Last weekend we attended the play “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf (25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941). It was a wonderful one-act performance that brought back so many memories for me as a woman and a feminist and the struggles I faced as a girl.
I wanted most of my life to have a room of my own–my own space–and my own money. When we were very little, my brothers, sister, and I shared a room with two sets of bunk beds. It was the early 50s and a lot of soldiers were figuring out what they were going to do with their lives, scraping out a living while supporting families. In our case, after failing as a music store owner, our father–at the encouragement of our mother–entered college and then law school. It was a six-year commitment. He worked at various jobs including carpenter and for Allstate Insurance Company while he was in school. Our mother worked at whatever menial jobs she could find while having four stair-step children. We were born in ’47, ’48, ‘49, and ‘50.
After Dad finished school, we moved from Houston to Galveston where he worked as an assistant district attorney for $250 a month. I was about four. We rented a small, two-story house off Teichman Road on Offats Bayou, a bit in the country back then. My sister and I shared a small room with twin beds under a north-facing window with a view of the drive-in movie theater across the highway, which was then US 75. We used to lie in bed at night and watch the movies. Of course, we couldn’t hear anything, but we thought we were getting away with something that no one knew about. In addition to the four of us and our parents, at various times we had cousins live with us so the small spaces were even smaller.
After we moved from that house, we rented a larger one on Biovu, also on Offats Bayou. Our cousin Andra had come to live with us permanently so the three girls got the largest bedroom. Andra had a double bed to herself. My sister and I shared a double bed. There was a porch almost all the way around the house so at least we could get away from each other, find a private space to read or just be alone. (During that time, another cousin came to stay for a year or two plus our English grandmother).
We moved from there to a house my parents built, their four bedroom “dream house,” just off Teichman Road next door to the one we’d rented years earlier. Cousin Andra was married that summer. My sister and I shared a room again, but at least it had a bit of elbow room. A tornado spawned by Hurricane Carla took out that house three months after we moved there. Afterward, we rented a small house down the street, and my parents rebuilt, but there weren’t enough insurance proceeds for another “dream house.” The new one was a three-bedroom, high-raised house on the same site as the lost one. We shared a bedroom again and remained that way until she went off to college. Yay! I had a room of my own until she came home for weekends and holidays.
My sister and I were not exactly as different as two people could be, but we grew in different directions. For some reason, I became more of a feminist and a political activist. Listening to the actress in “A Room of One’s Own” speak Virginia Woolf’s words about not being able to walk on the grass or use the library at a university because she was a woman, brought thoughts and memories flooding back. I was once let go from a job because I was pregnant, told I should go home and put my feet up. Another time I wasn’t hired because I was female. I was groped by a male boss when I waited tables while attending college. And I witnessed sexual harassment on more than one job. I was the brunt of jokes when I’d speak up. And had to listen to sexist jokes told by men who were in positions of authority.
In times gone by, women were often treated like children, to be seen and not heard. I was able to speak out and stand up, at least. I once rode a bus with other women (and one man) to Oklahoma and marched on the capital for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. I was the first female district judge elected in Galveston County, Texas. Heck, the first to run! And in 2004, I participated in the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., having ridden a bus from Kerrville with a group of women.
I really identified with Virginia Woolf, even though I’m sure I have had more rights and privileges than she and all the other women who came before me. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. Like so many other women, I had no office in the home in which to write. And no real money of my own, either, that is, until later in life. When I married my second husband, we made an arrangement so we’d both have funds to spend as we saw fit. How wonderful is it to be able to buy a book or a song or go on a trip without having to ask permission? Pretty wonderful.
I had a small office in the last house we owned in Galveston. I was so happy. Room for my computers and printers and my sewing machine (see, I’m still feminine, I sew). And now I have a casita of my own, here in Mexico, complete with full kitchen-sala combination, bedroom-workout room combination, terrace, two fireplaces, desk, computers and printers, recliner. This is the best room I’ve ever had of my own. What women of Virginia Woolf’s generation wouldn’t have given to have what I have. Heck, most women don’t have it now, and I know it.
As we departed the theater, my husband made a remark about my having a casita of my own. My response? Yes, I appreciate what I have. I worked my whole life for this. All the time spent going to school, working at jobs I didn’t like, spending time doing for others, politicking–it was worth it for now, though I’m no Virginia Woolf, I have a wonderful room of my own to write fiction or anything else of my choosing. Thank you Virginia Woolf and so many others for speaking up for all women.
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Virginia Woolf.