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“We had a strike not too far from here . . . We were all lined up and they threw some
of the people in jail, men and women. By the time they got to me, the jail was full.
I didn't mind going to jail.”
~ Nellie Stone Johnson



MN Women & Work | MN Women in the Trades | Oral History Spotlight

Origins of the Collection

The Minnesota Oral History Collection was established by Renee Vaughan, a community faculty member at Metropolitan State University, as part of an experiential learning assignment for students in her course, "Women and Work in Contemporary Society." The response was overwhelmingly positive from both students and community members. The collection established online presence in 2003, and has since received requests and inquiries from around the world. .

The current collection is inclusive of many women’s experience: Hmong, white, black, Native-American, middle-class, working class, rural, urban, etc. Occupations of previous interviewees include farmer, homemaker, white-collar professional, pink-collar worker, factory worker, head chef, bartender, W.W. II veteran, teacher, entrepreneur, unionist, and healthcare worker. We continue to expand and diversify each year.

MN Women & Work
Since 1997, Metropolitan State Univeristy students and interns have facilitated oral histories with community women who have lived and worked most of their lives in Minnesota.

Note: Online transcripts, when available, are available in two file formats: html and pdf. The pdf format is preferable for printing out the transcript, but you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader software to open the file. This free software is available to download by clicking on this link.

If an oral history is not available online, please inquire if a hardcopy is available for review. mnwomenwork@metrostate.edu

 

Barb (last name withheld by request)
Born in Vermont, Barb's family moved to Minnesota when she was young for better opportunities. "I'm a press operator of several automatic machines at a plastics factory. They give the men all of the managerial jobs. They automatically assume that the men are more mechanically inclined.
Transcript available as hardcopy

Edna Anderson
Edna was born in the early 1900's to German parents who decided that she should become a teacher. Edna earned her Ph.D. and became the superintendent. ""There were about 482 men and I was the only woman."
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Carol Balcome
As a teenager, Carol worked at a donut shop. "[The uniforms were] real pink. You know, the little pink dress thing with an apron, and then the hair net... I think everyone needs to have one of those [types of jobs.]"
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Martha Bren
Born in Canada, Martha came to the United States on a railway pass she earned while working for the railroad. She became a United States citizen in 1945 when she married her husband. One way she supplemented the family income was selling produce on a route. I would make butter and I would bring eggs . . . and if there was any fruit I would take fruit in . . . to Minneapolis once a week and I would bring the children with me and I would deliver these things to my different customers. I would make maybe seven dollars a week which was a lot of money."
Transcript available as hardcopy

Amy Broderick
Amy's story demonstrates the importance of listening to what we really want out of life. "...I was actually deciding what to do. I loved gardening and I loved to cook...I was thinking [about] law school...I wanted to do something totally different and start[ed] to look at my options...a week before school started I enrolled at the Art Institute for culinary arts. It was sort of a quick decision, but something I had always wanted to do."
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Joann "Jo" Buck
Jo was born and raised in rural Minnesota and stayed there to raised her own family but she sees herself as part of a larger picture. “We [rural women] are not much different from our city sisters. Our homes, commuting time, and/or distance and the need to plan for retirement can be the same.”

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Audrey Carpenter
Born in Richmond, Australia, Audrey joined the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAF) during WWII. After the war, she moved to the US. When her children were older, she worked as an administrative assistant. "In those days those guys would say something, you would just ignore it. I suppose nowadays they say it is sexual harassment or something."
Transcript available as hardcopy

Marlaine Cox
Marlaine, the youngest of five children, eschewed the traditional female jobs and trained to become a welder. "When I first started working in the trades, I was a production welder at a non-union shop. Most of the men reacted vehemently against me being there...I think that the way they cut me down was to tell me that I wasn't strong enough physically to handle the job. They didn't see that I had other assets that more than made up for me not being very strong."
Transcript available as hardcopy

