Accidental Feminist


This post will seem too personal and anatomical to some. My motive is not to offend or generate controversy. I just realize that it is probably necessary to share more childhood memories to put my political journey into perspective. I am usually discrete and demure so I am sure my reflections will be pretty harmless, at least by 21 Century standards. This chapter continues my explanation of why I became Another Accidental Feminist.

The easiest “secret decoder” for my personal history and social perspective is to remember that I was born 5 months and 166 days before the 1950’s came into existence. My early childhood years were lived in an Eastern Nebraska town with a U.S. Census population of 3815 growing to 4931 by 1960. My parents were Midwestern Protestants only a generation removed from the latter Victorian Era. The only reliable mention of sexuality before my Puberty was a little booklet I received in 5th grade at the public school I attended. Actually, a neighbor boy had mentioned something a few years earlier but it all sounded preposterous. His understanding of the anatomy was actually somewhat mistaken. This could have been confusing if I had given any credence to what he was saying. Anyway, the 5th grade “reveal” was a jolt to my understanding of gender. One afternoon near the end of the school year, the teacher announced that the boys in my class were to report to the gym. To this day, I have no idea how the boys spent the segregated time afforded to their group.

On the day in question, the girls watched a short black and white film strip. We were then sent home with booklets. The official nature of this communication process was both exciting and embarrassing. My sister and I had not been especially encouraged to initiate conversations with adults in our home. I was not even that good of a listener back then. Because I am somewhat compliant by nature, I did show my mother the booklet and briefly reported the surprising class room segregation and film screening. I would describe my Mom’s reaction as pretty compassionate. I had a sense she knew this all was coming. Mom basically confirmed the truth of the information I had been given without going into detail. She explained that this was a natural part of being a woman. The information I had just been given was generally known by grown ups living in the United States, presumably including my Father. I was not really sure about that circumstance since the boys at my school had all been excluded from the teaching. I have since asked a few adult male friends what they learned on that same occasion. Perhaps, they were also given some pertinent information? To date, no specific recollections have been shared. Guys look honestly perplexed by the question. I guess it was not a such big deal or worthy of note in their lives. Maybe they just went out for ice cream?


This is a 1957 publication but my recollection has more “pink” around the edges.

Mom encouraged me to read the booklet, which I did several times. There were some diagrams of reproductive organs. I had a younger sister, but had never heard anything about biology related to her birth. When the reality of the female process described set in, it all sounded messy, embarrassing and inconvenient. There was apparently a direct connection to pregnancy and motherhood. It was a bit helpful to get this information. The booklet mentioned that fathers also had some role in the reproductive process. This was the official explanation given in a nutshell. I continued to ponder whether the boys in my class were told anything at all. I certainly would not be asking any of them or my Father for details. I had exhausted what my Mother wanted to say. Maybe she knew more. I formed an impression that I would be married some day and my husband might update me on the specifics.

Spin & Marty


My prepubescent self deduced that at some point in the not too distant future, boys and girls would develop more interest in socializing. I got a sense of what this might look like from watching “The Mickey Mouse Club.” 1950’s T.V. had several boy characters in my age range, but I lost my heart to the older Spin Evans of MMC’s “The Adventures of Spin and Marty.” The Marty character was a rich kid, but Spin was cool and shared working class roots with me. The first year of this serial focused on horses and the evolution of a youthful rivalry into a friendship between the title characters. The next cycles of “New” and “Further Adventures” introduced the lovely Annette Funicello into the mix. Some rivalry came back into the picture. The suggestion that 2 boys would compete for the affection of a girl seemed pretty appealing. Of course, I was no Annette, but who was? Later programs featuring Annette depicted 2 girls competing for the attention of the same boy, which was more congruent with information I had gleaned from entertainment exposure. I experienced both of these basic scenarios as I lived through the 1960’s. The remarkable thing about my own adolescence was that between the 5th grade booklet and high school, I received little authoritative scientific information on human reproduction. I did surreptitiously read a relative’s Encyclopedia Britannica one Summer, but the information was sketchy at best.

SHS girls


Without going into too much depth, the additional information I received on this topic from my family was minimal. The basic goal was unequivocal and easy to remember. Mother just mentioned that she and my Father assumed I understood that a girl should not get pregnant before marriage. This “conversation” occurred sometime while I was in high school, possibly my Sophomore year. There was also a special co-ed Hi-Y group meeting announcing this same guidance. The implication was that self control would be the key to compliance. Of course, the particulars on how one would actually get pregnant or avoid it in a particular situation were never disclosed.  I had picked up some rudimentary information, but it was hardly comprehensive. Sexual behavior and contraception were not suitable topics for discussion even among my best girlfriends.

Contraception was not an option for girls like me. My financially challenged family really had no money for routine health care. I had to wait 2 years to get glasses. My medical examinations and dental care was sporadic and only scheduled when specifically needed for school enrollment. I received 50 cents per school day for lunch. I never gave much thought to any of this. The truth of the matter is I did not hear much about birth control until I married in college. I followed some T.V. news in my high school and early college years – Civil Rights, even Vietnam caught my focus, but the whole reproductive health planning deal did not come to my attention. The FDA approved the Pill for contraception in 1960 and the United States Supreme Court affirmed a married couples’ right to use contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). These developments did not even get on my personal radar screen.

Some of my classmates faced the consequences of teenage pregnancy. Dropping out of high school was pretty much a given back then. I heard tales of teenage marriages with new dads having to work at low wage jobs providing little opportunity for their family’s future. Celebrity Ricky Nelson from “The Adventures of Ossie and Harriet” seemed to work it out following some initial scandal. He was a rich kid and had resources my peer group lacked. Unplanned pregnancy was risky business for a working class teen in the 1960’s.

Anyone perusing this story for a contrite confession of teenage transgressions will be disappointed. My lack of information on human reproduction did not present any problems for me. I was blessed with one pregnancy in my life that surprised me 5 years into my first marriage and halfway through my law school education. I share all this TMI to introduce a topic central to my political “Herstory.” I lived my early Nebraska life in a bubble of 20th Century naivete and ignorance that did not prepare me for adulthood, gender relations, or political engagement. How then did I evolve into a Nebraska Democratic Party “personality” associated with Feminism?

This is where the story gets a bit interesting, if not fascinating to me. I will get into it more in PART TWO and future blogs, but for now let’s just say it concerns my experiences as a young wife, university studies, Law School, my legal career, Nebraska Democratic Party activists and a certain Lincoln Journal Star reporter.

Janet Stewart

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

3 thoughts on “Accidental Feminist

  1. Janet,
    Interesting perspective on growing up—enjoyed reading first entry. Need to go for now, but will return soon to read more!!! Lisa

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