Katherine Acey (b. 1950) is a highly respected activist, best known for her expertise and commitment to lesbian and women's philanthropy. Her creative and inclusive vision of funding has been instrumental in setting a standard for a more progressive, diverse and community-based definition of philanthropy.
In 1987, after serving on Astraea's Board of Directors for four years, Katherine was hired as its Executive Director-the organization's first paid staff person. Under her stewardship, Astraea has enjoyed tremendous growth. The Foundation's Grants program has been expanded to fund local, regional and international organizations as well as cultural and media work. In 1990, Astraea established the nation's first Lesbian Writers Fund; and in 1996, Astraea created The International Fund for Sexual Minorities-the only fund of it's kind in the U.S.
From 1982 to 1987, Katherine served as the Associate Director of the North Star Fund in New York City. She has been involved in the Women's Funding Network since its inception, serving as both board member and chair. She is also a founding member and past chair of the Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues and has served as a board or advisory member to countless organizations including: Women in the Arts, the Center for Anti-Violence Education, New York Women Against Rape, MADRE and Women Make Movies. Katherine is past chair of the National Executive Committee of the Palestine Solidarity Committee, and a member of the Arab Women's Gathering Organizing Committee.
Katherine has traveled extensively in the U.S. speaking on issues of philanthropy, sexual orientation, race and class. Internationally, she has participated in numerous women's and LGBTI delegations and gatherings in Africa, Asia, Central America and Europe.
In this oral history Katherine Acey talks about her family history, their migration from Lebanon, and the Arab American community in Utica, New York where she grew up. She reflects on her activist roots in the civil rights movement and her introduction to feminist organizing through anti-violence and reproductive rights work. The last third of the interview focuses on Katherine's work in progressive philanthropy and her twenty year tenure at the Astraea Foundation. (Transcript 62 pp.)
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Dolores Alexander (b.1931) was raised in a working-class Italian community in Newark, NJ, and educated in Catholic schools. She attended City College in the late 1950s. Alexander worked in journalism most of her professional life and it was in her capacity as a reporter for Newsday that she came across a press release announcing the formation of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966. Alexander became NOW's first Executive Director from 1969-1970, was a co-owner of a lesbian feminist restaurant in the Village with partner Jill Ward during the 1970s, and was a founder of Women Against Pornography in the 1980s. She has been present at many significant events of the women's movement: integrating the Want Ads in the New York Times, the lesbian purge of NOW, the National Women's Conference in Houston in 1977, and the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Alexander remains active in the lesbian community on the North Fork of Long Island.
The Dolores Alexander Papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
In this oral history Alexander reflects on her childhood in New Jersey, her education, and her early marriage as a lead-in to her involvement with the women's movement. Alexander details her relationship to Betty Friedan and the National Organization for Women and her painful experiences as part of the lesbian purge. Alexander also describes her life with Mother Courage, the restaurant she opened with partner Jill Ward, which became a hub of radical feminism in the 70s. Lastly, she reflects on her work with Women Against Pornography and the anti-pornography movement's place in feminism. (Transcript 61 pp.)
Dorothy Allison grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, the first child of a fifteen-year-old unwed mother who worked as a waitress. Now living in Northern California with her partner Alix and her teenage son, Wolf Michael, she describes herself as a feminist, a working class story teller, a Southern expatriate, a sometime poet and a happily born-again Californian. Awarded the 2007 Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction, Allison is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.
The first member of her family to graduate from high school, Allison attended Florida Presbyterian College on a National Merit Scholarship and in 1979 studied anthropology at the New School for Social Research. An award winning editor for Quest, Conditions, and Outlook-early feminist and lesbian and gay journals, Allison's chapbook of poetry, The Women Who Hate Me, was published with Long Haul Press in 1983. Her short story collection, Trash (1988) was published by Firebrand Books. Trash won two Lambda Literary Awards and the American Library Association Prize for Lesbian and Gay Writing.
Allison says that the early feminist movement changed her life. "It was like opening your eyes under water. It hurt, but suddenly everything that had been dark and mysterious became visible and open to change." However, she admits, she would never have begun to publish her stories "if she hadn't gotten over her prejudices, and started talking to her mother and sisters again."
Allison received mainstream recognition with her novel Bastard Out of Carolina, (1992) a finalist for the 1992 National Book Award. The novel won the Ferro Grumley prize, an ALA Award for Lesbian and Gay Writing, became a bestseller, and an award-winning movie. It has been translated into more than a dozen languages. Cavedweller (1998) also became a national bestseller, a NY Times Notable book of the year, a finalist for the Lillian Smith prize, and an ALA prize winner. A novel, She Who, Is forthcoming.
Because Dorothy Allison has written extensively about her childhood and early family life, this oral history focuses on Allison's political activism and involvement with feminism, beginning in Tallahassee, FL in the 1970s. She recounts "finding the movement" at Florida State University through the Women's Center and her parallel life in the bars, among butch-femme dykes, and her struggle to integrate the worlds of middle-class politics and working class erotics. Allison describes her myriad connections to the women's movement-from being a founder of Herstore, a feminist bookstore, to Quest, to the anti-violence movement, to Conditions, and the Lesbian Sex Mafia. Throughout, she offers an uncompromising assessment of feminism's triumphs and failures, particularly through the lenses of class and sexuality. (Transcript 62 pp.)
Joint interview with DOROTHY ALLISON and CARMEN VÁZQUEZ
In this two-hour conversation, Allison and Vázquez tell stories of young adulthood and realizing “who they are,” share their journeys through 1970s and 80s feminisms in San Francisco, explore the extensive emphasis on androgyny and hostility towards butch-femme within the lesbian community, and reflect on current debates within the lesbian community over trans identities. (Transcript 48 pp.)
See also oral history of Carmen Vázquez.
Virginia (Ginny) Apuzzo (b.1941) was raised in the Bronx, graduated with a B.A. from SUNY New Paltz and an M.A. from Fordham University, and entered the convent at the age of 26. After leaving the convent, Apuzzo came out publicly as a lesbian, taught at Brooklyn College, and dove head first into movement politics. Working with the then-named National Gay Task Force, Apuzzo worked to have a gay and lesbian plank included in the 1976 Democratic Party platform. Subsequently, she became the Director of the Task Force, directing much of her attention to the AIDS crisis. Apuzzo's impressive political accomplishments led to two decades of political appointments, first with the Cuomo administration and then the Clinton administration, where she was appointed Assistant to the President for Administration and Management, making her the highest ranking out lesbian government official to date. Apuzzo left this post in 1999 when she rejoined the Task Force as the first holder of the Virginia Apuzzo Chair for Leadership in Public Policy. She currently resides in Kingston, New York.
Apuzzo will be placing her papers in the Sophia Smith Collection.
In this oral history Virginia Apuzzo discusses her family heritage, growing up in an Italian American community in the Bronx, and her choice to enter the convent. The interview is particularly strong in the areas of Catholicism, faith, and spirituality. Apuzzo discusses her coming out process and the ways that her sexuality became her politics. While she touches on the women's movement, the Houston conference, and the impact of feminism in her life, Apuzzo details in depth her relationship to the gay and lesbian movement, in particular her experience with the Task Force. She also describes her campaign for the New York State Assembly and the formation of Lambda Independent Democrats. A significant focus of the interview is Apuzzo's service in the Cuomo and Clinton administrations. (Transcript 96 pp.)
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Charon Asetoyer was born March 24, 1951, in San Jose, California, the youngest child of Virginia Asetoyer (Comanche) and Charles Eugene Huber. A student organizer as a teen, she dropped out of high school to start her own dress design business in San Francisco. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she worked at the Urban Indian Health Center and became immersed in the cultural life of Haight-Ashbury and in the American Indian Movement. To escape an abusive marriage, she moved to South Dakota, where she enrolled in the University of South Dakota, earning a degree in criminal justice in 1981. She earned a master's degree in international administration and intercultural management from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont, in 1983.
In the mid-1980s, Asetoyer created and briefly directed a health program for Women of All Red Nations (WARN) to address fetal alcohol syndrome on three South Dakota reservations. After marrying Clarence Rockboy, she settled on his Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, where they set up the Native American Community Board (NACB) in 1985. Their first project was "Women and Children and Alcohol." In 1988 the NACB established the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center (NAWHERC), which Asetoyer continues to direct.
NAWHERC gathers information on the health needs of indigenous women in the Aberdeen area (ND, SD, Iowa, Nebraska), provides referral services, runs a domestic violence shelter, and advocates Native rights. The Center maintains programs on domestic violence, AIDS prevention, youth services, adult learning, Dakota language and culture, environmental awareness and action, fetal alcohol syndrome, nutrition, and reproductive health and rights. The Center is noted for its community-based research and publications, which have influenced policies and practices of the Indian Health Service and other agencies.
NAWHERC works at local and regional levels and also addresses policy issues that affect indigenous women nationally and internationally. Asetoyer has been involved in the Working Group on Indigenous Populations at the United Nations from its early stages and was one of the founding co-chairs of the Working Group's Committee on Health. Asetoyer is an enrolled member of the Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma, and she is active in coalitions with indigenous women and other women of color in the US and internationally. She has served on the boards of the American Indian Center (San Francisco), the National Women's Health Network, the Indigenous Women's Network, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (NEJAC) of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Honor the Earth. During the Clinton Administration she was appointed to one of the National Advisory Councils for Health and Human Services. She has two sons.
Charon Asetoyer's papers will be coming to the Sophia Smith Collection, and the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center Records are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
Asetoyer describes her family roots in Oklahoma, her childhood in a biracial family, and her involvement as a teen in the cultural and political life of the Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She traces her work with Native women's health programming in South Dakota in the 1980s and her involvement with national and international women of color health activists around such issues as fetal alcohol syndrome and Depo-Provera. Asetoyer explains the workings and programs of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center and the centrality of sovereignty to indigenous women's activism. (Transcript 104 pp.)
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Byllye Yvonne Reddick Avery (b. 1937) was born in Waynesville, Georgia, and grew up in DeLand, Florida. She graduated from Talledega College in 1959 and soon married. Beginning in 1971, Avery became a reproductive freedom advocate working with the Clergy Consultation Service referring women from Florida to New York City for legal abortions before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. As one of the few African American reproductive rights activists of her time, she served on the Board of Directors of the National Women's Health Network and worked with the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, authors of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She co-founded an abortion service, the Gainesville Women's Health Center in 1974, and she also co-founded Birthplace, a birthing center, in 1978. In 1983, Avery led the first national conference on Black women's health issues, which launched the National Black Women's Health Project in 1984 in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1989 she was the recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant in recognition of her pioneering work on Black women's health issues, and that same year received the Essence Award from Essence Magazine. She is now the founder of the Avery Institute for Social Change and the author of An Altar of Words.
In this oral history, Byllye Avery describes her childhood in Georgia and Florida, her marriage to Wesley Avery, and her early widowhood, which propelled her into health activism in her early 30s. The interview focuses on her work in women's organizations in the 1970s, her experiences working with white women in the beginning of the women's health movement, and her experiences in establishing the premiere black women's health organization in the U.S., the National Black Women's Health Project (now known as the Black Women's Health Imperative). Avery's story proves she was an early pioneer in the women's health movement, as well as the most recognizable leader of the emerging movement of women of color working on reproductive health issues in the 1980s. She influenced an entire generation of activists while working to end reproductive health injustices experienced by all women. This interview was conducted the day before she married her long-time partner, Ngina Lythcott, who also participates in the interview. (Transcript 95 pp.)
The Records of the Black Women's Health Imperative (formerly National Black Women's Health Project) are at the SSC.
Frances Beal was born in Binghamton, NY, January 13, 1940, the daughter of Ernest Yates, who was of African American and Native American ancestry, and Charlotte Berman Yates, of radical Russian Jewish immigrant roots. When Fran's father died, her mother moved the family to St. Albans, an integrated neighborhood in Queens. In addition to observing her mother's participation in left politics, Fran was profoundly affected by the murder of Emmett Till. After graduating from Andrew Jackson High School in 1958, she became involved in civil rights activities and socialist politics while attending the University of Wisconsin. She married James Beal, and from 1959 to 1966, they lived in France, where they had two children and Fran became attuned to the internationalist/anti-imperialist politics of post-colonial African liberation struggles. During summers in the US in those years, she maintained connections with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). When her marriage ended and she returned to the United States in 1966, Beal took a job with the National Council of Negro Women, where she worked for a decade.
In 1968 Beal co-founded the Black Women's Liberation Committee of SNCC and wrote one of the defining documents of black feminism, "Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female" (Sisterhood is Powerful, ed. Robin Morgan, 1970). The Committee quickly evolved into the Black Women's Alliance and soon, in order to include Puerto Rican women, into the Third World Women's Alliance (TWWA). TWWA rejected a feminism that posits sexism as the primary source of women's subordination and developed an analysis predicated on the interaction of race, class, and sex oppression and on an international perspective. Beal's work on gender, race and class laid the groundwork for current analyses of intersectionality. She became a member of the TWWA chapter in New York, where her organizing in the 1970s centered on abortion rights and sterilization abuse.
In the 1980s Beal moved to California where she served as associate editor of The Black Scholar and wrote a weekly column in the San Francisco Bay View. In recent years she has worked with the National Anti-Racist Organizing Committee (NAROC) and with the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU of Northern California. She is the National Secretary of the Black Radical Congress. Beal lives in Oakland, where she continues to write.
In this oral history, Frances Beal describes her unique childhood, born of parents of refugee Jewish, African American, and Native American descent. The interview focuses on her activism in the United States and in France, including founding the Women's Committee of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Beal's story captures the challenges of anti-racist, anti-fascist and anti-imperialist organizing with a gender perspective. (Transcript 54 pp.)
