Alice Montgomery

Interviewee: Alice Montgomery
IWY SC 646

Interviewer: Kathleen Hanna
Date: June 10-11, 1977

Alice Montgomery worked in the medical field. She once worked as an assistant for an orthopedic surgeon, but did not discuss her current position. She does not specify where she is from. Important issues to Montgomery included unequal responsibilities between men and women in the workplace, wage discrepancies, and the issues of professionals who are also mothers. Interview includes discussion of Montgomery’s experiences with workplace politics, her concerns that women need to make responsible financial and career decisions, and competitiveness in the workplace.

Sound Recording



Unknown Woman: Adjust this first and get mic’d. Don’t check (unintelligible at 0:08).

Kathleen Hanna: That’s right, wait a minute. I just want to get your name on there. Alice Montgomery. You’re Alice Montgomery. Okay. (unintelligible at 0:15) Cut it off? Okay.

Alice Montgomery: Now what do you want me to say?

KH: Just say what you said about the financial part of it and what you end up with.

AM: Alright, I am not an educated person. I do not wish to be an educated person. I do not wish to go through the strenuous problems you have to go through to gain an education. I am talented enough to take on responsibility and do a very good job in a secretary’s position or something of that caliber. What I resent is, that when something goes wrong, when you are working on a one-to-one basis with one man and something goes wrong, that through no fault of your own you catch the blame.

When, for instance, at the job site the materials don’t arrive, the emergency room there is a hassle or in the court your case is postponed or whatever and the boss gets angered then he comes back to the office and takes it out on the girl behind the desk. This puts women in a very bad position. I think psychologically it’s very damaging while you’re worrying about whether or not the school bus got your children home in time or whether or not they let the dog out, which could be run over, which is all ultimately your responsibility at home even though you’re at work.

KH: Right.

AM: Your husband certainly isn’t going to worry about whether the dog is loose, you know. And if he gets loose or if the children get hurt, you have to answer that call first. In the meantime, you have this going on in the back of your mind along with “I wonder if I put the towels in the dryer before I left, so that everybody can have a bath and did I take the hamburger out of the freezer for dinner.”

KH: Mmhm.

AM: I resent the added pressure of someone taking things out on me that is not my responsibility. And the financial stand of it. I don’t know many women that earn too much more than $100/week. Maybe up to $150, but not many of them. Whether they work for doctors or whatever. Some of them in private industries do get better wages. But banks, places that are notorious for their low wages. So by the time that the woman pays $25 to the government for Social Security and taxes, $10-$15/week to operate her car, $2/day to eat lunch, she is down to the equivalent of a dollar an hour and it is not worth it to me to take that kind of hassle off of anybody for a dollar an hour.

KH: No.

AM: I can sit at home and manage the money I get from my husband better by hitting the sales than I can by trying to do this kind of stuff at night and manipulate my family. And I have done both and I enjoy working, I really do. But the economic side effects of it, I have had responsibility where I would renew any prescription for any patient that did not require a written prescription. I had the authority to do this. I had the authority to start people on disability, to stop and start food stamps. I had the authority to confer with insurance companies on disability ratings and yet I did not make as much money as the garbage men make in the City of Charleston at the time. They got $100/week, free uniforms, and Blue Cross and I didn’t get anywhere near that.

KH: Mmhm. Do you think that, you mentioned one of the most disheartening things about working as a woman is the amount of hostility, anger, blame and goings on that you have to take when something goes wrong from the boss? Do you think the fact that you’re a woman gives more permission to a man to do this? You mentioned the girl behind the desk. If it was men behind the desk…

AM: I don’t think another man behind the desk would take it. I think punch him right on the nose.

KH: Uh-huh.

AM: I think the fact that he has to…emotion. Women are more emotional. It’s something you just have to, you know, deal with. That’s just the way it is. I think they are accustomed to averting their anger on women, whether it’s their wives, their mothers, their sisters.

KH: Their daughters.

AM: Whatever.

KH: Mmhm.

