Are we always on the cusp of change? Possibly, but do we realize it when it’s happening. Probably not. That’s why a look back can be valuable, especially for a group of women graduating from an elite school that has changed greatly since these women graduated and moved out into the world in 1965. I should know. In 1971 I graduated from the same school, Vassar College, and during my four years, world events propelled us forward. But how much did they change in the first half of the 60s? I couldn’t wait to find out.
McPhee writes about classmates who followed their own curiosity and ambitions through doors that had been closed to their mothers. In 1961, many of these women started college looking for a “ring by spring.” Watching early sit-ins and the assassination of President Kennedy, they began to take control of who they could be. By the time they reached their fiftieth reunion they had become wives, mothers, career women, volunteers, and successful multi-taskers who followed their passions and reinvented their lives whenever they needed to, proving that everyone’s life can and should be a work in progress.
“Debbie Michaelson Kolb, a college professor…thought she would ‘go to Vassar, graduate, get married, have children…. Over time [she] became a professor and founder of the Center for Gender in the Workplace at Simmons College School of Management among many other academic titles.”
“Elizabeth Ratigan, a computer analyst…assumed she would…get a Vassar education and ‘just see what happens.’ …Computers captured Elizabet’s imagination and launched her in a brand new career in the digital age.”
She also tells the stories of a civil rights lawyer and health advocate, a physical therapist and activist, a corporate wife, internationalist and volunteer, and others.
Instead of assuming the roles society normally imposed, each woman charted her own path, changing trajectories when appropriate, and reinventing her path when her balance went awry. Lacking role models or finding mentors in unexpected ways, each woman carved her own paths. As a fellow Vassar graduate from the class of ’71, I relished their stories, which renewed my belief that I’ve led a life that is uniquely my own.
Of course I enjoyed hearing the familiar names of faculty members and a website about the history, but I was much more powerfully struck by the ingenuity and flexibility of these women. Whether you were alive in the sixties or want to know more about the second wave of feminism in the United States, you should read this book. It will refresh your belief in your personal power. You, too, can carve your own path.