Pandora’s Hunnert Januarys
(Watching 20th Century Women Fly Out of the Box)
a novel by
Pandora’s Hunnert Januarys…
© Copyright 2011, 2014 Val Dumond
All rights reserved. Story characters are fictitious or composites of representative folks. Women named in the NOTES are real women whose names and works must not be forgotten. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher; exceptions are made for brief excerpts used in a published review.
Printed in the United States of America
Thank you for accepting this gift from Pandora. Her name means “giver of gifts”, you know. She is delighted to share this chapter from Pandora’s Hunnert Januarys. You’ll find that Pandora Nelle Whaley has come a long way from her farm upbringing in Arkansaw, Wisconsin, in the half century since her birth.
At the age of five, Pandora vowed to live “a hunnert years” and she’s halfway there. She has trained and worked as a telephone operator, learned to drive a Model-T Ford, fallen in love and lost him, endured the Great War and the Great Depression, met and married a dashing barnstorming aeroplane pilot, given birth to two daughters, and survived WWII by keeping the homefires burning.
Most importantly, she has learned to be curious. One thing that still befuddles her is why there aren’t more books written by women, why so few women participate in government, why men seem to have everything under control and aren’t about to give it up.
If you enjoy this chapter, you can read about all the decades of the 1900s by ordering your book today: www.amazon.com.
THANK YOU for your interest in Pandora and her hunnert years.
PANDORA at 50
Hello. My name is Pandora and I’m 50 years old! Halfway to the goal I set as a child. When I reached twenty, I was sure my life would be over by this time. I seem to have settled for being “just a housewife”, while I hear about women who have lives of interest and value. Oh yes, I know! I’ve raised future good citizens. But what am I doing — about a career for me?
Just when Dora figured she had become the essential homemaker, Dan brought home a new invention, a new kind of box called a television set, opening up a wide new world to her, a world she could now see for herself. Here was proof of the possibility not only to hear people from far away, but to see them too — and Dora was fascinated by it. How Pa would have marveled at this successor to his ray-dee-oh!
She’d turn on the set and watch the color patterns on the screen until the Arthur Godfrey show came on; she had listened to him for years over the radio; now she could see him. Then came Bishop Sheen with his saintly worldly advice on life. In the evenings, the GE Theater opened her to live drama, and to Milton Berle with his antics and zany outfits that earned him the title of Mr. Television. (All men, or had you noticed? Dora did.)
Sitting in front of that box, she became completely absorbed with the people who were talking directly to her. Here was another magic box, the answer to the radio box that offered its magic thirty years earlier, full of new ideas and new people. Here was a box that provided a view of the world and everything in it, that provided laughter, tears, philosophy, drama, advice, celebrities, even dance shows for youngsters. Of course her daughters were too old for such teenage nonsense. Bonnie was at college, staying with her grandfather in River Falls, and Hattie was in love.
While watching a gardening show, Dora was reminded of the scent of lilacs, like the ones around her father-in-law’s house, like the ones her own father added to Grandmother Rosella’s yard. The spring lilacs always reminded Pandora that life could be renewed. She turned off the television, threw a sweater around her shoulders and dashed off to buy six lilac plants.
“What do you want me to be?” a serious Bonnie asked her mother a few weeks after high school graduation.
“You have to follow your dreams, Bonnie,” Dora told her. “You have to give yourself enough education to know what opportunities are out there.” Did I really say that? I haven’t lived it, how can I suggest it to my daughter?
“I know, but what do you want me to be?”
Dora sat back next to her daughter and asked, “If I said I wanted you to drive a truck or run a dairy farm or clerk in a dress shop or fly an airplane, would that affect your choice?”
“What do you want to do with your life?”
“That’s just it. I’m not sure, and I don’t want to commit to something for a lifetime, in case I don’t like it. Maybe I’d like college… I like school… and then, afterwards, maybe I can decide.”
“Sounds good. You don’t have to make lifetime choices; you can always change your mind. I’m just glad you aren’t determined to get married right away. I want you to have a chance at a career. It never hurts a woman to have something to fall back on if… when…”
“Muh-ther,” Bonnie Jean wailed in the same key her mother used to wail at Mary Belle. “I’m going to have a career, a real career. I know that. I’m not going to get married — ever.”
“Now don’t make frivolous statements. You’ll change your mind one day, when the right man comes along.”
“No. I thought Rick was the right man, but he isn’t. I mean, we just didn’t… you know… he can be such a dense… he just doesn’t send me.”
