect prejudicial English laws that had been forced upon the colonists at various times and for various reasons.  Chief among them was what they considered every “Englishman’s right” to free assembly.  But that right was undermined by military governors in the waning days of colonial rule by England.  But also, many of these men had been reminded that their ancestors came to America to worship, or not, as their conscience dictated, and not as a king dictated.  And to that end came the 2nd part of the first amendment, the absolute separation of church and state.  They were not going to allow their God to be defined by a king or any other political entity.

The very most basic principle at rule here is the absolute right of the individual to be free of any governmental action with regard to religion and religious ideas and ideals.  To that end, our government is prohibited from taxing any recognized religious entity.  The separation of church and state must remain absolute.  Today’s America enjoys the greatest diversity ever of religious beliefs.  We have gone far beyond our original belief which were based in Protestant orthodoxy, to a country the Jews, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, and a plethora of other beliefs.  Large portions of the American population, while believing in a higher power, does not chose to call that higher power God.

That any individual or group believes that God is a necessary part of our government is just wrong.  It is an absolute insult to those who do believe in a higher power not called God.  But to be fair to all people regardless of their belief, our government necessarily must remain detached from all discussions regarding God, or any other religious ideology.  And while any individual member of our government has the absolute right to express his beliefs, he must, in total fairness, remember that his particular beliefs are unique to himself, and not necessarily shared beliefs.  More importantly, to govern effectively, he can go not further than to allow his religious belief to be his moral compass but not a point of government.

The Many Faces of Racism in the 1960s


I grew up in the town of North Andover Massachusetts.  North Andover is a small town some 25 miles north of Boston, and borders the cities of Lawrence and Haverhill.  North Andover in the 1950s and 1960s was a quiet town, a town whose history was steeped in the revolution, and which had its share of Massachusetts blue bloods.  Still, it was a mostly middle class town, a small number of wealthy families and a small number of poor families.  It had in those years only just begun to inherit the 2nd generation immigrants from Lawrence, mostly Italians and Poles.  They were the children of new immigrants who had escaped the textile mills of Lawrence and its tenements to the single family homes of North Andover.  A few still worked the mills, one of which, Stevens Mill, was a textile mill located in North Andover.

In the 1950s North Andover still had a handful of working farms, several of which were cow farms, and one turkey farm.  For that, the residents of neighboring Andover derisively nicknamed North Andover “Turkey Town.”  Andover was home to the elite Phillips Academy which had produced presidents, senators, and many wealthy businessmen.  Andoverites never missed a chance to assure the people of North Andover that they lived in a town that was something less than Andover, a poor relation. It didn’t affect us in the least.

The part of town I grew up in, known as the “old centre,” was mostly made up of upper middle class families.  It was not an area where, for the most part, young families lived unless you were part of the town’s old families which we were.  Our house was one of the homes which lined the town common, a large and old green area situated next to the North Parish Church, the first church of old Andover, and founded in 1646.  All the original families of the town belonged to the North Parish Church, and my family was one such, although that was only my father as my mother was Roman Catholic.  Things were changing.  The picture below is of the North Parish Church as seen from the common.

north parish

We were sheltered from the greater world.  The city of Lawrence, with its many ethnic neighborhoods, had a very stable population whose newest members were from Puerto Rico, a sign of things to come but not anything anyone took any particular note of.  If there were black families in Lawrence, I never saw them and was entirely unaware of them.  The first black man I ever set eyes on came in my sophomore year at North Andover High School, 1963, and he was an exchange student the North Parish Church had brought from Africa.  He was the last black person I knew prior to my going to school in New Jersey in September 1965.  Even my trips to Boston with my father on his business trips did not impress upon me the presence of the black population that lived there.  And that’s how it was.

Although there was some joking about a person’s ethnic background, none of that was ever taken seriously.  No one seemed to truly care what a person’s ethnic background was.  If there was bigotry in the town, it was well hidden.  We did not learn, nor was anyone trying to teach us, any sort of racial or ethnic bias.  Maybe things would have been different if there were some black families living in the town, but there were not.

