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Nailing Down Good Jobs for Women on Welfare : Employment: An advocacy group run by a Maine state senator helps break down barriers in male-dominated fields such as carpentry.

August 25, 1995|LISA GENASCI | ASSOCIATED PRESS

So a male friend turned in her application. And her name, Dale, was androgynous enough to not arouse suspicion or prejudice. McCormick received the highest grade on a written test, was granted an interview and then was picked for the apprenticeship.

She credits the women's movement with her decision to apply. The movement, she said, "was giving us permission to push the envelope of what we could be."

The apprenticeship lasted four years. McCormick worked only infrequently with other women.

It wasn't easy being alone. Some male construction workers wrote graffiti on bathroom walls about her. Others put nude pinups where she hung her coat and sexual objects in her lunch box.

The situation became particularly tense in her last year, and she filed a sexual harassment complaint with the local Human Rights Commission in Iowa City.

"There was a level of anger directed toward me that I couldn't have survived," McCormick said.

A finding in her favor allowed McCormick to complete the course in relative peace, and she went on to open a construction firm specializing in energy-efficient designs.

In 1977, McCormick wrote "Against the Grain: a Carpentry Manual for Women" and moved to Maine three years later to teach courses on home building. There, she wrote a second book, "House Mending and Home Repair for the Rest of Us."

In 1988, McCormick started Women Unlimited, headquartered in Augusta, and offering 14-week courses in non-traditional subjects such as carpentry, road construction, truck driving, surveying and drafting.

The course includes seminars on self-esteem, the history of women and work, physical conditioning, resume writing and how to deal with sexual harassment.

"Welfare reform should involve moving women from welfare to economic self-sufficiency," McCormick said. "The only way to do that is to train women for well-paying jobs. That means trade and technical jobs, and that's what Women Unlimited does."

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