Yes #ImWithHer

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It likely comes as no surprise to anyone that I support Hillary Clinton for President. I can still be a little perplexed by certain assumptions about my endorsement of her candidacy. For the record, I am a “Nebraska Nice” homegrown feminist who found myself battling gender stereotypes throughout most of my adult life. I never had much success in these strategic engagements, but I am proud of my persistence and courage. I never gave up my personal political and social agenda or willingness to fight for others and causes I support. I accept that I have walked a fine line between activist leader and dilettante. I hope I have demonstrated some commitment, knowledge and intelligence avoiding the latter category. I cannot deny that I ran for 3 political offices mostly because I had a social agenda. I knew I had virtually no chance of winning these races. It was a daunting challenge. The “Year of the Woman” in politics had been declared in 1992. Not seeing much action in Nebraska by 2002 – 2003, I was willing to step up. Whether I even accomplished my personal goals is yet to be determined. For the record, my agenda was to encourage more Nebraska women to run for political office and help them win.

My personal “Herstory” reflects why I admire Secretary Clinton so much. She doesn’t give up. She fights for underdogs like me and causes I believe in. Most importantly, she is so much better at it then I ever was or could be. She truly is the champion I aspired to be. She was identified as a woman leader for my generation at her college graduation – before she even met the former American President who shares her journey!


Hillary Clinton chose to work and learn from a giant in a field I advocated for and followed for decades. Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, is a accomplished women I greatly admire. Her association with Hillary spoke volumes to me when I first decided to even like the aspiring First Lady. 

One of the bedrock principles I have figured out is that you cannot cherish children by disparaging or dismissing the women bearing so much responsibility for their lives. Hillary Clinton gets that “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and she has spoken to this reality forcefully and tirelessly throughout the years.

For a lot of reasons, our American political landscape is depicted to emphasize differences over shared values. Hearing “Women’s Rights” unfairly translates and is reduced to a narrow reproductive focus in some circles. This was the dark alley detour of the 20th Century feminism I lived.  It was unavoidable because women do have certain rights that society failed to recognize. Rights that apparently still need to be defended. The U.S. Supreme Court is often the decider of the competing interests. This process can be generational. Along the way, wedge issues erect roadblocks on the path to equality and fairness.

I see “Women’s Rights” as central to the social work and juvenile law cases I pursued. I still want to advocate against domestic violence, child abuse and neglect. These social plagues arise in family and societal settings. Hillary Clinton is my candidate because she prioritizes this policy. She doesn’t just orate on it, she has made the welfare of women and children a central focus of her life’s work. She clearly has vast knowledge and experience in other areas; i.e., foreign policy. Importantly, her policy agenda includes the global struggle for women’s rights. Now that is a revolution I can believe in.

In politics, I perceive a laundry list of unconscious motivations I project onto others. I feel guilty about this, but continue the exercise because it helps identify problems and solutions. For now, I will just remark it has been my experience that successful women are held to a higher standard of achievement. It’s unfair and totally unnecessary; discouraging and sometimes very hurtful. It takes a champion to face setback or defeat and move on. Hillary is the gold standard of resilience and fortitude. She will do everything in her power to get the work done and make our lives better.

If you seek more information or persuasion, and you probably should, I encourage you to visit this website:

There is also a film series MAKERS: Women Who Make America (PBS 2013.) Watching any part of Season One will give you a superpower to see the political world through my eyes: 


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Goody Two Shoes


For me, one of the many advantages of senior citizen status and semi-retirement is the rediscovery of time. While I presumably have less time to spend on this earth, I am more careful to choose how I use it. I am dedicating this blog post to my sister-in-law Kathy Shields who left us this Fall after a courageous struggle with illness and mortality. My husband lived in a birth family with one older brother and five sisters. (That’s a lot of sibling history and dynamics going on in my book.) Typically, I will only cultivate relationships with a few favorites in my extended family pool. Blessedly, I became acquainted with Kathy over the almost 2 years preceding her death. She was the mother of two young women. She seemed to love and enjoy spending time with her granddaughter. She dedicated her life to educating 2nd Grade students in Fremont, Nebraska. She was hardworking, thrifty, and gentile in her manner with zero swear words in her vocabulary. I learned something about humility and courage in our association. She was completely aware of how even brief human connections can help us grow wisdom and character. I will try to remember and share her contributions to my life’s direction and the daily path I choose.

God bless and keep you Kathryn.




September and October took me on enjoyable personal travel to Florida and Europe. It was comforting to see how maturity on everyone’s part can avoid toxic conflict and unnecessary drama. I greatly appreciate my family’s contributions to a New Age of Tolerance and Civility. I only wish we could roll this program out to and through the media. I am totally disgusted and honestly more than a little afraid of all the hate and vitriol I see daily on social media. The political cycle feeds this monster in a political climate of our own making. Of course, I am a recovering political road warrior myself. I understand how fear and irrational beliefs have always been a factor in political contests. Social media just shines a hot spotlight on all our anxiety and impatience. I try to be thoughtful, tactful and kind. I carefully reflect on my social media presence to be as authentic and constructive as I can. I appreciate that what I consider a strength may be viewed as a crippling weakness. I can live with that. I am proud to wear the mantle of “Little Goody Two Shoes.” I am in fact a do-gooder. I can also be a busy body. I can live with all that too.

                   GO BIG RED Miami 






I hear from more friends than foes on Facebook. I benefit from varied connections I have made. My life is enriched by information and perspectives I glean from Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, et al. Pinterest helps me flesh out my life story. I share this experience with my favorite cousin Micki. Instagram visually connects me with a sampling of interests, friends, family and miscellaneous persons of interest. Tumblr is a platform for this blog and others I mostly enjoy through photographs. I occasionally look at Google+ for random stuff on science and technology. Snapchat is a new addition where I was delighted to connect with my spouse and a grandson who shares status reports on geckos. The benefits of LinkedIn are not as obvious to me looking in the rearview mirror of my employment history. I still have some professional connections who carefully avoid Facebook, Twitter, etc. LinkedIn provides a snapshot of their journey if they remember to keep it current.


