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From the Left Hand Corner: Times have changed

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Congratulations to Janet Yellen! I don’t know her and I didn’t know of her until a week ago.

Ms. Yellen presents a likelihood of one strong, sensible move to keep a fairly aggressive Federal Reserve Board policy in place to alleviate the dragged out aspects of the recent recession.

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I really like the fact that it is quite clear that she wasn’t appointed because she is a woman. She was appointed because she was the logical choice, the most experienced, the best qualified and most ready to serve.

She served ably as second in command on the Federal Reserve Board. Yellen has unique and impressive credentials. She has earned and won a litany of professional awards and honors. But in the past, she likely would have been passed over, and a male appointed.

How different this is from the past century, or just the past decade or past years, in fact. Times have changed.

Just a decade or so ago, when phasing over from Duluth, I was in need of a local bank. I saw and was intrigued by a newspaper ad depicting the bank’s personnel. All portrayed were women.

Since then, I remember a couple conferences with the man in charge, but 99 percent of my routine banking contacts have been with the capable/competent, friendly women working there.

What a far cry that was from the one and only Farmer’s State Bank that existed in Pequot Lakes when I was a kid. Every man seeking a loan had to go through the gruff male bank owner. He inevitably opened the cross communication with, “How many cows you got?”

I have no way of knowing what salaries were paid back then, but I can make a good guess, based on the houses they lived in and the cars they drove. Other than for the banker and favored male underlings, salaries were low, lower and lowest, with the latter two slots for the female tellers — one who had been there forever, and my cousin, who was shortly out of high school. She was probably the smartest among the hardest working, and certainly along with the other female employee the most personable employee there. I don’t know how she remembers it, but rather suspect the glass ceiling she encountered then was made of steel.

If I remember correctly, when I started law school there were two women in the upper grades and three in the freshman class. Only one of the women in our class survived until spring, and I believe she dropped out later. Now, I am advised that there are more female than male students in many, if not most, law schools.

In the 1950s, I was lucky enough to have a few lively conversations with the one and only female lawyer in this area, who exuded colorful competence. There was one female part-time practicing lawyer when I started in Duluth, and one other, who slowly and gradually broke through to judicial capacity.

During growing-up years in this area, I don’t recall even hearing of, let alone encountering or being treated by, any female doctors.

In business, the rare exception of businesses headed by women almost always resulted from inheritance or widowhood. Whoever heard of a female pastor being called to their or a neighbor’s church even 30 or 40 years ago?

Just last week, I made a very infrequent personal trip to visit my business bank in Duluth. I walked in the back door, through the whole office complex to the front teller section without seeing a single male employee, not even a “supervisor” type. Maybe males were hidden behind closed doors (board room, no doubt), out of their office, or non-existent.

My errand was delayed by a computer that first specifically denied any recording of a substantial deposit to a trust account from which I was attempting to make a timely disbursement. The computer denied that I had a bank account, questioned whether I had any account at that bank, and for a while it even contended my non-existence.

Thanks to a perplexed, but patient female teller, patient female supervisor and basic information from my female office employee, the dilemma was dealt with. Being of no help in solving the computer glitch, I impatiently wandered around the premises, bored to the point of looking at the traditional photograph on the main hall wall. What an amusing contrast! There was a big, formal photograph of a very big desk fronting a very big seated man. He was surrounded by a dozen employees of various age, weight and width, all stiffly suited and collared. All were male.

Times have changed.

After completing the transaction, I walked out the same back door and across the parking lot without observing another male.

Times have changed.

Back then, most intelligent, ambitious young women who did move on through post high school education earned, along with their degree, the grand choice of being a relative low-paid nurse or teacher, mostly at grade school level. When I started to represent teachers, they were just past contracts where men were paid at a higher level than women for the same exact teaching assignments.

“Men need more money because they had families to support.” There were no female school administrators, not even at principal level.

It is too late to do anything to correct the huge inequality that existed back then. It is hard for those of our gender to comprehend.

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