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Wonder Women

The Lawrenceville Peephole Incident
Spied on in their work toilet, Etta and Ruth took their outrage to court


         Runoff of a record 42-inch snowfall and the rains of March have swelled the Embarras River until there are no visible bottom lands in Lawrence County this spring. Life has been as full of trouble for Russellville (population 150) sisters Etta Briggs and Ruth Harrington as the rushing Embarras since they learned how men workers had opened a gaping peephole above the women’s toilets in the Lawrenceville computer parts factor where they worked as inspectors.

         “I was proud of my job,” says 41-year-old Ruth Harrington. “I never thought they’d do us like this. I just don’t know.”

—April 7, 1978 for Illinois Times

She Killed in Self-Defense—
 Against all Odds, Sandra Brewer was acquitted


         Sandra Brewer is free. The Beardstown woman of Native American descent, who had been the victim of beatings by her husband, was acquitted of murder charges by a Cass Country jury last week. After three days of testimony, the seven-man, five-woman panel said Sandra Brewer committed no crime in the early hours of March 6, 1978, in shooting her husband, Michael Brewer, to death with a shotgun.

         In the words of defense attorney Milton McClure, the “verdict is a new springtime for Sandra Brewer.” The quiet trial in Virginia, Illinois, also adds a new chapter to a subject making the news these days: killing in self-defense.

—May 26, 1978  for Illinois Times

Photos by Sue Eslinger

The Christmas Skyjacking
 After her mother died trying, 17-year-old Robin Oswald took her turn at breaking the man they loved out of prison


         On December 21, the eyes of the county were cast on this deep southern Illinois community when 17-year-old Robin Oswald hijacked a TWA jetliner and demanded release of a convicted skyjacker from the federal maximum-security prison in Marion, Illinois.

         The prisoner, Garrett Brock Trapnell, is the same man Robin Oswald’s mother was trying to free last May when she was shot to death over the prison by the pilot of a helicopter she had hijacked in St. Louis.




Trans World Airlines Flight 541, carrying 87 people from Louisville and St. Louis to Kansas City, has just been hijacked. But’s it’s not the typical terrorist or desperado at work …

—January 5, 1979 for Illinois Times

A Woman's Right to Choose
Cat Feral made childbirth her battle


On a sunny midwinter morning, three couples, three women, three children

and an enormous German shepherd gathered in the rathskeller of a suburban Springfield home to learn from Cathryn Feral how to have a baby. The routine of weekend family life echoed from the upstairs kitchen. The basement’s darkness dramatized a fact or a fear: In Illinois in 1979, parents who want their babies born at home go underground.

         Last summer, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Judicial Circuit in Chicago ruled that the constitutional right to privacy does not guarantee parents “by whom or by what method” their children will be born.

         Attorney General William Scott has subpoenaed childbirth educator Feral and her California parent organization, the Association for Childbirth at Home …

—Jan 26, 1979: The Movement for Childbirth at Home for Illinois Times

         In the country sitting room that opens into a farm kitchen, the trappings of everyday life have been pushed against the walls. Here this day a baby will be born.

         Cat Feral is taking into her own hands the birth of her third child.

         If to have a baby at home these days is a choice of conviction it is also, intended or not, an act of defiance.

         But Feral, in labor this sunny March afternoon, is submissive, not defiant. Her body is shaken with the awesome power of contractions. She has taught her birthing team the course of labor and birth, taught them what to expect and how to respond. But she is a woman in labor now, not a teacher …

—March 21, 1980: Priestess of Home Birth: How Her Baby Is Born

for Illinois Times

Photos by Sue Eslinger

Vera's Last Act
She reigned as queen of all she surveyed

         If Vera Freeman had been in the movies, she couldn’t have acted her way to a better-scripted ending.
        But that was the dream the aspiring girl from Montana deferred when Dr. Freeman, optometrist to the stars, proposed to her.
        “It can be like this every day,” he said. “We’ll have a wonderful time.”
        I really didn’t do any modeling or dancing. I got a job at the telephone company.
        ‘I can’t leave my job,’ I told Dr. Freeman.
        ‘All right,’ he said. ‘I’ll take you to work every day.’ The first day he said, ‘I feel like I’m going on a fishing trip, getting up so early.’
        I went into the office and looked around and asked myself, what am I doing here?
        —Bay Weekly interview: July, 1996
        “And we did have a wonderful time,” she says six or seven decades down the road.

Time’s Winged Chariot

         On this June afternoon in 2006, as the sun gilds Leonard’s Creek with a glory that pinches your heart, Vera is watching the end of the dream she lived instead of the one she left in Hollywood those many years ago.

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