Gladys McCord – Breaking the Glass Ceiling in the 1920s


Suffragettes marching for voting rights

In just 9 days, the US will be electing a new president.  And according to current polling, it appears that we may be electing our first woman president.  Due to the history of this moment (and many comments made in the media during the campaign), photos of women, such as Susan B. Anthony and other suffragettes are often posted in social media, reminding us of the fight and sacrifice it took for women to actually have a say in our own political process.  Yet, we often overlook our own families — women who at the turn of the 20th century contributed to the historic battle for women’s rights.

So I want to take a moment at look at my own suffragette  of sorts– although she might not have called herself that.  But she was, in all senses of the word, a very modern woman for her time.  My grandmother, Gladys McCord.



Gladys on the right, with older brother Clarence

Gladys Elberta McCord was born in Paradise Township, Iowa in 1895, the second child of a middle class farmer and his wife — Elbert Nessle McCord and Ida Bixler.  At a time when many women did not attend college, much less graduate high school, Gladys not only graduated high school, but graduated with a bachelor of science degree in education from the State Agricultural College of Iowa (or now known as Iowa State University) in Ames, Iowa.  But like many women, she worked her way through college.  Teachers in rural areas of the United States typically had just a high school diploma.  So, after she graduated high school, Gladys spent a couple of years teaching in local schools near her farming community before enrolling in college.


Gladys in about 1925.

While a student at Iowa State in 1919, she contracted typhoid fever and was out of school for more than a year.  By the year 1920, she graduated when she was 25 years old, just months ahead of when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, allowing women the right to vote.  In fact, when she graduated, she was the first person in her family to have attended and graduated from college — her younger sister, Ione, would soon follow her.

But like a lot of women, Gladys was not just defined by the fact that she was the first woman to graduate from college in her family.  She became a teacher, a working woman.  For the first several years after graduating from college, she taught at Central High School in Sioux City, Iowa.  As a Home Economics teacher, Gladys taught the essentials of sewing, cooking, and life skills.


1920 Parson School of Design classroom – courtesy of the New School, New York.

However, in 1927 she applied for and was accepted into the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York City (famous alumni include Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, among others).  She intended to complete a Masters degree in Interior Design.  Coming from rural Iowa, a placement at the Parsons School of Design was something only few could ever dream about, much less accomplish. So the rural girl of Iowa moved to the fast paced city of New York to pursue even more education. Understand that by continuing her education, Gladys put marriage on the back burner and did what many might consider to be scandalous at that time.  No husband, no children, more education??

But her dreams of furthering her education were soon dashed — in October of 1927, her mother was killed in a freak race car accident.  Gladys would soon come home to care for her father.

In the coming years, my grandmother would continue to teach Home Economics, meet my grandfather, and move to Wisconsin.   She took time out to have two girls — once they were old enough to attend school, and after the family moved to Chicago, she returned to the classroom, teaching well into her 50s.

Women of her generation made huge strides and enormous sacrifices that we can only barely understand. At that time, according to society, women were  not meant to be educated, nor were they meant to work outside the home.  Women took enormous risks to educate themselves beyond what was considered to be appropriate.  While my grandmother didn’t (as far as I know) protest for voting rights or get sent to jail, she in her own way quietly turned her back on society’s expectations and blazed a trail for those coming behind her.


Gladys McCord Montgomery, my grandmother, on her 90th birthday.

So, as we look to November 8th, and the possibility of electing our first woman president, remember all the women who came before.  The women who worked to educate themselves, the women who turned their backs on society’s demands and pursued their own dreams.  That is what breaking the glass ceiling is all about.  And I am proud that my grandmother was among many of those who sought a different path for those of us women today.




Native American Genes – where are mine?

Like many genealogists these days, I belong to a ton of different groups: Facebook, Twitter, you name it.  One of the recurring posts in many of the forums seems to be something along the lines of:  “My great-grandmother said her mother was 1/4 Cherokee and I have no Native American DNA in my ethnicity estimate. So therefore, the DNA tests must not be accurate.”



My son’s Native American ethnicity estimate — he’s from the Quech’i tribe in Guatemala.

Most people aren’t going to like what I have to say.  But I’m gonna say it anyway.

1.  Ethnicity estimates are just that — AN ESTIMATE.  Frankly, all of the major DNA testing companies have focused on their biggest consumers — descendants of Europeans.  So lots and LOTS of Europeans and Americans and Canadians have been tested.

