TERRE HAUTE —
In the 1940s, Dorothy Jerse sat in a University of Illinois accounting class, listening to a guest speaker.
She was one of just two female students in the room. The speaker looked at the women and said, “I just want you to know, there isn’t an accounting firm in the city of Chicago that will hire you.”
Forty years later, the Tribune-Star chose Jerse and nine other “influential” Terre Haute women to profile in its 1989 “Women and Power” series. Newspaper staffers surveyed 62 “local movers and shakers” — 26 men, 36 women — asking them to name the “10 most powerful women” in the community. Women “who could pick up the phone, call someone and get things done.” Some chosen preferred the term “influential” instead of “powerful.” A secondary headline above the series’ initial story emphasized that distinction and added, “Decision-making, to some, still male domain.”
A quarter-century later, five of those women reunited in a downtown coffeeshop. They see progress in this community — in varying degrees — and broader acceptance of women in leadership roles. Retired now, but active as volunteers, they see fewer barriers for women of subsequent generations here. “The positions that women have come into in the last 25 years is unbelievable, not politically, but elsewhere,” Jerse said as the women gathered in The Corner Grind at Seventh and Wabash, in the heart of a city all speak of fondly.
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