I awoke that September
morning vividly aware I'd made two awful mistakes: I had agreed to
become a teacher at the worst elementary school in Oregon, and I had
made my father angry. Actually, the latter was the result of the former,
and both had to be faced that morning. No wonder I could hardly drag
myself out of bed.
But my sister Ruth was already dressed and on
her way downstairs, and noises came from my brother Fred's bedroom next
door, as well as from the kitchen downstairs.
I dressed in a hurry, pulling on woolen
underwear, long black stockings and black boots. Finally I put on my
petticoat and my new black dress. It had long puffed sleeves and a skirt
that bloused just below the knee and then continued down straight almost
to top of my boots. I had to walk in mincing steps to the mirror-that's
why they called them "hobble skirts"-and decided I really did
look grown up. I needed to: I was going off on a long train ride to my
very first job.
When I agreed to become a schoolmarm at a
logging camp in the mountains near Silverton, it didn't seem like such a
bad decision. I had to teach somewhere and all the "good"
schools were already spoken for. Besides, it paid enough so that next
year I could attend business college and learn to be a typewriter. I
could hardly wait to use one of those marvelous new typewriting
I brushed out my hair, twisted it into a figure
eight at the back of my head and pinned it in place. Then I dusted a
little powder on my face, and, as usual when I looked in the mirror,
wished my nose were smaller. Perhaps it would look smaller if I wore
rouge on my cheeks, but only "fast" girls wore rouge. I might
be defying Papa this morning, but I drew the line at looking
"fast." Besides, only vain girls wanted to be pretty; I wanted
to have character.
I went down the steps slowly and carefully,
because of the skirt, and stopped at the foot of the stairs.
Mother stood there. "Gladys, you've put on
your dress already, and your train doesn't go for hours yet."
"I know, but I wanted to get used to
walking in it."
"Well, come and have your breakfast then.
You are going to have breakfast, aren't you? You need the
nourishment, you know. You're too thin."
"You'd be prettier with a rounder face.
And boys like girls with a little meat on their bones."
I smiled. I had to admit my mother was pretty,
but she was also a little plump. "No, Mama, I'm not too thin; and I
don't want boys looking at my bones, meat or no meat. But I will have
breakfast. As you said last night, who knows when I'll get another good
"Well, it's true." Mama preceded me
into the warm kitchen, and went immediately to the stove.
"Finally," a husky voice muttered. As
I entered, I saw my brother and sister already seated at the table. Fred
was four years younger than I but his voice was already deep and manly.
Ruth, two years younger than I, sat sedately on the other side, hands in
her lap, but she was grinning, as if she and Fred had been joking about
I took my place at the table. "What are
you two laughing about this morning?"
Fred raised his head and, barely choking out
the words, said, "Are you wearing that dress on the train?"
and then collapsed into peals of laughter. Ruth joined him, and I felt
my face redden.
"It's the latest style, not that you'd
know." When they didn't answer, I said, "Haven't you anything
better to talk about? Like whether or not you have a job to go to
today." I let myself feel superior because Fred was still in high
school and Ruth had just graduated and went to teacher training classes.
"Ruth, Fred," my mother said,
"behave yourselves. Is that any way to treat your sister on the
last day you'll see her for ever so long?" She put a pitcher of
cream and a bowl of home-made applesauce on the table and stood over us,
hands on her sides. "You'll miss Gladys once she's gone. Let's make
this meal a pleasant one."
"Where's Papa?" I asked. "Did he
have to see a patient this morning?"
"No. He'll be here in a moment. He wanted
to send your trunk to the depot ahead of time."
My stomach made a flip-flop. I knew Papa was
still angry with me and yet he was seeing to my trunk, helping me on my
way even though he disapproved.
While we waited, Mama said, "I can't
believe it. My little girl going so far away. You don't know what it's
like outside of Portland. This is a big city. We have all the modern
"It's only a few hours away by
"That's just to Silverton. After that you
still have to get up into the mountains. No, my girl, a logging camp
must be almost like another civilization."
Fred said, "Why does everyone in this
family have to teach school anyway?"
"I won't be a schoolteacher forever,"
I told him. "I'm only doing it for one year."
"Teaching is a wonderful profession,"
Ruth said. "You get to help little children." She turned to
me, her blue eyes shining. "I'll bet you won't want to quit if they
keep paying you so much money."
