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Thursday, June 13, 2013

57

Interview with a One-Time "Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow"

In 1968, Sandra Jones won her high school’s "Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow" Award. She did this by proving her literacy in the realm of "childcare, family relationships, money management, household upkeep and morality," but she tells me – her daughter – that she was just good at taking tests.

Though domestically savvy, my mom only applied her homemaking skills in her off hours. She was an architect who traveled all over Alaska working on schools and military facilities and made partner before I was born. So, growing up, it never occurred to me that some people still might think women were less equipped to lead than men. Why would it? My mom was the boss, despite having grown up in a time and place (the Oregon Coast) where men were loggers and millworkers and women were nurses and grocery store clerks. When she started high school, the district had just newly introduced competitive sports for girls, and General Mills was still sponsoring these contests for young ladies who could shine in the area of "hearth and home." Equality was not a given for my mother, but somehow she made it so.

As I bushwhack my way into my own career, I've become more and more curious about my mom's early homemaking triumph and the impressive career that followed. I spoke with her recently about why and how things played out the way they did after she'd received the Betty Crocker award.

How were you selected as Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow?

There was a written test. It took less than an hour, it was multiple choice. Everybody [only girls] took it at the same time, like we were taking the SAT.

What was on the test?

I remember some questions about child rearing – probably other questions about nutrition, meal preparation, family budgeting.

Do you remember any questions specifically?

Yeah.

You’re having a dinner party and you notice your husband has a spot on his tie. What do you do?

A) Point and laugh and make a big noise about it.

B) Quietly let him know.

C) Ignore it because you can’t do anything about it.

It was a tough question. Obviously, point and laugh is not the right answer. But if you can’t do anything about it, is it better to let it be, or should you let him know?

What happened when you won the award?

I got this little silver heart that said "Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow" and there was a write up in the paper.

Were you excited?

I liked the silver pendant.

Did you ever actually want to be a homemaker?

No, never.

What did your mom think about careers and education?

My mom used to say, “Oh, if you went to the University of Oregon you could take secretarial science.” That was a legitimate degree at the time. I know she'd wanted to be a nurse but didn’t have the money to go to nursing school. She wound up working after high school and then going into the Women’s Army Corp, so I think she recognized the importance of education.

How about your dad?

He respected women who worked. Certainly, there were plenty of men in that era who were like, "A woman’s place is in the home." But how could he have thought like that when my mom was in the service in World War II, in places that were being attacked? He was in the navy but he never got fired on – it was my mom that did.

When did you know you wanted to be an architect?

Probably about sixth grade. I was always looking at the house plans my dad (a plumber) would bring home. From my dad's work, I knew there were hardly any women in construction, and that being a general contractor as a woman would have been extremely difficult. But I thought as an architect I could still be involved.

In high school I remember we had to do career reports, and at the time I think four percent of architects in the U.S. were women. A pretty small percentage, but it was possible.

How many women were there in the architecture program at the University of Oregon?

There were six other women in my class that I knew of.

You were in college in the late sixties/early seventies. What was your relationship to the feminist movement?

I read Ms. Magazine on a regular basis. It had just come out. Some of the articles really made sense to me and sometimes I would read things and think, "That's just wrong."

I think the biggest disagreement I had with anything in the women’s movement was the anti-male aspect of it. You can embrace change without fighting the people you’re going to be working with.

What were the impediments to women who wanted to enter architecture?

If you were trying to get commissions, there was more trust in men. People with the money – the superintendents of the schools – they were mostly men, so they gravitated towards giving power to other men. But I think [my partner] Jon Kumin and I were very good at interviews.

Has that changed over time?

If you’re trying to go after big commissions, I think it’s still pretty male dominated. It’s easy to be a woman that’s on a team that includes men, but I think if you went into a meeting with an all-women team, people will still think you're not going to cut it. There are obviously some women architects who have been very successful, but those are the superstars.

Did you worry about how having kids would affect your success?

No.

But you didn’t start until you were 37. Your career might have been different if you’d had my little brothers or me earlier.