My family was what was referred to as being “land poor.”  It meant we owned lots of land but did not have much money to go with it.  I never wanted for anything but I never got an allowance.  I did not even know such a thing existed, quite honestly, so asking for an allowance was alien to me.  It was expected that I would mow the lawn, rake the leaves, and take out the trash, and shovel snow in the winter, all without compensation of any sort.  I actually enjoyed and took pride in such chores, and so I always did them willingly. It was what was expected of me, and I thought that was a common thing that members of any family were expected to do.  Then one day, I was not more than 6 or 7 years old, the boy who lived next door said we could earn 25 cents if we shoveled this lady’s driveway.  I had never heard of such a thing!  Earn money for shoveling snow, incredible.  That was my introduction to earning money, and from then on I was always thinking of ways to earn money.  Her driveway was less than a third in length of my own driveway which made the job all the more desirable.

In my late adolescent years I had a paper route.  I delivered the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune to some 60 customers.  The price of the paper was 7 cents a day, and 42 cent the week.   Strangely, getting a tip meant the customer gave me 50 cents a week.  But who gave me such a tip was inversely proportional to their income.  The rich waited at the door for their 8 cents change after giving me 50 cents, while the poorer customers never thought to do such a thing.  I also managed a burgeoning lawn mowing business around the neighborhood.  My main customer was the same lady who wanted her driveway shoveled in the winter.  I could get all of 2 dollars for a simple mowing!  I never wanted for money and always had enough to go to the movies in Lawrence at the Palace and Warner movie houses, theaters of the old single screen variety, now long gone.

When I turned 14 I somehow learned of a summer job at Calzetta’s Farm.  It was regular work with a regular wage.  My lawn mowing business was a bit irregular, some of my customers given to occasionally mowing their own lawns in spite of my services offered.  The farm job required my presence from 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, five days a week for the handsome sum of $15 a week.  I thought I was rich! In the early summer we picked strawberries, weeded the fields, and did whatever the farmers, the brothers Tom and John Calzetta, demanded of us.  Two other young workers, both from the Essex Agricultural Institute, worked with me.  Farm work then, as now, did not suffer a minimum wage requirement, hence the acceptable level of pay we received.  As the name shows, the Calzettas were Italian immigrants, though Tommy and John were second generation.  But everyone regardless of age who lived on the farm, worked on the farm.  The 80 year-old grandmother, dressed in her black mourning garments, worked the 90 degree fields the entire day with the rest of us.  It was hard and dirty work, and when I got home I always had to take a bath.  I worked that farm for two summers, my second I received the wage of $25 a week, I knew I was at the top of my field!  The thought, however, that I was possibly underpaid never once crossed my mind.  I always had money in my pocket and that was what was truly important to me.

The next summer, after I had turned 16, I did not want to go back to work on the farm.  It was too much work!  There was a man, a wealthy man we all knew, who lived in a new house on the common not far from my house.  It was the only modern design house, a ranch, which was ever allowed to be so constructed around the otherwise colonial area around the common.  I knew he owned a mill in Lawrence, and so I literally knocked on his door one evening and asked for a job in his mill.  I do not remember how the conversation went, but he told me to meet him the next morning at 6:30 and he would take me to the mill.

His name was Segal and the mill he owned was known as Service Heel Company, maker of heels for women’s shoes.  That morning was the last time I ever saw Mr. Segal.  He took me to the mill’s office and directed someone to give me a job, after which he disappeared into his own office.  This was the beginning of a most important part of my education, unbeknownst to me of course.  After that morning, I caught the city bus, which stopped right next to Mr. Segal’s house, each morning, lunch bag in hand and ready, more or less, for the day ahead.  My pay was the minimum wage for 1966, $1.25 an hour.  That was $10 a day and $50 a week.  I had doubled my income over the previous summer!  But I was warned, upon taking the job, that I had to be on time which meant being clocked-in by getting my time card stamped by 7AM, otherwise I would be docked 6 minutes if I were even 1 minute late.  I was paid entirely according to my time card.  And if I were late, I could not make up that time at the other end of the day without permission, and such permission was never given.  The picture below is of the mill I worked in.  In the foreground is where the Puerto Ricans worked, and in the background was where I worked.  Although it is not obvious, these two structures were not connected.

