Work

“Work” is a value-laden term that has changed drastically over time, particularly in relation to women’s daily lives. Despite a legacy of opinions to the contrary, WWHP views women’s work as inherently valuable, whether taking place in the formal structure of paid employment or the private realm of home and family. We seek to understand each woman’s work on her own terms in her own words.

Susan Wobst

Consultant, Nonprofit management; Managing Director of Vital Voices Global Partnership

Well, success for me would be, if I had a headstone, I would say, "She tried to do some good." And in terms of my devotion to nonprofits, it's the core of everything.  Its mission, why they exist, why they were founded.  If I like the mission I will really go gung ho for that,  So it's trying to do some good through the work as well.

Susan Wobst was born in Detroit, Michigan, and attended Hillsdale High School and the University of Michigan where she earned four degrees. She is bilingual and her fluency in Russian led to many jobs in government and nonprofit organizations.  She also taught Russian at the college level and participates in several community organizations.  In this interview, Susan discusses her family, her career, and the community of Worcester.

Interview Date: 
Wed, 10/05/2016
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Faye Smalley

99 years old; Owned neighborhood grocery store

I'll tell you before the war [World War II], women took whatever jobs they could get, whether it was factory or whatever. But a lot of the girls joined the Worcester Women's Army Corps.  When they came back, they had a little more push, and they were able to get better paying jobs, because the pay years ago wasn't what it is today. Today they’re fighting for a $15 minimum wage [laughs]. I worked for a year in a bake shop, and I earned $12 a week. For a 60-hour week. So it came to about 25 cents an hour. And then I advanced, I did bookkeeping and cashiering in a men's and boy's wear. And I advanced to $16 [laughs]. And by the time I finished, when I got married I had to go in with my husband, it was 1951.  My highest salary was $30 a week. Today you work two hours for $30.

Faye “Fannie” Kravitz Smalley was born on January 17th, 1917 and has lived in Worcester her entire life.  She lived through a time where men were the ones with the jobs and women were the ones who took care of the household, but she was different than most women her age and seemed to do both of these things.  She worked for her family business at a neighborhood marketplace and she took care of both her parents as well as her husband as they faced serious illnesses.

Interview Date: 
Sun, 10/02/2016
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Kate Rafey

Director of Development, Music Worcester

Just do a lot of yoga. I do not know how much you guys know about yoga or even if you have ever done it before, but it is not just a physical practice.  There is a meditation aspect to it.  Even though I was raised Jewish I identify heavily.  It’s the spirituality of meditation and Buddhist mindfulness practice, just because it answers something that no religion has ever answered for me before, which is just to connect with yourself a little bit and not necessarily to care about—just doing good deeds for the world and not putting it in—I guess for me it was always you need to go synagogue, you need to do these things, you need to, and not putting those needs as just something you should work on for yourself.  So being more gentle with yourself. So if I go home tonight and I do not do all my dishes I will not beat myself up and think I am a horrible person because I did not do all of my dishes. I will just try and do better tomorrow.

Kate Rafey was born in 1986, in Swampscott, Massachusetts.  Moving to the city of Worcester around 2004, Kate, then eighteen years old, would go on to attend Clark University, where she would focus her studies on English and Theatre Art until her graduation in 2009.

Interview Date: 
Wed, 10/05/2016
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Marissa Pyatt

Director of Supportive Services, Abby’s House

I think people don't understand their privilege, and we as a group, not just Worcester, not just women, but as citizens, as humans, need to be able to understand our privilege and how it intersects with oppression. And so there are so many people—like at Abby's [House], we provide services for women that have all different needs, from substance abuse, to trauma, to rape, to eviction. But here we try to preserve that human dignity. In the community, I don't see that as much. You know, there are a couple of agencies that work hard to provide services, but I think that responsibility should be something that we all share, to make sure that the person next to us is honored as a person and their needs are met. Granted, I know that we can't just say, "Oh I'm going to keep somebody in my house and they're going to have shelter and I'm going to feed everybody and I'm going to clothe everybody," but that person is still somebody that needs to be respected and deserves to be respected. It's just a lot of disrespect. It's a hard time now. It's a hard time to live in. Especially for me being a woman of color, it's very hard. Every day I send my son to school and I'm like, “Oh well, what's going to happen?  Am I going to have to answer questions about why people are getting shot?” It's just a hard time to live in, and I think just a simple gesture of greeting somebody, sharing your privilege, would allow somebody to live more comfortably in an uncomfortable time.

