My grandma was a chemist and also a high school math teacher
My grandma spent most of her working life as a teacher, usually teaching high school math, but she didn’t enjoy teaching. She felt it was the only job she could get despite her education (multiple degrees) and experience in the early 1930′s. I heard many stories about how little she was paid compared with her male colleagues who had less education and experience than her. After she finished grad school she couldn’t find a job except as a teacher. When she worked as a teacher she didn’t make enough money to afford her own housing and had to live at home with her parents. The school district was paid money from the state for the schools and wages for teachers were based on their numbers of degrees, amount of education, and years of experience. The school district got more money for my grandma because she made multiple college degrees. They discriminated against her. They took most of the pay intended for her and, because she was a woman, gave most of her pay to her male colleagues. Her dad (my great-grandfather) fought back. He got on the school board in their town in Georgia to get equal pay for his daughter and partially succeeded. For fighting for his daughter’s equal pay, my great-grandfather is my hero.
When she moved from Georgia to San Francisco in the 1930′s she got a job as a chemist, one of her academic loves along with math, and lived on Russian Hill and worked at 5th/Market. She used to tell me stories of spice factories south of market, and, reminding me of the quote that Mark Twain never said, of wearing a fur coat in the cold summer, and using her government gas rations to take drives out of the city during the war. She never liked cold weather. She eventually lived in Modesto for much of her life where the weather better suited her.
She went back to teaching in Modesto and retired from teaching in the early 1980′s. While going through a large pile of photos and documents of hers I found her “Life Diploma” and Secondary Credential which represent, to me, her effort to do her absolute best given the circumstances and time she had to live in. Still, in Modesto, as a teacher, she told me stories of how she was paid less then her male colleagues who had equal or less experience and education.
CA Board of Education Life Diploma 1963
CA Board of Education Secondary Credential 1966
My grandma and me, Easter 1977
I read David Leonhardt’s interview with Obama in the April 28, 2009 NY Times magazine and was immediately reminded of my late grandma (Harriet Rasaka) when I read Obama’s answer to the question, “Would you also encourage men to become more comfortable working in fields that they traditionally have not? I mean, nursing is a very well-paying field. There’s a shortage there.”
THE PRESIDENT: I mean, nursing, teaching are all areas where we need more men. I’ve always said if we can get more men in the classroom, particularly in inner cities where a lot of young people don’t have fathers, that could be of enormous benefit.
Now, as you and I both know, in a lot of those fields they have been underpaid because they were predominantly women’s fields. And so part of what we have to do is to recognize that women are just as likely to be the primary bread earner, if not more likely, than men are today. As a consequence, eliminating the pay gap between men and women, and the pay gap between fields, becomes critically important. And we’ve already taken action, for example, with the Lilly Ledbetter bill (6) to try to move in that direction.
I think that if you start seeing nursing pay better and teaching pay better, and some of these other professions, you’re going to see more men in those fields, although there’s a little bit of a chicken and an egg — if you start getting more men in those fields, then the stereotypes about this being a woman’s field and all the gender stereotypes that arise out of thinking that somehow they’re not the primary breadwinner, those stereotypes start being whittled away.