Living in the Backward World of the '60s Tia Smallwood remembers what it was like to attend college in the late 1960s, when women were struggling to break into fields historically closed to them. She talks to her daughter about her unusual first job interview and the complicated choice she had to make between motherhood and career.
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Living in the Backward World of the '60s

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Living in the Backward World of the '60s

Living in the Backward World of the '60s

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And on this Friday morning it's time again for StoryCorps, the project that takes us across the nation to hear the stories of Americans in their own words. Today we hear from Tia Smallwood. She attended Douglass College at Rutgers University in the late 1960s, back when her name was still Tia Casiato(ph), and it was a very different time. She was an economics major and often one of the only female students in her classes. Here she tells her daughter Christine about those days.

Ms. TIA SMALLWOOD: All the girls I went to high school with would talk about being teachers. And when I went to college, I started to study things I really loved, and that's when I started taking finance and accounting courses. And this miserable old man - I had him for second year accounting and business law - he said to me, Ms. Casiato, you are the only women that has ever gotten this far in my class and I will make sure ever day is a living hell for you. And he used to grade us on our class participation and how we would answer questions. And he said to me at the beginning of every class, I hope you're prepared, Ms. Casiato, because the most difficult question of the period will be yours. And I would smile. I mean this is how backward the world was.

Ms. CHRISTINE SMALLWOOD (Daughter of Tia Smallwood): So then you graduated from Douglass and how many job interviews did you have to go on?

Ms. TIA SMALLWOOD: I think I wrote 80 letters. I don't know how many jobs I applied to. And when I went in for the first interview, and this is like a vivid memory, I owned one dress, it was shades of red and pink, and these big block geometric squares. It had short sleeves and it was - I - it was a mini-dress. And I had tights and heels on. And I walked in and this guy - he interviewed me for 15 minutes and then he said - you need to stand up and turn around. And I said, What are you talking about? He said, Stand up and turn around. And I stood up and I leaned over his desk and I said, I don't need this job this much. And that's when he said, You're hired. That's the way it was. And I think it's like that today only it's much more subtle.

Ms. CHRISTINE SMALLWOOD: How hard was it then to work and take care of Steven, and then me, later on?

Ms. TIA SMALLWOOD: I really had this idea that I could do everything 100 percent. You know, like you can be 100 percent worker, 100 percent mother, 100 percent wife, and you can't. It's impossible. And you had these terrible decisions to make. Do you stay home? Do you work? Do you go after the brass ring in your career? What do you do with your children? You unconditionally love them. And you would give anything for them. You would give up your life, your career, your home, it's complicated. It's complicated.

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INSKEEP: Tia Smallwood with her daughter Christine at StoryCorps in New York. Their interview will be archived along with the all the others at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. And you can subscribe to the StoryCorps Podcast at npr.org.

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