‘We’ve come a long way, baby’

Published 5:46 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2016

When I was a little girl, in the 1950s and into the 1960s, I told my father that I wanted to follow in his footsteps and join the local Rotary Club.

But he smiles and said that I couldn’t because Rotary International didn’t admit women.

After I was accepted to Duke University and was preparing to enter as a freshman, I was told it was a good place for females to go because of the ratio of male to female students and it was a good place to “hunt for a husband.”

Apparently, the quality of education and the opportunity for a female student wasn’t mentioned or given much thought.

When I told a friend that I wasn’t planning to major in education because I didn’t want to be a teacher, she asked me what in the world I planned to do.

After college, I was told that insurance work wasn’t “a suitable career for a woman” because I would have to walk through tobacco fields with farmers.

I thought of that remark when, as a newspaper reporter in Sanford in the mid-1970s, I was standing on the back of a flatbed truck at the Moore County Sheriff’s Department taking photos from a drug bust.

By then, the idea of a “suitable career for a woman” had begun to change.

It’s easy to forget that as recently as the 1960s, women were not allowed to eat at the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel unless they were accompanied by a man.

It was assumed, I suppose, that if they were there with other women they were either hookers or up to no good.

I have lived to witness many firsts for women – first female astronaut, many first female governors, first female vice presidential nominee, first female chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company, first female president of my alma mater, among many others.

Regardless of your political persuasion, and I’m not saying that women should vote for Hillary Clinton because she is a woman, Tuesday night was historic, particularly for women “of a certain age” like me who, as little girls, could not hope to eat rubber chicken at a Rotary Club meeting much less be nominated by a major political party as President of the United States.

What I am saying is that, as a woman who has faced gender discrimination – despite many, many advantages as a child and as an adult – and however trivial that discrimination may seem to some, I paused and recognized the history of this moment.

And cried many tears of joy.

As that advertisement said some 30 years ago, we have, indeed, “come a long way, baby!”

Betty Mitchell Gray is a former reporter of the Washington Daily News.