WHAT WOMEN DO | 1991
A Photo Essay Exhibit by Ginny Gable and Robin Oldham
All right. We know we don’t have a realtor in the bunch. Or a homemaker. We also missed women psychologists, maintenance workers, military officers, postal employees, musicians, daycare operators, bartenders, seamstresses, repair persons, writers, visual artists, librarians, graphic designers, volunteers, and many others. Trouble was, we had just a little time, space and money with which to complete this project.
Of the approximately 8000 potential subjects in Las Vegas we began with a list of over 100 women compiled with the help of friends and acquaintances. Somehow we whittled that list to a more manageable 23. The resulting group of women is by no means conclusive or absolutely representative of all the deserving, hard-working women to be found in our community – though these photos and stories are a wonderful sample.
Some of the women pictured were already friends and others we’d never met. What they have in common is a willingness to share their life’s experiences as they relate to work, and the choices they make, and still make, to get from one point to another, one day to the next. Their photos and stories are a sample of options. When women work, what do they do and why?
Possibly the ultimate goal of this project is to communicate to all who see it our firm belief in a statement we heard time and again from all our interview subjects: Women can do anything they want to do.
We hope you enjoy this demonstration. ~Ginny and Robin
Ginny Gable usually photographs horses and landscapes and anything outdoors that’s not human; this is her first foray into portrait photography. She was inspired to do this project for one primary reason. She grew up largely unaware of the career opportunities women had in the world. She hopes that by turning her camera on the capable women in the Las Vegas area she might help to create an awareness in others of the diversity of activities in which women can, and do, participate.
Robin Oldham is a writer/artist/preservationist and a friend of Ginny Gable’s. When Ginny outlined the project to her, Robin couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit at length with so many admirable women, asking them about their careers, their families, all the deep dark secrets of their lives. She appreciates the trust these women so willingly placed in her. Working on this project was an experience she’ll never forget.
Like a lot of American girls of her generation, young Elissa Adami’s 1950s career goals followed traditional women’s jobs of the times. Elissa wanted to become a stewardess, and even went so far as to interview for training acceptance after graduating high school. But also like a lot of youngsters then and now, money had to be channeled elsewhere: Elissa’s father was diagnosed with cancer and any funds earmarked for her education were quickly depleted.
Without backup career aspirations other than marriage and motherhood, perhaps in part because of her intense Italian upbringing in an Italian neighborhood of Boston, Elissa planned to continue with an office job she held and live at home until the man who would become her husband came along.
That’s what happened. She became Elissa Romero, wife of a military man with family roots in Northern New Mexico, and received an education of sorts after all, by living in several locations throughout the U.S. and in Japan. She held a variety of jobs and volunteer positions and had three children by the time her husband Fred brought her to Las Vegas to live.
Since 1984, Elissa’s been employed as hostess at Hillcrest Restaurant, a job she enjoys primarily because of her contact with people, some familiar and some new to Las Vegas.
From her varied experiences Elissa brings an interesting perspective to the issue of women’s capabilities and career goals.
“What women do is much more than just our jobs for pay. We don’t seem to identify as strongly with our job titles as men seem to. We bounce a lot of balls, not just one or two,” Elissa says. “A woman can do whatever she wants if she puts her mind to it and believes it’s possible.”
“Education is important for all young people, but I believe it can offer something more for young women in the form of self-esteem. They get a feeling of confidence just knowing they’re capable of taking care of themselves.”
If Elissa wasn’t greeting friends and strangers at Hillcrest she thinks she might like to be off on an anthropological or archeological expedition somewhere. Or mediating conflicts between people. Or in a funeral home…
“A career aptitude test I took a while back suggested I become a mortician,” Elissa explains. “And do you know what? I might like that. It’s a sensitive area and I think I can relate very well to people dealing with that part of life. It’s something that would take a lot of special caring and I think I’d do well with it.”
Owner, The Carriage House Bed and Breakfast and Antiques, Publisher of The Victorian Gazette and The Las Vegas Visitor’s Handbook.
Kera on selling Christmas cards at age 10
“I went from having $5 or $10 to spend at Christmas to having a couple hundred dollars to spend.”
On her first real job
‘It was babysitting for Diana Stein and it lasted about ten days.”
On her second real job (at a flower shop)
“I dusted things and cleaned up messes. But it was the real world and I loved it.”
On her third real job (at Las Vegas’ St. Anthony Hospital where she was born)
“I was sort of the administrator’s pet.”
“I made some great nun friends.”
