(WJBF) – This year’s college grads are embarking on their careers. And thanks to an act of courage decades ago, young women are finding a more level playing field.
Lorena Weeks said, “My parents moved to Georgia when I was about a month old, moved to Augusta, and we lived there until I was nine years old.”
Lorena Weeks moved to Jefferson County in 1937, to a large farm owned by her husband’s grandfather.
A short time later, tragedy struck this young family.
Lorena Weeks said, “We moved to Louisville and about two and half months after we moved there Daddy was killed in a saw mill boiler explosion”
Lorena’s mother was left with no job and four young children to support.
Lorena Weeks said, ” The baby was 10 months old the day daddy was buried.”
Following her husband’s death, Lorena’s mom, had no choice but to go to work and to provide for her family.
Lorena Weeks said, “I saw my mother so young working so hard and holding down two jobs.”
In 1937, the average working woman made 525 dollars a year. Men, more than twice that.
Lorena Weeks said, “I used to cry at night because she’d be so tired. She work so hard all day trying to keep clothes for us and enough for us to eat”
Nine years later, another tragedy. Lorena’s mom, dies at the age of 38.
Lorena is now the bread winner for her younger siblings.
After high school, she went to work for Southern Bell as a switchboard operator.
She worked nights inside this small brick building in Wadley Georgia.
Lorena Weeks said, “Finally the children grew up”
And things began looking up.
Lorena Weeks said, “His name was Billy”.
Billy Weeks, was the love of Lorena’s life.
They married, and had a family.
Billy worked for the Post Office and Lorena remained at Southern Bell.
But tough times would strike again.
Billy was injured in an accident.
Money was tight.
With two kids in college and one in high school, Lorena Weeks put in a bid for a better job.
Lorena Weeks said, “My bid was returned stating that it was not a job that was given to women”.
The job: Switchman.
Lorena was qualified, and had seniority but a Georgia law was standing in her way.
It prohibited women and minors from working at a job that required they lift more than 30 pounds.
Lorena Weeks decided to fight back.
Inspired by President Johnson who signed into law the Civil Rights bill in 1964, Lorena mustered up the courage to sue Southern Bell.
She went to court and lost.
Then one day, the phone rang.
Lorena Weeks said, “I had a call one day from Washington D.C. from Margurite Rawald. She worked at the Pentagon.
She was with the National Organization for Women and wanted to know if I needed some help.”
Lorena was given the name of Louisiana attorney Sylvia Roberts.
For the next five years, the two woman fought the phone company in court.
“Some days I’d be so down and I’d call Sylvia and she’d say well Lorena this goes on in most litigagation cases and you just have to have strength enough to put up with it.”
Beth Weeks, Lorena’s sister in law, saw the toll it was taking on her lifelong friend.
Beth Weeks said, “It was very trying. She cried alot.”
But Lorena wouldn’t give up.
She had faced adversity before.
“This was a rule that was wrong and it needed to be corrected.
God had prepared me for what I was doing. I felt like that I truly felt like that.”
Finally, in 1969, the fifth circuit court of appeals ruled in Lorena’s favor.
The job was hers.
The court victory paved the way for millions of women to pursue their career goals.
Patricia Edwards is the president of the Jefferson County Historial Society.
Patricia Edwards said, “She was very instrumental in the women’s movement and equal rights. So we are very proud of her”.
A small box at the musuem contains articles and copies of legal documents relating to this historic case.
But like it’s unassuming donor, the ordinary box doesn’t do it’s contents justice.
Lorna Booth said, “I think that she was a normal, average woman who had the courage to stand up for what she thought was right and fight for it.”
In Jefferson County, Mary Morrison WJBF News Channel 6.
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – A Georgia woman stood up for gender equality more than 50 years ago.
Today young women continue to reap the benefits.
I’ll introduce you to Lorena Weeks in a special report entitled “Act of Courage”. Here’s a preview.