My granddaughter, CaroleAnne, interviewed me for a college class assignment. All involved the past, historical events and culture that affected my life.
What was the biggest change in my lifetime and how did it affect me?
I grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm that was homesteaded three generations earlier by my German great grandparents. I had four siblings and attended a one-room rural school. Our family didn’t have electricity until I was four years old. I remember looking up at the kitchen ceiling when the lightbulb lit up for the first time. I was so scared that it would never come back on if someone turned off the switch. The great depression (1929-1939) affected the lives of almost everyone in a country and many people stood in bread lines to get food for their families. Almost everything we ate was grown on our farm. In 1937, my father said he spent $57 at the grocery store. We were a self-sufficient family. The depression did not affect us much.
How we worked, how we played, the kinds of medicine we had available, our education, technology, communication…everything that describes how people lived was different. I would like to concentrate on changes to women’s lives since that time. It was a very conservative time. Men and women had strict expectations for their roles in families and work. As a child on a dairy farm, girls worked as hard as boys. We were a family business. Boys were expected to grow up and inherit the farm and girls were expected to marry well. My father pointed out the richest farm boy and said I should get to know him. My mother said I should be a secretary in Milwaukee. There was some talk of boys going to college, but I was discouraged by teachers and parents. “Marry well,” was my instruction. Neighbors said if I went to the University of Wisconsin, I would become a communist. My grandparents said it was OK for boys to go to college, but money shouldn’t be wasted on girls. You were supposed to get married and stay married, regardless of how miserable you were. Many marriages began as “shotgun” marriages forced by inopportune pregnancies. There were laws against abortion, and the Catholic church to which we belonged did not allow contraception and held marriage to be a lifetime contract. I followed my heart and did go to college. There girls were expected to be teachers or nurses so they could adapt better to family life where they would have the main responsibility for taking care of children.
Today, girls can expect to have roles both as wives and as workers that are more expansive. Going to college is expected, in most families, to be available to girls and boys. Girls can have dreams beyond being a teacher or a nurse. Husbands and wives both contribute to the financial support of a family as well as the raising of children. Sometimes spouses are of the same sex, a completely ridiculous and dangerous idea in my childhood where homosexuality was viewed as a deviance, or minimally as a complex social problem, that was not discussed with children. While my childhood was conservative and comfortable, the lives of women have greatly improved and provide more options. My granddaughters expect to go to college and have broader expectations of what their life can be afterwards. I believe all people should have the opportunity to become whatever they are capable of being. It is a more complicated life (there are more options to consider) but it is more freeing for women, and I would agree it is also more freeing for men.
Remembering Rosie is a memoir I have been working on for a few years. I originally started writing it for my grandchildren. It is a story of my childhood on a Wisconsin dairy farm in the mid-20th century.
I expect it to be out in early 2021.
Great quotes of RBG
The great Supreme Court judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, died this weekend. Today I came across many of her powerfully inspiring quotes. One that struck me was, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
Anyone who has worked for social change knows this is true. It is hard to change hearts and minds. Social change happens incrementally, reached when you have changed most opponents’ minds and worn them out. Having worked for decades to end corporal punishment of children, I have heard people say, “So, get it banned. Get a big-time Senator to sponsor a bill and it will be done.” Alice Miller, the renowned Polish-born psychologist, writer, and researcher, suggested I get Teddy Kennedy to sponsor a bill in the U.S. Senate. It does not happen that way in our society. Getting endurable change means working through legislatures and courts securing consensus. Today, in a world where 128 countries ban school corporal punishment, the U.S. has banned it in 31 states. We are lagging behind protecting children. I helped get a ban in Ohio schools in 2009, an effort that took over 20 years. Along the road, we had stinging defeats and a few savored successes. Almost every education organization in Ohio opposed our efforts and we needed to get incremental restrictions on its use through more than a dozen bills before our opponents gave up. Ohio children can go to school without having an educator say, “Bend over and take your whacks.” One step at a time has led to a law that has not been challenged. Most young Ohio teachers are shocked that educators once struck children with boards.
It seems like the world is grinding to a halt with the advent of Covid-19. We are fearful, sheltered, and worried about family. I am thankful for the time it gives me to write and paint.
I am writing a book about growing up on a Wisconsin dairy farm in the 1950’s, a world before television and cell phones, a sheltered world of home, community and church.
Here is my “elevator speech” about REMEMBERING ROSIE:
A ten-year old Wisconsin farm girl watches her favorite cow Rosie being loaded on a truck and taken to slaughter. She vows never to be a farmer or a farmer’s wife. She is a fourth generation of German pioneer settlers in North Central Wisconsin. Despite having an often-idyllic childhood, by the 1950s, the country’s post-war optimism fed teenage Block’s hope of going to college to escape her barricaded and often small-minded world of farm, small community, and church.
Block’s quest of going to college is not encouraged by her family and teachers and there is no money to help her. She is the oldest of five children and feels she must lead the way. Take a trip through the good, bad, and ugly of dairy farm living in the 1950s as the author looks back with nostalgia on the childhood she wished to escape.