Oral-History:Margaret Eller

About Interviewee

Margaret Eller spent her career in the field of engineering graphics and drafting. She attended the University of Michigan School of Architecture and received a B.S. from Wayne State University and an M.S. in engineering graphics from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Eller worked in drafting, as an engineering illustrator, and as a technical writer from World War II until the mid-1950s. In the 1950s, she began teaching at a Detroit high school where she taught architectural and mechanical drafting, later moving on to an assistant professorship in engineering graphics at Ferris State University. Eller later taught engineering graphics in the College of Engineering at Louisiana State University, the position from which she retired in 1980. After her retirement from academia, she again worked in industry as an associate design draftsmen in charge of patent drawings for SoGraph Design in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Eller was a charter member of the Detroit SWE Section and was active both nationally and locally within SWE for thirty years. She was recognized in 1987 by the Society of Engineering Illustrators for outstanding contributions to the engineering illustration profession.

In her Profiles of SWE Pioneers Oral History Project interview, Eller describes how she became involved in engineering during World War II, her education, her transition from industry to academia, her experiences teaching at Ferris State and Louisiana State, and her involvement in the Society of Women Engineers at the local and national level.

About the Interview

Margaret Eller, An interview conducted by Lauren Kata for the Society of Women Engineers, June 11, 2003.

Interview LOH001952.10 at the Walter P. Reuther Library and Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.

Copyright Statement

The content of this oral history transcript, including photographs, audio and audiovisual clips, and biographical information, and are intended for noncommercial educational and personal use only. Copyright restrictions apply. Commercial publication, redistribution, or use of the content is not permitted.

Anyone wishing to use the text, image, or audio or audiovisual files associated with this oral history transcript for publication, commercial use, or any other use not expressly permitted, must contact the SWE Archivist.

Society of Women Engineers Archivist
Walter P. Reuther Library
Wayne State University
5401 Cass Ave.
Detroit, MI 48202
313.577.2024
swearchives@wayne.edu

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Margaret Eller, interviewed by Lauren Kata, Profiles of SWE Pioneers Oral History Project, Walter P. Reuther Library and Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University, June 11, 2003.

Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Margaret Eller
INTERVIEWER: Lauren Kata
DATE: 11 June 2003
PLACE: Gulfport, Mississippi

Background and Childhood

Kata:

It’s Wednesday, June 11th, 2003. This is an interview with Margaret Eller, fellow of the Society of Women Engineers and life member. The interviewer is Lauren Kata. And we are in Gulfport, Mississippi.

First I’d like to start by thanking you for participating in the SWE Oral History Project. Can you start be describing your family background?

Eller:

I was born (Laughs) in Detroit, Michigan in 1912. It’s a long time ago. My father came from Ohio. My mother was a native Detroiter. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters, so I guess I was spoiled. That’s what they always used to say, anyhow.

Kata:

What was it like growing up in Detroit?

Eller:

Well, I stayed there until the third grade. I remember a sandbox, and I remember going to kindergarten, but that’s about it. Oh, I do remember, during World War II they had a gun — what do you call it — a shooting range in Palmer Park. And we lived on Hill Avenue near Palmer Park. And I used to think that was the war.

Kata:

Oh, my goodness.

Eller:

So I didn’t want to go in that direction. But we went down Hamilton several times. My father had an electric car, so we used to take a ride on Sundays.

Kata:

Wow. An electric car?

Eller:

Yes.

Kata:

That must have been exciting.

Eller:

There was just one seat that I remember, like a Roadster. And all three, my mother, father and I all rode in the front seat.

Kata:

Did many people have automobiles at that time?

Eller:

Oh, I don’t know. I can’t say how many. But we never had a traffic jam, that I remember.

(Laughter)

Kata:

So what happened in the third grade? Your family moved.

Eller:


In the third grade, we moved to North Adams, Massachusetts. My father had cousins there, and they were all in the Weber [Brothers] Shoe Company, and so he joined them there.


Kata:

Weber is your maiden name?

Eller:


Weber is my maiden name, yes. We lived in Braytonville, which is a small part of North Adams - outside. And I went to a four-room school. And there I remember I jumped two grades. But while we lived in North Adams, I became a Girl Scout. The biggest part I remember about being a Girl Scout was the Girl Scout cookies. I still have the recipe. The mothers and the scouts all got together on a specific day and rented a store — or maybe it was loaned to us or something, you know, free. We had ovens in there, portable ovens, and we baked all these cookies. And people would come to the store and buy the cookies. And they were delicious butter cookies. I still have that recipe.


Kata:

Girl Scout cookies are big now.

Eller:

Yes, but they’re commercial, nowhere near as good.

(Laughter)

High School Experience

Kata:

Where did you go to school in Massachusetts?

Eller:

I went to school right in North Adams, and went through these four rooms, graduated and started high school. They had a high school in this town. And I didn’t stay there the full first year, freshmen [year]. We moved to Detroit. And we drove a 1920 — I can’t remember the year — a Buick.

Kata:

Oh, wow.

Eller:

And we drove through Cherry Valley — I remember that name — across New York. And I remember the hills in Pittsburgh, and we came into Detroit.

Kata:

That’s a long drive.

Eller:

Yes, that was a long drive. We stopped at tourist rooms along the way. There weren’t the motels and hotels there are now. But we could stop and ask where there was a tourist room and be directed there. So that was interesting.

Kata:

And you went to Northwestern High School in Detroit?

Eller:

Yes. We had a flat on Lothrop [St.] near Linwood [St.].

Kata:

Wow. I know exactly where that is.

Eller:

Do you? Great. Between LaSalle [Blvd.] and Linwood, yeah. And I used to have basketball practice at night. And I would come home in the dark, and go up the alley, and my mother would have fits.

(Laughter)

Eller:

Of course, there weren’t the dangers then that there are now. And I graduated from Northwestern High School. I remember [Charles] Lindbergh coming to the grounds there. They had a plane set up. It wasn’t the Spirit of St. Louis; I think it was something else. But Lindbergh was there.

Kata:

Wow. That must have been exciting.

Eller:

And it was exciting. I wanted to get up close to him, and I couldn’t. (Laughs)

College Experience

Kata:

Did you know what you were going to do when you graduated high school?

Eller:

I just presumed I was going to college, that’s it. (Laughs) And the principal of the school advised me that I could go anyplace that he would approve, so I chose Olivet [College]. My aunt was going to finance my school. And so my father drove my aunt, my mother and myself to these different colleges around Michigan. There was Hillsdale and Olivet and Albion, and where else? I can’t remember — Mount Pleasant. I can’t remember what they all were.

And I liked Olivet the best because it was the friendliest, and it was small. It was pretty. It was a beautiful campus. And there was an old, old building called Sheffield Hall that was the dormitory. And I was intrigued — and a cemetery close by. That’s where I sneaked a cigarette every once in a while, later on.

(Laughter)

Eller:

But oh, should that appear in this? (Laughs)

Kata:

That’s fine.