View transcript Watch video excerpt (requires Quicktime plug-in)
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Judith Berek was born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 8, 1943, the daughter of Ida Kantrowitz, a bookkeeper, and Leo Berek, a machinist at Brooklyn Navy Yard, later in its employee training area. Her father also was an ESOL teacher at night. Both parents graduated from Brooklyn College as night students, as did Berek herself. Her paternal grandfather taught her to sew. Berek has one brother, Peter, three years her senior. Raised a Jewish agnostic, Berek was briefly married in her twenties and has no children.
She first worked as a lab tech (1962-68) at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn. In 1968 Berek became an organizer for District 1199, National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, AFL-CIO; she later served as vice-president and director of Legislative & Professional Programs, 1972-83. In 1983 Berek went to work for the State of New York Department of Social Services: until 1987 she was Director, Office of External Affairs, Special Assistant to the Commissioner on Intergovernmental Relations; from 1987 to 1991, Deputy Commissioner, Division of Adult Services, New York State DSS (both positions based in Albany). From 1991 to 1994, Berek worked for New York City Human Resources Administration as Executive Deputy Administrator for Personnel Administration. Since 1994, she has worked for the federal government in Medicare & Medicaid Services as a Senior Advisor (Washington, D.C., 1994-97), and Region II Coordinator (New York City, 1997-2002). Since 2002 Berek has been the Principal Advisor for National Policy Implementation, Office of the Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, based in New York.
In 1986 Berek managed Herman Badillo's campaign for New York State Comptroller and in 1989 was director of operations for David Dinkins' mayoral campaign. Throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s, Berek was a founding member, board member, and co-chair of the National Legislative Committee, and president of the New York City chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW).
The oral history focuses on the various phases of Berek's life but is especially strong on her union activities within 1199 and the founding of CLUW. (Transcript 66 pp.)
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Brenda Berkman was born October 19, 1951, in Asheville, North Carolina, and grew up in Richfield, Minnesota, the daughter of Ora (Bud) Berkman, a transportation specialist for the US Post Office, and Catherine Gray, a homemaker. She attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, graduating summa cum laude in 1973. She earned her M.A. in history from Indiana University in 1975 and a J.D. from New York University Law School in 1978.
In 1978 Berkman filed suit in federal court against the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) and the City, alleging sex discrimination in hiring (specifically, the physical agility exam for firefighter). By 1980 the Court certified the lawsuit as a class action on behalf of hundreds of women applicants who had taken the written portion of the exam. Berkman, however, was the sole named plaintiff and played an active role in that suit while simultaneously working as a lawyer specializing in immigration and employment law. In 1982, the Court ruled that the FDNY physical agility test was discriminatory and not job-related, and ordered the City and FDNY to develop a new job-related exam. The Firefighters' union appealed to the Second Circuit and lost that appeal. In 1982, Berkman and 46 other women were hired. Berkman and one other woman were fired after their probationary year. They brought suit to be re-hired and were re-instated under court order. Berkman rose through the ranks, and at the time of this interview was a Captain in Division 11 (Brooklyn).
Berkman became the first professional firefighter to serve as a White House Fellow (1996-97). She received the NOW Woman of Courage award (2002). She was the founder and first President of the United Women Firefighter Association of NYC (1982) and President of Women in the Fire Service, a national organization. Berkman earned a MS in Fire Protection Management from John Jay College in 2001 and Executive Fire Officer certification from the National Fire Academy in 2006. She is featured in the video "Women of Ground Zero" and in "Taking the Heat," a documentary about her career, which aired on PBS in March, 2006. Captain Berkman continues to encourage the recruitment, hiring, and retention of women firefighters around the world. In 2007, there are only 28 women among more than 11,000 members of the FDNY. Captain Berkman retired from the FDNY as the Captain of Engine 239 (Brooklyn) in September, 2006.
The oral history focuses on the various phases of Berkman's life but is especially strong on her efforts to join the Fire Department of New York which resulted in a class action suit that in 1982 forced the City of New York to open the fire department ranks to women. (Transcript 47 pp.)
[Researchers must have permission from Brenda Berkman to access her interview.]
Michaelann Bewsee was born December 21, 1947, in Springfield, Massachusetts. The daughter of Emery Martin Bewsee and Ann Marie (Davison) Bewsee, she was the eldest of four children in a working-class Catholic family. After serving in the military, her father worked as a civil engineer for town highway departments. Her mother worked in area department stores until children's chronic illnesses, including Michaelann's rheumatic fever, forced her to stay at home. Home-tutored until her early teens, Michaelann then attended Catholic school, graduating from Cathedral High School in 1964.
A single mother at the age of 19, Michaelann moved to Boston where she did clerical, factory, and waitressing work. She spent the next few years searching for personal, spiritual, and political moorings while involved in communal living arrangements and social movements. She was a foot soldier for the ERA and cooked for the Black Panther Party's free breakfast program. Michaelann struggled with poverty in these years, and, against her will, Michaelann's parents took custody of her daughter. Beginning in 1973, Michaelann and a partner homesteaded in Maine. When that relationship ended in 1977, Michaelann moved back to Springfield, pregnant with a second daughter. After a few years on public assistance, she began work as a decisional trainer with prison inmates.
Bewsee continued political activism. She became involved with the Hampden County Peace Coalition (1980-83), the Communist Labor Party (1981-85), the Rainbow Coalition (1983-89), and the McKnight Neighborhood Council (1980-86). She also joined a few other women on public assistance to protest welfare policies. In 1985 their efforts led to the formation of Arise for Social Justice, where Bewsee remains a key leader.
Arise is a grassroots "poor people's rights organization" whose purpose is "to learn to speak for ourselves to advocate for positive changes in the treatment of poor people and in the welfare system." Most members are women who are or have been on welfare and who come from diverse racial, ethnic and educational backgrounds. The group aims to educate, organize, and unite poor people to know and stand up for their rights, to educate the community to its common interest in economic justice for poor people, to educate low-income people about and encourage their participation in the political process, and to promote self-esteem among low-income people. Recent high-profile activities include sponsoring a tent city for the homeless, running a controversial needle exchange program, suing the city for its at-large system of representation, and protesting construction of a new women's prison.
The Arise for Social Justice Records are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
Bewsee describes a quiet, book-filled childhood restricted by chronic illness. She details a young adulthood immersed in the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s and recounts the trauma of losing custody of her daughter. Much of the oral history focuses on Arise and the challenges of grassroots organizing, including the struggle to promote radical popular education while serving immediate needs, with specific attention to organizing around homelessness. (Transcript 100 pp.)
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JOAN E. BIREN
Joan E. Biren (b.1944) grew up in Washington D.C., graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1966, and pursued graduate training at both Oxford University and the American University. Biren joined the women's liberation movement in D.C. in 1969. One of the first out lesbians in the movement, Biren and others (including Rita Mae Brown and Charlotte Bunch) formed a lesbian-separatist collective, the Furies, in 1971. Though the collective was short-lived, it had, through its publications, a significant impact on the strategies of the women's movement.
Biren is best known for her photographic portraits, some of the earliest documents of late 20th-century lesbian life. Realizing the need for affirming images and self-expression outside of traditional patriarchal language, her work has appeared in off our backs, The Washington Blade, Gay Community News, and on countless album and book covers. Biren has published two ground-breaking collections of her photography: Eye to Eye: Portraits of Lesbians (1979) and Making A Way: Lesbians Out Front (1987). In the 1990s, Biren turned from photography to filmmaking. She documented the 1987 and 1993 gay and lesbian marches on Washington and recently completed an award-winning film on lesbian pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.
The Joan Biren Papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection. View an online exhibit featuring Joan Biren's work.
In this oral history Biren describes growing up in a Jewish family in Washington D.C., her education, and her entrance into activism. She reflects on the nuances of class and ethnicity, both in mainstream institutions and in the movement, and on her coming-out process. Biren describes her role in the Furies, the dynamics of the collective and the aftermath of its dissolution, reflecting on its impact on her life and on the larger movement. The interview also focuses on Biren's cultural activism and her work as a photographer. Biren describes the process of finding subjects, her intentions behind the work, and the impact of her photographs. She concludes with a discussion of her current work as a filmmaker in the gay and lesbian community. (Transcript 90 pp.)
Linda Burnham (b. 1948) grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the child of parents active in the Young Communist League in the 1930s and 1940s. She graduated from Reed College in 1968. As a journalist and political activist, Burnham has been involved with the Venceremos Brigades, the Third World Women's Alliance, the Alliance Against Women's Oppression, the Angela Davis Defense Committee, and the Line of March. She co-founded the Women of Color Resource Center in Oakland, California, in 1989. Her recent writings focus on women and poverty and on women and militarism.
In this oral history, Linda Burnham describes her childhood immersed in the black radical community of New York City in the 1950s and 1960s. It also includes a brief interview with her mother, Dorothy Burnham. Linda's interview focuses on her activism in the early abortion rights movement in Black Women United in the 1970s and the impact working with the Venceremos Brigade and traveling to Cuba had on her life. She also discusses the anti-imperialist work that led her to San Francisco in the 1960s, to New York in the 1970s, and back to the Bay Area in the 1980s, where she founded the Women of Color Resource Center, which she still directs. (Transcript 54 pp.)
Kathleen Casavant was born in Taunton, Massachusetts, July 27, 1951, the daughter of May Theresa Brown, factory worker, waitress, school bus driver, and deli cook (still living), and Arthur J. Morin, Jr., a house painter who also worked as a painter at General Dynamics Shipyard (deceased). She has three younger brothers. Kathy attended parochial school through the eighth grade and graduated from Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School in 1969. In 1998 she earned her B.S. through the Labor Studies Program at University of Massachusetts, Boston. She has been married for 30 years to Arnold Casavant, a teacher in Easton, Massachusetts. They have one son, born in 1982.
After high school, Casavant worked a variety of clerical jobs until going to work for the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, first as comptroller (1978-82) and then as an organizer, secretary-treasurer, and union representative (1982-98). When the Amalgamated merged with the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) in 1995 to become UNITE, she was elected secretary-treasurer of the New England chapter. In 1995, Casavant became the first woman ever to be elected to executive vice-president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, making history again in 1998 when she was elected treasurer, second in command of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. In 1985, she became active in WILD (Women in Leadership Development) and still serves on its board.
The oral history focuses on the various phases of Casavant's life but is especially strong on her union activities, both as an organizer and as a union leader. (Transcript 76 pp.)
[Note on access: portions of Kathleen Casavant's interview are closed until 2029. The pages have been temporarily removed from the transcript and audiovisual materials are closed.]
Contact the SSC to request a copy of the transcript.
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Linda Chavez-Thompson was born August 3, 1944, in Lubbock, Texas, one of eight children born to Felipe and Genoveva Chavez; her father worked as a cotton sharecropper. She joined her parents in the cotton fields at the age of ten, quit school at 16 and went to work. Married for the first time at age 20 to Jose Luz Ramirez, she continued working as a domestic and had two children. In 1967, at the age of 23, she went to work for the Laborers' International Union and served as the secretary for the Lubbock local and, as the only Spanish-speaking union officer, represented all the Hispanic American workers within the local. Four years later she went to work for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union (AFSCME) in San Antonio and rose through the ranks to be international vice-president (1988-96). In 1995 Chavez-Thompson was elected executive vice-president (third-ranking officer) of the AFL-CIO, the first woman and the first person of color to hold such a high office within the AFL-CIO; she was re-elected in 1997 and in 2001. She also serves as a vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee and an executive committee member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. She married for a second time in 1985 to Robert Thompson, now deceased.
The oral history focuses on the various phases of Chavez-Thompson's life but is especially strong on her union activities, both as an organizer and as a union leader. (Transcript 53 pp.)
Sherrill Elizabeth Tekatsitsiakwa (Katsi) Cook was born January 4, 1952, the youngest of four children of Evelyn Kawennaien Mountour Cook of Kanawake, Quebec, and William John Cook, both enrolled members of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. Katsi's mother was educated by Catholic nuns. Her father, a Dartmouth grad, was a Captain in the U.S. Marines and a World War II fighter pilot. Her mother and father died when Katsi was a child. Katsi grew up in the Akwesasne community on the St. Regis Reservation, which straddles the U.S. - Canada border along the St. Lawrence River. She describes Akwesasne in her youth as "a reservation community of subsistence fisher-people, gardeners, herbalists and midwives." She attended private Catholic boarding schools but began participating in longhouse culture as a teen.
Cook attended Skidmore College from 1970 to 1972, then transferred into the first class of women accepted at Dartmouth College. She soon left college to become involved in the American Indian Movement (AIM).
After a brief first marriage and first child, she married José Barreiro, a Cuban-born activist and academic. In the early 1970s, and again in the 1980s, Cook and Barreiro worked with the Kenienkehaka Longhouse Council of Chiefs at Akwesasne, where she was Women's Health Editor of Akwesasne Notes, a clearinghouse of information for the emerging Indian consciousness movement. She toured the U.S. and Canada with White Roots of Peace, a group she describes as a traveling university through which participants learned Native knowledge from elders and imparted it to others.
Cook sought out traditional birthing methods as she prepared for the birth of her first child in 1975. She took up midwifery after participating in the 1977 conference at Loon Lake, NY, where traditional chiefs, clan mothers, and young activists from the Six Nations worked to define sovereignty for Native peoples; they identified control of reproduction as one of its essential elements. In 1978 she did an apprenticeship in spiritual midwifery at The Farm in Tennessee, followed by clinical training at the University of New Mexico Women's Health Training Program. She was struck by Pueblo and Navajo women's lack of knowledge regarding reproduction in general and Native birthing traditions in particular, and recognized this loss of self-knowledge and cultural ways as a consequence of colonization. This awareness, coupled with community concern about the sterilization of Native women, led Cook to reclaim childbirth as key to community healing and survival, a process of empowerment through which women revive indigenous culture and restore Native peoples' connections to ancestral land.
