Day One: The Mine, March 1975
:: Between 50 and 75 percent of employed women will experience sexual harassment on the job. From 1990 to 1995, cases reported to the EEOC increased 153 percent.
:: Female plaintiffs in sexual harassment suits are more likely to lose their jobs than to win monetary awards or settlements.
:: A study of Federal employees reports no decline in the reported rate of sexual harassment; in fact, the rate has increased.
:: Despite a zero-tolerance policy from military leadership, 78 percent of all military women have been sexually harassed.
:: The law does not protect all women. Women working for employers with fewer than 15 employees are not protected by Federal anti-harassment laws.
It snowed all day and night on Sunday and by dawn, three feet of snow covered the Mesabi Iron Range. Lois Jenson warmed her delicate hands on her coffee mug as she looked out the window of her small house in Virginia, Minnesota. She glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall--6:15--drank the last of her coffee, and set the mug in the sink. It was Monday, March 25, 1975, Lois's first day of work at Eveleth Mines. If she didn't want to be late, she had better give herself some extra time. The day shift started at 7 a.m. In this weather, it would not be a twenty-minute trip.
Luckily, her turquoise Ford Maverick rode high over the road, and though she had to inch along on Highway 37, she could clear most of the snow on the two-lane road, which cut a straight line through the austere landscape of aspen, birch, and jack pine. In the distance she could make out the three twenty-story stacks of the mine's Forbes Fairlane Plant, each mounting a tall white column of smoke in the bitter northern Minnesota sky.
At the town of Forbes she turned onto the long drive leading to the plant. Up ahead, a man flagged her down. She saw his pickup buried in a snow drift and when she discovered that he, too, was on his way to the plant, she gave him a ride. His name was Clarence Mattson. He told Lois he was an electrician and that he'd worked at Eveleth for ten years. He seemed like a decent guy, and he mentioned that the men were bellyaching about how, starting today, they had to behave themselves and clean up their language. He showed her where to park in the employee lot and where she should enter the enormous plant. The truth was, she felt relieved to be arriving at this place in the company of a man. The closer she got, the more it looked to her like a steel monster with tentacles jutting out from all sides. But, she thought, as she stepped out of the Maverick and into her new life as an iron miner, "If everyone's this friendly, I'm going to like this job."
As Lois and Mattson walked the fifty yards uphill to the main building, they were quickly joined by dozens of men. Most of them were streaming out of the building, dirty and tired after working the midnight shift; the rest were arriving to punch in for the day, and most of them were staring at her. Lois was twenty-seven years old, with shoulder-length wavy blond hair, blue eyes, and pale, clear skin--a Scandinavian beauty with a slender waist and an elegant long neck. She was used to feeling men's eyes upon her, but these men seemed different--almost as if they had never seen a woman before.
Life on the Range
There is a saying about the Mesabi Iron Range: "Where the men are men and half the women are, too." Rangers, as they call themselves, pride themselves on working hard, drinking hard, and surviving hard times at the hands of the mine owners. They were used to fighting--strikes were their way to better wages and work safety. In 1975, the heavily unionized mines provided some of the highest-paying blue-collar jobs in America. Wages at Eveleth started at $5 an hour (the minimum wage was then $1.80 an hour), and included excellent health care and retirement benefits. But because this good life was habitually threatened by layoffs or, worse, by permanent cut-backs, the miners lived with an engrained sense of job insecurity, and were hostile to any force that might displace them.
That year mining put food on the table for 12,300 families on the Range--the ore-rich east-west seam that stretches 110 miles long and 1 to 4 miles wide from Grand Rapids to Babbitt--and provided the foundation for the economy of all of northern Minnesota. The Iron Range amounts to less than 2 percent of the landmass of Minnesota, yet it is the largest iron-ore deposit in the world. For the past century it has produced 30 percent of the world's and two thirds of America's iron ore. Blasted in furnaces into steel, the ore and taconite from the Mesabi's tiny strip of land has provided the raw material that built postindustrial America--its buildings and bridges; its railroads, cars, and military arsenal.
Up until the mid-seventies, the women on the Range who needed or wanted to work were store clerks, teachers, bank tellers, secretaries, and waitresses. Few of these jobs came with health care coverage or above-minimum-wage salaries. But in April of 1974, nine of the country's largest steel companies signed a "consent decree" with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Labor Department. The settlement forced the steel companies to hand over a historic $30 million in back pay to minority and women employees who had been discriminated against in the past. It also required the industry's mills and mines to provide 20 percent of its new jobs to women and racial minorities. Just like that, affirmative action had come to the Iron Range, and it set the stage for Lois Jenson and a handful of women hungry for a decent wage to walk into a place that had been forced by the federal government to hire them.
From the start, Lois was not like the other women at Eveleth Mines, or, for that matter, like most women on the Range. Feminine and ladylike, standing only five-foot-two and weighing a mere 105 pounds, Lois took pride in her appearance. She manicured her nails, wore perfume, and was known for her trademark scarves, artfully tied and color-coordinated with her outfits. The fact that she wore outfits set her apart. "In some ways I'm different from people around here," she said. "I always like to dress up. Even if I went out to Mugga's, our local place to dance, I would wear blue jeans with a dressy sweater and high heels."
She was different in other ways, too. She wrote poetry in notebooks that she carried with her. She exuded a sense of propriety that men, particularly those she turned down when they asked her to dance at Mugga's, took for conceit. She was a unique combination: stubborn but prissy, moral but flirtatious. She had a sense of herself that even her high school classmates at Babbitt High School had perceived. The quote they picked for her yearbook picture in 1966 read, "Don't dare me, I might surprise you."
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