Eller:

I stayed there two years. The third year I told my father I didn’t want to go back there, I wanted to go to the University of Michigan. I wanted to go to the School of Architecture.

Kata:

Wow.

Eller:

And it was quite an argument, but he said, “Okay, fine.” (Laughs) He took me there. He took me to Ann Arbor, saw that I was enrolled and where I wanted to be, found a house off campus where I stayed with other students, and I spent the year there.

Kata:

Do you remember how you knew you wanted to go into architecture?

Eller:

No. I don’t remember that.

Kata:

You just decided architecture.

Eller:

I just pulled it out of a hat, I don’t know. (Laughs) But that’s where I learned my blueprint reading and how to draw blueprints, how to draw plans, and perspectives, and so on, you know, different things.

Kata:

And you enrolled at University of Michigan in the early 1930s, 1931, is that about right?

Eller:

‘31, and ‘32. Yeah, because in ‘32, I ended the year by getting married. (Laughs)

Kata:

Did you meet your husband in Ann Arbor?

Eller:

No. Actually, I met him where my first job was at Hotel Topinabee at Mullet Lake. I was there for the summer, and I had a blind date. I had a friend there from Ohio, and she knew a young man there. So I got the blind date through them. And it was his friend, and he was — I can’t remember what — he was a dental student at University of Michigan. So I thought, well, that’s handy. (Laughs) So while I was at the university I dated him. And he wasn’t the one I married, though.

(Laughter)

Eller:

I went to a party with him and met this other person. (Laughs) So what’s next?

Kata:

Getting married, 1932.

Eller:

I hesitate to say anything about that.

Kata:

Okay.

Eller:

Cause it is funny. (Laughs) If you turn it off, I’ll tell you.

Kata:

Do you want to take a break?

Eller:

All right.

(INTERRUPTION IN RECORDING)

World War II Work Experience

Kata:

Okay. So you were married in 1932.

Eller:

Yeah. And in ‘33, my first child was born. And the other two came along two years between each. Then along came World War II.

Kata:

How did that affect your life?

Eller:

Well, I lost my husband. Actually, he left. And I had to get a job. So looking in the newspaper I saw, “Help Wanted, Men,” and “Help Wanted, Women.” And I noticed that they were offering much more salary, a much bigger salary in the Help Wanted, Men ads than they were in the Help Wanted, Women. So I decided that’s what I better do. And I went to several places that were hiring draftsmen, because I thought I could do that. And several places said, “No, we don’t hire women,” or, “Aren’t you in the wrong place?” — something to that effect. Finally I got my foot in one door. And I said, “I’ll work for nothing. Just give me a chance to prove myself.” And he says, “Well, I’ll give you forty cents an hour,” which was big pay then (Laughs) for a beginner. And so I started in. And one of the leaders in there, a team leader, proved to be, I guess, a mentor.

Kata:

Really?

Eller:

But he taught me a lot about tool design. I could read blueprints from an architectural experience, so I knew where views were supposed to be placed and how to get them that way. And finding out — oh, at the same time, then, I went to — what was the name of those machines? I went to school to learn how — in the machine shop — to learn how the machines left pieces of metal, what they would do to them, how they could shape them, and how to make the machines work. So that was a big plus I learned. And this mentor was a big help in helping me draw things — what shape they would be at a certain stage — because there would be several stages, several operations on a piece.

Kata:

This was at the Modern Industrial Engineering Company in Detroit?

Eller:

Yes. They gave me the chance. Mr. Cyran, C-y-r-a-n, was the owner/manager. And I think he was just trying me out, because one day he brought a letter. I was working on a Saturday, overtime. He brought me a letter. He said, “Can you answer this, please, and type it up?” I said, “I’m sorry. I can’t type.” “You can’t type? You’re a woman, aren’t you?”

“Yes. But that doesn’t mean all women can type.”

And if I had been able to type, I’m afraid that he would have put me in that position as stenographer, or whatever you call it, and I never would have gotten back on the board.

So I was on the board for quite a while. I went from one place to another during World War II, asking for ten cents more each time I jumped, and that’s how I got my salary up. (Laughs)

Kata:

What were some of the other job experiences you had during the war?

Eller:

Well, after Modern, I went to Special Engineering. I had good experiences there. And there, that was at the end of the war, and the men were coming home, and they wanted their jobs back. I felt compelled to quit my job and look for something else. In fact, my mother suggested it, and said, “Maybe you can find a job more ladylike.” (Laughs) Anyhow, they didn’t want me to quit, but I did. They said I could come back if I couldn’t find a job.

Post-World War II Job Search

Eller:

From then on I went to Douglas Tool, and I did some technical writing there and drawing also, for manuals. And I went to Fisher Body. I thought, well, maybe I can get a more ladylike job there. And they had a technical illustration department, so I went into that department.

There were other ladies in that department, and we were all doing much the same thing, drawing from blueprints, converting blueprints into perspective drawings, making manuals to show workmen how to put together tanks, aircraft, artillery, most anything. A lot of it went to Cleveland. And then at the end of the war, of course, it was converted to automotive.

Then what did I do? Let’s see. I went back — no, Creative Industries of Detroit, I went there. And that’s when I had — everybody got a raise but me. And I said, “Why?” He said, “Well, all these men have children.” And I said, “But I have three children, and I support them and my mother and myself. Don’t you think I need a raise?”

“Oh, well, yeah.” (Laughs)

So they gave me a raise. (Laughs)

Kata:

Wonderful.

Eller:

But that’s what I had to do, talk my way into decent money whenever I needed it.

Kata:

Sure, because they had a lot of assumptions just because you were a woman.

Eller:

That’s right. Then I went to — let’s see, there was Creative Industries... I don’t remember where I went from there. Oh, there was an ad in the paper for this position at Ferris State College for a teacher to teach illustration and technical things.

Kata:

By this time you really felt that was your field.

Eller:

Yeah. And so — oh, I was going on a trip to Alaska, an educator’s trip to Alaska, so I went there instead of following up on this ad. And when I got back, then I went up to Big Rapids and looked around. And I thought this looks pretty good. And then I found the dean and talked to him. He says, “Well, we’ve already hired a man. We couldn’t find you. You were recommended, but we couldn’t find you.” (Laughs)

Kata:

Oh, how interesting.

Overcoming Gender Discrimination

Eller:

So I waited for the year. I can’t remember where I was working. I think I was working at different job shops, picking up odds and ends, you know, technical writing, drawing, draftsmanship, just all kinds of things were involved.

Kata:

Were you the only woman in many cases?

Eller:

Most of the places, yeah. In Creative I was one of three. In fact, I have a picture; it’s up there someplace, of the drawing room. And you can see where I’m sitting, and I’m the only woman there.

Kata:

Oh, wow, I’d love to see that.

Eller:

And there were several men.

Kata:

What was that experience like?

Eller:

That experience — the big thing I remember about that experience. Oh, shut it off for a minute.