After moving to South Dakota, Cook became active in AIM. In September, 1978, she attended the founding meeting of Women of All Red Nations (WARN). She then worked at the Red Schoolhouse Clinic, a WARN project in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where she trained an Anishnabe Birthing Crew and created the Women's Dance Health Program.
When Cook and Barreiro returned to Akwesasne in 1980, the sovereignty movement was militant and the community was under siege. Cook helped develop the Akwesasne Freedom School and continued midwifery practice. With a grant from the Ms. Foundation, she introduced the Dance Health Program to Akwesasne (1983-89). When concern arose about the safety of breastfeeding, Cook launched the Mothers' Milk Project in 1983 to monitor the environmental impact of industrial development created by the St. Lawrence Seaway Project of the 1950s. The Mothers' Milk Project provides direct services and advocacy in Akwesasne, which Canada has singled out as the most contaminated of 63 Native communities. As a result of Cook's efforts, Akwesasne became the first community to include human health research in the Superfund Basic Research Program. The Mothers' Milk Project is cited as an example of an emerging reproductive rights activism that challenges the "pro-choice" movement to expand its focus beyond abortion and adopt a broad social justice agenda.
Cook has participated in national and international women's health movements, including service on the board of the National Women's Health Network, involvement in the Nestle boycott, and work with Mayan midwifes in Guatemala. She monitors indigenous rights in the drafting of midwifery legislation and is the founding aboriginal midwife of the Six Nations Birthing Centre where she assists with student training, curriculum development, and community education. Cook is Director of the Iewirokwas Program of Running Strong for American Indian Youth. Supported by a Ford Foundation grant, she is currently developing the First Environment Institute to restore indigenous puberty rites as means of advancing maternal and child health on the Akwesasne and Pine Ridge reservations. She is also conducting research with the Indian Health Service and writing Daughters of Sky Woman: A Cultural Ecology of Birth.
Cook and Barreiro are relocating to Washington, D.C., where he has become director of research at the new National Museum of the American Indian. They have 5 children.
The Katsi Cook Papers; the National Women's Health Network Records; and the Undivided Rights Book Project Records are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
In this oral history, Cook traces her family roots to the encounters among African, indigenous, and European peoples in the colonial era. She describes her early formal and informal education and her decision in the 1970s to "bail out" of the assimilation track and embrace indigenous culture and political struggle. She details the development of the Mothers' Milk Project and its community-based research. Midwifery is the persistent theme of the interview as Cook recalls her attraction to the work, recounts the Mohawk origins story and its application to her own practice, and offers examples of births in which she integrates biomedical protocols with traditional customs including dreams, Mayan methods, and peyote. The oral history is a passionate statement by a leader of a transitional generation who practices midwifery as a process of restoring cultural integrity and achieving environmental justice through the empowerment of women. (Transcript 138 pp.)
[Note on access: portions of Katsi Cook's interview are closed until 2035. The pages have been temporarily removed from the transcript and audiovisual materials are closed.]
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DIALLO, DÁZON DIXON
Dázon Dixon was born March 25, 1965. She grew up in the small town of Fort Valley, Georgia, the eldest of three children of Clinton H. and Virginia J. Dixon. Her parents, who both had doctorate degrees, set strong examples of hard work and concern for others. The Episcopal church the family attended was the first integrated congregation in town, and Dázon was in the first integrated class in the school district. She graduated from high school in 1982.
As a student at Spelman College, Dázon took a leading role in anti-apartheid work. After attending the First National Conference on Black Women's Health Issues, which was held at Spelman in June, 1983, she sought out community women's health work. From 1984 to 1989, she was a lay health worker at the Feminist Women's Health Center in Atlanta, where she was the only woman of color on staff. Struck by the need to address HIV and AIDS among women, she and others founded SisterLove in 1989. At a time when AIDS was considered a risk primarily for gay white men, SisterLove provided safe space for women, especially women of African descent, to confront the realities of living with the disease.
SisterLove began with education and outreach programs and has moved well beyond a prevention model. By adopting the Self Help process of the black women's health movement, SisterLove encourages women to break through the strong stigma in southern culture against speaking up about sex and race. Using a human rights framework, the group combines women's empowerment with action on the multiple challenges and risk factors that women confront, including housing, drug use, poverty and violence, as well as reproductive health and sexual rights. In 1997, SisterLove became one of the sixteen founding members of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective.
Dixon has participated in major international women's health gatherings, including International Women and Health Meetings in Manila 1990 and Uganda 1993, the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the 1995 UN Women's Conference in Beijing, and the 2004 Cairo Plus Ten Conference in London. She has continuously encouraged HIV-positive women to take leadership in advocating the integration of HIV/AIDS and sexual rights into women's health and reproductive rights agendas.
Seeking to learn from and work with other women in the African diaspora, Dixon initiated collaboration between SisterLove and a women's AIDS group in Johannesburg. In 1999, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control, she established the Thembuhlelo HIV/AIDS Capacity Building Project in Mpumalanga, South Africa. The Project combines women's empowerment with HIV/AIDS services and land reform efforts. SisterLove also provides training and assistance to other AIDS organizations around the world.
In the 1990s, Dixon earned a Masters Degree in Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She has taught at area colleges and has hosted a progressive women's radio program for many years. From 1999 to 2007, she was married to Elimane Amadou Diallo. Dixon remains a leader of the reproductive justice movement.
The Dázon Dixon Diallo Papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
In this oral history, Diallo discusses the family and spiritual sources of her commitment to activism and describes her early involvement in feminist health work. She underscores the cultural obstacles to tackling HIV/AIDS in the rural South and traces the stages in SisterLove's expanding mission. Diallo emphasizes the essential role of Self Help in her own effectiveness as a leader and offers examples of the human rights approach to HIV/AIDS which puts women's empowerment at the center of a movement for social justice. (Transcript 56 pp.)
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Joanne Edgar (b.1943) was raised in Baton Rouge, LA and graduated from Millsaps College. Graduate study brought her to New York City and there she found the women's movement. Edgar was the founding editor of Ms. magazine, joining the collective in 1971, and remained on staff for 18 years. Edgar was at the founding meeting of the National Women's Political Caucus. She now works as a consultant and lives in New York City.
In this oral history Edgar talks about her family background and childhood, the impact of the civil rights movement, and her experiences in college during the movement's heyday. The majority of the interview focuses on Edgar's connection with Gloria Steinem and her tenure at Ms. magazine. (Transcript 38 pp.)
LORA JO FOO
Lora Jo Foo is a labor organizer and attorney specializing in employment/labor law. She is a native of San Francisco, born and raised in the Chinatown community, where she began working as a garment worker in a sweatshop at the age of 11. She went back into a garment factory to work after college, this time as a union organizer. She then became a hotel worker and was a leader in the 1980 citywide strike of 6000 San Francisco hotel workers. After graduating from law school, she worked for a private labor law firm representing unions.
From 1992 to 2000, she was the employment/labor attorney for the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, California where she represented Asian American immigrant workers in sweatshop industries - garment, restaurant, construction, domestic and other low-wage industries, in their struggles for decent wages and working conditions. Ms. Foo's numerous litigation successes as an attorney for the Caucus include the 1993 case of Anna Chan et al v. Moviestar, in which she obtained the first judgment from a California court holding a garment manufacturer responsible for the wages of its subcontractor's employees. In 1998 she won the Cuadra et al v. Labor Commissioner case before the state Supreme Court, a case which ensured that workers throughout California who utilize the administrative process to recover unpaid wages would recover 100% instead of a diminished portion due to an arbitrary method of calculations by the agency. In 1999 she led a statewide coalition of garment worker advocates in passing the California Garment Accountability Bill, which holds retailers and apparel firms strictly liable for the minimum wage and overtime violations of their contractors.
Ms. Foo stopped litigating in 2000, returned to school, and obtained a Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2002. In 2004, she returned to her roots as a labor organizer and was the National Coordinator of the AFL-CIO's Voting Rights Protection Program, where she launched programs to protect the vote in 11 battleground states. In 2006 she joined the California Faculty Association as its Northern California Organizing Director.
Foo co-founded the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum and was its National Chair from 1996 to 1998. She is also a co-founder of the California-based Sweatshop Watch and served as its Board President from 1995 to 2004. She is the author of Asian American Women: Issues, Concerns and Responsive Human and Civil Rights Advocacy, published by the Ford Foundation in September 2002 (second edition, 2007).
The Lora Jo Foo Papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
[Researchers must request permission to access Lora Jo Foo's interview]
Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1922, Marge Frantz is a lifelong activist. Introduced to radical politics and the Communist Party by her father, Joe Gelders, Frantz began her activism early, with the Young Communist League in 1935. Frantz's Party activity ranged from selling the Daily Worker on the New York City subway to organizing the Alabama delegation to the American Youth Congress. Although Frantz left the Party in 1956, her agitation far from ceased. She was an organizer for the United Electrical Workers, campaigned for Wallace, worked for Planned Parenthood, participated in the free speech movement in Berkeley, and became a stalwart of the peace movement. After she and husband Laurent (also a radical and former CP member) had four children, Frantz returned to college, graduating from Berkeley in 1972, and went on to a PhD from UC Santa Cruz, where she spent three decades as a celebrated and inspirational teacher. Frantz has retired from teaching, but not activism, and lives with her partner Eleanor in Santa Cruz.
The Margaret Frantz Papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
In this oral history, Frantz describes her family background in Birmingham, highlighting her father's intellectual and political development and subsequent career in radical politics. She discusses her early days in the Popular Front and as an organizer. Frantz recalls the extensive network of friends and comrades that have made the work so engaging and sustaining. She also describes her family life in detail-her marriage to Laurent, their four children, and her partnership with Eleanor. The interview concludes with her life in Santa Cruz, both on the campus and in local organizing efforts, and her passion for teaching. (Transcript 131 pp.)
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MARLENE GERBER FRIED
Marlene Gerber was born June 6, 1945, the only child of Max Gerber, a Russian immigrant, and Ethel Kalinsky of Chicago. Her parents, who had grade school educations, owned and ran a small women's clothing store together. She grew up in a middle-class Jewish family of shopkeepers in Philadelphia.
Marlene graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Girls, a public college-preparatory school, in 1963, and attended Northwestern University for two years before entering a brief first marriage and moving to Ohio. She earned a B.A. in Philosophy (1966) and an M.A. in Philosophy (1968) from the University of Cincinnati, where she was the only woman in her graduate program. She earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Brown University in 1972, then taught at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (1971-72), Dartmouth College (1972-77), and Bentley College (1977-86). Since 1986 she has been Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program (CLPP) at Hampshire College, where her areas of specialization are reproductive rights and feminist philosophy. She has been married to William (Bill) D. Fried since 1970. They have two sons.
Fried considers herself an "accidental activist" initially and attributes her politicization to the vibrant social movements of her college years. She has continuously combined social activism and academic work. In the 1960s and 1970s she engaged in anti-war and civil rights protests and was active in the New American Movement. She and her husband Bill lived in a communal household in Boston. As one of the first women in philosophy, she struggled against sexism and other hierarchical practices in higher education and became a founder of the Rhode Island Women's Union and the Society of Women in Philosophy.
By the late 1970s, Fried was devoting her energies to socialist feminist reproductive rights work. She was involved in the Abortion Action Coalition and in the Massachusetts Childbearing Rights Alliance. She became a local and national leader in the Reproductive Rights National Network (R2N2), co-founder and board member of the Abortion Access Project, founding president and board member of the National Network of Abortion Funds, and co-founder and president of the Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts. Fried is a member of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective and is currently participating in the Hyde-Thirty Years is Enough! Campaign to reverse the Hyde Amendment and restore public funding of abortion.
Fried's board memberships have included the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights, the General Service Foundation, Raising Women's Voices, and the Committee for Women, Population and the Environment.
From her base at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program, Fried continues to teach, organize, and write about abortion and its place in a comprehensive plan for reproductive health and social justice. She is the editor of From Abortion to Reproductive Freedom: Transforming a Movement (1990) and co-author of Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice (2004), which won the 2005 Gustavus Myers Book Award.
The Marlene Fried Papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
The Abortion Rights Fund of of Western Massachusetts Records; National Network of Abortion Funds Records; the Reproductive Rights National Network Records; and the Undivided Rights Book Project Records are all at the SSC.
In this oral history, Fried recalls the loneliness of growing up as an only child and details the conventional class, gender, and racial norms that shaped her world in the 1950s. She describes her involvement in cultural and social movements of her day, with telling anecdotes of political experiences in New Left and women's liberation groups, personal life in a communal household, and professional challenges as a pioneering radical female academic. Her story highlights setbacks and breakthroughs in the struggle to sustain race- and class-conscious reproductive activism over the last 30 years. Fried also assesses her role as a white ally in a movement increasingly led by women of color and as a mentor to younger activists. (Transcript 110 pp).
Ronnie Gilbert (b. 1926) grew up in and around New York City in a leftwing household. She is best known for her role in the singing group The Weavers, which worked to popularize folk music in the U.S. from 1948 until it was blacklisted in 1952. In the 1960s and 1970s Gilbert worked as an actor and a psychotherapist in New York, California, and Canada. In the 1980s she revitalized her singing career by touring on the women's music circuit, independently and with artists such as Holly Near. She defines herself as a writer/teacher/activist who is particularly committed to the issues of feminism and global peace.