I wasn't in a rush to have kids, and I knew my career definitely would have slowed down if I’d stayed home. But I also wouldn’t have wanted to select a career that meant I had to forgo kids and family.

Do you think women who value their careers should delay children?

Not necessarily. The career is still going to be there if you want to work at it. I think there are clearly some advantages to having kids younger, but I’m not sorry about what I did. It worked out fine!

It probably helped that you and Dad were equal partners in the household stuff?

We were. Dad didn’t enjoy accounting so he was more than happy to cut back his hours and pick you guys up from school.

Do you think you would have been happy as a homemaker?

Hypothetically, sure.

Would you have felt like you missed out?

Oh, probably. But there are other questions in that homemaker question – when? where? how much money do we have? how many kids? Careers can be overrated – when you're working full-time there's less time to be a volunteer in the community and of course you have less time to spend with your kids. I certainly would not have been happy as a homemaker with no money and a passel of kids who needed braces.

It really just depends. I will say that being a stay-at-home mom, if you have adequate income, does offer a lot of freedom. I think my mom was a good role model for me – she was a homemaker, but she also answered the phone and did the books for my dad’s business. She was on the PTA, school board, the Lady Elks. She had a lot of community involvement, and most importantly, she was happy.

Leslie Anne Jones is a writer and editor. She spent three years working in Shanghai and Beijing and is presently based on the Oregon Coast.



57 Comments / Post A Comment

iceberg

Ahh this is great! Interview With A Mom.

What a great role model. I liked how she was respectful of homemakers without wanting to be one and what she said about not man-hating too.

fondue with cheddar

@iceberg She is the perfect lady. Badass and super nice.

Heat Signature

OMG OMG OMG!!!! My mother won this contest too, and we're always joking about her "homemaking" skills because she doesn't really enjoy cooking or sewing or other "domestic arts". The funny thing is, she is ALSO good at taking tests and that's the only reason she won it. There was another girl in her class who really wanted to win the contest because she loved all that stuff, but didn't get it and became my mother's sworn enemy from that day on.

RK Fire

@Heat Signature There was another girl in her class who really wanted to win the contest because she loved all that stuff, but didn't get it and became my mother's sworn enemy from that day on.

Hahahaha, now I'm imagining your mom's sworn enemy trying to plan pranks with bad cupcakes or something similar..

fondue with cheddar

@RK Fire Like secretly switching her chocolate frosting with carob?

EpWs

@fondue with cheddar UNFORGIVABLE

adorable-eggplant

@fondue with cheddar Gives a cup of salt when she asks to borrow a cup of sugar. Fremenies4lyf.

SmartCookie

@RK Fire I vaguely remember a Saved by the Bell episode where Zach sabotages a bake-off by messing with the oven temperature. I'm sure it was exactly like that.

themidnightrambler

@Heat Signature My mom won this award as a 12th grader in 1972 and we always make fun of her too! She hates cooking and, other than sewing a Halloween costume for me in 1st grade, refuses to have anything to do with sewing.

She also has the same silver heart pendant. She told me one of the short answer questions was about what to do with stale corn flakes--she responded, "put them in the oven to freshen them up". She's convinced that was the answer that put her on the path to victory.

queenofbithynia

"Obviously, point and laugh is not the right answer."

it's just like they say, the past really is a different country.

milenakent

ED RULES THA WORLDD!@n

frigwiggin

More Interviews With Moms, please. This was great to read.

OhMarie

@frigwiggin Yeah, I really enjoyed it! I want to go interview my mom now!

iceberg

@frigwiggin I think interviews with Grandmas would be amazing too, just throwin' it out there for any of y'all that still have one!

lora.bee

@iceberg I basically interviewed my grandma every night for a week one summer. We were both staying at my uncle & aunt's, and every night after dinner just my gma & I would stay the table with our hot chocolate and ginger snaps, and she would tell me about being separated from her sisters in Scotland during WWII when they were all sent out to the country, or how the manager at a fast food place she worked at when her kids were young was coming on to her, so she "belted him!" And then got fired.