(INTERRUPTION IN RECORDING)

Eller:

Being the only woman, I soon learned to ignore the snide remarks from the men (Laughs) – “What was I doing there? Why wasn’t I home taking care of the kids?” My retort was, “Why aren’t you?” (Laughs) And they soon learned to take me as I was — not all of them, of course, but people who sat around me and saw what I was doing.

One time we went to lunch at Sanders on Grand River [Avenue] at Joy Road. Do you remember Sanders?

Kata:

I don’t.

Eller:

Oh, that was a wonderful place to eat lunch, and they had the best ice cream and cake.

Kata:

Oh, really?

Eller:

Yes. And there was a drugstore on the corner. I can’t remember if it was a Walgreen’s or — no, no. It was something else. Cunningham’s? Was it Cunningham’s or was it…? I can’t remember. A drugstore on the corner of Joy Road and Grand River. And these fellows would line up there, you know. And I’d come from Sanders out the door and start walking by, and they’d whistle. (Wolf whistles) (Laughs) I can’t whistle now, but at that time I could whistle, and so I’d whistle back. (Laughs) They didn’t quite know how to take that.

Kata:

Oh, that’s funny.

Eller:

Anyhow, it was just a matter of playing their game in order to get along with them.

Kata:

And that worked for you?

Eller:

It worked, it worked. Let’s see, well, at the end of — yeah, then I went to Fisher Body. I was there for five years.

Kata:

Did you enjoy working there?

Eller:

Yes, but you kind of get in a rut. They push the same kind of job on you all the time, you know, instead of a variety of things. And I worked at Plant 21, I worked at the Fisher Building, and different places they put us. And then I went to Ferris from there.

Choosing Engineering during the War

Kata:

I have one question. During the actual war there were a lot of women who were just going and pursuing factory work that was available to them.

Eller:

Yes.

Kata:

Why did you choose more of an engineering or an office position when —

Eller:

Well, I thought anybody could do factory work. But I had had an inkling of what it would be like to do something a little better, with a little more thought.

Kata:

That’s interesting.

Eller:

So that’s why I went looking for a man’s job.

(Laughter)

Joining the Faculty at Ferris State

Kata:

How did you come to join the faculty at Ferris State?

Eller:

Well, the second year I went back. Dean — what was his name? I can’t remember. He asked me to come back the following year. They were going to inaugurate a second year for this curriculum. And I had made out a curriculum when I was in Detroit — what does this kind of a person need to know. And so I presented the curriculum to him, and he says, “That’s good. You implement it.”

So I was a second-year instructor, and I was an assistant professor then. And I had a nice bunch of students. In fact, I have a picture on my wall that my students presented to me when I left.

Kata:

Mmm, that’s nice.

Eller:

It was done by a fellow who works at Ford — who worked at Ford at that time, Ford Motor [Company]. But I’d like to have you see it.

Kata:

Oh, I’d love to see it, yeah. You enjoyed teaching, then?

Eller:

Oh, yes. I enjoyed teaching.

Kata:

After being in industry all of those years.

Eller:

And I inaugurated and designed several different courses for that program, and I taught them. And I was later put in charge of all the engineering graphics. That doesn’t appear anyplace, but that’s what I did.

Engineering Graphics

Kata:

Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about the role of engineering graphics in the profession?

Eller:

Engineering graphics is not important anymore. Everything I did to earn my living is done by a computer now. But at that time engineering graphics, if you’re a visual person, was important to you. It was important to me. Anything that was in written form or a mathematical equation, for instance, could be put in visual form. You would make a graph, you know. And so that was important to me. And it was important for anyone in mechanical engineering [and] electrical engineering because they had to read circuits. Mechanical, electrical — what else? Industrial engineering. And some hybrid types of engineering.

Kata:

What is the difference between engineering graphics and industrial design?

Eller:

Industrial design has far more leeway in terms of turning the object to look at it. Industrial design does not have to be detailed so that you know how it’s working. That can come later. It works this way, and then you do something else. But engineering graphics actually involves not only a visualization of an object accurately so it could be measured, it also involves equations, it involves mathematical concepts, and statistics.

And for instance, one of the jobs I had at one time was to figure out — at Fisher Body — figure out how many panels, how many, say, rear quarter panels of the car could be fitted into a boxcar. So you have to turn it every which way, but still to scale. And you do that through descriptive geometry. So I mean, it was very interesting to me. I could chase a thing all over the paper, you know, accurately. (Laughs)

Children and Grandchildren Career Pursuits

Kata:

You had some design and drawing experience prior to that, but did you also have an interest in mathematics or physics?

Eller:

Yes, I liked mathematics. Physics was hard for me, but I could do it. (Laughs). Yeah, my son is a physicist. His field is underwater acoustics.

Kata:

Interesting, and challenging.

Eller:

Yeah. He never would tell me what he did in his job. At school he’d say, “Oh, I’m chasing bubbles.”

(Laughter)

Kata:

That’s funny.

Eller:

He wouldn’t tell me — he couldn’t, maybe, tell me what he’s doing. Anyhow...

Kata:

So that’s interesting that one of your children pursued a scientific technical type career.

Eller:

The girl who lives here is a CPA [Certified Public Accountant], an accountant. She was in mathematics, too. And my other daughter in Seattle, she went into psychology. She was a psychologist.

Kata:

That’s wonderful.

Eller:

So everybody’s retired now, except my son. He’s looking forward to it. (Laughs) He had six kids. He just finished putting them all through college. The last one is in college now —

Kata:

Wow.

Eller:

at Rensselaer Polytech [Institute] in Troy.

Kata:

So you have some technical grandchildren as well.

Eller:

I sure do. I have three grandsons, and they’re all very mathematical. But the three girls and the three boys, they’re all musical. Every one plays a lot of different instruments.

Kata:

Oh, how interesting.

Eller:

Their mother was a music major at Wisconsin, so that accounts for — she’d say, “Practice!”

(Laughter) Let’s see, where was I?

Developing Engineering Graphics Curriculum

Kata:

Well, actually, I kind of got us off the subject, but the main subject was Ferris State, and how you helped develop their engineering graphics curriculum.

Eller:

Well, that’s what I did.

Kata:

Yeah. That was in the ‘60s?

Eller:

Yes. I went there in ‘62. I left there in ‘75 to go to LSU.

Pursuing Degrees at WSU and IIT

Kata:

Right. Before going to Ferris State, did you receive a couple of degrees?

Eller:

Yes. (Laughs) I had to go back to school because after all, I had to get my salary up there. (Laughs)

Kata:

Right. Actually, can we take a step back, and can you talk about that?

Eller:

I went back to Wayne [State University] for the first, and then I went to IIT [Illinois Institute of Technology]. And that’s where I met Dot Merrill and Lois Graham. Lois was teaching there too. I stayed in the dormitory there under the El [elevated train]. (Laughs) But I had to stay there the summer. I was there two summers.