The Ronnie Gilbert Papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
In this oral history Ronnie Gilbert describes her childhood in a leftwing Jewish family in New York City. The interview focuses on her musical education, her childhood experiences at large union rallies and at the progressive Camp Wo-Chi-Ca in upstate New York, her participation in the folk music revival and The Weavers, her personal experience of the anti-communist blacklist, and her feminist awakening and participation in women's music. Gilbert's story documents the personal side of the 1950s blacklist and the connections between the radical political movements of 1930s-50s and the women's movement. (Transcript 49 pp.)
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Sara Gould (b. 1951) was raised in Grand Haven, Michigan. She graduated from Grand Valley State University in 1973 and earned a Master's degree in City and Regional Planning from Harvard University in 1977. Gould's work in economic development ultimately brought her to the Ms. Foundation for Women in 1986, where she spearheaded the Collaborative Fund for Women's Economic Development, a pioneering grant-making initiative that has provided more than $10 million in support of organizations creating jobs for low-income women. Gould's legacy at Ms. also includes the Institute for Women's Economic Empowerment, which has provided thousands of grassroots leaders with the skills and resources to help women achieve greater economic independence. She is currently the President and CEO of the Foundation. Gould currently serves on the boards of the Center for Community Change; the Proteus Fund; Women's Funding Network; Women & Philanthropy; and The Challenge Machinery Company, a 137 year-old family business. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, with husband Rick Surpin and their son Jacob.
In this oral history Gould describes her childhood in Michigan, growing up and into a family business, and her mother's struggles with depression and addiction. She describes finding both the women's movement and her passion for economic development work in Cambridge in the 1970s and her journey to the Ms. Foundation for Women, where she has spent more than twenty years of her career. This interview focuses on Gould's tenure at Ms., the shifts in grantmaking strategy over the past twenty years, and the world of women and philanthropy in general. (Transcript 63 pp.)
MARY CHUNG HAYASHI
Chung Mi Kyung was born in 1967 in Kwangju, South Korea, one of five children of Chung Yeon Sang, a businessman, and Hun Cha Yang, a tennis player. The family moved to Seoul in 1978. Several decisive changes occurred in 1980. Her older sister committed suicide. Within months, her parents separated and her father migrated with the children to Orange County, California. In the U.S., Mi Kyung took the name Mary and struggled with the competing pressures of maintaining traditional Korean family and gender norms while assimilating to the more individualistic U.S. culture.
After high school, Chung attended California State University Long Beach, where she was exposed to feminist ideas and literature. After moving to Oakland, she combined ongoing college study of Asian American history and culture with employment as a bookkeeper and community involvement in feminist, civil rights, and Asian American women's reproductive rights and anti-violence organizations. She became the first director of Asian Pacific Islanders for Choice (which became Asian Pacific Islanders for Reproductive Health, and later Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice).
Chung remained profoundly influenced by her sister's suicide. She chafed at the silencing effects of Asian gender and cultural norms on the one side, which enforced silence about sexual and mental health and personal matters in general, and the U.S. myth of Asians as a model minority on the other. Inspired by African American and Latina women's health activism, Chung created the National Asian Women's Health Organization (NAWHO) in 1993. The first national organization dedicated to improving the health status of Asian Pacific Islander women in the U.S., NAWHO conducts surveys, generates data, and fosters women's leadership as advocates for Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. More recently Chung founded the Iris Alliance Fund, a mental health foundation dedicated to youth suicide prevention.
She earned a B.S. in 2000 from University of San Francisco, followed by an M.B.A. from Golden Gate University. In 2001 she married David Hayashi, a civil rights attorney. In 2006 Hayashi became the first Korean American woman elected to the California State Assembly. She is the author of Far From Home: Shattering the Myth of the Model Minority (2003).
In this oral history Mary Chung Hayashi describes her childhood in South Korea and in the U.S. and discusses the circumstances that have led her to launch successive organizations addressing health issues in the Asian American community. She also discusses her path towards becoming the first Korean American elected to the California State Assembly. (Transcript 34 pp.)
Fran Henry (b. 1948) grew up on Long Island, graduated from the New School for Social Research in 1971, and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1982. Henry's employment history includes a variety of feminist positions in government, including executive director of the first Massachusetts Governor's Commission on the Status of Women, director of the President's Citizens Advisory Committee for Women under Gerald Ford (1975-76), and Northeast Conference coordinator for the President's International Women's Year Commission under Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter (1976-78). She is the author of Toughing It Out at Harvard: The Making of a Woman MBA and the founder of the organization Stop It Now!, which has pioneered the use of public health strategies to prevent child sexual abuse. Henry has also served on many boards of directors, including the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
The Fran Henry Papers and the Records of Stop It Now! are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
In this oral history Fran Henry describes her childhood in a working-class family and community on Long Island and her experiences as an activist college student working to put herself through school in the 1960s. The interview focuses on her work in explicitly feminist positions in state and national government organizations in the 1970s, her experiences as a woman at Harvard Business School in the early 1980s, her work as a business consultant, and the ways her unique combination of skills and experiences gave her the ideas and tools to found Stop it Now! and pioneer new approaches to ending child sexual abuse. Henry's story details the ways she used the advantages and challenges from her childhood and family experiences to make important and unique contributions to the women's movement and the movement against child sexual abuse. It also illustrates mainstream women's movement's path through the 1970s and 1980s and the emerging influence of the Christian Right in the late 1970s and beyond. (Transcript 78 pp.)
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AMBER LYNNE HOLLIBAUGH
Amber Lynne Hollibaugh (b.1946), a "lesbian sex radical, ex-hooker, incest survivor, Gypsy child, poor-white-trash, high femme dyke," grew up in a mixed-race, working-class family near Bakersfield, California. Hollibaugh's movement politics date back to Freedom Summer in 1964 and she's been a fulltime movement activist-whether New Left, feminist, or queer-ever since. For the past two decades, Hollibaugh has been at the center of feminist debate over sexuality and a leader in the fight against AIDS. She was the founding director of the Lesbian AIDS Project at the Gay Men's Health Crisis, the first project of its kind in the nation, and produced an award-winning documentary on women living with AIDS, Heart of the Matter (1994). She is the author of My Dangerous Desires: A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way Home (2000) and is currently the senior strategist with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
In this interview Hollibaugh details growing up in a mixed-race (Romany and Irish), working-poor family in rural California. Her family stories are incredibly rich-from tales of her grandmother Gypsy's fierce independence-and incredibly painful, from the Klan to her mother's loss of a child. Hollibaugh describes a sexually fraught and complicated adolescence, boarding school in Switzerland, dancing in Vegas and sex work in San Francisco, and finding radical politics and alternative communities. The interview focuses on themes of sexuality and politics and Hollibaugh weaves her changing consciousness and desire through the details of her marriage, coming out process, relationships, and women's movement politics. She describes SNCC, the Red Family in Berkeley and New Left politics, lesbian feminism, the sex wars and the 1982 Barnard conference, and her work in the queer movement, particularly around AIDS. Lastly, Hollibaugh talks about her life as a writer and filmmaker and about the class politics of doing both. (Transcript 166 pp.)
Eva Kollisch (b. 1925) was born in Vienna. She and her siblings escaped from Nazi-led Austria via the Kindertransport in 1939 and settled with their parents in New York City in 1940. From 1942-46 Kollisch was a member of the Trotskyist organization the Workers Party, and in that role worked in factories in New York and Detroit. A 1951 graduate of Brooklyn College, Kollisch later did graduate work in German at Columbia University and joined the faculty at Sarah Lawrence College, where she co-founded the women's studies program with Gerda Lerner and Joan Kelly. In 2000 Kollisch published Girl in Movement, an autobiographical account of her years in the Workers Party. She has also written extensively about her experiences as an Austrian Jewish refugee in the U.S. Her political work includes participation in the peace and antiwar movements, the women's movement, and the movement for gay and lesbian rights.
The Eva Kollisch Papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
In this oral history Eva Kollisch describes her childhood in an upper-class Austrian Jewish family and her experiences as a young adult refugee in World War II-era New York City. The interview focuses on her socialist activism in the 1940s, her life as a bohemian wife and mother during the 1950s, her political reawakening in the 1960s, her personal and professional experiences as a feminist and lesbian professor at Sarah Lawrence College, and her participation in the peace movement, the feminist movement, and the gay and lesbian movement. Kollisch's story illustrates the complex relationships among identity, political activism, and the larger political context, and the activities that radical activists undertake in both periods of political upheaval and political downturn. (Transcript 57 pp.)
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Gerda Lerner (b. 1920) is a long-time peace and civil rights activist and pioneer in the creation of the academic discipline of women's history. Her writings include The Majority Finds its Past: Placing Women in History (1979), The Creation of Patriarchy (1980), The Creation of Feminist Consciousness from the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy (1996), and Fireweed: A Political Autobiography (2002).
The interview focuses on Lerner's grassroots organizing through the Congress of American Women in the post-World War II years, the relationship of the Congress to the Communist Party, and the evolution of Lerner's political thought from Marxism to feminism. (Transcript 92 pp.)
Barbara J. Love (b. 1937) was raised in New Jersey, graduated from Syracuse University in 1959, and worked as a business magazine editor for most of her professional career. She is an activist and writer, co-author with Sidney Abbott of Sappho Was a Right-On Woman (1972) and editor of Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975 (2006).
In this oral history, Love reflects on her childhood and family of origin, her introduction to lesbian life and politics, and her activism in the 1970s. This interview pays particular attention to the National Organization for Women, the Houston conference in 1977, Radicalesbians, and her published writings. (Transcript 43 pp.)
Anne MacKay (b.1928) is a retired teacher who has spent most of her life in New York City and Orient, NY. MacKay taught theater at Dalton and Horace Mann Schools and retired in 1992. Her activism began with her first Daughters of Bilitis meeting in 1969. Most of MacKay's feminist engagement has been "community" oriented rather than "political," in her words. A writer, poet, and theater producer, MacKay put together a number of lesbian musicals and published two books: Wolf Girls at Vassar: Lesbian and Gay Experiences 1930-1990 (St. Martin's Press, 1993) and She Went A-Whaling, The Whaling Journal of Martha Brown (Oysterponds Historical Society, 1993). She is one of the founders of the Lesbian & Gay Alumnae of Vassar College and has been involved in other community organizations, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Lesbian Herstory Archives, the Astraea Foundation, and the North Fork Women for Women Fund (NFWFWF). MacKay has been a crucial community builder in Orient, New York, and has been very active with NFWFWF.
The Anne MacKay Papers and the North Fork Women for Women Fund Records are in the Sophia Smith Collection. The MacKay Papers include a 2005 interview with her.
The oral history focuses on MacKay's involvement in the North Fork lesbian community, including NFWFWF, and her work in community theater production. She also reflects on her childhood, family background, and coming of age sexually. Because this interview is intended as a complement to MacKay's papers housed at the SSC (which include an unpublished memoir,) our discussion of her earlier years is light. (Transcript 45 pp.)
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Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez was born December 12, 1925. As the child of a dark-skinned Mexican-born father and a white Euro-American mother, Betita met discrimination as she was growing up in segregated Washington, D.C.
During World War II, Martinez attended Swarthmore College, where she was the only non-white student on campus. After graduation in 1946, she worked at the newly-established United Nations, where she researched decolonization efforts and strategies. In the late 1950s she became an editor at Simon & Schuster, and later Books and Arts Editor of The Nation magazine. She also became active in the U.S. civil rights movement, directing the New York office of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and participating in SNCC's Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964.
From 1968 to 1976, Martinez lived in New Mexico where she became founding editor of El Grito del Norte (The Cry of the North), a monthly community newspaper that linked the Chicano land movement to similar struggles around the world. She served as founding director of the Chicano Communications Center in Albuquerque to teach Chicanos about history and contemporary issues.
After moving to California in 1976, Martinez joined the Democratic Workers Party, a Marxist group led by women, and became involved in Central American solidarity work, local struggles for social justice, and grassroots organizing to save public services. In 1982 she ran for Governor on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. In addition to teaching ethnic studies and women's studies on several campuses, she traveled extensively to observe efforts to create socialist societies. Her travels included trips to China, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Hungary, and Poland, in addition to several trips to Cuba beginning in 1959. In 1997 Martinez co-founded the Institute for Multiracial Justice which promotes alliances among communities of color on a range of issues. She edited the Institute's newsletter, Shades of Power.
Martinez' publications include The Movement (1963) and Letters from Mississippi (1965; reissued 2002), and De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century (1998). Her bilingual book Five Hundred Years of Chicano History, first issued in 1976 as 450 Years of Chicano History, is in its sixth edition. She is completing another bilingual book, Five Hundred Years of Chicana History, a pictorial survey [published 2008]. She is a frequent contributor to anthologies, including The Feminist Memoir Project, and to Z and other progressive magazines.
Martinez has received numerous awards for her social justice work. In 2005 she was a nominee for the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize. Martinez lives in San Francisco where she continues to write, lecture, edit and teach.
After a brief first marriage, Martinez married Hans Koning, author of 40 fiction and non-fiction books. In 1954 they had a daughter, Tessa, before divorcing. Tessa, an actress, lives in San Francisco.
This oral history offers a general overview of Martinez' life and work. Martinez reviews her childhood and her political experiences from SNCC forward. She discusses the difficulty of sustaining left groups in the face of sectarianism and government infiltration. Martinez comments on current domestic and international politics and reflects on tensions between her activism and her role as a single parent. (Transcript 70 pp.)
