Power Worker's Legacy: Lines Installed, Doubters Defied, Daughter Inspired Monica Harwell was the first woman to climb utility poles for Con Edison in New York. The men she worked with didn't think she could do it, but Harwell never let them paint her into a corner.
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Power Worker's Legacy: Lines Installed, Doubters Defied, Daughter Inspired

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Power Worker's Legacy: Lines Installed, Doubters Defied, Daughter Inspired

Power Worker's Legacy: Lines Installed, Doubters Defied, Daughter Inspired

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  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Time for StoryCorps, everyday people telling the stories of their lives. Let's hear now from the first woman to climb utility poles for Con Edison in New York. Her name is Monica Harwell, and she's a line constructor. It's her job to install power lines many feet in the air. She started in the early 1990s, and many of the men she worked with never thought she'd make it. She did. And today, her daughter, Andrea Cleveland, also works for Con Ed. They sat down for StoryCorps in New York.

MONICA HARWELL: I was the first lady that climbed poles there. They hated me. Nobody wanted to work with me. They kept bouncing me back and forth from one truck to another. But I will never forget my first climb on the top of the pole. They was like, OK, lady, it's your turn...

ANDREA CLEVELAND: You're up.

HARWELL: You've got to go up. And they placed bets on me. She'll never get up that poll. You know, I wasn't going to tell you guys, like, mommy didn't do it. So I just started climbing. And when I got to the top of the pole, I was hanging 50 feet in the air. And I started painting my fingernails. And everybody was like, what are you doing? And I said, when I go up there, I want them to know it's a woman up there.

CLEVELAND: I remember when it was parents' night, and you were coming straight from work. And you said, would you feel embarrassed if I go there with my work boots? And I said, not at all. I'm proud 'cause it shows that my mother works. And it's funny to me because what I'm doing now.

HARWELL: When I was getting you the job at Con Edison, I really didn't want you there 'cause of all the stuff that I went through dealing with the guys. But they swear things have changed. Do you see that change?

CLEVELAND: You have people that just don't like you just because.

HARWELL: Yeah.

CLEVELAND: But I stopped being afraid of what other people thought about me. I learned that from you. Even people that have just crossed paths with you here and there, they say, man, your mother's - like, that's a bad woman, you know.

HARWELL: (Laughter) You know, you stayed strong in so many things. And that's why I've always called you my eagle. You don't belong on the ground. And believe it or not, your strength also motivated me and made me keep going.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MONTAGNE: Monica Harwell with her daughter, Andrea Cleveland, at StoryCorps in New York City. This conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. The podcast is on iTunes and npr.org.

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