THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
“Young Women Need To Know What We Went Through.”
Part 1 Interviewed by Kathy’s niece, Madi Moran, October 2020; Part 2 Interviewed by Mary Jean Collins, VFA Historian, July 2021
Part 1 Interviewed by Kathy’s niece, Madi Moran, October 2020
MM: Go ahead and give us your full name and where and when you were born.
KR: My name is Kathy Rand, I was born February 24th, 1945, in Miami Beach, Florida.
MM: What was your life like before the women’s movement?
KR: It was pretty typical. My family moved back to Chicago when I was two, so I don’t really have memories of living in Florida. I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a community called South Shore, which was half Jewish, half Catholic, very middle class. We lived in an apartment building. I had a sister who was 10 years older than me and a brother 12 years older than me. My mother was 43 at the time I was born so I’m guessing it was not something that was necessarily planned or desired.
My mother didn’t love any of the stuff related to being a mother or a wife or housework or raising kids or any of that particularly. In a different time, she would have been more of a career person, she really liked working. My father did like kids, but because my sister was ten years older than me and intuitively saw that maybe my mother wasn’t that interested, she became a surrogate mother for me. She used to call my mother from school when I was two or three asking, where is the baby? Is the baby OK? She played that role for a long time.
When I was 10 I was in a bathroom and they had this machine where you could buy things and it turned out it was a Kotex machine. I bought one and when I got home and showed her what I had bought, she decided it was time that I understood the “birds and the bees.” She bought a book called The Wonderful Story of How You Were Born, and she read it to me. That was my introduction to the facts of life.
My life changed significantly when I was four. My mother didn’t necessarily want to be at home with a child and my parents decided that I was smart and should be in school at four. My father had political connections in the city of Chicago, so he arranged for me to get a birth certificate saying that I was born in Chicago in 1944 instead of Florida in 1945. I have a memory of being in the principal’s office when my mother enrolled me in kindergarten with this fake birth certificate.
My school records had me born in 1944 which meant from then on, my driver’s license said that I was born in 1944, my Social Security card, all my work records. The only two things that my father wouldn’t let me put the 1944 date were my voting card and my passport. Those both had the 1945 Florida date on it and it was all that way until maybe 2010. After 9/11 in the time of homeland security, I was thinking about Social Security and I thought one of these days I’m going to get on an airplane and I’m going to get arrested because my ID doesn’t match, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
I went to the Social Security office thinking they were going to laugh me out of the place and said I need to change my birth date. They said, oh, no problem, we have a form for that – some people want to be older and some people want to be younger. They gave me the form to fill out, they changed my Social Security, then I took the new form to the DMV, got my driver’s license changed. It turned out not to be a big deal to do.
What I didn’t understand until I was much, much older was the impact that entering school at 4 had on me as a child growing up, because there’s huge differences in motor skills and size and maturity between a four-year-old and a five year old or a seven year old and an eight year old. I was at least a year younger, in most cases, a year and a half younger than most of my classmates. I was the shortest kid in the class, I didn’t have the motor skills. I remember struggling with cursive writing, which used to be a big deal, now it doesn’t matter anymore.
I totally didn’t get until I was much older why I struggled. I had issues with self-confidence based on the fact that my older classmates and friends were in some cases two years older than me. When I was in fourth grade, I was in a January class and the school decided to change that and they double-promoted like half the kids in the January class.
I was promoted and then I ended up like two years younger than most of my classmates. It did have a big impact on me, and I think I understand myself today as somebody who always feels like I need to prove myself and work harder than everybody and be in charge of everything. It had a much bigger impact on my life than I realized until I was much older. There’s a long answer for you.
MM: Do you think changing your birth date sooner would have impacted the way you felt about yourself? Or did that not make much of a difference by the time you did it?
