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Society of Women Engineers

Podcast: SWE Stories – Tales from the Archives – Episode 1 The Second Shift

In this first episode of SWE Stories: Tales from the Archives, SWE Archivist Troy Eller English and Director of Editorial and Publications Anne Perusek share members’ stories about “The Second Shift.”

Published On: September 2017

In this first episode of our SWE Stories: Tales from the Archives podcast, Society of Women Engineers archivist Troy Eller English, director of editorial and publications Anne Perusek, and manager of digital media Angie Myers share members’ stories from SWE’s archives about “the second shift.”  Sigrid King, Bernice and Jeff Brody, Yvonne Brill, Yvonne Young Clark, and Irene Sharpe explain how they managed the responsibilities that awaited them when they returned home after a full day in the office.

ARCHIVAL SOURCES

Yvonne Brill, Interviewed by Deborah Rice, Profiles of SWE Pioneers Oral History Project, Walter P. Reuther Library and Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University,

November 3, 2005.

Yvonne Brill

Bernice and Jeff Brody, interviewed by Troy Eller, SWE Grassroots Oral History Project, Walter P. Reuther Library and Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University, November 9, 2012.

Bernice Brody

Jeff Brody

Yvonne Young Clark and Irene Sharpe, interviewed by Lauren Kata, Anne Perusek, Isabelle French, and Dianne Deturris, Profiles of SWE Pioneers Oral History Project, Walter P. Reuther Library and Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University, June 29, 2001.

Yvonne Young Clark

Irene Sharpe

Sigrid King, First Annual Florida State Symposium for Women in Engineering and the Sciences luncheon speech, November 9, 1974. Society of Women Engineers National Records, Box 90, Folder 9, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Sigrid King Speech.pdf

TRANSCRIPT

Angie Myers (reading Sigrid King 1974 speech excerpt):

“…Engineering training can help you improve household functions. I have started a time study on myself because I seem to have more to do than can be done in 24 hours a day. I am in the process of analyzing how my time is actually spent, so that I may give priority to my interests. Surely I can find a better way to get things done!”

Troy Eller English:

That was an observation from Society of Women Engineers student member Sigrid King, an industrial engineering reentry student at Florida Technological University, as read by Angie Myers, digital media manager for the Society of Women Engineers. Sigrid King was invited to speak at the First Annual Florida State Symposium for Women in Engineering and the Sciences in 1974 to share her thoughts about life as an engineering student and a mother of four.

Welcome to the very first episode of SWE Stories: Tales from the Archives, a podcast in which we share intriguing stories about the history of SWE and its members. I’m Troy Eller English, the Society of Women Engineers archivist at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University in midtown Detroit.

Anne Perusek:

And I’m Anne Perusek, SWE’s director of editorial and publications. Today, we’ll hear stories from the archives about the second shift: SWE members’ experiences managing their professional careers and their personal households.

Troy Eller English

I find it interesting that in speeches and articles and oral history interviews so many SWE members have talked about the challenges of the second shift. It is a recurring point of stress, and their experiences are something from which we can learn.

So, let’s go back to Sigrid King, the industrial engineering student and mother of four: In her 1974 speech she approached household management from an industrial engineer’s point of view, looking to optimize various processes in her home to improve efficiency – and probably also her own sanity. Angie, can you share some of King’s industrial engineering strategies for the house?

Angie Myers (reading Sigrid King 1974 speech excerpt):

“There are four children in our household. That’s twenty packed lunches a week. There has to be a system for coordinating all that peanut butter!

In our home, each child has a “snack box” with his or her name on it. It is my responsibility to fill these boxes before the week starts with enough snacks – usually about 7 bags of goodies each – and to fix a big bowl of fruit. My husband makes the two kindergarten boys’ sandwiches and fills their thermos’ each morning; the rest is left to the children. They each choose a snack, a fruit, and a napkin.

This teaches them responsibility where they alone benefit or suffer from their efforts. It also teaches discretion and budgeting – as they decide when to take extra snacks.

Another engineering area is in the laundry. We have a laundry room with five baskets marked “WHITE”, “DARK’, “IN-BETWEEN”, “TOWELS”, and “SHEETS”. Each family member has his own container for dirty clothes, and the idea is they each learn to sort their own clothes to make laundering easier. This one isn’t perfected yet, but it’s close.

I keep a stopwatch handy, and when we make regular trips (as to church, the grocery, or the bank) I try to figure out the most efficient, economical, and pleasant route.

Of course, not everybody cares to use a stopwatch and odometer for actual measurements; but don’t we do the same thing, just naturally?”

Troy Eller English:

King also compared industrial engineering to the functions necessary in running a home:

Angie Myers (reading Sigrid King 1974 speech excerpt):

  • Management and Administration
  • Finance and Accounting
  • Purchasing and Cost Control
  • Employee Development & Training, Morale and Motivation
  • Labor Relations (like trying to get a child to clean his room)
  • Food and Facilities
  • Transportation
  • Traffic Management (coordinating the coming and going of active teenagers, husband, your own activities)
  • First Aid
  • Security
  • Communications (notes on the refrigerator door?)
  • Maintenance
  • Public Relations (when your child breaks the neighbor’s window)
  • Warehousing (finding room to store Christmas decorations, Easter baskets, Halloween costumes)

Anne Perusek:

In 2012, the dual engineering and SWE couple Bernice and Jeff Brody spoke with humor about the chaos and career difficulties inherent in ferrying their children to various activities in the 1980s and 1990s. But, they also spoke about some of the rewarding experiences that their busy careers offered the family. Bernice and Jeff married right out of college and started their family early, confusing their coworkers in the process.