kunhardt kunhardt

Service Heel Company was located in the old George F. Kunhardt textile factory.  By 1966 the once booming textile industry had entirely abandoned Lawrence, and a considerably smaller shoe industry had taken its place.  Still, at the time, Lawrence was second only to St. Louis in the production of shoes.  But that did not last.  Most of Lawrence’s vast textile mills stood vacant, relics of a bygone era.  The textile jobs had left but the people had not.  Many of the workers at the heel company had previously worked the textile mill at that very location.  One woman related to me that she had worked in that mill for over 35 years doing piece work the entire time.  At the time, piece work was exempt from the minimum wage.  I could not imagine sitting in such a place for so long a time doing basically the same job for all those years.  But she never complained.  To the contrary, she, and most of her fellow employees, always seemed grateful for the work they had.  There was not any sense of entitlement among these people.  Below is a picture of some of the textile mills of Lawrence.

lawrenceWood Worsted Mills Lawrence

In 1966, the Lawrence mills were segregated, not between black and white, for as I said there was no black population, but between Hispanic and everyone else.  That fact was brought to my attention by the foreman, a very large and smelly man named Tony, who took me to the far side of the mill and pointing to the mill next door said, “that’s where the spics work.  You don’t have anything to do with them.”  He was referring to the Hispanics who worked that mill.  And his statement, rather than being a suggestion, came across as a command.  But I knew in my heart that there was something inherently wrong with his statement, although I doubt I could have explained why I felt that way.  The heel workers were almost entirely of French and Italian ancestry, and as such, were the old immigrants as opposed to the new immigrant from Puerto Rico.  But my experiences in Lawrence at that time never included any feelings of fear or animosity towards the Puerto Ricans aside from what Tony had pronounced.  But I did not challenge his belief either, after all, he was my boss and in charge of my continued employment.

I was a “floor boy” in the mill.  I was indoctrinated into the erstwhile sweatshop.  No air conditioning, no break room, no fans, no drinking fountain, only the steady clanging of machines and the smell of paint and glue as was applied to the heels.  The heels were placed by their type into wooden boxes, about a bushel in size.  It was my job to move the boxes from where they were “made up,” that is, the box had a particular type of heel put in them, to the proper station of the worker who would either cover the heel with leather, paint the heel, or press a nail into the heel.  Each job had a color coded ticket in it to signal when it was due to be finished.  I caught hell any time I moved the boxes in the wrong order or took them to the wrong station.  It was only Tony who gave me hell, as the worker at the station involved was inclined to giving me a friendly nudge to say I had messed up, but that I should not worry.  These were the people who were rightfully referred to as “the salt of the earth.”  They were kind hard-working people who you ate lunch with, got to know, and counted on to help you along.  They were union people who warned me that at the end of working 90 days at the mill I would have to join the union, but the cautioned me against that, not because they disliked the union, but because they knew I was still in school and wanted me to continue my schooling so I would not end up where they were.  But it was this very sort of worker who moved his family to North Andover to help their children get a chance at a better life.

The next summer I worked for the Raytheon Company at its facility in Shawsheen Massachusetts, its “missile systems division.”  I got that job because my best friend’s father worked there and said he could get me some sort of job working there.  I was a “clerk” whose main job was finding and filing schematics for the technicians and engineers who worked in the department.  I found out that summer two thing, first, I received 10 cents an hour more than a woman who held the exact same job and started exactly when I did.  I got that 10 cents because I was a man.  I also first heard the word “scab” as it was used to connote someone who crossed a picket line during a strike.  At the end of the summer Raytheon offered to pay for my college education if I remained there and took up a career in electronics.  But the job had left a bad taste in my mouth and I turned them down.  I had tasted gender discrimination and knew I did not like it.  I also acquired a negative feeling for unions, but that was due to my ignorance, and was something I later replaced with knowledge and a healthy respect for unions and their membership.  Below is a picture of the old Raytheon Mills in Shawsheen.  These mills were a part of a failed textile mill experiment.

raytheon

That fall I entered Boston University, where I did incredibly poorly, and dropped out shortly before the end of the semester in December 1967.  I took a job pumping gas at a local chain gasoline dealer, pumping Texaco in North Andover, Andover, and Lawrence.  But that job I knew to be temporary as I had my sights set on going to the US Army’s aviation school.  And on February 19, 1968 I was sworn into the US Army and on the following day flown to Ft. Polk Louisiana.  Still, the job gave me work experience in yet another area.  In those days there was no such thing as pump your own gas, and almost every service station pumped your gas, cleaned your windshield, and checked your engine’s oil level.  Regular gasoline ranged from 28 to 32 cents a gallon in those days, oil was 40 to 50 cents a quart.

