Alone in a Crowd: Women in the Trades Tell Their Stories

Alone in a Crowd: Women in the Trades Tell Their Stories

Alone in a Crowd: Women in the Trades Tell Their Stories

Alone in a Crowd: Women in the Trades Tell Their Stories

Excerpt

At eleven, I decided to become a paper boy. They made two cents for every newspaper they delivered, and I was making only thirty-five cents an hour babysitting. No wonder the boys could afford shiny headlights for their three-speed bicycles. I was stuck with fat balloon tires on my baby one-speed bike without a headlight. My path was clear until someone told me, "I'm sorry. We have a policy that girls cannot become paper boys."

At seventeen, I became one of the first female boxboys in the state. The pay beat waiting tables or the old standby, babysitting. With great pride I dressed in my dark shoes, black slacks, white shirt, black bow tie, and red vest--the company uniform for "courtesy clerks," as we were called. That first day of work I discovered one of the economic realities of life. The employer will pit worker against worker if he can get away with it. All of the male boxboys had been called to a meeting the day before and informed that, if they didn't work harder, they would all be replaced by girls. Needless to say, my welcome to the grocery business was less than pleasant.

At twenty-three, I decided I had to find a job that paid better than sewing cuffs on ski parkas in a garment plant or typing forms for an insurance company. The help-wanted section of the newspaper was full of ads for machinists at twice the pay I was making. With no idea about what a machinist did, I enrolled in machine-shop classes at the local vocational-technical school. Being the first woman in the program, I discovered only one bathroom in the shop and it was marked MEN. "No, you cannot tack a sign saying WOMEN on the door when you need to go," I was told. I either had to hold it or find another bathroom.

After a year of holding it, having my tools stolen, and learning . . .

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