KR: It probably didn’t make much difference. When I was finally in college or around, then my friends said to me, hey we know. But it was this big secret that I was keeping from my friends because I didn’t want to be different and they knew, because a lot of their parents knew my parents, so they knew when I was born. It wasn’t this big secret to anybody – except that I thought it was. I remember my parents’ friends saying to me, how old are you now, really? It was this big lie but my parents were well-intentioned and I’m sure they didn’t give any thought to the impact that it would have on me. But probably living a lie for most of your life isn’t the best thing either.
When I graduated from high school I didn’t know anything about applying to colleges, so I went to the University of Illinois at Chicago, my freshman year of college. Then my sister sat me down and she said, “I did not go away to college, I’ve always regretted it, you are going to go away to college because I’m going to live my life through you.” She really helped me find schools with housing and thanks to her I ended up going to Michigan State.
As a child who was 10 years younger than my siblings, I was sort of an only child at home and my parents did not really necessarily want me to leave, especially my father. It was important that she pushed me and made it possible for me to go. That was really important for me to go away to college and live independently from that point on.
MM: What was your major in college?
KR: I was an English major with a minor in Education because “when the kids are grown, it’s a good thing to go back to.” I remember taking the education course with the instructor saying, “teaching is not for everyone,” but I didn’t know at the time she was talking to me. So, I did. I student taught and I hated it and then I taught my first year English for high school seniors, I was twenty, they were eighteen.
It was kind of a recipe for disaster. I had come out of school with these idealistic views about education and that you didn’t really need to discipline the students because they really wanted to learn. I did things like let them vote on what books they wanted to read, and they saw me for the total pushover that I was. I was young, I was small, and it was not a good experience for me at all.
MM: Can you imagine yourself now with the confidence you have being a teacher, or would you do things differently?
KR: Well, I would definitely do things differently because you have to establish some control first. I remember giving a speech the first day, “I’m not going to discipline you because I know that you’re going to want to love to learn and we’re going to be democratic.” There was a book called Summerhill at the time, which is about a school where the students were eager to learn. And I had this philosophy that I was following that really didn’t work in an inner-city school in Chicago. After the first year of teaching, a friend of mine and I were together. We started talking and she had just broken up with her fiancée and she asked me to move to California. I said OK. So, we moved to San Francisco.
KR: What year was this?
MM: It was 1966. We shared an apartment, and I went to graduate school at San Francisco State. She got a job working in a department store in the shoe department and met the manager who she ended up eloping with. Then I didn’t have a roommate and I was ready to come home. My parents agreed that if I came home, I wouldn’t have to be a teacher. That was a huge thing, so I came home and then I start working in publishing and then PR. It took me a while to have an interest in a career, but I eventually did.
MM: How did you get involved in the women’s movement and what year was it?
KR: It was August 26th, 1970. I was working in a publishing company as an assistant editor. And there were a lot of us at that same job level, probably half men, half women, and we found out that the men were all making twice what we were making. We were stunned, of course. 1970 was when there started to be a lot of publicity about “women’s lib.”
There was this rally scheduled for Chicago at the Civic Center on August 26th, 1970, which was the fiftieth anniversary of women’s suffrage. The theme of it was “don’t iron while the strike is hot,” and women were supposed to go on strike. I went to my boss and I asked permission to go on strike and he gave me permission. A bunch of us went over to this rally and there were tens of thousands of women in the Civic Center Plaza and it was so exhilarating. That day changed my life, I have to say. The next week I went to my first NOW meeting and I was hooked immediately.
MM: Incredible. I got goosebumps when you said there were thousands of women.
KR: It was so amazing. It was my first time doing anything like that.
MM: And that it was the anniversary. Where and when were you active in the women’s movement specifically? I know Chicago is where it started.
KR: I first became active in Chicago NOW. I had been working in publishing, but I had sort of an interest in public relations just because I was on the receiving end as an editor of PR stuff that I was getting from people. I joined the Chicago NOW Public Relations Committee and the woman who chaired it was a woman named Joanna Foley Martin, who was a public relations professional. She really taught me public relations, she ended up moving to New York, and I ended up taking over as chairperson of the Chicago NOW Public Relations Committee. But it also opened a whole career for me, and I really credit her with teaching me public relations because it ended up being my career because of what I learned from her and what I learned working in Chicago NOW and in PR.
