by Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett
Rosie's Daughters is a delightful collection of stories written by and about the generation of women born during World War II (1940-45). Psychologist Matilda Butler interviewed over a hundred women from all over the country and, along with Kendra Bonnett, put her research into a collective memoir, placing personal stories within a cultural context. "In each story we find an individual; with a preponderance of stories we begin to see the patterns that define our generation." Although these women are of the generation between mine (b. 1956) and my mother's (b. 1935), I found both our lives mirrored in the stories here.
Rosie's daughters were raised by the women who worked alongside the mythic Rosie the Riveter. They are known as the FW2 Generation for the sheer numbers of them who became the "First Woman To__." "They can claim more firsts in personal change, educational attainment, and career achievements than any previous generation."
The familiar face of Rosie graces the cover of this stylish book. A timeline runs along the bottom of each page beginning with 1940 in Chapter 1 and ending with 2005. Each year lists some of the most memorable moments of the time to highlight women's achievements. Period black-and-white photographs pepper the pages like a well-worn family scrapbook. Famous FW2 women, like Linda Ellerbee and Cokie Roberts, share their words of wisdom in the margins for further reflection.
The core chapters of the book follow the chronology of a woman's life: Education, Marriage, Children, Work, Divorce, and Spiritual Lives. In the chapter on education, Rosie's Daughters shows how higher education was not taken seriously for women in this era. Story after story highlights the way young women followed men to find their life purpose. One woman's father said he would either pay for college or a wedding, but not both. Instantly, I recalled my own mother's longing to become a doctor. My grandfather would finance medical school only if she would promise not to marry until she was finished. Unable to make this promise, my mother traded an M.D. for her R.N. and her MRS. Many FW2 women went on to further their educations after their children were raised. "The greatest transformation of FW Generation women is that over time we stopped taking 'no' or 'you can't' for an answer." Twenty years after I was born, my mother returned to college and earned her B.S. in Nursing.
Another of Rosie's daughters lamented, "FW2 Generation women had no role models for how to manage careers or college studies while raising children." Popular television gave them Mrs. Cleaver vacuuming in high heels and pearls. It wasn't until the 1960s that Marlo Thomas in That Girl showed us a single, working woman. No wonder this was my favorite show as a teenager. How closely I identified with this FW2 recollection as well: "I was never encouraged to develop myself, to ask questions about things or to understand the world. When I left high school, and even college, I was just going forward totally blind." Change was slow to spread to the next generation of Baby Boomers.
Butler found herself changed by writing this book. "I may have started as a social scientist but I grew into a memoirist." She confirms what all of us who write our life stories come to realize: "Telling (or writing) one's life story is a transformative event. You will not be the same at the ending as you were at the beginning."
Whether you were born during WWII or before, or are a Baby Boomer like myself, you will enjoy eavesdropping on the FW2 generation.
Matilda Butler, one of Rosie's daughters herself, is a psychologist, educator, and author. In addition to her writing, Butler currently teaches women's memoir workshops and nurtures olives, lemons, and fawns at her hillside homestead near Monterey Bay. See the book website.
Kendra Bonnett, a Boomer, is a marketing executive turned author. She has published marketing, business, and technology books, is the founding editor of Digit and Profit magazines, and is an active blogger. She currently lives in downeast Maine.
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