My grandmother turns 96 this month. She was born in 1920, the year women got the vote, thanks to the19th Amendment.
My mother grew up in the 1960s, when "Mad Men" office politics still reigned. When her college adviser told her the career test she took was wrong--women couldn't be forest rangers!--Mom majored in home economics.
My great-aunt was an Army nurse in WWI, the only way she knew to earn a paycheck and travel without having to marry.
You could be a teacher or a nurse or work in a mill or even be an old maid (if your daddy was rich enough.) Otherwise, your fortunes were tied to marriage, a contract that often sealed your fate, economically, not to mention emotionally, sexually, socially and on and on.
The proverbial glass ceiling, cracked and jagged, still hovers over us. We've come a long way, baby, yeah--but it wasn't so long ago... a generation... when women were warned and schooled on how to snag a bread-winner because their lives depended on it.
Consider this news clipping from syndicated columnist Dorothy Dix (1861-1951), the world's highest paid woman writer in in the 1920s. (Dix chided young women about being clear-eyed, not starry eyed when it comes to picking husbands. She once wrote, "no one wants to kiss when they are hungry." ) This piece appeared in my hometown newspaper in the 1930s.
Thats when how to pick a husband was no laughing matter. Even if so much of this column cracks us up today.
For example, and I quote from Dorothy Dix's column:
Don't marry a great lover. "The art of being a great lover is a gift few men can resist practicing on any good-looking woman...It is the men...who regard lovemaking as an ordeal who can be trusted not to philander."
Don't marry a man who is better looking than you are. "Women will always be running after him and wherever you should go you will hear people wondering how he came to marry a frump."
Don't marry a man outside your class. "This goes for everything, age, social position, education, money, everything."
- "Don't marry an old man who is stiff in the joints if you are a jitterbug."
- "Don't marry a college professor if you are a lowbrow who only reads the fashion and society columns."
- "Don't marry a socialite whose family will always look down on you and correct your grammar and pronunciation."
The first time I read this, I wiped tears from my eyes. Tears of laughter. But there's one point that survives the test of time and cultural paradigm shifts, with a little tweaking:
"Don't marry a [hu]man to reform him [or her]...After marriage a [hu]man is just as he [or she] was before, only more so."