Kata:

Was that difficult to arrange for your family?

Eller:

No. My mother lived with me.

Kata:

Yeah. That was probably a good support then.

Eller:

Yeah. And let’s see, that was ‘75, so how old were they? They were born in thirty — oh, yeah, they were old enough to be on their own, yeah.

Kata:

So you actually pursued your degrees later in your life?

Eller:

Later, yeah.

Kata:

And how was that experience?

Eller:

Well, I got a lot of funny looks. (Laughs) But I got along with the young people just fine. One of the saddest things, though, was when the Vietnam War came, and they sent out these notices to all these young people in the same class I was. I felt so bad for them. (Sighs)

Ferris State Teacher's Union

Eller:

So... What happened then? Do you want the union thing or not?

Kata:

Whatever you’d like to talk about. I think it’s an important part of your story.

Eller:


While I was at Ferris the AFL [American Federation of Labor] became affiliated with the NEA, that’s the union becoming affiliated with the National Education Association. And they finally worked their way through all the schools to Ferris, where there were a bunch of insecure new teachers, who wanted a union. I didn’t want a union. And there were several who sided with me. In fact, there were only two of us that went quite a ways before — had several interviews before they gave up on us. But he finally succumbed because he had a family. So he paid the dues and joined the union.


And I said, “No way.” So I had to be fired, that was part of the deal. The union came in. I didn’t feel that the union belonged in an education setting, in an academic setting, as did several others in the group. But I was the only one that didn’t have commitments. I didn’t have my children that I had to take care of and support anymore, and my house was paid for. I didn’t have to worry about it. So I went the full distance. And I became a client of the Right-to-Work people. And I had much — I went to visit them. And they kept telling me, “Go, go.”

Teaching at Louisiana State

Eller:


But I finally got this position at Louisiana State. I let it be known beforehand when I went to the conferences that I was looking for a new position — technical conferences. And the dean interviewed me. At first I thought, “Well, it’s because I’m so smart and I know so much and everything, that’s why I got this job.” And then later I began to think about it – “No, that’s the time it was important to be the token woman.” So that’s what I was, I think. (Laughs)


Kata:

You were the first woman faculty in the engineering school?

Eller:

Yes, in the engineering school, yes. So I was in the industrial department where the engineering graphics was. And so I taught kinematics and most of the engineering graphics. And then I had to leave there early because I didn’t realize that they were going to kick me out at seventy years of age, (Laughs) which was normal for teachers to be let go. So they wouldn’t give me any insurance, so I — or they wouldn’t give me any — not insurance, but —

Kata:

Retirement.

Eller:

Yeah, I couldn’t get retirement there. So I thought, well, I’ll do other things.

Retirement Activities

Eller:

So I was busy doing calligraphy, theater, dancing — all kinds of dancing, in fact — square dancing, belly dancing, ballroom dancing. Just name it, and I’d do it.

Kata:

(Laughs) That’s wonderful.

Eller:

Well, I think that’s why I’m healthy now. Along with the Senior Olympics. I did backstroke swimming and race walking. So that’s what my time was taken up with. And then I had a friend in Florida, and she said, “Come visit me.” So I went to visit her, and I liked it. She says, “Why don’t you move here?” Well, I was losing all my friends in Baton Rouge. They were either dying or getting married or leaving town. So I thought, “Well, why not?” So I bought a mobile home in Vero Beach, in the same place where she was. Three months before I moved, she died, so I didn’t have any reason to go.

So I waited a few months and then decided, “Well, I might as well go and try it anyhow.” So I did, and I ended up doing the square dancing and the tap dancing and the ballroom dancing, just as I did in Baton Rouge, (Laughs) and the calligraphy. I met a lot of nice people. I really enjoyed it in Florida.

Then my daughter retired from NASA in Washington, Alexandria.

Kata:

Your daughter was working for NASA?

Eller:

Uh-huh.

Kata:

As an accountant?

Eller:

Yeah. In fact, she was in charge of the department there. And she was in Memphis first, and then went to Washington DC to be in charge of that department. And she retired. They gave her early retirement, which she took, because she was getting worn out. (Laughs)

Kata:

I can imagine.

Eller:

And she came to Florida and tried to find a job there, something she would like to do. And there just wasn’t anything she wanted. So there was an opening in Mississippi, and she wrote to them, tried for that. And after a few months she got an answer. She kept calling to find out. And she got an answer that they hired her at the tax commission in Mississippi. The branch was in Gulfport here. Well, she worked here. And she retired just a couple years ago. At sixty-five, yeah, she retired. She’s sixty-seven now. So anyhow, I moved back to Gulfport to be with her, decided I had lived alone long enough. And we moved into the same apartment complex. We passed it on Pass Road coming in, but I neglected to point it out. It was right after we passed all that construction.

Kata:

Oh, okay.

Eller:

It was on the right-hand side. And then she found a house she wanted. And I decided to try my luck — oh, at a retirement village. There was a party given downtown at the Southern — a big room. They had parties. They hire it for parties.

Kata:

It’s not part of a church, is it?

Eller:

No. It’s part of the Hancock Bank. And they gave this party, and advertised the Westminster place in Alabama. I can’t think of the name. And so I decided to buy in there — I had to buy in. Anyhow, I got there, and I decided I didn’t like it.

Kata:

You didn’t?

Eller:


I didn’t like having people call me up, “Are you all right? So-and-so is coming over to help you do this or that.” I wanted to be left alone. (Laughs) There was just too much interference with the people. And I had to pay extra for everything I did. So I went out on my own. I found the “Y” [YMCA] and I went swimming. (Laughs) Down in Fairhope, I found a group of dancers, and so I went down there to dance. (Laughs) And I decided, no, this is no good, so I sold and came back to Gulfport — actually, Biloxi first. I lived in an apartment house on the east side of DeBuys, and that was near Biloxi. Now I’m on the west side of DeBuys, in Gulfport.


Living in the South

Kata:

Do you like the South better than living in the Midwest?

Eller:

I don’t think I could stand that weather anymore. My blood’s thinned out. I’m used to the heat, I’m used to the humidity. I feel good with my face getting all that humidity. If I make a trip to Arizona to see Eleanor Lowry, for instance, or anybody out there, or California, I don’t feel I can smile, even. I think my face is going to crack.

Kata:

Because it’s so dry.

Eller:

It’s so dry. And of course, being older, my skin is getting drier anyhow. (Laughs)

Kata:

So you’ve really found like a second home here?

Eller:


Yeah, I think so. I get upset sometimes when everything is so — they’re still fighting the Civil War, you know. And everything is — just recently they had this fight over the Confederate flag, you know. I don’t know if it was in your papers or not, but it was quite a deal down here. And I can understand the reason for it. I don’t think the Confederate flag should be flown any place but on Beauvoir, where Jefferson Davis’ home was, you know. Or any particular historical building. But there are some young people around here that want it, you know, and just trying to make trouble.


