THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
“My previous life definitely prepared me for the women’s movement.”
Interviewed by Judy Waxman, May 2021
JW: Let’s just start at the beginning. Give me your full name and where and when you were born.
JF: My full name is JoAnne Fischer. And I was born in 1949 in Philadelphia.
JW: Okay. Great. And what I’d like to have you talk about is a little about your life before you were involved in the women’s movement.
JF: My previous life definitely prepared me for the women’s movement because I grew up in a household with four girls. My father was a Philadelphia native but my mother was from the Midwest and had lived in a number of cities before landing in Philadelphia where she met and married my dad. My mother was a convert to Judaism but was never fully accepted by my father’s family. The intolerance I saw expressed towards them as an interfaith family sensitized me to injustice and intolerance and was part of the foundation of my activism.
Our family was very involved in Girl Scouts. My mother was a Girl Scout leader, with an almost ready made troop of girls. We had a next-door neighbor who had cerebral palsy, and she was involved with women raising money for that charity and found out that their daughters wanted to be Girl Scouts, too. So, my mom saw to it that that happened and was one of the first people to mainstream kids with disabilities into Girl Scouts.
I have a sister who is nine years younger than I am and while she was a young student they started bussing African American kids to our elementary school. Since we lived across the street from the school, if a kid forgot a lunch, needed a change of clothing or had any kind of issue, the principal would call my mom to come across the street to help out. And so, I think that it was that kind of community engagement, particularly by my mom, that was an important model for me.
My dad lettered trucks. You’ll see that show up a little bit later, but he felt like his daughters and his wife were really the be all and end all.
I was a very fortunate and loved child, but grew up in a very working-class home and neighborhood. I have seen how that perspective comes up for me in terms of my political views and the priority I give to the basics and to education as a route out of poverty. But also, I see how we having four kids and one bathroom in a little row house impacted my life. I was used to living and working closely with others. I understood why my father left at dawn before we got up and worked into the evenings and on weekends. While my father was not highly educated, he had plenty of street smarts and figured out how to live in a world dominated by women. His father died when he was very young, and he started a sign business and began supporting his mother and sisters when he was twelve years old.
My mom was college educated, which was unusual at that time . She had a degree in costume design, and a musical background, came from Michigan, and a Republican family. And so, she was a definite outlier in our mostly Catholic and Jewish neighborhood, but may explain her commitment to our all around education. Two of us did a lot of art and music and sang in the All City Choir. I have a sister who was a gymnast and another who was an ice skater so, my parents were schlepping kids to practice and rehearsals early in the morning and most afternoons and weekends. I think our parents did a really good job of supporting us in our passions and having a very child centered home.
JW: When did you find out about the women’s movement and get involved?
JF: One of the things that I didn’t mention, you asked about the ethnicity, but my mother made sure, even though she was the convert, that we all had a Jewish education. And I was very involved in the leadership of the United Synagogue Youth group as a teenager, as well as Girl Scouts. So, I think those leadership skills were important. I think that it was through activism with the youth groups and later as a youth group advisor that I became very attuned to civil rights issues.
My connection with feminism came early in my college career. After my freshman year I married my high school boyfriend. All of a sudden everyone assumed that I was going to drop out of college to support him in law school. Now, that had not occurred to me, but that was the societal expectation, and I was blown away by it. I think that’s what initially sparked my interest in feminism – those different expectations about men and women.
JW: Did you get involved in any group at the time, any organization?
JF: At the time, I was a college student at Temple University in Philadelphia, and I got involved in organizing efforts for a childcare center on campus. I further developed my sense of self and identification with the movement through a women’s studies course, “To Be A Woman,” with Dr. Matti Gershenfeld, a leader at that time in the women’s consciousness raising movement. I also joined the local NARAL group and [worked] to repeal the abortion laws that were in Pennsylvania.
JW: So, what year was that would you say?
