Nonagenarians reflect on possibility of first woman president

Marjorie Dunaway was born in 1920 — the same year the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. “I just get a nice warm feeling when I think of having a woman as president,” she said.
Marjorie Dunaway was born in 1920 — the same year the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. “I just get a nice warm feeling when I think of having a woman as president,” she said. srafacz@centredaily.com

When Marjorie Dunaway met Hillary Clinton in 1992, she was impressed.

“I was talking with her, and she looked me straight in the face. (She) didn’t look over my shoulder the way some people do if they want to see what important person might be back there,” Dunaway, of State College, said.

At the time, Clinton was campaigning at Penn State for her husband, Bill, who was running for — and would become — president.

Dunaway was born in 1920 — the year the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. Several weeks ago, by absentee ballot, she voted for Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president.

“I have been so interested in women’s progress for all these years, and of course this is a real milestone. ... I just get a nice warm feeling when I think of having a woman as president,” Dunaway said.

Dunaway was heavily involved with the American Association of University Women, serving as the State College branch president and then state president for two terms. She eventually found herself working at AAUW’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

She said she was kidded some about AAUW. People would ask her why she wanted to belong to “that woman’s organization.”

“And my answer was, ‘Well they’re trying to do things for women and girls to help them in any way they can in education,’ ” she said.

It used to be that women’s choices for jobs were limited, Dunaway said. Now, women are astronauts, heads of companies and in Congress.

“Women are just doing about anything they want to, and I think that’s wonderful,” she said.

Dunaway said she has always hoped to see a woman be president in her lifetime.

Clinton’s in a tight race with Republican Donald Trump, so this time around may not yield a woman president.

Dunaway still remembers the first time she voted. It was with her parents. They all voted President Franklin D. Roosevelt into a third term.

“I was so excited to be able to vote. It’s such a privilege,” she said. “I hate to hear people say they aren’t going to vote.”

‘It’s not only that she’s a woman’

Christine Ayoub, of State College, has a bit of a soft spot for Clinton. They both went to a girls’ college and then to Yale University — Clinton for a law degree and Ayoub for a doctorate in mathematics.

Clinton, 69, though, is a bit younger than Ayoub, who was born in 1922.

Ayoub will cast her vote for Clinton on Tuesday, and if Clinton wins, she’ll “be very happy indeed.”

“It’s not only that she’s a woman, she’s running against someone that I certainly don’t want as president,” Ayoub, 94, said.

What kind of president Clinton could be, would depend on her Congress, she said.

One of Clinton’s goals is equal pay for equal work, Ayoub said.

Ayoub, who was a mathematics professor at Penn State for about 30 years, said there may have been discrimination as far as salary and promotions were concerned because she was a woman, but she doesn’t know that she felt that on a personal level.

“I remember one man — I was at a seminar with him, and he was smoking one of the little cigars. ... He said to me, ‘do you mind if I smoke?’ and I said, ‘well I’d rather you didn’t.’ Well, the next week he smoked, but he didn’t ask me whether I minded,” she said with a laugh.

When she was growing up, Ayoub said she didn’t know of any women in her family’s circle of friends working. Even when she first arrived at Penn State, few of the wives worked, if any.

“It’s a complete change. Whereas my daughters just assumed that they would have some kind of career,” she said.

There are still women who feel things were better before for the family and children, Ayoub said. But, there are examples on both sides — times when a woman’s career has not been good for the family and times when a traditional family doesn’t allow a woman to use her talents.

Some women aren’t happy about the idea of a woman president, she said.

Among likely voters, 50 percent of women support Clinton, while 36 support Trump, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll released Thursday.

It could have something to do with maintaining traditional values of women being at home with their families.

“And then, maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I think there are a certain number of women who resent her because she’s gone ahead and done all the things she has,” Ayoub said. “But that’s just a personal opinion.”

‘Oh, she was excited’

Helen Roback, of State College, doesn’t really remember her first time voting. But, she knows that she voted for whoever the Republican was.

“I just do not remember my first time voting. It seems so odd that I wouldn’t remember that. I guess it was just because it was one of those things I just accepted in life — you do it,” she said.

Not long before Roback was born in 1921, though, it wasn’t one of the things women just did.

The 19th Amendment was ratified in August 1920, and her mother voted that November.

“Oh, she was excited,” Roback said.

“She never missed an election until the age of 85. She was on her way on a bus trip to Alaska when it suddenly occurred to her (that it was) Election Day, and she had not applied for an absentee ballot. She never forgave herself for that,” she said.

At age 94, Roback hasn’t missed an election yet.

Roback — who was a high school math and science teacher, stay-at-home mom and first female elder at her Presbyterian church in King of Prussia, among other things — said she’s been a Republican, independent and Democrat.

Seeing Clinton become president would be important to her, but not specifically because she’s a woman.

“I’m delighted that we are finally breaking that barrier, but I feel she’s highly qualified for the job,” Roback said.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz