Martha Par Harrison


As Interviewed by Dodie Robison, March 10, 2014

Martha Par Harrison: In Her Own Words

Iím a little different. Iím of a different generation. I liked being a woman in the early 1900s. I asked my dad if I could get a job, he said, ďWhat do you want that you donít have?Ē That was the only time I felt discriminated. It was because I could have gone to work, and he said, ďWhat would you do?Ē And I said, ďI would be real good at being a receptionist, who would greet the people, and I know you could get me a job like that.Ē

Everything was different in my generation. I had the same educational freedom. We didnít date much in my generation. We went in groups of girls. I couldnít drive in a car with any boys, except the ministerís son. And he was the worst of them all! My parents sent me to college, and I majored in Business. I was valedictorian and I always wanted to be better at math than the boys because it was not expected of me. A lot of fathers sent their daughters off to college to marry and didnít pay attention to their daughterís school work but to their sonís because they didnít think it mattered. Daddy didnít like me to dance but I danced. I was a Baptist and they didnít like you to play cards or dance. We didnít have dances, but there was one girl that would get all the boys and the girls together and they would have a dance.

I think the expectations had value. I wanted them to be courteous and not discriminate academically. I was in the math groups and the team. I really wanted to beat the boys instead of the other team actually. It was all good-natured though. A few girls went on dates, but most were not allowed to. The girls always went to the church. In the afternoon a group of girls would get together and one of us would drive to the park. Girls pressured other girls to go to the dance, but the school didnít want you to go. They would ask, ďAre you going to go?Ē I said, ďIím going with yíall!Ē

The church wanted the women to stay at home and take care of the kids. It was not expected of us to go get a job or support our family with income. In families of my generation the men were the boss and had the final say. Many women endured in a marriage where men cheated on them because they didnít know what else they could do. In my prayers I say, ďGod, if I could live my life over again, Iíd live it the same way.Ē

And Ben didnít want me to work. But that didnít annoy me because I loved what I did. I loved always making friends and lady friends. He told me his mother had been a teacher, and he had to look out for the other siblings and he wanted me to be there for our kids. And Ben used to tell the others not to ask me if I worked because he knew that picking up after kids and dropping kids off and taking care of them was working night and day. I loved the children.

I was happy to see women standing up for equal treatment, equal pay, and equal opportunity for my daughters. I have mixed feelings about it because I like my life the way it turned out and I think that some of the restrictions had value, but I wonder how my life would be if had been allowed to get my job.

I saw my childrenís generation struggle to try and get the best of both worlds -- trying to go to college and have a career and be a stay-at-home mom. They had babies at 19 and tried to pursue school and work. Their husbands didnít support them much, but they somehow did it anyway.

In some ways Iím glad I wasnít juggling those things, but in other ways I liked to think I could have done it. I feel bad for girls today because boys donít open doors for them and be as courteous to them and their families, but I can see how it also implied that we couldnít do it for ourselves.