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Team Spirit

  I am blogging again after a much needed Summer vacation. I celebrated my 66th birthday and 30th wedding anniversary. 

Summer fun headshot

    My little dogs are 4 years old.            

 4 years   J's                                                                                                                                                                                       

My grandnieces in Florida are adorable.    

I am still processing some thoughts and feelings about my political experiences over the past decade. Before whining and opining much about this mostly enjoyable saga, I need to wrestle with one quandary.

What ever happened to my sense of humor?

I am pretty sure I used to be hilarious. Though as a younger child in Blair, I was a textbook introvert. This was convenient because I happened to dwell in a household where “seen but not heard” was tolerated, if not appreciated. I filled my 1950s childhood days with entertaining hours of T.V. viewing. I had outstanding comedy role models – Jack Benny, George Burns, Bob Cummings, Phil Silvers, Soupy Sales, Bugs Bunny, etc. Sure, these were all male entertainers, except maybe Bugs who was technically a cartoon. For some reason, I did not really appreciate the humor revolving around Lucy Ricardo in “I Love Lucy.” Fred Mertz always got some neighborly laughs at her expense. His amusement orbited the antics of Lucy and his wife Ethel. This made Fred a pretty big jerk in my eyes. Otherwise, I nostalgically recall feeling amused by most of my early exposure to comedy. I did not show much comedic potential myself until puberty when I lost my “cloak of invisibility.” I then discovered opportunities for social interaction.

I developed a humorous viewpoint that I shared with my peers from time to time. I think it all started on the city bus ride to R.M. Marrs Junior High School in Omaha. I recall exchanging verbal barbs with boys I found interesting or attractive. I would also whisper an occasional comment to my girlfriend disdaining our feminine competition. I have since learned that the signature type of humor I adopted as my own falls into the category of “Deadpan Snark.” This social construct served me well in high school, college, law school and well into my 30s. Around my 30th birthday, I did particularly notice that certain men who took themselves very seriously did not find my sarcastic comments all that amusing. Of course, this was not always a problem. Socially, I could just scorn and avoid the uninteresting dudes. I did not value their opinions or attention. Unfortunately, some of the totally dour fellows happened to be superiors in a professional work setting. This was harder to manage.

Another developmental milestone challenged my snarky perspective – I became a mother. Obviously, it is not at all nurturing to communicate with your child in a deadpan or sarcastic way. Nobody had to tell me this. It was basic human nature. I soon discovered that I had this new lilting “mother voice” that I used to speak to my child. This voice was higher in pitch, softer, soothing, and embodied my feelings of unconditional love. I think it conveyed my motherly love and support even when I was a stressed and scattered single mom. I take comfort in the fact that my son became a loving and responsible parent, although his political views went down a totally unexpected conservative path.

My late 30s and early 40s were spent in graduate school where I studied courses in psychology, psychotherapy, and social work strategies. Not much use of Deadpan Snark skills there. The insight I was given into empathy, compassion, tolerance, respect and Basic Humanity 101 took my own journey in another direction.

Along the way, I picked up another reason to put my humorous asides aside. I heard or read somewhere, possibly in Glamour, Cosmopolitan Magazine or a career self-improvement seminar, that sarcasm becomes unattractive when one attains middle age status. It is considered both sane and appropriate to be mature and earnest while aging into your enlightened years. I wanted to be taken seriously and appreciated for my character and hard earned wisdom. This instruction also coincided with the dawn of my political life. So, for the various reasons noted, my practiced and lethal snarkiness has faded into the beautiful Nebraska sunset. It has gone the way of saddle shoes, Slinkys and roller skate keys. It was great in its time and place, but now it is part of my “HERSTORY.”

IMG_1408 (2)     IMG_167690712072188    Charlene at O Finest

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Thus far I have devoted 12 years of my life to Democratic Party activities. I was a Nebraska candidate in a total of 3 races: Congressional Democratic Primary 2004, Secretary of State 2010, and Attorney General 2014. I have served in several party leadership positions: Chair Nebraska Democratic Women’s Caucus, County Chair Dodge County, and First Congressional District Caucus Chair. I have served on the Nebraska Democratic Party Executive Committee and standing committees; i.e., Nominations, Rules, etc.

I have personally connected with thousands of Nebraska residents, considerably more if you count parades and the media. I found some lifelong friendships, and admittedly irritated more than a few in my statewide travels. Lots of acquaintances seem to really like me. I know some of these folks respect me. I truly appreciate it when friends and acquaintances share their life stories and journeys with me.

I have touted my academic background and professional resume, which is moderately impressive. I am a lawyer, mediator and counselor with degrees in Economics and Social Work. I am pretty well read in history, psychology, philosophy, world religions, and science. I have traveled to some interesting places near and far. I have served in leadership roles in non-profit organizations.

What truly surprises me, after all these years, is that I am hardly ever asked for advice or an opinion on any topic. Why, you ask? I honestly do not know. Of course, I do have theories and suspicions. Perhaps, a collective perception of my studious and analytical thinking combined with the devolution of my sense of humor? For now, I will spare readers the specific details of these musings. If you read earlier blog posts, you can likely see some themes emerging. If you have any guidance for me, I solicit your comments. What I am going to talk about in the rest of this post is some of the opinions I have curiously never been asked about.

Today, I am launching the debrief I was never asked to give. A brief description of context is probably necessary. There has been an on-going debate within the Democratic Party. I discovered and experienced this over the past decade. It concerns the allocation of resources, organizational structure and strategy. It applies directly to the electoral results of state parties. Nebraska is considered a “Red State” where registered Democrats are in the minority. The Nebraska Secretary of State reported that close to 31% of registered voters were Democrats for the 2014 General Election. In this electoral environment, a disturbing reality presents itself. It is in stark contrast to the concept “Too Big To Fail” we often hear in the media.


