JULY 2022 - Interview
In 1964 my husband took a new job, which meant moving from Rhode Island to Delaware. I was teaching dance at Mary C. Wheeler, a private girls’ high school, and subbing at Pembroke College. I hoped to find similar work in Delaware and applied for the position of dance instructor in the Physical Education Department at the University of Delaware. When I was granted an interview, I was excited to think I might have a job in our new location.
Arrangements were made. About a week before I was scheduled to leave, my son was diagnosed with mumps. Three days later, my husband was diagnosed with mumps. No way could I leave. I called the faculty liaison and explained the situation. He was polite but clear. “I’m sorry your family members are ill but we do not postpone interviews. We will cancel the classes you were scheduled to teach. Good luck.”
I tried to tell myself that even if I’d gone, I might not have gotten the job, but this was no consolation. Getting sick wasn’t their fault, but I was angry and frustrated and worried. It had taken a lot of work to find teaching positions in Providence. How would I find work in a city where I didn’t know anyone?
We moved to Wilmington. Eventually I found piecemeal work teaching dance and movement classes at a YMCA and some community centers but none of it felt satisfying. I mourned the loss of the opportunity to teach at a university. In hopes of finding a way to make my work life more meaningful I started a children’s theatre and wrote and directed plays, casting people who lived in the city and suburbs, white and Black, young and older. The plays were a success; we played to full houses, yet I kept feeling something was missing.
I was credentialed to teach physical education and junior high school science but the thought of doing either made my stomach hurt. In a fit of desperation, in the fall of 1966, I enrolled in a university course in theatre, hoping I could find the money to complete the degree. Everyone I knew told me I’d never be able to find a job with such a “useless” degree.
Catastrophe lurked everywhere. My husband and I divorced. With no child support, the money I earned from summer federal grants to create theatre with street kids and teaching as many classes as I could, just about paid expenses. Then, out of the blue, the Theatre Department Chair asked if I would fill an unexpected opening to be a teaching assistant for the spring semester. I agreed but it wasn’t enough to live on. As a 30-year-old woman, I applied for a school loan and had to fight the loan officer who demanded a male sign the agreement. I refused to ask my father or ex-husband, but cynically offered my son. When the loan officer agreed, I shook my head and said, “He’s nine-years-old!” I made such a fuss he eventually granted the loan just to get rid of me. This meant we had enough to live on at least through the summer. Barely.
The new semester would start soon. Frustrated, depressed, and upset that I had no money to finish the degree, I started arranging for jobs to teach dance. Then, two days before the fall semester was set to begin, the Chair called. The student who had a teaching assistant position left to teach in Vietnam, would I like to take her place. She’d been hired to do costumes, which I couldn’t do. The Chair asked if I could I teach theatre movement. I said yes, though I had no idea what this entailed.
Fortunately, I had wonderful students who asked penetrating questions. Sometimes I could answer, often I said I’d tell them next class. In the course of the year, I developed a program of movement for actors that became my thesis topic. Between teaching and taking care of the house and my son, in order to finish papers and write my thesis, every Saturday and Sunday I sent my son out to play for the day, grateful when stay at home mothers offered him lunch.
Two years later, in May of 1968, as a single mother, I received an MA in theatre from the University of Delaware. In September1968 I became a part-time instructor at the University of Delaware. In February 1969 I was hired to teach full time. As I began the semester, I learned that the dance program I had so badly wanted to teach in was cancelled.
You never can tell.
Have there been moments in your life that turned out differently from what you hoped? What was this like for you?
7/5/2022 01:52:04 pm
A survivor and a thriver. That is what you are! Completely tenacious and brave and never giving up or giving in, but flexible and creative and finding a path in. What a story! And optimistic. Because if you weren't you would have just given up and given in. A great role model, especially for women who heard "no" a lot. And true, you never know where something will lead, but if you don't take the first step, you'll never know.
Mary Newburger, MD
7/5/2022 07:19:28 pm
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Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.