Formative Experiences, High School, University and Employment

Liz Fisher: MY EARLY YEARS

I lived for my first four years in an apartment with my family in a Veteran’s Housing Project in Cleveland Ohio where my father had been raised. He was the son of immigrant parents from Croatia. He grew up during the depression when work was hard for his father to find. His mother did not speak English so she relied on my father to be her translator. He spoke fluent Croatian and English,  and did well in school. As a consequence, he received a scholarship and attended Ohio State University, against the wishes of his family who thought he should get a job right out of high school and earn money to support the family.

My father found joy in intellectual pursuits and earned his college degree, something none of his five siblings did. This allowed him to become a supply officer in the Navy during World War II in Guam. After the war he began working on a big city newspaper as a reporter, later an editor as well as the president of his local Newspaper Guild, the union of writers and editors. In his 1940s he became the Publications Director for a major Union.

My mother also defied the conventional wisdom of the time and earned a college degree as well. During the depression, after graduating, she became a Social Worker. She met my father when he was a client of the agency she worked for and they married before the War began. She worked during the war in various aid agencies while my father was in Guam.

Following the War women were not encouraged to work so she stayed home. She aspired to be a feature writer and a social analyst and she wrote at the kitchen table while I worked as a young girl on my own projects. When I was in the second grade, she went back to work, something that took courage in the 1950s. For many years she worked as a social worker and then as an elementary school teacher. In later life earning a Masters in Counseling.

YOUNG GIRL THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL

When I was four, we moved to a suburb of Cleveland Ohio named Seven Hills after the Seven Hills in Rome. It was populated by many Catholics. My family were free thinkers. I was never baptized though my mother had been raised in the Scottish Presbyterian church. She had taken up New Thought and Swedenborgian viewpoints, valuing the ethical teachings of Jesus. My mother passed in 1980. She maintained her private spirituality, often consulting her childhood Bible which she kept in her bed stand for inspiration. This was hard for me to understand because I was very aware of the misogynist aspects of the Biblical text, even as a girl. My mother’s ethical teachings about social justice were a major influence on me.

My father’s family were all loyal Catholics, though he left the Church when he was young over a dispute his family had with the local priest. It seems the priest wanted the family to pay more for school books than they could afford. He was attracted to Taoism when he learned about it during his University days and attended a Unitarian Universalist Church during the later years of his life.

When I began school, my parents decided to attend a Congregational Church in another suburb which was in a more rural and affluent suburb so I would have a chance to learn about values. I attended the small Sunday School where discussions of liberal religious ethics dominated, rather than fundamentalist dogma. I enjoyed Church camp in the Summer in the rolling hills of Southern Ohio. My mother was originally from Zanesville, Ohio so I was fascinated by the differences between the industrialized Northern Ohio and the more rural and small town Southern part of the state. This mix continues to influence my choices in attitude and places to both visit and reside.

I loved school and did very well in my classes as well as theater, debate and pubic speaking. I studied the violin in my middle years, playing in the orchestra as well as a string quartet. I took art classes and learned about the fun of craft projects. I was an avid girl scout and had a Shetland Sheep Dog for a companion. We showed in obedience competition as participants in a local 4-H Club dedicated to dog exhibitions. We also had a cat who was typically independent. (In my adult years cats became my companions.)

I was bothered, however, by the conservative politics of the suburbs and the racist attitudes that where openly advocated by those in authority, including my history teacher who was also a respected professor at a local University. My parents were concerned about racism and participated in interracial friendship programs. Though I felt strongly about injustice, I was too often afraid of being ostracized or persecuted to get into open arguments about these attitudes. This bothered me a great deal and I vowed to find my voice on these matters. During my high school years, I was a summer day camp counselor at a settlement house in the inner city which taught me a great deal about the value of positive relationships across race lines. I also was the editor of a Literary Journal, the President of the Booster Club as well as a member of the National Honor Society.

UNIVERSITY DAYS

I attended the University of Michigan from 1965-69, graduating with a degree in Psychology with a minor in English and History. I took a broad array of classes believing that a Liberal Arts education would best equip me for navigating our complex society . I was an idealist interested in ways to change society, not ways to fit in. I wrote news articles, editorials and served as front page editor on The Michigan Daily, a prestigious college newspaper at one of the most liberal minded universities in the country. I specialized in the social issues and the radical student organizations which gave me access to many of the known radicals who toured college campuses in those days. When I went to meetings I was keenly aware of the back seat women were accorded in these radical groups. As the 1960s wore on, more women got fed up with this bias and began to challenge male dominated leadership. Birth control access became a major issue on campuses, though U of M was progressive enough to provide contraceptives through student health services much earlier than many other campuses. I began meeting with other women in consciousness raising groups when I was in Law School in the early 1970s.

POST GRADUATE EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT

After college, I moved to the East Coast and worked  as a psychiatric social worker, then attended a year of Law School before deciding to go to the West Coast. I found myself in a variety of jobs well into my mid thirties. In the late 1970s when Jimmy Carter was president, this included grants administrator in the San Francisco Regional Office of Legal Services Corporation, the government program that provided legal services to low income clients. At that time the program was robust, at the forefront of challenging unequal treatment of workers, bias in housing and community services.

In the mid 1980s I landed a job in the publishing field where I had always wanted to work. It was a division of a major New York publisher that was located in Berkeley, Ca where I lived. It specialized in trade books on computers during the development of widespread use of computers which gave me a birds eye view of technological development and how society was adapting to new forms of communication. For nearly ten years, I worked as an   acquisitions and development editor, traveling to computer companies to learn about new products and working with writers, production and marketing staff.

During this time I also completed a Certificate in Publishing, a program offered by the University of California, Berkeley, that taught the entire publishing process. This mix of classes taught by working professionals in the field, and my own responsibilities in my career positions prepared me to take on publishing projects when I became a Unitarian Universalist. In the 1990s I moved to another publisher where I managed the production of educational videos and books in the fields of engineering and architecture which gave me a chance to become familiar with these fields which at that time where just opening to women.

For many years following my stint in Corporate America and small business, I have been a free lance researcher, writer and editor delving into a range of eclectic subjects with an interest in herstory/history, artistic personalities, psychology, architecture, spiritual practices, and feminist spirituality of course. In the mid-1990s I authored two curricula, Rise Up and Call Her Name: A Woman-honoring Journey into Global Earth-based Spiritualities and Gender Justice: Women’s Rights are Human Rights.

Global politics has always been a fascination as well. I attended the NGO portion of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China. Gender Justice explores all the issues contained in the Platform for Action for Women which was adopted at the official conference. For more on this see: www.RiseUpandCallHerName.com

Currently we are in the throws of completing the content of a soon to be released interactive website entitled Culture at the Crossroads: Activating the Moral Power of Sharing and Caring. It is a dynamic project that links many resources and is woven around a fictional character, Kit Fraser, who is an independent woman fully engaged in claiming her right to full personhood, pursuing her past so she can understand what set the stage for the present, and having a heck of a good time doing so!

Stay tuned for this one.  For more information, please contact me at: erfisher@lmi.net.