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An Oral History of Marlene Theile

Told by Caroline Theile

In the early days of the American public education system, teaching was a profession pursued by men, often as a stepping stone to more lucrative careers. In the late 1820s, noteworthy educator Thomas Gallaudet responded to the lack of dedicated male instructors by proposing that females be viewed as a possible new source of teachers.1 By the end of the 19th century, the teaching profession was female dominated–especially among younger grades. Starting in the 1950s, however, the demographics began to shift once more, as men who attended college on the GI bill started to pursue teaching again; this time, though, they often sought to become career teachers.2 The shifting face of the teaching profession, and the unique position that women held in the US education system, makes investigating the experiences and life of a career teacher an interesting pursuit.

My paternal grandmother, Marlene Hayes Theile, 85, has been involved in some capacity with the education system for over 60 years. In this time, she has taught early elementary classes in her home state of Florida, instructed children of deployed parents on a military base in Germany, and held various teaching and after school care positions in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her life trajectory has both influenced and been influenced by her career, and her stories help to illustrate the experiences of a teacher in the late 20th and early 21st century.

Even as a young girl, Marlene knew exactly what career she wanted to pursue. “I did a lot of babysitting when I was younger, working with young children,” Marlene explained, “I always wanted to be a teacher.” So, when she graduated high school, she followed in her cousin’s footsteps and pursued a teaching degree at Florida State University. FSU was historically a women’s college but recently turned co-ed after the end of World War II, as the subsequent introduction of the GI Bill led to a rise in the number of degree-seeking men. The university only had three core degree programs for women. “I went to college for teaching,” Marlene recalled, “actually, though, the only other opportunities were social work or nursing…those were the professions that most everyone in my age group went into.”

After student teaching as a university student in Panama City, Florida, Marlene worked as a third grade teacher at a school in Miami for two school years between 1956 and 1958 to fulfill a requirement for a $250 college scholarship she received. This grade suited her well: “Third grade, they were just beginning to think on their own a little bit,” Marlene explained, stating that if she had the choice, she would choose older elementary grades over the kindergarteners. The vast majority of the faculty at the Miami school were women, and Marlene’s first class had 35 students and no teaching aid. However, she remembers this class fondly: “We always began school with the Pledge of Allegiance and a Bible reading,” she said, and commented that, for the most part, the full class was well-behaved. She still recalls two of her students, Mark S. and Pepe H., as making a particularly strong impact on her. Marlene remembers Mark as being a brilliant, and recalls Pepe’s parents as being instrumental in getting her a job at a camp in North Carolina during that summer.

After her second year teaching at this same school, Marlene decided it was time she put her dreams of traveling in action, and in 1958 applied to work as a teacher in the Department of Defense Dependent Schools. After being accepted into the program, she was assigned to teach on a base in Japan, but since she had aspired to teach in Europe, she sought a reassignment. The army assigned her to a new school in Hanau, Germany, and after this position was granted, Marlene made her way across the Atlantic Ocean by boat. “I went to Brooklyn and got on a ship called the USS Patch with 350 other teachers from all over the United States; [the teachers then] went to Germany or France or…Italy,” Marlene recalled. She explained that, for her, the trek across the ocean “was just luxurious. It was an army transport ship but we had our own rooms and showers and meals. The officers were very nice; they would have nights where we would go dancing [and] go to parties on the ship.”

The Department of Defense Dependent Schools were an integral part of the United State’s post-WWII effort to maintain a global presence. Since an increasing number of military men desired to keep their families together even while being stationed overseas, the DOD was compelled to provide an education system for the children of servicemen.3 In the 1960-1961 school year, nearly 135,000 students were enrolled overseas, and in the same year the program was the tenth largest US school system. The preferred characteristics of a Dependent School teacher were “physical fitness, tolerance of differences, flexibility, and self-reliance,” according to an article on the school system.3 Marlene taught children from all across the country in her third grade classroom, and recalled that the curriculum at the school was reflective of what she taught in the states. In stark contrast to her experiences in Florida, however, the German DOD school “had a number of men on the faculty.”