Kata:

So politically some things down here aren’t —

Eller:

No. I don’t know your political viewpoint, but mine is on the other side, (Laughs) as usual. So is my daughter. We’ve been carrying signs on the beach on certain Saturdays, “No War.”

Kata:

Really? How has that been responded to?

Eller:


Oh, we get a lot of catcalls and people passing in autos, you know. And others, thumbs up, or waving at us, you know, fine, they agree, or — you know, different — there’s different viewpoints. But we were hoping it would make some people think.


Kata:

Sure. Is that why you feel it’s important to be an activist?

Eller:

I don’t know. It’s just my nature, I guess. (Laughs) I don’t know why I do that. Am I just contrary? (Laughs) I’ve had to fight against things all my life, it seems, it’s just natural for me to do that.

Current SWE Involvement

Eller:

To go back to — what were we talking about, SWE?

Kata:

Well, actually —

Eller:


In Gulfport — they sent me some names of people who might be interested in forming a section. And I have tried and tried to get in touch with those names. And either they just got married or they’re leaving town, or they’re being transferred. Or one in particular I tried to get — who’s a professor out at USM [University of Southern Mississippi], and I’ve been chasing her all over. I’ve tried calling three different places, and I can’t get in touch with her. I just don’t see any use (Laughs) in pursuing the subject.


I have called some people that I have met in another place. Like I went to church with my daughter one time, in a Unitarian church, and found somebody there. And she said that she would look up — she was an engineer, and she would look up some other women who might be interested and call me. But she never called me.


Kata:

Yeah. So it’s hard.

Eller:

And I never saw her again. So I’m kind of leaving it up to other people. I have a folder of what I’ve done. There was a Megan, somebody or other. I can’t recall her name. Anyhow, she said she would help.

Kata:

Well, it’s great that you’re still interested in being an activist in the area of women in engineering.

Eller:

Well, I am. For a while I was out of it. I thought, there’s no use, you know. But I can’t go to the conferences, they’re too expensive. I can’t afford that. And I know there are a lot of others who can’t. I don’t know why they make it so expensive.

Kata:

I don’t know either.

Eller:

That registration figure, $300, I can’t pay. I go to other conferences, my genealogy conferences, or anyplace else, and they’re under $100.

Kata:

Right. Well, that’s a valid point.

Eller:

So I’d like to see those people, but I’m afraid — and the names are all different. I don’t know those knew names. And I hesitate to vote on the ballot, because I don’t know who they are. Maybe I can spout off here, and they can read — or see what’s happening. (Laughs) I don’t think so.

Kata:

Why don’t we take a break?

(INTERRUPTION IN RECORDING)

Introduction to Society of Women Engineers

Kata:

This is tape two for our interview with Margaret Eller. And can we switch gears now and talk about how you first heard about the Society of Women Engineers?

Eller:

Sure. Well, I had been working different places all by myself in a group of men. And I saw an item in the paper that advertised for women who were working in engineering places, are there any, would you be interested in meeting at Rackham. Rackham is the building or memorial, or what — what do they call that?

Kata:

Yeah, I think that’s what it is.

Eller:

Rackham Memorial, on such-and-such a day, such-and-such a time, so forth.

Kata:

How did you feel when you read that ad?

Eller:

Ahh! I jumped. (Laughs) That would be fun. I wonder if they’ll know me.

(Laughter)

Eller:

I went. And it was — let’s see, I think Stella Lawrence put the ad in the paper, actually.

Kata:

Oh, really?

Eller:

Yes. And so she kind of guided the beginning of it. And I can’t remember how many were there, six or seven people.

Kata:

This was in Detroit?

Eller:


In Detroit, yeah, across from the art museum there, Rackham. And we evidently still had been in touch with somebody, how to form a chapter, or she knew somebody — something. Anyhow, we had to have a certain number to form a chapter — a section. It wasn’t called chapters, it was a section. And we found out there was a conference to be held in Chicago on such-and-such — another month away or something like that — I can’t remember when — I can’t remember the dates — and was there any interest in going. Well, of course we were interested in going. The Western Engineering Society or something —


Kata:

Right, the Centennial of Engineering?

Eller:

Yes. And so we went. I can’t remember going. I can’t remember the actual move — driving or what, how we did it. Maybe we went in a go-cart. (Laughs) But anyhow, we got there. I remember that’s where I met Ann Fletcher, also. I think it was, or was she in Washington? I don’t remember. Jean Van Horn was there. Some of those people in the pictures I can’t —

Kata:

Mary Sohler?

Eller:

Mary Sohler was there, and Stella and Tess Tierney (phonetic).

Kata:

Pat Brown?

Eller:

Pat Brown, and I can’t remember.

Kata:

That’s okay.

Eller:

Anyhow, that’s where Dr. Gilbreth was. She gave a talk. And I also bought her book at that point. (Laughs) I’ve still got it. And it was very enlightening, a lot of things that I didn’t know that made it so much more interesting to be in that group.

SWE Detroit Section

Eller:

So after that, then we formed our section after that. And we had a professional guidance in education group, of which I was chairman for a while. And we gave — not seminars, but gatherings for people in the education — school — in the —

Kata:

Guidance counselors?

Eller:

Yeah, guidance counselors, both at the parochial schools and at the regular schools.

Kata:

Why was that important?

Eller:

Because that kept us alive. (Laughs) That’s how we got girls to go into engineering. We had some field trips. We had the convention in ‘64, was it?

Kata:

‘65?

Eller:

‘65, that was also the World’s Fair in New York.

Kata:

Oh, the international conference, that was in ‘64, right.

Eller:

Yeah. But we also had a conference in Detroit.

Kata:

Right.

Eller:

That was ‘65, was it?

Kata:

Uh-huh.

Eller:

And I arranged all the tours.

Kata:

Oh, wow.

Eller:

And let’s see, what else?

Kata:

Did you attend the first international conference, in New York for the World’s Fair? Did you attend that?

Eller:

Yes. Oh, I was there. I have a picture of a World’s Fair. What did I do with that?

Kata:

What was that like?

Eller:


Oh, they had a lot of displays from different companies. And one was Ford’s [Ford Motor Company]; we have a picture outside there. But oh, I wish I could remember what I did with that picture of Detroit Section in front — or at the World’s Fair. And I’ve got it labeled and everything.


Kata:

Well, you can look for it and —

Eller:

Yeah. I have to. I have to. I probably put it someplace where I would remember, you know. (Laughs)

Meeting with other Women Engineers

Kata:

Right, right. So what was it like for you to be meeting with other women engineers?

Eller:

Well, I don’t know. I was kind of doubtful. I mean, will they accept me, will I accept them? (Laughs)

Kata:

Is that just a natural reaction to joining any group, or was there a reason specifically?

Eller:

Most other groups I have joined, I know more about it than they do, whatever the subject is. With this I wasn’t sure, because you can get pigeonholed in a certain kind of engineering, doing a certain thing, you know, and what somebody else is doing, it’s a puzzle. So I didn’t know whether we could all talk the same language or not, you know.

