They were talking about Mrs. Adams in the Senate recently. They were talking about her and Mrs. Hill in the hearing room of the subcommittee on employment, poverty and migratory labor.
Now Mrs. Hill and Mrs. Adams were never the sort of women to be talked about in public. Years ago they made their decisions to have private careers. They had children and raised them; they made homes and acquired all the skills of that job.
If all had gone according to plan, according to their expectations, we might never have heard about them at all.
But, a few years ago, as Sen. Birch Bayh explained to the subcommittee, both of these middle-aged women lost their only "employer." Mrs. Hill's husband died, and at 53, she was without work experience or income. She had a mortgage to pay and seven years to survive until she was eligible for Social Security. Mrs. Adams was divorced by her husband after 19 years of marriage. She was among the minority - some 14 per cnet - who are awarded any alimony at all. But like half of those women, she was never able to collect it on regular basis.
In short, these two middle-class, middle-aged women with grown children became part of that vast subgroup that Susan Catania, a state legislator from Illinois, described as the "new poor." They were now in the category know in the Senate bill as "Displaced Homemakers."
Displaced, replaced or misplaced, there are somewhere between two million and seven million American women who were forced emigrants out of a lifestyle that was destroyed by death or divorce.
Women like Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Hill were perhaps the last generation to go into homemaking as a lifelong career. When they were married 20 and 30 years ago, they believed that they had wed security.
Independence wasn't something they chose. It's something that happened to them and they called it insecurity. It came into their lives with empty nests and empty pocketbooks; it left them uncovered by social policies and triply discriminated against in the work field: by age, sex and inexperience.
It left them in need of some help. Of course, the expression "Displaced Homemaker" brings forth a vision of armies of middle-aged women camped on the banks of the Potomac behind barbed wire waiting for the soup line to open. But it is also a term of transition, and the bill that is winding its way slowly through Congress is really a Relocation Act.
It offers not a soup kitchen, but supports for a difficult time. The funds would set up what Laurie Sheild, the head of the Alliance of Displaced Homemakers, likes to think of as "experimental laboratories" - one for each state - where women could be aided through the transition, where they could find legal, emotional and job counseling. They would be "recycle stations" to outfit the homemakers' skills to fit the work force and find new jobs to fill both the public needs and theirs.
Basically it would support middle-aged women through the time zone from desertion to self-sufficiency. And from the expectations of one decade to the realities of another.
In some crucial ways, the Displaced Homemakers bill is a stopgap measure: stopping the gap between the generations.
Joanne Maxey, a state senator from Nebraska, told the Senate hearing: "We are not going to have the problem 10 or 15 years from now, because today's young women are preparing themselves." She is fundamentally right. The yound homemaker now has had some tough "role models," and most of them plan their "second careers."
But women like Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Hill planned a lifetime of mothering and wifing, caring for others, making a home. They slipped on their commitments and fell into the cracks of society. They were misplaced, replaced, displaced.
And, at the very least they deserve a chance to relocate, with a small buffer zone of caring in return.