Marissa Pyatt was born in Arlington, Virginia, in 1986. In 2016, Marissa found herself in Worcester for the first time, taking on the role as Director of Supportive Services at Abby’s House. Abby’s House is an emergency shelter for women, founded in 1976 at the beginning of the battered women’s movement.

Interview Date: 
Tue, 09/27/2016
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Laura Porter

Freelance Writer and Editor

I have a lot to say about women and education. I think there is such pushes to—I don’t even know how to put this. I think that my biggest challenge from kindergarten to defending my PhD thesis. Why don’t you talk more? Why don’t you smile more? Right, I think there’s such—it’s hard to crack past that. It’s hard to yell over the guy who’s saying nothing, but saying a lot of it and getting all the attention. I think that’s really tough. And I found that and some of it is personality and some of it is gender.  There’s plenty of women who are falling off their chairs answering questions, but I found that the professors I worked with, it wasn’t really male culture it was either patronizing or it was diminishing. I could not wait till when I came here. And Mark got his job and he was teaching, and I was finishing up, I couldn’t wait to get out of Princeton. Smith was fine [laughs]. Smith should have prepared me for the rest of it.

Laura Smith Porter was born in 1958 and raised in Illinois. After pursuing her undergraduate degree at Smith College, she continued her education at Princeton University. At Princeton, she met her husband Mark Richmond. After living in various areas, Mark was offered a job at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. In 1985, they settled down in Worcester, near Indian Lake. In this interview, Laura discusses the obstacles that she faced throughout her education and her career.  Growing up as an only child, the early deaths of her parents inspired her to become a writer.

Interview Date: 
Tue, 11/08/2016
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Susan Navarre

Executive Director of the Fitchburg Historical Society

I belonged to the Women's Alliance which was a feminist group that I wanted to see what that was like.  So we would end up talking about what we were studying a lot and that always—I learned about myself.  That was always beneficial for me because I learned about myself. Even in my current jobs I still see this.  It’s sort of the abstract ideas that give me energy again.  Like what I do in my job to a great extent is supervise a whole bunch of volunteers and supervise employees and write grants and do budgets and write fundraising letters and all these things. But when I want to sort of get energized again about doing it, and I love doing all that stuff, and I'm not really a scholar, but if I go and I read in the field, like if I go and do some research to present a talk, if I do some historical research, or when I was working running an art center, I would go to the college art association and just hear art history [laughs].  That gave me a bunch of energy and so for me that was a big part of the mentoring groups there. 

Susan Navarre was born in Wyandotte, Michigan in 1959 and recently moved to Worcester County in 2013. She grew up in a small town where she was able to walk to school and enjoyed playing with her neighborhood friends. She stood out academically as she was a bright student and spoke out in class when women were not expected to do so. She is very career driven and has lived all over the country as well as traveling to Europe several times.

Interview Date: 
Fri, 10/14/2016
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Ann Marie Mires

First Forensic Anthropologist for Massachusetts; Director of the Molly Bish Center at Anna Maria College

So I have many anthropologist friends that could never work with the families. One of the—I think one of the reasons people are attracted to archeology and anthropology is because you don’t actually have to talk to people. And you’re sort of behind the scenes. And I never minded, as an anthropologist, getting along with people is an important thing, but also understanding them. And so I have dealt with people from all different walks of life under the most horrific circumstances. And that was extremely important to me. And then to transfer that to this job, being director of the Molly Bish Center, it's extremely important that I understand the perspective of the victim, of the survivors that are left behind because they in fact are victims themselves, they’re just not deceased. And, you know, they’re the walking wounded. And when I was at the medical examiner’s office I couldn’t believe how many people had been impacted by that that you would never know just walking down the street. And so it became a very important part of who I am and what I did, but being able to translate that because I can get up in front of a professional audience at the American Academy of Forensic Science meetings and I can talk about skeletonized remains that are traumatized. I’ve done all sorts of trauma and had to explain that, on the stand as well as at professional meetings, intellectually. But viscerally, what happens when you’re in a courtroom, and you’re describing that.  Like when I was in a courtroom for the Bulger testimony.  Really, really hard to see the expressions of the families and to see their loved ones.  They didn’t know where their loved ones were for sixteen to twenty years. And to be able to translate what I do into to telling that victim’s story and also doing it in a way that is respectful so that I’m keeping all of that in mind as the families are looking at me and some of them had to get up and leave, which I totally understand. And to be able to be a voice for those has been something that’s just—people say, “How can you do what you do?” and a lot of people don’t understand it. And that’s, that’s physical, that’s manual, you know, the nasty part of the decomposition. Yes, but that’s physical. It’s the emotional stuff and being humane and human and being professional is really important to me. And that we’re bringing these kids, these families—most important is bringing them home. And then telling their story.