"Fifty dollars a month isn't that
much." Secretly, I thought it was a fortune, but I couldn't admit
it. "But I'll make even more when I can work in a business
"A business office?" Fred said.
"That's for men."
"And women. This is 1913, you know, not
the Dark Ages. Now that Oregon women have the
vote, we can do anything
"You certainly can," Fred agreed.
"You have no trouble keeping them away from here." He laughed
loudly at his own joke.
"I could have dozens of beaus if I
"Of course you could," Mama said.
"Thin or not, you're prettier than Jenny Simmons and she's been
"Mama, it's not important to get engaged.
Or to have boyfriends. I don't want to get married for a long
"Your sister Clara is married. What's
wrong with that?"
"Mama, Clara is ten years older than I am.
I have plenty of time."
My words echoed in my ears, words I'd said many
times to my mother and my girlfriends, and, most of all, to myself. I
wanted a career first, but some day it would be nice to be married too.
I couldn't imagine life without a husband, someone smart and strong,
like Papa. My stomach knotted again at the thought that he was angry.
I'd had dates during my senior year at high
school and a few since, but usually never more than one with the same
boy. The ones my age were so silly. And, volunteering at the Suffragette
office seemed to send a message that I hated men. Which, of course, I
didn't. Just because I wanted to vote shouldn't make us enemies.
Besides, boys usually didn't ask me twice.
Jenny Simmons told me it was because I was smart and talked too much
when I was with them. "They like to do all the talking," Jenny
said. "If you just look up at them and listen, like they're the
greatest thing in the world, they love it. And you mustn't let them know
you're smarter than they are in anything, even though you are."
I didn't like that idea. That was lying and
deception. I wouldn't pretend to be something I wasn't, whether being
smart or anything else. And, like they'd said at the Suffragette
meetings, how were women going to take their proper place in the world,
if they didn't show they were as good as men?
While I was thinking this, Papa came into the
kitchen. He took his seat and we all lowered our heads for the blessing.
As soon as the prayer was over, Mama brought the double boiler full of
oatmeal to the table and ladled some into each bowl.
I looked over at my father, but he avoided my
gaze. I added cream and sugar to my oatmeal and took a spoonful. Finally
I said, "Thank you for sending my trunk to the depot."
"You shouldn't be going off like this--
that's a fact. But no one listens to fathers anymore." He
and resumed eating his breakfast.
"It's only for a year, Papa. Then I'll
have enough money to go to business school."
"Didn't I say I'd pay for that?"
"But you have to send Fred to college in
two years. And Mama made this new dress for me and you gave me a
beautiful watch for my birthday." I also knew he never pressed his
patients to pay their bills, but I didn't say that.
He shrugged. "Too independent and
stubborn, that's what you modern girls are."
Mama tried to smooth things between us.
"Now be nice to her, Theo. She's going to have enough problems
"Well, it's her own fault she's going up
to Hullt instead of a school in Portland. If she'd just made up her mind
sooner, she wouldn't have to take the last teacher's job on earth."
"Now, Papa, we've been over this before.
What's done is done and I'll be all right."
"Leave it to the young, no caution at all.
And you know the superintendent said it was a bad school. No teacher has
ever stayed there more than three months. You don't know what you're
"He wouldn't send me if he didn't think
I'd be all right."
"He'd send his mother to China if he
needed a teacher there."
Even though I knew I could cope and I liked the
challenge, my stomach churned at the anger in my father's voice. Yes, I
liked the idea of going away and having an adventure, but how could I
convince him I wasn't just being stubborn?
He took another slice of toast. "You've
been going to those Suffragette meetings when you could have been doing
something worthwhile to earn the money for business school."
"But, Papa, you know it was important for
women to get the vote. And now we have. I thought you wanted that
"Yes, yes," he mumbled.
I tried to relax. He had always been on our
side. He was only a little boy when his parents came out on the Oregon
Trail, but he remembered stories about the way the women worked right
alongside the men. He always said they deserved the vote. At least at
home. He probably didn't voice that opinion at the meetings of the
Official Board of the Centenary Methodist Church.
"As for teaching," I reminded him,
"I've been in the Teacher Training Class at Washington High for two
years. I studied for this."
"You can't study in advance for things you
know nothing about, like coping with savages."
"Are there really savages?" Ruth
"No, of course not," I said.
"If you were a boy instead of a girl, you
could be a doctor like Papa," Fred said. "But you could still
be a nurse."
