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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