Bernice and Jeff Brody SWE Grassroots Oral History Interview [excerpt]:

BERNICE BRODY: Jeff got a lot of the backlash at work. I remember being told that Jeff—I had to go pick up the kids. “Well, Jeff better take care of his responses.” And I’m thinking, “Jeff does more with these kids and picks up these kids all the time. What are you talking about?” So, I did hear that. Jeff got a lot of backlash about having to go pick up the kids, or leaving early and stuff. What’s the best revenge, Jeffrey? (laughs) You don’t even know what I’m talking about. The generation later—

JEFF BRODY:

Oh, (inaudible).

BERNICE BRODY:

Now, the people that we work with were laughing about Jeff, and how hen-pecked he was, and how he had to go pick up the kids and all sort of stuff. They all had kids much later in life, right? So, it’s like a generation—even though they’re not that much younger than us. Then they were doing that. “Oh my God, I’ve got to go pick up the kids!” [01:53:00] And Jeff would just be there, going, “Yeah, now you understand.” Now at the time we were much more the minority, right?

Anne Perusek:

They also talked about the challenges of scheduling and transporting their children to and from after-school activities and play dates, as well as the rewarding experiences that their careers presented to the family.

Bernice and Jeff Brody SWE Grassroots Oral History Interview [excerpt]:

BERNICE BRODY:

So, and there was one day where I remember we color-coded who had to go where, and which day.

JEFF BRODY:

Yeah, I think we tried that for, like, a week or two.

BERNICE BRODY:

Whatever. Because he was getting frustrated, because he was doing all the work. But we color-coded it. “Okay, so we have to pick up Allison and take her to blah, blah, blah, two to five on Sunday.” And, you know, I had to do this. And it was all on his blackboard at work. We’re doing this, figuring out who’s got to go where, and where do we have to be? (laughs) And, of course, we had some church responsibilities so we had to give the kids to religious education. And there was, like, every religious education was eating at Wendy’s. Like, you know, you drive through Wendy’s and they’re eating in the back of the car as you’re going to the next stop. You know, you’re picking up the kids, get them something, and just drive them to the next stop. [01:54:00] And you’re just like, “Ugh.” And then they want you to be this instructor. So you—ugh. It was just—it was a zoo.

But, on the other flipside, what did we do? I called them up and I said, “I’m going to be in Austria. Why don’t you bring the kids out? I’ve got to stay there for four days. Why don’t you come out?” Because I hadn’t seen them in so long. “Why don’t you come out to Austria, to Vienna, with me?” And so, he packed up the kids and they came to Vienna, and they did the touring while I was working, and the kids got to see Vienna. So, you know, there’s always a balance, a lot of opportunities that the kids would have never had.

Troy Eller English

During a 2005 oral history interview, SWE Achievement Award recipient Yvonne Brill explained that she definitely couldn’t have managed the second shift without help.

Yvonne Brill SWE Grassroots Oral History Interview [excerpt]:

YVONNE BRILL: Well, Naomi was born in 1957. I went to work full time at RCA in June of 1966. And so she was in school a full day. And Matthew was born in 1960, and Joe was born in 1964. So Joe was really only two when I went back to work full time. And I worried a bit about that. How I managed, as far as child care was concerned, through the barber at the local little town, that was local, he knew a widow who needed a job. And she was a very, very good housekeeper — a terrible cook, but a very good housekeeper.

So we would pick Mrs. Durling up at 8:00 in the morning, or close to 8:00, either my husband or I, and then we’d take her back to her place, which was just a mile away. And she was there Monday through Friday. And I could leave the dryer running so that she would fold the clothes. And she picked up every toy in the house. (laughs) It was really the neatest looking house that I’ve ever had. I never achieved the same thing again. But she was just one of those elderly women who did the housewife job very well. (laughs)

Troy Eller English:

Brill also explained that while her husband Bill was immensely supportive of her career, he grew up in a generation in which men had entrenched blind spots for household chores. But while being solely responsible for running the household was stressful, Yvonne explained that the satisfaction she got from her career was worth the stress.

Yvonne Brill SWE Grassroots Oral History Interview [excerpt]:

Yvonne Brill: Somebody asked him once — well, a couple of things. One was because I had to work long hours, being the only propulsion engineer on these proposals. The first ones were really very difficult to do, to get them right so we’d win the proposal and win the job. And so at some company party somebody asked my husband — there were not very many wives out working then, either, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s — they asked Bill how did he feel about the long hours I put in. He said, well, he’d be happy to outlive me and spend all the money that I made. (laughter) So that was sort of his attitude. He didn’t care.

