Class of ’69 reunites on screen

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Laura Bogart

In a new documentary, Bailey Evans Fine describes the personal and societal changes she’s experienced since graduating from college 46 years ago. The award-winning film’s director, inspired by the unorthodox class photos in the 1969 yearbook of Skidmore College, tracked down and interviewed 19 women from that pivotal time, including Fine. Women of ’69, Unboxed recently became available for viewing on a number of online platforms.
Photo by Christopher Myers

Staring at herself on the silver screen was no easy feat for Bailey Evans Fine — even though she’s had hard-charging positions in Baltimore City government, helped to manage the campaigns of several judges, and served as the right-hand woman to U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (all while raising a family).

Fine is one of the women anchoring Women of ’69, Unboxed — a new documentary based on stories from members of the graduating class of 1969 from Skidmore College, a liberal arts college in Saratoga Springs, NY.

The film was named Best Documentary Feature Film at the Queens World Film Festival, earned the Audience Award at the Woods Hole Film Festival, and was recognized as Best Short Documentary at the NYC Independent Film Festival.

The film, directed by award-winning veteran documentary filmmaker Peter Barton, was also screened at the Chesapeake Film Festival in Easton, Md., last fall. It was released on several online platforms, including Amazon, on March 15.

“I see Unboxed as an important addition to my legacy,” said Barton. “I hope it’s a movie that my three children will want to see and have their children see.

“I want others of my generation of boomers to also see it, and consider their role in breaking trail for progressive causes and for constructive contemplation of the New Old Age — the dividend of productive life that our demographic is likely to enjoy.”

The documentary uses a graphic record — the unorthodox yearbook photos of some 370 young women from Skidmore’s Class of ’69 — as a window looking back on the journey of a generation.

In keeping with the experimental spirit of the times, those photos broke away from the traditional, posed “black gown and pearls” shots. Rather, the students could chose whatever attire and setting they wanted. The photos themselves were placed in a photo box rather than a yearbook, so they could be arranged in any order by each student.

Advised by historians and social scientists, the documentary focuses on the ordinary lives of these young women — made extraordinary by the tumultuous times in which they lived.

Revisiting the “Yearbox,” the women present themselves to the camera as they are today, looking both back and ahead. The observations of 19 of the women range from their memories of the ‘60s and how those times still resonate today, to the “New Old Age” boomers are redefining.

Changing times

The film’s narrative traces the challenges and triumphs of American women over the past several decades. While attending the New York City screening of the film, Fine found herself, along with her 30-something daughter and daughter-in-law, reflecting on the ways that our culture has changed in the years since she graduated — and the ways it’s sadly stayed the same.

“[My daughter and daughter-in-law] live in a world where women can do more things,” she said. “They don’t know that it wasn’t always that way; it was interesting to see them travel back in time.”

Born Bailey Evans in 1947, Fine came of age in Alexandria, Va., where she became interested in politics, participating in sit-ins to desegregate her elementary school. Her father was the head of aeronautics for NASA, and it was his passion for his career that inspired her to have high goals for herself, even though, back then, women were primarily expected to be either nurses or teachers, Fine said.

Most of the mothers in her neighborhood were homemakers; Fine remembers the outright contempt shown to the only mother who worked outside of the home: “The other mothers didn’t like her at all.”

Class president

Still, she pursued a rigorous course load at Skidmore, majoring in government and serving as class president. One of her signature achievements was making it possible for students of legal drinking age to enjoy a nip on campus.

Fine and some friends celebrated her 21st birthday by sampling some whiskey sours in the privacy of her dorm room. When a particularly rigid resident adviser busted them and demanded that Fine resign as class president, Fine took her fight to the school’s governing bodies (faculty, administration and students each had an equal vote), which unanimously supported her.

Fine, who now lives in Canton, came to Baltimore after graduation and enjoying a two-month $5-a-day trip through Europe.

“I had a HUD management internship that placed me at the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development for three months, and then the HUD Regional office in Philadelphia for three months,” she recalled.

Both offices offered her permanent employment. “I chose Baltimore because I wanted to be close to the action, and have the ability to create change and renewal.”

Advocating for women

This dynamism propelled her into early work in city government. She loved her job, but noticed that a male colleague was being paid more for doing similar work. When she asked her boss for a raise, he responded that she didn’t need one, since, “Your husband makes money.”

She recalls being in such a state of shock that she backed out of his office. At home that night, she angrily rehashed the conversation to her husband, who supported her choice to “go right back in and ask for more money.”

By the time she had her first child, she’d accumulated so much leave that she was able to take three months off and to work four days a week when she returned.

But when pressed to resume a five-day-a-week schedule, she decided to leave and work as a consultant at her kitchen table, running campaigns, and even teaching aerobics until her second child was in school.

“It’s not that [working and having a family] can’t be done, but it is a hard balance,” she said.

Fine is grateful to see that women today have more choices, but thinks that they must contend with “a difference in expectations.” Not only are they expected to be the perfect wives and mothers of yesteryear, but they must also “use their educations in a career or for their communities.”

​Watching the documentary — remembering her own story, and seeing the stories of her classmates — Fine marvels at the seismic nature of our cultural shifts.

“The birth control pill was a game changer,” she said. “[There was] a freedom to experiment without fear of having a baby. You couldn’t not be aware of the pill.” But it wasn’t easy to get then. In the documentary, some of the women discuss faking engagements to make getting the pill easier. “The girls even shared one ring,” Fine noted.

Fine has been retired now for three years, but is still very aware of local and national politics, and she’s worried about what she sees as a swing backwards. She sees candidates who talk about curtailing reproductive freedom as “scary as hell.”

“If you’ve always had freedom, you never know what it’s like not [to]…These election cycles show that the freedoms that women have fought for aren’t etched in stone,” she said.

Though Fine was initially “terrified” to see herself on screen, she’s glad she put her testimony on film. Looking back at a life filled with work that has mattered to her, and with a loving family, she says she is “the luckiest person on earth.”

Women of ‘69, Unboxed can be viewed via iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and XBOX.