''Whenever you break a tradition that's 187 years old, not everybody's going to love you,'' Muriel Siebert found when she became the first woman member of the New York Stock Exchange, in 1967. Siebert and 45 other women told the stories of their lives and their life's work to Lynn Gilbert and Gaylen Moore, who collected their stories in ''Particular Passions.'' Gilbert's photographs and Moore's oral-history text provide brief but tantalizing glimpses into the lives of women who have not only made a living at their own ''particular passion ,'' but have become well known, even world renowned, for doing work they love.
Some of these women knew early on what their life's work would be. ''At about five years old I knew I was going to be an architect,'' says Denise Scott Brown, an urban planner and architect. And Billie Jean King says, ''As a child, I wanted to be the best tennis player in the world.'' It took French chef Julia Child a good deal longer to discover her special bent: ''I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate,'' she says.
Regardless of when they started, success did not come immediately for many of these women. Julia Child and her coauthors spent nine years writing the first draft of their first cookbook, and when they finished it was ''roundly rejected.'' But as pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams puts it, ''I think people should do their work. If they're talented, then whatever's coming to them , they'll get it.'' And Alberta Hunter, a blues singer and composer, who also waited a long time for recognition, says, ''Nothing good ever comes too late.''
Some of the women see a difference between the way men and women see careers. ''The desire to work is not the same as the need to work,'' says Barbara Walters , the television journalist.''Most men realize to get the big job, they often have to just hang in there, and do the grubby ones. Many women, especially those who do not have to work, do not know this.'' But other women have found that even if they take their own work seriously, others do not necessarily understand their career. Ernesta Drinker Ballard was chief executive of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for 17 years; in that time, its budget went from $70,000 to $1.5 million, owing to her organizational innovations. Yet acquaintances of hers will still say to her, ''I had no idea you worked at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.''
But then, as stockbroker Siebert found, breaking traditions can be hard on friendships. She also says, though, that some of the people most opposed to her buying her seat on the New York Stock Exchange ''turned out to be my best friends.'' And they have been supportive colleagues as she has pursued her own ''particular passion.''