Together with my colleagues I’ve been writing a blog about triumphs and tragedies, rights and wrongs, in the workplace for over three years. Workers are working harder than ever, with less and less to show for it in their envelope. All the while, workers find their rights under attack and at times eviscerated by legislation like the so-called right to work bills that were hotly debated and rejected Wednesday by the Maine Legislature.
But in the three years I’ve been writing this column, I don’t think I’ve even once paid tribute to the hardest working workers of them all: mothers. No one else works 24/7, 365 days a week to nurture, clothe, and feed us, to lift us up when we are down, and to celebrate our victories.
My mom has been gone for three years, and I miss her every day. She gave me the greatest gift of all a mother can give a child; unconditional love and the belief that I could conquer the world.
My mother graduated with a degree in accounting from Ohio State University in 1951 or 1952 (I’m not sure exactly when because I wasn’t around back then). She was the only woman in her accounting class. She also was first or second in the class (unfortunately, she’s no longer around for me to ask her).
Despite her high rank, the accounting firms did not exactly beat a path to my mother’s door. In fact, every firm she applied to rejected her. Accounting was (and I think to a large measure today remains) a man’s profession.
So my mom did what a lot of women in that era did: she got a job with the phone company, one of the few places that hired women after the war. No, not using her business skills; rather, like Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine, she worked as an operator in directory assistance.
Several years after she started at Ohio Bell, I came along, followed by my brother and sister. As was the custom in those days, mom left the phone company and became a stay-at -home mom to raise us kids.
After we reached our teenage years, mom returned to the workforce outside of the home. Accounting jobs still weren’t available to her, so she did the next best thing and became a bookkeeper. She toiled in that profession for almost 40 years until her mid-70’s, working for a succession of small accounting firms where she prepared tax returns and kept the books for myriad companies.
Most of the time, mom was paid a relatively paltry sum while her male bosses, who probably did not know as much as she did, took home the riches. I’m sure her bosses never knew the fire that raged inside; she was unfailingly polite and generally unwilling to stand up for herself despite my numerous entreaties that she do so.
Instead, mom went to work on time each day and came home many nights justifiably angry about her low pay, about the men she worked for who worked half as hard as she did and made multiple times as much, about how she had been denied the opportunity to practice in her chosen profession. Reflecting on it now, I think my mom’s experience made me the feminist that I am today.
There must have been millions of moms just like mine, who worked hard to be the best mothers they could be, but were deprived of the vocational opportunities they deserved and the satisfaction that comes from a job well done. While women my age have had greater opportunities than my mom, the workplace is still far from equal. That’s something that I still strive to change every day.
Happy mother’s day mom, wherever you are. Thanks for all of your hard work and sacrifice. And don’t forget I love you.