LUZ ALVAREZ MARTINEZ
Luz Alvarez Martinez (b. 1943) grew up one of twelve children of Mexican immigrant parents in San Leandro, California, in the Bay Area. Her father was a carpenter, and the family spent summers in farmworker camps harvesting crops. Luz graduated from St. Elizabeth's (Catholic) High School in 1960. She married in 1964 and had four sons, combining childrearing with community support for farmworker organizing. She divorced in 1981.
In the late 1970s, Martinez began college study to become a nurse midwife. She became involved in the Berkeley Women's Health Collective, serving on the board and helping to establish its women of color clinic. Inspired by the health activism of African American women, especially the 1983 Spelman conference, Martinez co-founded the National Latina Health Organization in 1986, the first national organization by and for Latinas working on health issues and using the Self-Help framework pioneered by the National Black Women's Health Project. Martinez also came to incorporate indigenous dance and mestiza spirituality into her community organizing. Among women of color she championed lesbian issues, and within mainstream reproductive rights groups she advanced a broad health agenda; she served on the board of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL).
Martinez was active in early efforts to form and sustain multiracial coalitions among Latina, Native American, Asian Pacific American, and African American women in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, she played a key role in asserting the standing of U.S. women of color as representatives of underdeveloped communities. She participated in the Fourth World Conference for Women in Beijing in 1995 as well. In 1997 she became a co-founder of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective. In 2005, Martinez retired from the National Latina Health Organization. She is currently president of the Hispanic United Fund.
The Luz Alvarez Martinez Papers and the Undivided Rights Book Project Records are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
In this oral history, Martinez describes her childhood immersed in the Catholic culture of Mexican immigrants in California. She describes an emotionally difficult marriage. She traces her decades of political work and details current programs of the National Latina Health Organization. Martinez recounts moments of cooperation and tension between women of color and mainstream women's groups as well as among women of color. Her story underscores the centrality of Self-Help to her life and work. (Transcript 98pp).
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Geraldine Miller (1920-2005) was born in Savetha, Kansas. In 1971 she founded the Household Technicians' Union for domestic workers in New York City, which won the national right for domestic workers to be covered by the Federal Minimum Wage Act. She is past president of the National Congress of Neighborhood Women and founding president of the Bronx Chapter of the National Organization for Women. As an early African American feminist, she received many awards for her tireless activism on behalf of domestic workers. With a story spanning eight decades, Miller pioneered work that crossed boundaries of race, class and gender and demonstrated the power of working-class women in the feminist movement.
The National Congress of Neighborhood Women Records are in the Sophia Smith Collection. Another oral history of Miller can be found in the New York City Women Community Activists Oral History Project
In this oral history Geraldine Miller describes her life as an African American child born in the Midwest in the 1920s. As a child of incest between her mother and her mother's stepfather, Miller focuses on her struggle to lift herself out of poverty, overcome the murder of her mother, and launch her career as a national organizer of domestic workers and leading feminist with the National Organization for Women and the National Congress of Neighborhood Women. (Transcript 79 pp.)
Cherríe Moraga, born in Los Angeles in 1952, is a poet, playwright, and cultural activist whose commitment to liberation struggles spans three decades. Moraga earned a BA in 1974 from Immaculate Heart College and an MA in Feminist Studies from San Francisco State in 1980. After a brief period in New York City (and the birth of Kitchen Table Press), Moraga returned to her California roots, turning her creative energy and political vision towards playwriting, including a six year residency with San Francisco's Brava Theater. Her award-winning plays include "Watsonville: Some Place Not Here," "Heroes and Saints," and "The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea." Moraga has also published extensively as an essayist and poet. She is best known for the groundbreaking anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981), co-edited with Gloria Anzaldúa and winner of the Before Columbus Award in 1986, and Loving in the War Years: Lo Que Nunca Pasó Por Sus Labios (1983). She is currently the Artist-in-Residence in the Departments of Drama and Spanish & Portuguese at Stanford University and resides in Oakland with her partner Celia and her son Rafael.
In this oral history Moraga describes growing up with a Mexicana mother and an Anglo father, discusses the significance of family to her life and work, and reflects upon the nuances of race, class, language and skin color. Moraga talks about her own politicization and her introduction to and sustained leadership in liberation struggles. The interview focuses on Moraga's involvement with the women's movement and feminisms, and her cultural activism, particularly around This Bridge and Kitchen Table Press. Moraga concludes with a discussion of her current work as a writer, her commitment to teaching and to young people of color, and to creating familia. (Transcript 89 pp.)
AURORA LEVINS MORALES
Aurora Levins Morales was born in Indiera, Puerto Rico in 1954 to a Puerto Rican mother and Jewish father. Raised on the island and then in Chicago, Levins Morales was surrounded by political debate and intellectual engagement. The youngest member of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, Levins Morales became an activist at an early age. Levins Morales relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-70s where she immediately connected with movement organizations like the Puerto Rican Socialist Party and New Jewish Agenda and radical cultural groups like La Peña and the Berkeley Women's Center. A poet and writer, Levins Morales work has been widely recognized among both North American feminist and Puerto Rican literary traditions. She was a contributor to This Bridge Called My Back (1983) and in 1986 published Getting Home Alive in collaboration with her mother, Rosario Morales.
Levins Morales has written a prose poetry book on the history of Puerto Rican and related women and a collection of essays. Her fiction, poetry and non-fiction have been widely anthologized. She is recognized as an important contemporary Puerto Rican writer. As a historian, she has focused on documenting the history of Puerto Ricans in California through oral histories, collection of archival materials, and an exhibit. Levins Morales is active in Middle east peace work and the disability/chronic illness liberation movement. She is currently working on a novel and lives in Berkeley, California.
In this oral history, Levins Morales details her family heritage and describes her childhood in Puerto Rico, particularly in relation to her parents' political activism and Communist party membership. The majority of the interview focuses on Levins Morales activism, her experiences as a woman of color in both male-led nationalist organizations and the predominantly white, middle-class feminist movement, and her work as a writer and educator. (Transcript 101 pp.)
The daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, Rosario Morales (b. 1930) was raised in el barrio of New York City. In 1949, Morales joined the Communist Party and married Richard Levins, the son of Ukranian Jewish immigrants and a scientist. Together they moved to Puerto Rico in 1951 where they became active in the Puerto Rican Communist Party and the Fellowship of Reconciliation while working a small farm in the mountains. They eventually returned to the U.S., first to Chicago then to Cambridge, but the people and culture of Puerto Rico remained at the center of Morales' work. Morales and her daughter Aurora Levins Morales became active in the women's movement in the late 60s, were a part of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, and co-authored a book of poetry and prose called Getting Home Alive in 1986. Morales is recognized as a major contemporary Puerto Rican writer.
In this oral history Morales discusses her family background and childhood in New York City, discovering radical politics, and her work as a writer and poet. Morales details her experience within the Communist Party, both in New York and in Puerto Rico, and her developing feminist consciousness. She speaks to the roles of women in the Party, the Left in general, and in the academy. Morales is forthcoming about her relationships with her husband and children, particularly her daughter (and co-author) Aurora. Her work as a writer and poet is the predominant theme of the latter half of the interview. (Transcript 78 pp.)
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Marjory Nelson (b. 1928) grew up in New Brunswick, NJ. She married at age 19 and defined herself primarily as a wife and mother for the next 20 years. Inspired by Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, Nelson returned to college in the mid-1960s and began to participate in the radical political movements of that decade. She graduated from the University of Akron with a B.A. in 1966 and an M.A. in Social Psychology in 1968. She was awarded a Ph.D. in Sociology from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1976, having completed a dissertation which examined the National Woman's Party. She was instrumental in the founding of Women's Studies at both SUNY-Buffalo and at Antioch College in Ohio. Nelson has been involved in peace, civil rights, feminist, and lesbian activism; her most notable political activities include lobbying for the ERA in Congress, organizing to free Joann Little and the Wilmington Ten, and co-founding the Women's Building in San Francisco. Her articles and essays have appeared in a wide variety of feminist publications including Sinister Wisdom, Sojourner, and off our backs. Since the 1980s Nelson has lived in San Francisco where she works as a hypnotherapist and a lesbian feminist activist.
The Marjory Nelson Papers are at the Sophia Smith Collection.
In this oral history Marjory Nelson describes her childhood in the 1930s and 1940s in an upper middle-class academic family in New Brunswick, NJ, her life as a typical white suburban housewife and mother in the 1950s and 1960s, her transformation into a middle-aged white academic feminist and leftist political activist after 1968, and her experiences as a lesbian activist living and working in San Francisco since the late 1970s. The interview focuses on Nelson's transformation from married housewife to activist academic, her work with the National Woman's Party and its founder Alice Paul, her personal and political relationship with old left lawyer Mary Kaufman, her involvement in interracial feminist organizing in the 1970s, and her work as a lesbian activist in California since the 1980s. Nelson's story details the ways the social and political upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s, especially the second wave of the women's movement, changed many women's lives. It also illustrates important connections between feminism and a variety of other twentieth century movements for social change. (Transcript 89 pp.)
Karen Nussbaum was born in Chicago April 25, 1950, the daughter of Annette Brenner Nussbaum, who "did public relations for educational institutions and organizations for the public good for many years," and Mike (Myron) Nussbaum, an exterminator (1946-70) and actor and director (1967-present). She attended the University Chicago for a year and a half and became involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement. She moved to Boston, working for the antiwar movement there while supporting herself as a clerical worker at Harvard University. She earned a B.A. from Goddard College in 1975.
In 1973 Nussbaum and some friends organized 9to5, an organization for women clerical workers, initially in Boston. By 1975, Boston 9to5 had joined other similar groups across the country and they reached out to a mostly unreceptive labor movement. SEIU, however, welcomed them and Local 925 was born. In 1981 the union expanded to a national jurisdiction and became SEIU District 925. Nussbaum was president of the 925 union and executive director of 9to5 until 1993. In 1993 President Bill Clinton appointed her as director of the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor. In 1996 she went to the AFL-CIO to head up the newly created Working Women's Department, which was phased out in 2001. Since then, Nussbaum has served as Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney, and as director of Working America, community affiliate of the AFL-CIO. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their three children, who range in age from 15 to 20.
The oral history focuses on the various phases of Nussbaum's life but is especially strong on her role as a co-founder of 9to5 and her work on behalf of working women, both as a government official and within the trade union movement. (Transcript 55 pp.)
LaDoris Payne (b. 1948) was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and has spent much of her life there. She is currently director of the Imani Family Center, which was established in 1993 and is located in a former Ursuline convent. She also directs WomanSpirit in St. Louis, an organization formed in 1984 to provide a place for women to gather, talk, and support one another in their struggles against poverty. WomanSpirit has received funding from a variety of organizations and foundations that have enabled it to develop programs such as Enterprising Women, a microenterprise training program; the Imani Business Incubator and Technology Center; and the House of David shelter, a transitional home for homeless disabled veterans. Payne has been affiliated with the National Congress of Neighborhood Women (NCNW) and with GROOTS (Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood) since the early 1990's. She served as a delegate to the United Nations 4th World Conference on Women in 1995 in Beijing, to the UN Conference on Sustainable Environments in 1996; and to the UN/Economic Commission for Europe preparatory meeting on the 2000 review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. In 1994, on the 10th anniversary of WomanSpirit, Inc., the mayor of St. Louis declared WomanSpirit Day in St. Louis, and LaDoris was also named the Homeless Service Provider of the Year for her work in opening the House of David shelter.
The National Congress of Neighborhood Women Records are in the Sophia Smith Collection. Another oral history of Payne is in the New York City Women Community Activists Oral History Project
The interview provides a wealth of information on LaDoris Payne's growing up in segregated St. Louis, MO, the relationships within and among her family, her struggles with illness and depression, and, ultimately, her coming into her own as an activist and organizer. It is rich in discussion of both the strengths of the black community in St. Louis before Brown v. Board of Education and the personal costs to those children who, like LaDoris, were among the first to go to integrated schools. The oral history gives a sense of her own personal trajectory as an activist, of the ways she was able to use government programs (e.g. War on Poverty programs) to pull herself out of poverty; and, most dramatically, of the vision and energy that have gone into the establishment of WomanSpirit, the Imani Family Center, and David's House. There is also considerable information about her engagement with the National Congress of Neighborhood Women and GROOTS, as well as with UN-related and other international organizations whose meetings she has attended. (Transcript 68 pp.)
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Born in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1941, Jan (Janice) Peterson is a long-time organizer of neighborhood-based, grassroots, working-class women's organizations. She founded the National Congress of Neighborhood Women in 1974 and GROOTS (Grassroots Women Organizing Together in Sisterhood) in 1989, and she is a prime mover of the Huairou Commission. Peterson is a creative, charismatic, and forceful leader who has managed to bridge what often appear to be not only gaps, but abysses, between neighborhood women and foundations, working-class and middle-class women's organizations, ethnic women and feminist organizations, and the like.
Peterson lived in the Milwaukee area through high school and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1963. She spent the following year (1963-64) in New York City, where she became involved with CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality). After a brief time in Wisconsin in 1964, she returned to New York in 1966, where she became involved in Mobilization for Youth. In 1969, she moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where she began the work that eventually resulted in the founding of the National Congress of Neighborhood Women (NCNW). During those years Peterson was also involved with the women's movement in New York City, including NOW, the October 17th group, and New York Radical Feminists. In 1977, she went to Washington, D.C., serving as an assistant to Midge Costanza in the Carter White House. Since the 1980s, Peterson has been involved in a variety of community-based and women's community development organizations, and has increasingly moved into the international arena, becoming active in UN and UN-related organizations. She is now helping to steer the organizations that remain affiliated with the NCNW into a network of "living-learning centers."