Laurel Dean
Laurel pursued her education over an eighteen year period while she raised four children. "Back in the 60s when I was seeking employment and beginning a family there was a lot of discrimination against women. In those days they could still assk you whether you were married or whether or not you had children. I ran into situations where they never got past those two questions and I was an automatic non-candidate because they assumed you would not be able to do the job. You would spend too much time with sick children."
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Susan Devich
Susan Devich was born and raised in Duluth MN and spent most of her teenage years working typical high school jobs. She has worked to in the Social Work Arena for almost 30 years, holding various interesting jobs, from typical caseworker to Director of The Children’s Trust Fund of Minnesota.
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Willelmina Marie Dey
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Donna Duchene
Donna grew up on a farm outside of Mankato. Early on she worked in a corn factory. "We were standing by one another for twelve hours at a time. The loud noise prevented talking and you never had the same partner... you only got to know by face the people that you worked with."
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Norma Ellis
Born and raised by a single mother in Minneapolis, Norma was encouraged by her family to attended college in West Virginia. During high school "my counselor . . . told me that when I got out of high school, I should pursue being a secretary or a receptionist . . . there were lawyers and teachers on my mother's side . . . so in my mind, I could do what ever I wanted to do and nobody ever in my family said you can't."
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Angella Frattalone
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Elizabeth Fuchs
Elizabeth, born to hard working German immigrant farmers, has worked in the restaurant business most of her life. Included in Elizabeth’s core values are honesty and hard work and as a business owner, she managed her employees accordingly. “When we had the restaurant, we finally did [well] after a lot of struggle, and we always said to our help, even our dishwasher or gas station attendant, no matter what, we are no better than you are. We are the same as you are. The only thing is that we happen to be the boss.”
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Angella Geraghty
Raised in Little Canada on a large farm that housed not only her family, but her uncles as well, Angella learned to pitch in and work hard early on. "I used to do a lot of the baking and the last year I was in grade school I broke my leg so I couldn't go out and pick strawberries or anything so I did all of the cooking, the bread and meals for everybody." She worked until she was 82 in various jobs, including retreading tires during the war.
Transcript available as hardcopy

Yvonne Gram
Born in Minneapolis during the 1930's, Yvonne shares her views on working in the factories vs. office work. "Anybody could work in an office, but it took guts to go work in the factory." "Wages there [in the factory] were a couple more dollars an hour. Back in those days, that was quite a bit... As long as they had unions, and they [the unions] were strong, you could make money."
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LaVeda Granberry
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Ellen Held
Ellen worked several service sector jobs throughout her life. When she was pregnant, Ellen suffered legal discrimination on the job. "I was there until May of 1961 and that was when I was pregnant and you had to quit at four months pregnant. That was their rule-couldn't work past the fourth month. But I was really five months pregnant, but I told them I was four months."
Transcript available as hardcopy

Joy Holm
Joy grew up in Thief River Falls, a small own by the Canadian border. She has spent most of her working career in the secretarial fields. "There wasn't much available when I graduated. You could be a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher. That was about all that was open to women."
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Anne Jones
Anne's level of education opened a career door that few men would have turned down in the 1950s, but at that time women did not move in a sphere that supported marriage, family, and a high-status job. "I interviewed at Honeywell and Control Data and another place that is now, was sold, I can't think...the corporate world was the place to be. You got benefits and all this stuff. Well that was the beginning of the downhill slide...I didn't know it...I did not like it; I went to those interviews and I felt like I was being choked. I just felt like "this is not a climate that I'm going to like, I don't know what I'm going to do, but I can't do this."
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Carol Kapaun
Starting her formal work career at the phone company at seventeen, Carol went from cord board operator to maintenance to T1 tester (working with outside technicians on installing T1 circuits, lines used for data). Her non-traditional work has ". . . a lot of men . . . we have a lot of people who worked for other telecommunication companies and have been in the military. A field that was basically male orientated now is open up to women."
Transcript available as hardcopy

Rachel A. Kass
A single mother who has spent her life in the service sector, Rachel reminds us that the world is not only divided by gender and race, but also by social class. "My fulfilling job would be to go out there and make sure that there are homes for everybody, that there is food on everybody's table, and that there is no such thing as homeless people. There's no such thing as a battered woman...that's my idea of fulfilled, unwaged work."
Transcript available as hardcopy

