Dale McCormick

“Trade and technical jobs are the avenue out of poverty for women.”

Interviewed by Judy Waxman, February 2021

DM:  My  name is Dale McCormick and I was born in New York City in 1947.

JW:  Tell me what your life was like before you were involved in the women’s movement.

DM:  That was so long ago that I can barely remember. I was 19 or 20 when I got involved with the second wave. So that leaves only my high school years and my childhood.

JW:  Did you have any siblings?

DM:  One brother back then; now I have two. My Mother’s grandmother came over from Glasgow, Scotland in the early 1900s–a matriarch and 4 children. They settled in the Meat Packing District west of 9th avenue in a cold water flat, and never left.  My grandmother was born here but was farmed out to a family to work.  She was the only one to marry and moved to the Bronx where my mother was born.

My father, Kenneth Dale McCormick, hitchhiked from Oregon to NYC in 1928 to be a concert pianist.  He and Mom met while she was working as a nurse at Bellevue Hospital.  They married and were together for 10 years before things fell apart when my younger brother and I came along.

The school we went to, Downtown Community School, allowed me to take shop and didn’t mind when I traded my art class so I could go to shop twice a week.  I still remember strutting into my third grade class with the tool box I’d made on my shoulder; the envy of my classmates.  Years later I realized that because of that shop class, I’ve always known how to use tools.  Unusual for a woman of my generation, and a big reason I had the confidence to aspire to be a carpenter.

Mom didn’t want to raise her kids in the city.  As luck would have it, when she moved us to Greenwich Village to be close to my grandmother, who should be renting an apartment in the same building, but Dale Kramer, a writer from Iowa.  Mom married him in 1954, and that’s how I got to Sigourney, Iowa, my step-father’s hometown.

I grew up in Sigourney where we moved when I was seven or eight. It was a typical Midwest farm town of 2,100 people with a courthouse in the middle of the square. It was a 1950s childhood.  I played in the band, raised sheep in 4-H, played Hide-and-go-Seek with the neighbor kids most evenings, organized puppet shows and build the sets.  My Mother, who never lost her Bronx accent, and I often pushed against norms.

She thought I should be able to take Spanish instead of Home Economics, as well as the required Latin.  Mom won that battle, but I was blackballed in high school from the National Honor Society.  Too mouthy I think.  I wanted to take Shop, but was for boys only.

There were no sports for women in high school. I’m a pre-title IX girl.  Any sport that I did in high school, I organized.  We started a golf team because Sigourney had a 9 hole sand green course at the edge of town.  That meant we didn’t have to fight the school for a place to play, but it wasn’t an official school team. When I got to the University of Iowa in 1965, friends from Northwest Iowa and I started a track team there. There were some women’s sports at Iowa, but not a lot.

JW:  When did you get involved in the women’s movement? What happened at the University of Iowa?

DM:  Probably around 1967.  I was sort of in the middle of all of it. I was involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement from 1966 on.  It was my second year at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. The anti-war movement was a quick introduction to women being left out.  SDS, Students for a Democratic Society didn’t welcome women that weren’t girlfriends of one of the men.  It had no opportunities for women’s leadership and besides that they didn’t listen to me. This was the experience of a lot of women so we started our own organization: the Women’s Liberation Front.  The WLF was anti-war, and went beyond that to studying the oppression of women.  In consciousness raising groups we realized we all had similar experiences at home, at work and in relationships with men.  Also 1969 soon after Stonewall, a few lesbians and I started the Gay Liberation Front; we weren’t messing around.

Iowa City was a hot bed of progressive activity.  In 1970 during the invasion of Cambodia I and many students demonstrated and pushed the University on the war and allowing Dow Chemical recruiters on campus.  Twelve of us formed a  steering committee to organize ways for students to voices their opposition to the War.  It culminated in shutting down the University of Iowa in the Spring of 1969 or 70.

