'First Women' Open Doors For Future Generations

Susan Stamberg

NPR's Susan Stamberg, seen here in the early 1970s, has been inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame. NPR hide caption

itoggle caption NPR

Women who go first — in the military, in space, in broadcasting, or in other leadership roles — open new opportunities for present and future generations of women. The distinction carries both opportunity, and responsibility.

On the occasion of Women's History Month, host Neal Conan talks with three first women.

Guests:

Susan Stamberg, special correspondent for NPR and the first woman to anchor a national nightly news program

Capt. Gail Harris, author of A Woman's War, and the first female African-American naval intelligence officer

Lynn Malerba, chairwoman of the Mohegan Tribal Council. She will become the first female tribal chief of the Mohegan tribe later in 2010.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan, in Washington.

In the past, we've done programs on firsts: the first in your family to go to college, the first African-Americans to break various color lines. In this Women's History Month: women who turned history into herstory. And, of course, breaking the glass ceiling can involve both of those other categories, too.

We'll talk with a naval captain, a tribal chief and one of NPR's founding mothers who all experienced the pressures and pleasures involved in breaking new ground.

And if this is your story, too, call and tell us about it. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, the military opens up to social media, with limitations. The Pentagon's social media guru will join us. But first: first women. And we begin here at home with NPR's Susan Stamberg, the first woman to anchor a national nightly news broadcast, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, back in 1972. And Susan, it's always great to have you on this program.

SUSAN STAMBERG: Thank you so much. Thanks for asking me. It seems such a long time ago, doesn't it? And none of us is getting any younger. But I'm so glad we firsts are getting older, and there's so many youthful faces who've come along and marched the same paths.

CONAN: Well, at a time when two of the three evening network news programs on television are now anchored by women...

STAMBERG: Exactly.

CONAN: ...remind us how big a deal this was in 1972.

STAMBERG: Well, it was huge. First of all, there was nobody out there. There were female reporters from time to time, but even they were rare. I mean, it was a big deal when one of them got on the floor during one of the political conventions, you know, made some ruffles as a result. But nobody was anchoring things then.

It was all the men. And so for me there, you know, were no role models. All I could figure in the beginning was to sound like them. So I deepened my voice, and I spoke like this until somebody was in charge - actually, the man who tapped me on the shoulder for the job - said to me: Be yourself, Susan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: So I could raise my voice a little bit and just talk.

CONAN: Those of you who - those of us who have known you through the years find it hard to believe that anybody had to tell you that.

STAMBERG: Oh, gee, no. It's true, because again, there was nobody out there on the aural or visual landscape, no women. It was all male.

CONAN: And this must have been, at the same time, a great honor.

STAMBERG: Oh, my gosh.

CONAN: You're anchoring the show. On the other hand, enormous pressure.

STAMBERG: Sure, tremendously so, because - you know, and every first woman you'll talk to on this program will tell you the same thing. To be the first, you're standing in for everyone. And so you have to do it not just as well as you can, but better than anybody else, better than any of the big guys because it's up to you, and you've got to sort of carry that flag for the gender, essentially.

So, yeah, there was that kind of pressure and the sort of personal pressure that I've always put on myself all my life, as most of us do, I think, who - so yeah. There was a lot of that, as well.

There was also a lot of rooting for me, and I have to say that, here at National Public Radio, where those decisions to put me behind the anchor microphone were made by men, and men who helped me every single step of the way.

CONAN: And how did listeners respond at first?

STAMBERG: Well, the listeners didn't have - the three listeners in those days...

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: ...didn't have a whole lot to say, but the 12 station managers - no, we had about 70 or so when we first went on the air. There was quite a bit of response to it. In-house: lots of cheering. They actually applauded - isn't that sweet - in the control room when I finished my first program.

CONAN: That is nice.

STAMBERG: And I floated on air and floated home. Didn't hear too much from listeners. The ones we heard from said good, go girl or whatever the equivalent was in the early '70s. And I thought everything was just fine.

Eleven years after this radio debut, I heard - was told the real story by the fellow who, again, tapped me for the job, a man named Bill Siemering, whose concept was ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. He was NPR's first program manager, and so the one to hire us, put us in place and push us out onto the air.

