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These Philadelphians are making history

Share their stories for archive

Margaret Stineman (left photo with arm around mom, Peggy) told about her struggle to become a doctor; Nancy Ezold (right photo with son, Chris) told about being the first woman to bring a case against a law firm for alleged sexual discrimination in the denial of partnership.
Margaret Stineman (left photo with arm around mom, Peggy) told about her struggle to become a doctor; Nancy Ezold (right photo with son, Chris) told about being the first woman to bring a case against a law firm for alleged sexual discrimination in the denial of partnership.Read more

PEGGY Stineman still feels how hard it was to watch her daughter Margaret struggle through medical school.

Margaret was born with severe scoliosis, other skeletal abnormalities and without the extraocular muscles needed to control her eyes.

When Margaret finally earned a medical degree at age 30 from Hahnemann University Hospital, it was a personal triumph for both mother and daughter - one she's now sharing with the world through an innovative oral history program.

"The differences and challenges I've had, along with the love and belief from you," Margaret said to her mother, "that is what made it possible for me to do this, and I thank you."

"I thank you," said Peggy.

"You've made my life completely interesting."

"Margaret went through all of this trial, yet she was still the same person," added Peggy, 83. "She still doesn't walk straight or sit straight and for some reason, I thought you graduating would straighten everything out."

"I know," Margaret, now 55, said, addressing her mother. "I thought being a doctor and having a degree like the rest of the doctors would make me normal like them."

The conversation between Peggy and Margaret - a natural exchange between mother and daughter - is just one of many captured forever by StoryCorps.

Since 2003, the StoryCorps project has been recording the stories of ordinary Americans for history. StoryCorps' mobile studio - a retrofitted Airstream trailer - was stationed outside of WHYY, 150 N. 6th Street, in Center City, from Nov. 8 to 28. Starting in January, some of the stories recorded in Philadelphia will be broadcast on National Public Radio and on WHYY's 91-FM.

The StoryCorps trailer will be in Boston this month, but a permanent booth is set up in New York City's Grand Central Station. StoryCorps also offers take-home kits.

All of the interviews are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps is the first digital archive to be held there.

Special collections - one of stories from the 9/11 attacks and one of African-American stories - are also being held at the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Many local participants heard about StoryCorps through NPR, as did Margaret while she tossed and turned in bed one evening.

"I wanted to tell my story because I was born disabled," said Margaret. "And because of my mother's love and dedication, I was able to overcome it."

On the day of graduation, Stineman received not only her doctorate but also the Elizabeth Blackwell award for most outstanding woman. Working in a wheelchair, she is a full professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

After being interviewed in the soundproof trailer, Peggy and Margaret playfully posed for pictures.

"I love the way this booth is designed," Margaret said. "It is very much like a blank canvas, allowing people to deal with whatever content they would like to express without imposing on what they say."

Inside the trailer, the decor is calm and soothing. Separated by two doors for privacy, the recording booth is a comfortable haven.

Trained facilitators monitor each interview and offer glasses of water, boxes of tissues or blankets.

StoryCorps brings modern recording technology to the ancient practice of storytelling. As far back as history goes, stories have been told and passed from one generation to another by word of mouth. "Oral history is about American history, society and everyday life," said Temple University Professor William Cutler.

But it took a while for academics and historians to catch on to the power of individual stories. Before the 1960s, "professors and historians typically interviewed famous people," Cutler said. "The assumption in the 1940s and 1950s was that they were the most important part of our history. It wasn't until the '60s that they figured out that we need to save the memories of everyday people too."

Typically at StoryCorps, interviews are conducted by loved ones or close friends.

"The nature of the relationship between the interviewer and interviewee is very important," said Cutler. "It can shape the way the story is told."

Chris Ezold, 37, brought his mother, Nancy, 65, to StoryCorps to tell her story. She was the first woman to bring a case against a law firm for alleged sexual discrimination in the denial of partnership.

"I can remember when they asked me to fill out what I wanted to be in the yearbook," Nancy Ezold said. "I wrote that I wanted to be the first woman president and my teacher told me to cross it out because it was unrealistic, so I did."

In 1983, Ezold began to work as a litigation lawyer for Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen. After six years, she applied for partner.

"There were 104 applicants," she said. "Four of them were women."

An associate committee made recommendations for the partnership, and after deliberation they made her an offer.

"I was offered a position," Ezold said. "But only if I waited a year and then they would let me take over the domestic relations department."

According to Ezold, that was sexual discrimination. "Men who were equal or less qualified got offered positions, but I had to wait a year?" she said.

Ultimately, she lost the case, but she has no regrets.

"I turned lemons into lemonade," she said. "People were calling me after the trial to represent them, so I started my own law firm."

Today Nancy and Chris practice law at her Bala Cynwyd-based law firm.

StoryCorps has allowed Americans to achieve a still life of their history through oral recording.

"I am fascinated by the way StoryCorps can capture a moment in history," said Mike Dougherty, facilitator for Margaret and Peggy Stineman. "I get to prepare material for future generations. It's amazing." *