JW:  Did you “sit in” in any buildings? How did you shut it down?

DM:  Some students staged a sit in in the Administration building, which was one of the near constant demonstrations.  I was a part of that.  Being young and earnest I was in a period of deep thinking about the morality of the war.  Months reading Gandhi, Thoreau, and a recent book, Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam had helped me realize I had to something personally to stop the war.   When your country does commits crimes, Thoreau said, the only place for a just person is in jail.   That Spring of ’68 I decided to commit civil disobedience and got arrested for protesting the presence of the Dow Chemical Company recruiter at the University.

So, I sat down in front of a door and blocked access to the recruiter for the company that was manufacturing napalm, the toxic chemical responsible for killing and burning thousands of people and deforesting Southeast Asia.  My big moral statement happened in a melee of a demonstration involving the police  and Sheriff’s departments, hundreds of students picketing against the war, and a counter protest lead by the Gymnastics team chanting, “My country right or wrong,” from the third floor of a parking garage across the street,

A cop came up and hauled me off to the County jail after 5 minutes.

They charged me with a misdemeanor and resisting arrest, which surprised me.  It turned out you don’t get arrested for civil disobedience, there’s no law about that. You get arrested for disorderly conduct. After months thinking about this I protested that I had not been disorderly!

Later in August I went to Chicago and was part of the demonstrations outside the National Democratic Convention where the police rioted.  I was very careful both in Chicago and later at the University of Iowa to not get arrested a second time.

JW:  We talked a little about the Women’s Liberation Front.  Tell me some of the activities you were involved in with them.

DM:  The Women’s Liberation Front acted as the umbrella of the Second Wave of the Women’s Movement in Iowa City. The first wave began at Seneca Falls convention in 1883 and lasted until white women won the vote in 1919.  The Women’s Movement fertilized a whole bunch of things:  the Iowa City Women’s Press; Ain’t I A Woman, a lesbian feminist newspaper that we published for several years; a restaurant called Grace and Ruby’s; Take back the Night; and a bookstore to name just a few.  I was on the Ain’t I A Woman collective in Iowa City for a long time. We published every two weeks.

Another group of women staged a sit-in to get the university to provide child care.  It took a while, but they did.  We organized two child care centers Dum Dum Daycare and FUCK, Free Underground Collective for Kids.

I was involved in all of it, but being a lesbian, I also focused on the Gay Liberation Front and pushing for civil rights for LGBTQ+ people like me.  In 1970 five of us piled into a VW bug and drove to NYC for the first Gay Pride March after Stonewall.

The women’s movement at that point was expanding the scope of what men and society thought women could be.  It gave me the courage to become a carpenter, and in 1970 I started my apprenticeship with the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, local 1260 in Iowa City.

It unfolded like this.

I graduated from the university of Iowa in 1970 with a Teaching Certificate, but because there was a big recession, there were no jobs for teachers and I was unemployed.   There were two women’s collectives in Iowa City at that time and I lived in one of them on Governor Street.  My friend Linda Knox came in one day and said “Dale, look at this clipping, the carpenters union is accepting apprentices. Why don’t you go apply?”

I had always handy with tools, so I did.

JW:  Let’s hear it.

DM:  The application said that apprentices were the cream of the crop, the future of the union.  So, we figured that if they were going to refuse me entry into the apprenticeship, they’d say it was because I had been arrested.  Dale was a common boy’s name in Iowa back then, and I thought I could use that to my advantage.

I wrote my name and address at the top of the mimeographed application and left the rest blank.  My friend Hal took it down to the union hall to do a recognizance.   He met with the Business Agent of Carpenter’s Local 1260 and went through the application mumbling over my pronouns.  Hal, pointed to the line asking if the applicant has ever been arrested.  “Not to worry,” the business agent said, “all the guys get drunk on Saturday night and get themselves arrested.”

