Chris Ernst

Chris Ernst

She was an English major at Yale. Yet Chris Ernst was attracted to the science of things – and to work with her hands. She is best known for leading female rowers in 1976 to protest unequal treatment; they marched into the director of women’s athletics at Yale with a New York Times photographer in tow and stripped, revealing “Title IX” scrawled across skin. For nearly 40 years she’s been a plumber, 20 as owner of Pipelines, in Roslindale, Mass. Ernst favors flannel-lined Carhart jeans, prefers the blue-handled 12” Channellock pliers over the yellow and has a passion for old heating systems. She is expert, but her sex still confuses when she calls suppliers seeking specs. “I call it ‘Gender-induced Deafness,’” she said. “You hear my voice, then you don’t hear any of the technical words I say.” Ernst worries for the future of the trades with many young people shunning this good work. “Even people I know in the trades say, ‘I don’t want my kids to do this.’ Why not? You want your kids to get into $60,000 of debt and work at Starbucks?” she asked. “The country stands on the shoulders of the people who work with their hands. You don’t have your damned penthouse unless somebody built that for you.”

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