The National Congress of Neighborhood Women Records are in the Sophia Smith Collection. Another oral history of Peterson is in the New York City Women Community Activists Oral History Project
This interview is particularly rich in describing Peterson's involvement with the multiple social movements of the 1960s and 1970s that profoundly altered her life and the lives of many of her generation-especially the civil rights, welfare rights, and women's movements in New York City. It demonstrates the ways her involvement with each affected the others, and the close-often profoundly painful-connections and tensions between the "personal" and the "political" that roiled those movements during those years. The oral history also contains fascinating and detailed reflections on her own growth as an organizer, on the meanings of politics and democracy, on the difficulties of organizing as the larger political context and funding opportunities changed, and on the difficulties-and the opportunities-offered by working in groups that consistently attempt to bridge differences, of race, ethnicity, and class. (Transcript 148 pp.)
[Researchers must obtain permission from Jan Peterson to access her interview.]
The youngest of eight children, Suzanne Pharr (b. 1939) was raised in Lawrenceville, GA. A self-described "white, queer, southern, anti-racist worker," Pharr has been a social justice organizer since the 1960s. She was the editor of the women's newspaper Distaff, co-founder of the first domestic violence shelter in Arkansas, and founder of the Women's Project in Little Rock, AR. Pharr was the first female executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center.
In addition to her organizing work, Pharr is an accomplished public intellectual and writer. She is the author of two books: In the Time of the Right: Reflections on Liberation (1996) and Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism (1988). She currently resides in Knoxville, TN, and is working on a new project with Southerners on New Ground.
In this oral history Pharr recalls her childhood in Hog Mountain, Georgia. She explores the nuances of class, race and gender in white rural and working-class communities across the South. Pharr describes her introduction to the civil rights movement during college and her discovery of the women's movement and lesbian community. Her interview is particularly strong on the connections between anti-racist and feminist work, the anti-violence movement, and the politics of sexuality within the women's movement. (Transcript 81 pp.)
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SETSUKO ("SUKI") PORTS
Setsuko ("Suki") Terada Ports was born December 12, 1934, in New York City. Her mother, Sumiko Takai, had immigrated from Japan to the US as a child with her family. Her father, Yoshio (Albert) Terada, was born in Hawaii; he owned a gift shop in New York City that catered to a Japanese clientele. Both were college graduates.
Suki grew up and has lived most of her life in the Morningside Park neighborhood of Harlem. She attended the Horace Mann-Lincoln School (lab school of Teachers College at Columbia University) and the High School of Music and Art, and graduated from the New Lincoln School. After graduating from Smith College as an education major in 1956, she taught for a year in Turkey, where she met her husband, Horace Gonder Ports, Jr. Their marriage in 1958 generated considerable racial hostility from her white in-laws. Her husband died in 1971 at the age of 36, leaving her a single mother of three. She held a series of short-term jobs in the 1970s.
Ports' community-based activism began in the 1960s with engagement in local educational issues and struggles over the neighborhood park and access to public space. Since the 1980s she has focused her energies on HIV/AIDS and on the needs of low-income AIDS patients with the least access to health care and social services: people of color, women, drug addicts. She created the Minority Task Force on AIDS under the auspices of the Council of Churches in 1985 and was a co-founder of the National Minority AIDS Council in 1986. In 1989 she founded the Family Health Project to focus on issues of women of color and AIDS.
Ports has served on the boards of numerous organizations, including Asian Americans for Equality, the New York Women's Foundation, and Asian Pacific Islander Women's HIV/AIDS Network, the National Minority AIDS Council, the Sister Fund, and the Japanese American Association of New York. She has consulted to multiple projects targeting race, class, and gender inequities in health care, and she is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Susan B. Anthony Award of the NYC chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Frederick Douglass Award of the North Star
The Setsuko Ports Papers will be donated to the Sophia Smith Collection.
Ports recalls vivid stories of the impact of FBI surveillance of her family during World War II, including her mother's house arrest. She describes growing up in a Japanese American family in the postwar years. She details racial tensions in her personal life and public work, and comments on cultural norms and stereotypes that have influenced her ability to speak out. Ports summarizes her years of organizing around AIDS.(Transcript 91 pp.)
ACHEBE BETTY POWELL
Achebe Betty Powell (b.1940) was raised in Florida, graduated with a B.A. from The College of St. Catherine and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from Fordham University, and has resided in New York City for the past 40 years. Powell has been an activist since high school, when she joined the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Powell was a self-possessed and mature young woman - from her activism, to living abroad with her father, to being one of the only black students at a Midwestern Catholic women's college. As an adult, Powell was poised to take leadership in many liberation struggles. Powell was a key player in the Gay Academic Union, the National Black Feminist Organization, and the National Gay Task Force. She was a founding member of Salsa Soul Sisters and the Astraea Foundation. Powell has been a professor at Brooklyn College, a social worker, and an employee at Kitchen Table Press before she went on to diversity and anti-racism training, work which has taken her around the globe in the struggle for human rights and liberation. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. An epilogue regarding Powell's name change - from Betty Jean Powell, when the interview took place, to Achebe Betty Powell - follows the transcript.
In this oral history Powell describes her extended family network and roots in the African-Methodist-Episcopal church. She details living in Germany with her father in the 1950s, her conversion to Catholicism, and attending college in St. Paul, MN. Powell recounts her introduction to activism through the National Council of Christians and Jews, and the climate of racism and anti-Semitism in the mid-century South. Powell describes her coming out-both politically and sexually-during the 1970s, into both the gay and lesbian and feminist movements. She recounts her affiliations with the Gay Academic Union, the National Gay Task Force, the National Black Feminist Organization, Salsa Soul Sisters, Kitchen Table Press, and the Astraea Foundation, shedding new light on the politics of race, class, sex, and sexuality. Powell also describes the origins of her international feminist work and Betty Powell Associates, Powell's consulting and training agency which does organizational development work with a focus on anti-oppression diversity. (Transcript 86 pp.)
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MINNIE BRUCE PRATT
Born in Selma, Alabama, in 1946, Minnie Bruce Pratt is an award-winning poet, essayist, teacher and activist. She graduated from the University of Alabama in 1968 and received a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 1979. Pratt found the women's movement in 1974, while living in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and began a new life as an out lesbian, a feminist, a writer, and an activist. Pratt was a member of the editorial collective Feminary, worked with the National Organization for Women and with the local rape crisis line and women's center, sat on the Cumberland County Council on the Status of Women, and co-founded WomanWrites: A Southeastern Lesbian Writers Conference and LIPS, a lesbian direct-action group. Pratt's engagement with feminism and antiracism is best known through her cultural activism. Her publications are extensive and include Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism, with Elly Bulkin and Barbara Smith (1984); Crime Against Nature (1990); Rebellion (1991); and S/He (1995). For the past ten years, Pratt's activism has been in connection with the International Action Center, the Workers World Party, and the transgender movement. She lives with her partner Leslie Feinberg in Jersey City, New Jersey.
In this oral history, Pratt describes her Southern heritage and family background. She reflects on her marriage, its dissolution, and the loss of custody of her children. Pratt describes a distinctly Southern women's movement in the 1970s, offering important insights into the dynamics of race and racism and the politics of sexuality, and discusses in depth the Feminary collective. The interview focuses on Pratt's activism as a writer, the development of her antiracist and anti-imperialist consciousness, and her identity as a femme. (Transcript 102 pp.)
Patricia Reeve was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1953, the daughter of a chemical engineer/lawyer father and an Italian immigrant mother who "broke with family tradition" by attending nursing school and continued working as a nurse until Pat was in grade school (by then she had three younger siblings). She was raised by "devout Catholics" and is also the great niece of socialist, suffragist, and labor organizer Ella Reeve Bloor. While Pat was a sophomore in high school, her mother died; until her father remarried a year later, Pat "assumed responsibility for the household." She graduated from Northern Illinois University (B.A., History, 1975; M.A., History, 1978).
After several clerical and retail positions, Reeve joined 9to5 as an organizer in 1979, working in the Boston area until 1985. Thereafter she joined the faculty at the Labor Studies Program, University of Massachusetts, Boston, working primarily with non-traditional students. From 1997-2003, she was director of the Labor Resource Center at University of Massachusetts, Boston, where she coordinated the labor education program. She was a co-founder of WILD (the Women's Institute for Leadership Development) in 1986 and remains on their board today; she is also active in the Gay and Lesbian Labor Activists Network. She and her partner, Debby Briggs, adopted a special-needs child in 1996: today Laurie is a thriving thirteen-year-old. Reeve recently earned a Ph.D. at Boston College.
Reeve is placing her papers at the SSC. The Ella Reeve Bloor Papers are also at the SSC.
The oral history focuses on the various phases of Reeve's life but is especially strong on her union activities and her career as a labor educator. (Transcript 62 pp.)
Luz Marina Rodriquez was born in New York City on March 7, 1956, and grew up on the Lower East Side. She was the eldest of three children of Elsa Rodriguez Vazquez and Luis Rodriguez Nieto, Sr., who had both recently migrated from Puerto Rico as part of Operation Bootstrap. Her father held a variety of jobs, including electronics repair and night security work, while her mother worked as an Avon Lady.
After graduating from Seward Park High School in 1974, Rodriguez spent two years immersed in social and cultural activities in her Puerto Rican neighborhood, which became known as Loisaida. She was deeply involved in The Real Great Society, a gang outreach and community empowerment organization created in 1964 to engage youth in addressing local needs, especially sweat equity projects to create affordable housing. She was also an active participant in CHARAS/El Bohio, a cultural center where she taught Puerto Rican folkloric dance.
After studying dance at Pratt Institute, Rodriguez graduated from NYU as a dance therapy major in 1982. College research into the sterilization and birth control experimentation on Puerto Rican women planted the seed of later reproductive rights activism.
Rodriguez defines herself as a servant-leader. She has continued to combine grassroots social justice work with administrative leadership in non-profit organizations, including Henry Street Settlement, Lower East Side Family Resource Center, Dominican Women's Development Center, and Casa Atabex. In 1996 she became Executive Director of the Latina Roundtable on Health and Reproductive Rights and played a critical role in the formation of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective. A specialist in organizational development and non-profit sustainability, Rodriguez currently serves as bilingual training coordinator at the New York City headquarters of the Foundation Center.
Rodriguez was awarded a Windcall Residency in 1994 for her advocacy work. She is a published poet as well as a playwright and an aspiring sculptor. She remains active in SisterSong. She has two sons, a step-son, a foster daughter, a kinship foster child, and four grandchildren.
The Luz Rodriguez Papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
Rodriguez describes childhood and adolescence on the Lower East Side. Her story underscores the centrality of cultural programs to community organizing in the late 1960s and the difficulty of integrating artistic work and political conviction in later years. Rodriguez describes the organizational challenges and personal costs involved in creating and sustaining small social justice organizations. The interview includes a detailed account of the formation of SisterSong. (Transcript 77 pp.)
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Catherine Roma was born in Philadelphia on January 29, 1948, the youngest of three children of Italian-born parents. Her mother completed high school and, once married, was a community volunteer. Her father graduated from Princeton University and Temple Law School, but when his own father died young, he left legal practice to run the family's barbershops in Philadelphia and other East Coast railroad terminals. Practicing Catholics, Catherine's parents sent her to Germantown Friends School K-12; she remains a Convinced Friend. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Roma earned a BA in music and an MM in Choral Conducting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she became involved in socialist-feminist politics and began organizing a feminist choral group in 1974. Returning to Philadelphia the following year to teach music at Abington Friends School, she organized and conducted Anna Crusis, the first feminist women's choir in the US. In 1983 she undertook the doctorate in musical arts at the University of Cincinnati, where she founded MUSE, the community chorus she continues to lead.
Under Roma's leadership, MUSE is a vital group in what has become a national and international grassroots movement of women's choruses. MUSE is recognized as a model anti-racist community organization and a progressive force in Cincinnati politics. According to the group's mission statement, MUSE is "a women's choir dedicated to musical excellence and social change. In keeping with our belief that diversity is strength, we are feminist women of varied ages, races, and ethnicities with a range of musical abilities, political interests, and life experiences. We are women loving women; we are heterosexual, lesbian and bisexual women united in song. We commission and seek out music composed by women, pieces written to enhance the sound of women's voices, and songs that honor the enduring spirit of all peoples. In performing, we strive for a concert experience that entertains, inspires, motivates, heals, and creates a feeling of community with our audience."
Roma currently chairs the music department at Wilmington College. In addition to serving as Artistic Director of MUSE, Roma is founder and director of UMOJA Men's Chorus at Warren Correctional Institution, Minister of Music at St. John's Unitarian Church, and co-founder and director of the Martin Luther King Coalition Chorale. Roma and Dorothy Smith, an archivist, have been partners for many years.
Roma is placing her papers and the records of MUSE at the SSC.
Roma recounts her childhood in Philadelphia with emphasis on the importance of her Quaker education. The oral history is a detailed example of building community through music as Roma describes her thirty years of experience in directing women's community choruses as intentional sites of creating anti-racist feminist politics through recruitment of members, decision-making process, musical repertoire and arrangement, performance venue and style, engagement of contemporary social issues, and sustained collaborations with musicians of color, especially Bernice Johnson Reagon. (Transcript 118 pp.)
Loretta Ross was born in Temple, Texas, August 16, 1953, the sixth of eight children in a blended family. Her mother, who brought five older children to her marriage with Ross, had been owner of a music store and a domestic worker; she was a housewife as Loretta was growing up. Loretta's father, who hailed from Jamaica, was an Army weapons specialist and drill sergeant. After retiring from the military in 1963, he worked for the Post Office and often held additional jobs to support the family.