State Democratic Party. The Nebraska Democratic Party has a state convention every 2 years. Party leaders are elected for terms of 2- 4 years. It is only fair to acknowledge that these leaders are volunteers. They are not paid staff. They spend personal funds to travel, host events, make donations, etc. Democrats run for these offices for various reasons. You have the occasional leader who just wants to be somebody and have a platform from which to speak. Other leaders want to do something; often supporting a particular candidate, constituency or cause. Leaders at the top of the state party pyramid get to participate at the Democratic National Committee, and become super delegates at the Democratic National Convention. (I can only assume it must be interesting and exciting.) I appreciate the efforts of all the volunteers who actively participate in the activities of the Nebraska Democratic Party. Those who know me well will understand why my discussion does not end here.

The Nebraska Democratic Party has a Constitution and  Bylaws that are read and reviewed from time to time. A fair reading of the same suggests the existence of the party has some connection to electing Democrats to public office. The recent track record on this mission has not been good for at least a couple decades. A systematic and wide-ranging discussion of why and what to do about it is overdue.

My question of the Day: If you pay staff, rent and office expenses to manage events to raise funds used to pay salaries, rent and office expenses, are you really getting the job done? I know some other things get done along the way. I just think it is important to periodically and objectively look at the results. I understand this is where constructive feedback may come into play. What are we doing and how effectively? For the purpose of this discussion, I think we can assume Nebraska Democrats, if asked, would want leaders focusing more attention and resources on winning elections.

My decade in Nebraska Democratic politics led me to one inescapable conclusion. Candidates make a significant investment in the institution of the Nebraska Democratic Party. This is often a thankless and gratuitous gesture. In addition to the time and financial contribution candidates have in their own campaign, they are asked to contribute generously to various party coffers. For example, campaign costs for tables or tickets to Democratic Party events. Typically buying an entire table of seats will get the candidate’s name in the event program. An introduction from the podium is usually made. This “pay for play” tradition is harmless enough. It never gave me reason to throw in the towel. This custom just does not get anyone elected to office. Sometimes, it actually enables candidate dreams of reciprocal support that never materializes. This is a harsh reality candidates face. It can be a big disappointment to the novice campaigner. Candidate expectations of services and support may be fanciful in the current environment. Still, I think volunteer leaders of the Nebraska Democratic Party can do more to help their candidates.

It’s a conventional wisdom strategy to be a Czar (or Czarina) marshaling scarce troops and assets. When resources are limited, there are some other things to try. It is helpful to always remember enthusiasm and loyalty are free.  Party leaders, without incurring additional time or expense, can accept the role of volunteer coach. Here’s a hypothetical to consider: you coach your child’s sports team. They lose a lot. Do you quit? If not, why not? The same dynamics can apply to the Nebraska Democrats’ team. You cannot win if your team is complacent and expects to lose. You cannot motivate a team to win unless you believe in their potential and show it. You cannot win unless your political fan base throughout the state believes in your team’s ability and a viable shot at victory. You cannot win if you see your team as quixotic challengers to reigning champions. Your “brand” as the also-rans seems to be holding us back. It can still be re-imagined. This is best done by promoting, supporting and investing in your team. To belabor my amateur sports analogy – I believe it’s called having some skin in the game.

County Democratic Party organizations in Nebraska are distinct entities, often disorganized and disconnected. They may be carrying forward local traditions and annual events, or not so much. How do they encourage and help elect Democratic candidates to office in the 21st Century? Voting for the ticket and putting some yard signs on their lawn is never going to be enough. One obstacle is that Nebraskans really long to be on the winning team (see above). Currently, some of the fans and players on our team are too embarrassed to show their allegiance. As a Democratic candidate, it became apparent just how important it could be for state and local leaders to activate the base and various constituencies.This is not a job for a single leader or committee, but Nebraska Democrats need to take more ownership of the Party statewide and in their communities. Could it make a difference if Nebraska Democratic Party leaders rallied team spirit consistently throughout the state? It’s a daunting challenge for sure. If it was easy, we would not need your leadership.

Obviously, I have more to say on this and other topics that I will get to eventually. In conjunction with team spirit, I have been pondering the role of issue advocacy in building a Democratic voter base in Nebraska. The discouraging Voter Registration situation is an impediment worth some transparent reporting and disciplined scrutiny. If you are interested in the discussion, please join me! 


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Magna Carta & Me

Magna Carta

King John of England signs Magna Carta at Runnymede 1215.

I am reflecting on the celebration of a historical event that took place 800 years ago. Why you ask? Because it is another thread that weaves through a Nebraska life’s journey I call my “Herstory.” As always, it connects first to 1950s entertainment I watched as a child in Blair, Nebraska. One of my favorite T.V. shows (and there were so many) was “The Adventures of Robin Hood” starring Richard Greene. Apart from the dashing male lead and his storied romance with the lovely Maid Marian, this show introduced some notions of populism and insurgency into my young life. It also launched my life long interest and later study of English History, and some bonus research into my ancestry.

Robin HoodThe lessons I learned in viewing this series boil down to: humans can and often will resist and even take collective action when their government exploits and demeans their existence. 

Robin Hood and his band of “Merry Men” were legendary champions of common folk around Sherwood Forest. The locals were being overtaxed and terrorized by the forces of a villainous Sheriff of Nottingham. The Sheriff enforced the decrees of Prince John who was running England in the absence of his brother, the ruling monarch, Richard I “the Lionhearted.”

Richard was apparently busy elsewhere in “The Crusades.” (Without digressing too much, Christian military campaigns had been organized to “rescue” Jerusalem and other holy places in the Near East from Muslim domination. A REALLY long story, if you are interested, Google it or visit a library.)