I had never been out of the northeast prior to going to Ft. Polk, and I was in for an education unlike any I had thus far known.  My last two years of high school were spent in Bordentown New Jersey where a number of my classmates were black or Hispanic.  But because of my father, my upbringing in his Unitarian culture, it never occurred to me that their heritage mattered.  We were just guys who were all intent on doing the same thing.  My trip to Ft. Polk was about to present to me a type of prejudice I had not known.

The trip to Louisiana involved flying to New Orleans followed by a second short flight to Lake Charles Louisiana.  From Lake Charles I had to take a bus to complete the journey to Leesville Louisiana where Fort Polk was located.  I remember staring out the bus window at the southern streets as they passed by, and at one particularly memorable stop, I saw the peculiar sight, to me at least, of two water fountains right next to each other on the outside of a building.  Above one was the sign “white” and above the other “colored.”  I was educated as to the ways of the “old south” which had yet to give way to a new way of thinking.

drinking

The US Army in 1968 was heavily engaged in the war in Vietnam, and it quite literally did not have time for anyone’s prejudices.  I would say roughly a third of the men in the company I was assigned to were black.  But to me, and to the army, they were just one of many, who had one job and one focus.  Anything that was not related to our being properly trained as a soldier was not approved of.  The assimilation of all races in the military was nearly complete and the vast majority of men in the army were forced to leave behind them whatever prejudices they had brought with them.  The picture below is what my company area looked like in 1968.

polk

The most telling time in those early months of my military career came on April 4, 1968 when Martin Luther King was assassinated.  In the bunk next to mine was a black man who upon hearing the news of Dr. King’s assassination broke down and cried.  I did not then understand the importance of the man.  All I knew was what the northern media, and the government, wanted me to know about Dr. King, and that was all negative.  It was a hard lesson I had to learn, but learn it I did.  That day, and several days afterwards, it was reported that there were riots in Leesville and many other locales.  The post was closed and we were denied day passes to leave the fort.

That was my experience up to 1968.  It was not particularly unique except that it was mine.  Others experienced many of the same things, just in different ways.  The 1960s changed me in more ways than I was aware of at the time, but am the better for now.

A Tale of Susannah — Desperately Seeking Sanity


At 31 Susannah had it all.  She was beautiful, a tall woman with long naturally curly auburn hair, beautiful wide-set eyes, and a smile that immediately engaged anyone towards whom it was directed.  She had graduated from Wellesley College magna cum laude and at the delicate age of 20.  From there she continued her education within the ivy covered walls of Harvard University.  She was not contented with being good.  At Harvard she had become editor of the law review after a summer clerking for a justice at the Massachusetts Supreme Court.  And at the age of 23, on a particular hot day in early June, she joined 6500 other students in the Harvard Yard to receive her doctor of jurisprudence.  And that, a day that should have been the culmination of her greatest success, seemed, at least to Susannah, a sad day, if not a failure of a day.

That early Thursday morning as she and her fellow law students gathered in one of the law buildings, started as a grand day for Susannah.  Her mother had promised to phone her as soon as she and her father found their seats with the other 10,000 guests who crowded the college’s gates at 7 that morning.  It was just before 8 and her mother had no yet called so Susannah called her.  After her mother answered, and when they had briefly chatted, Susannah had asked her mother to put “daddy” on.  Her mother went quiet, mumbled a bit, and then told Susannah that her father had “not been able to make it.”

It was at that moment Susannah questioned her entire life up to that moment.  She had spent her entire life thus far desperately trying to please her father.  He had always said how proud he was of her.  She thought back to how he had seldom been able to attend her basketball games when she was in high school, how he had been suddenly “called away” when she had graduated from both high school and Wellesley, and now this.  Her first instinct was to say “screw this” and leave the ceremony even before it started.   But she did love her mother and even as angry as she was with her father, she would not spoil the day for her mother.

But at that moment Susannah took mental leave from the morning’s ceremonies.  She did not hear Harvard’s president’s message or that of any of the other speakers of the day.  Instead she formulated a plan for her immediate future.  She had been offered, and accepted, a position as an associate at the 2nd largest law firm in New York.  Before 9 that morning she not only no longer wanted the position, she despised the idea of working for corporate America at any level.  But at her father’s insistence she had considered her future using that track and her personal doubts not withstanding, she knew she could succeed in that culture.  But it had not been what she wanted.  It was what her father wanted, and now all that was counterfeit.

