(Note from MV: I wrote on Feb. 14 about the anniversary of the 1961 plane crash that killed the U.S. figure skating team on its way to the World Championships in Prague, and how that event had prompted some essays I’d written over the last decade. Here is another. The documentary “Rise” is replaying in theaters on March 7, and there also will be a subsequent DVD release.)
Whenever I get frustrated about sexism and “glass” ceilings these days in the United States, I always try to take a breath and think about how things were just 50 years ago.
That is the period chronicled in the documentary “Rise,” which looks at the lives of those who died in a 1961 plane crash that killed the entire United States Figure Skating team’s travelling party on its way to the World Championships in Prague.
The woman who was considered a matriarch of the sport at that time, Maribel Vinson Owen, perished in the accident along with her two national-champion daughters. The film does a very good job portraying that family’s dynamics, and the struggles that Vinson Owen had as a working woman with great ambition and drive at a time when those qualities were discouraged in females.
She was born in 1911, so she was a young adult in the 1930s, when the Great Depression still hovered over the nation, and into 1940s, when World War II’s demand for soldiers meant American women moved in unprecedented numbers into jobs that previously were almost always the domain of men.
By the 1950s, Vinson Owen’s against-the-grain personality was firmly established, and she had two children to support after her ex-husband’s death. The 1950s backlash against the gains women had made in all endeavors had somewhat less of an effect on Vinson Owen, I would theorize, because she was already who she was.
But what about women who were a generation younger than her and came of age in the 1950s and early ‘60s?