Accidental Feminist Part 2


RECAP I closed out the 1960’s by defying my working class family’s wishes BIG TIME.



While attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha, I impulsively married another student who I hardly knew. It amazes me now to comprehend the uncharacteristic courage I discovered in September 1969. I turned my back on a socialized conformity to launch my adulthood.  A lot of my peers did the same, but I was probably more timid and shy than most.

My birth family really did not preach values to me in any overbearing way. I noticed Patriotism was important to us and we were Protestants. Mother shared some early instruction on how to behave as a  lady.  “Little lady” challenges exist in my earliest memories. As a toddler, and much to Elaine Stewart’s embarrassment, I showed off my ruffly new underpants on a visit to downtown merchants. She had taken such pride in dressing me up, I incorrectly guessed she wanted the folks to see the whole outfit. Mommy was amused, but explained my awkward social transgression. She hoped I would be more demure in the future. I mostly complied and still do for the most part.

Following my hasty marriage to Bruce Arnold, I moved into the basement of my new in-law’s North Omaha home. My trendy bargain basement wardrobe and 30 pairs of shoes were added into my young husband’s closet. Our space was in a cinder block room with temperatures that ranged from cool to cold depending on the season. The bathroom facilities were spartan and icy in Winter. I had some experience with freezing toilet and showers at one of my family’s rental abodes so I knew what to expect.


The Fall Semester had already started at UNO so Bruce and I returned to our separate collegiate lives. He drove me to school in the mornings and dropped me near my first class. I attended class and socialized with my friends. I continued to work in the University Library. I could see Bruce around lunch time. One day he dropped by the snack bar to announce that he would be going to a War Moratorium in Washington D.C. in November. I was encouraged to attend and we had room for 3 friends in our car to share travel expenses.


Citroën – our ride was actually a rusty and faded yellow

Our journey to D.C. relied upon a vehicle quickly repaired by Bruce and his “Papa” who had an affinity for French cars called Citroën. The car did fine but we I think we ran out of gas in a snowstorm in Illinois. My friends,  Curtis Lybarger, Deb Swearingen and Theresa Varga,  shared some disappointment and panic with me. Most of our sugary snacks for the trip were consumed that first night. Our journey took much longer than planned as we rolled through mountains in a blizzard. Thankfully, we arrived safely at our destination at my family’s apartment in Landover, MD.



This was my first home visit since marrying Bruce two months earlier. My parents and younger sister had not attended my wedding ceremony due to short notice and financial circumstances. We arrived in Landover late Friday.  I introduced Bruce and my 3 guests before we all tried to get some sleep. Bruce and I were assigned my sister’s bedroom. Jodey was relocated to the couch in the living room. She barely tolerated my +three companions in nearby sleeping bags on the floor.

The next morning my parents inquired about our plans to join the march that was already well underway. They had been listening to some news reports on the radio. I knew the U.S. Highway 50 route we always took to drive into the District, but we otherwise had no logistical clue. My Dad, in a huge gesture of really good sportsmanship, offered to drive and drop us off. What transpired the rest of the day was literally historic. There is really no way to adequately share the experience of joining the activities of a group of humanity numbering at least 500,000 by official reports, and arguably much larger. The sheer size of the group was exhilarating  and terrifying at the same time. There were political speakers and celebrity entertainers.  At one point the throng around me started energetically swaying and dancing to a Blue Grass performance by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. The possibility of being trampled in a huge crowd seemed eminent. We departed just in time to see an altercation between a militant group and police. This reminded me of T.V. coverage of the protests at the 1968 Democratic Party National Convention in Chicago. Witnessing official “crowd control” of young adults like myself was a sad and unsettling image impossible to forget.

The politics of my little circle of friends became more radicalized, at least by UNO standards. For now, I am going to share just one other memorable experience in my UNO college years. It did not require cross country travel, but left a lasting impression. It relates to my personal experience with a Nebraska political figure. This public servant is regularly in the news, and was covered extensively just last week. It is entirely coincidental that my “Herstory” intersects with his personality this week, as this blog topic has been outlined for over a month.


Upon returning to our undergraduate life at the Arnold household, Bruce gave me a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. He explained this was on his required reading list. This seemed a bit autocratic, but I was a constant reader and complied somewhat submissively. The book was illuminating and greatly informed my political perspective. I have not personally instituted a reading list, but this book would certainly be on it. I learned of a famous man whose name I had heard, but whose life story I did not really know. He was born in Omaha, led a hard life in Detroit and joined a group called Black Muslims. He became an influential and inspiring political leader. He was ultimately assassinated.

Bruce later announced that Omaha political activist Ernie Chambers was coming to the UNO Library. His topic included a reflection on the life of Malcolm X. I enthusiastically attended with a couple friends. As was our custom, we sat a bit apart from Bruce to avoid embarrassment. He sometimes launched into radical political commentary that we did not fully understand, or necessarily want to endorse. Mr. Chambers’ remarks were thoughtful and his regard for Malcolm X was something I understood. Toward the end of the presentation his rhetoric became critical of “bourgeois white girls” who hung out with male student activists. I heard that we were considered political dilettantes. This hit pretty close to home and I believe he was looking directly at me when he said it.

There are 2 points I want to share about this “close encounter” with Ernie Chambers, who is now a Nebraska State Senator and arouses some controversy on occasion. First, there was more than a little truth in what he said about my political commitment. Second, despite these circumstances, or maybe because of it all, I felt totally demeaned and bullied when he said it.

My radical politics admittedly did have a lot to do with fashion statements and socializing with interesting young men – some of whom, in retrospect, seem pretty chauvinistic. Ernie’s comments appeared to be an intentional put down that day. I am not sure we totally deserved his scorn. We were intelligent lifelong learners with an interest in politics and the shared desire to help make society better. We were not members of “The Establishment.” He may have intended to challenge us with his remarks. I could not help but apply 1950’s lessons on manners. Mr. Chambers may have missed the memo from my mother. Our political education would continue. Senator Chambers is now considered by many to be a champion of women’s issues. I appreciate his legislative record, and feel some irony when other women sing his praises.

The following Nebraska History link may provide some historical context to our early 70’s collision of cultures:

My next piece, which must now be PART THREE, will connect how the Creighton Law School years fueled my continued Accidental Feminist journey. My spouse has mentioned that my experiences seems to parallel “Forrest Gump.” It is a personal narrative that reveals some of the political currents of my generation. It may be the most truthful explanation of my perspective.

Janet Stewart

Janet is a mostly retired lawyer and politician known for her persistence. She is still working on patience and responsibility.

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