Authors: Miriam Horn
“The book [provides] a context for understanding the mercurial first lady who has defied categorizing.… A candid snapshot of a generation in transition.”
—The Charlotte News & Observer
“Horn reveals a group of women who arrived at the prestigious Massachusetts college at the end of an era and stepped out to pioneer another.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Engrossing and beautifully written.”
“Offers a provocative look at the long way women have come and the longer way that is left to go.”
—The Hartford Courant
“A story that speaks to more than one generation and more than one gender.”
“Carefully written and intelligent.… The most appealing aspect of this book is the candor with which the women speak of their lives and the non-intrusive and nonjudgmental way in which Ms. Horn reports her findings.”
—The New York Observer
REBELS IN WHITE GLOVES
Miriam Horn has been a journalist since 1986. She spent her twenties working for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado and now lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.
FIRST ANCHOR BOOKS EDITION, MAY 2000
Copyright © 1999 by Miriam Horn
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American
Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Anchor Books,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in
Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally
published in hardcover in the United States by Times Books,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 1999.
Anchor Books and colophon are registered
trademarks of Random House, Inc.
A portion of this work was originally published in
U.S. News & World Report
The Library of Congress had cataloged
the Times Books edition as follows:
Rebels in white gloves: coming of age with Hillary’s class—
Wellesley ’69 / Miriam Horn.
1. Wellesley College. Class of 1969—Biography.
2. Wellesley College—History—20th Century. I. Title.
LD7212.6 1969.H69 1998
Author photograph © Peter Serling
For my mother,
and in memory of my father
For their support and help on this book, I wish to thank my present and former colleagues at
U.S. News & World Report
, especially Emily MacFarquhar, Wellesley ’59, who had the inspired idea for the historical survey of Wellesley women (from which most of the statistics in this book are drawn), and her classmates, who conceived the questions, compiled the data, and were kind enough to share it with me. I also thank Chris Ma, whose idea it was that I should look closely at Wellesley ’69, Mike Ruby and Merrill McLoughlin, Peter Bernstein, Kathy Bushkin and Sara Hammel. At Wellesley, I was given wonderful help by Laurel Stavis, Wilma Slaight, and Harriet Dawson. I also thank Peter Osnos, formerly of Times Books, for recognizing the potential for a book, and Betsy Rapoport, my wonderful editor. Of the many friends and family members who gave me encouragement and a room of my own to work in, I thank in particular Patricia Cohen, Elise O’Shaughnessy, Nachshon Peleg, Peter Serling, Randy Cohen, Maria Nation, Kinsey and Lilika and Sindri and Danae Anderson, Lucrezia Reichlin, Ruth Friedman, Laura Silverman, and David Horn. I thank my imaginative, exacting, beloved husband, Charles Sabel. Most of all, of course, I thank the women of Wellesley ’69.
On a cloudless spring morning in June 1994, eighteen hundred women in white wound their way through the serene and verdant campus of Wellesley College. A sweet breeze stirred the swamp maple, tupelo, and hickory trees, setting their leaves to trembling in the still mirror of Waban Lake. Pale ivory dogwood and scarlet rhododendron littered petals like confetti across the lush, sloping lawns. Led by 102-year-old Jane Cary Nearing, a graduate of Wellesley before women had the right to vote, the elder alumnae stepped regally through an arbor of their successors, skirts dancing about their ankles and class colors held high. The women of ’29 shook blue-and-white pom-poms; ’34 tipped purple gingham hats; ’59 answered with a twirl of yellow parasols; and ’69 fluttered green scarves. All cheered tribute to the silvery ladies who had led their way.
More than one returning alumna discerned in that river of white a symbolic pageant of female history. Yet missing that morning in Wellesley, Massachusetts, was the most prominent symbol of the dramatic transformation in the lives of American women in the late twentieth century. The Wellesley graduate who twenty-five years earlier had launched her classmates into the world with a now legendary commencement address was in Europe that June weekend with her husband and the other leaders of the Western world, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of D day. In her place, her classmates bore—with obvious and antic pride—a cardboard cutout of the First Lady. Lifted from one of the photo hustlers who stalk the sidewalks around the White House, that effigy, too, was a fitting symbol. As America’s most visible representative of the modern woman, Hillary Rodham Clinton is inevitably rendered, by those who love her and by those who don’t, in two dimensions.