In one way in particular, Marlene’s time teaching in Germany changed the course of the rest of her life. It is there that she met her future husband, Ronald Theile; he was a music teacher at the school, and after getting to know him over the first few months of the school-year, they “fell into couples.” They were married in a civil service in Switzerland in May of 1959, and had a church service in August. During her two years teaching in Germany, Marlene was able to travel all across Europe and the Middle East. These trips brought her to Austria, Egypt, Italy, Syria, and France, among many other countries. But once her time teaching on the army base was up, Marlene and Ron travelled back to the United States, and settled in Ron’s hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Once back in the States, Marlene took some time away from teaching. She was pregnant with her first of four children, my father Craig, and she and Ron both agreed that it was best she stay at home with their growing family. “I didn’t go back to teaching until…the last one was in kindergarten, and even then I only substitute taught so I could still get them to school and pick them up,” Marlene continued, “I went full time when the last two went to college.” She recalled that most young mothers also stayed home with their children during this time period, with the exception being a handful of teachers who continued working while their children were young. Upon returning to the classroom in the early 1970s, Marlene found her experiences in the Cincinnati Public School district to be very different from her first two years in Florida. The children were much more difficult to work with and she even recalled a situation during her year as a fifth grade English teacher in which a group of five girls–who had known each other since kindergarten–were particularly challenging. “My principle was very supportive, however,” Marlene explained, and in response to the group’s bullying and disrespect, “[he] would come into my classroom throughout the day and let the girls know he was aware of their behavior.”

Marlene ultimately retired from teaching in 1995, but remained involved in her local Wyoming City Schools district in their after-school care program for the following 16 years and is currently a volunteer at a local Montessori school. In her extensive career as a teacher, Marlene has not felt held back simply because she was a woman. She explained that her “principals were both male and female and very supportive of their staff” and that when different job opportunities became available in the school, “women were chosen as well as men.” For example, she recalled that their union representative was a woman and that the principal who hired her for her first job out of college was female. However, she did cite that the school boards were primarily male, making her unsure how common it was for a woman to hold this position during the mid-twentieth century. In their 1979 assessment of the status of women in educational administration positions across the US, Cronin and Pancrazio acknowledge that women had recently made strides in representation on school boards and administrations, although they still only made up 18.3% of these members. They cite, then, that three primary strategies should be used make the boards more equal: “…That talent be recognized, opportunities be provided on an equal basis, and that women and men be given reasonable support and encouragement by the teaching and learning professions.”4 While career advancement at the school level was feasible during Marlene’s teaching career, it is clear that further upward mobility was still lacking.

Originally, the decision of school districts to integrate women into their teaching staff was a fiscal one. Referring to the changes spurring the move to hire women, Keith Melder writes “the educator saw that the greatest advantage they could claim for reform was economy,” because “women would teach for less money than men.”1 However, this approach changed by the time Marlene started in the school system. In fact, she explained that she “never felt held back in [her] profession, salary-wise” because the salary was based on years of experience and degree-level, and that both men and women were paid on the same scale. The primary problem that she had with this program, however, was that years of experience were not fully transferrable between school districts. “You lose a lot of salary if you change schools,” Marlene explained.

Throughout her career as a teacher, Marlene has seen the dynamics of the classroom change dramatically, and yet finds surprising commonalities as well. In addition to experiencing the changes brought about by the integration of schools, Marlene found that parts of the curriculum changed over the years as well. Citing some of the books that she now reads to her Montessori class, including those about how the LGBT movement began, Syrian refugee crisis, and engineering careers, she explained that the literature taught in schools has as “come a long way.” Additionally, in her early days of teaching, corporal punishment was used as a disciplinary method, but by the 1990s this tactic had been replaced with detentions and expulsion. One of the facets of school life that, in her experience, did not change much was the wide variety of ways children play. “I noticed that gender didn’t matter; girls were accepted in football and boys were accepted in playing with Barbie dolls,” Marlene cited, continuing that one of the boys in her after school program would even join in with a group of girls to play dress up with the dolls.

Reviewing Marlene’s career in teaching offers a glimpse into one of the most important professions of our era. Marlene recalled the field of teaching as one that allowed for equity in the workplace, particularly in terms of pay and career advancement, making it a unique profession during this time period and reflects the changes that have occurred within the field over the last 100 years. When asked if she would do it all over again–teaching in Florida, working for the Dependent Schools, her career in Cincinnati–Marlene’s answer was genuine: “I would. No regrets at all. I remember asking your grandpa…if he would change anything he’d ever done– and no, he loved every minute of it. And I did as well.”


