Archive for the ‘Leading Ladies’ Category

She’s Been Working on the Railroad

January 25, 2010

First female machinist at  the Milwaukee Road Railroad.

Sue Doro on the job at the Milwaukee Road in 1976

Childhood: Milwaukee
Current Home: California
Birth Year: 1937

Many have recommended that I read Sue Doro’s gorgeous book Blue Collar Goodbyes about shop floor life on the Milwaukee Railroad in its final days. I never did until a friend suggested I interview Sue for my Leading Ladies blog series. Now I see what I was missing. She uses prose and poetry to paint a warm and honest portrait of her life as the company’s first and only female machinist. Her earlier book, Hearts, Home and Hard Hats, touches on her previous machinist gigs (including being the first female machinist in the repair department at Allis Chalmers tractor plant). Her latest book, Sugar String, is a gripping account of her childhood with a truly monstrous father who not only abused his daughter but refused to lift a finger or allow Sue to call an ambulance as her mother choked to death in the family home. Sue’s life has had more than its share of hardness, so I wondered if when I talked to her I would find her a hard woman with a hard voice. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Though she was laid up with a post-operative foot when we spoke, she was lively and warm and as eager to ask me questions as I was to ask her. She now lives in California with her husband Larry. She publishes “Pride and Paycheck” for women in the blue collar trades and is a member of the National Writers Union and Railroad Workers United.

You had the sort of childhood that doesn’t exactly breed self-esteem. Why do you think you had the confidence to go into machining when no other women were doing that?
In the beginning it was for the kids. I had no college education—most girls where I grew up did not go. Raising five kids on a clerical or retail salary wasn’t going to cut it. I was a homemaker, and I did it all. I fixed the roof with my son. I fixed the bicycles, whatever. So it wasn’t such a big jump to go into machining. When I found out the requirements for the MTDA [Manpower Training Development Act] and found out machine shop was an option, I really didn’t hesitate. It wasn’t about self-esteem, just survival. And from there it was a matter of sticking up for myself.

As for my self-esteem, that came when I ran away from my father. It took me three tries, but (more…)


A Major Accomplishment

January 17, 2010

Stacy Jo Huser: First woman to work in the US Air Force’s ICBM planning section. Now leads the section.

Major Stacy Huser

Childhood: Northern Indiana
Current Home: Nebraska
Birth Year: 1972

Stacy and I went to the same high school, where she excelled in every subject, and had social skills to boot.  We also ran cross country together and she continues to compete in marathons.  But she is not your stereotypical nerd or athlete.  She is a true one-of-a-kind whose galloping curiosity seems to drive everything from her friendships to her career. A word I hear her use often and never with a trace of sarcasm is “fascinating.”

What do you do and when did you get there?
The whole unit I’m in (which is a couple hundred people) maintains the nation’s war plan.  My section focuses on the ICBM planning aspect of the war plan. I came there in July, 2008.

How did you find out you were the first woman in the section?
The guy in charge at the time was worried about me coming in because they didn’t have another woman there.  So he was worried that the environment would be too raunchy for me.  But the truth is, it turned out to be pretty tame.  It’s funny, I’m not really sure what their perception of women is.  I’m not a person who is easily offended, and I’m actually more likely to be the one doing the offending. Anyway, there is an older civilian guy who has worked there a long time and he said that I was the first one.

What led you to want to want to work in ICBM planning?
When I worked in Montana with ICBM folks, I enjoyed the structure, history, and culture of people in that field.  Also, it’s a lot of math, number crunching, quiet time thinking at your desk.  I like all that.  So I actually tried to get this position the last time I transferred, and they wanted me to come, but I got a different assignment.  That’s the kind of thing that happens in the Air Force. But this time I got it.  I arrived just as one of the regular workers, but shortly after I got there, my boss told me he would be leaving and that he wanted to put me in charge.  I’ve been running this section since July, 2009. (more…)

First Female Forester in the East

January 4, 2010

I met Stephanie about five years ago through her daughter.  She is the original inspiration for my Leading Ladies blog series. I had known her for years when I found out that she was the first woman to graduate in her college program. I realized then that so many pioneering women are hiding in plain sight, and I wanted to learn about their experiences. It was not  until I asked to interview her that I found out she was also the first female forester in the eastern region.

Erstwhile Luddite: How did your family influence your decision to go into forestry?
Stephanie LaBumbard: I liked the outdoors and my step-dad took up the idea in a big way.  He liked to have things to brag about, and he pushed the forester thing.  He took me to college to see the campuses. I applied to the College of Forestry in Syracuse and the Agriculture program at Cornell.  I got in both places, but Cornell said they didn’t have room for me to live.  My algebra teacher was an alumna of Cornell and she was so mad that she called them and they found a place for me within two weeks.  But I decided to go to Syracuse anyway and I don’t think she ever quite forgave me for it.

Careers were expected for us in our family.  My sister and I knew from the day we were born that we were going to college. My mother wasn’t college educated.  My father had to drop out of college his senior year because of finances.

My mother’s mother was pregnant with two young children when her husband died in the flu epidemic of 1918. She managed to get by, which took a lot of strength.  She went to work in an orphanage, which was where my mother was raised.  My grandmother wasn’t an attentive mother, and was not able to give her children a very good childhood, but in those days there was no safety net, so the fact that she could keep the family off the street was saying something.  So I come from a line of some strong women.

My mother was someone that shouldn’t have had children; she should have had a career.  She was so smart and loved numbers and she wasn’t very maternal.  She grew up in an orphanage and didn’t have an easy childhood.  Then she found out her husband (my father) was having an affair in the last year of his life.  Then he died suddenly when I was seven and my sister was four.  She was disappointed in life.  She would have been much happier with a career than with children. (more…)

Krome Plated Activism

December 15, 2009

Margaret Krome is the policy director at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. She serves on the boards for the National Center for Appropriate Technology and the Wisconsin Board of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. She has been instrumental in efforts to promote local, sustainable food systems in the state. She spoke with Erstwhile Luddite about her experiences as was the first woman to lead sustainable agriculture policy efforts in Wisconsin.

Margaret Krome: Before we start I want to explain that although I suppose I was the first woman to do a number of things, that wasn’t my intent.  I’ve always believed that the sustainable agriculture movement was better when you didn’t try to be a trail blazer, when you are part of a group working together.  I came into my career at a time when the movement was starting, but being the first to do something wasn’t a goal. Had I recognized that I was the first on some things, I probably would have backed off a little because I think that when movements have people who start to self aggrandize, that’s a real problem.

Erstwhile Luddite: So noted. How did you get into the field of agriculture?
MK: I was an English lit major at UVA.  I loved botany but almost all the biology classes there were premed.  The exception was this biological station up in the mountains that I visited.  I became passionate for botany.  I graduated and did other things, but always tried to take botany and forestry classes.  Did you know the USDA has its own grad school?  When I was in Washington, D.C., I took classes there on agriculture and biology.

I was working for a time on a Legal Aid project.  I wasn’t an attorney, this was just a job I had to help me learn lobbying and pursue other interests.  It was a really good job, but I found myself clearly uncomfortable in Washington, it’s all about the star system, not the cooperative style that I prefer.  The attitude there is “If you can’t take credit for it, why bother?”  I was a good lobbyist, but I knew I couldn’t live there long-term.