About the book

In The Girls from Winnetka, five women, who come of age in the Fifties, tell how and why their lives change decade after decade to the present. In the Fifties, as part of a group of high school friends, they are programmed to please, to be perfect, and to be virgins until marriage. The scripts for their lives are written. They will marry the June they graduate from college, have children, and live happily-ever-after on the North Shore of Chicago.  Their parents do not urge them to prepare for a profession because they are expected to depend on a man for their identity and support.  But the girls have other ideas. While many of their friends gladly follow traditional paths, these women adapt deeply ingrained standards to what is happening around them. They take flight from their predestined lives to lives of self-reliance and independence. And, along with other women of their generation who hold similar visions, they leave a legacy of choices to the next generation of young women. After opening their hearts and revealing their secrets and life stories–which they describe as a powerful and rewarding experience–they encourage readers to journal about exceptional or significant moments in their lives.

Please write about your own experiences, your responses to the “girls” stories or something you’ve read that is relevant to their efforts to combine being a wife, mother, and professional.
I read recently in Geraldine Ferraro’s obituary about her wish to become a lawyer.  She was one of only two women in her class of 179 at Fordham Law School.  She felt that professors resented her for being there, for “taking a man’s rightful place.”  After graduation, she took the bar exam and married two days later.  Her husband didn’t want his wife to work, so she helped him out with his business and did some pro bono work.  Thirteen years later, she went to work full time as an assistant district attorney.
I also read recently Virginia Postrel’s comments in her Wall Street Journal column remembering the “mommy track.”  She recalled Felice Schwartz’s 1989 article in Harvard Business Review suggesting that women, leaving the corporate world to raise children, be given flexibility and part-time positions.  Postrel noted that the idea was scoffed at, at the time, but two decides later millions of American women are combining “motherhood not just with jobs but careers.”
For more information on The Girls from Winnetka please visit www.marciachellis.com
– Marcia Chellis

21 Responses to About the book

  1. Dona Gibbs says:

    The Girls from Winnetka should be a book club selection for reading groups around the US. While it is non-fiction, it has a strong story arch and multidimensional characters.

    Ms. Chellis has given us insights into what these women were all about. Certainly women who came of age in the 50s experienced challenges, While women graduates today face different ones, it would be interesting for them to have a glimpse of what was before.

    • Dear Dona,
      Thanks for writing. You are so articulate and knowlegable about writing.
      I agree that the book makes a terrific Book Club selection. There’s so much in it to talk about. Also agree that today’s young women will benefit from reading the book.
      Many readers of the next generation have written on their book review blogs about the impact “The Girls from Winnetka” had on them. One said that it taught her to “live her own life.”
      Marcia Chellis, author

  2. karey corbett says:

    I love your book, especially the historical information that is maticulously covered from the 1950’s to the present. It is truly the story of my generation too, as a proud baby boomer!

    • Dear Karey,
      Thanks for reading the book and writing. So glad you liked the information in the intro to each decade of what was happening in our country at that time.
      Not just you, several years younger than “the girls,” but women many years older have written or said to me, “That was my life!”

  3. Nancy Burke says:

    Marcia – Congratulations!!! The Girls from Winnetka will be another hit for you. Already other friends have expressed an interest in buying your book and participating in the discussion. You pick up where Mary McCarthy of The Group left off. I would say that we “girls” have changed a lot in half a century, and so have some of the “boys.” 🙂 Nancy B. http://www.nancyburke.org.

  4. Dear Nancy B.,
    Thanks so much for writing. You are right. “The Group” is a classic about college girls from Vassar in the ’40s. “The Girls from Winnetka” follows about young women who come of age in the ’50s. A generation which needs some recognition for the legacy they left.
    Would love to hear more about you and your thoughts about changing in the past few decades and how your life is today. As well as, how “the boys” have changed.

  5. On May 8, 2011 Stephanie Coonts with the New York Times wrote an intruguing article called “When We Hated Mom,” and I thought you might enjoy reading some it.

    She wrote, “One of the most enduring myths about feminism is that 50 years ago women who stayed home full time with their children enjoyed higher social status and more satisfying lives than they do today. All this changed, the story goes, when Betty Friedan published her 1963 best seller, “The Feminine Mystique,” which denigrated stay-at-home mothers. Ever since, their standing in society has steadily diminished.”

    Later on in the article she continues, “Contrary to myth, “The Feminine Mystique” and feminism did not represent the decline of the stay-at-home mothers, but a turning point that led to much stronger legal rights and “working conditions” for her.”

    What do you think?


    You can read the full article by clicking the link below if you would like.

    • marciachellis.com says:

      Recent article (May 2012) on Diane Keaton, 66, said of her most recent piece, A Darling Companion, “It’s like The Big Chill for the AARP set.” She said that she had no inhibitions about being a 60-something woman on screen. She talked about her mother, who in the 50s felt trapped by domesticity and her failures as an aspiring writer and photographer. Getting out of that trap is what The Girls from Winnetka is all about.

  6. Anon says:

    I just read The Girls from Winnetka. It’s interesting, particularly if you’re a New Trevian, like me, class of ’57. Yes, we’re classmates, and I’m glad I read your book.

    I’m so glad I’m a man. Life has been much easier for men, at least in our generation, no question about it. I really sympathize with our female contemporaries, and I think you’ve done a good job showing life after New Trier and the disadvantages these upper middle-class girls started out with in the 50s because of what they expected and what was expected of them. It was so unrealistic, and they were so unprepared. Honestly, being raised on the North Shore and going to New Trier had some real disadvantages.

