Not a trailblazer, she says, but a breadwinner

by Sara Woelfel

Nearly 70 years later, Lou Anne (Tannel) Shogren, ’50, vividly recalls the conversation that prompted her life-changing decision not to enroll in medical school.

"I don’t want a wife who’s a doctor, and I plan on marrying you," she remembers her boyfriend telling her in 1948 when she received her acceptance letter.

She shares this account without bitterness, but with a hint of resignation. To this day, she expresses regret at allowing her boyfriend, who later did indeed become her husband and a doctor, steer her away from her own dream of becoming a physician.

"Seeing how independent women can be in this day and age, if I had grown up in today’s world, I would have left my home a long time before I did, not gotten married, and probably would have been a doctor," said Shogren, noting her mother seemed to resent the educational opportunities Shogren had and tried to discourage her from attending college. But her father granted his permission for her to enroll.

Shogren left medical school behind and registered at then-named Cardinal Stritch College to pursue a career in medical technology. She graduated in 1950, passed a national exam and spent a year in training. Shogren then received a job offer but felt insulted by the salary. She angrily refused it, and instead shared her frustration with a former professor.

"I said, ‘I will not sit down and cool off. I came to tell you that I have all the requirements to be a medical technologist, and I decided I will not work for a pay so low after all my education and good grades. I will work in a restaurant as a waitress before I give your field my learning.’"

A couple days after this encounter, the professor called with an offer for double the pay to set up and run a lab at a small hospital on the outskirts of Milwaukee. Satisfied, she accepted it.

Shogren left the job a few years later to marry her boyfriend, and they started a family – six children in eight years. The demands of family put a strain on the marriage, and Shogren divorced her husband. Left to support herself and her children, she decided to pursue her master’s degree in psychiatric social work in hopes not only of finding a job but also of analyzing her own life, relationships, and situation. The logistics of heading a household and getting her degree proved difficult, but not impossible.

"I sometimes came home from the library at midnight after my six kids were sleeping because the books I needed for my homework couldn’t be checked out."

Upon earning her master’s degree, Shogren accepted an offer from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee to create a social work department. She considered the job temporary at first, but ended up heading and expanding the department for about 20 years. She retired to Florida with her second husband, whom she met through her work at the hospital.

"There is a beautiful ending," said 85-year-old Shogren, who later moved to Tucson, Arizona, for 20 years where her second husband died, and now resides in a retirement community in Virginia.

Shogren dismisses the notion that what she did in her life amounts to anything groundbreaking or worthy of notice. Yet people often express amazement that she raised her children virtually alone by empowering herself instead of buckling when pressed.

"I guess I didn’t dwell on the fact that I was a woman. I dwelled on the fact of responsibility. All I knew is that I was determined to get all six of my children a college education."

One of Shogren’s favorite topics is her children, all adults and living from coast to coast. Their educational and life successes are something she takes personally.

"They are super duper in all they have done. My six children are here, there and everywhere because I did not stop them."

Advice to today's women

"You have a mind. Make it strong. Protect it. Make your own decisions. Analyze. You are as good as anybody else. A woman should know she can do whatever she wants and be as good as she can be in whatever she chooses. I didn’t know that."

"I had to go through life making do with what had happened relative to being told that my role in life was to be a wife, have kids and take care of the house. That’s out of the question now. A woman should know she can do whatever she wants."