My mother, Louise, grew up a product of the 1940s and 50s. For most women, they did what they were told and conformed to society’s expectations of the day. There were limited career opportunities for women – nurse, teacher, or nun. My mother chose the path of nursing.
In late 1955 she met my father, Jerry, having slept through dinner at the nurse’s dormitory. Nursing was hands-on and exhausting. Mom and her classmates worked full-time, had a full class schedule, and found precious little time to sleep. A friend invited her to their home for dinner, where my dad was also present.
Fast-forward four months. They got engaged on my mother’s 21st birthday and dad wanted to get married immediately. But there was a problem. If mom were to marry, she would be kicked out of nursing school.
Dad devised a plan to get around the threat. They were attending the University of Nebraska in Omaha and dad planned for them to elope in Atlantic, Iowa, a locale far enough away so that none of mom’s classmates or university officials would see their names in the newspaper. They married in May 1956.
For almost a year, my parents lived apart – mom still in the dorms and dad in an apartment with a roommate. On the weekends she had free, mom’s classmates protected her secret. They diverted the attention of hall matron, and she sneaked out through an underground tunnel to spend time with her husband. Nope, I’m not making this up.
The rationale on the part of the university was that married nurses would just get pregnant and leave the field. Fifteen months later mom was in her first trimester, pregnant with me. Two of her classmates were also expecting. They still had to take their nursing board exams but were expected to work a full night shift before taking their certifications the next day. Again, my mother challenged the rules. Pleading exhaustion, the three women demanded that the university give them time to sleep and study. They passed their boards, and many, including mom, became exceptional nurses.
My mother would never consider herself rebellious by any means, although she admits to being terrified of getting caught and kicked out of school. What she accomplished fighting rules that served no purpose except to control the behavior of women, was ground-breaking. The university soon changed its policy regarding married nursing students.
After working as a public health nurse and putting my dad through law school, she became a stay-at-home mom raising five children. Motherhood was also something she wanted in life. In the 1980s she would return to work, playing a key role in our family’s real estate business.
It takes guts to confront authority and push for change. Many women have done just that throughout history. On this Mother’s Day I’m celebrating the mothers, rebels, and heroines who dare to make change possible among us.
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