Tuesday, August 1, 2017

1966 San Francisco Working Girl Among the Hippies

Perhaps the Mamas and Papas song California Dreamin’ gave me the idea to leave Chicago and head to San Francisco, after I graduated college in March 1966. Or it might have been the taste of freedom that I got during my 1965 solo trip to an international course in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

I did no research and no pre-planning. I had some money to cover expenses for a few months, but I had no job lined up and knew no one who lived in San Francisco. I didn’t know about the hippies and flower children who were flocking to San Francisco. This wasn’t surprising. During my college years 1962 to 1966, I paid no attention to the “outside world.” In fact, I wasn’t even aware of -- and I don’t remember to this day – where I was and how I felt when JFK was assassinated (on November 22, 1963).

My parents were dismayed and worried about my going alone to a new city and they demanded that I write them weekly once I got there. In 1966, long distance telephone calls were expensive and considered a luxury so requiring that I call regularly was not an option. My mother visited me once and decided I was doing OK.

Unlike the hippies, I was a working girl, earning a living at a series of 9 to 5 jobs. I had three clerical jobs in one year; they were easy to find and easy to leave. I moved three times in that same year, from a rooming house in Pacific Height to an apartment with pot-smoking roommates in Haight Ashbury and then to a studio apartment on 7th Avenue, just south of Golden Gate Park. 

I had a wild time in my own way. But certainly not as wild as the hippies I wrote about in this January 4, 1967 letter to my parents. At the time, I had a clerical job with the American Red Cross and was making plans to find an adult profession, either in social work or as a teacher.

Hi Mom and Dad:
You asked about the hippies of San Francisco, the gypsy beatniks who abound in this city. I used to live in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood, on Cole Street with a few roommates. One of the reasons I moved from there was that I didn’t like the run down condition of the neighborhood due to so many unemployed kids who crowded into apartments and hung around on the streets.

Last weekend, I spent a few hours at a festival of sorts in a long grassy strip between Haight Ashbury and the Golden Gate Park. There were some folk-rock groups and some weird musical groups playing far out instruments, and throngs of people milling around. There was a group of Hell’s Angels, and they were fascinating as were the hippies. These kids, most are in their late teens and early 20’s, are a modern day version of gypsies, with their weird dress (ranging from rags to vintage clothes from the 1920’s and earlier) and their raggedy kids, and their uninhibited ways. Many are on pot (marijuana) much of the time and LSD is widely circulated. When I lived in Haight Ashbury, I felt threatened by the hippy life style. They seem to live from day to day in a way I couldn’t stand, because I need security.

I admire their freedom though. They improve on a lot of petty things that the well-fed middle-class in the U.S. is obsessed with. In some ways, I want to be like them – to be part of that cult.

My job plans are taking form. I’ve applied for a welfare job. If it comes by next September, I’ll take that job and see what I think of “social work.” If I don’t get the welfare job, I will go to San Francisco State and work on my elementary school teaching credential.

Had a New Year’s party with Peter, who is a grad student at State, working on his master’s degree in set design. He is very creative in the use of wild unusual materials. We had a good punch and everyone got high, though no one got drunk or sick. Most of the people I invited didn’t show up, so it was mainly Peter’s drama friends. But it was fun, and I never lacked (for) someone interesting to talk to. A college classmate of mine was up from San Diego State, where he is studying biology, and he came to the party. He was very “out of it.” I think he is not used to mixing with offbeat characters. I knew no one except Peter, my college classmate and a friend from Cole Street, but I drank enough punch and I suppose I’m quite outgoing when the choice of people looks interesting.

I can’t say it enough, I’m so proud of you both and of our family, for we are all interesting people who don’t stagnate, that’s for sure.
Love, Betsy

P.S. Got your annual New Year’s letter (pictured below). I didn’t like it because at the moment I’m not “planning for a social work career,” as you indicated, and somehow the whole thing seemed braggy (sic) and very smug. We have reason to be smug about our successes, but it makes the possibility of setbacks, which always come, very hard.

How can the Fuchses fail or have rough times? Kind of inhuman picture of us.

Achievements reported in the Fuchses 1967 annual New Year's Letter:
Susan - eldest daughter: Married to a doctor, home-maker, new mother.
Betsy - planning Social Work career.
Rose - mother: back to college (at age 60), all A's so far.
Len - father: nominated to Chicago Board of Education, moved to larger office.
Judy - youngest daughter: National Merit Finalist. Freshman at Cornell (University). 
Great Grandfather Henry and charming wife Bea (step great-grand mother).

The P.S. in my letter foreshadowed my setbacks in trying to find a profession suitable for a woman college graduate in the 1960’s.  At the time, there were only two: social work and teaching.

In spring 1967, without much thought or planning, just like when I made my decision to go to San Francisco, it came to me that it was time to return home to Chicago. I was frustrated with the routine job at the American Red Cross and with my boss who gave me what I considered “make work.” I felt like I couldn’t continue working at The Red Cross and stay sane. 

I didn’t have the patience to wait until September to learn about the Welfare job.

And I missed the seasons.

And I missed my parents. 

I got a job as a recreation/social worker at Chicago State “Mental” Hospital and took teacher certification classes at night. But I didn’t have the maturity to keep the Chicago State Hospital job and couldn’t control the seventh graders in during four weeks of student teaching. So for me social work and teaching were out and instead, I took a nice safe job as an office clerk. Nothing for Mom and Dad to brag about in their next New Year’s Letter.

Eventually, with loads of on-the job training and the help and support and encouragement of great bosses and work-colleagues, I found a profession that suited me in the field of System Analysis/Information Systems. By then, my parents were retired and traveling the world and were grandparents, so they had other things to report in their New Year’s Letters and they no longer needed to report on my career. Or maybe they didn’t because they never could figure out what I did as a Systems Analyst/I.S. Support Technician. 

No comments:

Post a Comment