Focusing on my ruminations this week, the Prince John in the Robin Hood tales later became King John. He was defeated by a rebellion of his Barons at Runnymede. They insisted he sign a charter that came to be known as Magna Carta. This document recognized some rights for some people; i.e., most specifically the Church and his victorious noblemen. The charter memorialized that His Majesty, who had been led to believe his right to rule came directly from God’s will, would no longer be above certain laws. In addition, the rights at issue could be determined in legal proceedings. This has been conceptualized as “the rule of law.” This may not sound like a lot by modern standards. At the time, it was a huge deal. It was such a historic shift in power that John asked the Pope get him out of his agreement. The Pope jumped to his defense, but the arguable”reprieve” was short-lived and did not settle the matter. Needless to say, people were very excited and inspired by the opportunities presented.

Quantum Leap “Quantum Leap” to Nebraska 8 Centuries later

Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States followed the new path taken in Runnymede 800 years ago. We the People of the United States now understand that we have rights enforceable under laws. Attending elementary school, I learned and patriotically recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Through much repetition over the years, I came to appreciate and depend upon our collective oath to “Liberty and Justice for All.” This small town Nebraska girl took much comfort in the notion that Americans always stood for freedom as a guiding principle. This is one reason why I get so discouraged. We see politicians and community leaders working hard to deny or limit legal rights. The persuasion methods used by these advocates can certainly bother me. Images from a yesteryear of grifters and snake oil sales professionals come to mind. Finally, the continued success of such transparently reactionary forces regrettably tempts me to judge fellow citizens as ignorant and/or gullible. The latter assessment may be true in some cases, but it is not particularly helpful to focus on it.

Some comparisons to Prince/King John, the legendary Sheriff of Nottingham and The Crusades are troubling me today. I can think of elected leaders here in Nebraska who either lack understanding of the law, or see themselves as above the law. They promote partisan campaigns seemingly to ignore the trending of history toward democratic principles of Liberty, Justice and Equality. Some of these advocates may earnestly believe they are on a Divine mission to hold the line. They certainly still voice support for their freedom, public order and unrestrained wealth accumulation. What they fail to accept is that all these principles depend on “the rule of law.” We cannot keep legal protections for ourselves and deny them to others.

Nebraskans sometimes stand on the sidelines because we do not see our own rights immediately threatened. We may compliantly jump on a political bandwagon because we are too busy, angry or fearful to see the social and personal cost. Alternatively, we can stand up for ourselves and others; respecting “the rule of law.” This is the legacy our ancestors gave us to oppose tyrants. Can we resist self-absorbed, scornful and misguided politicians? It would seem to be the best choice. Will we avoid the antagonistic rhetoric, and do our part to promote civil discourse and responsible governing? Our Heartland state will be so much better if we do.

220px-Joseph_McCarthy United States Senator Joseph  McCarthy

As a little girl in Blair, I saw a political demagogue named  Sen. Joseph McCarthy brought down and his followers humbled when responsible Americans stood up for important values like fairness and decency. His methods of reckless allegations and public character assassination turned the tide of political opinion. This moment in my lifelong T.V. viewership became a textbook lesson in how power can be used for good or evil. Sometimes, I feel a longing or nostalgia for those earlier decades when life seemed less complex and stressful. It may be human nature to cling to recollections and sensibilities of past years. If we stay in this “comfort zone” too long, however, we risk forfeiting our future progress and growth. For what it’s worth, I am endorsing the platform of mutual respect and civic responsibility today. Reflecting on “the rule of law” is a very good place to start.

Here are some topical musings on the Magna Carta to further illustrate the reasons we celebrate.

CNN blog “rule of law” and “due legal process”

NPR – horse of due process out of the barn

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2 Wrongs

I adored my father. He died somewhat unexpectedly and suddenly 33 years ago. I was blessed to share a restaurant meal with him in College Park, Maryland, earlier in the evening on the night he left us. Harold Robert Stewart reached the age of 64 years looking forward to retirement once the Social Security he paid for over 40 years kicked in. One of the first political instructions “Daddy” shared with me was that Social Security was the salvation of a working poor man like himself. He said that was why he was and would always be a Democrat. Harold had been a child in the Great Depression, losing his mother at age 3 to childbirth. As a young child, he was sent to live with his father’s sister until his “Dad” remarried. Happy to reconnect with his father, he faced some normal challenges in his adolescence adjusting to a new step family. His parental reunion was then tragically cut short. Fred C. Stewart died suddenly at work one day when his oldest son was 15 years old.

Fred & Bertha Stewart 001   Fred C. Stewart and Bertha Tams Stewart

Dad and Janny Harold and “Janny” Stewart

Losing his parents early in life left an indelible imprint on Harold who became a soft hearted and devoted family man. He worked very hard and enjoyed a “few” beers at home in the evening. He wanted and needed to be at home with his family, particularly when his children were young. He was always the parent whose unconditional love I never doubted even when my behavior or life direction disappointed him. He was a man of few words, and this may be why I remember every moral lesson he ever gave to me. His guiding life principle, which he shared with me throughout my life was: “2 wrongs do not make a right!” In my specific case, “Janny, 2 wrongs do not make a right.” Later I heard, “Jan, remember 2 wrongs don’t make a right.”

This simple and profound parental guidance has helped me resolve many moral questions I have faced or pondered on my life’s journey. It has joined some other wise teachings discovered in adulthood.”Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama.


Society poses some difficult questions needing policy resolution. This is always an opportunity to find consensus or discover a compromise that divergent interests can agree to accept. In such matters leadership really matters. In our politically polarized and special interest funded nation, we struggle with this.

The Death Penalty is one issue that comes to our government policy makers on a regular basis. The Nebraska Unicameral is considering legislation now. A lot of reasons to abandon the Death Penalty naturally present themselves; moral, practical, economic, legal, etc. Our state, however, still appears to be very divided on the issue. Anyone who is interested, and I do think we all could try to be, can find countless sources of information, analysis and discussion. My own ruminations certainly consider if rationality and logic alone point humanity towards a “tipping point”abolishing this form of punishment.

