Women's Experience

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History can teach many subjects, but there is much to learn from what history has left out. Many times, women’s experience in history remains untold. The Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection contains the interviews of many women and their varied experiences in the Cleveland area. These experiences include piloting airplanes, working in the education system, advocating environmentalism, participating in politics, and fighting for civil rights. Gender and racial inequality have also shaped these women’s experiences.

Cleveland is home to the International Women’s Air and Space Museum. Several stories are told through interviews that detail experiences in WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) during World War II. Nadine Nagle details her training and experience in the WASP program, while Thelma Miller, also trained in the WASP program, recounts a WASP ceremony in Washington D.C. Joan Mace tells how she intended to join WASP, but World War II ended. Mace then became a flight instructor at Ohio University, eventually becoming chair of the aviation department. After completing the Civilian Pilot Training program, Dawn Mulson Full became an air traffic controller. Other women enjoyed careers in aviation, such as Ruth Reep who was a member of the Civil Air Patrol. Gayle Gorman Freeman was involved in many aviation groups such as the 99s, the Whirly Girls, and the Young Eagles. As a teenage pilot, Edna Paul set a record for an altitude flight. Dorothy Layne McIntyre was one of the first African American women to obtain her pilot’s license and had various careers throughout her life. The story of Margaret Louise White as a pioneering pilot is told through her children, Tonya McCarter and Timothy White, as well as her sister, Mary Ann Davis. Both Cady Coleman and Mariane Dyson were women worked at NASA during shuttle missions.

The Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection contains interviews with women who have had varying experiences as educators. Mary Shilmiller worked as a teacher for fifty years, but she also worked as a "Rosie the Riveter" during World War II. Pat Stanzel also worked as a riveter and began working in the education system during the desegregation of Cleveland’s schools. Another woman who advocated the desegregation of schools was Gloria Aron. Some women were inspired to become teachers by their high school experience, such as Marjorie Pyles-Hearst’s attendance at Glenville High School.

Women in Cleveland have been involved in environmentalist efforts. A resident of the Shaker area, Donita Anderson emphasizes women’s role in her community and expresses environmental concerns for the local agriculture. Judge Burt Griffin discusses the women that were involved in barring the highway construction through Shaker Lakes, which posed a threat to the environment of the Shaker Lakes nature preserve. One of those women was  Kathleen Barber. Both Barbara Morgan and Martha Eakin were involved with the Shaker Lakes Nature Center. Community activists, such as Gloria Ferris and Sue Zurovchak, exemplify how organizing can have an impact on environmental concerns.

The Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection also showcases women who were politically active in Cleveland. Sharon McGraw details the history of the League of Women Voters at the national and local level. Women who were locally involved in the organization include Anne J. Cook, Marilyn B. Bialosky, and Lois Aaron. Another influential woman in politics is Mary Rose Oakar, who worked with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and was the first Ohio female Democrat elected into Congress. Jacqueline Gillion served on Cleveland’s city council for six years, but was also active in student activism.

Many women interviewed were involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Joanne Lewis was active in many organizations and welcomed those that marched into her home. Willa Morgan marched for Civil Rights in Washington D.C. Ruth Kymon, E. Christine Morris, and Fran King participated in various parts of the Civil Rights Movement. Sonja Unger was politically involved in Civil Rights and was dedicated to helping immigrants in Cleveland. Sister Diane Therese Pinchot advocated for social justice and went to federal prison for crossing the line at a protest. Karen Ault advocated for social justice through her Presbyterian faith.

Women have faced gender inequality throughout history. The blind Dr. Mary Kay Howard experienced difficulty getting her PhD more so as a woman than from her disability. Gender issues were also prevalent when Jene Wilson worked for The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. Marguerite Jost-Hrabak recounts her experience as one of the two women who went to Fenn College. Patricia Kilpatrick fought for gender equality at Western Reserve University. Women’s role in society experienced changes and Carolyn Peskin discusses this development as well as the integration of Shaker Heights.

African American women faced greater discrimination than white women. The city of Cleveland contained both racism and gender discrimination, which Ione Briggs describes in her interview. Bennie Jean Johnson encountered violent racism during the 1980s in Cleveland. Discrimination also happened in schools, as Candace Woods-Evans experienced. Some African American women had positive experiences as work places began to integrate. Bernice Thompson Lavendar was one of the first African Americans to work for Woolworth’s department store.