Ann-Marie Mires was born in 1956, and grew up in a small town in Connecticut. After twenty-two years of education, she received a doctorate degree in anthropology. Since then, she has been involved with the Worcester community for many years through her work as a forensic anthropologist. During this interview, Ann-Marie discusses the struggles she encountered as a woman in the workforce, and how being a mother and a successful scholar is a difficult balancing act.

Interview Date: 
Mon, 09/26/2016
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Lila Milukas

Youth Employment Coordinator, Worcester Community Action Council ; Americorps Volunteer

I feel good about this work. I feel I am supporting young people in Worcester and being able to kind of see Worcester in a different light than through school, but also get to know themselves so they can go down a successful path.  This new position that I am doing, which is youth employment coordinator, has been a great experience to connect with youth from ages 16 to 24 and just supporting them in the time they are out of school or in school and thinking what is their next steps, and what the career is going to look like, or what jobs do they want to get to reach that career. So it kind of is what I just went through so it’s so prevalent in my mind so I’m thinking about how getting them to know themselves to be successful and it’s been a really good experience so far.  

Lila Milukas was born in Ashley Falls, Massachusetts, in 1988.  She was raised by her mother and father, both of whom were successful in their careers. She attended a small private high school, which emphasized the equality of women and men. From there, Lila went on to attend Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. She graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in geography.

Interview Date: 
Wed, 11/02/2016
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Nancy Johnson

Professor of Education, Worcester State University

Find out what your potential is and build on it, and always have a secondary skill that you can fall back on, and go to conferences, get out, make connections, network. I can’t express the importance of networking, especially in women's groups.  I try to do that. Once you get out of your environment and go into a different, a whole different—a national conference, and you get so excited and people come back so elevated.  And so what if you’re energetic? If you a win a few, lose a few, you know?  At least you made a start and you’re a changed individual.

Nancy Johnson was born in Worcester, Massachusetts at Hahnemann hospital in 1932 and graduated from Clark University with a major in Romance Languages and a master’s in education.  She earned a doctorate from Boston University. As a language major, her desire was to be an interpreter at the United Nations.  However, she decided to continue her studies and become a teacher.

Interview Date: 
Tue, 09/27/2016
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Bridgette Hylton

Assistant Director of the Counseling and Assessment Clinic of Worcester; Deputy Political Director of the Gov. Deval Patrick Committee in 2010

Try to be happy you know? And work hard. I mean I look at Hillary Clinton and the position that she’s in now where she gets so much criticism. But she said something the other day, I think it was on Humans of New York, about how when she started law school and everyone was like, “You're taking a spot from a man who could be here and you shouldn't be here,” and stuff like that and,  “Now some man’s going to have to go to war and die because you're here.” And our generation is so much more lucky [that] we don't face that as much. It’s still out there of course, but not as much as it used to be.  So I think it’s really important to take advantage of all the opportunities that we have and whether for you that means being the best stay at home mom that you can ever be or the best scientist or a teacher or whatever it is just take advantage of the opportunities that we have because they weren't always available and so we should definitely revel in them. We were talking about how my definition of success changed.  I mean I never saw myself as that mom who was going to be on the PTO.  I didn't see that as success, but as I’m seeing my son grow and seeing the impact it has on him now I see that as something that makes me feel successful and so you know taking advantage of all aspects of what it means to be a woman and the opportunities that are available to us is really important.

Arbane and Jennifer Hylton welcomed Bridgette L. Hylton to the world in 1984, in Boston, Massachusetts. Bridgette resides in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, where she commutes to her job as the assistant director of the Counseling and Assessment Clinic of Worcester, a clinic that provides mental health services to the residents of Central Massachusetts.

Interview Date: 
Tue, 10/04/2016
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