This was a time when jobs were separated by gender and the male jobs were all the good jobs and the female jobs were the clerks and the secretaries. That was one of the efforts that NOW did nationally – and we did in Chicago – was get them to change the ads to just Help Wanted, which was a huge change. We were frustrated at the way the movement was described, and the way women were described in the media, so we put together some guidelines.
The women were referred to as Mrs. Joseph Smith as opposed to Susie Smith and focusing on what women were wearing and the adjectives that were used to describe women. So, we put together a whole guide for the media on how to cover women and then how to cover the women’s movement. We worked a lot on employment issues in Chicago and being Midwest, it was pretty bread and butter, so we worked a lot on employment issues.
After maybe a year chairing the Chicago NOW Public Relations Committee, Mary Jean Collins had been the Midwest regional director of NOW, and she asked me if I wanted to take on that job as Midwest regional director. I didn’t quite understand what was involved, but I said, OK. It was a 13-state region from Ohio to Oklahoma, and my budget was one hundred dollars for the year to travel to 13 states. It was mostly involved with chapter development and if there were issues to deal with, handling issues and whatever.
My first week on the job, there was an issue in Minnesota, and I had to go to Minneapolis, St. Paul on a weekend. I remember thinking “on a weekend?” Little did I know that I would be spending every waking day and hour for the next three years doing it, but I wasn’t quite prepared for that. It was sold to me as write a few letters, make a few phone calls, and that was how I ended up selling it to my successor as well.
It was a time prior to the Internet so if you wanted to communicate with people in writing, you had to write a letter and print it and mail it. We didn’t have computers and printers so every company that I worked for during that time was very generous, unbeknownst to them, in the donation of their photocopy machine, because we all just stayed late at work and copied everything that we had to print, thanks to them – they never knew. I served two terms as the Midwest regional director of NOW, and then I pretty much left NOW after that.
MM: You mentioned some specific issues with employment. But are there any other specific things you found as the regional director of the Midwest that you were surprised by?
KR: Part of being the Midwest regional director was that I was on the national board of NOW and I was also on the executive committee of NOW, which was the officers, plus the regional directors for the four regions. I had an opportunity for three years to really set direction to the women’s movement, really be part of what was going on. There was a lot of bad stuff, but it was an exhilarating time and exhilarating place to be. All of a sudden I was kind of like a big deal in this movement and doing speeches and being interviewed and because we didn’t have much money as a movement, we gave speeches for money. The woman who was booking the speeches, she kept positioning me as, “she’s kind of like the Gloria Steinem of Chicago”. Things like Kiwanis clubs would pay one hundred bucks for one of us to speak. It was kind of a big deal.
MM: What’s a Kiwanis Club?
KR: It’s like a Rotary Club or a Lions Club, like a service club with men who had meetings and were looking to be entertained. They weren’t all that seriously interested in learning more about the movement, it was more entertainment for them. But still they paid like a hundred bucks. One of the highlights for me was debating Phyllis Schlafly twice. Once on a television show and once in front of a live audience at a university. I was twenty-five or twenty-six years old, we were so bold, and so when I look back on it now, I’m like, oh my God, how did I even ever do that? I should have been way more terrified than I was.
After the second debate, she turned to me as we were walking out and she said to me, “You’re a very formidable opponent.” I thought, oh, I shouldn’t be complimented because it’s coming from her, but I’m still complimented by it. It was a really high-flying time, I have to say. We did incredible things. We made huge differences, and we really did change the world. I’m hopeful that through the Pioneer Histories Project, women your age and younger and older understand how different things are, while they’re not perfect still.