I should have recorded it, or written everything down. But it still means so much to me. I miss you, Betty!

churlishgreen

@iceberg I no longer have grandmothers (or, sadly, my mother) but this reminds me of a time some years ago when my mom, her sister (my aunt) and I spent an afternoon with my great Aunt Winnie, my grandmother's sister, who was in her late 90s.

She regaled us with stories of how she and my grandma came from County Sligo to the US on a boat. On impulse, they decided to go all the way to Michigan, instead of disembarking in Canada as planned, because of some fun people on the boat.

Technically, they were illegal immigrants and a fellow they met at the Gaelic League turned them in (somehow they worked it out and stayed). But I vividly remember her saying, in her still-thick brogue, still deeply annoyed after many decades, "I'd never trust a Kerry man after that!"

Related: Saturday I am going to my husband's grandmother's 100th birthday party...

chevyvan

@lora.bee My grandmother told me stories about moving from her small town to the "big city" during WWII, her job cleaning houses, how she had an apartment with her sister and sailors would come into port and it was a big party and then the sailors would crash with them on the weekends (but if it was anything more than innocent they she didn't tell me). It was so fun hearing those stories from her, especially b/c my mother met my dad in high school and essentially never had a single life.

MissMushkila

@frigwiggin I interviewed my maternal grandmother for a college project. She wanted to be a doctor, but her parents told her women weren't doctors, so she went to nursing school. As soon as she was done she married my grandfather, who was a medical officer in the navy. He was very Catholic, and my grandmother took his religion when they married.

My grandma had 7 kids, and then my grandfather (who was suffering with some mental illness issues) had the marriage annulled and she raised all seven of them on a nurse's salary pretty much alone.

She has some very strong opinions on access to birth control and women's right to abortion, which took me off guard when I interviewed her as an adult (she has stayed with the Catholic church and attends every Sunday). Although I guess it makes sense with her life story. She gets really angry at people advocating to do away with abortion, because she says she worked before and after it was legal and saw so many women coming in dying because they were desperate.

MarcusBrody

I had to register today to thank you for this WONDERFUL interview! I'm so happy to hear your mother's point of view because this feels so TRUE! Everyone's choices are valid, don't hate people you have to work with, and find ways to make yourself happy. Very wise and applicable words to live by.

Linette

I think my favorite part of this is how blase she is about everything, during a time when feminism was a Big Deal. She's just like, "Yeah, I figured I would do whatever seemed like a good idea to me at the time, and be a generally excellent person, and enjoy whatever turns my life took. Worked out pretty good."

"But what about other people's expectations?"

" . . . I don't think I understand the question."

I aspire to be this lady in my life.

TheBelleWitch

@Linette Same! I love the laid-back vibe. F the Mommy Wars, everything's got pros and cons, do whatever works.

Lu2
Lu2

@Linette "I don't understand the question, and I won't respond to it." #LucilleBluth
<3

chevyvan

@Linette I think a lot of women from that generation have that blase attitude. It's a nice reminder not to freak out so much over everything. I think it's something that must come with age & experience and watching history happen and repeat itself...

sceps yarx

@Linette "...and most importantly, she was happy." Wow!

yeah-elle

This was a really great interview, and I love the idea of mom interviews.

RoxxieRae

This mom is my kind of practical, can-do lady. My mama is the same way, though not really career-oriented at all. It's just that greast spirit of doing things because "of course I can do that, why wouldn't I be able to do that?" I LOVE THIS, thank you for sharing your awesome mum with us, Leslie Ann Jones!

SmartCookie

Mom interviews are great. Let's interview everyone:
Interview with a grandma!
Interview with a coworker/mentor!
Interview with a prolific 'pin commenter!
etc...

iceberg

@SmartCookie put up the Jia-signal!

iceberg

@SmartCookie I could interview the Bergy Bits, but they'd probably just tell me to go away and/or interrupt with requests for juice.

par_parenthese

@iceberg Interview With Triplets, where you just holler a question and write down the response of whoever is streaking by you at the moment.

j-i-a

@iceberg "Let's interview everyone" is the title of my Lifetime movie. Got some stuff in the works U KNOW IT

sceps yarx

@SmartCookie I like the interviewing because it's about a specific lady, not a hypothetical every-lady. Since we are all real people and none of us are hypothetical, I think it fits our demographic.