I felt my temper rise. That was the whole
point: until now women had no careers except nursing and teaching. Once
we got into a business office, anything was possible.
Papa continued to glare at me. "Mark my
words, this is going to be more than you bargained for." He put
down his coffee cup. "Hurry up, now, you two, and get to school,
and you, Gladys, if you don't watch out, you'll miss the train and that
will be the end of your school-teaching before it's ever begun." He
rose and left the room.
Fred scrambled to his feet, scraping his chair
noisily on the wooden floor. He and Ruth kissed me on the cheek, mumbled
goodbye and headed for the door to go to school.
Mother and I put the dishes in the dishpan and
then she washed and I dried them and put them away in the cupboard. That
finished, I went upstairs again, which wasn't at all easy in the hobble
I looked around the bedroom Ruth and I shared,
at the flowered wallpaper, white ruffly Priscilla curtains at the
windows, and all my treasures. I wouldn't sleep here again for a long
time. I'd been only six weeks old when we moved into this house and
couldn't remember living anywhere else. Papa had taken my trunk, which
held everything I'd need at the mountain school, downstairs the night
before, but now I filled my carpetbag. That done, I wrote two short
letters to school chums, making my new job sound very exciting. Finally,
when it was time, I fastened my new black hat in place with long hat
pins and carefully made my way downstairs again.
Mama and I went to the closet for our coats and
my father picked up my bag to carry it to the station. We walked to the
corner and, when it clanged to a stop in front of us, boarded the
electric street car, all of us silent, strained.
At the depot, we trod onto the platform and
joined a few other people waiting for the train to Silverton and points
south. My father nodded or tipped his hat to them. He stood tall and
erect, hands clasped behind his back. I was proud, as always, to be his
daughter. If only he wasn't so upset about my going. The constant
clearing of his throat told me he wasn't his normal self. My mother kept
biting her lower lip.
Finally the train came around the curve and, at
the sight of it, I felt my face grow warm. At last my new life was
beginning. I turned to my parents, and couldn't believe my eyes. My
mother burst into tears. Father began to cry too, something I had never
"Mama, Papa, don't cry. I'll be all
The train chugged to a stop, bell clanging,
whistle blowing, steam curling around the engine. People boarded,
calling goodbyes. My father didn't say anything. Instead, he clutched me
to his chest.
"Papa, please," I said, pushing my
head up so I could breathe. "I have to go now." I pulled away
from him and then Mama clasped me fiercely, crying and saying something
"Please don't cry," I said again, but
my words sounded shaky. My voice cracked, and tears welled up in my
eyes. I wouldn't see my parents again until Christmas time. I'd miss
them. Papa was only angry because he was afraid for me.
I clung to Mama for a few more moments, then
pulled myself away and jumped on the step of the coach. I could hardly
see through my tears but I found an empty seat next to a window. Through
the glass, I saw my parents, handkerchiefs to faces, each waving with a
free hand. I tried to smile, but it felt like a clown's mask, dragging
down the corners of my mouth. I pulled my own handkerchief out of my
pocket and wiped my eyes.
I looked out the window again. What was that at
Papa's feet? Good heavens, my bag. I jumped up and dashed through the
coach, stumbled down the steps to the platform, almost tripping in my
tight skirt, snatched the carpetbag, gave each parent a quick kiss on
the cheek, and dashed back.
When he saw me, the conductor took my arm and
helped me aboard; then he signaled for the train to move. As it started
forward, I lurched to my seat, shoved my bag out of the aisle and waved
through the window until I could no longer see my mother and father.
Finally I managed to stop crying and wiped my
eyes again. My handkerchief was soaked through and I put it over the
back of the seat in front of me to dry. I glanced across the aisle and
saw an elderly couple smiling at me. They had seen it all. How
A smile tugged at the corner of my mouth. What
a start on my great adventure. I thought I was so grown-up, and then at
the last minute I cried like a baby.
I took a deep breath and looked at the watch
pinned to my dress. Twelve-forty-five. By five-thirty that night I'd be
in Silverton, have supper in the hotel and go straight to bed so I could
be up early to catch the logging train to Hullt. Then I'd go to my very
own schoolhouse. So what if no other teacher had ever stayed there more
than three months? Nothing would make me leave if I didn't want
And yet, perhaps Papa was right. The salary to
teach in Hullt was higher than for other schools. What horrible things
happened that made teachers leave in spite of that? What had I gotten
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