Newcomers in the Westchester suburbs in the early 70’s were usually greeted by the Welcome Wagon lady. She brought gifts: jar openers with local merchant logos, dishcloths and other domestic items. In addition, she organized monthly get-togethers at each other’s houses for crafting sessions.
When my neighbor friend and I attended one of those gatherings in our Westchester neighborhood, countering the standards of a patriarchal society was not on my mind.
Seated in a large circle in a comfortable suburban den, we were surrounded by raffia, which we were weaving into small stools when two representatives of the Mount Kisco newspaper appeared brandishing a camera. The photographer took each of our pictures as we finished our projects. Afterwards, the reporter (who obviously didn’t relish this assignment) addressed the young woman sitting to my right.
“What’s your name?” he queried.
“Susan Brown,” she answered.
“Don’t you have a husband?” he responded in a voice dripping with scorn.
“Yes, I do!” she reassured him.
“Well, what’s his name?”
“Ok, so you are Mrs. Eric Brown. That’s what we need.”
Thus, he moved counterclockwise around the room, carefully noting each husband’s name, allowing me time to consider what my own response would be. When he came to me, I boldly replied with my own given name.
“What’s your husband’s name?” He was quite annoyed.
“He’s not here. If you took his picture, would you be asking him my name?” I countered.
“Well, if you don’t tell me your husband’s name, I can’t put your picture in the Society page.”
“OK, don’t put my picture in the paper!”
Gasps came from each corner of the room. I had apparently committed a big faux pas. Without support from the other women in the room, my neighbor and I grabbed our little stools and ran for the door, bursting to let loose our reaction. Safely in the car with the portent of our audacity fresh in our wake, we screamed on the way home like kids running from a Halloween prank.
It’s been a long time since women’s names were identified as their husband’s. Even more significant advances are now taken for granted, but remembering my small misbehavior reminds me of our progress.
Miriam Russell a retired Professor, teaching travel writing and memoir sessions. This is an excerpt from her memoir, Suddenly Single: A Life After Death.