Counselor Eileen Elfant (1) and Carroll Creswell, project coordinator, work with the Houston Center for Displaced
Homemakers. The program was funded by a one year grant from the Texas Education Agency.
by Hildegard Warner
June is the month of brides and weddings. In the middle class dream a woman
marries and directs all her energies into
her family. She maintains a well-kept
home and children, and supports and encourages her husband's career. In return
she reaps the rewards of a comfortable
lifestyle and never wants for anything.
But for millions of women each year,
the dream has been shattered, the rules
have been changed. Either through
widowhood or divorce, they are left
holding the bag. Homemaker skills are
not honored in the market place. The
responsibility of finding a job and caring
for children and household alone is a
tremendous new burden. Women in this
situation are displaced homemakers.
In recent years their numbers have
increased and their problems become
more acute. No-fault divorce has provided
an easy way out of marriages, some of
long standing, for both men and women.
Changes in communities and lifestyles
have left women alone without extended
families or community roots which have
in the past protected them. Indeed, the
women's movement has called for women
to become independent and no longer
cling to their families for physical support or protection. Society has changed
The experiences and problems displaced homemakers have faced have been
brought to the attention of society and
its lawmakers by women's groups including the Alliance for Displaced Home-
makers. Due to their efforts, the Texas
legislature has funded two displaced
homemaker centers, in Arlington and
Victoria, for a third year of operation.
A third center in Houston was financed
in 1978 by a one-year, $49,943 grant
from the Texas Education Agency (TEA)
to the Institute of Labor and Industrial
Relations at the University of Houston
These centers are designed to help
displaced homemakers (women ages
35-64, married 15 years or longer) prepare themselves for the job market.
They offer personal counseling and hold
workshops. They give employment assistance by helping women assess their
strengths, prepare a resume, learn interview skills, and they also provide job
placement assistance. All of these services
publicity and the news media aren't broad
enough to bring enough people in,"
Elf ant said. "A lot of women who really
need our help don't know about the
Although the center's guidelines allow
up to 20 women in a workshop, usually
only half that number participate. Elf ant
says more television exposure would be
very helpful. "After Phil Donahue had a
discussion of displaced homemakers on
his program several months ago, we got
a number of calls," she said.
During its first year the center has also
established a number of community linkages to bring eligible women into the
program. Women are referred to the
"At first calls came in for jobs wanting slave
labor. They thought that was all these women could do. Now we are getting a higher
quality of job orders from companies who
value the mature women."
The Houston center opened in July,
1978, and its two counselors have conducted 10 four-week workshops on the
campus, plus several miniworkshops at
other locations in the Houston area.
The first year has been mainly one of
building the program, letting the community know the center was open to
them, and getting other agencies and
support services to participate in the
workshops and offer jobs to the women,
according to Eileen Elfant, one of the
"We need an enormous amount of
center through WIRES (Women's Information Referral and Exchange Service),
Women for Justice, Harris County Social
Service and the social work staff at Ben
"All the women's groups know about
us," Elfant said, "but these are not the
women who need our help. The people
we see have been primarily in the home
and have not even joined women's
Even though the women may hear
about the program, many do not respond
immediately. "When we ask the women
how they found out about the center,
many say they have had an article lying
around the house for two months,"
Elfant said. "It takes them a long time
to activate themselves to call and ask.
So, how many women are still sitting
at home looking at an article?
"They tend to ignore it until they
have to admit to the change and accept
the title of displaced homemaker,"
she said. "They feel antagonistic and fight
with the title.
"Calling the center and deciding to
participate in the program is making a
commitment. These women have led
lives which were void of time commitments outside of their personal sphere.
In the past, it was easy for them to
break appointments with others and with
themselves for immediate gratification
without thinking it through, because they
didn't have goals."
"We work a lot on long and short
term goals in the program and emphasize to these women that they have a
choice of what they want to do," Carroll
S. Creswell, project coordinator, added.
"Some of them have never had to make
Although most displaced home-
makers' programs are written for women
who have no means of support, who "fall
between the cracks" in the welfare or
social security system, Elfant said most
of the women who come into the
center have some kind of income, social
security or alimony. "We know there is
a big group who don't have any income,"
Elfant said, "but they are not coming
The four-week workshops are designed
to give them skills and information to
help them make proper choices and set
goals. "The two biggest problems these