Kata:

Could you?

Eller:

Yeah, I guess we could.

Kata:

Did you have your own language of women, or no —

Eller:

No.

Kata:

And I don’t mean it literally, I mean figuratively. Were there commonalities?

Eller:

Yeah. But it wasn’t like an ordinary group of women where you get together and talk about knitting and kids and cooking. That leaves me cold. (Laughs) But it was very refreshing, the conversations that we were having. Other — how to get along with the men, a lot of them — how to go up in the world, the glass ceiling. They didn’t mention the glass ceiling in those days, but —

Kata:

That was the same concept.

Eller:

Yeah, right. It was so long ago; I can’t remember exactly what we did talk about. Little inklings of what we did, in case anybody knew — could relate to that, you know.

Kata:

Was there other women in engineering graphics?

Eller:

Yes, yes, but not in the academic side. Let’s see. I can’t remember some names. But I often wondered, for instance — Mary Sohler, she worked at Ford Motor, she had an important job, but I didn’t know what she did. I’d like to know what she did. And Pat Brown, she worked at, what, Shell, and other oil companies, I don’t know what she did. I’d like to know what she did. So of course at the conferences when you pick a topic to talk on, you would have to know something about it. You’d have to be doing something with that in order to talk very knowledgeably about it. So there are things I wish that I could have known more about.

Membership in Technical Organizations

Kata:

Did you belong to any other technical organizations?

Eller:

Well, let’s see. I belonged to the Society of Engineering Illustrators. They were in Detroit. But that was the big center for illustrators, and they were all over Detroit.

Kata:

What’s the difference between a technical organization like that and SWE as an engineering organization?

Eller:

Well, SWE encompasses a lot bigger things in terms of people, in terms of subjects. My experience encompassed more than just that illustration bit, because I did technical writing, and I did designing. I designed some things. In fact, I found flaws in some of the panels. For instance, a hole wouldn’t be in the right place that would have to be moved over or something like that. And my drawings, being accurate, being symmetrical — not symmetrical — being to scale, would bring that out.

Let’s see, what else can I say?

Teaching at Cody High School

Kata:

Well, you relocated from Detroit to Ferris State, but also from industry to academia. How did you remain involved in SWE once you made that transition?

Eller:

Well, I went from industry — first I taught for a while at high school, because my degree was in education, and that would be the only thing that would fit, you know. That was Cody High School in Detroit. And something funny happened there, the gun —

Kata:

Right. Can you tell that story?

Eller:

Okay. We were setting up displays for Memorial Day, Decoration Day, whatever you want to call it. And it was on the day it was, not on the Monday before. (Laughs) And school was dismissed for the day. I had this Civil War musket that was my grandfather’s, he carried this in the war. And I thought, well, that ought to be a good display. Of course, I also had my grandfather’s little cap and a journal.

Kata:

Neat.

Eller:

Yeah. I don’t have it anymore because I loaned it to somebody, and they kept it —

Kata:

Oh, gee.

Eller:

and wouldn’t give it back. In fact, I had to borrow the musket to go in this display, promising to take it back to him, and I didn’t. I kept it.

Kata:

Oh, my goodness.

Eller:

Now my grandson has it.

Kata:

Good.

Eller:

I went home to get the musket, and I brought it back in my car [and] parked in the parking lot. And evidently somebody was watching. There were neighbors around in the homes, you know. Somebody was watching, and they saw me bring the gun, take it out of the car and start walking with it. They called the police. And all of a sudden the police were there, and I was still walking with the gun. I got in the school, and the telecom — what do you call it?

Kata:

The intercom.

Eller:

The intercom had “Mrs. Eller, please come to the office.” So I went to the office, and I carried the gun. And the policeman said, “What are you going to do with that gun?” He was all upset, you know. And I said, “Well, this gun is not working. It isn’t operative, you know. And it’s my grandfather’s gun. It’s a souvenir of the Civil War, and I was going to use it in the display for Memorial Day.”

“Oh.”

So that solved it. Anyhow, we passed the time of day.

Kata:

That’s funny.

Eller:

(Laughs) And he left, and I went to put it in the glass case for the display. (Laughs)

Kata:

What subjects did you teach at Cody High School?

Eller:

What do they call it? Mechanical drawing.

Kata:

Did you have any female students there, or was it all male students?

Eller:

All male. And I taught architectural drafting too. And I got them to make models of their design.

Kata:

Oh, neat.

Eller:

And we got to use some — the green grass and trees and everything. They had a lot of fun with that. And nobody had ever done that there before. (Laughs) So I did a lot of things that were different.

Involvement in SWE at Ferris State

Kata:

Sure. At Ferris State were you involved with the Society of Women Engineers while you were there at all?

Eller:


Oh, yeah. I used to go into Detroit to meetings, not every time, but whenever I could. And I would take — after the first year, I had a couple girl students, and I would take them with me into the meeting, and introduce them to women engineers, you know. So they had a lot of fun with that, too. And let’s see — oh, I formed a committee, the dean, myself and the president of SEI. And Ann was part of this, too.


Kata:

Ann Fletcher?

Eller:

Ann Fletcher. Not the first time, but the second time. And I said, “We need some incentives for these kids. We need some scholarships or something like that.” So this committee, with the approval of the dean, went ahead and fixed that. And so we were able to grant some scholarships to some of the students.

Kata:

That’s great.

Eller:

We did that for, let’s see, it was — after I left there were a couple of them. Ann went — took charge of that.

Kata:

There was an incident in the SWE Detroit Section that I’m wondering if you remember, right around the time that the society was fairly new. And it involved getting involved politically with other engineering societies to protest a candidate who didn’t have his engineering license. Do you remember that incident?

Eller:

No.

Kata:

Okay.

Eller:

That was after my time, I guess. See I left there in ‘70 — I left Detroit in ‘62.

Kata:

Yeah. It would have been a little bit before that, but that’s okay. I was just wondering if you attended any meetings or anything when that came up.

Eller:

No, I didn’t know about that. I used to go to the ASBE, American Society of Body Engineers, but they wouldn’t have any women in their — as members.

Kata:

But you were allowed to attend meetings?

Eller:

Some meetings, not all, some. So I went when they’d have a good speaker, you know, I’d go to those. I guess that’s all.

Establishing a SWE Presence at LSU

Kata:

Well, when you joined the faculty of Louisiana State, you were very instrumental in establishing a SWE presence there, correct?

Eller:

Yes.

Kata:

Can you talk about that experience a little bit?

