My Compass Points in Many Directions (1966-1973)

  Without a Clue

Suddenly many changes were taking place in my life. I had left the convent when I was 35, little prepared for the outside world. Yet I was thrown into a complex world where I was expected to know the ropes, but in fact, although I knew my way around the academic world, I was a complete neophyte when it came to many other areas--like managing my finances and activating my social life. While pursuing a PhD, I was also in search of a husband, though I wouldn’t have admitted that. Coming from a family where all the women married, and only the men worked, I assumed that I should marry, now that my only reason for remaining single—the religious life—no longer existed. I assumed that all married women had ideal marriages. And I assumed that my husband would be everything I wanted in a partner—a traveling companion, a best friend, cultured, intelligent, generous, witty, sociable, active, an intellectual. I was a romantic and an idealist. My search began.

I arrayed myself in fashionable clothes, adopted the latest hair style, went to parties and events to meet people—all things I hadn’t worried about in the convent. My mother who loved to shop, bought me new clothes when I was in KC and gave me some of her expensive outfits. I adopted the latest hairdo, sought out vivid colors, avoiding anything black. I look back at pictures of myself in the late sixties and wonder –who is that woman with the big hair?

I sought out social groups where I could meet appropriate men-- the Catholic Alumni Club, the Unitarian Church social group, the Council on Foreign Relations. I revived my tennis game. Manhunting was completely beyond me. Whenever I met someone, I was clueless. I turned to my sister Carol, a young “society matron,” for guidance and insight.

  Becoming Disillusioned

My search turned up very few men. Most of the appropriate men had already settled down; those who hadn’t had other problems. But the main problem was me. My self-doubts came back to haunt me. Was I a scholar or was I a fun-loving swinging single? Was I asking too much? Fortunate are those who marry when they are young and haven’t realized what they want in life and so have few demands. At 35 I had many demands and was very critical. This man was too boring. That one was a know-it-all. Another was a show off. Several seemed stupid, with no imagination or sense of humor. Was I asking too much to want someone to be well-read, creative, cultured, athletic, well-traveled, and amusing who liked plays and concerts? I had known many students on their way to becoming these things; where were their grown-up counterparts?

I was so naive that I was truly shocked to discover that men were chiefly interested in sex. I started my search in the late Sixties, when women were assumed to want all the things men wanted--sex without commitment. “Free love,” excess, drugs, experimentation were part of the swinging-single lifestyle, but they were not what I wanted. This may have been the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, and I may have looked the part of an Aquarian, in my bright clothes and bouffant hair, but men were no doubt surprised to learn that I was getting a PhD at the University of Chicago, not exactly a lively spot for swingers.

  Remaining Single

Tony appeared to be the one, briefly.

After a number of tries at the dating scene I got over my tendency to regard married life as ideal. I have a tendency to think the grass as greener on the other side, to overestimate what others have and underestimate what I have. As I witnessed married lives, I realized that women were not getting everything they needed from their husbands. Women needed emotional confidants and often found them in other women, not in their husbands. Women who needed intellectual stimulation often had to look elsewhere than to their husbands. Women who needed travel and stimulation were traveling with other women because their husbands didn’t like to travel. Women who needed culture were going to theatre or concerts with women friends (or not going at all) because their husbands didn’t like those things. I had hoped that a husband would be an expander in my life —as I had seen in my own family where my brother and brothers-in-law enriched their wives lives by their own, yet I saw too that it was often the woman who had to expand her husband's life. next:

With my dissertation topic accepted, I was ABD, all-but-dissertation. My enthusiasm was high, so why did it take me until 1973 to finish my dissertation? Once I had done my research, before I had a thesis, my curiosity on that front peaked. I do art for fun; I write out of duty. Now that my station in life (a PhD candidate) was secure, I turned my attention to catching up with my other agendas. So many other things I wanted to do—work, travel, have a social life, do art, do sports, etc. My desire to expand my life, the desire that had led me out of the convent, urged me to open my life in many different directions.