    My wife is younger than I, but happily wasn’t raised in that protected and constricting North Shore environment. And I think she’s better and happier for it because she had no illusions and expectations about life after high school. She always had to work, she worked hard, she kept her eye on the ball, and she became successful on her own.

    Your book is also a gentle reminder that popularity in high school doesn’t have a lot to do with success and happiness in later life.

    • marciachellis.com says:

      Dear Anon,
      I, too, am glad you read the book and appreciate your taking the time to write such a thoughtful response. You are right on! Agree with everything you said. There are several reviews on Amazon from men. I especially like the one that says he wishes he’d read the book several years ago–it might have saved his marriage.
      I think our generation has significance for many reasons–not the least of which is the legacy our women left for the next. Do you feel your wife benefited from that? Or was she just a few years younger and didn’t get caught in the 50’s programming?

  7. Anon says:

    I don’t think the 50’s stuff or any evolving notions of what women could do in the workplace affected my wife nearly as much as her background. She’s from the Saint John River valley in northern Maine, one of five children raised on her family’s farm. They all had to do their share of work, and there wasn’t a lot of money. There weren’t a lot of choices. After high school the boys went to the state university and the girls to secretarial school. In the fall all hands turned to for the potato harvest. It was a far different life than the one we enjoyed at New Trier.

    When you’re a daughter in a poor family, you don’t think about going away to college, having a June wedding when you graduate, and then staying home so you can wait on your husband when he returns from work. When you come from a poor family, the story doesn’t end with the wedding. Everyone has to work, and that breeds independence and self reliance.

    I think the problem the New Trier girls from the 50s had is that they were conditioned to think the story ended with the wedding and a husband taking care of them. Of course it didn’t, and it took a little longer for them to figure that out.

    But they did figure it out.

    • marciachellis.com says:

      Yes, they did figure it out! And that was the reason for writing the book.
      Because “The Girls from Winnetka” had been conditioned, programmed, and regimented, they faced the difficult task of breaking with and through societal and parental “rules” to live their lives differently from what was expected. They did not want to be dependent on a man for their identity and support. Unlike your wife (fascinating background–thank you for sharing that), the “girls” chose to work. Yet, there’s some irony here. As time went on, like your wife’s story, most of them had to work. Which enabled these women to achieve independence and self-reliance–my mantra and the theme of my first two books.
      Thanks, Anon, for writing.

    • Barbara Keith says:

      I am compelled to respond to your though-provoking comments to “The Girls From Winnetka” and how you felt about New Trier and the life that followed for us through the years. I’m sorry that we never met or knew each other at New Trier. I do want you to know that I treasure my years at New Trier and feel fortunate that I was given the opportunity to attend this outstanding high school. It is not my nature to “defend” my life, my education or my furture. I was not brought up with a silver spoon in my mouth or a superority complex. I feel blessed that my high school and college education gave me the strength and determination to find a way to complete my education, to be blessed with a supportive husband, two talented children and the determination to meet life’s challenges, what ever they may be. I always welcome comments on our book … they have been interesting and, for the most part, affirmed the belief that my life’s pathways have helped many individuals to face, and overcome, the same challenges.

  8. Anon says:

    Yes, Barbara, there’s no doubt that New Trier is an outstanding high school, and it was a good fit for you. You’re fortunate to have such good friends from so many years ago. My wife does, too.

  9. Please read an article in the Atlantic Monthy. The author talks about “why women can’t have it all.” Do you agree or disagree? Send your response to me here or my Facebook page or to The Readers of The girls from Winnetka Facebook page. The Girls from Winnetka was written to say that women could “have it all”–they COULD be mothers, wives, and professionals. The women whose heartfelt stories are in the book shared what it was like for them to get there–so that the next generation of young women could more easily HAVE IT ALL.


  10. This article about Why Women Still Can’t Have It All is from the July/August 2012 issue of The Atlantic by Ann Marie Slaughter. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/. What do you think?

  11. I’m adding a piece of her article because it relates closely to “The Girls from Winnetka,” who wanted and tried to “have it all.”

    I owe my own freedoms and opportunities to the pioneering generation of women ahead of me—the women now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who faced overt sexism of a kind I see only when watching Mad Men, and who knew that the only way to make it as a woman was to act exactly like a man. To admit to, much less act on, maternal longings would have been fatal to their careers.

    But precisely thanks to their progress, a different kind of conversation is now possible. It is time for women in leadership positions to recognize that although we are still blazing trails and breaking ceilings, many of us are also reinforcing a falsehood: that “having it all” is, more than anything, a function of personal determination.

  12. And here’s another article along those same lines—“Women can’t have it all, says IMF chief”

    “SHE is a mother of two and one of the most powerful women in the world.
    But Christine Lagarde has said that women cannot have it all when it comes to juggling career and family life.
    The head of the International Monetary Fund – the first woman to hold the post – said that anybody attempting to balance motherhood and a career should accept there would be ‘failures’.
    She also admitted that despite her position, men still talk to her in a patronising way, and that she is forced to ‘grit her teeth’ and get on with it.
    As head of the IMF, the 56- year-old is in charge of negotiations to save the euro and bail out Greece. . .”

    • There’s a new book out. The End of Men: And the Rise of Women (Riverhead). Written by Hanna Rosin, an editor at The Atlantic. She believes the era of male economic supremacy is gone for good. Check out her book. Let me know. Do you agree?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s