AM: They are used to this type of thing, of being the macho. “I’m going to have it my way,” like Burger King. They’re going to have it their way. No, I do not think attitudes would prevail as emotionally and as frequently if the person behind the desk were a male. And also I resent making coffee for people. I don’t drink coffee. I don’t like coffee. And I (recording briefly cuts out 4:55)

KH: It’s not that hard to put a basket in the coffee pot and dump some coffee grounds in it. I mean, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re a man or a woman. But the secretary or the woman worker in the office is expected to do this kind of thing. Also, to dump out the grounds, wash out the coffee cups, be sure the cream is where it’s supposed to be. Something that bugs me and I was wondering if you could relate to this experience, was I had equal status with men and supposedly equal pay. I assume it was equal. But whenever one of them had a report that the secretary couldn’t do, they’d bring it to me to type. Did you ever encounter anything of this nature?

AM: Not really because all of the women, all of the people who were unequal staff were women so therefore. Now I did resent the fact that there was a woman in the office with a considerable amount of seniority and a lot more pay, which I understand. I believe in seniority and pay raises. But she didn’t do a damn thing but shuffle papers and look pretty. I worked for an orthopedic surgeon. I’d be into my elbows in plaster – having the best time because I love mess – and the phone would ring and she’d be sitting right next to it and I would have to answer the darn phone. Sometimes she really caused more problems than the physician did. The problem was that he would delegate responsibility to her and then he would take it back.

If it were something he didn’t want to deal with, he’s say ask her and you never really knew where you stood or whom to approach on something. I wanted to switch the uniforms because I wanted to make some money at this job. I didn’t want to support the dress shop because in that position you have a lot of people coming in and out and you had to dress for the position, like a bank teller.

And I asked him about it and got his okay and when I started wearing them in the office, she proceeded to tell me that I had to polish my shoes every day and wash my uniforms every day, which I kind of resented. She resented the fact that I didn’t clear it with her and I resented the fact that I didn’t need her to tell me how to polish white shoes after having four children in three years. I knew how to polish white shoes. That was one thing I learned.

KH: Mmhm. Cut it off (unintelligible at 7:13). There was something else I wanted to…

AM: I think one of the major problems when a woman works for a man in a one-woman office is the fact that when they’re interviewed and when they’re hired they’re expected to take a subservient position during the interview and in order to get the position this is what a lot of women do and what I have done in order to get the position. But you don’t find out all the facts of the job until you appear to work and I think it is really the employer’s place to let you know what your responsibilities are during the time of the interview. I have worked on jobs where I wasn’t informed until I had been there about ten days that we were only paid once a month, which after wondering and wondering and the weekend came and went and a few more days came and went. But a woman is put in the position of looking pushy if she asks about money. Don’t ask about money.

KH: Mmhm.

AM: Don’t ask about money. That’s sort of the unwritten law, you know. If they say they’re going to pay $400/month then you sit there, nod your head, and smile because you want the job because you know there’s another woman after it. But I resent the fact that I am not told, “You must have a cup of coffee on my desk every morning. You will get paid every other week. You must sweep the office on Friday afternoon and empty the ashtrays before you go.” These kinds of things. They always point out the important things. You’re hired to be the secretary or medical assistant or whatever. They do tell you these responsibilities, but it’s the little things and I really resent cleaning the toilets, emptying the ashtrays, and straightening the magazines when I had not been told at the time of the interview this is part of my job.

KH: Mmhm.

AM: And I resent not being told that you will be paid every other week or once a month. I only want to know when it is but it I ask the prospective employer than he looks at me and says, “Well, she’s money hungry or she’s pushy so scratch her. Go to the next one.” So the woman is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea and I resent it. I don’t like it and I think it is also helpful to know if the wife is going to work in the office. To me, that is one of the most important things to know in the beginning because the wife can always say she doesn’t want to do something and you’re stuck with it.

KH: Mmhm, so…

AM: But it’s these kinds of things that I think is up to the employer to make clear to you. If you’re going to make coffee, tell me about it.

KH: What I hear you saying is that you have really decided that it is not worth it to you to work because, number one, your chances of financial enumeration are just nothing and your chances of recognition, advancement, any kind of equal standing or possibility of moving into equal standing are just blipped from the word “go.”

AM: Right.

KH: So that your decision as a woman is just to say out.

