Friday, Nov. 12, was a typical day in the life of Erleen Frances Snead, a northweast Washington housewife. Her nerves were frazzled by the screams of her three small children.The cooking and cleaning had been dull and routine. Her husband, a cab driver, said he was too tired that night to listen to her complaints.
But Mrs. Snead, 20, whose frustrations have been mounting since her marriage three years ago, decided she had had enough. While her family was asleep, she slipped out of the house, bought a Trailways bus ticket and did what she had only fantasized many times before - she ran away from home.
A week later, Mrs. Snead, by then the object of a nationwide police search, turned up 200 miles south of Washington in Newport News, Va. She had moved in with a sister-in-law and taken a job picking crabmeat out of the shell for 90 cents a pound.
An increasing number of housewives, frustrated with the daily drudgery of housekeeping and anxious to contribute to the family budget, are looking for ways to break out of the traditional roles of wife, mother and homemaker.
Although many women have fantasies about running away from the cares of housekeeping, few take the dramatic escape route followed by Erleen Snead.
"I think a lot more of us would like to pack up and run away from it all," said Jinx Melia, director of the Martha Movement in Arlington, a nonprofit organization created to deal with the problems of the dissatisfied housewife.
"But since phsically running away is not socially acceptable, most housewives seek other alternatives. We go back to school. We find jobs and pursue new careers," Melia said.
"Housewives have discovered that there is no status in what they do in the home," added Melia, who is writing a book about the plight of distraught homemakers. "People tend to think that a housewife is dull and uninterestiing and that she is incapable of being anything but a housewife," she said.
"I know 30 women who have gone back to school. They plan to leave their husbands as soon as they can get a job and earn a living for themselves," Melia said.
A week after Erleen Snead disappeared, she telephoned her husband from Newport News and asked him to come and get her.
"I thought I had been away long enough," she told a visitor last week. "All I wanted was for my husband to get a taste of what it's like to be in the house all day with the kids. I wanted to show him that I could get a job and contribute to the family budget."
The Sneads, who live in the 2800 block of 14th Street NW, were among the first families to move into a newly constructed, low-rent apartment complex here Oct. 1. Their three-bedroom apartment is sparsely decorated with furniture moved from their previous one-bedroom apartment.
With the money she earned picking crabmeat, Mrs. Snead bought items for the home, including two large pillows for the living room, which does not have a cough, and a large potted plant that stands by the front door. she wants to do more. She wants to take a regular, full-time job and work out an arrangement with her husband in which he would keep the children at night while she works and she would keep the children while he works during the day.
Kenneth Snead, 25 said he is not opposed to his wife working. But Snead said he is not sure that after his customary 10-to 12-hour work day, he would be able to care properly for the children - Hammad Wafeen, 1, Precious Asia, 2, and Alicia Malika, 3.
"After driving a cab all day. I come nervous and tense. I need to relax. I'm in no condition to deal with the kids," said Snead, who said he earns about $10,000 a year driving his cab.
Mrs. Snead said she also is nervous and tense by the time her husband comes home. "Sometimes as soon as my husband walks through the door. I tell him to come on, let's go out to a drive-in or someplace where I can have a change of scenery," she said.
She wants the new scenery to be that of a job. But her job applications are being turned down because she has virtually no job experience and did not attend school after graduating from Banneker Junior High School here.
Mrs. Snead said the jobs she could obtain with only a junior high school education usually did not pay enough to cover the cost of placing her children in a day care center.
To remedy the education problem, she enrolled last March in a course to study for a high school equivalency certificate.For three months, she went to school at night while her husband kept the children.
By June, she had to abandon the course. "My husband was always complaining about taking care of the kids after working 12 hours a day," she said. She plans to try the course again next year.
The Sneads met four years ago at 13th and G Streets NW. He said he earned a living then selling fake jewelry. She said she earned a living shoplifting.
"I was walking down the street with another girl, and he tried to sell me a fake watch," recalled Mrs. Snead, who said she was 16 at the time. "I thought it was for real and I would have bought it, but I had spent all my money."
Shortly after their first meeting, the Sneads formed a shoplifting "team" and achieved professional status in the criminal community.
"We would go into a store with a large empty box with the lid taped on it," Snead said. "Once incise, we would remove the tape and put 25 or 30 pairs of slacks or dresses in the box and leave the store.
"We only worked the best downtown department stores, and we were never caught by the police," he said.
In December, 1973. Snead said he encountered the teachings of Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad. "He helped us to understand that what we were doing was not right, that the street life is no good and that we should work for everything we get," Snead said.
With their nefarious dealings behind them, the Sneads were married Nov. 23, 1974. He was 22, and she was 17.
"When we first got married, we went through a period where he wanted me to be just like him and I wanted him to be like I was," Mrs. Snead said."Then we realized that we are two individuals. We are different, and we have to find our own identities."
Last week, the Sneads made a pact. He will keep the children at night, if she can find a job. Mrs Snead has applied for jobs in the dietary and housekeeping departments of a local hospital, as a restaurant cook and as a teacher's aide in the city's public school system.