“Oh!” Dora seemed stumped. She knew that Bonnie and Rick had become “an item” in school, steadies, but she hadn’t heard about a split up. “Have you told him?”
“Not yet. I figure that when… if… I go away to college he’ll get the idea.”
“Bonnie, that’s not fair to him. You have to tell him how you feel.”
“Mother! I can’t talk to you about this. You’re my mother.”
Bonnie returned to her homework and Dora’s mind asked, What do you want to be, Miss Pandora? Where is your career? Your heart?
The year after Bonnie left for college, left Rick to pine away, and left her family to fill in the missing place at the table, Helen Madelaine Chesterfield announced her engagement to Rutherford B. Lawson, the boy next door, literally… next door.
“Ford and I have been dating for months,” Hattie announced one morning. “We’ve decided to get married when he graduates from college.”
“But he’s so much older than you,” Dora pointed out.
“Not really, only four years. He’ll be graduating soon.”
“You’re not even out of high school. Don’t you want to go to college?”
“No, not really. I want to marry Ford and have babies, lots of them, like Grandma. I don’t want to waste any more time in school than I have to. I hate it.”
“Bonnie always liked school. What happened to you?”
“I’m not Bonnie. I never have been. You always think Bonnie is everything and I ought to be like her, but I’m not. I’m me, Helen Madelaine Chesterfield. And me, Hattie, wants to get married and have children.”
Dora poured another cup of coffee and sat with her hands in her lap, waiting for both the coffee and her insides to cool.
“Well then, I guess we ought to plan a wedding.” Ye gods, I sound exactly like Mamá.
Hattie jumped up, nearly upsetting the table as she reached to hug her mother. “Now I can show you. See? I have a ring.” She pulled the band out of her pocket and fit it onto her finger. “He gave it to me last night; isn’t it beautiful?”
Dora hid her disappointment and grabbed her daughter’s hand. “Yes, it’s beautiful. So are you — a beautiful daughter who will give me beautiful grandchildren.” Mother and daughter wrapped their arms around each other and Dora rocked her little girl — perhaps for the last time. Hattie had grown up, and Dora hadn’t noticed.
Empty Nest Syndrome, they called it — that time when the last Child has left home and Husband is busy with his job and Wife is left with a big empty house — reduced from a full-time job of homemaking to a part-time job of waiting on Husband.
After the flurry of Hattie’s wedding, Dora got caught up in the upcoming elections, fascinated with the “egghead” Adlai Stevenson, but entranced by the handsome General Dwight Eisenhower.
When both candidates placed education at the top of the nation’s priority list, Pandora decided her new direction. Her only education after eighth grade was the two years at Business School and Dan’s coaching toward her high school diploma. My word, that was a long time ago. I wonder if I’d even be able to study, much less pass a course. I’m fifty-two years old, for crying out loud! “Wait, Pandora Nelle, you can’t quit. You have a long way to go and much to do,” came a childlike response from nowhere. She buckled; I’m going to try.
“I’m going back to school,” she announced one summer evening to Dan as they weeded the flower beds.
“Why?” was Dan’s response. “Why on earth would you want to go through all that when you don’t have to?”
“I don’t know; it sounds like fun.”
“Fun? College is not fun. It’s hard work,” he said, remembering his own college days.
“Bonnie says she’s having fun. You have fun with your work. Why can’t I?”
“Because you’re my wife. I take care of you. You don’t want for anything. You have a nice house; your closets are full; you have everything you…”
“Why? I’ll tell you. It’s because I am your wife. Because I do have a house full of things. Because you have been taking care of me. Now I want to take care of myself, to develop me, to find out what else I can do besides keep house and run a telephone switchboard.”
Dan couldn’t top that, and Dora trooped down to the Milwaukee campus of the University of Wisconsin the next day to register for fall classes. They didn’t even ask to see her high school diploma, which she conveniently failed to mention. On the way home she picked up the braatwursts and chips for the Fourth of July picnic.
Hattie and Ford were coming over from their new home in New Glarus; Bonnie was already home for the summer break and working at a local drive-in movie. Dora’s old friend Ginger, from the telephone office days in Arkansaw, had phoned to tell Dora she had moved nearby and wanted to see her and Dan. She accepted the invitation to the picnic, and would bring her husband Phil and their son Grant.
“That makes eight by my count.” Dora was figuring out the size of the potato salad. “Is that right, Dan?”
“You’re the college student,” Dan muttered in one of his moods.
“Come on, Dan. We’re having a party. Cheer up. I promise I won’t get smarter than you, nor will I earn more money than you — when I get my job.”