JF: So that was 1971, ’70, ’71. Then I went to graduate school in social work at Bryn Mawr College. What struck me about Bryn Mawr from the beginning was that they took women’s intellectual development very seriously. And even though I was in the social work school, which included men and women, the whole atmosphere there was so supportive of women learning and growing and being serious. So that was a definite support to my feminist identity. I studied community organization and social policy but also took a course there around women’s issues where I studied more extensively and got introduced to more feminists and women’s oriented community organizations.
JW: Okay. So, which one did you decide to get active in?
JF: I was active in NOW in the 70s and helped organize their National Conference “Out of the Mainstream and into the Revolution” in 1975 in Philadelphia. I rode the “Freedom Train” to Illinois with my NOW sisters to push for the ERA and spoke at the “New Day for the ERA” gathering in Philadelphia. I also was elected as part of the PA Delegation to the National Women’s Conference in Houston. But my work in women’s health did start at Bryn Mawr because my second-year field placement or internship was with Dr. Walter J. Lear, the very progressive and first openly gay Commissioner of Health for Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Upon graduation, Walter hired me to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Commission for Women to organize a major conference on women’s health which was held in June 1974. It was a groundbreaking event of hearings, presentations and workshops that explored how sexism and discrimination impacted health care providers, health care consumers, the quality of research and care and who controls health care practice and policy.
The notion of consumer participation and control was very new at that point in time. I got hired after the conference to follow up on conference recommendations for the Pennsylvania Department of Health. That was the genesis of the Women’s Health Concerns Committee. So basically, I got paid to organize the women’s health movement in Philadelphia. This was a wonderful spot to be in because it was part of my job to learn what was happening in other parts of the country. And so, as a result of that work the coalition grew, I think, by 1975, ’76, ’77, to over 200 members including individuals and organizations.
We had subcommittees on occupational health and mental health and drug and alcohol use and reproductive health. I mean, it was very vibrant. We hosted many conferences and supported policy changes. But it was through the Women’s Health Concerns Committee that I got to know some of the folks who were organizing the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center for Women. One of whom was Allyson Schwartz, who was a classmate of mine at Bryn Mawr and later became a Congressperson. Allyson invited me to work with her and some other people in organizing the first feminist and woman-controlled health center in Philadelphia, called the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center for Women.
JW: Who was Elizabeth Blackwell, in case people don’t know?
JF: She was the first woman physician in the United States. It was named after her. And Blackwell was quite unique in its efforts to have staff participation in the board and to minimize the disparities and pay between the line staff and the executive staff. There were many wonderful folks involved who became prominent leaders of other health care and cultural institutions, including Terry Gross (from NPR) who were alumni from that board. By 1977, women’s organizations in Philadelphia flourished and included a variety of organizations such as Women Organized Against Rape ( WOAR), the Women’s Law Project, CHOICE, and the Women’s Wage Equity group.
Ernesta Ballard, who founded Philadelphia NOW and who I consider a godmother of feminism in Philadelphia (she came from a very elite family in Philadelphia and was an ardent feminist, taking after her grandmother in the Drinker family), provided important leadership. Ernesta (along with Louisa Page and others) said, “We’re trying to fund all these little separate organizations; wouldn’t it be good if we created a federation of women’s organizations and fundraised together?” That was the genesis of Women’s Way, which was a funding coalition for feminist organizations in Philadelphia.
Allyson Schwartz and I were the initial members from Blackwell, who sat on the Women’s Way board and helped found that organization. Our goal was to do joint fundraising to support all of the organizations. What was unique about Women’s Way early on was that the organizations who were part of Women’s Way were also the board policy makers of Women’s Way along with a few at-large members of the board. However, as Women’s Way shifted from being a coalition to an independent organization, the majority of the board became at-large members dedicated to Women’s Way and funding became available to a broader range of women’s groups. This year, I attended the 43rd Annual Women’s Way Dinner. It brought back memories. I chaired the very first Women’s Way dinner which established the Lucretia Mott Award, named for the extraordinary Quaker activist and abolitionist from Philadelphia. And that first year we presented the award to Coretta Scott King.