And he told me this story - now, more than a decade later - that apparently there was quite a bit of opposition to me in the beginning from the managers, a number of managers of our station who said: A woman's voice is not authoritative. People will not take her seriously. Her voice does not carry well. It's too high - imagine this, being called too high.

Now, you know, part of it you can understand. In those days, we had terrible phone - there were telephone lines, five KC(ph) lines. You couldn't hear very much. It was pre-satellite.

CONAN: There was the East Round Robin, the Midwest Round Robin, and...

STAMBERG: Yeah, there you go.

CONAN: Who knows where that signal went to when we sent it to the West Coast.

STAMBERG: Those robins were not that swift. So to that extent, maybe technically I sounded higher than the men, but for all those other things, I hope not so much.

And Bill, in his wisdom, never told me that until so many years later, and it was a mark of his leadership, I felt. He knew it would throw me, and he had tremendous confidence in me, and he didn't want it to affect my performance. He felt if I were given a chance and just allowed to go, that people would change their minds toward it, and happily, they did.

CONAN: We're talking with first women today, including our own Susan Stamberg, now an NPR special correspondent, but back in 1972 the first woman to anchor a national nightly news program.

If you're a first woman, call and tell us your story: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And we'll begin with Angela. Angela's calling us from Winnsboro in South Carolina.

ANGELA (Caller): Hi, yes. I just called because I can empathize with Susan Stamberg. I started at a United Way years and years and years ago, and talk about glass ceilings. They did not - I'm African-American. They did not allow African-Americans to visit the corporations in which they wanted contributions from employees.

STAMBERG: Oh, boy.

ANGELA: So the upper management was always white male who dealt with white males to talk about planning campaigns that would affect African-Americans, mostly African-American employees of those companies.

CONAN: And I wonder, Angela, what did you feel like the first time you broke that barrier?

ANGELA: It was amazing because it started with a college placement internship, and it just progressed from there. But there were certain positions that I held that would not be held that would not include visiting or meeting with top executives in companies.

CONAN: Did you...

ANGELA: So it just made me feel like I needed to break that glass barrier much - it gave me the desire to break that glass barrier much more than I ever did.

And finally, and I think late in my career, it was finally broken when they realized that there was no difference between an African-American making an approach to a company versus a white male or white female making the same approach.

CONAN: And, in fact, in some respects, might be more effective in explaining the effect on the black community.

STAMBERG: Yeah.

ANGELA: Absolutely, absolutely.

CONAN: Angela, thanks very much.

ANGELA: Thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate it.

STAMBERG: Bravo. Bravo, Angela.

CONAN: Congratulations. And joining us now is someone who may appreciate that story, retired Navy Captain Gail Harris. In 1973, she became the first African-American woman to serve as a naval intelligence officer and went on to accomplish many other firsts in her career. She joins us today from her home in Durango, Colorado. And thanks for being with us today.

Captain GAIL HARRIS (United States Navy, Retired): Well, thank you, Neal. And Susan, I've enjoyed listening to you when you were doing that.

STAMBERG: Thank you. Thank you.

CONAN: And back in 1973, this - just like Angela, our caller - well, this was a double-whammy, no?

Capt. HARRIS: Well, you know, people told me I was a double minority, but I'd add a third one to it, being an intelligence officer, which, in the military, it's kind of like being the kicker on an NFL team. They know you're part of the team, but you're weird, and they're not exactly sure what you do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And how many people told you: You don't belong here?

Capt. HARRIS: To my face, I can only recall one person saying that to my face, and that was the guy who was in charge of my class. He was a Navy lieutenant. We were all ensigns. That's like second lieutenants in other services.

And the first day at intel training, he was going around asking the guys who type of assignment that they want. Typically in the Navy, you go to an aviation squadron. So he kept ignoring me. So I said what about me? What about me? And he looked at me and said you don't belong in the Navy, let alone in an aviation squadron.

STAMBERG: Captain...

Capt. HARRIS: And so I looked at him, and I said - I was channeling Whoopi Goldberg before she was Whoopi Goldberg, because I said, well, you can say whatever you want, but everybody knows that black people are superior sexually.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Capt. HARRIS: And the guys in the class started laughing. They said, that's not true, that's Italians. Come out with me tonight.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: So is that how you handled it? What did you say to yourself? What were the conversations you had with yourself through all of this, captain?