  1. Melder, K. E. (1972). “Women’s High Calling: The Teaching Profession in America, 1830-1860.” American Studies, 13 (2), 19–32. [] []
  2. Boyle, E. (2003). “The Feminization of Teaching in America.” Retrieved November 28, 2019, from https://stuff.mit.edu/afs/athena.mit.edu /org/w/wgs/prize/eb04.html. []
  3. Derrick, W. M. (1960). “Department of Defense Dependent Schools.” Men in Education, 42 (2), 55–57. [] []
  4. Cronin, J. M. & Pancrazio, S.B. (1979). “Women as Educational Leaders.” The Phi Delta Kappan, 60 (8), 583-586. []

An Oral History of Pat Alaveni

Told by Kimba Stahler

From Going Steady to Dorm Room Love: Commercialization, Intimacy, and Sexuality in the 1960s and 1970s

In 1955, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Pat Alaveni took her first breath. Twelve years later, she stepped into the world of dating. As a “boy crazy” child, she was aware of boys and had admired construction workers through the windows of her home.1 While watching 1940s movies, she imagined romance as “finding the perfect person.”2 Human intimacy was the most important aspect Alaveni’s sexuality, and she understood dating as the opportunity to get to know someone.

Over the course of the twentieth century, American dating culture and ideas about sexuality changed. At the close of the nineteenth century, romantic love formed the basis of American sexuality, and by the middle of the twentieth century, the idea of companionate marriage intertwined sexual fulfilment and intimacy into marriage. However, commercialization seeped into sexuality which threatened to obscure intimacy and emotional connection.3

Alaveni’s experiences dating illuminate the tension that existed between romantic love and commercialization in American sexuality. When her partners did not define sexuality through intimacy, or when their relationship lacked it, the couple struggled to overcome that tension. She was aware of this tension and that her peers did not always privilege intimacy in their own sexuality. Upon reflection, she realized, “it was possible I had boyfriends and dates that weren’t actually friends.”4

In the seventh grade, Pat Alaveni began searching for that perfect person. As a member of the baby boomer generation, Alaveni and her peers married earlier in life and before graduating high school they went “steady.”5 Her and her first boyfriend hung out in the neighborhood or at her house since they were too young to drive and their parents did not take them to date night activities.6 As many young boys did, her first boyfriend gave her a friendship ring to signify their status as “steadies.”6 During high school, Alaveni went steady with a “warm” and “friendly” boy for two years, even after he left Harrisburg for college.

Although this new concept of going-steady was a drastic change from the 1940s dating culture, it did share one significant similarity. For her parents’ generation, young adults went on dates frequently with different partners to raise their popularity in a system called “dating and rating.”7 Dating and rating and going-steady were commodified sexualities rooted in scarcity and competition. As American soldiers fought in World War II, men were scarce, and a woman who had a social calendar full of dates was a popular woman indeed. When going-steady, women were scarce because they were taken. Scarcity brought value to an individual’s sexuality because it increased their popularity. A woman’s sexual value declined if she did not have many suitors in the 1940s or if she was single during the 1950s.8

Dating brought teenagers into American consumer culture because couples entered the market place when dating left the home. Part of a longer trend which stretched back to the beginning of the century, consumption interwove itself into sexuality through “the date.” Couples patronized entertainment establishments, where boys spent money. Girls bought clothes and cosmetics to make themselves desirable to men.9

Going on a date provided couples with access to privacy since it took place without parental supervision. Alaveni and her high school boyfriend went on a hayride for one date where “everyone was making out in the corn fields.”6 Access to privacy allowed young couples to stretch the definition of respectable sexuality beyond heterosexual marriage. For Alaveni’s peers, “making out” or petting, but not always intercourse, intertwined love and sexuality into going-steady.10

When Alaveni enrolled in the California Institute of Arts during the early 1970s, her classmates no longer went steady. Instead, they would “pair off”: two people would leave a social gathering together at the end of the night.((Alaveni, Skype interview, Oct. 22, 2019.)) Sexual liberalism, which had divorced sex from reproduction but still contained respectable sexuality within heterosexual marriage, began to break down by the end of the 1960s. Her generation did not define pre-marital sex as a disrespectable behavior as the previous generations had. The sexual revolutions took numerous forms including “free love,” the increased visibility of gay and lesbian relationships, access to the birth control pill, and earlier intercourse for many people. In some cases, youths divorced sexuality from love and connected it to “socially bonding capacities.”11

