Editor’s Note: Today we continue with the second interview in our Women At Work series, which is focused on a diverse range of working women and their experiences. Amy’s interview provides a companion piece to our first interview, with her mother Eileen. If you haven’t read that piece, I highly recommend it!
Editor’s Note: I am very excited to introduce the inaugural interview of our new series, “Women at Work.” This series aims to open up conversations about what work women do, what aspects of work they find fulfilling, and what improvements can be made to their part of the American workplace. We’ll talk to women in a broad range of fields, in different stages of their careers. Greater transparency benefits everyone! Our first interview is with 91-year-old Eileen Lavine, a retired editor who began her career several decades ago.
1) What did you do for a living? What do you do now?
I was a writer and editor for most of my career. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1945, and knew when I first entered college that I wanted to have a career in journalism. I had also been an editor of my high school newspaper (an enormous all-girls school in Manhattan), and as soon as I started college (at the age of 16 ½), I went to the office of The Daily Cardinal, the award-winning newspaper at Wisconsin, and started as a reporter. That was September 1941 – and when we entered World War II in December, many of the male students went into service – so The Cardinal was run mostly by women, and I became the first woman to serve a full year’s term as executive editor.
2) When you were in school, what did you imagine you would do for a living? Did you have a strong sense of direction in terms of career, or a sense that there were many options open to you?
Yes, I had a strong sense of direction – I did not want to major in journalism, but rather in American Institutions, an inter-department major where I concentrated in political science, history, sociology and economics, all much more valuable for journalism.
When I graduated, I went to Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and received my M.S. degree. Then I worked as a reporter and Assistant Sunday Editor on the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times for about 2 years. I then came back home to New York and worked as an assistant to Dorothy Gordon, who had youth forums on radio for the New York Times – my job was doing forums at junior and senior high schools around the city on current events and cultural issues. After 2 years, my job ended and with my generous severance pay I went on a six-week Grand Tour of Europe, ending up in Paris where I stayed for a year doing some free-lance writing for UNESCO and the Economic Cooperation Administration (US Marshall Plan). When I came back home, I became editor of a welfare and health newspaper published by the Community Council of New York. I married and was doing free-lance writing when my first child was born, then we moved to Washington, DC (my husband was an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission) – and I started doing part-time work for a nonprofit association in the medical field, writing and editing newsletters and other materials.
In 1968, a group of us – all women whose husbands were employed – incorporated ourselves as Information Services, Inc., an editorial business that produced newsletters, brochures, conference proceedings,, public relations programs, etc. mostly for health and education organizations and government agencies. I was President of the company for much of its existence and also was active in the formation of the National Association of Women Business Owners. We were a low-key firm, mostly housewives working part time on a variety of assignments. It was quite unique at the time, but we were fortunate in that the organization that had brought us together in the first place continued to pay for the rent and office supplies, and also most of us had husbands who were working and had health benefits. Our company closed in 1998. Since that time I have been a volunteer, first as a mentor for young Black and Latino students in reading and acculturation projects and a member of the Board of Directors of the organization sponsoring this program , and for the past eight years, I have been a senior editor at Moment Magazine, a bi-monthly publication founded 40 years ago by Elie Wiesel as an independent magazine on Jewish cultural, social and political issues. I have written articles for the magazine, and I do copy editing and proofreading for each issue.
3) Did your family, friends, and other people around you support your ambitions to be a writer and editor? Was there pressure to do something else with your career/life?
Yes, my family and friends strongly supported my ambitions to be a journalist. From my high school days, I always went to the 070 section in the public library to read books about journalists. My father, who was a doctor, died when I was 10, and my mother was very supportive of me and my two sisters in everything we did, from going to college out of town, working on the high school newspaper, and going to graduate school (I lived at home that year). My friends also had career goals, and most of my close friends worked after college and after they were married (although most, I believe, stopped working when they first had children, returning to work in later years). I don’t recall any friends of the family questioning my ambitions. My older sister, who graduated from college in 1941, got a master’s in economics at Columbia, worked for several yeas after she married, then returned to work when her sons were older. Ditto for my younger sister. There was never any pressure for any of us to do anything else.
4) Do you see major differences in the way that women are seen and treated in the workforce, from your early days as a writer and editor to your time now at Moment Magazine?
Obviously, women in general have many more opportunities today – but remember, my college years were during World War II and women took over many jobs at that time. Some of my friends in college accelerated to get out of college in 3 years instead of 4 to take advantage of these jobs.
For a year in 1948 I worked on two trade magazines, before my job opened up at the NY Times, and the staffs were all women including the top editors. At Moment, the staff is almost all women, except for the design and production manager. We have had male fellows for one-year stints, but the latest fellows have been female. I am continually impressed at the professionalism, capability and skill of all these women – and it has been a real pleasure for me to work with them.
5) Was the gendered wage gap and ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] a big topic of discussion during your time at Information Services, Inc.? What do you think can be done to further improve the working conditions of women today, if anything?
We didn’t discuss gendered wage gaps at Information Services because we were all part-time housewives whose husbands made most of the family income. So we really had no concern about the issue. However, we did march in support of the ERA and that was a big topic of discussion among us all.
As far as improving the working conditions of women today, I think professionally, women have made their marks already at the top levels of many fields, including journalism. The major issue today is how to improve working conditions for women at the lower end [of the job spectrum], to give them education and training so that they can move up and aspire to better jobs.
Our next interview is with Eileen’s daughter, Amy! What kinds of working women would you like to see us interview?
Know someone who wants to share their workplace experiences? Contact us :)