Capt. HARRIS: Well, at the beginning, I, you know, I just - I had expected something because of being African-American. It was a puzzle to me about being a woman. What I couldn't understand was I'd just got out of graduate school, and all of my school, I'd sat next to guys, and it was not a problem. So I come out school and enter the workplace, and it's a problem? I don't understand.

And my father was my biggest supporter, because what he told me was that everyone suffers discrimination of some sort.

CONAN: Really?

Capt. HARRIS: He did. And he said that everybody is prejudiced against something or some group. And while I'm speaking before groups, people kind of say, no, I'm not prejudiced. I always say, well, I'm going to say something right now that's going to cause some of you to boo and hiss me. I am a life-long Dallas Cowboys fan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: But clearly, humor took you so far.

Capt. HARRIS: It did.

STAMBERG: And that's such a key to it, isn't it?

Capt. HARRIS: Humor and professional excellence, because when I went to my first squadron, I was the test case. Women had not done that before. You know, once everybody stopped laughing, I said: Why can't I go to a squadron? There was a federal law that didn't change until 1994 that prohibited women from going to jobs that might take them to combat. And since most of the Navy's aviation squadrons operate from aircraft carriers, it would seem that the job was available.

But I researched it. My roommate was Air Force intelligence, and they were sending women to their squadrons. So I went back day two and said: Why can't I go to one of the Navy's land-based aviation squadrons? When they deploy to a combat zone, they deploy to another land base. Therefore, the law wouldn't apply.

CONAN: And these would be like aircraft that search for submarines or things like that.

Capt. HARRIS: Exactly, Neal. And that's - you know, and they were noncommittal, but I worked very hard in class, you know, to make sure I had good grades. And by the time I graduated, they decided to make me the test case. And they said that they chose me not only because I was professionally competent, but because they thought my humor would allow me to fit in with the aviation culture. They said even male intelligence officers had a hard time in their first assignment fitting in.

CONAN: Sure. Susan, we know you have to get back to work. We want to thank you, though, very much for your time today.

STAMBERG: Oh, a pleasure, a pleasure. Thank you. It is such a good topic to be talking about. Thanks for doing it in the right month, but do it, you know, there are 11 other months in the year. We're there.

CONAN: NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg, with us here in Studio 3A. And Captain Harris, you stay with us, even though you're a Dallas Cowboys fan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Capt. HARRIS: Okay.

CONAN: We'd like to hear your stories, too, if you're a first woman. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan, in Washington.

Some of the better-known first women in recent history: Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice in 1981, Amelia Earhart, who flew solo across the Atlantic in 1932, the first woman to do that.

We're talking today with some of the many women to go first about the pressures and possibilities of breaking the glass ceiling. If this is your story, call and tell us about it: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our Web site. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guest is Gail Harris, who retired from the Navy with the rank of captain. She's the author of "A Woman's War: The Professional and Personal Journey of the Navy's First African-American Female Intelligence Officer."

And let's see if we can go next to a caller, and this is excuse me. This is Mary. Mary's calling us from Fairbanks in Alaska.

MARY (Caller): Hi, Neal. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MARY: My little claim to fame is way back in 1974, I was the first woman to finish the Iditarod sled-dog race.

CONAN: Oh, that's - that must have been remarkable.

MARY: Well, it was quite an adventure. When we left Anchorage, a fellow yelled at me: You better turn around now. You'll never make it to Nome. And knew if for no other reason, I was going to make it to Nome. He was quite encouraging.

And when I got about 500 miles down the trail, we pulled into Nulato, one of the checkpoints. And I was just running, oh, in the middle pack out of 50 teams, and there was a lot of cheering going on.

And once I got my dogs settled down, I asked the people why they were cheering, and I learned that the women along the trail were betting that we'd make it -there were two women, Lolly Medley and myself that we'd make it all the way to the finish line, and the men were betting at which checkpoint we'd drop out of the race.

CONAN: The pool.

MARY: So every time we made it to another checkpoint, the women were raking in the money. So at that point, I realized there were other people riding on the sled with me, and that encouraged me, too.

CONAN: I bet it did. You, of course, were there to witness Susan Butcher, of course, dominated that race for many years.

MARY: Susan won it four times, which is just incredible. Libby Riddles was the first woman to win, and now about 10 percent of the mushers are women. So they really are starting to take over the race.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Do you still are you still active in the sport?