Dan stood up without a word and left the room. Dora watched him walk about the backyard, kicking at dandelions in the lawn and swiping at tree limbs as he passed. Guess I shouldn’t tease him like that.
Dan and Dora had been married for 24 years, a marriage that had survived good times and bad, crowding and separation, straying husband and bored wife. Their major achievements: they had raised two children they were proud of. They had a nice home, were comfortable by 1950 standards, and they still could manage an evening out once in a while.
Of late, with the children gone, their focus returned to themselves, but something had shifted. They began to prod each other, looking to stir the embers to see if any sparks were left. The more they poked, the more they bruised each other rather than stirred sparks. Too much had changed, perhaps beginning with Dan’s absence during the war, or perhaps with Dora’s restlessness.
Dora watched from the kitchen window. Was Dan afraid that he was losing her, again? Was he bored with her? Was he looking for something she couldn’t provide? What had gone wrong? Yes, she had noticed the distance growing over the last few months. Dan kicked another dandelion, decapitating it and sending white feathery seeds into the air.
Attendance for the Fourth of July picnic in their backyard mushroomed after Dan flew to Arkansaw and returned with Mary Belle, Iris with her new husband Toby Tortelli, and Billie without her old husband.
Dora was particularly excited to see Ginger again. She had missed her friend’s wedding and only heard about the birth of their son after his first birthday. Now the boy was a teenager.
“Ginger, are you happy?” Dora asked when the two friends found a moment together.
“What a question? Why do you ask? Are you?”
“I’ve always believed women weren’t supposed to be happy, you know that.”
“Yes, I remember. All that women’s suffrage stuff. But look how much women have changed since then. We’re over the hill, in our fifties now.” She paused and looked skyward. “If we ain’t happy now, there may not be time to figure it out. Does that make sense?”
“Not sure, Gingersnap! I’ve decided I have another half century to figure it out, but I’m still unsure. I know something’s missing. Something isn’t…”
“Gee, I haven’t heard Gingersnap in ages.” She put her arms around her friend. “Dora, I think you’ve already figured out this happiness thing. You’re so smart. Look around you. Your family together, good friends, and good food in your own lovely home. What more could you ask for?”
“A husband who truly loves me.”
“C’mon, Pandora Nelle. Your Dan is perfect for you. He seems…”
“What he seems is one thing, but he… how do they say it… strayed while he was in the Army.”
“What do you mean… strayed?”
“From what he’s said, she was a nurse; he had been away from home a long time; she was young and pretty and… well, you fill in the blanks.”
“Oh no, not your Dan. Not that guy out there hovering over the hot barbecue grill.”
“The very same. We’ve drawn some lines, made some rules, but things will never be the same again.”
Dora so wanted to share her college and career plans, but decided not to. She abruptly closed the conversation. “You seem happy too, Ginger. Your Grant is a good-looking polite young man and your husband is a doll. Hold them close.”
The Fourth of July picnic 1952 was a celebration that Dora would long remember.
A month later, Dan took one of the company planes up for a flight test, replacing one of the mechanics — the first time he ever flew a plane he hadn’t worked on himself. It failed and crashed at the edge of the airport, narrowly missing a new development of homes. Those who watched in horror reported that Dan purposely flew the plane into the ground to avoid hitting the homes. Only the tower heard the curses as the motor failed, and then his heart.
Dora’s life crashed that day too. Bonnie and Hattie rushed to their mother’s side and tried to deflect some of the pain. Andrew and Laura drove down with Mary Belle, Billie, and Iris. They all tried to calm Pandora, but she would not be consoled.
“I killed him. I never forgave him. I told him I wanted to go back to school. He took that as rejection of him. I know it. He wasn’t happy… with me.”
“Mom, you know that isn’t true. You saw how happy he was at the party on the Fourth, how he took over the barbecue, set off the fireworks. He was the life of the party. I’ve never seen him happier.” Bonnie said the words, but she had sensed something different about her father all through the day. She even asked herself why Dad had invited the whole family, especially Grandma, for the celebration.
“Why don’t you come live at our place, Mom?” Hattie offered. “We have plenty of room. You would have the place to yourself for a while. Ford and I have decided to travel before beginning our family. Europe is gathering itself back to life and countries are begging for tourists. Come on, Mom, get rid of this big old house and come live at ours.”
“Or you can come back to Arkansaw and live with Andrew and me… and Billie,” Mary Belle added. “It will be like old times to have my girls back on the farm.”