Her classmates, for the most part, have been spared a similar fate. Coming of age at a rare moment in history and with the equally rare privilege of an elite college education, the women who graduated from Wellesley in 1969 were destined to be the monkeys in the space capsule,
the first to test in their own lives the consequences of the great transformations wrought by the second wave of feminism. Each has confronted the same questions as Hillary, but more privately, unburdened by the symbolic weight of the First Lady’s role. How much would they embrace of their parents’ values, and how much of their rebellious peers’? How reconcile their youthful aversion to the establishment and what Hillary called in her commencement speech “our prevailing acquisitive, competitive corporate life” with their determination to claim power for women, break into male professions, support themselves, provide well for their children, change the world? Could they create such a thing as a marriage of equals, combine the model of full-time motherhood they had been raised on with the demands of working lives? How would they confront the historically tragic realities in a woman’s life: the loss of youthful beauty, the leave-taking of children, the end of fertility? And how manage all of that in a culture bent on defining on their behalf the nature of womanhood and the path to female happiness? “We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us understand and attempting to create within that uncertainty,” Hillary Rodham told her classmates on the day of their graduation three decades ago. “The only tool we have ultimately to use is our lives …”
This book is about how the women who graduated from Wellesley in 1969 created their lives at a moment when that river of female history surged to flood stage, tearing roots, collapsing once solid banks and familiar landmarks. Some would plunge headlong into the roiling waters, hoping to ride them into some newer Eden. Others would grasp at the riverbanks even as they crumbled. Yet even those who tried to resist the flood have ultimately used it to carry them free of the narrows in which women had long spent their lives. Nancy Wanderer, for example, wanted her mother’s life and got too much of her wish, including a stifling marriage; the difference is that twenty years on, she attached herself to a radical social movement that not only broke her marriage but helped her realize, finally, the life girls dream of when they play house with other girls, a life where each gets a turn playing Mommy and Daddy. Virtually all in the class would repeat that pattern in some fashion: In the wider world, they escaped the intensely private and limited lives to which previous generations of women were consigned. For Hillary Clinton, claiming a public life has been a decidedly mixed blessing.
She is, even by her classmates, pitied as much as admired. But what of the others? In breaching the domestic wall, have her closest peers mostly enjoyed, or mostly suffered, the new possibilities their generation created for women?
The years in which these women grew up and entered the world were a time of unprecedented change. In the decade that began in their high school junior year, a women’s movement becalmed since the 1930s gained a sudden second wind with the publication of Betty Friedan’s
The Feminine Mystique
. Challenging the postwar dogma that the only normal and joyful destiny for a woman was to be mother and wife—and voicing in public for the first time the unconfessed misery of countless white middle-class suburban housewives—Friedan’s remarkable catalog of the propaganda aimed at women by advertising and the media and science was by 1964 the best-selling paperback in the country. That same year, the passage of the Civil Rights Act and creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provided the advocates of race and gender equality a powerful new legal instrument: When the head of EEOC publicly refused to act against sex discrimination, Friedan helped launch in 1966 the National Organization for Women. NOW lobbied and litigated against discrimination and in behalf of such needs as day care for the children of working women, but its goals extended well beyond workplace issues to a fundamental reconception of both men’s and women’s roles. “We believe that a true partnership between sexes demands a different concept of marriage, as well as an equitable sharing of the responsibilities of home and children and of the economic burdens of their support.”
Following the lead of civil rights activists, who refused the deference and public invisibility historically demanded of blacks, NOW and its more radical sister organizations broke all feminine rules of modesty and took feminism to the streets. In 1967, when the women of ’69 were sophomores at Wellesley, Mother’s Day protesters descended on the White House. Brandishing signs reading
END HUMAN SACRIFICE. DON’T GET MARRIED
, they ritually discarded chains of flowers, aprons, and mock typewriters, emblems of the courted girl, the housebound wife, and the helpmeet in the steno pool. In their junior year, “women’s liberation” made its first national splash when two hundred demonstrators arrived at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City to protest its
“propagation of the mindless sex object image” and set up a “freedom trash can” into which women were invited to toss “objects of female torture”: hair curlers, girdles, bras, and high heels. Sex and underwear, the most private matters, were recognized as having political meaning.
. magazine was launched in 1971; by 1972 the Equal Rights Amendment had passed by overwhelming margins in both the House and Senate; in 1973, the Supreme Court found a constitutional right to abortion in