Dare we say it, but celebrating Women’s History Month, after centuries of challenge, is an easy and uplifting thing to do in our more enlightened times. We are spoilt for choice for notable women of character, influence and inspiration who represent all that has been achieved in the name of equality and higher triumphs.
But there are countless millions of women, nameless to most, who have done what they all can to show the same strength and determination as those more publicly visible. Today we have chosen one of them: the grandmother of Nichole (our CEO), Mary T Johnson.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky in humble circumstances to hard working blue collar parents, Mary T (as she was known) became a mother at 18 and was left to provide for herself and her baby by the father, who didn’t stay around to support them.
With a desire to build herself a better life, she moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and took up training in the newspaper industry as a linotype operator – the typesetting department was the backbone of any newspaper before the digital era. Known as “Speedy” for her fast, accurate efficiency, she progressed to being a full time, fully qualified lithographer in less than a year.
Working at the Milwaukee Journal for almost 10 years, she endured the hardships and prejudices that were inevitable and unchecked in the early to mid-1960s USA. Moving to Los Angeles in 1967, she became the first black woman to work at the Daily Racing Form newspaper. But she saw that print technology was rapidly changing and knew that her skills would soon become irrelevant. Having bought her first apartment and her first car in 1971, at the age of 35, she gained her bus driving licence, left newspapers forever and became the first black woman to drive buses for the City of Santa Monica.
After five years, she was made a union rep, becoming a “lightning rod” for issues of race and gender.
For the next ten years, she rose into the management role of Supervising Officer, before retiring in 1987. Later that year, she passed away at the tragically young age of 51.
In her thirty years of working life, Mary T strove hard for a better life for herself and her children, and for much of it, like so many others, she had to struggle uphill against systems not designed to give natural opportunities to women, and in particular women of colour. But she saw those opportunities, squared up to them, proved herself beyond expectations and so opened up the door just a little bit more for women like her.
We salute you, Mary T Johnson and may we say, as members of the Rusty Rabbit warren, that we can see where our CEO gets her drive from!