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Women powered ‘progressive’ Packard

Former workers recall ‘community’ built at city business

WARREN — Panelists and audience members spent time Saturday reminiscing about their time working at Packard Electric, which they said felt more like a community than simply a place to work.

The National Packard Museum hosted a panel discussion on women who worked at Packard Electric, which was founded in 1890. The first woman began working there before the end of the century. Then, throughout the mid-1900s, it was touted as one of Warren’s most dynamic and progressive companies.

The panelists included Judy Watson, Ruth Meeker-Emerson and Arvada Gidycz. Watson worked at Packard from 1971 to 2003, Meeker-Emerson was employed from 1967 to 1998 and Gidycz racked up 25 years from the 1950s through the 1980s, taking breaks in her employment for maternity leave and other life events.

The discussion between panelists, moderated by National Packard Museum Executive Director Mary Ann Porinchak, quickly evolved into a discussion that included the audience, many of whom worked at Packard anywhere from the 1960s to the early 2000s.

Panelists and audience members all said Packard was a great place to work because the workers acted like a community, largely because the company sponsored sports leagues, clubs and social activities for its workers, but also because it was fair.

Watson said her fellow workers were like family. She worked with people from numerous backgrounds and said, for the most part, everyone treated each other with respect.

“As long as you did your job, we didn’t care who you were,” she said.

Promotions and pay at Packard were based on classification. Gidycz said when she started, women were not eligible for all the jobs that men were, but by the time Watson started, she said everything was based on seniority, so men and women who had been there for the same amount of time were considered equal. But even by the time Watson began her work at Packard, the amount of women in leadership was not equal.

Watson said she could count on one hand the number of woman foremen she knew during her time there. However, this may not have been because of discriminatory practices at Packard but because of social pressures women with children felt.

Meeker-Emerson said it was hard for women to be foremen because they were expected to be there for their children in the evenings. Foremen could get called in later, which made the job unappealing for many women who were expected to tend to their home after they were off the clock.

But on the floor, Packard often had more women than men. Women’s smaller hands made it easier for them to do the work required, one of the audience members pointed out. For those women, all three panelists said they just had to make it work with children.

“I never made an excuse not to go to work,” Gidycz said. “It was a great place to work. I don’t remember too many people walking out the door to work somewhere else.”

Packard paid women a higher salary than they would get elsewhere at the time. Because of this and the atmosphere, Watson said when she had children, she did what she could to keep her job. She hired a babysitter to take care of her children and said if she wanted to work, there was no other way.

Some members of the audience remembered kids hanging out in the lobby as they got dropped off between parents who worked at Packard on different shifts, so someone was always with the children.

After the formal discussion concluded, many former employees, most of whom did not know one another previously, hung around and continued to recount fond memories of their days at Packard.