Bonnie Kittelson
Bonnie has worked in the computer industry for many years. "We got this terrible manager in and he started creating problems for us, doing all kids of unfair things... So we decided to show him. We organized a group... We lined up in his office one morning , we had it all planned, and 12 of us quit.,"
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Shelly Linda-Lang
Born and raised in West St. Paul, Shelly is the mother of one child and the grandmother of two. She is an occupational therapist who draws on the struggles of her own childhood to assist adults through art therapy. "We don't do things for people but we help people figure out what it is they want...That's a big change from the old way of thinking [about] mental health."
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Leona Catherine-Larson
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Esther Lindgren
Born March 13, 1904, in Fernay, British Columbia. She left home at 17 to become a nurse, eventually ending up in St. Paul, Minnesota. She looks back on the decades and some of her patients, including a young man who had been in a dynamite explosion. "I had to feed him with a tube . . but you know he healed up and I had him walking around . . . one day he just grabbed me and started to dance with me. Well, I know you can't do that here. If I get caught I'll be fired -- and that's just what happened."
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Renee Line
After struggling with the inequities of the banking industry, Renée developed a place of her own where she could pursue a career in financial planning. “. . . I belonged to Life Underwriters Association, which at one point they made me president, only the second woman president they had. The organization had, at that point when I president, 120 men and five women. I felt it was quite an honor that they thought enough of me to have me become president of the association.”
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Lois McCarron
Lois worked as a Public Healthcare policymaker for the Republican administration in the early 1980s, and then entered law school, graduating at the age of forty-eight. "I finished law school in three years and two summer sessions. I didn't find out until I was all done that we weren't supposed to be taking that many credits per semester. I never knew that was a rule!"
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Maxine L. Merrigan
Maxine held service sector jobs. She understands the importance of education. "I would have gotten an education--that was a big mistake not going on to school. No matter what you do even if you don't go into that field, you need an education to do anything. It does expand your horizons-being educated."
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Cathy Meyer
Raised in a family of twelve with a strong work ethic, she struggled to find her place through college, teaching and restaurant work. But when she bought her restaurant she found her niche. " . . . I remember being very focused . . . this is my dream come true. . . I just really knew this was right and I, I came to the philosophy when things are going your way and every door opens as you come to it, that it is right."
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Margie Michael
A daughter of immigrants, Margie helped on the farm until she graduated and went to work at an arsenal "making the 30-caliber bullet. I worked in gauge and weigh . . . then I was transferred into anther department [that] was a totally enclosed area, the door was closed and there was explosive type material . . . in gauge and weigh they were just empty cartridges."
Transcript available as hardcopy

Mildred Micheel
Born in 1915, Mildred grew up on a farm. After high school, she worked a couple of jobs and attended business school. She found she liked banking and worked at a bank until she had her children. The bank pursued her for various job openings and finally went back into banking when "that gal that was working in the bookkeeping department quit and they couldn't hire someone that would stay so they came up to me and asked if I wouldn't come and work for them. So that is how I started there."
Transcript available as hardcopy

Jeannine Mittelmark
Born in Paris, Jeannine was raised by her grandparents. She came of age during WWII and even worked as a bookkeeper for the US Army. After the war, she and her husband moved to the US. They lived in a variety of States; Jeannine worked a variety of jobs and raised her family wherever their travels took them. "I was very busy, because when you live[d] in a camping ground you had to do a lot of things by hand and laundry [was] one of them, bathing [was] one of them."
Transcript available as hardcopy

Clara Mortel
Born in 1923 in Glenwood City, Wisconsin, and a long time resident of South Saint Paul, Clara worked several jobs before having children. "They [had] one rule that when you got pregnant you couldn't work anymore. I thought I hid my pregnancy pretty well, but then one day I got called in by my boss, who was a woman, she asked if I was pregnant and I said 'Yes. How did you know?' My boss said, 'Well, you stood wrong.'"
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Mai Yee Moua
Mai Yee Moua began her life in Laos; Ravaged by war, her homeland did not have the resources to provide public education. Although she now lives in Minnesota, Mai continues to follow Hmong gender roles and norms. "I take care of [my daughters'] children and they pay me with cash [but] I do not take it, so I just baby sit their kids and they bring me rice, vegetables, and meat for me to eat... I work everyday, but not outside of the home."
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Mary Nadeau
Born in St. Paul, MN, 1931, she worked her first job at 12 to earn spending money. Mary loves to work and spent forty-five years employed in the banking industry. She felt her greatest accomplishment was ". . . becoming the assistant vice president of the bank . . . [there] was not a lot of promotions in the bank as fair as females were concerned . . . I thought 'I'm the one who has to do something.'"
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Donna Nelson
Born February 22, 1929 in St. Peter, MN was drawn to medicine early. Starting a family derailed her career choice, but she found work as a pharmacy technician. ". . . we lived close to a pharmacy and I had wanted to work there. So I remember talking to the fellow that owned the place, and he said that as soon as an opening came he would call me, and he did. And so I was there for 21 years and I started out just as a cashier but worked myself back into the pharmacy. . . I learned a lot there. I actually worked as a pharmacy tech then.
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Winnifred Nelson
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Helen Nicosia
Born in 1924, Helen has been a resident of St. Paul most of her life. ". . . years ago women couldn't do anything. They couldn't even own anything, soon as they got married, everything went to the husband, and whatever he wanted to do with it, that's what was done. Women weren't allowed to vote, they weren't allowed to hope . . . Lot a times now, you still hear that women aren't promoted, because they say, well men are supporting a family. But, a lot of these women are supporting a family, too."
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Pat Ottenstoer
Raised in South Minneapolis with two older brothers and parents who both worked, Pat went on to school and chose nursing as her profession ". . . you really kind of felt that there were a few different areas you'd go into. You would either be a secretary, a nurse, or a teacher. Now today everything is so open to anyone and it is really exciting. I wish I would have had some of those feeling back then."
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Mary Page
Mary is value driven and challenges that which she does not understand or agree with. During her terms as Mayor, she struggled with how gender becomes so central. “So what’s the difference in working with men or women? I wanted to say: “Listen to just the things I say, just listen to the issues. Let’s not think about whether I’m male or female and whether being a woman fits or doesn’t fit your notion of how things should be.” She served three terms as Mayor of her community.
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Billie Jean Potter
Billie Jean became a practical nurse, a wife, and a mother. Later in life, she returned to school to become an RN. "The workload has of course gotten a lot heavier, the technology has gotten a lot worse...the doctors rely on the nurses for everything whereas in the early sixties you know, we couldn't do anything."
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Barbara Prescott
Born in 1930, Barbara is an American Indian who raised eight children and supplemented the family income by crafting art. "I did [traditional] bead work and made sling shots. I had to [go] into the woods in deep snow to cut the sling shot and had to go to the junk yard to find the rubber. Then I moved to St. Paul, here I made drums. I had to go to the dump to find the cans for the drums and I'd put the paper on them with Indian designs on them."
Transcript available as hardcopy