Ernesta Ballard, in addition to being a feminist activist, was the executive director at the time of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society. Ernesta enlisted the African American garden clubs to make our centerpieces for that very first dinner. I love that story. So that was the genesis of the Women’s Way annual event. I became very involved in Women’s Way over the years. Subsequently, my husband Eric Hoffman was on the board of Women’s Way as a representative of the board of the Women’s Law Project. So, we share that history and to this day have attended the Women’s Way Dinner together. In 1990, the same year Byllye Avery of the National Black Women’s Health Project received the Lucretia Mott Award, I was honored as one of six Local Women of Courage by Women’s Way.
So back to my work at Women’s Health Concerns. I mentioned that I began reaching out to other women’s health activists around the country. I learned about the first Women’s Health Conference in 1975, hosted by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.
JW: Our Bodies, Ourselves.
JF: Yes. Allyson Schwartz and I and a couple of other people from Philly went to Boston and got involved and connected with other women’s health organizations around the country. I had begun to get to know some of the players while organizing the Women’s Health Concerns Conference. For example, I was in close contact with the people at HealthRight in New York City. And to this day, HealthRight’s Naomi Fatt and I are very good friends. Naomi and I were the primary organizers of the August 11, 1977, 11th hour demonstration in 11 cities to protest the lifting of the injunction that was preventing the Hyde Amendment for going into effect that would prohibit Medicaid funding of abortions.
I began a long time collaboration with Judy Norsigian, and other authors of Our Bodies, Ourselves and in 1979 co-chaired, with Helen Rodriguez Trias, the Boston Women’s Book Collective 10th Anniversary celebration in NYC. I also contributed to some later editions of Our Bodies, Ourselves that talked about local organizing for women’s health. I expect to see Judy in Boston next week and delight in how many of these relationships with my feminist sisters have held up over time.
The other significant event, where I first met women’s health activists was at the very first meeting of the National Women’s Health Network – at Alice Wolfson’s house in 1975 -1976. We planned a demonstration at the FDA which featured Jim Luggen, I think, was his name, whose wife had died as a result of birth control pills. There were other people protesting around the adverse impact of DES and the issues about both the lack of research and exploitation of pharmaceutical companies, vis-a-vis women’s health. And we did a protest outside the FDA. And Marjorie Margolies, who I think went by a different name then, was the reporter. There is a news video that has preserved that initial National Women’s Health Network action.
But I want to take you back to my dad, the sign painter. Guess who was enlisted to make most of the signs for that demonstration? My favorite was “Feed Estrogen to the Rats at the FDA”.
JW: Did he make that up or did you tell him to write that?
JF: No, I just inherited some of his talent and was enlisted to make many of the signs. However, when the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center for Women opened, I got my father to paint a major graphic in the hallway. Also, the first sign for the Women’s Caucus of the American Public Health Association was painted by my father.
JW: Everybody makes the contribution they can. That’s fair.
JF: So that was the beginning of a long history with the National Women’s Health Network. And I was one of the early board members, and I don’t know if you know that longtime NWHN Executive Director Cynthia Pearson is retiring tomorrow.
JW: Oh, wow. I knew it was soon.
JF: And she’s put together a wonderful history of the National Women’s Health Network. So it took me back to a lot of the memories. And one of my favorites was in 1978, ’79. I moved with my husband Eric to upstate New York in Fredonia, New York, where he was a philosophy professor. He had gotten a job there and I imagined an opportunity to play out all my Earth mother fantasies. However, I was chair of the board of the National Women’s Health Network, so that kept me very busy. I wish we would have had Zoom back then, but there were a lot of telephone calls, a lot of meetings and much correspondence. I remember reviewing the galleys for my NWHN friend Marian Sandmaier’s 1980 book, The Invisible Alcoholics: Women and Alcohol Abuse.
