We are interested in understanding how women and girls in Worcester have experienced learning, both through formal institutions and through life experiences and relationships. This theme includes women and girls’ experiences within, and access to, schools and higher education, as well as other avenues to knowledge and skills.
Well, again I think I took the safe way, I didn’t take risks, I wasn’t a risk taker. I did what was expected. I think that I sort of fell into the work that I do, so I continue to look for my purpose and remind myself that life is a journey; it’s not a destination, you don’t arrive, you’re always continuing that journey.
Barbara Ingrassia was born in 1952 in New York. Her father had an Associate’s Degree in rural engineering and her mother had a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. Few parents at this time had degrees, and both of hers did, so she was very proud of them. Barbara received a Bachelor’s Degree with a secondary in Social Studies from University of New York Geneseo. She also received her Master’s Degree in Library Sciences at SUNY Geneseo. She looked at education as her job and she put all her efforts into her studies.
My mother would say things like, “You can do whatever you want to be,” or she’ll say, “You can do anything.” I think with women, because we don’t have a long history of doors being open, that you have to be very specific. So, when I work with students I try to focus on the gifts that they have.
I really loved it here [Assumption College]. I have made, I made a great group of friends and, in fact, this past weekend I was on the Cape with my, my “Assumption Girls” as I call them. There’s seven of us that go away at least once a year and you just feel like these are women that I really bonded with, but we’re different, we live in different places, we’ve had different experiences as far as marriages or anything else, but when push comes to shove these are people that I can count on in my life.
Donna Connolly was born on May 25, 1956. She is married to Timothy Connolly, and has two sons: Sean who is 22 and Mark who is 18. Donna grew up in Long Island, New York and first came to Worcester to attend college. She graduated from Assumption College in 1978 with a degree in social and rehabilitation services, and also graduated from Worcester State College with her Master’ degrees in Human Service Management in 1989.
I never had a sense that girls were less than, but when I went to college I was an editor of the newspaper and I looked around the board table one day and realized I was the only woman on that board of twelve board I thought, “Where are all of my smart female friends? Why is this the case?” A bunch of us got together and started talking about it and we decided to start our own undergraduate feminist journal our senior year and in that process I realized how much resistance there was to the word feminism and to the idea of women speaking their minds and having interest in the politics that might concern women. So I think that I never was aware of it personally until I was at this very unenlightened elite university and suddenly you threw out the f word, feminism, and there was all sorts of resistance. And I think that made me even more interested in finding my own definition.
That’s the really, really, really hard part and I think that as women go, it’s so much harder for us. And I’m not like going to beat on men or be negative at all about a man’s role in life, but it’s very challenging to find balance, if not impossible to find balance, and I, as a woman, continually feel that I’m not doing enough or I’m not good enough or I feel guilt if I shortchange one area in my life or one person in my life. And sometimes it does get upsetting and frustrating when sometimes it feels like, as a woman you feel like you have to do so much more to be viewed as equal or as competent as maybe a male counterpart.
I think that my generation of women are the ones that were able to start looking at themselves as individuals and were not bound by a lot of conventions that our mothers had to deal with. We were products of growing up in the 50s and 60s and that was the time when all types of things were possible to people. We were the ones that had job opportunities opened up. During the 60s and the 70s, it was a really exciting time. Women were not bound by the traditional rules, and were clearly not allowing ourselves to do that. So we flocked to education. And we were the biggest group of women who started coming into education and really sort of changed where we went.
They told me, 'You should go to college,' and at that point I was 38. So thought, 'It is over for me, I can’t, are you crazy? I can’t go to school now.' And they said, 'Why not?' And that is how I began my educational journey as a late learner, an adult learner.
Brenda Safford was born on August 5, 1956 in Lubbock, Texas. Moving to Worcester with her second husband, Brenda worked within the community and became an adult learner at the age of 38, receiving both her Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Human Services. Brenda is currently the director of Multicultural Affairs at Assumption College. In this interview, Brenda speaks about her days growing up in Lubbock, Texas, and her experiences with both racial segregation and integration in her school system.
Probably when I was younger, success was defined more externally by allowing other people’s opinions to determine whether or not I was successful. The older I get, the more internal the definition has become and it’s really, do I feel good about what I did today or what I did this week.
My first year [teaching] here, I must add, was difficult because they [the Assumption College students] were still all male. They were going to start accepting women the following year. And I remember when I first walked into one classroom, it was Intermediate French, and it was all boys, of course boys, men. And I could tell from their reaction that they thought Assumption had hit bottom, that Assumption College was really going to the dogs. They were against it; you know, the men who were here at the time did not want [the school] to accept women…… Let me say that that first year was interesting because I was teaching intermediate French and I was also teaching a senior seminar. And the senior seminar went famously, again all men. And I enjoyed them, and I am still in touch with some of them. But the Intermediate French [class]-they didn’t want to be there for one thing, you know when you really don’t want to study French, but you have to because it was the rule at the time that you had to have so many semesters of a foreign language. And then to have a woman in front of you besides. So that was a humbling experience, and it was balanced, luckily, by the senior seminar. They were more mature, they were leaving anyway, they were not going to have to worry about having women in the classrooms with them. And then in the second semester, I began teaching at Clark. And that was very important for me because the students at Clark were used to having women in front of them, you know as professors.
Dr. Claire Quintal was one of the first women professors at Assumption College. She never married because she chose a career path in lieu of a family, which in her generation were the only two options. She was born in 1930 to a loving Roman Catholic, French-Canadian family where French was her first language. She grew up in Central Falls, Rhode Island, where she had a happy childhood. Claire attended Anna Maria College in Paxton, MA, and graduated in 1952.