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Women’s roles shift across generations

Seventy-four years ago today, my mother had an early birthday present.

Me. I had been expected on April Fools' Day but instead arrived exactly a week before her birthday.

Twenty-eight years later, Mom waited again, this time with me. Our son arrived just three days before my birthday, and he was also more than two weeks late.

Forward 15 years to another April and our daughter's first born arrived, only a day or so late and not at all close to her February birthday.

The three of us shared more.

We all completed a bachelor's degree before marriage, Mom during the Great Depression by working two years after high school and every summer to finance her education.

And we each wed on the same late-November date, for me in the same campus chapel 30 years after my parents had. My daughter married another three decades later in a different church. 

But how diverse our post-wedding lives have been. And that reflects at least in part changing roles for women.

We are reminded of this by the furor over Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg's recently published book.

I've read only commentaries and excerpts from "Lean In" but enough to know she believes we need to reinvigorate the effort toward equality.

It's impossible to argue that women still have not reached for the power and leadership roles proportionate with our numbers, but we have made progress.

My mother did have leadership roles in college groups and even in the early years of her marriage. But while my father tolerated female education, he was like many in his era who believed absolutely that a wife's place was at home. (It was a conviction my brother adopted as a young adult even in the 1960s. His marriage didn't survive.)

Growing up, I recall being told Mother was offered a job directing food service near their home at Adrian College in southern Michigan. She turned it down because of the cost of uniforms and care for my brother, their first-born, or so she said.

It came as a shock many years later when Dad told me a quite different story. She was offered the position as head of the college's home economics department, he told me. She didn't accept because my brother threatened to run away if she started working, Dad said. I thought that was hardly likely without more influence than that because my brother wasn't yet 3 years old.

Whether or not Dad's memory by then was clouded, I'll never know. What I do know is that Mother never accepted whatever job was offered and, as the years went by, was less and less active in community groups. And I know she missed our visits and contacts with our friends after I moved across country and the subsequent plane crash that killed my brother when he was 35.

In 1963 when I married, women were starting to keep their maiden names (though it never occurred to me, and who wants to be another Smith forever?) and pursuing careers.

Except when my son and daughter were toddlers, I worked part time, first as a substitute teacher but primarily as a freelance writer, while leading 4-H clubs, Girl Scouts and even serving as vice chairman of a rural Oregon school board.

When our children reached junior high age, I went back to full-time employment. Even after retirement, I've continued some writing and part-time employment at our county library.

Our daughter has combined motherhood and employment from the get-go. She's active in the community and she writes, contributing to the Daily Mail's Mommyhood blog.

It isn't always easy, but like me, she has a husband who isn't ashamed of housework, child supervision or a working wife.

True, women still have more to offer, but we - women and men - have come a long way.

Contact writer Evadna Bartlett at


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