That means if you want to know if your family might have, say Cherokee DNA, then you’re probably going to have to wait until a lot of Cherokee get tested — and that means that the major companies are going to have to go to each major Native American tribe and test them.  Are they going to do that?  The question should be an economic one — are lots of Native Americans taking DNA tests for genealogical purposes?  Nope.  The companies are going to go where the money is — and unfortunately that is, and probably will remain to a large part, in Europe.

This impacts not only those with Native American DNA, but also those with African American, East Asian, and Middle Eastern DNA.  Actually getting the exact tribe, the actual percentage of Native American DNA is going to be a long time in the waiting.

2.  Ethnicity estimates only tell you generalities.  So if you do have Native American DNA (like my son — see his ethnicity estimate above), yay!  But the ethnicity estimates are far from telling you what tribe you might belong to.


Linguistic map (major tribal names) of Nigeria

Think of this — after European Americans, the people who do the most DNA testing are African Americans.  My father, for example, has about 2% Nigerian DNA.  Cool, right?  Well, there are more than 300 different tribes in Nigeria alone.  Not to mention that many people in West Africa marry across tribes and countries.  So saying you have DNA from Nigeria is kind of like saying you have DNA from somewhere in Africa.  And saying you have Native American DNA is like saying you have an ancestor who was born somewhere in the Americas.  Aside from a general region on a map, there is nothing more that DNA ethnicity estimates can tell you.

3.  We inherit all the genes up and through our great-grandparents.   So we might and we might not inherit genes from our 2nd great grandparents, and so on.  Think of it this way — we are assured that we will definitely get the genes from our great-grandparents and our grandparents, and our parents.  However, getting the genes from our 2nd great grandparent and further back is kind of like shooting a shotgun — the pellets go in every different direction — you might get some, you might not.

So if your 2nd or 3rd great grandparent had Native American ancestry, you might not see it in your DNA.  That’s why testing many people from your family is definitely worth it.  For example, I have tested 10 people from my family.  We have the following interesting and unique ethnicities we never knew about:  Bantu, Nigerian, Mali, Native American, North African, Polynesian.  But I only have the Bantu — I would never have known about the rest of the ethnicities if I had not tested more people from my family.

Blaine Bettinger, from the Genetic Genealogist, best explains it like this:

“In reality, everyone has two family trees.  The first is a Genealogical Tree, which is every ancestor in history that had a child who had a child who had a child that ultimately led to you.  Every decision made by every person in that tree contributed to who and what you are today.

However, not every person in that tree contributed a segment of your DNA sequence (because of random inheritance, as discussed above).  As a result, we have a second family tree – a Genetic Tree – which is a tree that contains only those ancestors who contributed to our DNA.”

4.  Ethnicity estimates from the major DNA testing companies truly vary quite a bit. Let’s take a look at my DNA from the vantage of a couple of different websites:


My ethnicity estimate from


My ethnicity estimate from

You can see that the European/Mediterranean differ considerably between the two — in I’m 98% European.  While in, I’m only 81% European.

Look at the outcome for my son:


My son’s ethnicity estimate in

His Native American DNA in is 86%, while in it is only 77%.  Interestingly, in Ancestry, he has no African ancestry, but in he does.  So relying on only one company might not give you the whole picture.


So if you suspect you have Native American DNA, please test lots of your family.  Make sure that you have multiple interpretations of your DNA from different websites.  And above all, don’t rely solely on family lore.

Mr. Peck, who are you and what have you done with my family?

So I am the world’s most disorganized genealogist.  Just sayin’.  I get started on a line (and I have so many of them) and I keep going on that line until I’m exhausted mentally.  There’s probably a better methodology to it than what I’ve been doing.  But it’s worked for 17 years, so why stop now?

I began to work on my Bane/Bayne/Bain line — seems that those Banes married Reeds, who married a Smith, who married a Peck . . . and you know what they say about Pecks — Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers and all that.

my cartoonish drawing of Peck genealogy

My cartoonish drawing of Peck genealogy

Seriously, the guy was a Puritan!  He arrived in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1638 with his older brother, the Rev. Robert Peck, Jr., who was leaving Norfolk, England because he was being persecuted by the Church of England.

Very cool stuff.  I sooo want to find out more about this family.

The ironic thing is, is my dad is a priest with the Church of England — I guess what comes around goes around.