On August 26, 1970, among the demands that NOW was making were women in law school, medical school, business school, because at the time about one percent of the classes in all those professional schools were women. Women were making 40 cents on the dollar compared to men. It was a really different time and huge changes have been made. There’s still obviously more that needs to be done, but we did make an enormous difference. It was an exciting time to be involved. For me personally, I gained so much confidence, I overcame any fears that I had about speaking out, speaking in public, gained just so much more confidence in my life as a person and then also career wise, I learned so much.
MM: That’s incredible. You said you were twenty-five or twenty-six when you were debating Phyllis Schlafly and as a twenty-five-year-old knowing who she is, I can’t see myself having the confidence to do that and I’m an actor, so that’s incredible. Do you remember specifically what the debates were about?
KR: I think the ERA was a big part of it, that was the issue that she used. And I don’t think at the time any of us understood what she was really doing and how she started this whole, ultra-right-wing movement and she was brilliant. She seized on the ERA as a way to motivate people, but she had a very different right-wing agenda that was way more than that. The ERA was just a convenient way to get people organized and get the message out there. It was all the stuff like if they pass the ERA there’ll be same sex bathrooms and women will have to serve on active duty in the military. It was a lot of that kind of stuff.
MM: Well, where I work, we do have same sex bathrooms. Not a problem.
KR: As it turns out, it’s not a big problem.
MM: How would you say your exposure to the women’s movement affected your life post being directly involved?
KR: Totally. It changed everything. First off, I learned this profession, public relations, that became my career. I had a successful career in public relations, I ran the Chicago office of an international PR firm. It gave me all this self-confidence, all these skills, so it totally changed my life. I grew up in a pretty middle-class family where there was no particular consciousness about people of other races or social classes so that wasn’t part of my consciousness growing up. It’s obviously changed everything about how I view the society, the world, the country with empathy and understanding.
Today I’m devastated by what’s going on in our country. One thing I didn’t mention. Toward the end of the time I was in NOW, a new organization was formed called Women Employed that still does great work today. I was actually the first chairperson of Women Employed, and I held that role for about a year. We did a number of events and it’s an organization that did have funding as opposed to NOW, which didn’t have funding. And VFA – I’ve been involved with most of the events that we’ve done in the last 15 years and now doing this Pioneer Histories project, it’s almost like a full-time job for me without the salary.
MM: Thank you so much for sharing that. We covered all of the questions, unless there’s anything else you want to add or any specific experiences?
Part 2, Interviewed by Mary Jean Collins, VFA Historian, July 2021
MJC: We’re doing this interview to complete the history to the best of our ability. We’re going to continue your story by talking about your entry into NOW and hopefully exploring the goods and bads of your experience in NOW. August 26th, 1970 is a very important day for the whole women’s movement and also for you. What brought you downtown?
KR: Earlier in the year, there had been a lot of media coverage about this developing women’s movement and a lot of the women that I worked with and I started having consciousness raising. We discovered that the men who had our exact same job title were making double the pay that we were. We were kind of ready. And then when we heard that there was a big rally and a big strike planned for August 26th, we thought we have to go to this. And being the obedient person that I was, I went to my boss and said I would like to go on strike that day. He said OK and gave me permission to go on strike.
And honestly, August 26, 1970 changed my life. It was an incredible day. We got to the Civic Center Plaza and it seemed like millions, but I know it was tens of thousands of women all sort of feeling the same way, thinking the same thing. And the speakers, including you, were so inspirational that it was just an amazing day. And there was a NOW meeting the next week. And I thought, I’m in – I’m joining this organization. My life is going to change. And it did. It totally changed that day.
MJC: What was that experience like coming together in an actual organization with these women?
KR: I remember the meeting really well, I was intimidated a little bit because I was brand new, but I was enthusiastic and excited. Growing up I had always been a pretty obedient child; I never really did anything too contrary. I actually remember the only thing that I remember doing wrong as a child was one day I picked some flowers and the woman whose house I picked them from came to report me to my parents and it was about the bravest thing I had ever done in my life.
