Chico woman’s book recounts her time at a home for pregnant teens
My face was pressed up against the window as I looked at the large, grey stone building from the back seat of the car. There was an endless concrete staircase with a black wrought iron hand rail going up the middle. Hundreds of tall, thin windows lined the façade of the building and I remember thinking, this is better than I thought.
The Booth Memorial Hospital in Oakland was not intended for the ill or infirm, but instead as a “home” where young pregnant girls were sent to hide. In her book, The Third Floor, Judi Loren-Grace’s voice is among those of many women who are now in their 50s, 60s and 70s, some who may still be holding the secret of their youth. In 1962, when she was first sent to Booth, young girls like Loren-Grace didn’t have a choice about what to do once they discovered they were pregnant.
It wasn’t until 1966, when she turned 18, that Loren-Grace was able to take control of her destiny. She got in her VW bug, with beauty license in hand, and moved to Chico. Once she arrived, she landed a job at the Co-ed Beauty Salon. Now, 44 years later, she is a successful businesswoman and co-owner of Satori Color and Hair Design with her daughter, Dana, and tonight (Dec. 9) she celebrates the release of her book during a local-author open house at Lyon Books.
In The Third Floor, Loren-Grace is 15 years old, living the all-American life of an active teenager in Porterville, when life as she knows it comes to an abrupt end when she discovers she’s pregnant. In the book, she recalls the sequence of events leading up to her stay at Booth Memorial Hospital: “Telling my mom I am pregnant is horrible, but not as bad as the next confrontation: my dad. Mom and I cry together. Then I hear her on the phone. I lie there and wait for my bedroom door to open and engulf me in the flames of hell. My father would soon be on his way home.”
Loren-Grace’s father was running for mayor in the small, rural town, and to avoid controversy, she was sent away to the hospital in Oakland to hide, have her baby, give it up for adoption and return as if nothing had changed.
Part of the book is about a promising, typical teenage life that reflects the era of the early ’60s—a seemingly innocent time, especially in rural America, yet to be transformed by turbulent events of the last half of the decade. But for the bulk of the book Loren-Grace tells the story of her experience at the hospital where she was sent by her parents to live out her pregnancy. With the help of letters she sent to a friend while at Booth, she reclaims her voice as a frightened teen.
The girls at the Salvation Army-run facility were instructed to refer to their superiors as “Major,” “Lieutenant” and “Sergeant” and were forbidden to discuss their former lives with other girls, including the sharing of last names for the sake of privacy. They were assigned chores, attended classes and were required to attend chapel three times a week to parrot scripture and repent against the sins of the flesh.
Loren-Grace now views her time at Booth Hospital as a testament to the era and wants her story to make an impact on teenagers. “I hope they are more careful to not get in that situation,” she said. “In 2010 young girls are not ostracized from their communities like we were in the early ’60s. They do not realize the freedoms that have been handed to them. I am concerned about whether these kids are ready to be parents, in particular mothers.”
Today, homes for pregnant teens are a thing of the past. In fact, the glorified experiences of pregnant teenagers have become common entertainment. Media feed the teen-pregnancy frenzy, and the entertainment industry cranks out teen moms (Juno, Secret Life of the American Teenager) like the Octomom delivers babies. One might even think being a pregnant teen is actually cool.
The Third Floor reveals a time when young girls did not have choices.
To this day, Loren-Grace’s experience continues to affect how she chooses to socialize and live, as she stays clear of any social situation that presents a pecking order. Casually lounging in the lobby of her salon on a Monday afternoon, she quipped, “I will never be herded again.”