It was Thursday, that graduation day, and Susannah promised herself that by the end of the next day she would not only resign her position in New York, but she would find a suitable replacement in Boston.  She decided that the suitable replacement job would be at the public defender’s office.  And that is exactly what she did.  The woman who ran the PD’s office, after a quick review of Susannah’s credentials and the incredulity she felt about Susannah’s seriousness for wanting the job, took her on, happily.

Her first year in the practice of law saw her succeed far beyond what her employer could have hoped.  In the process, Susannah had ingratiated herself to all she came in contact with.  Her boss had on any number of occasions suggested she talk to the partners who visited the sparse PD’s office seeking to hire Susannah away.  But she rebuffed all advances, never accepting a single interview, and seldom even seeing the partner who had ventured to see her.  She claimed, though her boss assured her she was wrong, that the hours for the PD’s office were far friendlier than any could expect at a top law firm.  And certainly there was far less pressure in the job.  Susannah obstinanancy became legendary in both her office and the legal community.  And not just because of her resisting being recruited, but her dogged determination before the bar.  She was oft heard to say that failure was unacceptable, never allowing that it was in fact inevitable.

On this morning, some eight years later, as Susannah awoke in her bed, and after she noticed the throbbing headache, she wondered, for the millionth time, why she was not happy.  She came from a well-to-do family that, at least on the outside, looked like they had it all.  She knew she was a pretty woman, although she doubted any man who described her as gorgeous, which she found curious at the regularity that such compliments happened.  She had long ago decided that such men wanted one thing and one thing only.  She knew they did not desire her for her mind.  And to that end, she had long ago decided that the only men she would go out with would be the ones she chose and never ones who chose her.

At that moment it hit her.  She needed a job, and that was the plan for the day, to find a new position.  She remembered how her job at the PD’s office had ended badly when she had failed to show at a 9AM bail hearing.  The defendant, a man who her boss felt had a strong case, had been remanded to jail and denied bail.  Susannah had apologized profusely to her boss explaining that an emergency the night before had kept her up quite late and she had slept through her alarm.  It was not a true story, but it was the best she could come up with at the moment.  Her boss, however, having heard one too many such excuses over the years, asked Susannah that she clean out her office that day.

Susannah had recovered well from that setback, she thought, as she landed a new job that same day at a fairly large law firm that specialized in tort claims.  When friends heard of this new job the questioned her working for an “ambulance chaser” but Susannah had vigorously defended the position noting that everyone was entitled to protection from unscrupulous insurance companies, companies who denied their employees worker’s compensation for disabilities incurred on the job.  She lasted there a little over two years and left, she always laughed to herself about this, when the firm refused to pay her disability after she had injured herself at the office one day, and tore her ACL in the process which kept her laid up for over a month.  The firm had let her go “for cause,” they said.   And while Susannah had admitted to having had a drink with her lunch that day, she categorically denied that she had been gone for nearly two hours and had returned to the office drunk.  But upon the advice of “her attorney,” she did not press or pursue the issue.

That had been her last job as a lawyer, and that had been almost two years ago.  She told her friends that the bad economy affected lawyers just like any other field, and that she was actively pursuing a promising job at a prestigious firm.  The truth was, there was no firm.  There were not even any prospects.  She was at present employed as a waitress at the Four Seasons Hotel restaurant in Boston’s posh Back Bay., and that had been almost two years ago.  She told her friends that the bad economy affected lawyers just like any other field, and that she was actively pursuing a promising job at a prestigious firm.  The truth was, there was no firm.  There were not even any prospects.  She was at present employed as a waitress at the Four Seasons Hotel restaurant in Boston’s posh Back Bay.  When her friends question her about this job, she claimed that she was seriously considering a job as a chef, and that it was something she had long considered doing.  But she had also told them she had long considered becoming a legal consultant, a software developer for law firms, and fifteen other jobs all of which were plausible, given her intelligence and education, but none of which had ever been something she had truly considered, or even wanted.

