Of dragonflies and degrees

31 May

The dragonflies were out in droves this morning.  At least three varieties were sunning on the narrow western verge between the edge of the corn field and the woods.  As I walked by they would rise and circle back.  At first I thought there were only a dozen or so, but new ones would keep rising  and falling all the way around the corner , up the south hedgerow until we got to the edge of the shallow green grass sea.  Birds hang out there, not dragonflies.  Butterflies were mixed in with the dragonflies; one yellow swallowtail sunned itself on the lower leaves of the hickory tree.

The grass has grown from hip to chest high in the past week.  Abundant rain and heat have contributed, I think.  In the mornings it is like walking on the floor of a shallow living sea.  Not that I have ever done that, but I do come home as wet as if I had.

The tree peonies are done.  The first deciduous peonies came out today.  The perennial poppies have started.  Only 4 efts out this morning.

It is hot.  Hot like summer hot.  Like August hot.

A bridal shower last night for the eldest daughter of friends of 30+ years put into sharp focus how educational and professional options for women have changed during the course of my life.

Both daughters and one of their female cousins studied art in college. The younger daughter was showing me some of her past semester’s work: metal work using oxyacetylene and MIG  (arc) welding.  She said shed loved MIG welding. Which got me thinking.

I grew up around what we called arc welding since farm machinery needed almost constant upkeep and repair.  In university as partial fulfillment for a degree which included  a certificate to teach agriculture in high schools, I took a metals class; welding was part of the curriculum.  During student teaching I taught welding to a high school ag class.

But what was different from Hope’s experience is this: I was possibly the first woman to ever take and complete the metals class in Agricultural Engineering at Cornell.  And how would I know that? Because the professor tried repeatedly over the course of the semester to make it as difficult as he could for me to continue in his course.  He was hell bent on making me quit. He told me he did not want a woman in his class and he would do what he thought would achieve my dropping out.  Now days he could neither do nor say the things he did and said.  But in the 70’s there was no recourse for me but to stick it out.  Or drop it, as women before me had.  So he said.  Some of the other (all male) students in the class were sympathetic; but we all needed the class and they were not going to jeopardize their grade for me. Nor did I expect them to.  None of them actively participated in the professor’s tirades or shenanigans, but no one stood up for me publicly, either.  It was the more severe and vitriolic discrimination I had yet encountered.  But not the first.

Forty years ago I was 12 or 13 but it does not seem so long ago;  the vet came to check a cow.  I blithely announced to him my goal of becoming a veterinarian.  He laughed.  He said I should go back to the house and make cookies.  My decision not to become a vet had nothing to do with his pronouncement.  Various aspects of working with healthy animals became more appealing so I stayed in animal science.

Forty years prior to that,  the trinity of jobs outside the home open to the women were teaching, nursing and secretarial work.  We had some of each in my family.  At the party were two widows, the grandmothers of the bride. Both were wives and mothers first; one is a potter, the other a retired farmer.  And one other job: both my mother-in-law and an aunt worked in munitions factories during the second world war.

There were exceptions to the trinity: the woman who later would become my mother graduated with honors from Cornell and was hired by P&G as a market researcher for their new product: Tide.  She traveled via rail around the country on their ticket; she had the equivalent of an expense account for hotels and food.  She spent her money on a fabulous working wardrobe that I in turn wore at Cornell decades later.  It was a plum job that was cut short by her father’s death.  She returned home to help her mother, started teaching, eventually meeting my father at a dinner party.

Of the women with whom I graduated or who are friends my age, one is head of veterinary radiology at a major university; a few are or have been professors in math, nutrition, computers.  Several are engineers of various sorts.  Several teach or nurse.  Computer technology, pharmacology, social work, hotel management, freelance writing, accounting, and research are others fields in which they are working.

Younger female friends have degrees and jobs in an even broader array of subject areas.

The young women at the party probably can not conceive of any field of study or class not open to them.  I could not at their age.

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One Response to “Of dragonflies and degrees”

  1. garden2day 1 June 2011 at 1:23 PM #

    What a great post and perspective. I’m a year or two your younger and dealt with similar issues when I attended college and such. Life has really changed in certain areas and not so much in others. I’m so glad for young women coming along today that they have more opportunities. Good for you for sticking with it! You blazed a trail…

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