It was a big contrast to all of a sudden there was this whole opportunity to protest things, to picket, to march, to make demands. It was really empowering. And it was such a heady feeling to be able to go out and express things. And it gave me a courage that I never knew I had. It turned out that I actually really liked doing the confrontational things and it changed me.
MJC: Do you remember what issues were being discussed or considered in that meeting?
KR: I remember two specific things from that first meeting. One was Mary Lynn Myers got up and talked about how she could not get a credit card in her name, even though she was a government employee and her husband was a stockbroker. But she couldn’t get the credit card in her name even though she had a stable job and he had an unstable job. So, credit was one of them and then abortion was another. I remember the discussion.
At the time, NOW’s position was to oppose any restrictions on abortion at all. NOW ended up being on the side of the anti-abortion people in some instances because NOW was arguing against time limits on any constraints and sort of in tandem with the anti-abortion people who are arguing against abortion. So, there was a discussion about whether NOW needed to change its position on the abortion issue, I remember that specifically. I remember there were committees and there was a public relations committee that I decided to join. The chair of it was a woman named Joanna Foley Martin.
My background was in communications, a little bit of PR and writing and editorial so I joined the Public Relations Committee, and it was also a very empowering position to be in. In addition to the already mentioned guidelines for the media on how to cover women and the women’s movement, we boldly asked for meetings with editors of newspapers and general managers of radio and TV stations. They all met with us so it was a feeling of real power. They were scared a little bit in general, which was good, it was fun to have people be scared of you.
MJC: What other issues were being pursued?
KR: The want ads were just in the process of being changed at that point, and so we did some actions against the Tribune to try to encourage them to change. And that was a national campaign that was going on. We protested the Tribune and they ultimately made a change without giving us the credit for it. But again, it was a huge change. I remember the August 26th flier that I just came across the other day when I was getting ready for this interview, and some of the demands were related to women being admitted to law school, medical school, business school. And at the time women were like one percent of the students in those classes. And so that was something that got talked about a lot and something where we obviously made a huge change today. Now some of them are 50 percent women, if not more.
In the Chicago chapter there was an emphasis on employment issues, sort of bread and butter, economic issues. We talked about pay. We talked about opportunities. I remember that the real focus of the Chicago chapter was on direct action, which was something that was so new to me, but it was exciting. We were out on street corners handing out leaflets, many of which we had photocopied on our companies’ copy machines late at night, the night before. I said before that the companies that I worked for had no idea how generous they were to the women’s movement because that was where all the copying came from.
MJC: The chapter, as I recall, had activities to support the women.
KR: You reminded me of the steel workers work that we had done where we were working with the women steel workers and went out to Gary, IN and met with them and encouraged them to fight for their own rights and equality, and we helped them do it. I was unfamiliar at the time with what many of the women in labor had done earlier during the war. I was born in 1945 and the war was just about over, so my growing up was in a time where women were encouraged to stay home and not to have jobs. I didn’t really know anything about how those really brave women fought to keep their jobs and to get equal opportunities.
MJC: Do you remember being aware of the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee having a campaign with some of the major employers like Sears?
KR: Yeah, for sure, that was a little bit later, but I was involved closely with the Sears campaign and also the AT&T campaign. And as part of the Public Relations Committee and with my background in that, a lot of what I did was drafting of news releases, contacting media, trying to get attention for what we were doing, trying to get positive attention for the things that we were doing. There was a lot of effort and those were fantastic campaigns where we really were trying to work with women inside to help them directly, as well as working with the EEOC to try to get major changes made.
The PR committee grew, and I grew along with it in terms of my own abilities and knowledge. I actually interviewed Joanna Foley yesterday for this project and told her that I owed my career to her because she taught me so much. She was a really excellent PR person. In her interview she talks a lot about the really early days and what she was trying to do to get some respect for the chapter. The fact that she was such a skilled practitioner, I think really helped the movement in Chicago in the NOW chapter particularly. I got involved in abortion issues and then the ERA was ongoing in a lot of work toward trying to get passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
MJC: So, you were heading the Public Relations Committee and then you took a step up in leadership into the national organization, as I recall.