Loretta attended integrated schools - Army schools through second grade, then public schools. She was double-promoted in elementary grades and was an honors student in high school. When Loretta was 11 years old, a stranger beat and raped her. At age 15 she was the victim of incest by a distant relative; she gave birth to a son, Howard, in April, 1969. Because she chose to keep her child, she lost a scholarship to Radcliffe College.
Soon after enrolling at Howard University in 1970, Ross became involved in black nationalist politics and tenant organizing in Washington, D.C. She joined the D.C. Study Group, a Marxist-Leninist discussion group, and the South Africa Support Project. She became a founder of the National Black United Front and an officer of the City Wide Housing Coalition (1974-80). The murder of her friend and political colleague Yulanda Ward in November, 1980, which she considers a political assassination, is a turning point in her life.
After being sterilized by use of the Dalkon Shield at the age of 23, Ross found her way to reproductive rights and anti-violence activism. She became one of the first women to win a suit against A.H. Robins, manufacturer of the device. In 1979 she became director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, the only center at the time run primarily by and for women of color. In that capacity she organized the first National Conference on Third World Women and Violence in 1980. While serving as Director of Women of Color Programs for the National Organization for Women (1985-89), she organized women of color delegations for the pro-choice marches NOW sponsored in 1986 and 1989, and organized the first national conference on Women of Color and Reproductive Rights in 1987. In response to the Supreme Court's Webster decision in 1989, Ross co-coordinated production of the pathbreaking statement "We Remember: African American Women Are For Reproductive Freedom." As Program Director for the National Black Women's Health Project (1989-90), she coordinated the first national conference of African American women for reproductive rights. From 1980 to 1988, she was a member of the D.C. Commission on Women.
From 1991 to 1995, Ross was National Program Research Director for the Center for Democratic Renewal (formerly the National Anti-Klan Network), where she directed projects on right-wing organizations in South Africa, Klan and neo-Nazi involvement in anti-abortion violence, and human rights education in the U.S. In 1996 she created the National Center for Human Rights Education, a training and resource center for grassroots activists aimed at applying a human rights analysis to injustices in the U.S.
Active internationally, Ross is a founding member of the International Council of African Women and of the Network of East-West Women. She has been a regular participant in International Women and Health Meetings and helped organize the delegation of 1100 African American women to the 1985 United Nations women's conference in Nairobi. She also participated in the UN women's women's conferences in Copenhagen in 1980 and Beijing in 1995, as well as the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994.
Ross has served on numerous boards (including National Women's Health Network, SisterLove Women's AIDS Project, Men Stopping Violence) and testifies on women's health and civil rights issues before Congress and the UN as well as via such national media as the Donahue Show and Pacifica News Service. She publishes on the history of abortion in the black community and is co-author of Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice (2004).
Ross was co-director for women of color for the April 2004 March for Women's Lives. In January 2005, she became National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, a growing network of Native American, Latina, African American, Asian American and other women of color groups. SisterSong's mission is to connect reproductive rights to human rights. SisterSong promotes reproductive justice through a combination of the Self-Help approach to internalized oppression and the human rights approach to structural inequality.
Ross completed a bachelor's degree at Agnes Scott College in 2006 and plans to enroll in a women's studies graduate program at Emory University in the fall of 2007.
The Loretta Ross Papers; the Black Women's Health Imperative Records; National Women's Health Network Records; SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective Records; and the Undivided Rights Book Project Records are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
View an online exhibit featuring Loretta Ross.
In this lengthy interview, Ross details her childhood and early education, family life and sexual assault. She traces and analyzes her political evolution from black nationalism in the 1970s to liberal feminism in the 1980s, and from human rights advocacy in the 1990s to reproductive justice organizing in the present. Her account sheds light on the interplay of national and international events in women of color organizing in the U.S. (Transcript 364 pp.)
[Note on access: portions of Loretta Ross' interview are closed until 2020. The pages have been temporarily removed from the transcript and audiovisual materials are closed.]
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Maura Russell was born in 1954 in Gardner, MA, where she grew up as the oldest of eight children. Her father was the Superintendent of Schools and her mother was Director of Religious Education for their parish; both parents earned advanced degrees. She became politically active at a relatively early age, starting with the 1970 Robert Drinan campaign for the US Senate, followed by involvement in the 1972 McGovern presidential campaign and the 1983 Mel King mayoral campaign in Boston.
In 1972 Russell entered Smith College, where she worked various factory and food service jobs while going to school, and she was involved in founding the Smith College Women's Center. Before starting her senior year, she left college to work as a welder in a Rhode Island shipyard for a year. She returned to Smith and continued to work part-time as a welder. She earned her BA in Government in 1977.
Russell entered a union plumbing apprenticeship program in Boston in 1979. In We'll Call You If We Need You (1999), Susan Eisenberg includes some of Russell's experiences as an apprentice, many of which were difficult as Russell and a handful of other women attempted to break the gender barrier in the building trades. She owned her own residential plumbing and heating company from 1983 to 1999, fulfilling her goal of mentoring women who worked with her as apprentices. She was involved with and founded or co-founded several organizations aimed at supporting women in the building trades, up to and including a six-year stint (2000-2006) as Executive Director of Women in the Building Trades, whose records are at the Sophia Smith Collection. She is currently an Educational Specialist in the Career/Vocational Technical Office at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Russell has long been involved with several community groups, in particular City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots organization founded in Jamaica Plain in 1973 which, according to its Web site, remains "committed to fighting for racial, social, and economic justice and gender equality…." Since 2008, much of City Life's focus has been on helping homeowners fight eviction notices. Russell has been on the Board since 1997 and is currently Board president.
Maura and Stephanie Yesner have been together for 31 years. They married in 2004.
Much of Maura Russell's interview focuses on the challenges she faced entering the building trades and the work she has done to help other women secure and retain employment as tradeswomen. Also of interest is her story of coming out at Smith College and the hostility she encountered from other students and college administrators. Russell also discusses the shift in her activism over the years from electoral politics to community organizing. (Transcript 69 pp.)
[Researchers must have permission from Maura Russell to access her interview.]
The Women in the Building Trades Records are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
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Peggy Saika was born February 26, 1945, in an Arizona internment camp. Her Japanese American family settled in Sacramento after the war. Peggy was the youngest of five children in a working-class, Buddhist family. Her father, Fred Taro Saika, was a farmworker; her mother, Dorothy Fukushima, worked in canneries and cleaned houses. After high school Peggy worked as a hairdresser while earning an undergraduate degree at Sacramento State College. She later earned a master's degree in social work.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Saika was involved in left study groups and in Asian American and multiracial community activism for education, immigrant, tenant, and labor rights in Sacramento. She became coordinator of Asian Community Services. Encounters with sex discrimination in employment, an abortion experience, and an abusive personal relationship attuned Saika to women's issues as well. While living in New York City from 1978 to 1983, she worked at the Chinatown Health Center and was active in Bronx Women Against Rape (WAR), the Organization of Asian Women (OAW), and third world women's activism.
Since returning to the Bay Area in 1983, Saika has continued to combine employment in nonprofits with community activism. From 1983 to 1991 she served as executive director of the Asian Law Caucus. In 1986 she became the first Asian American appointed to the Alameda County Commission on the Status of Women. She was a co-founder of the Asian Women's Shelter, the first shelter for abused Asian women in northern California, and in 1989 she helped organize Asian Pacific Islanders for Choice (APIC). From 1993 to 2000 Saika served as founding executive director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN). After attending the 1995 UN Women's Conference in Beijing, she participated in creating the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF). Since 2002 Saika has been executive director of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP). She is active in the Buena Vista United Methodist Church.
Saika has served on several boards, including the Ms. Foundation for Women, the California Wellness Foundation, the New World Foundation, and Choice USA. Saika is married to Art Chen, a political activist and physician. They have two children.
In this oral history, Saika underscores the lasting impact of the internment experience as a call to vigilance and action. She traces her political involvements from pan-Asian student activism in the late 1960s forward, marking her journey through various forms of organizing: direct service, civil rights, community organizing, and philanthropy. The interview offers a general outline of Saika's path as a postwar progressive who embraces her generation's challenge to build an ethnic movement that affirms Asian American identity and rights while it also advances a broad anti-racist, feminist, class-conscious social justice agenda. (Transcript 55 pp).
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Graciela Sánchez was born April 24, 1960, in San Antonio, Texas, the fifth of six children of Enrique and Isabel Sánchez. She was influenced by her parents' involvement in the Chicano pride movement that began in San Antonio in the late 1960s. After graduating from Yale University in 1982, Sánchez returned to her childhood neighborhood on the near west side of San Antonio, where she remains a dedicated community organizer.
In the 1980s, Sánchez worked with the Southwest Voter Registration Project, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), and Chicana Health Policy Development. She participated in Central American solidarity work and studied filmmaking at the Escuela Internacionale de Cine y Television in Cuba. She has produced several films, including Testimonios de Nicaragua on the Sandinista Revolution and No porque lo dice Fidel Castro on lesbian and gay politics in Cuba. As an organizer in the queer community, she became a founding board member of the San Antonio Lesbian Gay assembly, the San Antonio Lesbian/Gay Media Project, and ELLAS, a state and local Latina lesbian organization.
In 1987 Sánchez joined other women in founding the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, which she still directs. A cultural arts and education center, Esperanza is led by lesbians of color committed to bringing grassroots and internationalist Chicana, gender, and working class perspectives together in social justice activism. The Center nurtures the arts as cultural activism and supports MujerArtes, a clay collective that has reestablished pottery-making among low-income Mexican American women as an expression of culturally-grounded empowerment. Esperanza also integrates the collecting of Chicana history into its popular education programs and serves as a repository of artifacts and resources on Mexican American women's history, including the works of Sandra Cisneros and Gloria Anzaldúa. Esperanza regularly publishes La Voz de Esperanza, which celebrates the achievements of the Chicano community with an emphasis on women. Sánchez received the Stonewall Award in 1992 in national recognition of her work in promoting lesbian rights.
In this oral history, Sánchez describes her childhood in a close-knit extended, egalitarian working-class family, noting especially her mother's influence on her core values. She recounts her political development and activity at Yale, the difficulty of her coming out process, and her involvement in Chicano organizing projects and filmmaking. Sánchez details the development of the Esperanza Center, including the political and funding challenges of sustaining a multi-issue organization led by lesbians of color. She offers a vivid account of Esperanza's grassroots "Todos Somos Esperanza" campaign against right-wing attacks, including the Center's successful lawsuit against the city's efforts to defund it in the late 1990s. Her account of the centrality of the arts and community history to Esperanza's goals and organizing strategies is especially strong. (Transcript 106 pp.)
Miriam Schneir (b. 1933) grew up in New York City. A 1955 graduate of Queens College, she worked as an early childhood educator before she became a full-time writer. Schneir co-authored with her husband, Walter Schneir, Invitation to an Inquest (1965), which exposed the injustices in the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case. Her anthology Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings (1972) was a pioneering contribution to the discipline of women's history. In Feminism in Our Time: The Essential Writings, World War II to the Present (1994), Schneir collected and published important texts from feminism's second wave which document the movement's breadth and diversity.
In this oral history Miriam Schneir describes her childhood in an upwardly mobile New York Jewish family and her experiences in the leftwing environments of Antioch College and New York City in the conservative 1950s. The interview focuses on her political awakening in the 1950s, her research on the Rosenberg case, her personal and professional connections with a variety of well-known progressive activists and feminists, and the ways she both shaped and was shaped by the feminist movement. Schneir's story details the overlapping personal and political networks that fed the emerging women's movement and illustrates the contributions made by women who were outside the conventional liberal/radical feminist divide. (Transcript 67 pp.)
[Note on access: portions of Miriam Scneir's interview are closed. The pages have been temporarily removed from the transcript and audiovisual materials are closed.]
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Martha Shelley (b. 1943) was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, in a progressive Jewish home. Her mother was an illegal immigrant and worked in garment factories; her father was a machinist and accounting clerk. Martha graduated from City College in 1965, did clerking and typesetting until the mid-1980s; and is now a writer and medical/legal researcher for disability cases. The civil rights and antiwar movements radicalized Martha; her feminist activism began in 1967 with the Daughters of Bilitis, in which she was president of the New York chapter. In the 1970s Martha was involved with Gay Liberation Front, Radicalesbians, and RAT newspaper. She also produced lesbian feminist radio for WBAI and ran the Women's Press Collective. Her early political writings - "Gay is Good" and "Notes of a Radical Lesbian"- are well known and are collected in anthologies such as Sisterhood is Powerful. Shelley is also the author of Crossing the DMZ, a collection of her poetry, and Haggadah: A Celebration of Freedom. Martha Shelley currently lives in Oakland, California.
In this oral history Martha Shelley discusses her family background, sexual orientation and coming out, and her activism in the late 1960s and 1970s. The interview is particularly strong on the topics of gay liberation and lesbian feminism, including Radicalesbians, Gay Liberation Front, the Daughters of Bilitis, and the Women's Press Collective. (Transcript 69 pp.)
Barbara Smith (b. 1946) grew up in Cleveland. A 1969 graduate of Mount Holyoke College, in 1973 she co-founded the Combahee River Collective, a black feminist organizing group. In 1977 she wrote "Towards a Black Feminist Criticism," which charted a black women's literary tradition. As co-founder with Audre Lorde of Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, Smith promoted publication of women's writing. She edited three landmark collections of black feminist thought: Conditions 5: The Black Women's Issue (1979), All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us are Brave (1982), and Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (1983). She published a collection of essays, The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender and Freedom, in 1998. A public intellectual and grassroots organizer, Smith is noted for her scholarship (Bunting Fellow, 1996-97) and her activism (Stonewall Award, 1994).