But I felt very put upon. I just made sure that whatever the kids needed for their school projects, that they had it. Bill didn’t help at all in those years with any of the housework or anything like that. He’d just been raised in a home where his mother did everything. You know, it was just not anything that his father would have thought of doing. (laughs) And I don’t know that that made it any harder, it just meant I had about zero time to myself. But I accepted that, because I was happy in my job, I liked what I was doing. And I felt that I was making real progress.

Anne Perusek:

SWE members have actually had a lot to say about the unequal distribution of second shift chores. Housework and cooking were solidly considered a woman’s work when SWE was founded in 1950, and over the years many have found themselves mostly in charge of cleaning, feeding, and clothing their family after spending a full day at the office. In their 2001 oral history interview, SWE Fellow Irene Sharpe talked about the challenges of doing so, as well as learning the fine art of just letting it all go.

Yvonne Clark and Irene Sharpe SWE Grassroots Oral History Interview [excerpt]:

Irene Sharpe: And it’s amazing the number of things I think children, just raising children, will teach you. We came up in the era where the women were supposed to keep a clean house, do everything for their husband, raise the kids, keep the kids fed, clothed, clothes washed, all of that. And somehow people thought, you know, they [women] were supposed to do all these things.
And I never will forget once — and you had to do all this stuff on the weekends because you had to work Monday through Friday — so I’m out here with the piles of clothes laying around in the laundry room, getting ready to throw them into the washing machine and washing and drying and carrying on, and this little boy said to my daughter, Your house is a mess! She said, I know, we made it that way! I thought, she’s so proud of this messy house, why am I worried about it, you know? Yeah.
From then on I just started watching my daughter, you know. She’s happy with her messed-up house and she’s the one bringing her friends — and my friends never come because they’re busy working. I look at that child sometimes and say, Gee, she taught me a lot about a lot of things. You just reach a point where you prioritize. You know, I think if I had started prioritizing much sooner, things would not have been as difficult as they were in the beginning.

Anne Perusek:

Sharpe also candidly discussed the strain the second shift placed on her marriage, and how she and her husband were able to renegotiate their expectations of the other.

Yvonne Clark and Irene Sharpe SWE Grassroots Oral History Interview [excerpt]:

Irene Sharpe: And another thing that happened along the way: My husband, of course, you know, he and the kids would have their noses pressed up against the glass when I come in waiting to be fed. And I thought, all of you got two hands, why are you waiting for me?
So, I think around ‘81 we were really — I mean I was really stressed out. This was just about the time I was quitting Ford, too. We did some marriage counseling, and what-have-you, and I was going to leave my husband. He didn’t want me to go, but hey, I had all I could stand, I couldn’t take any more.
Some of the things we talked about that I wanted him to do, he just thought were — you know – so one of the counselors said that he had to stop coming home being the guest. You know, he’d come home, get into his easy chair and kick off his slippers and get the paper. And I’m out there working, working, working besides this second job when I got home. And it turned out we set up this thing where he would shop and cook for seven days, and then I would shop and cook for seven days. And we’ve been doing that since ‘81. And when the kids got old enough to drive then they had to shop and cook. So we had this four-week rotation where — I even made this schedule and put it on the refrigerator. So-and-so cooks this week, so-and-so washes the dishes this week, so-and-so does this, and the other person has the week off. And we went through that until both kids left and then when both kids were gone. Then we fell back to he shops and cooks one week, I shop and cook one week. So now we don’t get the week off because I have to wash the dishes the week that he shops and cooks. It’s worked wonderfully.

Troy Eller English:

During that same interview, SWE fellow Yvonne Clark explained that dinner was often delegated to her husband and children…so that she could sit down and watch football.

 

Yvonne Clark and Irene Sharpe SWE Grassroots Oral History Interview [excerpt]:

Yvonne Clark: But talking about cooking, society says I’m supposed to cook. Hubby was a gourmet cook. I had to go buy the food so I could control the budget, because gourmet cooking was our budget busters. But my kids knew how to cook TV dinners. You ease off the aluminum foil, put some butter over the potatoes and put it back over and throw it in the toaster oven. Both of them knew how to cook, how to put on things, because I wanted to see my football just like they did. Hey, Mom, hurry up, they’re going to have the rerun!
Irene Sharpe: And you got to share. Oh yeah, those chores have to be shared. Otherwise, I mean, you become a nervous wreck. Can’t do it all.
Yvonne Clark: So that’s how we do it.

Troy Eller English:

So there you have it. From the voices of Sigrid King, Bernice and Jeff Brody, Yvonne Brill, Irene Sharpe, and Yvonne Clark, some valuable advice for managing the second shift: Ask for help; delegate; don’t worry about the house, the mess is fine; and don’t forget to pop a freezer meal in the oven, kick your feet up, and catch some football this fall.

Anne Perusek:

That’s it for today. I hope you enjoyed this first podcast from the SWE archives. We’ll have something new for you in a few months. In the meantime, check out the full text of the interviews and speeches featured today by searching for “podcasts” on altogether.swe.org. Thanks for listening!

Sponsored by:
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