When Hal came back with the business agent’s statement that arrests didn’t matter, I figured I was at least playing on a level field.  I filled out the application and took it down to the union hall.  When I handed it to the business agent, he looked at the application with my name on it and then looked up at me.

“This is for your husband, right?”

I said, “No.”

He said, “Dale is your brother?  Your brother’s name is Dale.”

“No, my name is Dale, this is my application.”

He did a double take that must have lasted a whole minute.   He walked over to the filing cabinet and leaned against it with his elbow on top while he pondered the situation.

He walked back to me and asked, “You’re from the government, aren’t you?”

Trying to stifle a laugh, I said, “No, I want to be a carpenter.”

He walked back the filing cabinet and studied me some more.  Suddenly, he looked up, came back to me and said, “Well, the government made a mistake; they should have sent a black woman if they wanted to trap the union.”

Finally, I pointed to the application and said, “This is for me, I’m Dale McCormick, and I want to be a carpenter.”  I left him scratching his head.

The Decision on which applicants to accept into the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners was to be made by the Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC), which is a committee of three contractors and three union member carpenters.  The JATC conducted interviews with the twelve guys and me.  The union took only one apprentice that year and it was me.

I think I was helped because two of the carpenter members of the JATC were unique.   One was a beekeeper who sold honey to the local co-op and was a very progressive guy, and the second one, Lee Dewey, was married to Dr. Mary Dewey, the venerable Director of the University of Iowa Student Health. He clearly had made his peace with women doing nontraditional things and I think Lee Dewey helped me to be accepted.

JW:  And your skills also.

DM:  They didn’t test my carpentry skills. There was a book test, though: math, spatial reasoning, tool names. I asked the business agent if I should I study for this test?  He said, “Oh, no, no, no, no. It’s just basic stuff.”

Just in case on the morning of the test I stopped at the library to look at a book about carpentry and I got five or ten questions right for doing that. One of the questions was, “What is a ball-peen hammer?”  It is not really a carpentry tool at all. I happened to see a picture of it in the book and I got that one right. Who the hell knows what a ball-peen hammer is if you’re from Sigourney, Iowa, and you have never taken shop?

JW: Before we move on to more women’s movement stuff, in the late ’60s you said you were involved in the gay newspaper. What was the reaction in the community at that time?

DM:  To us you mean?

JW:  Yes. To you, to the newspaper, to gay women being activists.

DM:  Ain’t I A Woman, was the paper and it was published between 1970-72 or there abouts.  This was way before computers so we typed all the copy on an IBM Selectric and glued the columns to special 11 x 17 paper with blue grid lines.  For the headlines we used press type, which were sheets of black letters on velum that were transferred to the master by rubbing hard with a pencil over the vellum.  One letter at a time.  Laying out the paper was painstaking.   Every two weeks we would drive the masters for that issue over to the printer who was an hour away.

A couple of times printers glanced at the copy told us they would not print it.  The one time that we really got pushback was when the women’s health group and the Emma Goldman Clinic for Women, which we also started in Iowa City, wanted us to publish an issue dedicated to women’s self-examination.

The issue included photos of women examining their vulvas and the printer refused to print it saying it was obscene.  We were at deadline and had driven an hour, but he said no.  Finally, we found a printer that would print it,  but there was quite a delay.  So, yes, sometimes there was hostility.   The trouble we had getting the women’s health issue printed was one of the reasons why Joan, Barb and others formed the Iowa City Women’s Press. We wanted to be in control of the means of production.

I fondly remember hawking Ain’t I A Woman on the street corners in Iowa City for twenty-five cents a copy.  People were generally glad to buy it.  Nobody “bopped” me over the head or anything.

During my apprenticeship however…

JW:  That’s what I want to get to, apprenticeship.