Una Roseen
Una Roseen grew up in Moorhead, MN. Her mother hailed from Norway adn her father from Wolverton. She started work at age sixteen and held many jobs. "When I was working for the car dealership, I was the only female working. I didn't get as large a share in teh profit as the men did."
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Tamara Sharp
Born at Minneapolis' "old Sweidsh Hospital," Tamara worked one of her first jobs at a hospital. "I was only fifteen... and I was on the first floor... all by myself. [My job was to] take a flashlight and go around to patients rooms and make sure everyone was still breathing."
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Joyce Sohrabian
Raised with four brothers to be independent, Joyce overcame undiagnosed dyslexia to become a teacher in the health care field. "I would for the first three years, take suitcases home every single night to pore over it [histology information] in order to understand it clear enough to teach it, write the curriculum, write the tests, and it was overwhelming at times and extremely difficult, but exhilarating because it was such a valuable learning experience, and it felt so valuable, as valuable as helping in the diagnosis of a patient. This was changing lives and so I think that's what made it so incredible and doable at the time."
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Julie Small
She attended college at St. Cloud State University and received a Bachelor’s degree in Bio-Medical Science.She works part time in the medical field as a lab technologist working with patients who have skin cancer. "You see a patient come in and they need surgery. When they go home... their cancer is gone, and that’s a really good feeling of accomplishment.”
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Constance, "Connie" Stack
Connie works withinthe healthcare fields as both a nurse and as a teacher." She shared her views on the occasional incidents of demeaning comments directed at women while at work. "I heard comments like, 'Okay little lady," or 'C'mon honey, try this out.' It wasn't professional talk. It was talk that I considered dememaning to women... Many women find it easier to play the game and don't call men on their behavior."
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Nellie Stone Johnson
One of the few well-known people interviewed for this collection, Nellie Stone Johnson made her mark in many of the 20th century's most important movements -- labor, civil rights and politics. Born to an African-American farming family in rural Minnesota, she went on to achieve many firsts and to leave a lasting legacy.
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Carol Streasick
"My mom, her first job was with Strauss Knitting Mills. She worked downtown St. Paul in a factory. After she married my dad she stopped working... then later on she went back to work cleaning people's houses. In those days it was called, 'Day Work."
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Jill Teague
Jill has lived most of her life in Amboy, MN. Jill has worked as a wiatress, postal worker and within the dental field. "I've worked with women, but when I think about it, most of my employers have been male... I've never ha a problem with it. I'm strong willed enough....I tend to speak my mind. I'm smart enough to use some sense."
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Marlyn Trevino
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Kay Tellinghuisen
Kay has worked with families for most of her career and calls the time spent providing direct service with families her “heart work.” “You know I still hear from people and it’s the work that they did . . . what I did was just to push a little bit, believe in a little bit, follow people around a little bit. It’s the work that they did that changed their lives, but being a part of that is, I don’t know, to me it’s just incredible.”
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Linda Trucado
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Mai Her Vang
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Marilyn Volkman
Born in Winona in 1935, Marilyn attended the local schools and graduated in a class of 225. She started working in her senior year and continued to work in between raising her children until she retired in 2000. "I worked at the switchboard and did the stuffing of ledgers with the sales slips. I don't know how to explain this but the store didn't have any cash registers down in the departments and so they had these wires that went all over the store. There were these little containers that the departments would put their sales slips and the money in, it would get sent up in these wires and went to the office . . ."
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Lucia Watson
Chef Lucia owns a restaurant and wine bar, has co-written a cookbook, and has a B.A. in French. She describes her multi-layered culinary career, her commitment to teaching children about food, and her desires to continue learning new skills. "I don't know what challenges men face...my feeling is...its [chef/caterer/restaurant owner] a really hard business no matter what your gender is."
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Dolores Welch
Living and working on the Iron Range for many years, Dolores sees the challenges that many women in rural areas face. “I think that rural women have less choice of jobs . . . if it is a choice between a male or female to fill a position, the male has first chance as they are considered the main wage earner. Women seem to get the jobs that the males don’t want.”
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The Willmar 8
When a group of women at a small-town bank in Minnesota decided to stand up for their rights, they did not know their actions would make them heroes around the world. Three of the women describe the conditions that led to their landmark strike in 1977 -- and how they were affected by the turmoil it created.
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Linda Wilkinson
While working at a credit bureau, Linda went to her supervisor and requested a raise at least equal to that of a male coworker she was training in. "They offered me a little more than what I was making... not to equal [her male co-worker] becuase I was told that, 'He was a man and he had a family.'" t
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Marie Wolf
Growing up in a large family, Marie learned to do not only chores that were typically girl's, but boy's as well. She helped pick rock in her father's fields, shock grain, and pick corn. After moving in with her in-laws, she pursued a nursing assistant job in a hospital that paid 68 cents an hour. "I was afraid of the person I worked with when I was at my first job . . .there were times when I felt that I was responsible for what she was supposed to be responsible for . . . I talked to my mother-in-law about it, but she basically said that's the way it is, you have to live with it. Because I think she had the same type of experience."
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MN Women in the Trades (WIT)
The MN Women & Work Oral History Collection partnered with Minnesota Women in the Trades, a non-profit organization that promotes women's employment and leadership in the construction trades, to facilitate the oral histories of MN tradeswomen. "The tradeswomen’s stories are so important. They capture a largely undocumented history, and they provide direction to women and girl’s futures," said WIT Director, Terry Clements.