As these and other thoughts raced through her mind, her headache racked mind that morning, she tried to remember her plan for the day.  And when nothing came immediately to mind she rolled over to stroke her cat who invariably slept with her, only to find a man occupying the space her cat should have been in.  For a moment she could not for the life of her think of who this man was, and then she remember the night before, and in that memory came the reason for the horrendous headache.  She remembered the bar, the crush of other young people just like her, who were fully enjoying themselves.  She remembered going to the ladies room where she was startled to see a woman snorting a line of coke.  It had briefly shocked her, but she had not moved, and when the other woman took notice of her, had offered her a line of coke.  Susannah had never done cocaine but she had said to herself “what the hell” and tried it.  The tipsiness she had been feeling was immediately transformed into an alertness she loved.  And she had returned to the bar and renewed her effort to enjoy the evening and join in everyone’s festivities.  But she could not remember this man at that bar, or for that matter, ever having left the bar and what had happened afterward.

The thought immediately went through her mind, “never again!”  She promised herself right there and then that she would not drink that day and that she would hence force control her drinking so that incidents such as she was presently experiencing, would never again happen.  This was not the first time she had awakened next to such a man, nor the second or even the third, but she promised herself it absolutely would be the last.  She knew she was more than smart enough to overcome her present condition and all she had to do was resolve to herself to never drink like that again.  Or at least never touch cocaine again because, after all, that had been the agent that had allowed her to drink more than even she thought she could.

Susannah poked the man next to her.  She desperately wanted him out of her apartment.  He had been lying there with his back to her and when he turned towards her, she saw a man who was easily her father’s age.  At that moment she thought, “Oh God, not again.”  But her greatest surprise was yet to come.  When she asked the man to leave so she could start her day, he had informed her that she was in his apartment and any leaving that must be done would be on her part.  And that was followed by the information that not only was she not in Boston, but she was actually in one of the remote suburbs and the man had said he could not possibly take her back into town as he had to get to work himself.

It took seven phone calls to various friends before she found someone who was willing, though not happy, to retrieve her from her inconvenience.  On the drive home her friend, Sarah, had suggested to Susannah that she might have a drinking problem and that she might consider attending a 12 step meeting.  But Susannah had assured Sarah that she did not have any sort of a drinking problem, that she could stop anytime she wanted, and besides, she was just 31 years old and everyone knew you cannot be an alcoholic at so tender an age.

As soon as she got home Susannah surveyed her apartment.  Sure it was a studio apartment in Boston’s South End but it was “nice.”  What is lacked for direct sun light it more than made up for in character.  After she had showered she decided to make a plan to find a job that day, or within the week at least, that was worthy of her extensive talents.  Yes, she told herself, she did have extensive talents and any company would be lucky to have her.

As the morning turned to afternoon, a Susannah considered her lunch options as he looked over her refrigerator, she noted the half-full bottle of wine sitting next to the milk.

This time when Susannah woke up she immediately knew by the hardness of the bed that she was not in her apartment.  But when she turned over her relief that she was alone in the bed was immediately replaced by the stark realization of where she was, in a hospital bed.  It was at that moment that a nurse entered her room and said how nice it was that Susannah was awake as she had a number of questions for her.  It was the first question that most unnerved Susannah, however.  The nurse had inquired as to her name.  Noting Susannah confusion, the nurse explained that she had been brought into the emergency room without any sort of identification on her person.  She had wandered into the ER and had promptly collapsed.  She had remained unconscious since.

But then Susannah noted she was attached to an i.v. and a heart monitor and queried the nurse why this had been necessary.  The nurse related, to Susannah’s horror, that she had suffered heart failure.  She told Susannah, in an extremely matter-of-fact tone, that such things happened to alcoholics, even young ones.  Susannah responded by denying that she had any sort of an alcohol problem.  The nurse simply replied by telling Susannah to rest.

About an hour later the attending physician stopped by Susannah’s room to see how she was doing.  She suggested to Susannah that she might do well to go to a detox upon her discharge from the hospital.  This time when Susannah informed the doctor that she did not have a drinking problem she heard the doctor say words she found hard to believe.  The doctor, a woman about her own age, and certainly very good looking, informed Susannah that she was an alcoholic.  Susannah had responded by questioning how a young and obviously very successful doctor could possibly be an alcoholic.

The doctor had given, in Susannah’s mind, a most unacceptable response by saying that how she would be an alcoholic was irrelevant.  What was relevant was the fact that she could not drink in safety.  That when she took a single drink she never knew where that drink would lead.  But it was the final admission by the doctor that most surprised her.  The doctor related that not only had she suffered through a failed marriage because of her drinking, but that her license to practice medicine had been temporarily suspended and she had lost custody of her two children.

For Susannah, this was just the beginning but unfortunately it was not the end.