Many think of women's emancipation issues as something from the roaring 20's but examples of the ways society functioned are frighteningly closer to the present than many suppose.
It was 1974 in the area known as Walnut Valley in east central Kansas. The oil based community of El Dorado had a history of many notables, their gifts to the community and their legacy. The original library in town had been a a small "Free Library" in 1897 in left over space; then in 1912 a grant from Carnegie provided a formal space with a goal of education and improvement of the community. In the mid-century however donations from a trustee built the "Bradford Memorial Library."
I was a young wife with one small in a stroller and one on the way. Not much else to do in town and fairly new with few friends, I thought using the library would be a good thing. It was easy to get to when I took the morning walk and would provide storybooks for the toddler's bed time and books for mom. My husband's job meant he was often gone in the evenings for meetings as well. Something to read would help pass the time. I was six months pregnant so passing time was something I was going to be doing a lot of in coming months.
It was a lovely spring day when I pushed the stroller into the library and began looking around. I always like to 'get the lay of the land' before doing things so I looked at the new book deplays, the children's area, and the reference area. I saw there were large glass windows looking out over tall leafy trees, yellow daffodils were popping up and it was really a very nice looking modern library.
I finally approached the desk to fill out an application and then stood in line to get my card. The man at the counter looked it over and said, "You will need to get your husband's signature on this before we can issue you a card."
I have always imagined my stare must have been glassy-eyed. I metaphorically slapped the side of my head to clear my hearing. "What?"
The sentence was the same the second time around. I looked at him: " I am a married woman, mother of one child and pregnant with another. Why do I need my husband's approval to get a card?"
"We have had some problems..." he replied vaguely. " We have to know someone is going to be responsible for the books. In case they are damaged, uh, or lost."
"I am going to be responsible. Me."
"A wife is not considered...It has to be your husband..."
So, I took my form home and got my husband to sign it. I remember how he laughed about that....for awhile anyway.
The lesson learned was that discrimination is painful, shocking, and embarrassing. I am so glad my son was too young to realize why his mother was crying as she pushed back home on that lovely spring morning. If I was not responsible as a wife, a mother, and soon to be mother...how did I rate as a woman? Sometimes it is a mother who ends up providing her children with all they have in the way of values, hope, history, and dreams. This lessons harks back to a period in our society where women where often viewed as little more than the children they bore. They were eternal children who had to be tended, watched over, and kept in their place.
The library is still there and continues to provide excellent library services to its community...now 21st century style.