But Pandora would not be coaxed. She had done much soul searching over the past years. She listened to all the talk, then decided in the end to continue life as she had planned it. She would stay in the house, go to college, pursue the dreams that were hers alone. It was time for herself. She had hoped that Dan would share her plan, but now his death seemed to underline that internal sense that her own time had come.
When the house was quiet again, Dora recalled Ginger’s suggestion. “Write out your feelings. Put down on paper the things that bother you, those that upset you, and those that make you feel good and keep you sane.” She sat down with pencil and paper and began to write. She intended to describe her marriage and how it ended. Another idea popped into her head.
“All marriages end.” She said it out loud as she stood up and began to pace, back and forth, dictating to the air as her mind whirled. “All marriages end! That has to be true. As all lives end, so do the lives of wedded bliss. How? Sometimes in death, yes, as two of my own loves have ended,” she said, remembering dear Leo. “Some marriages end in divorce, rather like mine almost did. And sometimes…,” she paused to think. “Sometimes they end in desertion; one partner walks out on the other — perhaps even subconsciously abandoning a marriage while sticking around in body only.”
Pandora sat down again and began to write. The words poured out of her head as she filled page after page.
One day, as a psychologist, she would understand how writing out one’s woes often clarifies a situation thought insoluble. By the time summer decided to cool off, she had covered a couple hundred pages. “I wrote a book!” she yelled after placing the final period to the last sentence. “I wrote a book!” (Pandora never published this book, All Marriages End in D.)
Welcome to the Class of ’56 read the sign over the registration tables. Dora stood in line, registered for classes and bought her books — a process that took her most of the day. She returned home eagerly to scan the books before wondering what she had gotten herself into. She had chosen a class in writing, but discovered it required a class in freshman composition that she would have to finish first. Her other class choices were history, anthropology, French (she knew a bit already from listening to Mary Belle and Fayette when they didn’t want the children to understand), and… she couldn’t remember the other. Oh yes, psychology. I’m over fifty and I’m studying psychology. What am I thinking?
If there were doubts on registration day, they were doubled after the first day of classes. She drove home slowly, her mind reeling with the new subjects, the new ideas. She reeled more at the realization of how young were the people around her, even the instructors.
Evenings alone became almost unbearable. My darling Dan, what did I do to you? How will I live without you here to set me straight? Why didn’t I… and the tears would start. Most nights she sat up studying late so she didn’t have to think any more. But that wasn’t any help either. She missed her husband. She wondered too if she had started her classes too soon after Dan’s death.
“I’m not sure if I belong in this class,” she murmured to her psychology instructor in mid-November.
“Why not, Mrs. Chesterfield?”
“I’m not used to studying. I don’t know if I can keep up. I don’t believe I’ve thought this much or used my brain this hard… ever. I’m going to have to drop this class and concentrate on the others.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” the instructor responded properly. He knew that class size was connected to paycheck size. “Can I give you any encouragement to stick it out?”
“I’m afraid not. I’ve already talked to my counselor who sent me here to have you sign this withdrawal slip.”
The instructor signed, and Dora fairly skipped away from psychology, replacing the credits with a course in oil painting. She began to use the painting “homework” to ease her into sleep at night. She had found a way to express the deep feelings of loss and grief, which helped to relax her mind in the other classes.
“You’re doing well, ma’am,” came the voice over her shoulder. “You paint well. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d pull an A in this course.”
“Thank you,” said Dora without looking up. She assumed it was the instructor who had spoken to her.
“I probably won’t get much above a C,” the voice continued.
Then Pandora looked up — into the biggest brownest most sparkling eyes she had ever seen. Under them was a very dramatic substantial nose and under that a smiling mouth. “Oh!” was all she could manage.
Brown Eyes appeared to be about Dora’s age, a few gray hairs showing behind the high forehead, and a chubby body that belied a love for ice cream. He hovered over Dora as he continued to discuss her work. “Your paint strokes tell me you have painted before… the colors are magnificent… I particularly like the way you arranged the background… the depth…”
“Excuse me,” Dora found her voice. “I’m trying to work here. Would you mind…?” She turned back to her easel, flipping her ponytail behind her. She already had begun to help her hair keep its light brown tone with a monthly color treatment, and she tied up the ponytail when she noticed other students with them. She wore a paint-stained smock over her dress and sported a smudge of green paint on her cheek. Immediately, her paint brush smeared the paint in the wrong place and she swore under her breath as she tried to fix it.
“Confab? May I join in?” inquired the instructor of the two older members of his class.
“Sorry,” said Brown Eyes as he shuffled off to his easel.