KR: As I recall, I joined NOW in 1970; in March of 1972 there was a regional conference and someone persuaded me that it would be a good idea for me to succeed her as the NOW Midwest regional director, which I did. I served two terms in that role, I was reelected in June of 1973, so I served from ’72 to ’74 in that role and a lot happened during that time. Right around that time Women Employed was created and I was asked to be the first chairperson of Women Employed, which I did sort of at that same time. But because it was a staff driven organization, it didn’t take the amount of time and energy that the NOW work did.
MJC: NOW assisted Women Employed, an organization dedicated to employment for women, assisted in getting them off the ground. That was an instance of collegiality within the women’s movement that I think is great.
KR: We wanted them to succeed. We didn’t look at it as competitive, we looked at it as a different opportunity. And they’ve been obviously really successful in the last almost 50 years.
MJC: Talk about the Regional Director job and traveling around the Midwest and starting chapters.
KR: The NOW Midwest region was a 13-state region. It went from Oklahoma to Ohio. So it took a big part of the country. There was a budget of one hundred dollars for travel each year, one hundred dollars for travel. I was pretty naive about the workload, I think, and what I thought was going to happen. And, you know, so it seemed like it would be exciting. It was in that role I was also a member of the NOW National Board and the National Executive Committee, and I was excited about helping new chapters get started all over the region.
My focus, I figured, would be helping to start new chapters and less on dealing with issues with chapters. It turned out that there was some of both, but I got to meet a lot of wonderful feminists who were in sometimes really small towns and really excited about starting NOW chapters. We helped them in every way that we could to get started and be successful. It was a really heady, exciting time. The women’s movement was young and new and growing and becoming a force to deal with and it was a really exciting time.
One of the things I didn’t mention that we did a lot of was speaking engagements. It was one of the ways that the chapter raised money – by charging for us to come and speak. And, you know, at least half the time it was to Kiwanis Club or somebody who was looking to be entertained. They weren’t really that interested in being educated. But, you know, it was something that we did. And again, it was a great experience to go stand up in front of these groups of men and hold your own and tell your story.
MJC: Do you remember JANE and Heather Booth?
KR: Yes. When Joanna Foley Martin decided to move to New York, she was turning over the chairperson of the PR committee to me. She sat me down to tell me some things she thought I needed to know and the one that was most shocking to me was there was an Abortion Rights Committee within the NOW chapter, which I thought was great. But unbeknownst to me, they were part of an organization known as JANE, who actually were performing abortions locally.
The story of JANE is well known, I think, but this was 50 years ago, and abortion was illegal. What had started mostly by Heather Booth was a group of women who at first were finding doctors to perform abortions for women who couldn’t get them and then ultimately were taught how to perform them themselves. They had the whole organization basically doing it. That was one of the surprises in store for me as head of the committee. I remember getting a phone call – how she found me I don’t know. It was a national network reporter and I was at a boyfriend’s house and his phone rang. It was a really well-known national media reporter calling me to ask me if it was true that these women were actually doing abortions. And I denied it, of course. But that was interesting news at the time.
MJC: So that was before they were arrested and let’s remember Madeleine Schwenk who is not with us.
KR: Yeah, Madeleine Schwenk was the main abortion person in the Chicago NOW chapter, and I thought she was just a nice little housewife. There she was out there performing abortions. Good for them, what a scary thing to do, but good for them.
MJC: Meanwhile on the national level and impacting on your regional job, can you talk about some of the controversy that developed and your understanding of how that happened and what happened?