One of my starkest memories was planning a big conference, actually, in two parts – one year for organizers and the second year for other folks in Appalachia to talk about rural women’s health issues. Maureen Flannery from Kentucky and Dot Battenfeld from West Virginia were the key organizers of that VISTA funded project. I remember being headed to a conference planning meeting but instead sitting in tears in the Buffalo airport when none of the planes could get out because of the snow.
Nonetheless, the second conference in Appalachia was even more memorable. It was a very hard board meeting to facilitate because there were a lot of different views about the leadership and the direction of the Network. But the fact that we were experiencing Appalachia and traveling into hollers to learn about the local healers and the lives and the stories of Appalachian women is something I will never forget. My goodbye present as chair of the board was a quilted pillow embroidered by women from Appalachia.
JW: What were some of the issues? And you said there is a bit of a struggle for the direction of the organization. Can you talk about that?
JF: Well, I think some of it had to do with leadership styles. I also think some was about the role of the founders and their willingness to let go. There was also a need to better delineate the appropriate roles of staff, board and volunteers. Many of the board members were activists with passions about the issues and egalitarian relationships but less experienced in organizational development and operations. I remember bringing in some consultants to provide board training and to facilitate or mediate.
Founder and first Executive Director, Belita Cowan recently circulated a thank you note to Cynthia Pearson at the National Women’s Health Network. She noted that Cindy and the Network had really upheld the desires of the founders, especially by having a very diverse board and by never taking money from pharmaceutical companies in advancing the health concerns of all women.
But it reminded me that while there were lots of little disagreements, the big [principles] remained true to this day and how the network took a very independent position and questioned, always questioned practices, pharmaceuticals, research or policy that impacted women. Early on, my interest was around national health reform and becoming an expert about the issues as they relate to women and children. I worked on these issues at the national level through APHA Women’s Caucus and the National Women’s Health Network, but also locally and in the state of Pennsylvania with Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition and Maternity Care Coalition. In fact, I was recognized as a 2012 Champion for Change by the Obama Administration for my work around health reform.
JW: Well, eventually you got into maternity care issues.
JF: Yes. Let me say one other thing before that, because also in 1975 I went to the first UN International Women’s Conference in Mexico City. And if there was an event that was really eye opening, that was it. It was the consciousness around global feminism. I remember writing an editorial for the Philadelphia Daily News on “For want of water.” While here (in the U.S. ) we were talking about pharmaceuticals, in parts of Africa water and sanitation were the more critical concerns, with women having to lug all of the water needed by the family every day. For me, expanding my understanding of what women’s health issues looked like globally was very important, especially the role of global capitalism in creating dangers, threats and inequities in both the developed and developing world.
It’s when I was introduced to the Infant Formula Abuse Action Network (INFACT) and their expose of the marketing of infant formula in countries where people didn’t have the safe water to use it and infant health was threatened by discouraging breastfeeding. This drew my attention to maternal and child health. Also, Blackwell did set up a birth center as part of their health center for a while and had midwives on staff. I had my babies through the Blackwell midwifery program. And then after I had my first child, which was in 1980, I did a stint in New Jersey. But then I went to work for Booth Maternity Center.
JW: Explain what that is.
JF: Booth Maternity Center was a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers. However, a group of progressive OB-GYNs and midwives and childbirth educators, basically transformed Booth into a state-of-the-art birthing hospital where midwives provided most of the care. This was a fully accredited level one hospital. There was a wonderful group of pioneers, John Franklin, Ruth Wilf, Gandhi Nelson, and Mabel Ford, who started this program and developed a refresher program where midwives from other countries could be trained and certified. I succeeded Nancy Johns who established the Parenting Program at Booth which included childbirth education and all the educational and social services programs. So that’s where I got most immersed into maternal and child health.