While in college, Alaveni struggled to reconcile a commodified sexuality with her own definition. At a student event, a “mysterious” man caught Alaveni’s attention, and he slipped away before she had a chance to meet him. Knocking on his dorm room door, she introduced herself and disclosed that he intrigued her: she had to know him. Perplexed, he confessed, “I don’t know what you want from me,” and “I don’t have anything to offer you.”((Alaveni, Skype interview, Oct. 22, 2019.)) Baffled, she told him she did not want to “own him” or “take anything from him.” Through their interaction, Alaveni discovered that he was not so mysterious after all and the way he viewed sexuality resembled a form of consumption did not appeal to her. Ironically, he wished to spend more time with her. She rebuffed his request because he was “a boring person.” In retrospect, she found “secret delight” in the fact that he had failed to “charmed” her.6

Dating in college proved to be difficult, on top of the stress of deadlines and final projects, Alaveni grew disenchanted with the idea of dating after her experiences. Ultimately, she invested herself in a relationship with a man that she did not like. When she first saw him, he made fun of her pink suit that she had made herself. Ironically, this was the only man that she remarks on his appearance: “he was attractive, but an asshole.”6 One night in the dormitory lobby, they were commiserating about difficulties in college dating culture. Alaveni told him she was beginning to believe that, “maybe you should be in a relationship with someone you don’t like.” He seemed to have agreed with her. “Well, I don’t like you,” he reminded her. Inviting her up to his room he asked, “do you want to see my pencil case?”6

Refusing to participate in public dating disconnected their relationship from the forces of commercialization. This couple refused to “date” in the same fashion their peers did. For six months, they did not go-steady or pair-off. They promised to keep their relationship confined to the privacy of his room, and they committed themselves to not liking each other. For this couple, privacy protected human connection and intimacy from commercialization. Although this affair began as one tied to sexual gratification, after thinking back, Alaveni calls it an “intellectual” relationship. She loved him, but never told him. Years later, after he had married someone else, he confessed that he had fallen in love with her too.6 A sexuality detached from love and one tied to romantic love could coexist and lack a definitive boundary.

As access to privacy increased sexual activity, it also interwove sexuality with human connection and intimacy. The advent of coed dormitories, which provoked fears of promiscuity among parents, created space for such relationships to flourish. Some college students believed that coed dorms would allow men and women to develop friendships as a part of romantic relationships. These students thought dating hindered their ability to get to know someone because they felt dating was an act where each participant was on their best behavior.12 Staying within his dorm room might have taken off the pressure her peers felt to prove their femininity and masculinity on dates. It did not matter if Alaveni or her partner acted within the proscribed behaviors well enough to impress the other, they were not trying to gain their affection. However, if neither one of them felt like they had to act, that might have exposed a truer self within the relationship.

Even though intimacy was not the only aspect of her sexuality, it was one that she was not willing to sacrifice. The way she recalls her first marriage demonstrates how the desire to be a mother intertwined with intimacy. After college, Alaveni cultivated a painting career and worked towards starting a family. Reminiscing, she explains that she married because she was ready to be a mother: “it was the right time, but the wrong person.”6 The week after her first date with a man, he proposed to her. Alaveni describes their wedding day as an uneventful excursion to the mayor’s office. When the mayor asked her if she took this man to be her husband, she remembers saying “O.K.” She gave birth to a son within the first year of their marriage. They divorced after living “as roommates for eight years.”6

Sexual fulfillment was also important to her sexuality, but it did not outweigh intimacy. Within a year of her divorce, Alaveni rushed into another marriage because she had found sexual fulfillment, which her first marriage lacked. After the cloud of fulfillment lifted, this couple divorced within two years of signing their marriage license. Contemplating this, she urges the younger generation to “never let yourself get hungry.”6 For both marriages, Alaveni remembers reasons other than human intimacy as the motives for her unions: the desire to be a mother and the fulfillment of physical pleasure.

Alaveni held on to her belief that romance hinged on “finding the perfect person” over the course of her life. Historians have demonstrated that for her peers, sexuality became increasingly commercialized and commodified, and in some cases, sexual behavior became divorced from romantic love. However, for Pat Alaveni, human connection and intimacy remained a central aspect of her sexuality. She still believes that a romantic relationship should involve intimacy not just through the physical expressions of love but through friendship.