“You can get that smear off with a dab of this.” The instructor pulled a small bottle from his pocket and handed it to Dora. “See, just a little dab’ll do ya. Now let it dry before painting over.”
“Thanks. That man wasn’t bothering me much. I don’t want to get him in trouble.”
“Wendell Westcott? He’s been in my class so long he’s like an assistant. But he does like to offer his opinions.”
“I don’t mind, really.” Dora looked across the room to catch Wendell Westcott smiling at her. “What do you think…” she asked the instructor, “…of my work?”
“He’s right. You have had experience, haven’t you? What we’ll do here is show you how to harness your talent and express yourself rather than copy some other painter. You must have spent time in the galleries. What I’d like to see more in your own work is… you.”
“How can I learn that?”
“It’s not something you learn. It’s something you feel. Tap into yourself, what’s inside you.”
“I’ve never thought about that before… what’s inside me.”
“Perhaps the time is now.” The instructor left Dora to mull over another very disturbing idea. What indeed lay inside her that needed letting out? Perhaps she should have stuck with psychology.
Dora looked forward to the art classes. Wendell had moved his easel closer to hers and they had moved themselves away from the younger students. Wen invited Dora to share ice cream and coffee after class late one fall day. The Indian Summer sun warmed the patio enough for them to sit outside.
“Whatever brings you back to college at your age?” Dora asked.
“May I ask the same of you?”
“But it’s different for a woman. My family is gone; I’m alone, with nothing else to do. I’m… looking for myself… no, that doesn’t sound right… I’m taking time to find myself… no, that’s worse.” Dora took a deep breath. “I don’t know why I’m here. I guess I just needed to do something for me.”
“And your husband?”
“He died last summer… a plane crash.”
“Yes, we had a good life together. I miss him.” Her voice drifted off.
“Well, I’m here because my wife kicked me out of the house. I retired early and I guess I was driving her crazy at home. So I came back to school. Since math and engineering were my life, I opted for the opposite — art. I’ve always enjoyed good art; I collect it. The idea of creating it simply sounded groovy… as my kids say. And here I am.” Wendell sat back, holding the ice cream dish in one hand and spooning out the last bits with the other.
“You have children?”
“Yes, three — two boys and a girl.”
“As a matter of fact, I’m a new grandfather. Oh God, I’m feeling my age today.”
“How lucky for you — your first?”
“Yes, and probably the last with my daughter. She wanted just one child and this one is a daughter. But hey, maybe I’ll paint a picture of her… one day.”
“Or maybe your sons will give you grandchildren. Women don’t have children all by themselves,” she teased.
“If they ever settle down. One is in Korea with the Army and the other is going for a doctorate in Art Admin. Both of them would rather play than work.
“But one is following your interest in art.”
“Would you believe… he can’t draw a straight line?”
“I used to paint. Watercolors. When I was a girl,” Dora offered. “I did it just for fun. I didn’t know people did this for a living, or tried to make a living at it. All I knew was that I loved painting pictures of our farm, my sisters and brothers, my folks, but especially my kittens. We had loads of cats. I think I painted every one of them at one time or another.”
Wendell threw back his head and let out a hefty laugh. “Painted cats. I can see them now: here’s blue kitty, red cat, yellow puss-puss.”
“I didn’t mean I… painted them… I mean, I painted… oh, you’re teasing me.”
“I like you, Dora… I’m sorry, you never told me your last name.”
“Chesterfield, like the cigaret, only I don’t smoke… much.”
“I enjoy talking with you, Mrs. Chesterfield. May we do this again tomorrow?”
“I… er… of course. Does your wife paint too?”
“No she doesn’t. She suffered a stroke two years ago and she’s bedridden. We have a nurse to care for her.”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean…” What did she mean? Even Dora wasn’t sure… then.
At Christmas, Wendell presented Dora with a portrait of herself that he had painted. And Dora parted with an early watercolor of one of her cats. They had become friends, close enough so that Dora was invited to the Westcott home for a New Years party.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, read the banner over the fireplace. A dozen or so friends milled about as Wendell introduced Dora to his wife Joan. The two women found immediate food for discussion: Wendell, his painting, the difficulties of raising a family — Dora’s and Mrs. Westcott’s. Funny, Dora always thought of her as Mrs. Westcott, not Joan.
Dora mingled with the other guests and at midnight cheered in the new year with “Auld Lang Syne” and a glass of champagne. Wendell, standing near the bay window behind his wife, raised his glass to her and she returned the toast to… him. A few minutes later he sat down beside her on the sofa and asked about her plans for the new year.
