Nancy wanted to major in Political Science and International Relations. She asked her professor what she could do when she graduated. He said, “Be a good citizen.”
“He wouldn’t have said that to a man. It was a prejudiced world in those days,” remembers Nancy. The year was 1937. She was a freshman at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
Shw was born in 1921 into the Gossard family in Ohio. Her father, a banker, had a degree in agriculture. The mission of his bank was to loan money to farmers. Her mother was a housewife.
“My father didn’t think I should work. He gave my brother summer jobs at the bank,” she said. “I wished he would have given me. But he believed in education for girls. The tradition of getting an education was in their family history.”
Nancy followed the family tradition and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1941 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and went into the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps in 1942. Her first job was as a Company Commander for a 150 women unit. The women were drivers, mechanics, cooks, and office workers.
When WWII ended in Europe Nancy was assigned to Germany.
“I played a significant role in running the country as Chief of Military Personnel for the U.S. Military Government in Germany. Our job was to restore Germany and make it function.
“We should be taking lessons from our successes in Germany. We are taking the wrong approach in the Middle East. We need to focus on education; especially for women, and we need to make sure people have clean, running water and electricity, food, safety and health care. Look at the billions we spend on military campaigns and look what we could do if we spent billions doing a better job of giving people life’s necessities.”
Returning to the States after two years in Germany, she went to Columbia University on the G.I. Bill. At Columbia, Nancy met David Cattell, the man who was to be her husband of 20 years and the father of her two children. When they graduated from Columbia he got a position as a professor at Brown University. Nancy also wanted to teach, but wasn’t able to get an interview, much less a job. Her husband taught both at Brown and then in 1952 he became a Political Science Professor at UCLA. The Department had 48 professors, all men.
“After WWII there was a discernable improvement in opportunities for women – but only up to a point,” she said.
“The most blatant discrimination for me was that UCLA Law School, in 1968, would not accept me. Fortunately, Loyola took me right away – those Jesuits were not as prejudiced as UCLA.”
Now Nancy Cattell, Esq., is a graduate of Loyola Law School (1971) and practices law in Santa Monica.
Nancy’s love of education led her to Santa Monica College, where she taught Political Science for 31 years and was elected, twice, to be a Member of the Santa Monica College Board. She is now a Member of the Santa Monica College Foundation Board.
“In this country, when we supported education, we formed the community colleges and what do you know, we educated people, they got good jobs and they became good taxpayers.”
It was while Nancy was teaching at Santa Monica College that she resumed her pilot’s training, finally getting her license. She was thrilled to be flying at Santa Monica Airport on Clover Field, where Amelia Earhart, Nancy’s childhood hero, used to fly then.
In 1998, single, she re-met and married the man who had been her commanding officer in Berlin. To read about that story or the story of how she met her hero, Eleanor Roosevelt, and all the triumphs and difficulties of her life, you’ll have to wait for the autobiography she is writing to be published.
When Nancy was four and her brother 5, they took the train to visit their grandparents. She is still travelling. Mementos from her travels, photographs of her family, her law books and her library fill her living room to the point of overflowing.
“My advice to women today is do whatever you want. Pay no attention, just do what you want.”
If you look at her life, she took her own advice.
Mirror Contributing Writeropinion@smmirror.com