DM:  I waited a year and a half for Local 1260 to place me on a job. My apprenticeship had started and all the other apprentices were working, but I was sitting on the bench because none of the contractors would hire me. To make ends meet I worked for minimum wage at Henry’s Hamburgers, which at that time was $1.50. Finally, I got placed in the lumber yard of a contractor building houses in Cedar Rapids. Due to the equal opportunity laws most likely.  I lifted and sawed 2x10s that were 16 feet long all day.  My body wasn’t used to it and boy, was I tired at night.  I’d wake up in the morning and have to physically uncurl by fingers, which were frozen in the shape of a 2 x 10.

I didn’t get real harassment until I was in the second and third year of my apprenticeship.  It started when I had become a competent carpenter.

JW:  The other workers?

DM:  Yeah, there were three brothers who were the ringleaders.  Two laborers and a carpenter. Everybody else just went along with whatever was happening. We were building the Reagan post office in Iowa City. It was winter, so the carpenters had a little warm up shack in the middle of the work room, and that’s where we’d gather in the morning, eat lunch, and hang our hats and coats.  The plumbers, brick layers and electricians each had their own shed.

Sometimes when I’d take my coat off the peg, there would be a playboy pin up on the wall under it.   Usually, I’d tear it down, put on my tool belt, and escape to wherever I was working that day.  As time went on, they started putting pornographic objects in my lunchbox, phallic-like objects and things that looked like pubic hair.  Watching my reaction was a source of amusement in the shack.  To me, it was hell.  It wasn’t a laugh we could all enjoy together; these were pranks done to me.  As they sniggered at my embarrassment; I felt belittled by the twelve  carpenters I worked.  Set apart.   Reduced to my genitals.  The message was clear:  a woman could never be a real carpenter.

Each time I told my foreman, he’d listen and just say, “Boys will be boys.”

This went on for weeks and months.  At lunch I’d open my lunch box and find  a drawing of breasts or an old typewriter eraser with a white or pink circular eraser attached to a brush made of  curly black bristles meant to remind me of male genitalia and public hair. It really bothered me.  I was living with a level of tension at work that I couldn’t take anymore.   I complained to the job superintendent, and he said, “They’re just trying to get to you Dale.” I’d said, well, yeah, and they are. I want them to stop it.

Finally, one Friday at 4:30 I went to the warm up shed to get my coat and lunch box.  As I lifted my coat, there was a Playboy center fold under it.  I lost it, ripped it down, and walked with it across the job out to the Superintendent’s trailer.  I found him poring over a huge table of  blueprints.  When he recognized me, he said, “I see you got another dirty picture.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I want you to make them stop. If this was happening to Willy, you would never let it happen.”  Willy was a Black laborer.  He shrugged, “They are just trying to get to you, Dale.”  “Well, they ARE getting to me,” I responded.   Turning back to his blueprints, he said, “Try to not let it bother you.”

“Well, if you’re not going to do anything about this, I am!”

I left the trailer,  slammed the door, and stalked across the jobsite and pulled my hammer out of my tool belt.  I was furious. Halfway to the warm up shed I came upon one of the 6 foot 2 inch ringleader brothers.

I reached up and grabbed him by the front of his tee-shirt with my left hand, and while menacing him with  hammer in my right, growled, “Who’s been putting all those dirty pictures up where I have my hat and coat?” He blubbered, “Oh, it wasn’t me. I don’t know.”

I can now tell this story with a certain amount of humor that I didn’t feel then because the image of a 5’ 4” apprentice threatening a 6’ 2” inch beefy laborer with her hammer has its comical side.

Back to the story of that fateful day.  I let him go and I marched on to the warm up shed where I was going to confront the others.  There were a bunch of guys getting ready to go home.  All our lunch boxes were lined up on a bench in a row.  I stood there in my brown duck work coat, hard hat and leather tool belt and demanded again, “Who’s been putting those dirty pictures up where I hang my coat?”

