When I Grow Up, Part One

My Facebook friend Victoria has been posting a lot of images about what was expected of young women back in the 1950s and 1960s. My particular vintage.

When this page from a 1956 issue of Seventeen magazine showed up, Victoria commented that because she was tall, she had been urged to become a model; however, she was not interested in any of the suggested careers for women. Physics was her thing.

I had fewer options than those listed in the Seventeen advertising section. My parents told me that I had three choices: I could become a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary. In the first year of high school, 9th grade, I told them I wanted to be a librarian. I had been a volunteer at the school library for a couple of years, the work appealed to me, and the librarian had taken a liking to me. I had always loved reading and at fourteen believed that being a librarian would be a wonderful job. My parents said no: secretary, teacher, or nurse. And they made me quit being a library volunteer.

When it was time to choose my courses for tenth grade, I had no idea which of those three jobs would be right for me. None held any appeal. My parents filled out my course selection card in a way that would keep my options open for a year: I was to take a second year of Spanish in case I was going for the nurse or teacher option; I was also to take first year typing in case I was to become a secretary. If the latter were to be the case, I would learn everything I would ever need right there in high school and they wouldn't send me to college.

Eight years earlier when my sister -- who had been pushed into the secretarial option -- was offered a full scholarship to college, they told her to turn it down: college was a waste for a girl. So it seemed they had made some progress by the time my turn came along.

(to be continued)


Quiltdivajulie said…
Omigish .... I am speechless. Sending hugs!
Tired Teacher said…
Sounds very familiar. I'm glad young women have a world of options available to them now.
Those were the options in 1958 too. I rebelled and my first job was sewing for a designer at a dress factory $1.14 an hour. However I moved on quickly when I was offered an office job for $1.80 an hour with a raise to $2.01 in 3 months. Hated it and should have stayed with the designer.
suz said…
I'm a 60s kid - I wanted to go to law school My mother told me men were lawyers and women could be their secretary! My parents had a man from an airline come and talk to me about being a stewardess but he told me I was fat (I was a size 9 and already had self-esteem issues!) Before he was done, I told him I had no desire to be a stewardess, my mother was the one who thought it was a great job and I walked out of the house. Needless to say I was grounded for weeks for being rude, but they never did that again. I went to an all-girl Catholic high school and we had the same 3 options-secretary, teacher or nurse. I didn't go to law school, a decision I will always regret, but I did become a paralegal. When my niece was looking at college, my sister had some of the same old-fashioned ideas so I constantly encouraged my niece to do what she wanted. She is now a tech writer for a major software company and loves her work.
Janet O. said…
Gosh, I guess I should be glad I graduated high school in the 70s. Though some people teased me that I was only going to college to get my MRS. degree, I stuck with it. I did marry just before my senior year, but I kept plugging at it very part time, as we could afford, and had two children by the time I donned cap and gown.
I didn't realize how restricted you were by society's expectations in the 60s!
Scrappy quilter said…
I graduated high school in the late 60's. My parents didn't have any money for the course I wanted to take in life so I became a secretary. Forty + years later, I'm now an Admin Director which I love. Funny how things change.
Karla said…
I am so glad times have changed. At least your parents gave you 3 options. Mine, groomed me to be a wife and mom. That is it. That is all a woman does. And when I say groomed, they just told me that is what I was suppose to be, over and over, no training. To this day, I am struggling to hold my head above water because of this thinking. I have not strived to be more. It is tragic and sad how their thoughts, voices and opinions ring throughout my being. It is even more tragic when I think how smart I am and I laid that to waste. But damn, I can cook, but I suck at cleaning.

My parents also gave me something good, the base of a tremendous faith in God.
Barbara Anne said…
I'm there with you as nurse, teacher, or secretary seemed my only options, too. Fortunately, I'd wanted to be a nurse so early in life that my Halloween costume at age four was a nurse's outfit. I was a nurse for 40 years and loved helping those who needed medical help or a hand to hold and their families who needed explanations so they could understand what was happening.

Last week I saw a tee shirt in a catalog that said "I'm a Nurse - what's your superpower?" Love it!

LoieJ said…
Nurse, secretary, teacher or stewardess, Those seemed to be the choices in 1968, though I doubt that my mom or dad pushed those choices. Mom was an RN with a degree. She said what other job could a woman work at, in her chosen profession, and still work part time. Good point. I wanted to be a teacher, ever since 3rd grade. That's what I became. I sucked at teaching, it turned out, but at least I got to try real teaching. Most people in 1972 couldn't find a teaching job. I did office work at a big insurance company after that and loved that type of work. But later in life, I've had many many volunteer jobs and I do a great job. I get to do a lot of writing and publicity, so I've found my niche.
Vivian said…
Ironically as a parent of a college-aged and a high school junior (both boys though), I have mixed feelings when I read your story. On the one hand, I am happy that now as parents we can offer our kids literally the world -- I've always advised my kids to give some thought to what they think they want to do and just go for it and plan to "do what they love". I also tell them to keep in mind that they can change course at any point in their life as long as they are willing to put in the sweat equity to make it work for them.

On the other hand, now with SO much choice it can be/still is really hard for the average high school kid to choose even one option to get started. Add to that how expensive college and first apartments are now and how difficult it is to get post grad jobs (heck, even after school and jobs for those that decide school isn't for them are hard to get). Then it's even harder to keep jobs in an environment where companies operate focused only on the bottom line and much less so with concern for providing for their employees for life.

Back in the day parents advised that way because they were thinking "practical and safe" -- how limiting they were being was not even in their consciousness. Sometimes, I wish I could "tell" my kids what they "should" do but I know that what I grew up believing was a "practical and safe" career path may not be the same in today's world (or in their near future) and certainly what floats my boat may not be the same as theirs!