KR: When I was first elected regional director there was a call from the Twin Cities, Minnesota NOW chapter. And there was a woman named Esther Kaw who was a member of the Twin Cities chapter, who decided that she was going to start a St. Paul chapter. The NOW policy at that time was that a new chapter couldn’t be started in an area where there was an existing chapter without the permission of the existing chapter. As I found out, this woman had joined the Twin Cities chapter, a couple of months later ran for vice president and didn’t get elected, and decided she wanted to start her own chapter.
The Twin Cities people didn’t totally oppose the idea eventually, but they didn’t think it was the right time with brand new leadership in the chapter and they felt like her reason was that she didn’t get elected and she wanted to do her own thing. I ended up spending a pretty huge percentage of my time trying to deal with this. Unbeknownst to me, she was of Latino background and had claimed that the reason I wouldn’t let her start a new chapter was because I was a racist. Ironically, if I had known that she was Hispanic, I probably would have worked harder to help her. She launched a campaign against me.
She had resources that I don’t know where they came from. She would write letters, type them up, copy them and mail them to every NOW chapter in the country. A lot of them were attacks on me for being a racist and this went on for quite a while. There was a system ultimately of how you could start a chapter and ultimately we gave approval for there to be a St. Paul chapter, but they had to follow the rules and because there were rules there were more attacks on me. It was a pretty horrible experience for me.
I felt like it was totally unfair. I was a volunteer working really hard, trying to do what I felt was the best thing for the organization, and to have somebody sending letters out to the world that you’re a racist was obviously pretty upsetting. I had a lot of support from other people on the board, it might have been the beginning of some of the split within NOW and I know we’ll get to more of that and you’ll later talk about some of that. It was a pretty horrifying time and eventually NOW ended up creating a grievance committee and there was a formal grievance procedure for her to follow.
My brother-in-law at the time was an attorney and he represented me in this grievance and filed like this 50-page response to the grievance. It never went anywhere. By the time the grievance committee was dealing with it, I was already out of office two years later. I remember writing a letter to them saying can you just dismiss this already or does it follow me through my life or what’s the story? Nothing really ever happened with it but part of what happened sort of related to this.
NOW was considering a bylaws change. Part of the discussion was a delegate system at the conference. The way it had been, anyone who attended the conference got a vote. If you didn’t attend, you didn’t get a vote, and so some of us were trying to create what we felt was a fairer system where you represented your chapter and didn’t have to travel to California or wherever in order to vote. That same woman was opposed in the St. Paul chapter to the bylaws change and she sent out a letter to a lot of the chapters giving her reasons for being opposed to it.
The NOW executive committee met and discussed it and asked the then NOW president Wilma Scott Heide to write a response to that letter and to copy the chapters. Wilma wrote a letter that was very carefully worded and was not an attack on her at all. It was just trying to get the story straight and get the facts out there. As a result of that, that woman made a request through a lawyer that 10 of the members of the executive committee should be removed from office and thrown out of NOW. So it started a bigger split within the organization. I still don’t know what her motives were, if she was connected with somebody. But from my perspective, she was basically a troublemaker. Wilma’s letter encouraged her to use her energy on attacking sexist foes outside the organization rather than people within the organization.
MJC: This was a part of a larger story which was going on in the organization of organizing around a number of issues, starting with Betty Friedan moving the office out of New York and into Chicago and some geographic split as well.
KR: When I went back and looked at some things including my speeches, my reports to the region, and my speeches at the regional conference, I talked a lot about NOW being a majority organization and I think there was debate that could have been a civil debate on whether all women were oppressed and if NOW’s job was to get equality for all women or whether certain special interest groups should have more attention there. That was part of the issue, but it was never really articulated that way. It never got discussed as a legitimate issue, which it would have been.
MJC: We didn’t have the vantage point of our current time. But I have to say in defense of NOW, that from the beginning there was race consciousness in NOW. Taking ourselves down to Gary, Indiana for the steelworkers, we were not dealing with white women in the steel plants. There’s a legitimate debate about NOW’s commitment on racism and homophobia that could go on for many years, I’m sure. But the use of it in this case to attack an individual, I think was upsetting.
