Madonna Jervis Wise, a local author who writes primarily about history, has been making the rounds lately, talking about women in the work force and “East Pasco Women Who Rocked.”
Her talks, which have been delivered at the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village in Dade City, at the East Pasco Networking Group’s breakfast meeting and at the Zephyrhills Public Library, have traced the evolving role of women in society.
The essence of her presentation traces the progress that women have made since ancient times to the present.
First, she delivers an overview of women in history and then she focuses on the contributions of seven East Pasco women.
While delivering her talk at the East Pasco Networking Group, Wise said she keeps her mother and grandmother in mind.
“My mother was Depression-era woman who worked most of her life. My grandmother was equally as industrious,” she said.
“As we go through the presentation, please stop and think about the women in your life.
“Right now, we have 72 million women in the American workforce. That’s 30 million more than 1984, and women roughly make up about 50 percent of the workforce,” she said.
Despite their large numbers in the work force, women still trail men in terms of pay, Wise noted. Women receive approximately 81 percent of what men are paid, she said. And, only 14 percent of the executive positions in Fortune 500 companies are held by women.
There has been progress, however, compared to opportunities for women in the past.
“Women weren’t allowed to participate in any capacity, throughout most of history —in terms of speaking, political involvement, certainly not leadership,” Wise said.
“In the American colonies, women didn’t own property and certainly didn’t vote,” she said.
“I do a lot of genealogy. Sometimes you don’t even find the woman’s first name in genealogy.”
Census data from the 19th century shows blank spaces for occupations because women’s work was not recorded, Wise said.
Women’s role in the world of work has evolved over time, she said.
“By the 1820s, women were starting to go into the textile mills. Pay was about $3 a week.
By the early 19th century, women still were mostly involved in domestic services, laundry, cooking, cleaning, some teaching, nursing, she said.
But she noted, women’s opportunities have expanded significantly — even during her own lifetime.
“I remember when I was in school. They’d say, ‘Are you going to be a secretary, nurse or a teacher?’,” Wise said.
Women now have more career choices. They can belong to civic clubs that once banned them. And, there are more opportunities in athletics and the military, Wise said.
For generations, East Pasco women have played pivotal roles in expanding opportunities for the entire community, Wise said. She singled out these seven:
• Irene Dobson: She came from a large family and picked cotton as a child. She taught school in Georgia and later in Dade City, and was a founding member the Head Start Early Childhood program in Pasco County. She has been very active in the community and has helped to organize African-American programs to teach new generations about the contributions of African Americans in Florida and across the country.
- Bernice Rooks: Even at age 94, she remains active in the community. She was the valedictorian of the 1940 class at Zephyrhills High School. She worked at MacDill Air Force Base and was a school bus driver. When the University of South Florida opened in 1958, she enrolled, becoming student No. 18. She graduated and taught for 29 years. She is also known for the family business, the Crystal Springs Roller Skating Rink which opened in 1939 just before World War II. For 35 cents, you could skate all day.
- Lorena Leatherman Neukom: Known as Neukie and her husband, Charles, opened the iconic Neukom’s Drug Store drugstore in 1921. The store closed in 2001. She was in charge of payroll, buying and keeping the books until she was 93. The drugstore was a popular place for politicians, snowbirds and local residents.
- Rosemary Wallace Trottman: She was a widely known educator and researcher. She published “The History of Zephyrhills; 1821-1921.” She founded the Zephyrhills Historical Association. Her research revealed the effects of the railroad on the community and detailed the colonial years of East Pasco, in which the day-to-day activities of the settlers involved log-rolling, sugar-caning, subsistence farming and the beginning of unique institutions. Her father was a pioneer settler of Abbott Station.
- Willa Rice: She has the distinction of being first and only female mayor of Zephyrhills. After being voted into office in 1958, she revamped the police department by firing two of the department’s five policemen and accepting the resignation of the police chief.
- Margarita Romo: Her work to champion the causes of of farmworkers in Pasco County and around the state led to her being named to the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2012 & Hispanic Woman of the Year. She is founder of Farmers Self-Help, Inc., and has worked diligently for more than 40 years to help farmworkers help themselves.
- Jean McClain Murphy: Most recently she was the 2017 Zephyrhills Founder’s Day Grand Marshal. She was an educator with Pasco County Schools. Known for her beautiful singing voice, she taught taught “Glee Club” at the high school level for six years. She remains the singing director at her Rotary Club, and has served as choir director for five different choral groups at the First Baptist Church in Zephyrhills.
Revised March 22, 2017