"Don't try to be Superwoman," the adviser said, but the question was whether this was good advice. The 62 wives of new members of Congress may need to be Superpersons.
April Evans, for example, new from Macon, Ga., left her rented house on Capitol Hill ($850 a month and no place to park the car) at the crack of dawn to get to a "workshop" on "Political Wives: Realities and Life-Syles" at Mount Vernon College at 9 yesterday morning.
She sailed past the Lincoln Memorial, encountered the whimsical wooden barricades they throw up at random down there, took the only exit she could find and - without going on and on about it - found herself on the road to Dulles Airport.
Her problem, as a congressional wife, is twofold: She needs a map and she needs a place to park her car.
The workshop or seminar on political wives (with a contribution from Elizabeth Arden, Inc., the beauty people) began with a panel headed by Abigail McCarthy, author and former Senate wife. She presented a dismal litany of snide comments that have been made about political wives over the decades and said nonsense, political wives are a great cross section and should not be intimidated by the false picture that such wives are inadequate - such cliches eat away at one's sense of self-worth.
"Look at Eleanor Roosevelt," she said. All that vitriol against her. Yet she did her thing and now has a place in most hearts.
Others, sociologist Jessie Bernard, columnist June Bingham, lawyer Jeanne Simon, psychiatrist Jerry Wiener, ran through some of the possible traumas facing a political wife who is trying to make do on a congressional salary while searching for the identity she left back at Bald Bayou, Ark, and while fending off snipers who consider her "part and parcel of the financial and sexual shenanigans" of this town.
"I'm here to learn what I should have done eight years ago when I came," said Virginia Mann of Greenville, S.C. All this time, she said, she was largely unaware she faced problems and crises and has had a perfectly lovely time, thank you. But it's never too late to learn.
"I could not be more contented or happy," said newcomer Susan Skelton of Lexington, Mo. She thought the value of the workshop was simply the "group support" of being with other political wives, but she had no grave problems to solve.
The second half of the workshop positively sparkled, possibly because nobody spoke like sociologists or addressed general areas of concern. All were wives of congressmen.
Betty Buchanan of Alabama told how she got a job as director of music at the Riverside Baptist Church. Unfortunately they "go mad" rehearsing for their Christmas cantata down there just as Congress is going mad trying to leave for the holidays. Her husband, she said, sings in the choir attends rehearsals, races up to the Capitol to vote, then back to rehearsal. The Buchanans frequently give music programs about town - it involves the family and is great fun.
Charlotte Conable said she sometimes wondered what would happen if all congressional wives suddenly disappeared - would annbody notice?
"I developed nerves of steel driving four kids, a cat, 25 plants and a rat named Forrest, back and forth to New york state," she said, when it suddenly occurred to her, "was I worth saving?"
She decided yes, she was, but she noticed few people wanted to hire chauffeurs with nerves of steel, so she went to graduate school, "convinced I should fail" and before long developed confidence and now she has written a book and gotten elected to the Board of Trustees of Cornell University.
It hasn't all been easy:
"It is conducive to hamburgers for dinner and dusty houses," she said, but it's better than "walking four steps behind you husband carrying his train."
Betsey Coughlin of Pennsylvania, administrator at National Cathedral School, said she works not to find identity but to make ends meet and pay children's school bills. Sometimes she said, people think political wives are being competitive when all they're doing is "trying to stay afloat," since it can be hard to "break out of the mold" of a congressman's high-identity ego.
Once she got into real estate work which was an "absolute nightmare." It occurred to her maybe she could do something she liked better. So she did. Problem solved.
"Don't try to be Superwoman," warned Arvonne Fraser, shortly before racing off to her next task. And get some household help. "Household help is a lot cheaper than a psychiatrist," she said. Many wrote that down.
Mary Johnston, who identified herself bold as brass as a wife - "wife of Sen. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana" - said she discovered "the public doesn't espect anything," of a politician's wife, and therefore "the life I led is of my own choosing."
True, she has often entertained constitutents, because she wished to."So many cups of bean soup, I may turn into one," she added, but said she found nobody cared if she didn't join a lot of women's groups. A wife should devise her own schedule, she said, "and keep it flexible."
As it all added up - the possible identity crises, the anxieties, the divided energy of the husband, the likely trauma to the children - it pretty much came down to this:
Wives who want to have happy lives have happy lives, wives who wnat to do something, do it. The happy ones, the implicit evidence went on, are the ones who figure out their lives are their own business, and who make them what they want them to be, wasting little time on awful men who frustrate, their hopes and other imaginary monsters.