HeckYes

My mom has a degree in Secretarial Science! She's an impressively fast typer.

SarcasticFringehead

@HeckYes I mean, it's terrible that women were directed toward certain degrees and certain jobs, and I'm not sure it would merit an entire four years (if it was a four-year degree), but there are a LOT of people who are coming in to office jobs with no actual office skills like typing and using Word, and I feel like a couple classes on that kind of thing would be really helpful.

RebeccaKW

@SarcasticFringehead I agree. An "office skills" course or something would be excellent. As 'technologically advanced' as the young people of today are, they really are lacking in a lot of skills needed in an office. (I love the Jack in the Box commercial with the social media intern who thinks the copy machine is a tanning bed)

sceps yarx

@HeckYes Dude, I kind of think it's the same way with home ec classes. Everyone needs to know how to cook at least a little bit!

par_parenthese

@SarcasticFringehead I totally wish secretarial courses were still a thing (renamed "office administration courses" or something) because dude, that is a completely legit career choice for dudes and ladies alike. I took a summer class on using all the Office programs and while it was probably the easiest A I ever got, I learned some really valuable things like computer file organization and basic Excel formatting and those skills have served me well in my life/jobs.

RebeccaKW

@par_parenthese Yes. I am a business assistant, and the other business assistant in my office is retiring. We are getting lots of recent college grads applying, but then they come in and we give them a basic Excel quiz, and they can't do it. And yes, dudes can do this job too. Although not according to my boss-he was discussing the applicants with me, said a man had applied and there was no way he could see hiring a man to do this job because 'there are just some jobs men don't do.' Um.

par_parenthese

@RebeccaKW Were you all, "See how the patriarchy hurts everyone, bro?"

Slutface

@par_parenthese I have a degree in accounting, but I work as a secretary. I've worked here for almost ten years and love my job. I could probably make more money, but I have a pension and I'm comfortable where I am. I think the role of secretarys or administrative assistants is important and it bugs me that people mock the idea of secretarial science. Especially since it was one of the only ways for women to make a living not too long ago. Anyway, this string of comments made me happy because it sounds like you guys recognize how important admins are :)

oh! valencia

I loved this interview. I want to be Leslie's mom when I grow up. I've always wanted to be an architect but now that I am 28 and working a low-stakes job with kids at home already, I don't think I have the drive or focus to make it happen. I'm a terrible multi-task-er. (Also I would love the designing part but hate the meetings-pitches-proposals part.) I still wonder if I might be able to do something like it later in life.
Although I am currently in the construction industry, and it is still not super-friendly to women. Wish I could get to an elevated place about it like this awesome lady.

Erryoudite

@oh! valencia
I am being an architect RIGHT NOW (or would be if I wasn't on the HP, obvs.)and although there is a lot of school (you pretty much have to get a masters to become a registered architect anywhere in North America) it is a great job in that you can practice up to and beyond retirement age. The cut-off for being a 'young' architect is about 40.

oh! valencia

@Erryoudite Thank you, that is extremely encouraging!

Apocalypstick

Such a great article!

Briony Fields

Love, love love everything about this BAMF lady and this interview! What a great read after a long day. Thanks, Leslie and Sandra!

banksters

I remember when my mom went from Calabasas homemaker to Calabasas real estate agent. She still made every soccer game and school play, and she sold million dollar homes. Architect by day, homemaker by night. Good for you Ms. Jones!

sbizzle

Ooh your mom and my mom were at U of O at the same time! And were working women and started having kids at the same time! Although my mom was in paper, less cool than architecture.

raspberryfool

This was delightful!

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Sandra Jones is a great inspiration of many women specially who are on the project managing. - IT project manager resume sample

MS
MS

I have used being my high school's "homemaker of tomorrow" as the "one thing no one would ever guess about me" for years. In 1974, the test got me out of another class for an hour and was worth it. I had family and career and still don't know what to say when young women ask how you balance it all. You get up every day and do the best you can.

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