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After Suffrage

Notes on Saturday afternoon program, Class of '69 reunion, May 22, 1999

Five years ago we conducted a survey - about 40% of the class participated - which allowed us to describe ourselves in a variety of ways, having to do with our relationships, families, jobs, education, politics, and the impact of our Smith education.

This year we want to focus on the changes in our lives. Our fifties can be a time of stability, but they also seem to provide opportunities or force us to deal with important new challenges: death of parents or moving into care taking roles for them; marriages ending; moving into new careers or retirement; taking up new pursuits or following continuing interests; confronting the "empty nest"; coping with health issues large and small.

A new facts from our 1994 survey to start with. At that point in the time (and probably still), we are at an incredibly wide range of ages and stages with regard to our children: in 1994, twelve survey respondents had children in pre-school while 69 had children in college or beyond. We are extremely well-educated, with only 2% not taking more courses or pursuing degrees post-Smith. Almost 60% reported being employed full-time, with jobs ranging over a wide spectrum ; and three-quarters reported being active volunteers, averaging over 15 hours per month. Just over a quarter reported major surgery, 15% have suffered from depression, and 20% reported chronic or life-threatening illness.

We also had access to Wellesley Class of '68 survey conducted for their 30th reunion last year, and we looked at this for some indications of the kinds of recent changes that might characterize our class as well. For example, over half of their respondents now live in "child-free" homes. Sixty-five percent have lost at least one parent, 21% both, and increasing numbers take some kind of responsibility for parents, in-laws or other aging relatives. Most have thought about retirement, though few have made concrete plans. Over past 5 years 41% have sought psychiatric therapy or counseling; 88% now need bifocals or reading glasses; and 49% have colored their hair!

It is clear, though, that the number of important changes - and certainly the stories that go with these changes - can't be picked up by surveys. In the wonderful conversations that made up the Saturday program, several of our classmates shared their stories with us. Ellyn Paul Weiss told us about her decision to stop practicing law after many years and pursue serious career as a painter. Linda Frank Told talked movingly about caring for her ill parents as well as for her brother with substance abuse problems. April Hoxie Foley spoke about the death of her husband and how this dramatically changed her views about her career and what was important to her. Marcia Shenk created an instant fan club when she described taking up ice hockey - at which she now excels - just ten years ago. Carolyn Leigh talked about the effects on her life of coping with a major, life-threatening illness. Linda Burden spoke briefly about her empty nest and hoped that, as we move toward retirement and having more flexible time, we might allow our lives to be transformed by acting and theater, as her life has been. Charlotte Squarcy spoke about reinventing her work every few years as the market and the clients changed.

The generosity of these classmates in sharing stories of their own lives inspired innumerable conversations during the rest of the day Saturday. We talked about dissatisfactions (and satisfactions) with careers and the marriages, about the courage required to walk away from bad relationships, about conflicts with children. This mood of reflection was stunningly illuminated and strengthened by Lynn Slaughter's dance performance Saturday night, "Flying at Fifty". Lynn's beautiful and autobiographical pieces brought laughter, tears, and cheers from a large audience. They were especially meaningful for 69ers in light of our day-long conversations, affirming that there has been learning and growth and value to all those years since we left Smith for the world.


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Last updated:12/26/99

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