In this oral history Barbara Smith describes her childhood in an emotionally warm and culturally rich family that valued education and race work. The interview focuses on her activism as a grassroots organizer, writer, and publisher. Smith's story details the political challenges and personal costs of being a pioneer in radical coalition politics against imperialism, racism, and sexism, and homophobia. (Transcript 109 pp.)
Gloria Steinem, born on March 25, 1934 in Toledo, Ohio, is a feminist activist, organizer and writer whose commitment to progressive issues and ideals spans five decades. A leading figure in the women's liberation movement, Steinem earned a BA in 1956 from Smith College. After graduation, she was awarded a travel fellowship to India. Upon her return to the U.S. in 1958, Steinem settled in New York City where she wrote articles on politics and culture for numerous publications including Esquire, Glamour, Vogue, New York, Show and McCall's. In 1972, she helped to found the still published landmark feminist journal, Ms. magazine. An influential international voice on the status of women and other marginalized groups, Steinem is the author of The Beach Book (1963), Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983), Marilyn: Norma Jeane (1986), Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (1992) and Moving Beyond Words (1993).
The Gloria Steinem Papers; the Ms. Foundation for Women Records; Ms. Magazine records; and the Women's Action Alliance Records are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
In this oral history Steinem discusses her upbringing in a loving but unstable home with an emotionally ill mother and a carefree traveling antiques dealer father. She cites her years at Smith and experiences in India as pivotal in shaping her views on race, class and gender. Steinem also describes her journalism career and the role her work as a writer and speaker played in raising her consciousness about women and society. The interview focuses of Steinem's critical involvement in the founding of Ms. magazine and the emergence of the women's liberation movement. She speaks with candor about various feuds, conflicts and misunderstandings within the feminist movement and their impact on her life. She also discusses strategies for building and sustaining personal and political alliances. The interview is especially noteworthy for Steinem's reflections on her childhood, grief, and the rewards and challenges of her status as an iconic figure. (Transcript 106 pp.)
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Linda Stout (b.1954) resides in Western Massachusetts but her roots are in the Deep South. She was born to tenant farmers and thirteenth-generation Quakers in North Carolina. Stout's way out of rural North Carolina was going to be a good education and college, but a life of poverty and limited choices intervened: family hardship, lack of self-confidence, and financial trouble. Stout was raised with a social conscience and in the Quaker tradition. Being employed in the mills allowed her to see racism at work and she became engaged in social change. In her early twenties, Stout and her sister moved to Charleston, where she worked for a civil rights law firm as a secretary and was exposed to articulations of injustice and a variety of strategies for social change. She was involved in a women's group organizing around ERA and abortion rights, but while she identified with the issues, Stout felt shunned in the context of this group for her class background.
The peace movement is where Stout would find a comfortable home. She organized Friends Meetings in Charleston, offered military draft counseling services, started a peace group, and was making the connections between military spending and poverty. In her effort to organize the low-income community, she met Septima Clark, a significant figure in Stout's story and civil rights history. Family crises brought Stout back to the Piedmont region in North Carolina; she is best known for the project she founded there, the Piedmont Peace Project (PPP), a low-income, multiracial organizing project that makes connections between local and national issues. The PPP has had many successful campaigns, including voter registration and mobilization, literacy, lobbying, peace work around the Gulf War, housing, water and sewer services for low-income neighborhoods. In the late 1990s, Stout left North Carolina to take the helm of the Peace Development Fund in Amherst, Massachusetts, and is now the director of a new project, Spirit of Change.
The Linda Stout Papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
In this oral history Stout describes in detail her family background and the rural, low-income communities of the Piedmont region in North Carolina. The interview focuses on her work in civil rights and peace movements in the South, her anti-Klan organizing and the dangers of activism in the South, and the politics of class. She describes the impulse behind the Piedmont Peace Project and the ground-breaking ways in which the organization operates. Stout describes the role of her organization and those of working-class peoples in the larger national peace movement. The conclusion of this interview is a discussion of Stout's latest project, Spirit of Change. (Transcript 94 pp.)
Meredith Tax (b. 1942) grew up in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area, graduated from Brandeis University in 1964, and studied seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English literature at the University of London as a Fulbright Fellow and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow from 1964 to 1968. Tax got involved in radical politics in London in the late 1960s and went on to participate in the founding of several groups: Bread and Roses in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1969; the October League, a Marxist group in Chicago in the early 1970s; the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse (CARASA) in New York City in 1977; and Reproductive Rights National Network (R2N2) in 1979. Tax is also a well-known feminist writer. Her best-known works are the nonfiction The Rising of the Women (1980) and novels Rivington Street (1982) and Union Square (1988). Since 1986 Tax has combined her roles as activist and writer through her work with the Women's Committee of the PEN American Center, the International PEN Women Writers' Committee, and as the founder and president/CEO of Women's World Organization for Rights, Literature and Development (Women's WORLD).
The Reproductive Rights National Network Records are also at the SSC.
In this oral history Meredith Tax describes her childhood in a Midwestern Jewish family in the post-World War II period and her life as a young woman at Brandeis University in the early 1960s. The interview focuses on her activism as a Marxist and a feminist and on her struggles to sustain herself personally and financially while maintaining a commitment to her political ideals. Tax's story documents the impact of feminist ideas and activities on both radical political organizations such as the October League and mainstream organizations such as the PEN American Center and International PEN. It also illustrates the variety of ways that feminism has survived beyond the second wave in contexts outside of the academy. (Transcript 105 pp.)
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Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1944, Mary Thom is a writer, editor, journalist and oral historian. Thom attended Bryn Mawr College and did graduate work in history at Columbia University before joining the staff of Ms. magazine in 1972. Thom spent thirty years at the magazine, as an editor, writer and reporter, and became executive editor in 1990. She is the author of Inside "Ms.": 25 Years of the Magazine and the Feminist Movement (1997) and edited Letters to "Ms." (1987), a documentary history. Thom lives in New York City and is currently working on a biography of Bella Abzug.
In this oral history, Thom reflects on her family background and childhood in Ohio and her introduction to political activism in college. She describes her activism on the Bryn Mawr campus and her experiences in the civil rights movement. The majority of the interview focuses on Thom's tenure at Ms., highlighting some of the controversial issues and inner workings of the magazine. (Transcript 48 pp.)
Born in 1951, Anita Stroud grew up the oldest of three children in a female-headed household in public housing in Baltimore. As a teen in the late 1960s, she helped start and lead an underground student group, The Black Voice, to protest institutionalized racism at her high school. She also became a community worker with the Black Panther Party. This activism cost her a high school diploma. She married John Wesley Stevens, a Party member, and they took the names Nkenge and Patrice Touré. They had two daughters before the marriage ended in 1979.
Touré left the Party in the early 1970s and moved to Washington, D.C. After briefly running a group called Save the People, she joined the staff of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center. As general administrator and director of community education at the Center for 13 years, Touré became a pioneer in anti-rape organizing and a champion of addressing all forms of violence against women: psychological, cultural, racial, economic, state, physical, and sexual. At the same time, as a co-founder of the Women's Section of the National Black United Front, she was defending women's rights within nationalist politics. Through the D.C. Study Group, a Marxist-Leninist group, and the City Wide Housing Coalition, she was also involved in anti-apartheid and tenant organizing. In 1982, she and Loretta Ross co-founded the International Council of African Women (ICAW) to prepare African American women to participate in the 1985 United Nations Women's Conference in Nairobi.
Since leaving the Rape Crisis Center in 1988, Touré has hosted and produced In Our Voices, a public affairs radio program on WPFW as a forum for women's perspectives. She also works with substance abusers and others affected by HIV and AIDS, and she is active in the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective.
The Nkenge Touré Papers; the Black Women's Health Imperative Records; and ther SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective Records; are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
In this oral history, Touré recalls her childhood in public housing projects and her high school activism against institutionalized racism. She details the organizational structure and gender dynamics of the Black Panther Party and describes her transition into black feminist activism in the 1970s. She recounts the challenges of simultaneously promoting a broad anti-violence agenda within the anti-rape movement while asserting women's rights within nationalist politics. Touré's story captures the personal and political struggles of advancing revolutionary black feminism. (Transcript 108 pp.)
The oldest of seven children, Carmen Vázquez (b. 1949) was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Harlem. She attended the City University of New York, earning a Bachelors in English and a Masters in Education. Vázquez lived and worked in San Francisco for almost two decades, becoming a seasoned activist and movement leader in causes ranging from immigrant rights to lesbian health. Vázquez was the founding director of the Women's Building in San Francisco, the Director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and the Coordinator of Lesbian & Gay Health Services for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. She was also the co-founder and co-chair of Somos Hermanas, a Central American Women's Solidarity Network.
Vázquez returned to New York in 1994 as the Director of Public Policy for the LGBT Community Center in New York City. She has published in many journals, magazines, and anthologies and is a featured speaker at activist conferences including the NGLTF's Creating Change. Vázquez is currently the Deputy Director of Empire State Pride Agenda and lives in Brooklyn.
The Carmen Vázquez Papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
See online exhibit featuring Carmen Vázquez.
In this oral history, Vázquez describes her early childhood in Puerto Rico and growing up in New York City, first on the Lower East Side, then in Harlem. Vázquez is forthcoming about her personal life during this time and covers issues such as racism, family dynamics, religion and sexuality. Vázquez describes her political awakening and early activism, beginning with the student protests at City College and Puerto Rican independence efforts. She describes in depth her movement from antiracism and socialist activism into the women's movement and then queer politics. Vázquez's interview is particularly strong and nuanced around issues of classism, racism, and sexism in social change movements. She offers keen insights into the successes and failures of these movements and an uncompromising vision for meaningful coalition building. (Transcript 93 pp.)
View transcript Watch video excerpt (requires Quicktime plug-in)
See also the joint interview with Carmen Vázquez and Dorothy Allison.
Wynona Lund Ward was born July 4, 1951, the third of five children in a family beset by physical and sexual violence. The family lived a few miles from the village of West Fairlee in rural Vermont. When not unemployed, her father worked in copper mines, granite quarries, logging, and road construction. He drank excessively. Her mother worked as a housecleaner, school bus driver, dishwasher and cook. Wynona's father raped her repeatedly, beginning when she was three years old. Her grandfather raped her at age nine. Her mother and grandmother were verbally and physically abusive as well. Family members, neighbors and others turned a blind eye.
Wynona graduated from high school in 1969 and soon married a school friend, Harold Ward. She held clerical jobs in the 1970s until she and Harold formed a long-haul trucking company, Ward Transportation Services. From 1980 to 1995, she drove an 18-wheeler around the country.
In 1986 a niece reported sexual abuse by her grandfather (Wynona's father) and, in 1991, rape by her uncle (Wynona's brother). These reports triggered Wynona's own traumatic memories of child sexual assault. As Wynona became her niece's advocate through a protracted series of legal proceedings, she became versed in family law and wrote lengthy, reasoned critiques of court rulings and procedures. Once her brother was convicted, she lobbied for sex-offender treatment for him, then mounted a public campaign to deny him parole when he refused to participate.
From 1993 to 1995, while riding in the truck, Ward completed studies for a college degree. In 1995 she entered Vermont Law School. In the course of her studies she focused on issues of family violence and worked in legal clinics. Upon graduation in 1998 she created Have Justice Will Travel, a mobile service that addresses rural poverty and isolation by providing free in-house consultations, transportation, and legal representation for low-income women and children who are victims of domestic violence. She has begun to receive national attention (e.g., Sunday Globe Magazine, Ms. Magazine, a Lifetime TV Achievement Award) as well as grants from foundations and the Department of Justice. HJWT now has offices in Brattleboro and Bennington as well as in the Wards' home. HJWT has also developed a women-in-transition component to provide support and life skills for women moving toward self-sufficiency. Through lectures, trainings, and involvement in local and national organizations, Ward promotes HJWT as a model for ending rural family violence.
The Wynona Ward Papers and the records of Have Justice Will Travel are in the Sophia Smith Collection.
Ward has written accounts of the abuse in her childhood home; the oral history does not recount that experience. Ward describes her experience of poverty and rural isolation as they influence gender relations and domestic abuse. She assesses the impact of the women's movement on responses to family violence and details the in-home, "wraparound" services that distinguish Have Justice Will Travel from other advocacy groups and service providers. (Transcript 80 pp.)
Barbara Winslow (b. 1945) grew up in Scarsdale, New York. She attended Antioch College for three years but graduated from the University of Washington with a B.A. in 1968 and a Ph.D. in history in 1972. A student and antiwar activist, she was instrumental in founding Women's Liberation Seattle and was heavily involved in grassroots feminist activity, particularly reproductive rights, in Seattle, Detroit, Cleveland, and New York City. Active in socialist and feminist politics for many years, Winslow was also at the forefront of the movement to integrate women, African Americans, and the working class into the teaching of history in the 1970s. She is currently teaching history and women's studies at Brooklyn College.
In this oral history Barbara Winslow describes her privileged childhood in Westchester County, New York, and at Solebury Academy in Pennsylvania. The interview focuses on Winslow's activism as a socialist, a feminist, and a historian. Her story documents the life of a socialist activist and feminist and the challenges that come with combining those two identities. It also details the ins and outs of grassroots feminist activity in Seattle in the 1960s, in Cleveland, Ohio, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and in New York City from the mid-1980s on. (Transcript 73 pp.)
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