What was so interesting about Booth is that it was where the intelligencia came to have their babies because they were looking to be in control of their own experience, to breastfeed and to have partners at the births. But also, there were Muslim families in West Philadelphia who wanted women providers. There were families traumatized by earlier birth experiences. We had many pregnant teens and developed a specialized teen parenting program for the young women attracted to Booth because of its history as a maternity home.
It was really the epitome of one class of care for all. It was respectful, inclusive, humane, enlightened and empowering. Booth was an amazing place and set an unparalleled standard of family-centered care. To this day, it remains my most extraordinary work experience in terms of people who really shared a passion and created transformative change in the delivery of care. And two of my closest friends today, Cathie Harvey and Augie Hermann, were Booth colleagues.
JW: That is incredible.
JF: Yes. Unfortunately, with reimbursement and this and that it was sold to another hospital. And then went out of business. I did a short stint working for a maternal child home care company with a nurse from Booth. And then I worked on the PA Dukakis political campaign as a constituency director. After the campaign, I realized that despite all of these healthcare executive search folks trying to recruit me, I knew I couldn’t put my blood, sweat and tears into making a couple of doctors rich.
I wound up applying for a job at the Maternity Care Coalition, where I had been on the board as a representative of Booth, but I hadn’t been involved since. Nancy Johns was on the search committee and urged me to submit my resume. MCC had received a foundation grant to employ their first full-time executive director. I had directed a much bigger operation in NJ and I had a substantial staff at Booth. Nonetheless, I decided that’s where my heart was. I became the executive director of the Maternity Care Coalition (MCC). It had a staff of three, a couple of part-time outreach workers, a budget of $116,000.
JW: And what year was this?
JF: This was in 1989. When I left, close to 30 years later, it had a staff of 150 and a budget of $12 million. The bulk of my professional career was really working on maternal and child health issues. I am so proud of MCC’s pioneering work in using community health workers, we called them family advocates to support low income childbearing families. We started a program for pregnant and parenting women at Riverside Correctional Facility and led advocacy to stop the shackling of incarcerated women during birth. We trained doulas to support breastfeeding and to address maternal health disparities of African American women.
After we became an Early Head Start site, I got very involved in advocacy around child care. And again, at Booth, we were very involved early on in the family resource movement and now we were talking about both home and center-based early child development. And I guess it was during that time I became the chair of the maternal child health section of the American Public Health Association ( 2007-2012). At APHA, I consolidated all of my progressive, feminist and maternal child health friends. We have what we call a posse of colleagues that support one another professionally and personally and get together every once in a while on Zoom. I am grateful for this wonderful network of advocates throughout the country.
In 1985, I went to the second UN Women’s Conference in Nairobi, and I think that was probably the most spiritual experience of my life. There was a moment where women were coming in. It was the opening of the meeting. And there was all this African drumming and singing. And there were thousands and thousands of women from around the world singing together. And I mentioned I had been in All City choir and had loved to sing. To me, this was the heart opener of all time. I felt like I was in the cradle of humanity with people who were really sharing their hearts and their spirit to create a better world, particularly for women and girls. So that was also extremely poignant.
I traveled with a group of women and health leaders from the U.S. and participated in an exchange with African women. We had conversations about adolescent sexuality in Mombasa and the primary health care movement with midwives from Zimbabwe. At the NGO meeting the National Women’s Health Network hosted a reception for health activists from around the globe.
The organization that I have been most consistently involved with from the time I was a teenager till now, is Girl Scouts. I was a senior Girl Scout and very involved. I was chosen to speak at the 50th anniversary of Girl Scouts of Philadelphia, a big event at the convention center which clearly prepared me to be commencement speaker for my high school at that same venue. The learning and leadership opportunities in Girl Scouts accelerated my growth and development as an individual, feminist and world citizen.