KR: One of my experiences as regional director of the regional conference where I was running for reelection was in Rockford, Illinois, and there was a new chapter that I helped to create in Rockford, Illinois. The conveners of the chapter for their first public event wanted to have a lesbian band as the entertainment. My recommendation was that that was not a good idea, not because I was anti-gay, but I thought in a conservative town like Rockford, if you’re trying to introduce NOW to the community and get some credibility, that it wasn’t the appropriate way.
Understand, I’m a PR person so I’m looking at things from that perspective. During the conference I was summoned one day and there was a group of 40 women sitting outside on the grass in a circle. They were calling me to account for my anti-gay perspective. There was a woman in the NOW chapter, Robin Kaufman, who was a lesbian, who in this group stood up for me and said that she agreed with my position on it, which I was so appreciative of. Another interesting experience.
MJC: In addition to dealing with St. Paul, you formed chapters through this whole period and served on the national board and executive committee.
KR: It was such an exciting time for people like us who came from nowhere particularly. I had a very normal 1950s family and 1950s growing up where it never occurred to me that I would be somebody standing up to argue or any of that, so it was really an incredible experience.
MJC: Meanwhile, on the issues front, we had the ERA trying to be ratified in Illinois and Betty Friedan came into Chicago quite a bit so we had an experience of dealing with her as well. You want to talk about Betty?
KR: She was amazing, and I had read her book before I ever got involved. She was such an icon. One of my main memories was she was at my apartment and there were five or six of us there and I had a cat. My cat decided to jump on Betty Friedan’s lap, and I remember her saying, “oh, I’m not really a fan of cats.” She was so brilliant and so visionary and I know over the years people had difficulties dealing with her and she might not have been the easiest person to deal with. But we were so lucky to have had the opportunity to be in her company, to know her, to learn from her, to be inspired by her.
MJC: What was the last national conference, you were at?
KR: The last one I was at was Houston in ’74. And then my term ended shortly after that and I totally left NOW at that point. I didn’t go to the ’75 conference in Philadelphia, I was not at the New Orleans board meeting when the so-called majority caucus walked out. But what I did do when I left was continue working strategically with a small group of people that included you and we would meet on a weekly basis to try to talk about issues. We did a lot of planning for the Philadelphia conference and I was involved in that, but not at the conference. Shortly after that a small group of NOW people decided to consider forming a separate organization called Women Surge.
MJC: It was pretty big. It might have been 12 or 15 people.
KR: Oh, yeah, it was a good-sized group. It was people like Muriel Fox and Betty Friedan, and I remember going to a meeting in Baltimore and we talked seriously about whether we could split from NOW, whether we could create an organization that could counter what we thought was the negative stuff that was going on in NOW. It didn’t go anywhere but that was sort of the last of my organizational feminist activity until I joined VFA in 2002. I took a 25 or so year break, which turned out to be a really good thing for me in terms of my career and the rest of my life and all that. I got married, I had great jobs, I had a good career and had a good life.
Right after I retired in 2002, I joined VFA and then some of my good friends from the movement, like you, were also on the board. We did some fantastic events that were great. We did Chicago, we did Alverno in Milwaukee. We did Saint Louis. We did North Carolina. At this point, I am the executive vice president of VFA. And then you and I co-chair the VFA Pioneer Histories Project, which this interview is part of. And our goal is to get the true story of the second wave women’s movement told by the people who made it happen.
When we started, everybody knew Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan and if you watched the Mrs. America TV series, you would think that the two of them and Bella were the only three people involved in the women’s movement. But we know that there were thousands of women and some men who really literally changed the world for women, and we are part of that and so that’s what we’re trying to do through this project.
MJC: Would you say all built on those early days?
KR: Yeah, for sure. Even though it seemed like longer, I joined now in 1970, I left NOW in 1974, but it was four years that obviously were really important in my life and really changed everything for me.