Friday, June 30, 2017

June 30, 3017--Lady of Forest Trace

Two days ago would have been my mother's 109th birthday. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of her death.

My emotions this week have been saturated with thoughts of her. And memories. Memories including  her days as an elementary school teacher. She was from that generation of great teachers, talented women for whom teaching was one of the few available professional paths. Those of us who were among their students were more than fortunate.

I know I am not objective, but she stood out even among her remarkable colleagues. Even today I am frequently asked by someone about my age who learns my unusual last name if I am, perhaps, related to Ray Zwerling. Ray Zwerling, who was their first grade teacher, they tell me, and who through her gifts and caring changed their lives.

Mine was affected as well. Daily. Even today.

And now, with her no longer here, in reflection and advancing age, I am reminded about one of her stories. How in her day, if a women became pregnant, she was required to reveal that to her principal (all men) and immediately go on maternity leave.

I have been rereading this week Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States, a progressive alternative to the rosy history we all were taught in public school. In the 13th chapter, "The Socialist Challenge," he turns attention to the limited role of women as late as the early 20th century. To illustrate, he quotes from a year 1900 list of "Rules for Female Teachers" posted by a school district in Massachusetts. A list my mother likely still largely found to be enforced when she began to teach in Brooklyn in the early 1930s--
1. Do not get married. [She married shortly after she began to teach.]
2. Do not leave town without permission of the school board.
3. Do not keep company with men. [I know she ignored this one!]
4. Be home between the hours of 8 P.M. and 6 A.M. [Ditto.]
5. Do not loiter downtown in ice cream stores. [Another rule I am certain she ignored--ice cream was one of her passions.]
6. Do not smoke. [She smoked Chesterfields.]
7. Do not get into a carriage with any man except your father or brother.
8. Do not dress in bright clothes. [She loved bright clothes.]
9. Do not dye your hair. [She did so in the late 1940s when my brother asked, as her hair began to turn gray, if she was "going to die soon."]
10. Do not wear any dress more than two inches above the ankle.
The constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote was ratified in 1920 when she was 12 years old.

When I left the Ford Foundation, in my farewell comments, I said the reason I became an educator was so I could help all children have my mother for a teacher. If only that could be.

Mom at 102

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