Several of them mumbled, “Oh, we don’t know, it wasn’t me.” “I didn’t do it.” “Not me…” Exasperated, I shouted, “This shit has got to stop,” and for emphasis I took my hammer and I slashed it down.  It hit one of the gray plastic lunch boxes, broke the top, went down through, to the thermos bottle.  There was tinkling of glass and a satisfying whoosh as the vacuum seal broke.

Ron Rainer, the carpenter of the brothers came over, got in my face, poked his finger in my chest, and threatened, “You better get me a new lunch box by Monday.”

By that point I had run out of good lines and was exhausted.  I put my tools in my toolbox, gabbed my coat, and left the job site.  Still determined to do something to make the harassment stop, I drove over to the city hall and went into the Human Rights Commission Office. It was almost 5 and nobody was there except a secretary.  She looked up, “Can I help you?”

My story came tumbling out, “Well, I have this job as a carpenter: it’s not that.  The carpenters union admitted me, so that’s good. But at work the men are  putting up all these dirty pictures where I hang my hat and coat.”

She sat up straight, “They can’t do that! You need to file a complaint.  Sign here and sign this.” She helped me fill out three complaints:  one each to the local Human Rights Commission, the state and federal Equal Opportunity Commissions.

She saved my apprenticeship.

There was a five year wait for the national EEOC because they were so underfunded. It wasn’t a priority back then and actually, it’s not a priority now.  The Iowa City Human Rights Commission began an investigation pretty quickly.  They notified the company and interviewed all the brothers, the superintendent and the foreman.   The Commission found probable cause that I was being harassed because of my gender.

Almost instantly, things got better for me.  I felt like I was surrounded by the protective bubble of the law.  The application of civil rights law had altered the power imbalance and allowed me to finish my apprenticeship.  The company began to focus on what was going on and my arch-rival brothers were in the cross hairs. Their harassment stopped and became instead, “Gee, I wish the government would pay for my lawyer.” I’d just smile, pull my hard hat down over my eyes, and strut past them.  “Yeah, it’s a pretty good deal, huh?”

They couldn’t touch me anymore. For one,  they knew they’d get in worse trouble and two, I felt protected by an invisible bubble of civil rights law. That’s how I managed to get through the fourth year of my apprenticeship.

JW:  Wow! That’s an amazing story, good for you. Had you intended to file a complaint or was it just the secretary’s impetus that got you to do it?

DM:  She was instrumental.  I knew I couldn’t go on like with that level of anger, didn’t know what to do.  What was amazing about that moment was she confirmed my instincts. I felt what they were doing was not fair and that it was hurtful. But I didn’t know if I could complain about it.  She said, “Yes you can!”  That was very validating; it makes you crazy if you are being harassed and no one notices or thinks it’s unfair.

JW:  “It’s just how it is,” is what your supervisor was saying. 

DM:  Yeah, just the way it is, right.

JW:  After that experience, did you stay in Iowa City or did you move? Did you continue to be involved in the women’s movement in any way?

DM:  Oh yes!  That would have been about 1973.  You know the ’60s really included the ’70s.  After I got my Journey level card from the United Brotherhood I started my own construction company, McCormick Construction and Cabinetry, Specialists in Solar and Energy Efficient Design. I had The sign on my blue, half ton pickup.  I mostly hired women and I had plenty of work. I never advertised once; it was all word of mouth.

JW:  That was still in Iowa?

DM:  Yeah, Iowa City.  I loved it there, but the lesbian community had a lot of rules about what one should believe and the way one should act.  After someone scoffed at me for wanting to observe the national moment of silence for John Lennon after he was murdered, I felt like it was time to move on if I wanted to grow.

JW:  Did you move then to Maine or somewhere else?

DM:  I moved Maine in 1980.

JW:  So that’s where you still are.

DM:  I got to Maine in a serendipitous way.  I had written Against the Grain, A Carpentry Manual for Women, at the behest of the Iowa City Women’s Press.  Joan Pinkvoss, One of my friends at the Iowa City Women’s Press, announced that  they were going to do a skills series for women. Barb would do the auto mechanics book, and they wanted me to write the carpentry one.  Of course, I said, yes and I had a lot of motivation because during my apprenticeship, I had trouble understanding some of the text books.   I wanted to write a book that defined everything so anyone could understand it.  I illustrated the book too.  It was fun.