MARY: I still am. I love dog mushing. I don't compete anymore, but I love just getting out with the dogs and being out in nature and out in the winter.

CONAN: Well, congratulations, Mary, and thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

MARY: Thank you.

CONAN: Captain Harris, as you listen to stories like that, there are so many women who have done so many remarkable things. The Iditarod sled-dog race is, well, that's almost impossible to imagine.

Capt. HARRIS: Well, I know, and it's women like that that inspired me to keep going at times when I felt down, you know, and that, you know, I wasn't going to be able to crack through.

It's just one of my favorite stories concerns a young lady who was born on my same birthday, June 23rd. She had to endure polio, scarlet fever. When she was nine, they told her she'd never walk. When she was 13, she walked with a brace. She went out for her high school basketball team, led them to the state championships.

She started running track, even though people said she was making a fool of herself. And then she went on to the Olympics at 16 and won - I think it was a bronze. And then four years later, Wilma Rudolph went on to the next Olympics and won three or four gold medals.

So I would read stories like that, and about Amelia Earhart - you were talking about her earlier - and that would give me the courage and the strength to go on, because we're - all of us are standing on someone else's shoulders.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Nicole(ph) in South Bend, Indiana. My cousin was in the first coed class to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy and the first female in air combat. She's now an astronaut and was the only female on the most-recent shuttle mission to the International Space Station.

One of the things I admire about her is she embraces being a role model for girls and young women. I am a woman in what is still a male-dominated field: physical chemistry. I look up to the women in history who dared break the glass ceiling, and I celebrate their accomplishments and know they will continue to inspire me and many other women and girls.

You knew you were a role model, no?

Capt. HARRIS: Yes, I did. And the guys that assigned me to that first squadron, they said it was very important that I succeed because they wanted to be able to send other women behind me. And it succeeded so well that most people forget I was the first woman.

You know, I've been challenged, and people say: When was that? I say 1973 to '76. And then they say: How come we've never heard of you? I said: Because it was a success, and ultimately, the guys accepted me.

And I kind of consider it - you know, sometimes I get a little frustrated that the only time in those days you heard about a woman would be if she didn't succeed or if she made a mistake.

So I said no, it wasn't easy. I had to work hard to gain acceptance. But ultimately, professional success and excellence is a great leveler, particularly in a field like intelligence support to military operations.

CONAN: Let's go next to Emma, Emma with us from Cedar Rapids in Iowa.

EMMA (Caller): Cedar Falls in Iowa.

CONAN: Oh, excuse me. Cedar Falls.

EMMA: We're close neighbors.

CONAN: Okay.

EMMA: Yeah, back in 1962-3, I was one of two aerospace engineering women, aerospace engineering students at Iowa State. Cheryl(ph) and I were the second ones that had ever been enrolled there. And we took a competitive test to become co-op engineer trainees with NASA, and we heard that eight - I believe it was eight - people from our school passed the test to be accepted, and six of the guys got their acceptances, and we kept trying to figure out who the other two were, and it turned out to be Cheryl and me, but we weren't notified until about three or four months after the guys.

CONAN: Did you ever find out why?

EMMA: Well, actually, because formerly, they had always housed these student engineers in bachelor quarters at the Air Force base, and they didn't think they could put us there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

EMMA: So they had to decide whether they were going to accept us or what, you know, what they were going to do with the housing. So we all had to get our own apartments.

CONAN: Well, it's better than bachelor officer's quarters, anyway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

EMMA: Cheryl continued the program and became an aerospace engineer with them and has done a great job in that respect. I lost my courage and didn't finish the program, but...

CONAN: Lost your courage how?

EMMA: It was just really, really tough. For example, one of my physics professors looked at me in class in front of the guys and said: I will flunk you if I can because a woman should not be an engineer. And he didn't flunk me. He came close, but I did pass the course. In fact, I left that college with about a B-minus average and went into other fields then.

CONAN: Well, we thank you for sharing that story. That can't be easy, in and of itself.

EMMA: Well, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the phone call.

EMMA: It's a great topic.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Joining us now is Lynn Malerba, chairwoman of the Mohegan Tribe. Later this year, she becomes the first female tribal chief of the Mohegans in almost three centuries, and joins us from her office in Uncasville, Connecticut. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Ms. LYNN MALERBA (Chairwoman, Mohegan Tribe): Well, thank you, Neal. Thank you for having me on the show today.

