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Times Change
part: 1 2 3

The Sherman was a small mine, and the workers were almost like a family. Sterle learned a lot from the old-timers. "I loved listening to their stories," she says. "They'd been through the depression and had a tremendous work ethic."

A few of them weren't so welcoming. Some told her their sons could be working there if it weren't for her and the handful of other women who'd been hired. She told them, "Times have changed. You have to have some minorities here, and women are the minority. You have to get used to it."

She remembers pictures from dirty magazines taped to the walls in the lunch room. "Playboy, Hustler, you name it," she says. "Then Playgirl came out, and one of the girls brought in a Playgirl magazine. She took a couple of center folds and slapped them up on the wall. This little guy walks by, does a double take. He went ballistic, screaming it was inappropriate and shouldn't be there. We girls went, 'You have your pictures, what's the difference, why can't we have ours?' We ended up tearing ours down, but theirs stayed," she says with a shrug.

That was in the middle 1970s. Fifteen years later, a lawsuit against a different mine would change workplaces around the country. A judge said the atmosphere at Eveleth Taconite was so poisonous to women that they could sue the company as a class over sexual harassment. Lynn Sterle says one day in the early 1990s things suddenly changed where she was working. All the sexually explicit pictures were taken down. "What was going on at Eveleth -- the other mines didn't want to have same kind of problems," she says. "They put the kibosh on any sexual materials in the workplace."

Lynn Sterle was at the Sherman mine for four years, and then she was laid off. The mine closed for good in 1981. That year, she married David Sterle.

Iron mining is a boom-and-bust industry, and the early 1980s were bust years. Demand for steel plummeted, and mines laid off thousands of workers. Several mines closed permanently. Others re-opened with much smaller crews.

Lynn Sterle was pregnant when her husband David was laid off. They both worked at a lot of low-paying jobs. "I bartended, did retail sales, waitressed -- anything," she says.

A month after her daughter Briana was born, Lynn was working two jobs. "I worked retail from 9:30 to 5:00; then I'd move my car up the street to the bar and I'd waitress until midnight or 1:30 in morning. Then I'd go home, and start all over again the next day."


Next: part 3