I was chosen when I was 15 to go to the Girl Scout Roundup in Idaho. At first I was an alternate, but it wound up that Philadelphia got an international patrol and they invited all of the alternates along with two Japanese girls to form this international patrol. One of the Japanese girls came and lived with my family for a couple of weeks before the event. I took my first airplane ride to Idaho. I was one of 9000 girls from all over the country who pitched and slept in tents and ate food we cooked out of doors. It was an early life changing experience. It took a lot to be selected and to prepare. We trained for over a year and really learned how to live outside with very little.
But what I remember most was the singing. There was this big outdoor arena where thousands of us sang together. We learned new songs and sang rounds and harmonies, some of which I find myself humming to my grandchildren. I’ll never forget when singing the event song about the rainbow’s end that a big rainbow appeared across the sky. It was magical. The year following Roundup I tried out for a Girl Scout International Opportunity and once again, I was selected as an alternate. I was lucky again and got to go to the Juliette Lowe Journey through Mexico with 32 girls from all over the United States. This was between high school and college, and we traveled to the Girl Scout Cabana, which is one of their world centers in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Recently, I read a book about this, which said that the Girl Scout World Centers in Switzerland and Mexico were somewhat controversial and criticized by some. Apparently, during the Cold War, there was objection to these programs that wanted to promote international friendship and world understanding, ideas counter to the policies of the United States at that time.
I recognize the important role Girl Scouts has in promoting international friendship and understanding and peace making and how it continues to persist across many lines. And, of course, the Girl Scouts, unlike the Boy Scouts here, has been extremely inclusive. Anyway, I think it was that international trip that opened me up to the possibility of international feminism. I was immediately intrigued and eager to attend the first UN International Women’s meeting in Mexico City in 1975. I already knew that there was a very different world out there, and I wanted to learn more about it. I also wanted to improve the status of women everywhere.
In 1995, I represented the World Federation of Public Health Organizations at the UN Women’s meeting in Beijing. I wrote an article about that experience in their Journal. I was actually at the meeting where Hillary Clinton gave the speech on women’s rights being human rights, and I once again met a lot of extraordinary women from around the world. At that time, I was on the National Board of Girl Scouts of the USA.
However, my initial adult involvement was quite dramatic. I was part of the local group in the ’70s that helped construct the “To Be A Woman” badge, designed for girls to learn about women’s history and status and included sections on women’s health, education, etc. We had a very distinguished advisory group of feminist scholars and leaders here in Philadelphia that helped put this program together.
At some point, the Catholic Church in Philadelphia got a hold of the program draft and said we were promoting abortion and homosexuality, which was not true at all. It basically said, know what an abortion is. There were signs on billboards. That was it. It said know what a lesbian is. Period.
JW: But, you were teaching women to be self-determinative, if that’s a word.
JF: Exactly. But that was a no no. So, there was a horrible risk here in Girl Scouts because here were these women who were involved in Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia who were totally committed to their church and totally committed to Girl Scouts and being asked to choose. It was a very hard moment. And ironically enough, who did they bring in to do a conflict resolution session with all of the volunteers? Dr. Matti Gershenfeld, my former Professor from Temple, which was very interesting.
But later, when I was on the National Board of Girl Scouts of the USA , I would hear them talk about this rift, and it was truly revisionist history. The people really had no idea what the content of this badge was, but they had bought this bigger story that had been crafted about the “sex badge.” So fake news is not [just] a current thing. And it killed me. I was sitting there, and I said I helped write this, I know what was in it. But it took on a life of its own. So anyway, that was an early, challenging and unsatisfying experience of trying to bridge Girl Scouts and feminism. There was an excellent story on the controversy in MS Magazine at the time.