Charlie Wing at Cornerstones, an owner builder school in Brunswick Maine, read my book and asked if I would come to Maine and teach a Housebuilding for Women course there.  Cornerstones taught people who didn’t know how to use tools to build houses for themselves.  There were several schools like it around the country and was part of the back to the land movement.  I taught my Housebuilding for Women course each July from 1978-83 or so.  It had a devout following.

When Cornerstones offered me a full time job as Director of Hand-on Education, I moved to Maine and rented an apartment in neighboring Bath on the top floor of an historic Sea Captain’s house.  I brought my cat, Poli Hale, who learned to climb outdoor steps to a deck, then up a roof to get all the way up to my apartment window on the third floor without bothering the owners on the first floor.

So that’s the birds eye low down on my first book.  It’s helped a great many women over the years and it opened doors for me. The Iowa City Women’s Press was a great publisher. My second book was published by Dutton, a big New York publisher.  They did one printing.  The Iowa City Women’s Press kept Against the Grain in print for more than 10 years with many, many printings.

JW:  What was your second book?

DM:  House Mending: Home Repair For The Rest of Us.  I’m currently trying to find time to write a memoir.

JW:  That would be wonderful, maybe the transcript of this will be helpful.

DM:  It already has.  Please send it to me.

JW:  You will get it, no question. Did you continue any activist work when you moved to Maine and even up to now?

DM:  My goodness, Yes!  It was quite a shock moving to Bath Maine from Iowa City.  At first,  I missed the support and infrastructure of a dynamic lesbian feminist community that a larger city affords. In 1980, there were pockets of lesbian community in Maine, but they were very, spread out and not immediately evident to me.

I eventually found some sisters.  One of the first things we created were women’s dances in Brunswick.  I got permission from Cornerstones to use our huge upstairs classroom.  It was a time when it was dangerous to be out in Maine so to get the word out without attracting trouble, I put an add in the Brunswick Times Record that ‘The Lavender Caucus of the Sarah Orne Jewett Society would be holding a women’s get together on Saturday at 7pm.’  It was code.  Sarah Orne Jewett is a very famous Maine writer who was also a lesbian and lavender is a color associated with lesbians.  Local lesbians got the message

Women would come, dance, and have a great time.  Things went along very well until I got a call from the University of New England who has Sarah Orne Jewett’s papers.

The woman who called was quite perturbed.  She stated she’d never heard of the Lavender Caucus, “What is this?  I’m the director of the REAL the Sarah Orne Jewett Society.”  I mumbled something and got off the phone as soon as could.  Busted.  Maine lesbians who remember the Lavender Caucus still laugh about it.

On July 5, 1984 Charlie Howard, a young gay man, was chased by three teenage boys who were yelling homophobic epithets, thrown off a bridge in Bangor and drowned.  This violent hate crime shocked the gay community and the people of Maine out of believing that things like that couldn’t happen Maine.  That fall  David Solmitz, a teacher at Madison High School, decided to bring a panel of different kinds of people into the school to foster tolerance in his students.  He invited a Catholic, an African-American, a veteran and a whole bunch of other people and… he invited a lesbian. The lesbian was me.

Well, all hell broke loose.  The fundamentalist churches opposed my attendance, the letters to the newspaper where full of the controversy, threats were made and the School Board canceled Tolerance Day.

The Maine Civil Liberties Union sued on my behalf to be able to speak, but we lost that case because they had a very smart lawyer.  However, we won the media war when TV stations and newspapers around the country picked up the story that a town in Maine was so intolerant that it canceled Tolerance Day.