AM: Not necessarily. I think as a woman I’ve had to revamp my thinking. In the beginning, that was my idea but now I have decided, you know, there were certain jobs ladies had and certain jobs ladies didn’t have. Of course working in an office was definitely a job for a lady. But now I think there’s probably, my goal in working is how much money I can clear not how much money I can make. If I’m going to make $3.50/hour and clear $1/hour, then I don’t want the job. I want to know what I can take home and what I can spend. If I can go to work at minimum wage and happily punch a cash register, which I’ve never done, but I don’t have to worry about somebody breathing down my neck all the time because the store manager is usually quite busy and he’s not overseeing me that much. I don’t have to dress for the job so I have those two advantages right there. So it might be in a totally different area, which in some cases seems more subservient to some women but it may give me a greater financial asset.

KH: So what you’re saying is a lot of these status kinds of things are really illusions. By the time you dress for the job and gone through whatever hassles you have to do to keep the job and so on. It really doesn’t give you some much as something (unintelligible at 11:15) status.

AM: Well, I think that’s something we have to revamp.

KH: Mmhm.

AM: Where we used to think it was terrible to be a waitress and we all wanted to be a secretary and we all went to night to school to learn how to type to do it, now the waitress job doesn’t sound so bad because of dressing for the job and anytime you’ve got women in the office you’ve got competitiveness in wardrobe.

KH: Yeah.

AM: You know, so “Where did you get that dress and how much did it cost?” And you think, “Gee, well, she got a new dress and so and so got a new dress. I really ought to go get a new dress or a new pantsuit or something.” There is this competitiveness in females and it’s not bad. I’m not putting it down. But maybe there are other areas where we can make money. That we shouldn’t look down on these jobs as we used to. I’ve never working in any of them but I am seriously considering it.

KH: I think talking to people like you who are bright, alert, intelligent and such. They just, you know, (snaps fingers) they have it. They have it on the upswing. They know what’s what. I think, you know, what a marvelous MD you would have been or could be, have potential to be. What a marvelous, you know, all of these occupations…

AM: Journalist. Only they require me to go to college first. (Laughter)

KH: Okay but the fact is that these kinds of things are so closed to women that it’s very difficult to generate enough motivation to vow to get through it and to get through it and to fight in the face of the opposition. And if this is what you got in the way of being a secretary, think of what you’d get as you moved into move competitive kinds of things with men.

AM: Oh, I can see. I can see it very much.

KH: The fighting becomes dirtier and dirtier and the tactics become grimier.

AM: Well, just watching last night I caught Johnny Carson and he had Dan Rather on there promoting a book. And he just off the cuff asked him what the newsmen thought of Barbara Walters getting a million dollars and I instantly thought, “Would you have asked that question if the newsman who got the million dollars would have been Harry Reasoner or Walter Cronkite? Would the issue of ever come up?”

KH: Yes.

AM: Why did it have to come up because Barbara Walters got it?

KH: Mmhm.

AM: Why is everyone so hung up over her getting a big salary? It’s male ego. That makes the world go ‘round. Backwards.

KH: (Laughter)

AM: But that is what dominates a lot of our world, the male ego.

KH: What do you see as being possibilities for changing that? Or are we just stuck with it for eternity?

AM: Well, I think there as some young men who are coming out today that have ideas of more equality for women, I really do.  But I don’t know if it’s enough for me to see it in my lifetime, you know?

KH: Mmhm.

AM: And I really don’t know if you’ll ever dispel it. I really don’t. I guess the thing that women need to attain is financial independence. Now, how they’re going to attain it, I don’t know. I have my definite thoughts on how they are and how they aren’t. But that to me is to goal for womanhood is that every woman could be, not necessarily financial independent, but could earn her own living so that she wouldn’t be put in these positions. But as the secretaries go, y’all can have the jobs because I don’t want it. I’m going to go look for cash register jobs somewhere I don’t have to think and I don’t have to compete.

KH: Alice, I really appreciate you going on tape. I know you were reluctant at first but I really do appreciate your statements.

AM: Well, I don’t mind as long as I got my thoughts in order.

KH: Thank you.

AM: It’s been a pleasure.

KH: Thank you.

End of Interview