It is no small feat to do research on someone where the memories are distant and actual meetings were sporadic and brief. If this was her graduation, she would be heading off to college shortly. I can well imagine the comments she received: "You're wasting your time." "Why would you want to do that? What are you trying to prove?" "A degree won't find you a good man. It might even make you less desirable. Who would want a woman smarter than them?"
Of course I don't know exactly what might have been said, but I do know that Urcel did not get much encouragement. The idea of a woman going to college in the 1920's was something only rich kids did, those that could afford to waste their time with such frivolity. A poor woman was better off to head for the big city, get her a decent job until she could find a good man. And if you had to go college, why not teach? Plenty of opportunities for teaching. Or try one of the nursing schools. But Journalism? Outrageous. Did she really think anyone was going to allow her to do real news reporting? A woman? The best she might get was a Society Page, and what did she know about Society?
Urcel was not deterred. I am envious, for she was far more determined than me. Then again, there were many differences. Yet there is also a sense of familiarity with her. When I review much of her history, I can feel the pull, a sense of camaraderie with her outlook. She was not content to sit and let the world pass her by. I am also getting the impression that she was fighting for more than just her right to be accepted as an equal. The more I discover about her, the more it seems like she was fighting for the all those in poverty to have an opportunity to rise above it. After all, that was the Great American Dream, to be able to reach beyond the circumstances of your birth to better yourself.
The problem was that Urcel Daniel graduated from college at the height of the Great Depression. She already faced enough struggles as she grew up, but to see all her chances to find a toehold in her chosen field evaporate, must have been frustrating. The Depression of course was not solely responsible. Women gained the right to vote barely a decade before. The Right was greeted with some enthusiasm and some scorn, from both men and women. Yes, there were many women who felt that it was getting into things best left to the men. Women had their role, men had there's and many women were perfectly content to leave it there. Women in the workplace also had certain roles to fill, the counter person at some stores, a waitress, ticket taker, those jobs where a fine figure and pleasing personality could improve business. Journalism did not depend on either of those personality traits, so what could a woman offer in the field.
My Aunt Urcel could not be limited by such restrictions. I almost imagine her struggling in the little rural town where she grew up, living with various relatives, attempting to hide her intelligence. Probably, she developed a shield to pretend otherwise, except in school. There she did excel, though I doubt too many in her family found it a redeeming quality. In retrospect, they probably all felt some pride when her scholastic achievements were lauded, but it may have been the first time she ever received any praise for her effort. When others noticed it, most likely her family basked in the reflective glow, "See what brilliance we have in our family!" The brilliance was truly not limited to Urcel, though. Her sisters, at least my grandmother, had a masterful grasp of English, but she chose not to flaunt it, so to speak. That was a loss.
That loss was not something that Urcel cared to endure. Apparently a spark was fired within her to overcome the limitations her environment imposed on her. She would not be deterred by criticism, by a lack of opportunity or choices. Urcel Daniel decided that she would forge ahead against the odds and create a better place for herself, and hopefully a better world for those who followed.
Maybe I'm wrong, I did not have the opportunity to know her well. I was young when I was around her and she was not always comfortable around young children. Later I'll share a couple of the antidotes of our encounters, to provide a bit of perspective. But as I read, some of her words, some of her ideas which were thankfully recorded, for motives you may come to understand, I have a different feeling for her. She is no longer the remote, haughty individual of my childhood, but a complex person trying to make a difference without the benefit of family support or encouragement. And for that I understand, and I am coming to see more of the similarities than the differences.