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Local woman a pioneer for female electricians
PARIS — When they picture an electrician, most people don't think of a 71-year-old woman.
Paris resident Pat Stanley-Beals, who became the first woman in Maine to earn a master's electrician license, said that she's no different than other electricians.
"I'm not better," she said. "I'm the same. Women can do the same as men. We're just apt to be more tired at the end of the day."
Stanely-Beals said that she never did have the raw power that her male peers in the field have, but she doesn't think it matters much.
"Most jobs are not accomplished with muscles. They're accomplished with the brain. That is my best tool."
Stanley-Beals is used to customers being a little surprised by her gender, but she handles it all with her characteristic matter-of-fact poise.
One time, she recalled, she was sent out to a trailer to install a dryer receptacle. At the time, she was nine months pregnant, and three days overdue.
"I was as big as a mountain," she said. "My tool belt wasn't big enough to go around me, so I had it slung over my shoulder. When the homeowner saw me coming, his jaw about hit the floor."
Pregnancy didn't really keep Stanley-Beals from working, even when she had to go underneath the trailer on her hands and knees.
"When I was home, I was more uncomfortable than on the job, because there was no distraction at home," she said.
There was one point at which Stanley-Beals had a scare while at work. When she was just six weeks pregnant, she received her first-ever accidental shock of 220 volts when a coworker mistakenly energized a system she was working on.
"It was the first time I had been bit by a 220," she said. "My wrist hurt and my chest hurt for about two hours. I didn't want to raise a woman's issue in the workplace, but I wanted to make sure my daughter was okay."
Stanley-Beals hurried to ask for a doctor's advice, and she was assured that it would have no impact on the baby. Thankfully, the doctor was proven right.
It was about 1980 when Stanley-Beals first took the test to become a master electrician in the state of Maine.
She had already passed the test to become a journeyman with flying colors, but coworkers cautioned her that the test to become a master electrician was difficult.
One of her supervisors once told her that she could never pass.
"He said 'You're too big for your britches, and you think you're going to be a master electrician, and that's never going to happen,'" she said.
Undeterred, Stanley-Beals decided that she would have to study extra-hard to gain the coveted title of master electrician. One of the first things that she realized she needed to do was to experience the test firsthand.
"I said, 'I'm just going to take it so that I know what to expect,'" she said.
Even though she hadn't yet studied the codes to pass the test, Stanley-Beals surprised herself when she got notification that she had received a passing grade.
"It probably took five years before I had the confidence to go along with the license," she said. "There's a world of difference between knowing the code and being a good electrician."
Stanley-Beals said that, since she opened her own business in the area, Anytime Electric, she has been filling a vital niche in the industry.
"Older women often feel more comfortable with me in their house," she said. "I also take small jobs. It's kind of a service rather than a way to make money. A lot of electricians have a big push to make money, and they don't want to take an hour's job."
Stanley-Beals said that her parents had a son who died very young, and that she sensed that they wanted another boy in the home.
One of five daughters, Stanley-Beals said that she unconsciously took on the role by following her father around and learning how to do household projects.
"I think I tried to fill that hole," she said.
She's glad she did.
"I got a lot of learning about things like spatial awareness," she said. "At the time, I didn't realize how unusual that was for a girl."
Growing up, Stanley-Beals said that she was always competitive with boys her age.
"If the boys were going to jump off a bridge, then I was going to drop off a bridge," she said.
A new generation
Stanley-Beals' own children have also been confident in ignoring the gender boundaries that sometimes hold sway in the professional world.
Her oldest daughter is a digital engineer. Her youngest daughter splits her time between driving an 18-wheeler, and helping her mother with electrical work.
She wonders whether her daughter will eventually take over her business.
"I taught her too much," she said, smiling. "When she takes her courses, it's 'ho hum.' They're hard for her to sit through."
Despite the fact that Stanley-Beals has blazed a trail, it seems that very few women are following her into a trade as an electrician.
For two years, she taught classes as a part of a program called Women Unlimited, which sought to encourage women to take on construction jobs, but not one of her students moved on to become a professional electrician.
Stanley-Beals has become reflective of her career path in recent years, and spent the last winter penning a book, which she calls "A Charged Life: Memoir of a Woman Electrician."
Once every three years Stanley-Beals said she attends a conference of Maine electricians that keeps them up to the latest codes and standards.
For decades, she was the only woman there.
"It's only the last two that there have ever been any woman," she said. "Usually, they'll come into it as helpers for their husbands."
That may change someday.
Stanley-Beals said that, at the last conference, she finally met another woman with a master's certification.
"It was nice," she said. "I sat down right at her table and starting talking with her. It was nice to have that in common with someone."