Eller:

I didn’t realize how many women or young girls were in the classes. I looked at the list of classes and found all these girls’ names. And I thought, gee whiz, we got something going here. (Laughs) So I asked the dean, I said, “Could I do this?” And he said, “Sure.” And he gave me a room, showed me what room I could use, one of the drafting rooms, actually. And he said, “Put up some signs, do what you need.” So I had them announce it in all the classes, and I put up signs all around, “Come to a meeting,” you know. And I was surprised at how many there were. I can’t for the life of me think how many. It seems to me there were twenty-five or something like that, you know. It was an awful lot of students, girls. But some of them dropped out because — well, they were chemical engineers for one thing, and they were interested in — no that was the engineering graphics they dropped out of. But there were all kinds, mostly chemical and petroleum engineers. They weren’t interested in my classes, but they were interested in finding out about women engineers.

Which reminds me, some of those girls, their beginning salaries were far more than I ever got. (Laughs) Anyhow, go back to what I was talking about. I told them what women engineers — about the society, and how it got started, and what we were going to do next, and would you like to form a section so that we could do those things right here, not have to go tramping off someplace. So, yes, there were enough — more than dozen signing, more than enough for a section. So I contacted Carolyn Phillips.

Kata:

She was the president of SWE at the time?

Eller:

As I remember, yeah. I don’t remember exact dates. (Laughs) We had the form to fill out and everything, so we filled it out. And then she didn’t have time to come all the way to Baton Rouge, so we met under a viaduct halfway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Then she gave me the charter, and I took the charter back to the students. We framed it and put it up. (Laughs) And they got their — what did they have to show — some cards, yeah, they got their cards.

And we had several — or also there were scholarships offered there through SWE. So we would have a tea to celebrate the recipients of those scholarships, and invite the deans and so on. I’ve got pictures of that. They must be upstairs. (Laughs) And several of those people stayed and became part of the Baton Rouge Section.

Kata:

Great.

Eller:

Or they went to New Orleans where they had the New Orleans Section. They didn’t have the New Orleans Section first; we had the Baton Rouge Section first. And Jan Wharmund and I formed that section. And we had several times we got together and discussed how to do it and what to do and so on. I’m sorry to say, Jan and her husband were both killed in an automobile accident.

Kata:

Oh, I’m very sorry.

Eller:

It was after the section was formed. And we’d had, let’s see, I had pictures there, didn’t I, of —

Kata:

Yeah.

Eller:

We were having a party. It was after that. And, oh, what’s her name? When she sees this, she’s going to be — (Laughs) and I can’t remember her name. (Laughs)

Kata:

Who are you referring to, someone within SWE?

Eller:

She was instrumental in keeping the Baton Rouge group going. And she was from — she had long hair. Oh, never mind.

Kata:

Okay.

Eller:

That will have to be edited, because I wouldn’t have her —

Kata:

Oh, that’s fine. That’s fine. Was she in any of the pictures that we saw?

Eller:

Yeah, several.

Kata:

Claire?

Eller:

Claire Shortall.

Kata:

Okay. That’s who I thought you were talking about.

Eller:


Yeah. She kind of took over, then, whatever Jan was doing. I went back once to Baton Rouge, and they gave me a silver plate with all — “Thank you for everything,” you know. (Laughs) I was pleased with that. I’ve got it upstairs.


Issues Facing Women in SWE in the 1970s

Kata:

Yeah. What were some of the issues in the ‘70s that women in SWE were facing, that you recall, either nationally or maybe in the local Louisiana area?

Eller:

Well, mainly, first of all, getting a job, convincing companies that they could use us. Convincing high school students that they might enjoy mathematics and engineering, and convincing counselors mostly, knowing that they weren’t going to — particularly in the South. In the North it was easier. In the South they didn’t want to even listen to us. So we took – what are those small pictures you put in a machine to reflect on a screen —

Kata:

Slides?

Eller:

Slides. Isn’t that awful I can’t remember?

Kata:

Not at all.

Eller:

We took a slide — made up a slide presentation so they could see women engineers in action.

Kata:

How did they respond to that?

Eller:

Well, I wasn’t at all of those meetings. But most of that was done while I was there, but the results were shown mostly after I’d gone. I gave a —

Kata:

After you’d gone to Florida?

Eller:

I gave a scholarship to the section, and that was given to students for several years. And then along came the deflation, when interest went way down, you know. So I don’t know what they did, whether they kept — I bought one for myself and one for them, $1,000. And I kept mine. It went down. It was Gulf States, and it changed over to Entergy, so I’ve still got Entergy. I don’t know what they did with theirs.


Now I can’t think of another name. She was the treasurer at that time and she took care of this transaction.


Kata:

National treasurer?

Eller:

Not Stella — Teresa (phonetic). You asked about her.

Kata:

Theresa Snyder?

Eller:


Snyder, yeah. Yeah, we were together quite often. I liked her. She still sends me Christmas cards and pictures of her kids.


Kata:

That’s nice.

Eller:

And she’s so nice. She took care of that scholarship for me.

Atmosphere Surrounding the ERA

Kata:

Sure. What was the atmosphere surrounding the ERA like in Louisiana, when you were involved in SWE?

Eller:

It wasn’t much. (Laughs) I was a member of the ERA — I mean, I was —

Kata:

A supporter?

Eller:


a supporter of the ERA. And I worked very hard trying to convince people. Every time I’d say I belonged to this – “Wow.”. (Laughs)


Kata:

Even within SWE?

Eller:

I don’t know. I didn’t get a chance to talk to any of the SWE members very much. See, because I was the instigator of SWE down here, and so they were all younger, and they weren’t much in favor. They didn’t think they needed SWE, they didn’t think they needed the ERA.

Kata:

Really?

Eller:

Yeah.

Kata:

Why were you a supporter?

Eller:

Because I felt we needed it. I was on the front lines there for a long time. I knew what was happening. (Laughs) So I can remember at Ferris one of the professors wearing pants, you know. And somebody, I can’t remember who it was said, “Ooh, trying to be a man?” (Laughs)

Kata:

That seems silly.

Eller:

Everything was ‘skirts’ then. But I soon turned to pants. I don’t care what you think. (Laughter) They were more convenient.

Let’s see, ERA — I worked hard trying to get that. But it just wasn’t received very well down here. I think SWE was supportive of the ERA. I can’t remember any occasion otherwise.

SWE Women in Academia Committee

Kata:

Can you talk about the committee within SWE called Women in Academia?

Eller:

Yeah. In fact, for a couple years I said — they were having different talks by women in government and women in this, and women in that. I said, “You ought to have somebody from academia.” I thought I was the only one. I found out there were lots of others. Whether they just didn’t acknowledge it, or didn’t join in, I don’t know. But they came out of the woodwork.

I worked on finding them the first year, finding things that we could do together to help in counseling women, young women in college. We had a couple of women in academia who were doing a presentation at one of the conferences, I can’t remember now who it was. But I thought, “Well, my work is done, I don’t need to do anything more,” so I resigned. And they said, “Oh, no, you can’t resign.” And I said, “Well, why not? My work is done. I’ve done what I started out to do.” And so somebody else came in. And there’s been somebody else ever since. And I’m glad they kept it going. I didn’t know it was going to keep going. I didn’t think it had enough people in it, but it evidently did, because it — more and more.

