My Work History
My Grandmother, Cecile Foster, was born in 1925. She got her first job at sixteen years old, working at a Woolworth’s dime store. She remembers that this dime store had a sandwich bar that did not serve African-Americans. Every time I talk to my Grandma about her teenage years, I am astounded at how much has change in less than a century. When I was sixteen, I got my first job waiting tables at a local restaurant. I have waited on many different types of people, never really thinking about the fact that, if I had been working earlier in time, some of these people wouldn’t be let in the door.
After my Grandma was married, she worked for a short time as a waitress as well, before moving on to the Martin Company located in Maryland. Her job there was to be a timekeeper. Every day she would walk through the plant to the different employees riveting airplanes and get the batch numbers of what they were working on and their hours for the office. I have never worked in a place that did not have an automated time clock. During my conversation with my Grandma, I reflected on the amount of honesty that was expected from her and all the other employees. A timekeeper position, with the technological advances in these last few decades, would be obsolete in this day and age.
My Grandma remembers her first pair of pants were navy corduroy slacks. “Once women got into pants you never got them out of pants!” She said. Her job required her to wear slacks because she was on her feet most of the day, and a dress would have been a hindrance. I love dresses, but can’t imagine having to wear them every day! It is liberating to think that as women we now have the choice to wear pants or skirts.
I was curious to know what kind of job security my Grandma had. She told me that if you got sick and had to call in, you had better come back with a doctor’s note. There was no such thing as “sick leave.” If you didn’t have a note, it was grounds for termination. My Grandma worked for the Martin Company during World War II, which my Grandfather, William (Willy) Foster, was serving in at the time. With a laugh, she recalled that on two separate occasions she skipped work to spend time with him when he was home, and on both those occasions she was fired. When she returned, all she had to say was “Call my boss!” who knew her situation, and she was rehired on the spot.
When she was 21, my Grandma became pregnant with her first child, my aunt. My Grandpa didn’t know about the pregnancy until three months afterwards because of deployment to Germany. Like any expectant mother, she was excited to tell her friends at work the good news. What she didn’t know was that her job had been deemed too dangerous for a pregnant woman to complete. She spent the majority of her day walking around boxes, up steps, and around large aircraft. Somehow her boss found out about her pregnancy, asked her to come into his office, and, as she says, “That was the end of that.” There was no such thing as maternity leave, even for a valued worker like my Grandma. She never went back to work for the Martin Company.
My aunt, Carol, was born in November of 1945. Apparently, my Grandpa was very disappointed that he had come 3,000 miles from Texas (where he was stationed) to see his boy, who happened to be a girl. After her birth, my Grandma didn’t work until my aunt was about six years old. When she did reenter the workforce, she worked at the Bendix Corporation on an assembly line making radios. I’m sure much of the work that she and her peers were doing is today automated by machines, or by the hands of people in another country. The radios, essentially just metal boxes, would go down a line, and each woman would have a specific circuit to connect or job to do. When the radio got to the end of the line, it was tested. The rejects were thrown in a pile and the rest went off to be packaged.
I asked my Grandma if she had any advice for me about working today. She told me getting an education was important, because nowadays you have to have a skill to get a job. She said that back when she was younger, you could simply go out and “get” a job—no education or specialization was really required. You would be hard pressed to find a job like that in 2012. All you needed back in the 1940s was “common sense” which my Grandpa had a lot of, and passed it on to my Dad. I hope I, as next in line, got some of that common sense too!
Sadly, my Grandpa Foster passed away shortly before I was born. I instead decided to interview my Dad. He had a very positive attitude toward women in the workplace. He believes that women can offer insight and powerful suggestions, and that there needs to be a balance of women and men in order to run a business successfully. He is glad that women have become more prevalent in the workforce than they were even twenty years ago, and has always supported my interest in entering the field and getting an education.
When I asked my Dad for some advice, he repeated what he told me before I left for college, “Do what you love, don’t do anything for the money.” Dad firmly believes that loving your career is more important than your income, and I’m inclined to agree. “When you do something you love,” He explained, “The money doesn’t matter, because it becomes more than just a job for you.”
After speaking with my Grandma and my Dad, I feel refreshed about my decision to enter into my career field. I do feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude toward not only the women who made it possible for me to be attending college, but to my family for always pushing and supporting me becoming self-reliant and finding a career I love. Coming from Appalachia, an area of the country where women are, to a point, still expected to be “around the home,” I am grateful that my parents were so adamant about me getting out into the world. I know many girls, most of whom I attended high school with, who have gotten married or even started families shortly after graduating. They have not continued their education, and have become almost completely dependent on their spouses or parents. This is not a life I would have wanted for myself, and I am glad that I was shown other options. I loved hearing my Grandma’s stories about her life in the 1940s and 50s, and am astounded at how many more opportunities I will have that she did not. It inspires me to exercise those opportunities as much as possible.