Roberta Dawson was the only child of a blue-collar assembly-line worker and a mother who had worked as both a teacher and a librarian before becoming a full-time mother to their only child. By all accounts, she was doted on by both parents to the extent that their finances allowed, but there was continuous arguing over money. Mr. Dawson worked long hours to support his family but adamantly refused to allow his wife to get a job. They also suffered no less than four miscarriages, with the last coming when Roberta was 16 and her mother was nearly 45 years old.

Each was a son, the origin of the ‘four brothers’ and ‘family of seven’ remarks that Roberta would occasionally make when she was older.

Despite family problems and an overall lack of money, Roberta was able to go to college and became certified as a teacher in math, science, English, and art–a rare achievement even then. But her personal life suffered a major blow when, not long after she began teaching in earnest, both of her parents dies within six months of each other. Mrs. Dawson suffocated at home due to a gas leak, a death which was ruled suicidal, while Mr. Dawson died in a car crash that his insurer eventually declared self-inflicted. As a result, their entire estate and all of Roberta’s savings went to defray funeral and medical expenses–leaving her all but destitute.

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