“First I’m celebrating my birthday. Tomorrow, well actually it’s today… now. I was born on the cusp of the new century.”
“Well, happy birthday. Hey folks, this is Dora’s birthday.” They sang the song to her, tipping up another champagne toast. “I’ll bet you go through this every New Years Eve.”
“Yes, but never with so many smiling faces around me. Thank you, Wen.”
By spring, Wendell and Dora were considered an item at school, although few gossiped about them; they just accepted the closeness of the “cute old couple”. In fact, the art students started to refer to them as “Georgia and Albert”. For indeed, Dora and Wendell had fallen in love, even if they weren’t exactly aware of it themselves. They never would have worded their relationship any way but “friends, just friends, good friends”.
Here was this charming man who was sweeping Dora off her feet, luring her with promises of trustworthiness and loyalty, all the while keeping their trysts secret from his wife. Poor house-ridden Joan had Wendell to lie next to each night, but she couldn’t hold him in her arms in the way the lonely Dora held his attention during the day.
When Bonnie called to ask about the Fourth of July family picnic, Dora couldn’t bear to consider it. Only last year Dan was barbecuing braats and laughing and… here, in front of her. She couldn’t think of another holiday without him. But Bonnie came anyway. So did Hattie and Ford. Ginger called to cheer up her friend on that sad day.
Wendell telephoned too, to tell Dora he had decided to leave Joan, that he wanted Dora to live with him and paint with him the rest of their lives.
“You’re out of your mind, Wen. You can’t do that to Mrs.… Joan, or your kids.”
“Dora, I can’t stand to live this two-faced life anymore. I want to choose and I’ve chosen you. I think Joan will understand. I want us to live together.”
“No, Wendell. We’ve been… friends, maybe too good of friends, and maybe it’s time we stopped seeing each other.”
“Dora, you can’t mean that. You can’t…”
“Yes, Wen, my dear friend. That is exactly what I mean. I’ve been thinking about it for some time and you just helped me put it into words. Perhaps I should have seen it in my painting, but we have to stop whatever is going on between us.”
“Do-ra.” Her name sounded like a plea from a weary heart. “Oh Do-ra.” And he hung up.
With classes ended for the summer, Dora had moved her easel and paints home into a spare bedroom. She sat, looking deeply into the picture she was working on. There it was, that speck of something she had been looking for, that speck of something she instantly recognized as… herself. Blue and green and yellow and beautiful and scarred and aching and sad and frightened and delirious and old and young and… everlasting. The picture itself was a little girl sitting on a woodpile holding a kitten. Why hadn’t she seen it before? There was the little girl purring into her kitten’s ear, “I’m going to live to be a hunnert years old and do big things in the world.”
“I’m halfway there,” said Dora to the picture. “Halfway there and I haven’t lost her yet, that determined little me. I haven’t lost her yet.”
“But I haven’t done big things in this world either,” she reminded herself, recalling the milestones. A job as a telephone operator: connecting people. My love for picturing life: paintings and photographs. People I love: Dan, Leo, Ginger, my big old family, my lovely daughters. What could possibly be the big things I’m to do in this world? She had forgotten the completed book manuscript.
By the time Pandora earned her bachelor’s degree, she had taken the Introduction to Psychology class she eschewed in her first semester and shifted her major to behavioral science. What she learned in her second year was that Wendell had been typical of the frightened man who needs a woman to take care of him, rather than the other way around. Perhaps that was what had attracted her. After all, Dora had grown up with men wanting to take care of her. Wendell was a man who needed a woman. When he lost Dora, the dutiful husband returned to Joan.
What seemed obvious to Dora — and the latest finding in the psycho world — was that men are cared for by their mothers until they find wives to continue the caring… and finally daughters. Dora’s experience bore out the theory. Her father left his mother’s home to marry his first wife, then immediately sought a replacement in his second wife. When Mary Belle became so blind she couldn’t do the caring anymore, Fayette had turned to Billie. When she left to seek her fortune in California, Iris had taken over. And when Iris Rosella left to be married, old Fayette died.
Come to think of it, Pandora’s brothers followed the same pattern; they lived at home until they married, and when their wives were gone, they depended on daughters.
Even Dan had lived at home until he married Dora. Men are like that, Dora concluded. Not a very professional conclusion, but one she observed almost without deviation — empirical, the psychologists call it. Men claim to be self-sufficient and capable of running things, but they can’t even feed themselves.
“Men are afraid of women,” Dora suggested to her instructor once in class.
“That may very well be,” the instructor agreed, “but we haven’t had a man admit that as yet.”