CONAN: And in almost 300 years - so clearly, this is something not unique in the tribal tradition?

Ms. MALERBA: No, it's not. And I love to say that I think Indian country is much more enlightened than the rest of the world, and so there are other female chiefs. And I think even within the Mohegan Tribe, there have been many formal and informal female leaders. So I think I have big shoes to fill in that regard.

CONAN: Nevertheless, 300 years is a pretty long interregnum.

Ms. MALERBA: It is, as a matter of fact. So I am proud. I am very proud to be in the position that I'm in.

CONAN: Does your pending position change things for women in your tribe?

Ms. MALERBA: I think it does. I think it shows to all of the young women in the tribe that there is absolutely no glass ceiling within the tribal structure and in tribal government, and I think that that's a very important message to share with them.

CONAN: What's been the reaction of your family, I wonder?

Ms. MALERBA: My family is so excited. My mother preceded me on the tribal council. She was on the tribal council for 30 years. And so she is extremely excited to see her daughter first to be the first female chair that's been elected ever, and now to be a female chief. And I would also say that my daughters and my husband are ecstatic about this.

CONAN: What does the tribal chief do?

Ms. MALERBA: Well, each tribal chief actually has defined their own role. So you are the public face of the tribe, and so whether you are meeting with state, local or federal government entities in a government-to-government relationship, or you are at official functions on behalf of the tribe, you represent not only the membership, but you represent the tribe as a whole.

And so you represent the membership to your elected leaders, which would be the council of elders and the tribal council. But when we are out in public, then we represent the tribe and its history and its government and its culture.

CONAN: The Mohegan Tribe is also a pretty big corporation.

Ms. MALERBA: Yes, it is, and we're very thrilled about that. But we have been a government forever, and we have - since Chief Uncas in the 1600s, we have been a continuous government with a separate land base and a separate culture.

CONAN: And I wonder, is it do you envision any problems?

Ms. MALERBA: Oh, not at all. Not at all. I am very familiar with the tribal government. And back in the days before we had a business, we actually - each tribal member paid dues to the tribe to keep the government going. And we all volunteered in various aspects of tribal government. And so now I think we're very fortunate to have a source of funding for our government, a source of funding for all of our services. And I don't see any problems. I see just a lot of opportunity.

CONAN: You mentioned you think the Indian country is more progressive in this aspect. Are there other female tribal chiefs around the country?

Ms. MALERBA: There are and, you know, I don't know that I could give you an answer, but not only are there female chiefs but there are also female chairwomen who are running their tribal councils and their tribal governments. And so I am joined with some very bright and dedicated women.

CONAN: Is there a separate caucus, if you will, during meetings?

Ms. MALERBA: There isn't right now, but I'm thinking that's a great idea. As a matter of fact, it's something that I have pondered.

CONAN: Okay. We're going to get some more listeners involved in the conversation. Here's an email from Leslie(ph). This is not as huge as what Susan and Gail and Lynn did, but I was the very first carry-out girl at a grocery store in Lubbock, Texas. I was 14. It was 1982. I had an assistant manager that did not have faith that a girl could do it. And we worked together one Saturday morning and I proved him wrong and became his favorite.

This also - this is from Natalie(ph) in Tucson, Arizona. I was a first woman twice. First as the first who take mechanical drawing in high school, 1962, West Ottawa High School in Holland, Michigan. And second, one of nine first women to attend Dartmouth College in 1968, '69 as a class. We went out and recognized as pioneers, aka the pioneering nine, until last year when almost all of us attended the 40th reunion of the class of 1969. I think I've been able to do several other smaller first woman events because my parents raised me to believe that a woman could do anything a man could do and we can.

And Captain Harris, I think you would echo that.

Capt. HARRIS: I would. I was at a conference - intelligence and ethics conference in D.C. last week, and I saw two women from the Naval Academy. They were so impressive and they were so excited that seven of their classmates are going to be the first women to serve on a submarine on the Navy. I mean, it's outstanding because when I first started, women couldn't go to the service academies.

CONAN: And the decision to allow women on - to serve on submarines, that was just taken, what, a couple of weeks ago.

