Beginning the Journey

Margaret Miller on the job - reporting for the Women's Section
Margaret Miller on the job – reporting for the Women’s Section

I always feel uncomfortable at the beginning of a new writing project. I tell people that I’m used to this – that I know that I can just “carry it around in my head” for a while and then it will come out okay on the screen and then on the paper. That doesn’t make me feel any more comfortable, but it’s what I tell people.

But as I start on this particular journey, I’m not sure that my head has room to carry everything around, and I’ve decided that I want to ideas onto the screen earlier, even if they don’t feel fully formed. If I’m the only one who sees these pieces as they emerge in all their undeveloped glory, it will do the project good. And if others read and respond, it will undoubtedly do the project even better.

My career as a scholar and writer has taken a number of turns. I started as a classic social scientist – sending out the surveys, crunching the numbers, writing by formula. I was pretty good at it. I was a bit of an academic butterfly, though, never able to sustain my work into what others might call a solid “research program” building in that incremental way that social science is supposed to work. I soon got to the point where I wasn’t just following interests and changing research methods, I was centering my scholarship in various aspects of my life. When the Aggie Bonfire collapsed at Texas A&M University I wrote about the emotional work of coping with tragedy. When I started taking on responsibility for my aging parents, my research shifted to family caregiving. When my father died and we found a “box full of letters” I wrote the book War Makes Men of Boys: A Soldier’s World War II.

And now my work has turned again, and I’ve decided to blog during this part of the journey. My mother, Margaret Miller, died almost a year ago. She had a full life – wife and mother to four daughters, active community volunteer, and successful journalist. She worked at the Associated Press during World War II, quitting in 1953 after marriage. As her fourth daughter entered kindergarten, she re-entered the work force as a women’s editor for a chain of community newspapers in the Detroit area. When I finished writing my “Dad Book” I decided I wanted to move on and write about my mother and her career. What I found, though, was that my mom exemplified a movement – female journalists during the 1960s and 1970s who transformed the women’s section, represented both the traditional values of “food, family, furnishings, and fashion” and the changing lives of American women on their pages, maintained a contentious relationship with feminist leaders of the time, and balanced work and family before it was a stylish thing to do.

So my current project is about these women – the times they lived in, the work they did, the stories and columns they wrote, the families they nurtured, the paths they cleared, the sacrifices they made, the rewards they reaped. That is the “then” portion of this project – a look at women’s pages editors and columnists during the height of the “women’s lib” movement. But the experiences of these women still echo 50 years later. Though there are new wrinkles in our talk of leaning in, off-ramps and on-ramps, opting out and back in, and having it all, the undercurrents are the same. So exploring the “then” also means confronting the “now.”

In future weeks, I’ll post about these women — my mother and many others — and consider various aspects of their lives and work. I’ll also ponder what the female journalists of that era can teach women in all walks of life today. I hope you’ll join me in the journey and the conversation.

9 thoughts on “Beginning the Journey”

  1. Great to see you begin doing this Kathy, and I’ll definitely look forward to reading more (and commenting if/when I might have any significant response or something to add). I agree that it makes sense to get it out there early on… I have found that consistent feedback (or even just imagining the possibility of feedback) is super motivational. Cheers, Sarah

  2. Kathy: I have followed some of the changes you refer to and was impressed with the book you wrote about your father. You have shifted as you say from standard social science. I have been blogging for a few years at this address (http://peaceandconflictpolitics.com/) and will be happy to give you some help or make some suggestions if you think they would be helpful. Perhaps at some future conference you can tell me more about what you have been doing. Best of luck. Don Ellis

  3. What a meaningful and worthwhile project! I look forward to exploring the blog and reading about your mother’s experiences and contributions as a female journalist. A former student of mine, Jasmine Linabary, now pursuing her Ph.D. at Purdue, runs the fabulous blog genderreport.com. Check it out – I think you would find her coverage of gender reporting in online news, and specifically, female journalist’s experiences an interesting point of contrast and comparison with your mother’s experiences. Here’s a great reading list they just posted…
    http://genderreport.com/2013/09/01/women-in-journalism-reading-list-for-912013/

    Thanks for including us on this journey!
    Stephanie Hamel

    1. Stephanie – Thanks so much for this resource! I’m following Jasmine’s blog now, and it looks like it will be a wealth of wonderful information on the “now” part of my project. There are so many echos from the time period I’m looking at that reverberate today …

  4. I love what you are doing here! Such a wonderful project. I will definitely be following along with you in your journey. Great picture of your mom! Best of luck!

  5. My grandmother wrote a column for The Blade out of Toledo for years. The only column I remember was when she talked about happiness. She talked about how she always felt like “Every day was Christmas” because it was a gift. Reading this makes me want to go back and read Dorothy Hubbell’s columns if I can get access to them. She never got to graduate from High School because during the Depression her father made her go to work to help support the family. It was not important for girls to get an education. So, education was the thing she used to tell us kids was most important and she and my grandfather worked hard to put their two sons through college. She was and is my greatest role model.

    1. Wow, wow, wow!! If you manage to put your hands on any of your grandmother’s old columns, I’d love to see them! But I’ll also do some searching of the Toledo Blade archives, too. Any idea of the years she was writing her column? It might help in the search. It sounds like she was truly an inspiration – both for your family and for those who read her columns …

  6. I’m looking forward to seeing the story unfold. I’m often telling my students to consider “careers” more broadly and to think about the context, so it will be great there. However, more importantly, I’m just curious to see what you find and how you tell your mothers–and her compatriots stories.

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