  1. Pat Alaveni, Skype interview with the author, October 22, 2019. []
  2. Pat Alaveni, Skype interview with the author, October 27, 2019. []
  3. John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1988) 265-70, 301-325. []
  4. Alaveni, Skype interview, Oct. 27, 2019. []
  5. Beth Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988) 47-48. []
  6. Alaveni, Skype interview, Oct. 22, 2019. [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] []
  7. Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat, 48-50. For an overview of how sexuality became commercialized see D’Emilio and Freedman, Intimate Matters, 301-325. []
  8. Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat, 25-56. []
  9. Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat, 25-76. []
  10. D’Emilio and Freedman, Intimate Matters, 55-84. []
  11. Steven Seidman, Romantic Longings: Love in America, 1830-1980 (New York: Routledge, 1991) 155. Ellen Rothman, Hands and Heart: A History of Courtship in America (New York: Basic Books, INC, 1984) 285-311. D’Emilio and Freedman, Intimate Matters, 301-325; Beth Bailey, Sex in the Heartland (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999) 136-153. []
  12. Bailey, Sex in the Heartland, 200-8. []

FAQs

What is this?

Toldaroundshoes is repository for personal stories and oral histories of girls and women.

What’s its purpose?

Toldaroundshoes makes the stories of ordinary women and girls accessible for anyone interested in reading about or writing women’s history.

Why women and girls?

When Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote “well-behaved women seldom
make history,” she meant that ordinary women leave few textual records unless caught in the legal system. This website is designed to collect stories of so-called ordinary women whose experiences would otherwise largely be lost to history. It stipulates women and girls because material on girls is even more scarce than that on adult women.

Who is a woman or a girl?

Anyone who self identifies as female.

What’s with the shoes?

The website began as a means of tying into a book Renée Sentilles is writing on women’s history as told through shoes, tentatively titled On Her Feet: 150 Years of American Women’s History as Told Through Their Shoes. Sentilles wanted to invite readers to share their own stories.

Also, shoes all us to tell a story from the ground up. Asking an interviewee about memories of a favorite pair of shoes can lead to all kinds of stories.

Each published story/oral history will be accompanied by a picture of shoes that fits the story: a picture from the past with shoes visible, shoes representing the time period (for example, saddle shoes for adolescence in the 1950s), or a pair of the person’s actual shoes.

Oral histories and personal stories do not need to actually mention or be structured around shoes!

Who is behind this website?

This website was initially begun by Renée Sentilles, Professor of History at Case WesternReserve University who specializes in the history of women and girls in the United States. Among other things, she has published two monographs exploring gender and race in women’ s history: American Tomboys, 1850-1915 (University of Massachusetts Press, 2018), and Performing Menken: Adah Isaacs Menken and the Birth of American Celebrity (Cambridge
University Press, 2003).

In 2019 Sherri Bolcevic and Halle Bauer became collaborators. Sherri first as a research assistant and then as social media coordinator, and Halle Bauer as the educational coordinator.

How can I participate?

Submit your stories! Give us feedback and tell your friends about the website.

If you are an educator, consider using one of the attached assignments and encourage students to submit their papers after the term ends.

How do I submit?

Follow instructions listed under submission. In a nutshell they are: you must digitally submit the agreement form signed by the subject of your story, the story itself. If possible, we would also love to have a digital image of the person wearing shoes (we will use the photo to zero in on the shoes, cropping out more personal details).

What if my subject does not have shoes from the era we discuss?

That’s fine. We will find an image of shoe to represent the time period you are covering.

Are all stories accepted?

For the most part. Submissions will be curated, which means they may be returned for editing and in rare cases may be rejected.

Language?

Stories should be written in English.

Authentic language is important but the editors reserve the right to return the story to edit out what they deem to be excessively crude language.

Who qualifies? Do I need to be a specialist?

No! Although it is helpful if the story or oral history contains some context, you do not need to be a historian or professional writer.

What about sensitive topics?

An authentic compilation of the life stories of girls and women means difficult topics will be included. All stories with sensitive topics (domestic violence, rape, racism, etc) will be tagged with a headline alerting readers so that they do not stumble into something painful to read.

Is there a particular formula?

There are two basic kinds of stories and multiple ways to tell them:

A personal story: This could be your own story (told in first person) or stories of someone else (for example, your grandmother, told in third person).

An oral history: This is a direct transcript of an interview with someone about her life, or a paper that puts that interview within its historical context.

How can I participate?

Ordinary folks: Submit your story! Interview friends and relatives and submit their stories.

Educators: Use the attached sample assignments in your classes. Encourage students to share their work after the term has ended (they must be submitted after all grading is final, so that their grade is
not attached to submission).