Verna Davis
After a series of dead-end jobs to make ends, Verna worked in a machine shop which became a springboard to her current non-traditional work. "I've always viewed myself as being different. I don't want to be like everyone else and do what everyone else does, I want to be like someone who can break records or create doors for other people to follow through so others can see that there are people doing non-traditional things. If people really have a desire to do something they should pursue it."
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Kristin Gunderson
A short career as a physical education teacher and coach left her frustrated and searching for a new career. In 1981 she decided to go into carpentry. "I get to the carpenters union . . . for the orientation meeting and the man who is leading this meeting is telling all these new, prospective apprentices . . . to make sure not to bend over and pick up a two-by-four for a woman because she is taking the bread and butter right out of your mouth . . . this man was the head of the union. I figured if he was going to hold this kind of attitude that I would make sure to sit in the front row, right in front of him and he will know that I am here and I'm not leaving."
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Mary Kohanek
At age thirty-five, Mary decided to make a career change. She quit her job as a bookkeeper and began a trade school upholsterer program. Before she had even graduated, Mary showed great initiative by founding the first Minnesota all-female upholstery cooperative. She shares her experiences as a woman who left a traditionally female job to work in a traditionally male industry. "...[furniture upholstery] has been a male dominated field until about the last ten, maybe fifteen years. Now all of a sudden it is a very female dominated field."
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Rhonda Wiggins
A high school class in welding lead her to a career in service pipefitting. "Minnesota is very open, and in a lot of ways it isn't. I'm not quite sure of the reasoning behind it, but here it didn't matter who I was with, which co-worker, if someone came up, if a man, you know a contractor or someone came up, they always addressed the guy, no matter what. I mean the guy could have worked there two months, and I have been there nine years, they still address the guy, who in turn would just look at me. I would end up answering the question or lending the advice . . . "
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