As always, I reflect on the personal journey that brings me to this crossroads. The Protestant denomination of my upbringing has advocated for abolishing the Death Penalty for over 50 years. Not surprisingly if you have been reading this blog, I only discovered this fact 2 years ago. One of the practices I really admire in the Episcopal church is the content and tone of the sermons. The sermons I experienced have not been at all preachy. They did not focus or lecture on politically divisive moral issues. It seems to me that the congregation is free to study and reflect as individuals. We can read The Bible and Book of Common Prayer, and clergy is available to counsel parishioners who struggle with spiritual choices.


My first introduction to the Death Penalty arose on June 25, 1959. Charles Starkweather, age 20 years, was executed by electric chair in Lincoln, Nebraska. He had been convicted of First Degree Murder having killed eleven people during a road trip/killing spree with a teenage girlfriend. The couple were arrested on January 29, 1958. Until the very day he was executed, the story of his violent crimes, trial, appeals, etc., had not really registered on my childhood radar screen. (My parents were pretty careful not to discuss disturbing information in the presence of their 2 daughters.) When the news of the execution came over the radio, I was surprised to hear some cheers in a home where I was visiting. My surprise is likely explained by feelings of cognitive dissonance. I had learned of The Ten Commandments; most likely through a synergy between Charlton Heston and Vacation Bible School. Celebrating the death of another human being just seemed in conflict with my almost10 year old understanding of morality.

I have previously explained, in some detail, how my values are closely connected to movies and T.V. entertainment watched in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. My parents both worked in a small town movie theater in Fairfield, Iowa, where our family lived for 2 years. My younger sister and I watched a lot of movies while Mom and Dad were working. One specific memory connects to the Death Penalty.

Actress Susan Hayward won an Academy Award for a 1958 movie “I want to Live!”  This film was based upon a true story of Barbara Graham who was executed in the California gas chamber in 1955. Coincidentally, this film was shown on cable this past week. I also noted a documentary airing on Nebraska public television. I have these recorded on DVR to watch later. It’s intriguing how these “coincidences” occur. When I was younger I suspected I was clairvoyant. Now, I more maturely understand that when I am reflecting on issues of the day, other entities are doing the same. Anyway, I vividly remember that the Hayward movie trailer left troubling impressions before I even experienced the film sometime in the 1960s. A few things caught my attention. I was shocked to see a woman behaving in the indecent, unscrupulous and aggressive manner portrayed. The possibility that a woman could be executed for a crime honestly stunned me! Socialized gender roles of the day sort of assumed that a “lady” would not commit the various crimes depicted. Furthermore, I clearly understood that “gentlemen” should never strike a woman, much less execute her. Men were seen fighting and punishing others in movies and T.V. all the time. Apparently this was expected. Needless to say, I have since learned otherwise in many respects.


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Accidental Feminist Part 3


As I coasted to college graduation, I uncharacteristically spent some time considering the future. My spouse suggested I look for a job. Seriously? That was certainly not my top priority. I tried an employment agency. An undergraduate degree in Economics from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1971 meant nothing, even if I was one of the top students.  I was offered 2 jobs as a Property and Casualty insurance underwriter at the disappointing salary of  $400 – $450 a month!  I suspected I might have done better if I had been a male graduate. Being a lifelong night owl, I was unwilling to get up early and to work by 8 a.m. for that amount of money.

Graduate school seemed an alternative until I discovered a new direction for my life’s journey. I really did not have the math skills to succeed in a graduate program in Economics. This was in a time long ago before personal computers or electronic calculators. My manual calculation skills matched my dreadful typing ability. What should I do?


The Young Lawyers 1969 – 1971.

Once again, a television program became the compass I used to set my course.  There was a show running about young lawyers helping the poor. It was sort of a “Mod Squad” with young lawyers instead of police. I watched it occasionally and noticed there was a streetwise woman lawyer in the mix. So …the idea of going to law school was born. It is helpful to recall that this was undiscovered territory for me.  The adults in my family never attended college. I did not know a single lawyer. I had watched Perry Mason for years. My working class parents, still absorbing my unexpected graduation from college, were incredulous when I reported an interest in law school.

I spent a gap year working the night shift at Hilton Reservation Service. I liked the work and learned about faraway places to visit. I am still working on that bucket list.

I applied to 2 law schools, University of Iowa and Creighton University, and was accepted at both. My enrollment decision was made when my husband extended his college graduation again. There was no Vietnam War reason for his delay anymore. (His Draft lottery number 6 had already been resolved by a 4F classification.) His plans of attending the Masters of Fine Arts program at Iowa were definitely slipping away. At the time, I was not as appreciative of his willingness to support me through law school as I could have been. I regret this now. Anyway, Creighton Law became the plan.

I was noticeably alarmed to learn that my Creighton scholarship would only pay for 1 semester’s tuition or books. The Student Finance office introduced me to the harsh reality of Student Loans. The process was streamlined. Getting myself in the Schoolof Law door was the easy part.

I knew nothing about law school, and did not think to look into it. I naively assumed it was a continuation of college with a focus on “The Law.” Of course, I was one of the students who arrived the first day not knowing I had missed almost 200 pages of assigned reading. We were then assigned seats alphabetically in all classes. Really? This was a bad omen.

The professors did not lecture or share much concrete information about the various Law courses we studied. They did challenge students ; i.e., verbally abuse us, with questions. I became aware that this vacuum of information was “The Socratic Method.” These drills did mirror press interview experiences I faced later in politics. The interrogator asks a series of questions until you embarrass yourself, and then noticeably smirks at your deficiencies. This “communication”style always conflicted with my mother’s earnest guidance on manners.

There were 14 women in my freshman class at Creighton Law – roughly 10% of the total students. One of the women students dropped out before 2 weeks. I often wondered if she made the wise choice. My own rationale for staying was dubious. I had suffered the worst 2 weeks of my life, and it would be for nothing if I did not get a law degree!