“Nor a woman with enough gumption to say it aloud either. Do you agree, Miss Tambarri?” Dora asked. “As a woman and as a psychologist, do you agree?”
“What I think or not think isn’t relevant to what you’re suggesting, Mrs. Chesterfield. Only what you think, what you discover through research, or what you discern from empirical data.”
Miss Tambarri never knew it, but with those words she had given Pandora more fuel for the fire that was building inside her than she had ever known before. “I have thoughts that count, opinions that matter, ideas that are relevant,” Dora told her mirror that evening. “I am a person who has something to say. Enough of something to write that book,” she remembered. “What an empowering notion!”
What Dora was missing was specific knowledge of how to write. That freshman class in composition helped, but perhaps there was more she could learn. She asked around campus and quickly attached herself to the Milwaukee Writing Society. She regularly attended the meetings and delved ambitiously into the writing assignments.
Late in the 1950s, Dora lost the income from Dan’s crop dusting business. In the flush of soaring stocks, high interest, and flourishing business, Dan’s successors found a willing buyer for the company and they retired. Dora received a sizeable share of the sale and invested it in chemical stocks immediately. She had decided to support herself, earn her own income and, make it or not, she would live completely on her own.
Many other empowering notions were arising from the Kinsey Report on Male Sexuality and the newer Kinsey Report on Female Sexuality of 1953, studied in Dora’s psych classes. The reports sparked new magazines for men, such as Playboy, and the revival of the old Esquire.
Perhaps for the first time, people talked out loud about sex. Even that new television box offered such discussions on what came to be called “talk shows”. Psychologists were discussing human sexuality — in public — brainy people like Dr. Joyce Brothers and who’s that new one? Dear Abby. What popped out of the academic Kinsey box about human sexuality was an entirely new world of ideas for women, especially for Dora.
Both Bonnie and Hattie shuddered over their mother’s late-arriving education and were ready to pick her up when she fell. Both were surprised when Pandora graduated cum laude with the class of ’56 and obtained a teaching job while working on her Master’s Degree. She then obtained a position with an experimental mental health clinic and planned to earn a Ph.D.
The end of the decade found Dora polishing her Masters thesis: Are Men Automatic Leaders of Today’s Society? Once in touch with the world, Pandora Nelle Whaley Chesterfield had begun to record women as they crawled, jumped, climbed, skipped, and flew out of boxes across the country.
Pandora’s Notes of the 19-fifties
After the war, women were expected to climb back into their boxes and bottles and bustles. Well, not bustles, but peplums — a fashion statement that resembled the bustle. The women refused.
As if it were just discovered, Sex became a subject for discussion, mostly hidden in the acceptable guise of academia. Women were scratching at the remaining chains that bound them.
Pauline Esther Phillips, known as Abigail Van Buren and the “pioneering queen of salty advice”, published her first “Dear Abby” column (1956).
Dr. Joyce Brothers, psychologist, began a television show offering advice on love, marriage, sex, and childrearing. She went on to become a syndicated columnist, author, actor, and popular TV celebrity, opening doors for other therapists (1958).
Margaret Chase Smith, senator from Maine, delivered a rousing speech on the Senate floor (1950) titled “A Declaration of Conscience”, aimed at the activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his demonic search for Communists through the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Two years later Playwright Lillian Hellman testified before that committee, one of few women called.
Revolutionary Rosa Parks’ arrest following her refusal to give up her bus seat in Montgomery AL (1955) heralded the oncoming strife over civil rights in the South. Dora couldn’t imagine the cause of the furor. She had never been in The South, nor had she seen anyone with skin darker than hers after a summer in the sun — except on TV.
Juanita Hall won the Tony Award for her role of Bloody Mary in “South Pacific” — the first African American to do so (1950).
Althea Gibson broke the color barrier in professional tennis by playing at the Forest Hills Country Club in the U.S. Open national championships in Augusta GA (1950). She became the first black woman to win a Wimbledon title in women’s singles (1957).
Literature acknowledged the work of Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize, for Annie Allen, a book of poetry (1950). She later was named Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress, and Poet Laureate in 1985.
The Pulitzer Prize in 1951 went to poet Marianne Moore for Collected Poems of 1951, which also earned her the National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize.
Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, opened on Broadway, furthering her family’s battle against racial segregation in Chicago (1959).
Marian Anderson became the first black woman to sing at the Metropolitan Opera (1955).
Louise Arner Boyd, at age 68, became the first woman to fly over the North Pole (1955). An Arctic explorer in 1926, her scientific and surveying findings in Greenland, sponsored by the American Geographical Society, proved of great importance to the U.S. War Department during WWII.
