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One door closed and a window opened; Woman starts Vera Perlin Society after being fired for being a married female teacher


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Louise Beck was the first teacher and organizer of the Deer Lake sector of the Vera Perlin Society in 1962. Star photo by Katherine Hudson

Deer Lake -

Louise Beck still remembers the letter of dismissal she received from the school board in 1961.

"The letter said 'reason for dismissal, married female teacher'. I did get fired because I was female and married. I was 24," Beck said.

"I was a primary teacher. The school board wouldn't continue to hire teachers if they were female and married. My job was gone because I was married and female. It didn't matter for males they could get married. A lot of teachers at that time lost our jobs because we got married. I thought it was the end of my career."

Little did Beck know she would receive a phone call offering her a position teaching children with developmental disability with the Vera Perlin Society in Deer Lake, opening the community's first such facility.

The Vera Perlin Society is a not-for-profit, charitable organization which serves people with developmental disabilities encouraging personal growth and community integration. It started in St. John's in 1954.

Beck said before 1962, families with children with developmental disabilities would have to move to centres such as St. John's or Corner Brook.

"The school didn't open until May of 1962, she said. "The Masonic Lodge gave us a room rent-free. I worked with a volunteer and started with three children and it grew from there.
"I was nervous. I didn't know anything about it. The community was very supportive and has always been supportive.

Beck's two sisters followed her footsteps and immersed themselves in teaching students with disabilities. Myra Spence came on board as the society's second teacher in 1976.

At that time, institutions such as the Waterford were closing down and disabled students and their families were returning to their home communities. The Deer Lake facility went under the wing of the provincial school board in 1976 and with 14 students by that time.

For 13 years, the sisters worked side by side, teaching and nurturing students. In 1993, Beck retired but continues to be involved with the society after being a part of it and instigating its growth on the west coast for almost 50 years.

"I loved every minute of it," said Beck.

Spence said now that she looks back, she realizes how Beck being terminated from her teaching position led her to better things.

"I believe that all things work for the good," Spence said. "When Louise was fired for being a female, that was a big door to slam in your face. But look at the window of opportunity it opened. So if you believe in yourself as a woman, and there are opportunities, just when you think the door slams in your face, something else will open."

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