Law School Entertainment Therapy

I was blessed with great friends during my Creighton years. We bonded around our stress and deflated egos. We felt collectively vindicated by the movie “The Paper Chase” that proved to the world that we were all being disrespected and victimized. We were good students and graduated at the top of our class. I became a mother 3 weeks into to my senior year. My close friends were very supportive. Most of the faculty pretended not to notice that I was barely able to squeeze into my classroom seat and then absent for 3 weeks.

I became a Feminist in spite of myself. There were several guideposts on this leg of my journey.

I had read a book titled “The Feminist Mystique” by Betty Friedan in my gap year before Creighton. This book resonated with me to an extent I had not experienced up to that point and have not felt again. It explained the underlying low grade sadness I had seen in my mother’s life. It also evidenced some of the obstacles I faced in my own personal goals and relationships. It revealed my current situation in a light I might never have discovered on my own. I am not sure the book would mean so much to a woman of the Millennial generation today. It was the Rosetta Stone for Baby Boomers like myself.

Constitutional Law was a freshman requirement. I was an devoted student of History so I enjoyed this course more than most. At some point in the year, we received a pocket part insert for our already too heavy Con Law casebook. It had a “hot off the press” Supreme Court opinion Roe v. Wade. I learned much later that this case was apparently a really big deal. In typical Janet Elizabeth Stewart fashion I had no clue. I had literally heard nothing about the case before it became assigned reading. I am going to share my personal evolution on reproductive rights, at some point. This particular post will focus on another revelation that solidified my identity as an “Accidental Feminist.”  A defining moment in my political evolution emanated from “The Equal Rights Amendment.”

I had an unbelievably uninformed understanding of the Feminist movement. I belatedly noticed that I gave up my maiden name unnecessarily, which I instantly regretted. Otherwise, I kept some distance from the few so-called “feminists” I encountered in my later college years. These young women seemed to have more interest in my husband who held court in the UNO student center playing Bridge and opining on the issues of the day. One of these women actually scolded me over the telephone for my resistance to her efforts to marginalize my marriage. Apparently, I was too possessive with some lingering Middle Class values. I really did not appreciate the competition or criticism.

One day, I was approached by a Creighton classmate who revealed that several of my law student peers would be travelling to Lincoln to witness the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature’s reconsideration of the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA was another historical moment that had passed under my personal radar screen. I had not become aware of its passage, the ratification process underway in the States, or that Nebraska had been one of the first states to ratify the amendment to the United States Constitution. Having a mountain of reading assignments, I somewhat reluctantly agreed to join in the pilgrimage. I became a Feminist true believer in Lincoln, Nebraska, the next day.

Arriving at the Unicameral, I witnessed our democratic process firsthand. A line of yellow school buses had transported groups of spectators on both sides of the issue. We crowded into the gallery and watched the spectacle unfold below on the floor of the Legislature. The orchestra appeared to be conducted by a Senator named Richard Proud who, in my memory after some 40+ years, exhibited a smarmy demeanor opposing women like me just seeking some fairness. Some snazzy woman from out-of-state had been brought in to fluff up the egos of male legislators and explain how they had been sold a bill of goods by some of their women colleagues.

Nebraska had actually ratified the ERA quickly having been swayed by the opportunity to “make history” by being the first state legislature to do so. (The half-baked decision making process is something I have seen on more than one occasion at the Nebraska Unicameral.) Hawaii, having a time zone advantage, beat Nebraska to the prize, which was a hard pill for some state senators to swallow. After the fact, groups opposed to gender equality had the opportunity to feverishly protest the outcome. Nebraska rescinded its prior ratification of the ERA – not the first or last time a reactionary public policy decision was swayed by ignorance and fear in the Cornhusker State.

I was heartbroken by what I saw on the Unicameral floor that day. When my group dejectedly returned to Creighton Law, we endured the comments of previously admired professors who patiently explained why the Equal Rights Amendment was not needed. My professional and political life since is a reflection of their mistaken and insulting Conventional Wisdom and legal prophesy espoused on that day. Nebraska legislators and legal scholars abandoned me and other women just when we needed their understanding and support the most. 

For more information about the history and current status of the ERA you can visit:


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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.


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1967-1969 Interlude

University of Omaha Scholarship 001

My life’s journey really changed direction during 1967-1969. I received a letter announcing I had earned a scholarship to attend the University of Omaha. This opportunity was totally unexpected. I did not expect to go to college. The College Prep study offered at Omaha South High helped me avoid business courses. My mother worked in clerical, but I lacked confidence in my ability to ever master typing and shorthand. My favorite courses were Social Studies – History, Economics, Government. I had an almost photographic memory at the time that made it easy to memorize. I enjoyed Biology except for one embarassing moment in 8th grade. Other science offerings with a lot of experiments and analysis were too challenging. I lost touch with Math somewhere in 9th Grade. Chemistry and Geometry became problematic. I certainly could have done better if I did homework. That was never going to happen because I treasured my after school and evening hours of freedom. I really did not pay much attention in class. Daydreaming was still a major focus of my school day. I lacked motivation and discipline. English was always a mixed bag for me. I loved reading and could do this rapidly. I hated writing and did not learn much grammar after the 8th Grade. I signed up for Latin class to attend the festive Spring Banquet. I discovered no talent for foreign languages after a brief introduction to Spanish in 8th Grade. There seemed to be something about verbal learning. I could hear pronunciation but never repeat it correctly.

Early high school 001 Looking forward to high school 

brush rollers worn in public because home hair dryers worked in slow motion!

My family did not have the resources to send me to college. Neither of my parents attended college. My father received his education at trade school via the GI Bill following his WWII military service. Movies and television programs at the time depicted women serving in the military. Enlisting in the military offered a fallback plan if I did not get married soon. I preferred the Navy and Marines because I liked the female uniforms. The various shows I watched suggested administrative and medical work would be available. I was obviously concerned about my chances of mastering clerical skills. A medical position intrigued me, but I had one fear to overcome. Much to my humiliation, I had fainted at the sight of blood in 8th grade Science class. The teacher brought in some beef heart and lungs to examine. My classmates laughed when I keeled over with cotton dress skirt flying over my head to reveal nerdy underwear! A medical career might be a stretch.