That fall of 1967 I got a part time teaching position (2 classes) at the YMCA Junior College, for something like $450/course. (That seemed like a reasonable amount to me at the time, since my last paycheck in 1952, working for my dad, had been $40 a week )

Travel was another item on my agenda. When I went to KC for a visit that August, I learned that my adored brother Joe and his wife Pat were planning a three week trip to Spain and Portugal. Who better to travel with than Joe and Pat? I convinced them that I would be a great companion--we all loved history and art and were open to adventure, weren’t we? Splitting the car costs 3 ways would help their finances. They agreed to have me and Mother agreed to fund me, so I signed on their trip and found a substitute for the weeks I would miss teaching. (See Travels with My Brother Joe )

Moving to South Shore

Once I got a full time job at Chicago State I had to have a car, so I bought my first car (a used VW). I couldn’t afford the rents in Hyde Park so looked for another place. Apartments on the north side were even less affordable than Hyde Park. I looked in the suburbs, but really wanted to remain near the University of Chicago (since I still had to write my dissertation). I found a large one-bedroom at 2302 E. 70th Place in South Shore.

South Shore was an attractive area along the lakefront south of 67th Street. It had affordable big apartments; the lake; 71st St. a nice shopping area; a commuter train running right through it; the lovely old South Shore Country Club with its beautiful building, golf course, riding stables, and beach--for years home to social activities for the community’s rich.When I moved to South Shore it was a transitional neighborhood. Blacks had moved in and whites were fleeing, so there was a sort of unofficial screening going on by the South Shore Commission, intended to keep whites from fleeing by directing white tenants to “white buildings” and black tenants to black. My all-white building was fully occupied when I moved in.

My parents, who had given me some of the furniture they couldn’t use when they sold the house on Seneca and moved into the Regency Apts on the Plaza in KC, came to visit me to see how I was settling in. My mother, upon whom nothing was lost, wrote me a letter which I still have, lamenting that I was burying myself alive—who would want to come visit me there? My rebellious soul asserted itself; I thought I was having a lively social life. To her I was hardly expanding my life, but to me, what did the neighborhood matter? I had many visitors and parties and holiday open houses while I lived there.

Drugs moved into South Shore along 71st Street during the late 60's and early 70's. . Nice shops like Josephs’ Shoe Salon and Emily’s Boutique moved out. I had moved from the protective arms of the convent and the University of Chicago right into the midst of a problem area, where a changing population and drugs were all mixed up together. I did not know enough to turn around and flee to the suburbs. I stayed there and watched it happen around me. Perhaps I was naïve; perhaps my liberal inclinations got the best of me.

I didn't care where I lived, because my social life was active. My friends understood that iffy neighborhoods were the price of living in Chicago. There were parties or dinners out, every weekend it seemed. Our English faculty was very social--Bob Meredith, Irv Suloway, Johnine Miller, Margaret Duggar, Alice Barter, Babette Inglehart, Jesse Green, Jim Doppke, Jan Pinkerton, Regina Poulard, Virginia McDavid, Bob Lambert, Peter Arnold, Rosemary Hake—all of us had open houses or parties. We liked getting together for dinner in Greek Town or the other ethnic neighborhoods. I looked forward to my annual Holiday open house in December, before I went to Kansas City.

In those days I usually taught night courses at our university’s West Center and would get home after 10 p.m. I counted on finding a parking place near my apartment, but one night, even I had a scare. A tall black man followed me into the vestibule of my building, pretending he was coming to visit someone (there were no blacks living there). I barely got my key in the door and shut the door in his face. Did he intend to rob me? I’m glad I never found out. My all-white building that was fully occupied when I moved in, gradually became vacant. I was the only tenant left when I moved out 4 years later. Our Croatian janitor bought the whole 21 units for $61,000.

Partying, Sewing, Knitting, Batiking, Tennis

With Johnine Miller, Rosemary and Tom Hake
Johnine, Mary Rose, Rosemary and Tom Hake

Since I had so many places to go, I needed to expand my wardrobe. My interest in fashion had revived as soon as I left the convent. I bought a sewing maching and made many of my clothes—pant suits were then the rage, and bright colors like hot pink. Magenta and shades of red became my favorite color. And I knitted-- sweaters, a beautiful long dress which I can no longer wear but cannot give away. I always wanted to have some exotic touch.

I even made tennis clothes as I was playing tennis again—every Sunday in fact. I got my hair set (and tinted) every Saturday at the beauty parlor on 71 st for my Saturday nights out. I must have looked strange playing tennis on Sundays, wearing a french roll. Perhaps a tiara?

Dor and Dick McMahon


With Dor and Dick McMahon

Those were the days when we were all crafters, and there are few arts or crafts I won't try. In those years it was knitting, and macrame, then batik with Kokilam, an Indian woman, every week, along with Dorothy Perrin.