Also, in 1984 I was elected one of 10-15 openly LGBTQ+ delegates to the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.  Just to put this in perspective, there are now hundreds of LGBTQ+ delegates at Democratic Conventions.  In 1984 Our little group was followed by gay cable television, Randy Shilts of the San Francisco Chronicle, and the gay press.   They especially sought me out to ask about the murder of Charlie Howard and how this could happen in rural Maine?

Back in Maine that fall, a group of lesbians and gay men formed the first statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group in Maine.  I was selected as first president of the Maine Lesbian Gay Political Alliance (MLGPA).  We jumped into the fray at the legislature to pass a civil rights bill making it illegal to fire, evict, deny public accommodations or credit to anyone based on their sexual orientation.  Prejudice and fear of our community was high.

We needed allies.  We found them in a coalition of women’s groups.  A wise legislator, Marge Clark from Brunswick, urged me to join the Maine Women’s Legislative Agenda Coalition (WLAC), which was supported by the Maine Women’s Lobby.  The Women’s Lobby keeps track of all bills that involve women working their way through the Maine Legislature.  Women from all over the state are members and we pay for a lobbyist who testifies and educates legislators on women’s issues.  It’s a very effective organization and just celebrated its 50th anniversary.  The Women’s Lobby is the anchor of the Women’s Legislative Agenda Coalition and calls on help from the other members when help is needed in passing or killing a bill.

Marge told me that it would take a year or two for WLAC to embrace the issue of civil rights for lesbians, gays and LGBTQ people.  MLGPA worked on the issues of all the other women’s organizations like Association of University Women, Displaced Homemakers, and welfare rights groups.  Finally, after two years the coalition voted to support the LGBTQ+ civil rights bill and we gained a lot of momentum.   That’s why we were in the coalition; we were intersectional before that word became a thing.

JW:  Did the civil rights bill pass?

DM:  Yes, but it took 30 years.  A little background first.  Back then MLGPA had no paid staff and when I was President, I was the defacto lobbyist for the

civil rights bill at the Capital.  It was handy, because I lived and still live in Augusta. For years MLGPA organized educational breakfasts for legislators because we were told that food was the way to get them to sit and listen for a while.  While the legislators ate the muffins that PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) had made, a panel consisting of an out gay person, a parent of a member of the community, a clergy person, a psychologist, and sometimes a courageous out teacher would break down the prejudice and misconceptions against us.

One day outside the House Chamber I asked the House Republican leader, who lived in Southern Maine, to support the civil rights bill.  I was just beginning my pitch when he turned to me and said, “I don’t have any gay people in my district” and walked away.  Such lack of knowledge of our community gave me the idea for one of our most successful lobbying efforts:  Adopt a Legislator. I wrote to our members and said, “I know how hard it is to come out to your family or workplace, but don’t worry, I only want you to come out to your Legislator.”  The goal was to get every house member paired with an LGBTQ+ person living in their district.  Another common response we heard from legislators was, “You gay people already have rights.”  So, we worked hard to correct that misconception

The civil rights bill was first introduced in the Maine House of Representatives in the ’70s by Rep. Gerald Talbot, the first African American elected to the Maine House.  (In 2022, his daughter, Rachel Talbot Ross, was elected Speaker of the Maine House.)  I think it wasn’t till 2001 that that the legislature started half passing it–first the House would pass it, but it would die in the Senate.  Two years after that, the Senate passed it but the House didn’t. Next session both houses passed it, but the governor vetoed it.  Then there were a few years where the Legislators passed it and the Governor signed it, but the forces of darkness collected sixty thousand signatures to place its repeal on the ballot (called the People’s Veto).  We lost that and many other elections.  There must have been four or five statewide elections where LGBTQ+ civil rights was on the ballot between 1980 and 2006.

As time wore on, many of us in the community got so skilled at elections and political campaigns, that we became the backbone of the Democratic Party.