But then eventually I was nominated and elected to the Board of Girl Scouts of Philadelphia and to the National Board of Girl Scouts of the USA. I was on the National Board during the 1995 Beijing conference. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts had some gatherings there with some of the Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from their member organizations throughout the world. I was thrilled to meet these Girl Scout sisters. And it’s amazing to me there was a young girl from Belarus who gave me a postcard with her name on it and later on, I met her in the United States. She came to school here and wound up residing here. She’s now a Facebook friend. Another woman from Korea who had given me a Girl Scout pendant, years later we met each other again on an international trip.
When I went off the Board of Girl Scouts of the USA, I was invited to become part of the Friends of the Girl Scout Cabana in Mexico because they knew I had gone there as a girl. I went to some meetings there to help raise money for the Cabana. Eventually I learned about the Olave Baden Powell Society ( OB-PS), a group of all of the major donors and supporters of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts from the worldwide movement. So, this friend of mine convinced me we should go to their meeting in India. And we did and were presented at the Sangam World Center in 2005 in the middle of a monsoon. OB-PS is very much on the European model where the Princess of Denmark is the patron and you get presented, a bit different from my early feminist days.
However, the passion of these folks from all over the world to empower women and girls is outstanding. And the kinds of work that the global movement is doing in Malaysia, they’re working against child marriage. They were doing HIV prevention in Brazil. They were doing maternal nutrition in India. They’re doing a Stop the Violence campaign in Africa. So, this became the Girl Scout group and global sisterhood that I most wanted to support. I got involved, attended international meetings and chaired and hosted their 2012 meeting in the USA. You remember at the 50th, I was a girl presenter. And here I was chairing the Olave Baden Powell Society meeting in Philadelphia for the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts of the USA, where we had 300 people from all over the world who loved Philadelphia, especially the Phillies baseball game.
We hosted a reception at the Constitution Center and we took them on the Mural Arts Tour and showed off our city and women’s history here. Since I’ve retired, I was recruited to be a capacity building volunteer for the World Association of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides. I’m now heading up a global team of volunteers who are helping member organizations around fund development, especially during COVID. We’ve designed and delivered webinars and workshops in multiple languages and we’re doing consultations with member organizations. And right now, we’re working with Haiti, who has a half-built service center, and Israel who wants to do a program around coexistence. So, it’s been very interesting, a continuation of my feminist and global work and hopefully making a contribution for the next generation.
JW: That’s fabulous. Very lovely.
JF: I’m very clear that if we’re going to do better in the world, it’s going to be because women are in leadership and are going to help move us towards peace and justice.
JW: Before we close, do you want to say any other ending message?
JF: I’ve been very engaged around political organizing here and continue to help support women candidates and to encourage people to run for office and to volunteer and support campaigns. I think my experience in working on political campaigns is [that] I saw how male they were. And even though women have always been doing a lot of volunteering, they weren’t really calling the shots. I continue to support women and in 2016 helped set up the lactation center at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. I ran as a delegate for Elizabeth Warren in 2020. There’s a couple of races here and young women who are doing a fabulous job, and I’m just so thrilled to be able to support them, because I know they are going to be making the kinds of policies that we’ve needed for a long time.
I don’t think when I was in my 20s and I was beginning this work that I could have imagined that I would have to be working on the same issues in my 70s. I have long been supported by, joined and collaborated with my feminist husband (we met when I was reading Juliet Mitchell on Feminism, Marxism, and Psychoanalysis). Our relationship began around feminist ideas and ideals and has continued in that way. He has introduced many college students to feminist ideas. We have jointly organized and he conducts a personal growth workshop, The Essential Experience, which helps individuals find their voices and power and live in right relationship to themselves and others.
We made many conscious decisions (e.g. unisex and hyphenated names) regarding our children and roles as parents. Our children now have children of their own and remain committed to feminism and social justice in their own ways. Early on, our children accompanied us at demonstrations in snugglis and later as a family. While we wish that marching for reproductive rights, affordable health care, environmental and social justice were a thing of the past, we are heartened to see our children and grandchildren protesting and taking action in their communities as part of our legacy.