My scholarship saved me from a really tough decision. I was shocked when my Dad sat me down and advised that he did not want me to enlist. His explanation was that it was no place to be for a young woman. I do not recall that he gave much of a detailed explanation. He did say he had met and observed some pretty “hard” women during his war service. I got the impression his concern related to proper gender behavior and sexual morality. My father strongly disapproved of this choice and I could lose whatever respect he had for me.

My mother also sat me down. She strongly urged me to take the scholarship. She explained that she had turned down her own opportunity to go to college. She chose to get an office job instead and said she always regretted it. I really did not need to be convinced. I happily accepted the scholarship because I did not want to go to work for a paycheck.

I had worked a summer job at my dad’s insistence when I turned 16. I was totally shocked when he took me for a Goodrich ice cream and broke the news to me. The harsh reality was my family was strapped for cash and I had to get a job. I became a carhop at the A&W a few blocks from my home. I learned how to make change and balance multiple large root beers on trays while sashaying out to cars in a parking lot. It was hard and sticky work. My starched white cotton blouses smelled of soft serve, sodas and fried food by the end of my shift. We did have some fun at closing time. We gravitated to the soda fountain at Union Station still open late at night. I had the satisfaction of buying some new clothes at Richman Gordman and purchasing new glasses for myself and my little sister. I dated the owner’s son who was visiting for the Summer. Pretty exciting.

Senior Prom 001  My Senior Prom –

that hairdo was professionally coiffed!

But I digress. I was off to college in 1967. My family moved away when my dad got a great job as a skilled trade instructor for the Job Corps. An Aunt and Uncle in South Omaha were generous enough to invite me to stay with them. I learned how to do some household chores for the first time. A guy from my South High Latin class lived nearby and had a car. We became best friends and I was spared a long bus ride with transfers.

My memory served me well and I evolved into a very good student. Early morning classes were difficult. I almost lost my scholarship when I got 2 C’s my first semester. One was in an 8 a.m. typing class my Dad insisted I take to “have something to fall back on.” The other terrible grade was in French class. My Art & Sciences program required a semester in foreign language. French seemed so romantic, but verbal learning skills failed me once again. I actually spaced off the final in this class. I forgot to study and knew I could fail. I took a makeup test and my instructor fortunately had booked a ski trip she was anxious to enjoy. She generously gave me a C after I shared my scholarship situation. She did suggest that I never take another French class. That was the last semester when I had any troubles academically. I wisely dropped the Chemistry class I signed up for Sophomore year. I wanted to hang with some really entertaining friends, but just could not take that academic risk.

My Sophomore year witnessed a cultural shift of great magnitude. The dress code was flaunted and some students became rebellious about the Vietnam War. I had a tolerable student job in the Library. I did not pledge a sorority because I was penniless and could not understand the point really. One day a charismatic young man in Army fatigues and combat boots approached me in the Library. He mentioned that I looked like the Maizie Bird in a Dr. Suess book. I wore British Mod false eyelashes at the time, which were still marginally fashionable. I had updated my wardrobe a bit to include some more current “flower child” fashion. I soon followed friends into wire rimmed glasses.

I bumped into that same flirtatious lad later in the year when my group of friends ventured into the Old Market. Commercial development had come back to this historical district of Downtown Omaha. I remember a bookstore, art gallery and head shop in the area of brick warehouses and produce markets. I found the guy from my library encounter playing a bongo drum on the Northwest corner of 11th and Howard Streets. We talked briefly and he suggested if I came back the next week we could go out. I did return and he had a car at his disposal. His younger brother and a friend were along for the ride and one of them played a guitar.

I made a life changing choice that night. I survived what could have been a risky trip into the woods with 2 high school boys and a college guy I really had just met. I was awfully naive in accepting the invitation. I pray young women today find the good sense to make safer choices. Perhaps, I had a streetwise South O ability to judge character? I was pretty shaken when I later realized the risk I had taken, but it all turned out O.K. The younger guys made a campfire and played music. I somewhat unwisely climbed a tree with my date, but arrived home safely later that night. The newly named University of Nebraska at Omaha semester ended soon thereafter. I took an airplane to a Maryland visit with my parents and younger sister that Summer.

college trip 001  Summer fun in 1969

I eventually learned the name of my knew love interest – Bruce Arnold. He came to the attention of my Aunt and Uncle who expressed disapproval of his longer hair and student radical attire. It did not help that an article appeared in the Omaha World Herald reporting his family’s connection to The Peace and Freedom Party and a community political leader named Ernie Chambers. This was all new territory for my family. I had seen the aftermath of D.C. riots in 1968 when I visted my family in Maryland. My impression of my family’s politics at the time was patriotic, socially conservative and working class Democratic leaning. That same year, we shared the sad loss of Robert Kennedy, Jr. together. His casket entered D.C. by train as we watched from the rooftop of our transitional hotel residence. I have come to appreciate how sharing memories like that can build bridges between generations.

I exchanged correspondence with Bruce Arnold the next Summer. He also travelled to the East Coast but in the Boston area. My home visit was not that exciting. The age of majority being 20 years in Nebraska, I had the legal right to make some decisions for myself. My cocktail preference became rum and coke. I sunbathed during the day and watched T.V. at night. I decided to return to Omaha for Summer School and wrote Bruce to return home so I would not be too bored. He complied and thereby missed what would have been a historic side trip to the Woodstock Festival in New York. The Summer class I intended to enroll in was already closed so I started a lunch counter job at the downtown Brandeis Store. My social life became complicated when my Aunt and Uncle announced I could not date the Arnold kid and reside in their home. (I suspect they discussed the situation with my absent parents.) While awaiting Bruce’s return, I started going out with boys whose more affluent families facilitated sports car cruising. My grownup family supervisors may have predicted my readiness to make a change.

