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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2012

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MAY 2012 Issue

A Mother’s Days

In the previous go-round (see “A Mother’s Days,” Rail, May 2011), Joan described her hectic life in the late 60s as she dealt with raising my sister and me while she completed her masters in Linguistics (at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago). Five years hence, she had become chair of the faculty at YMCA Community College in downtown Chicago, and was quite active in the women’s liberation movement in Evanston; in addition, she continued to take courses in women’s history. In the following letters to her friend Jane, who had just moved from Evanston to Phoenix, Joan assessed the challenges presented by her roles as a mother, professor, and feminist activist.

At the time, my sister Jill was turning 11, I was 7, my dad (Bob) was 39, and my mom (Joan) was 38.  —T. Hamm

Ted with Joan at the U.N. (June, 1975).

April 13, 1974

Dear Jane,

This has been my spring vacation week, and I have made a frenzied attempt to catch up on everything. With cleaning, shopping for spring clothes for the kids, and all kinds of other chores behind me, I’ve finally found my way to the correspondence, and though your letter wasn’t first in line, I pulled it out because you’re the one I most want to write to. I think about you so often.

It was really good to hear from you. I’m excited about your acceptance at A.S.U. and about your new house. Wish I could say something about the joys of homeownership, but we had a major flood last week—our own fault, but that didn’t console us as we mopped and cleaned and lugged for days. When I got home from school and discovered the flood (it was storming and we didn’t have our sink drain shut off), I wanted to sit down and cry, but then it occurred to me that that would only add to the water level, so I screamed hysterically instead.

The same week as the flood, Jill had strep throat, we had car trouble, and I had a T.E.S.L. presentation to make to a Northeastern class plus a paper due in my Women in U.S. History class. Oh yes, and five things to bake for Ted’s Cub Scout bake sale. Bob and I were going to share that task but when the flood came, we reverted to our “natural” roles—I baked, he mopped. And, of course, I burned the cookies. The Women in U.S. History paper was the assigned topic for the midterm essay. The readings have been tremendously interesting, but frustratingly more than I can fit into my schedule. Did I mention how much we all liked Mrs. Satan, the biography of Victoria Woodhull, even though she cops out at the end and becomes respectable?

The task force1 has continued to be super-busy. The American Educational Research Association is having its national convention here on Wednesday, and we’ve been invited to show the slideshow several times and to make it part of an evening rap session. Also, the Field Museum, which has a huge educational program for teachers, students, and the public, wants us to come in and do something on sex-role stereotyping for the staff. We have a meeting on Monday night and I’ll ask then about getting you the slide show for Phoenix NOW. Our regular rate is $20 plus postage. Approximately when might you need it? It’s been booked on the average of twice per week since we started showing it.

The Center continues to drift along. I finally threw over the treasury job, but I’m more or less stuck with the newsletter now. We talked about opening a storefront the other night at the steering committee, and I think it has potential. I’d be willing to try anything at this point to stir up activity. I even suggested to Al2 that the church refuse to renew our lease, thinking that that might provide a rallying point.

Wish I had time to chat on, but the kids are waiting to dye Easter eggs and Bob is waiting for me to help fold and staple the Yellow Ribbon3. The spring issue is 10 pages, and I had to edit and type it myself, so that, too, has kept me under pressure. At least once a day, I think, why don’t I just throw it all over and go to Phoenix?

Lots of love,


July 3, 1974

Dear Jane,

How long has it been since I’ve written? Too long, I know. Nevertheless, you are ever in my thoughts, and last night I dreamed you were in Chicago for a visit. How disappointed I was to wake up and find you not here.

This is my fourth week off and the first spare afternoon I’ve found. We’ve had out-of-town company twice (first Bob’s parents and then my cousins from San Francisco) and decided to seize upon that to get our house into shape—painting and the like. Before the end of my semester, we were into so many projects that I suggested to Bob one night that we get up the following morning before leaving for work and wash some windows. “This is where I draw the line, Joan,” he said. But we’ve also had some good relaxing time since school ended. We rented a cottage in Michigan with some friends and take turns going there. Unfortunately, we can’t go as often as we’d like because Jill’s softball schedule interferes.

Other things that have kept me busy are being in charge of the annual church cleanup and also setting up the task force exhibit at the N.E.A. Convention at McCormick Place last week. It was an incredible hassle because of Teamster union regulations, etc., but it was well worth it because we got to talk to hundreds of educators from all over the country. Kathie V. created a huge poster that stopped everyone. She used the chauvinist index from the New York Report on Sex Bias in the Schools and above it wrote in large letters, “How Sexist Are You? Take this Test.” And hundreds of people stopped to do so. Remember the technique if you ever have to plan an exhibit.

(Phone just rang. It was Judy from the Lab School calling to say that she’d like to do some work for the task force and/or Center during the summer.)

In your letter, you mentioned the apathy of the ’70s. I certainly have been aware of it at the college where it’s really hard to get the students stirred up about anything. As a matter of fact, I’ve been really grateful that it hasn’t seemed to affect the women’s movement so far, but looking at the progression and regression of women historically, there’s no reason to be optimistic. The return of fashion and makeup don’t bode well. It’s a good thing that there’s a solid organization like NOW and also a specific goal like the E.R.A. to keep women together; otherwise it sure would be hard to mobilize them.

I’ve been up to my ears in an affirmative action squabble at the college. (Did I tell you that I was elected chairperson of the faculty for next year?) There are six openings on the faculty for next year and the interviewing committees chose five white males; the other job is still open. Can you believe that they could be that dumb? Well, the administration is refusing to appoint the candidates, and the committees have mishandled the whole thing so badly that there’s a major rift between the faculty and administration. We’ve had meeting upon meeting, and they’ll continue for the summer, I’m afraid. I don’t really want to go back to work next week.

Ted’s back at the YWCA Day Camp this summer and tolerating it. He’d still rather be at home. Jill has a variety of activities. In addition to softball (they’re undefeated and she’s the star of the team), she’s taking tennis at James Park and going to the YMCA for swimming two afternoons a week. Bob just passed his 10th anniversary with World Book and got a form letter of congratulations. Men lead such dull lives. That’s why it’s really considerate of us to share activities like cooking and childcare, don’t you think?

Lots of love,


1 Cornelia Wheadon Task Force of the Evanston Women’s Liberation Center, both of which Joan helped start in 1972. The Center was based at the Wheadon United Methodist Church in Evanston. Wheadon was the first school teacher in Evanston, hired in 1846.

2 Reverend Al Streyfeller, minister of the church.

3 The Center’s newsletter, named for the women’s suffrage symbol.


Joan McClure


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MAY 2012

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