I also travelled whenever I could, to Kansas City for holidays and to somewhere else after Christmas. One of my most important visits was to Florida to visit my dear friend Dorothy Murnane who had left the community in 1970, and settled in Florida, where she met Dick McMahon, and married him in 1971. Dick was from Louisville and was the ideal husband for Dor--chivalrous, supportive, enthusiastic, social. They made an ideal couple. She had chosen Florida, as I had chosen Chicago, and that made all the difference.

Suddenly an Operation

The summer of 1971 as usual I taught classes, as I have “payday” written in my diary every other Friday. My calendar from 1971 shows me doing an amazing number of things-- outdoor operas, concerts, plays and movies, dinners, parties, tennis, batik, and ominously-- regular visits to my doctor.

Suddenly in the midst of all my running about, I had to stop and have a gynecological operation. Dr. Sandberg had discovered some fibroid tumors. My mother came to stay with me, followed by my dad a few days later, as he could not stand to be home without her. Into Illinois Central Hospital on Stony Island I went on August 12. When I awoke, Dr. Sandberg told me Dr. Lathorp had taken out everything--my uterus, ovaries, tubes, cervix. The tumors had not been cancerous, but it was understood that a 40 year old unmarried woman didn’t need her womb anyway. The good news was that the doctor had also taken my appendix, which was very inflamed. If I hadn’t had the surgery I might have had a ruptured appendix.

Pussies Galore

Feather, my first cat.

Meanwhile, I was having a cat drama. I loved cats. I had two at the time—Feather a female calico, and Blackberry, a black male. The two had gotten together while I wasn’t looking or in the hospital, and Feather delivered a litter of six kittens September 23. I had to find a home for all these little pansy-faced calico kittens while they were still appealing, so I took them to school and gave them out to my students. (I have never forgiven myself for that. I might as well have turned them onto the street.) One did find a good home, with my college roommate, Cynthia Bayless, who took one for her children. For years I heard about how Cy banished “Henrietta” to the basement. She was the only creature good-natured Cynthia couldn’t abide. After that I learned to have cats fixed.
Muriel and Melissa

Muriel's Graduation, 1971

I had two best friends during those years--Melissa Tatman, a student in one of my Black lit classes, and Muriel Lippman, who was getting a PhD in cell biology at the university when I was there. The three of us went around together. I could always find someone to go to the movies with. After I passed my special field exams, Melissa and I went off to Washington DC to visit and celebrate Thanksgiving with Muriel Lippman, who by then was working at NIH.

Muriel drove me crazy. She left everything to the last minute. I had to prod her along. When she was writing her dissertation I helped her edit it. When she was graduating, I ironed her gown for her. When she left Hyde Park after graduation, Melissa and I helped her box up her things. She would be working a crossword puzzle instead of packing. Only one thing got her up and going each day —daily Mass (she was a convert from Judaism). She was brilliant but a--would "dilettante" be too strong a word? When I visited her that first time in Washington, she had the first of her several miniature poodles, who had French names but who were all called “Baby.” I have many Muriel and Baby stories, for she loved to travel and Baby and I traveled with her— to Italy (1975), to Cape Cod (1979), and Paris.


Skiing with AYH in Michigan, 1973

Over the Christmas of 1971, not wanting to let down my parents, I visited KC as usual and, as I had taken up skiing, Carol invited me to go to Breckenridge, Colorado with her family skiing after Christmas. I managed to injure my left knee and went limping back to Chicago for the 1972 year.

I had joined AYH and went on ski trips to Michigan every chance I had. Even during the winter of 1972-73, when I was writing my dissertation and teaching, I skied every chance I got.


and Other Pleasures

Over that 8-day spring break in April, 1972-- with a group of CSU faculty, including Alice Barter and Mary Teresa Egerer-- “I went to London to see the Queen.” This was my first taste of England and I loved it. I saw everything the British Museum, the National Gallery, Oxford, Cambridge, The Tate Gallery, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Sq., Kings’ Chapel, St. Paul’s, the Tower, Butley at the Criterion, Godspell, Voyage Round My Father, Canterbury Tales, and much much more. I went everywhere by tube or bus. I went to Canterbury with Mary T. by train, and returning, saw there was a Covent Garden and jumped off to check it out. It was 7:30 p.m. The doors were open. We bought 2 box stalls for Cosi fan Tutti -- over the orchestra, practically on the stage, opposite the royal box for 3.20. What a treat! We also took a day’s tour to Winchester, Salisbury and Stonehenge (4 pounds). (Those were the days before they barricaded Stonehenge. We could still walk round and inside the great stones.) A deep urge told me this was the way--to see it all.
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