I had a decision to make before going back to UNO for my Junior year. I carefully weighed my options and decided to break it off with Bruce. The next time we went out, I explained that we would have to break up because of my family’s ultimatum. He surprised me by declaring his love and proposing marriage. We could live in his parents’ basement until we graduated from college. He was going to be a senior and said he was aspiring to eventually become a Unitarian minister. I could not turn him down. He was very compelling in an offbeat masculine way. I was in love and he had missed Woodstock for me.

        Arnold wedding 2 001   Dress Arnold wedding 001b  Cake  Arnold wedding 3 001   Minister with Bride & Groom

We quickly planned a wedding to occur 3 weeks later. I waited a week to tell my parents of the upcoming nuptials. They did not have the money to attend. Bruce’s parents hosted an engagement party for their family. I was somewhat startled to overhear his older sister and father speak of stockpiling weapons for the upcoming revolution. My Aunts and Uncles in Omaha graciously attended my ceremony at the First Unitarian Church. I wore a white lace A-line dress my Aunt purchased for $1.50 at the Brandeis bargain basement. I baked a small 3 tiered wedding cake and bought 12 bottles of sparkling Cold Duck wine for the celebration. I discovered Bruce was a poet and he produced an impressive poem titled “Wedding Song.” I suspected he may have authored it much earlier for someone else. I asked my new best girlfriend to be the bridesmaid and sing a love song I liked from the 1963 movie “How The West Was Won.” I think she also sang an early Elton John hit. Our candlelit ceremony at twilight was actually quite beautiful. We drank the Cold Duck, sampled the cake and danced to his younger brother’s band before driving to Lincoln, Nebraska. We spent 2 nights in an economy motel, visited a museum and went to the movie “Goodbye Columbus.” We returned to his parents’ basement and our UNO studies. I had just married a charismatic young man I had gone out with a total of 3 times.


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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.

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Women for Women?

Before launching into a discussion of this topic, let’s just say I do not attribute my own electoral results to a lack of support from other women. I do think I share a life experience, perhaps, similar to other Nebraska women and it could be productive to look at that journey. When I was a young girl growing up in small town Nebraska, I heard “mixed messages” about supporting other women. My homemaker Mom usually had 1-2 close women friends and their support of each other was something I noticed and envied. On the other hand, 1950’s television, motion pictures and magazines left the strong impression that women were competing with one another and there was a limited number of rewards to be won. For me, that translated into attention and commitment from males and societal and familial recognition for any special attributes or achievement. I did not see that I would have much in the way of personal resources to bring into this competition.

ME & MICKI 001

1950’s Micki and me.

My early Elementary School years were not that helpful. I was a painfully shy child who daydreamed a lot. Sitting in a classroom was excruciating for me. I had a running mental picture of more interesting diversions. My youthful fantasies were fueled by what I learned watching T.V. and movies, and also reading comic books. We are talking The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Sky King, and also grown up offerings like My Little Margie, I Love Lucy, Our Miss Brooks, Leave it to Beaver, The Bob Cummings Show, The Jack Benny Program, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and The Ed Sullivan Show immediately come to mind. My first celebrity crush was Howdy Doody closely followed by Peter Pan. The debut of The Mickey Mouse Club was one of the most thrilling days of my young life. The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show was one of my favorites, and I think I know why. George Burns watched his wife and neighbors get into wacky situations and “broke the fourth wall” sharing his observations directly with the audience. This theatrical device always intrigues me to this day. Also, George Burns seemed to truly love his wife Gracie and she conveyed some wisdom apart from the wacky escapades.

On the comic book front, I habitually read Archie, Betty and Veronica, Superman, Batman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman. My favorite superhero was The Flash, I do not recall any reason why. I owe my comic book exposure to my best cousin Micki who was my childhood mentor having lived a year and few months longer than me. My parents did not buy comic books but Micki had a large collection that came to me in bulk for Summer binge reading.

I am sure there is a lot of research on the gender role socialization that evolved from ALL this entertainment. I have read some of it. Needless to say, the expectations I formed for my own existence were pretty limited by my perceived deficiencies. Movie Star was on the top of the aspirations, but it was hard to really see that as a promising goal. Teacher was not so appealing because I suffered through most of my own schooling. Nursing and Secretarial skills seemed pretty difficult and challenged my perceived abilities. Homemaker seemed possible, but I was not sure it was my own mother’s and her close friends’ first choice. Maybe she and her friends knew something I could not see. My Mom’s title for her full time job was always “house wife.” My childhood view of this career was obviously at bit romanticized. In my mind, the major appeal was you did not have to go to school. You stayed home during the day, spent some time on the phone chatting with friends, and you could watch some T.V. The cleaning, cooking, sewing, and laundry duties seemed doable because I did not appreciate the skill and science involved.

But somehow my journey did not go down the path I imagined in my childhood. What happened? I have some thoughts…

Virgin Mary 001


When I was in possibly the 3rd Grade, my parents made a switch from the Methodist to the Episcopal Church. This was probably wise because the congregation membership was less and we could be bigger deals and have more fun. St. Mary’s was just across the street on my block and we had to walk way around the corner and then cross the street to First Methodist. The Episcopal Church was cooler because you had to kneel, wear a hat or scarf, and you could go up to the altar for blessings when your parents took Communion. I earned a few special little medals for learning dogma like the Nicene Creed. Anyway, one year I noticed that a pretty blonde girl was selected to portray St. Mary at Christmas. I obviously did not fill that bill. Then one year, my Mom came to me to announce I had been cast as Mary and that she would coach me on the lengthy Bible passages I would have to memorize. Forgetting for the moment that there was no reason to think I could master this assignment, I immediately understood a few things. My Mom was really into this challenge and her ego would be riding on my performance. Also, when it came to memorizing, my not blonde or particularly pretty self had a shot at the prize. I remember getting through the performance and my Mom did say she was proud. I probably got another little medal. The lesson I learned that day was that I could be smarter than some other little ladies. If I applied this new talent at school, I might get some attention and rewards. This is a aha moment in my “Herstory.”


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