In the mid 1990s, health educator Patricia Fabiano interviewed Dolores
Bordas Kosko of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, as part of her study of
the First Thursday Girls' Club. This group of working-class women has
been meeting socially on the first Thursday of the month for more than
forty years. The Kosko interview is one of several Fabiano conducted
with the club's seven members to investigate the relationship between
informal support systems and health, understood as a sense of coherence
and well being. In this interview, Ms. Kosko speaks about her experiences
working at Dravo Corporation, an industrial manufacturing plant located
near McKees Rocks. As she tells it:
to work for Dravo [in June 1972], I didn't want to progress, all I
wanted to do was go back and help supplement [my husband's] income,
because we were struggling. It was just too hard on one salary. We
had zip. We lived from one pay to the other. There were no extras.
And we never went on vacation, we couldn't afford it. . . . By that
time Valerie was twelve, Diane was nine, and then I went to work part-time,
which was fine. But then, you know, you work three days, and then
the next thing you know, they want you to work four days, and then
before you know it you're working five days, with no benefits, no
nothing. No paid vacation. Then they offered me the full-time job,
and I thought, "Well, I'm working five days anyways, and it seems
to be working." I was living right there . . . so it was very
convenient, so I did go as a full-time employee.
years, her work life continued to change:
did that for maybe about three years and then I was offered . . .
a job as a supervisor. What did I know about being a supervisor? I
took it, and I think to myself, "How did I ever do it? "
Without any formal training. I did not have a college degree, they
gave me the job of supervisor of stenographic services. I had ten
girls reporting to me. Responsible for a co-op program of students
going to business school and working at Dravo. Setting that program
up. Interviewing. I never had any formal instruction on how to interview
people. I was interviewing people. I had to do performance reviews.
Writing procedure manuals. Maybe part of it is my sense of organization.
Do you develop a sense of organization or is that ingrained in you,
a part of your personality?
after that, as I look back now, it seems like every four years I made
a change. I was transferred over to Automation Systems responsible
for office automation, testing software, making recommendations. I
still very much wanted to go to college, to get a college degree.
I didn't think I was going to be able to go for the four years, but
I definitely wanted to have an associate's degree. And Dravo had the
tuition refund program. You have to pay for it first, and then they
reimbursed you for it. And I started with classes. It took me twelve
years. But I have my associate's degree in Business Administration.
I'm not bragging, but I just feel very proud of myself that I was
able to do it, working full time, raising a family, working overtime
also when projects needed it or demanded it. . . .
1988 Kosko lost her job, a crisis that disrupted her life and challenged
her to reassess certain assumptions and choices:
sixteen years at Dravo my job was eliminated because they were downsizing.
Always in the back of your mind you think, "Oh, I wish I could
get laid off and I'll sit at home." And no one really knows what
happens to them when there really is a layoff. But my job was eliminated,
I was laid off. And I had two weeks, they gave me a two-week notice.
And a lot of people reacted with anger when they were laid off. They
just picked up their stuff and they left their office. I got laid
off, I came out of the office, and I went back to my office, and I
went back to work. And people were walking past my office because
they put two and two together, so they figured I got laid off, but
they couldn't figure out why I was still working. But I never thought
I should do it any other way. I had a job, I had a project to finish.
And I finished it in the two weeks, and then when the two weeks were
over, then I packed up my stuff and I left. Why? Dravo was good to
me. I got my education. They paid me. That was the contract with them.
My contract was to finish that project. And I did. And I wouldn't
do it any other way.
day I had to walk out of there, it was the most horrible feeling.
I felt as though I was in limbo. Like I wasn't anywhere, and I thought
to myself, "I should be enjoying this time off." But I had
out-placement services, and I went to work at that. But I didn't start
at eight o'clock. I started at eight thirty, because I really didn't
want to bump into the people in the elevators. So I went in a little
bit later, and I left like four o'clock because my job was to get
a job. I felt like I was in limbo. Like I didn't have an identity.
I didn't have an identity. I wasn't. I was Dolores Kosko, but yet,
I wasn't Steve's wife, I wasn't Valerie's mother, or Diane's mother,
or Julia Bordas's daughter. I felt in limbo, that I had no identity.
That's the only way that I can describe it. I was collecting unemployment.
Steve was working. And I had severance pay 'till the end of the year.
What drove me [to find another job]? I don't know. [My friend] Joanne
would say to me, "You're crazy. Stay home!" But I don't
know. I still don't know what it was.
I go to do something different?" And I looked at that, but I'm
not good at sales, because I can't sell a product I don't believe
in. I can't lie to anyone. So I knew sales wasn't for me. The position
I really liked the best at Dravo was where I was responsible for office
automation, and then I was responsible for the voice mail and I did
training sessions. And then, I realized then, that I missed my calling.
I should have gone to school to be a teacher. That's my one regret,
that I didn't go to college. But, at the time, I don't think I was
mature enough, or I didn't know what I wanted to do. My parents wanted
to send me to college, but I felt that I didn't want to burden my
parents because my parents really couldn't afford it. So I just went
to Robert Morris School of Business for a six month course, but after
my layoff, that's when I realized that I missed my calling. But I
didn't know that when I was eighteen.*
Recall that Kosko recounted her family and work history to Patricia
Fabiano for her study of a group of women who have met informally every
month for more than four decades. Fabiano is a good interviewer. She
is prepared and has prepared Kosko for the interview by explaining the
purpose of her study. Long acquainted with Kosko and knowledgeable but
not part of her world, she is deeply respectful and appreciative of
the club--she assumes its value and wants to understand how it works
to enhance health. She also wants to situate the story of the club in
broad biographical and social, that is to say, historical, context.
These preconditions to the interview create enormous rapport and set
the stage for creative inquiry. Much of the richness of Kosko's account
comes from her effort to address Fabiano's questions (regrettably not
included in the edited transcript) thoughtfully and honestly.
Fabiano brings to the study also open a way for Kosko to draw upon an
interesting repertoire of both personal and social explanations as she
puts her life into words. Like most people speaking within the individualizing
framework of an interview, Kosko presents herself as the hero of her
own story, a sturdy survivor and ethical person who will finish a job
even when laid off and who cannot lie in a way that she feels would
be necessary for a career in sales. The assumptions of the study work
to create a self-consciously progressive narrative, shaped around the
theme of growing confidence and autonomy. Not incidentally, this theme
resonates with contemporary feminism, which has validated women's aspirations
and married women's right to work. Though Kosko would not likely identify
herself as a feminist, the assumptions and language of feminism are
reflected in her account. And when Kosko's very identity is challenged
by the loss of her job, she explains the limited options and missed
opportunities in her life in terms of both personal limits ("I
wasn't mature enough [to go to college at eighteen]") and the constraints
imposed by her family's class position ("My parents really couldn't
afford it.") Although conducted one-on-one in Kosko's home, this
interview is also quite similar in content, tone, and perspective to
the interviews Fabiano conducted with the other six group members for
her study. In part, this is so because the women's lives have been similar.
But it also suggests that their individual accounts have been influenced
by the conversation they have been having among themselves for more
than forty years about the shape and meaning of their lives. Fabiano's
interviews simply made that understanding more conscious and explicit.
the interview in this way does not reduce it to an exercise in good
feeling or in telling the interviewer what she wants to hear. Nor does
it suggest that it is in any way untruthful or that all interviews are
equal--some are richer, more thoughtful, more insightful that others,
offering up more for historical analysis. Rather, it helps us understand
the deeply situated, contingent, and subjective nature of oral history