John Kelly: “A blast from the past: A 14-year-old’s In and Out list from 1973 is strangely familiar”

From a Washington Post column by John Kelly headlined “A blast from the past: A 14-year-old’s In and Out list from 1973 is strangely familiar”:

In March 1973, 14-year-old Sheila McDonald received a very polite, handwritten rejection note from the editor of Washingtonian magazine.

“It almost got IN the magazine, but not quite,” editor Laughlin Phillips wrote of Sheila’s humorous essay. “Hope you’ll send us other OUTrageous things to consider.”

As Phillips’s distinctive capitalization suggests, Sheila, a ninth-grader at Gordon Junior High in the District, had sent the magazine an In and Out list.

“I think I just wrote it to be fun,” Sheila explained. She’d unearthed the list in the spring while preparing for a reunion of her high school, the School Without Walls….

Her list is a little time capsule of the Washington of 48 years ago — and of the Sheila McDonald of 48 years ago, a precocious little lefty who had been reading The Washington Post since fifth grade.

Among her pronouncements:

Driving to work by yourself is OUT.

Women’s Liberation is IN.

Being a male supporter of Women’s Liberation is quite IN.

Calling it Women’s Lib is OUT.

Sheila writes that using the expression “Negro” is OUT. Using “black” is in. Most IN of all: Using Black with a capital B.

Those observations are general enough, but what’s most captivating about Sheila’s list is its Washington focus:

Watching TV is OUT.

Watching Channel 26 in IN.

Complaining about the pollution in the Potomac is OUT.

Doing something about the pollution in the Potomac is IN.

The House District Committee is OUT.

Home rule is IN.

Statehood is even more IN than home rule.

Her roll call of Washington’s IN people includes activist Julius Hobson, developer and sports magnate Abe Pollin, politician Shirley Chisholm and singer Roberta Flack.

Her OUT list includes segregationist Virginia congressman Joel Broyhill, failed presidential candidate George McGovern, NFL quarterback Roman Gabriel and Eddie Cox.

Eddie Cox?

Tricia Nixon’s husband,” Sheila said. “Why the freak did I even know about Eddie Cox?”

Well, she was a well-informed kid. And she considered herself a true Washingtonian. She grew up in Tenleytown, daughter of a Navy officer and a homemaker.

“When my father retired, we hired Blackie’s House of Beef for the party and Harden and Weaver were the emcees,” said Sheila, 62.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity to a certain In/Out list that is a New Year’s Day feature of this very newspaper. But The Post’s List debuted in 1978, five years after Sheila sent her list to Washingtonian.

Sheila did have an inspiration. In her introduction, she credited a book by Robert Benton and Harvey Schmidt titled “The In and Out Book.”…

“The In and Out Book” was published in 1959, with an early version appearing in Esquire, to which both Benton and Schmidt contributed….

Said Sheila: “I had taken their style.”

Robert Benton and Harvey Schmidt became the epitome of In. Schmidt wrote the music for the long-running musical “The Fantasticks.” Benton gravitated to Hollywood. He co-wrote the screenplay to “Bonnie & Clyde” and directed such films as “Kramer vs. Kramer.”

And Sheila? After high school, she went to Johns Hopkins University, then to law school at Catholic University.

She worked in a District law firm, then moved to Baltimore. She had two girls, became assistant attorney general for the state of Maryland. In 2019 she retired after two decades as the executive secretary of the Board of Public Works. Former governor Martin O’Malley lauded her as “a pillar of integrity, experience and service.”

Sheila lives in Annapolis now. She said that reading the list she wrote at 14, she can’t help but feel, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

I guess that means that both Cassandra and Sisyphus — one seeing the future; the other never quite getting there — are IN.

John Kelly writes John Kelly’s Washington, a daily look at Washington’s less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section.

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