This is the interview that got me started collecting life histories. I was in my very first class in my doctoral program. It was a course in adult development, and since I knew I would be researching the effects of college on women’s self-esteem, I interviewed one of my students. That was in 1983, and I can still picture Gloria sitting in my office and telling me about her life.
When we met, Gloria was a 56 year old paraprofessional in the New York City public schools. She was the mother of three, active in church and community activities and was completing her Associates degree. I was her professor and interviewed her for a course I was taking. This is her story.
Gloria’s early childhood was divided between time with her mother in Harlem and an aunt in the South. She was independent and a bit rebellious and describes having run away from her mother’s home. She saw herself as not ready for marriage at 18:
I was never going to get married. Yup. I had this young man … we were supposed to get married, but I wasn’t ready. I ran away.
At 34, Gloria met her former fiance at a dance and agrees to marry him:
And I says to him, you know, I’m very sorry I ran away from you before. He says, “You’re not getting away from me this time.” And he was right.
And then I kind of felt like I’d been done an injustice, because we lived in Manhattan and I was going back to work and I’ commute … and he says to me we’re going to get a home … never dreaming he’s take me to hell and gone to Brooklyn! I was VERY unhappy ’cause I couldn’t go back to work.
Gloria enjoyed her children’s company, but wants to be back at work as well.
I’m very appreciative of the fact that I stayed home. Mothers don’t realize what they miss – the first walk, the first sound … I can’t say that my children were the happiest moment because with – I was so sick with Wendy and I didn’t even know it and with the boys (unexpected twins) I just couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t call that happiness, yet they’ve BROUGHT me happiness.
My … job was domestic engineer. What a drag! The cooking and the cleaning and the diapers and … oooh! I couldn’t WAIT to get back to work!
Despite her husband’s objections, she returned to work as a substitute paraprofessional:
I had to con him into letting me do that. As long as I was the old “mummy” around the house, it was fine. He complains to the children, “Mother’s always on the go.” but he never once stopped me … and I do want to have some time alone with him. Maybe we can do a little sparking … I wish it could have been different with him.
She felt that his use of “mummy” was deliberate – he liked to keep her all wrapped up. Gloria clearly was always a strong woman. her juggling multiple roles in the 50′s and 60′s was not the norm. Her return to school in her 50′s was a bold step.
But Gloria, as a result of a course that involved looking at career alternatives, took it a step further. She became involved in politics.
They decided I should run for the Area Policy Board. Joe (a professor) tried to warn me. Joe said “You’re going to have to wear many hats.” I said, “Joe, I will never wear but one hat.” It became a class lesson. He said, “If you want something for your people over here, you’re going to have to give something over there.” And I told him NO! I wasn’t going to be that kind of politician.
At the time of the interview, Paras were being phased out of the schools, but Gloria was clear she would continue to work.
Like I say, I’m 56, and I really don’t know which road I’m taking now … but I know I want to be with people … I know I see me helping – I want to reach people.
The last time I heard from Gloria, she had decided to use her people skills in the political arena. She moved on from Area Policy Board to a seat in the State Assembly by the time she was 60.
All these years later I remember her feistiness and her great compassion. She never let anything get in her way. She understood how many different ways she could use her strengths. And she went for what she loved.