Women in Engineering Education

Kata:

Do you think women in engineering education have different issues than women who are engineers in industry?

Eller:

Yes. It’s a whole different atmosphere in academia. For instance, I had to sell myself to my fellow professors. They thought it was kind of strange that — in fact, when I was introduced at the faculty meeting at the beginning of the semester when I first went down there, the department head introduced me. And he didn’t acknowledge that I had any credentials at all. I was going to be part of the team, and I was going back to Detroit the following week to attend my granddaughter’s wedding. And that’s all me said about me. He didn’t — nobody knew what I could do, so I had a hard time selling myself to them.

In fact, I went to the first faculty meeting, and I was late. And I walked in. And the person who was conducting the meeting said, “We voted you in as secretary.” And I said, “Oh, no you don’t. I’m not your secretary. I’ve got to learn what this is all about before I can do anything. (Laughs) And not only that, but why am I secretary?” “Well, because you’re a woman.” And I said, “Oh, no. I won’t be a secretary.” So they voted somebody else, a man. (Laughs)

Kata:

Wow.

Eller:

Naturally, it had to be, because I was the only woman in the group. Let’s see, there was something else I was going to — I can’t remember now.

Role Models and Mentors

Kata:

Have you had any role models or mentors in your life?

Eller:

I’ve had lots of them for short periods. (Laughs) Like the first time I went in that drafting room after I’d offered my services for free, but he gave me forty cents an hour, the head of the department — no, the head of that team explained an awful lot of things to me, and he was very helpful. If I was starting on the wrong path, he’d let me know. And his name was Mr. Dodds. I’ve never forgotten him. He was an older man, so I guess he kind of appreciated — maybe he had a family, maybe he had daughters or something that were trying to make it in a —

Kata:

Yeah, maybe.

Eller:

I don’t know. And let’s see — oh, Eleanor Lowry, certainly. She was a senior member of SWE for a while, I don’t know. She lives in Arizona now, and I go visit her most every —

Kata:

How did you meet Eleanor Lowry?

Eller:

Well, she came to the meeting — no — what was it? She came to one of the parties that we held for prospective members, and I met her there. Well, it was, what, a couple years later then, after I was thrown out, (Laughs) I went — or she said, “Why don’t you come and work in my place? I’ll rent you part of my office.” She worked for herself, and she did the heating and air conditioning design for different architects. So I helped her out on those. And every time I’d get a job with calligraphy or something, then I’d work on my own. But she’d pay me for working for her when I did things for her.

Kata:

So you were like a consultant?

Eller:

Yeah, yeah. I was a consultant. I guess you’d call it that. But it was so nice knowing her. And she knew so many people in town. And we’d go to lunch together. And sometimes we’d be rushed or something, so we’d have popcorn and yogurt for lunch. (Laughs) That’s where I got the — I do it now sometimes.

Kata:

Oh, yeah.

Eller:

(Laughs) Yeah. So I was introduced to a lot of the architects and heating people in town. I always thought it was so funny, we’d go into a restaurant, a classy restaurant, and she’d see people she knew, and they’d all get up — they’re men, you know, of course — and kiss her on the cheek, and it was just normal. You’d shake hands with a man, you know, but with a woman you always kiss her on the cheek. It’s done all the time. You don’t shake hands with a woman, you kiss her on the cheek. Isn’t that funny?

Kata:

Interesting.

Eller:

Yeah. You meet somebody at church, you do the same thing. You meet somebody in the hall, do the same thing. (Laughs)

Kata:

Wow.

Eller:

It’s funny.

Kata:

You think that’s a southern thing or —

Eller:

I think so, yeah. Let’s see, who else was a mentor? I suppose the head of the department that I worked with at LSU. He’s the one, actually, that interviewed me at one of the conferences and went back and gave my name to the dean and so on. But (Laughs) he took me around the campus when I came to visit. They gave me four days, and flew me down and back. They gave four days —

Kata:

Wow.

Eller:

on the campus, looking things over. And it’s funny, we’d go around campus, and he’d open the doors for me and treat me like a lady, you know. And heck, I wasn’t used to that — like an equal, maybe, but not like a lady. So the next time I’d open the door for him. It would embarrass him to tears.

Kata:

Really?

Eller:

Yes. And we sat down to talk in his office for some reason or another. It was something I wanted to do, and he wouldn’t let me do it. I can’t remember what it was. And he says, “No, you can’t do that. You’re a woman.” And I said, “Well, women are just — are equal to men, aren’t they, and particularly in a setting like this?” He says, “No.”

“What do you mean, no?”

“Well, it says so in the Bible.”

Kata:

What!

Eller:

Yeah. “Women are much less than men.” So from then on, I didn’t take what he said seriously.

(Laughter)

Eller:

But that kind of threw me for a while. I didn’t tell him much after that. So I guess that’s about it. I had to learn so much on my own.

Reflections on Her Career

Kata:

As you look back on your career, is there anything you think you would have done differently, maybe?

Eller:

Oh, probably. I don’t know. Well, I wish I could have gotten my degrees earlier and had access to everything earlier. But one thing, my kids are proud of me. My son is always telling me how I’ve done so much for him. I don’t know. He says my grandchildren look up to me. (Laughs) I’m glad to hear that, of course.

Kata:

Of course, yeah.

Eller:

I think he’s just saying it to make me feel good, you know.

Advice for Young People

Kata:

Do you have any advice for young people today who might want to go into engineering?

Eller:

Go, man, go — woman, go.

(Laughter)

Eller:

Advice? I don’t think they need advice, really, except they need to be advised of how it has changed, perhaps, and what an easier time they might have now, but appreciate what people went through before them. Because they’re pretty self sufficient, these young people. They do a lot. And there are a lot of high schools and other places that the teaching methods have changed so; the students can explore so much more than they used to be able to, like those Girl Scout programs.

I wish I could be part of that, I really do. They’ve got my name. I offered to help. All they have to do is call me. I haven’t heard yet. Maybe I have to have e-mail, I don’t know. But then things are going to be different the next year.

Kata:

Technology, you mean?

Eller:

Me. I’ll be able to walk and dance and think better. (Laughs)

Kata:

Oh, because of your surgery?

Eller:

Uh-huh.

Kata:

Oh, okay, right, right.

Eller:

Yeah. I’m looking forward to it, and yet I’m dreading it too.

Final Thoughts

Kata:

Well, do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share before we end?

Eller:

I wish I did. I’m enjoying this tremendously. SWE made it possible for me to enjoy a lot of things in this life, the company of the women who belong and who are eligible to belong, the programs that I was able to witness and be part of. Lots of good memories. I don’t know as I can do anything more for them.

Kata:

Well, I think you’ve certainly done quite a bit for the society.

Eller:

I wish a lot of them were still alive. I wish that I could have seen them in Detroit last year. That’s all.

Kata:

Well, I want to thank you very much.

Eller:

You’re welcome, very welcome.

END OF INTERVIEW