Capt. HARRIS: Exactly. And it's long overdue. I think there's only one career field closed, Navy SEALs, they should open that, too, because there's no doubt in my mind that there's not a woman who could not succeed in being a Navy SEAL. I couldn't. I consider myself blessed to be able to run three miles.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Capt. HARRIS: Not all the other stuff that they do. But I know that there are women who can.

CONAN: We're talking with retired Capt. Gail Harris and with Lynn Malerba, soon to become the - now the chairwoman, soon to become the chief of the Mohegan Nation.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can go next to - this is Suzanne(ph), Suzanne with us from Kansas City.

SUZANNE (Caller): It's Suzanne, but that's (unintelligible).

CONAN: Suzanne. Okay.

SUZANNE: That's okay.

CONAN: I apologize.

SUZANNE: That's all right. I was the first senior woman loan officer to sit on the senior loan committee of the biggest bank in Kansas City at the time.

CONAN: And that is a huge for succeeding in your company but also huge for women in your community.

SUZANNE: Yes, absolutely. And also, I was the first woman elected to the board of directors of the Kansas City Club, which is the venerable men's social organization. So that's two first for me.

CONAN: And I suspect you had to wade through a lot of cigar smoke on your way in.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SUZANNE: Actually, at the time, they did smoke in public. It was amazing.

CONAN: It is. And, Lynn Malerba, I think you may have some relation to what Suzanne did because, obviously, the loan officer, well, if there's a woman on the board, decisions may be somewhat different.

Ms. MALERBA: Oh, absolutely. I think that women take a more holistic approach in their decision-making. And so they consider issues around a decision that perhaps men would not because they haven't actually been socialized in that regard. And so I think that women actually come to decisions that are more thoughtful.

CONAN: Suzanne, I wonder, was there a moment when you made a decision on a loan where you were wondering if this was going to be accepted?

SUZANNE: Yes, actually, there were several. And I was so conscious that I could not make a mistake. I had to be - I had to have it right, and that was a horrible amount of pressure.

CONAN: And did you?

SUZANNE: I survived.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Nobody's perfect, but you survived.

SUZANNE: Right.

CONAN: Well, Suzanne, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

SUZANNE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Lois(ph), Lois with us from Grelickville - did I get that right?

LOIS (Caller): Yes, you did. Yeah. Well, in listening to everyone, just so many things come through mind. I'm in my late 70 so, of course, I grew up in a time - although I didn't know it when I was young - that women were even let go when they became married. But the thing is in listening to you, and I'm grateful to be on, I realized that I may have been - my initial thing I was calling on was that I was the first female in three different male - previously male jobs and more of the blue collar work.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

LOIS: But I'm listening, I realized that back when I was in my early teens, I may not have been the first female paper girl because what happened is, is that in order to carry the papers, you had to be signed up as a boy. And so my girlfriend's brother had given up the route and I made an attempt to do that with the Detroit Free Press and used a different name than a female name. And so I can't say I was the first paper girl back in the early '40s because there may have been other females doing that.

But then, fast forward four decades and after divorce(ph), and I went on the assembly line, a Cadillac assembly line where there were females and it was the '70s when there is a recession-type thing and I just made my 90 days in the line and got laid off. So I had enough finances - I said, well, I better go to school, and I thought the technical field might be something that I could make good money at. And I went to McCullen Community College, entered a program for a two-year certificate, applied technology and had an internship with a co-op. And the co-op director placed me, first at Chevy Engineer. Later I went over to Bendix. And then I ended up at the Tech Center. And all of those were in jobs where there hadn't been a female.

And one of the things he told me was, he said, Lois - the first time I went out - you're going to be - have to be better than the males. Well, pardon me, I though that was a little unfair, but I understood what they meant.

CONAN: Yeah. I think all of our guests today have expressed similar sentiments. And we're so glad that all of you called in to be with us and joined us from various places around the country. Lois, congratulations, and thanks very much for the call.

LOIS: Well, you're welcome. And I was lucky that my father in a way had been blue collar, so I was prepared for some of the other things that could go on. And so I would come home to my husband and say, is it because I'm new in the job? Is it because I'm a female? Is it because it's a kind of blue-collar humor?

CONAN: Okay. Lois, joining us. And our thanks again to Lynn Malerba of the Mohegan Tribal Council and to Capt. Gail Harris. This is NPR News.

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