Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Emily Day: Career and Community

World War II marked a big change in the traditional roles assumed by American women. Many found a new level of independence in joining a branch of military service, while others eagerly filled the shoes of male workers in factories and defense plants. When America's fighting forces returned home, most women found themselves thrust back into the pre-war mold of wife and mother, with limited career options, though some broke the barriers and paved the way for the women's rights movement. Emily Day of Richfield found satisfaction in balancing her role as a wife and mother with a career as a schoolteacher and active involvement in community affairs. She shared her story with Thomas Saylor in a 2007 interview.


Emily Day Oral History Interview


TS: Were there a lot of other stay at home moms like you when you were living here with your kids?

ED: Well, right. Up until when my youngest child was seven and going into second grade, then I took a full time job as a teacher.

TS: That’s right. Let me get back to that. Actually, let me ask you about that now, I guess, because you were a graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio, is that right?

ED: Yes.

TS: So you had a college degree already and were working before you–?

ED: Well, I had an extra one. I also had a master’s degree in social work from Western Reserve University in Cleveland. ...And it was only with that that I got my jobs in settlement houses. ...I had to then start over at the University of Minnesota and get all these education classes. I did them as well as a person could do. I did some of them with correspondence school. I did some of them weekends so that I didn’t really go away from home to get the education degree. Even daytimes until the youngest was in full time school.

TS: And your youngest was born in 1951, which means he started school 1956, 1957, something like that.

ED: And that’s when I got my job and I started in Richfield schools, because the whole point of my doing it was so that I could be on the same calendar schedule as the kids were during the summers.

TS: You had education. You had a career. Then you became a full time wife and mother. What prompted you to want to get back out to the world of work?

ED: I always felt that the community was essential for any family. So that from . . . well, I know I was one of the founders of the Richfield League of Women Voters. My husband and I both felt that, gee, we were only a part of a bigger community and if we were going to have any life at all we had to work in the community, too.

TS: The League of Women Voters. When did you get involved with them?

ED: Well, let’s see. We had our fiftieth reunion a few years ago so it must have been about 1954 or 1955.

TS: Had there been any organization like that in Richfield before you started it?

ED: I don’t think so. But I was really very active in that at that time. We made and had printed a little booklet for new people coming into the city so they would know what the city was like. I have one of those still. And we were very active on decisions that the people in the city were making. We had to decide whether we wanted to hook up with the Minneapolis water supply or if we wanted to have our own water supply, and there were very strong factions in this. We had to try to educate people on that kind of question.

TS: I’ve read about this water question and several people have mentioned it. What was the big issue? Why was this such a big deal?

ED: Well, we didn’t know whether we wanted to be part of the whole Minneapolis system of water or if we wanted to have our own fresh water, and we finally opted for our own fresh water. And we have our own wells. We never hooked into the Minneapolis water system and we are so proud of our water. We tell people, “Come by and have a drink of Richfield water.” And we don’t have a lot of the bad tasting stuff that the other cities have.

TS: Well, you know, it seems like it was kind of a minor issue and yet people got really worked up about it, didn’t they?

ED: Oh! We sure did. We had banners on our automobiles. Everything. ...Now we didn’t make any fuss about the sewer department. We were perfectly willing to hook into their sewer department.

TS: That sounds kind of like Richfield establishing an identity for itself and not being part of Minneapolis.

ED: Absolutely. We were not going to do that.

TS: Which side of the fence were you on?

ED: I was on the side of “have our water.” We were fortunate. We did get it, too.

TS: What other challenges do you remember Richfield facing in those early years of the 1950s or early 1960s? What else was out there?

ED: Well, gee, I don’t know. Of course we worked awfully hard on that “introducing new people” booklet. That took a lot of work because in that booklet we had to tell [about] all the different parts of the city government and how they would fit in and schools and everything else.

TS: Did you have a chance to meet some of the people moving in by being involved with giving this booklet out to people?

ED: Oh, yes, we did.

TS: Now you started teaching 1958, you said, in the schools.

ED: Yes. I was in the Richfield schools from 1958 until 1979.

TS: You got a teaching certificate. Why did you decide to teach in Richfield? You probably could have taught in Minneapolis or . . .

ED: Because I lived in Richfield. That was the whole point. If I couldn’t have taught in Richfield then I didn’t care. That was the whole thing. I wanted to be on the same calendar schedule as my children. ...I didn’t apply anyplace else.

TS: You taught twenty-one years at the elementary school level in Richfield.

ED: Yes, I did, and I taught different grades at first. And then as time went on I kind of specialized in the first and second grade. Very beginners.

TS: What did you like about your work?

ED: I just loved it. I loved the kids. I loved their eagerness to learn and their friendliness, their acceptance of people, and their imagination and their excitement. I just loved it.


Day, Emily; Thomas Saylor, Interviewer, Richfield Oral History Project, Minnesota Historical Society Oral History Collections, 2007.