It doesn’t take many times going to the capital, lobbying for your own civil rights and talking to legislators before it occurs to you that these are just ordinary people and you could do this.

In 1990 I ran for the state Senate against a 10 year incumbent who was the point man for the Christian Civic League and was against everything.  It was a huge campaign. The newspaper said the “best campaign for governor this year was run by McCormick for Senate.” It’s true, we were a Swiss watch campaign, and I won by the a very slim margin–0.5% of the vote.  My opponent and his supporters gay baited me for months because I was out.  The letters to the editor in the Kennebec Journal that summer  and fall were filled with “Leviticus this, and Sodom and Gomorrah that”.  Two weeks before the election the candidate’s brother wrote in to the paper.  He was  hopping mad because it was neck and neck.  He couldn’t believe that people were actually considering voting for me.  “Don’t you know she is a lesbian?” her wrote,  “She hasn’t even endured the pain and agony of childbirth!”  Well, that did it.  Women from all over the county sent in their own letters, “And has he has endured the pain and agony of childbirth?  Dale supports my family’s values!”

JW:  I want to hear more about your work as a state senator. Are you still doing that?

DM:  No. I was in the Maine State Senate from 1990-1996, then I ran for Congress in the Democratic primary and narrowly lost the same year Newt Gingrich took over Congress.

A Queen-maker in Maine suggested that I should run for State Treasurer, so in December 1995 I did, and won.  The constitutional officers in Maine are elected by the House and the Senate sitting in joint convention. I won by one vote and became Maine’s first female constitutional  officer.  I loved being State Treasurer, but my friends thought I wouldn’t be able to do anything progressive as state treasurer.

O ye of little faith.  I can get into “good trouble” anywhere.

There were about six progressive state treasurers and we accomplished a lot on climate change.  We lobbied the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to include climate change in its annual report on the risks that publicly traded companies face and require that they report on how they are responding to the risk of climate change.  Ten years later they did.

We six State Treasurers formed the Investor Network on Climate Risk.  With  support Kofi Annan, the General Secretary of the U.N., we convened a meeting at the U.N. to call attention to the risk global warming poses for businesses, people, and economies around the world.  There was over a billion dollars of investment represented in the Assembly Hall of the UN that day.

JW:  Did you ever get that civil rights legislation passed?

DM:  Yes, we did, in 2006.  Here’s a little example of what organizing and educating can do.  In the 1980s when the Gay civil rights bill was debated in the Maine House of Representatives, the Speaker had to clear the gallery of visiting students because the debate was so foul and nasty.  In 2006 the debate lasted 5 hours because every representative wanted to speak on the record in favor of this historic occasion that was 30 years in the making.

In 2012 Maine became the first state to pass marriage equality at the ballot box. Things are a little calmer electorally and Maine Lesbian Gay Political Alliance has morphed into Equality Maine, which has a staff of four. The LGBTQ+ community now has many political allies like the Maine Women’s Lobby, many religious faiths who supported our successful effort 2 years ago to outlaw conversion therapy.  We are always pushing for a better life for everybody.

JW:  Wonderful. How would you say your involvement in the women’s movement affected you?

DM:  It definitely changed my life. The Women’s Movement created the space and gave me the confidence and support to be a carpenter and run for public office.

I have an inherent sense of fairness; I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t getting into fights sticking up for a kid who was being picked on.

Fighting for justice has been a central motivator of my life.  When I moved to Maine, I created a nonprofit job training program called Women Unlimited to train low-income women to compete for trade and technical occupations.

Long after I left, Women Unlimited was still going at 27 years.  It’s gone now  because an employee embezzled and killed it, unfortunately. I’m still an active trades-women advocate because trade and technical jobs allow women to support their families and are one avenue out of poverty for women.  I’ve been working to open up the economy to women, Blacks, Indigenous and People of Color all my life.

JW:  Wow, that’s wonderful. Any last comment before we close?

DM:  It’s been fun going down memory lane with you.