Ethel Percy Andrus, PhD, a retired educator, founded the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) at the age of 74 (1958).
Tenley Albright became the first American woman to win the World Figure Skating championship (1953). She went on to pick up a gold medal in the 1956 Olympics, and later became a surgeon at Harvard Medical School.
Helen Thomas became the first woman member of the National Press Club (1959), leading the way for future women journalists.
Norma Sklarek became the first black woman licensed as an architect (1954).
The Rev. Margaret Towner became the first woman ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church (1956).
Lilia St. John was the first black woman to pass the New York Stock Exchange exam (1953).
Josephine Bay, president of A. M. Kidder, became the first woman to hold a member seat in the NYSE (1956).
Mary Roebling became the first woman director of a stock exchange — the American Stock Exchange (1958); she already was chairman of the board of the Trenton NJ Trust Company, and described as “the top man of one of New Jersey’s largest banks”.
Marion Donovan invented the disposable diaper (1951), a precursor of Pampers, among the 20 patents she registered in her lifetime.
Ruth Benerito, a physical chemist, took charge of the cotton chemicals laboratory at the USDA’s Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, where she helped the cotton industry compete with new synthetic fibers by discovering a method to create wrinkle-resistant cotton (1958).
Patricia Sherman, with Sam Smith at 3M, found a successful application for the fluorochemical polymers they discovered in 1956 — Scotchgard.
Bette Nesmith Graham provided the world with liquid paper for use with electric typewriters (1958). Her refined product, Liquid Paper™, was patented and trademarked that same year.
Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State, used insights gained from autism and behavioral science principles to invent systems to control animals, eliminating excess force (1959). Her systems remain in use in livestock handling around the world.
Rosalind Franklin was a scientist on whose work the discovery of the structure of DNA was built, although primary credit was taken by her two male colleagues (1953). Following her death in 1958, Franklin was commemorated as a brilliant scientist and “a warm, vibrant woman”; her name appears on three Cambridge University buildings.
Roxey O’Neal Bolton, known as Florida’s Pioneer Feminist and Founding Mother of Florida NOW, helped organize the Democratic Women’s Clubs, and served as charter president of the Dade County chapter of NOW (1957). She later founded the first women’s rescue shelter in Florida (1972), and the first Rape Treatment Center in the country, in Miami (1974).
Seven women from Illinois founded La Leche League, further causing concern over what was being labeled “the beginning of the sexual revolution”. The founders were Marian Tompson, Mary White, Mary Ann Cahill, Edwina Froehlich, Mary Ann Kerwin, Viola Lennon, and Betty Wagner (1956).
Another woman prominent in the sexual revolution was Marilyn Monroe who startled the nation’s mores with her role in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1952).
Frances Langford, popular singer with the USO during WWII (1940s), returned to entertain troops in Korea (1953). She also wrote the “Purple Heart” column for Hearst newspapers, recounting bravery of the troops.
Ruth Handler, a co-founder of Mattel Inc., designed the Barbie doll (1959). Considered an insult by many feminists, the doll with life-like breasts was claimed to have led girls to better understanding of sexuality. Handler, a survivor of breast cancer, originally invented Barbie Millicent Roberts as a grown-up three-dimensional doll for girls to use to act out their fantasies.
Katherine McCormick, biologist and women’s rights activist, financed research of “The Pill” (1953). As a parting shot at the revolutionary first half-century, “The Pill”, approved in 1957 only for severe menstrual disorders, was finally approved as a contraceptive by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (1960). This tiny tablet would become the key that unlocked the sexual revolution that was already stirring.
THANK YOU for reading this far. Are you as fascinated as I about the progress women have made — and the distance we still have to go? Find out about the status of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and learn what you can do to make this last dream of Pandora’s — and Val’s — come true.
About the Author
Val Dumond is not 100 years old, but she is closing in on it. Her mother was the one actually born on the cusp of the 20th century, living into the 1970s. Val lived the last 70 years of the century. A writer and historian during the explosive years that found women discovering their strengths, she recognized the strides made by women in her lifetime. She combined her findings with her mother’s stories to cover the progress of women throughout the 1900s. Events of that entire century affect not only the lives of women who lived it, but those who are their descendents.
Continuing to write in her 80s, Val stays young and healthy and very much aware of the distance still ahead for women. [Just before this book went to press, a woman in the United States was denied credit to buy a car without the co-signature of her father or husband (January 2014).]
Val’s greatest wish is for final ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — while she is still alive to celebrate it.