On traveling to Europe alone at age 18
“I wasn’t afraid of rational things. I wasn’t afraid of sensible things. I was afraid of stupid things. I was worried I’d never have another hamburger.”
On motherhood and patience
“My daughter Jamie was a baby who nursed 12 hours a day and screamed 12 hours a day. I used to look at her and say, ‘You’re lucky I’m your mother. Anyone else would have left you in a dumpster.’”
On operating a daycare center in 1981 so she could be with Jamie
“If there’s one thing I’ve ever known how to do it’s how to have fun and that’s pretty much what kids want to do. So we had a good time.”
On having many jobs
“I liked learning all those things. I just didn’t like having to do them after I’d learned them.”
On what ties it all together
“There’s been a common thread of interest and income for the last seventeen years of my life and that’s antiques. I instinctively love old things.”
The key to success in the antiques business
“I don’t know what it is, but I think it’s a really good buy.”
Kathy Archuleta has ten years experience in her field, is a veteran of county politics, owns her own home and car and is raising two children, one nine-year-old and a month-old infant. She’s not a typical 29-year-old, by any means. And she’s certainly not the typical result of the rural, traditional upbringing she received.
One of eight children in her family, Kathy was born in Las Vegas and grew up on her parents’ ranch in tiny Gallinas, north of town. The family worked hard and Kathy cherishes her childhood, though education past high school and anything other than support-type jobs for women were not considered. Yet, somehow Kathy felt a need to provide for her own independence.
“I never spent any time thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up. But after I graduated from high school I ended up taking some business courses at Highlands and found out I didn’t want to go to school any more. So I got a job as a clerk in the San Miguel County Assessor’s office.”
Kathy was a hard and willing worker and that attitude paid off as she received regular promotions of responsibility and was eventually offered the position of Chief Appraiser.
“I was afraid to take the job at first because it was so much responsibility. The Chief Appraiser has to appear in court and defend appraisals when there’s a dispute. I wasn’t sure I could do it and I didn’t want to be in a job I wasn’t good at,” Kathy recalls. “But my boss called me in and said he wanted me to think about taking the job. He said he knew I could do it – he had more confidence in me than I did! That really helped, though, and I took the job.”
Her place in that position was soon in danger of ending, however, when an election threatened to put a new County Assessor in office. Because Kathy was quickly learning about politics and business and she enjoyed what she did, she decided to run for County Assessor herself. That was in 1988; Kathy was 26.
“I didn’t win, but I came in third of six candidates. I learned a lot from the experience, like how to speak in front of groups of people. I also wrote articles for the newspaper and the radio. Even though I didn’t win I’m glad I ran,” declares Kathy.
After the election Kathy resigned her position to find work elsewhere. In the summer of 1989 she went to work as a right-of-way appraiser for the New Mexico Highway Department. She’s one of few women who do such work in the department.
“At first the guys on the job expected me to sit in the truck with the heater on when it was cold outside. But that’s not what I was out there to do! Now they pretty much treat me the same as one of them.” Kathy adds, “I like the work I’m doing now better than any I’ve done before, even though it’s not seen as ‘women’s work.’ Sometimes I think women hold themselves back from work like this because it can be easier to not try something different.”
When Kathy’s not roaming the shoulders of the state’s highways she’s got another job, this one unpaid, but of which she’s equally proud. She’s currently mayordoma for her church in Gallinas.
“My grandmother and my mother each served as mayordoma before me,” Kathy says of the position as caretaker of her community’s church in Gallinas where she made her first communion and in which her second baby daughter will be christened this coming April 13.
The current Gallinas church was built in 1936 and was in dire need of repairs when Kathy was elected as a mayordoma in 1987. Kathy wrote a grant – her first – to fund the church’s repair and was awarded $1000, an amount greater than that which she’d asked. With that monetary investment for materials and lots of volunteer labor from the residents of Gallinas and their families, the church now stands ready to do service for another 50 years or more. Kathy hopes someday to see her own daughters serving as mayordoma of the little church, and she encourages her nine-year-old’s interest in history and her Hispanic heritage.
Kathy’s life is a testament to how highly she prizes her independence. Though her job in Santa Fe stretches her working days to 12 hours, she’s happy in all her roles, as appraiser, mayordoma and mother, and she points to her own life as an example for young friends of what can be accomplished, no matter the odds.
“Kids don’t take school seriously,” asserts Kathy. “We need to make them want independence, to study to learn to provide for themselves. We need to show young girls that they do have a choice to do something with their lives. They can have a career if they want it and they go after it.”
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