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Feminism Meets Mrs. Jeffery

I watched Mrs. Jeffery, the Home Economics teacher, fold her arms and tighten her lips into a straight line. I was sitting with my friends in an all-girls assembly at school. My mother, the city librarian, had just declared from the podium that girls shouldn’t be required to take Mrs. Jeffery’s class.

It was now the age of feminism, and my mom was at the forefront of the women’s liberation movement. For her, it was open season on old ways of thinking. Girls should be free from being home-bound. Taking Home Ec wasn’t needed anymore. Get out of the kitchen and get a career.

What Mom didn’t calculate is that the Home Ec requirement wouldn’t just be dropped because she and a small group felt it should. It would take a couple years and school board approval for that. But lucky me would be taking the class next year—with an obviously disgruntled Mrs. Jeffery.

Entering her classroom the following September, Mrs. Jeffery called my name during roll call, and had already made the connection to my “liberated’ mother. She may have assumed I felt the same and perhaps thought I would rather be anywhere else.

Yet, over the course of that year, I learned an array of fascinating lessons—from canning fruit to the psychology of relationships, to balancing a checkbook. Mrs. Jeffery encouraged me to multitask, before multitasking was a thing.

She never once mentioned the incident with my mom that took place in front of an auditorium filled with impressionable girls.

While feminism was on the rise back in the early 70’s, there would still be meals to be prepared, budgets to be balanced, and an array of useful skills that would help anyone wanting to live on their own. Mrs. Jeffery prepared me in ways that have lasted longer than many other of my “required” courses did.

My regret was that I never told her that her work mattered. Teaching life skills had more value than she was ever given credit. Mrs. Jeffery was an awesome teacher and didn’t let an insult to her profession stop her from being kind to me, or doing the work that equipped several generations of students for their future.


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