THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
“I was educated by powerful social movements created by people struggling for liberation and justice.”
Interviewed by Mary Jean Collins, VFA Historian, April 2023
JA: My name is Judith Arcana. I was born on February 5, 1943, in Cleveland, Ohio.
MJC: And tell me a little bit about your background and how you think it might have led to the life you led, or some insights into your feminism, if that’s related.
JA: Well, course, we can never be sure where this stuff has come from, but I think that in my case, I was lucky that even though the older people around me were not, in my first 18 to 20 years politically active, I was made aware that my mother’s family had been for years politically, both active and opinionated.
And my father’s family perhaps less opinionated, but I think more active. His father was a socialist and my mother’s father was a communist, and they were angry a lot, but they were not in the streets constantly. So, I didn’t have that as an example. But I must have been told these things because I knew them when I was ten years old. So that was the case.
For me, political action per sé, or doing something that I would think of in my very young mind as political, didn’t really happen until, I don’t know, late teens, early twenties. And then, partly because of the abortion service, naturally. But even before that, because I was a high school teacher, I had always assumed I would be a teacher. Partly out of interest and partly because I knew there were only a few things I could be.
I was very aware of that, like every other girl who was paying attention to anything. You could be a nurse, you could be a teacher, maybe there were a couple of others, but those were the biggies. And I chose teacher because I was such a reader. Everyone said, “Well, of course you should,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
MJC: Now, I gather you’re no longer in Cleveland.
JA: Right. Correct. My father’s family were all Great Lakes region. I was living in Chicago, and the family moved a lot. I had also lived in Milwaukee. I had lived briefly in Waukegan, lived for a few years in Gary, Indiana. You get the idea. We were on the move. For many and complex reasons. Nothing hideous or ugly, but serious and of course, for the parents, in ways that I was certainly not aware of, it was rough.
It was really rugged to make enough money, three children. My mother died when I was very small. My father remarried. So, here’s this stepmother who has these kids and then had made another one with my dad. They had very rough times, I think, in the first several years of their economic rough times, in the first several years of their marriage. What else to say about that?
So, I did become a high school teacher. I went to college; I did all the appropriate things. Then I became a teacher. And here, I think, is the primary lever or some other metaphoric word like that, that pushed me or let me spring into the kind of work that we did in the underground abortion service. And that is that I was fired from my teaching job after about six years.
I was tenured. I had great ratings. I, and two other teachers, my friends, the three of us, were fired in a secret school board meeting in the spring of 1970. And you know, that’s when political stuff was really burbling and bubbling all over the country.
We were teaching in this township north of Chicago, and we were accused of petty, stupid things like not keeping attendance correctly. And everybody, literally everybody, including the students, knew that’s not what it was about. They, the school board, were very upset about the attitudes of the students, who were far more politically conscious than I was. They were teaching me about that stuff, and to this day, I’m grateful to them.
But the teachers, these three teachers, John and Nancy and Judith, or Judy I was called in those days. They accused us of these petty, foolish things and got rid of us. And there was a long trial. It lasted for months, several nights a week, seriously, for several months in the high school auditorium. And they, along with what my students had been doing, were also educating me.
I was just totally blown away by that entire experience. Not blown away, like feeling damaged, but so angry and so much more conscious politically than I had ever been, even knowing that stuff I knew about my lefty grandparents and all of that. This was in the moment, and in the streets, and so on and so forth. And that summer, while that trial was going on, three nights a week in the auditorium, hundreds of people came to those things. It was like a show.
And during that summer, I had a very late period, I thought, “Oh, boy, pregnant. Not a good time. Have to get an abortion. Don’t know who to talk to.” Had a friend who was a medical student and called him and bless his mind and heart, he called me back in less than 24 hours. And he said, “Everybody here,” meaning at the medical school, the University of Illinois in Chicago, their medical school in 1970. Everybody he talked to there said, “Call this number and ask for Jane.”
MJC: Oh, my heavens.
JA: Isn’t that wonderful? I just love it. At the med school, they said, “Oh, here’s where to go in Chicago.” And so, I did. I called that number, and I got Ruth, who said her name was Jane, of course, as we all did, and we talked a long time. I mean, a long time. Totally not connected to booking an appointment. We just hit it off, and she said, “You should get a pregnancy test.” Like, oh, yeah, that makes sense. But I was so freaked out, that other than thinking clearly now, of course I understand. That’s very common.
Anyway, long story short or shorter than it has been, I wound up not being pregnant on that occasion. Called her back to tell her. Again, we talked for a very long time and she said to me, “Listen, we’re going to be taking in new counselors in just a couple of months. I think you might be interested.” And although nothing about this had ever occurred to me before, I said, “Yes, I think I may be interested.” And then just a couple of months later, I went to this meeting that she called me about which was held in a small church on Fullerton Parkway on the north side of Chicago.
And that’s where I met some of the then current Janes, and a handful of maybe, half a dozen of us who had said, “Yes, I think I might be interested,” and I joined up. It all fits together now when I think of it, either answering a question like yours or trying to map out my own political, personal, emotional, et cetera, history. But then, it was just the next step, the next step, the next step. And when I joined, I loved it. I loved it. I went to the meetings once a week, every week. And that was the beginning.
MJC: Were you still living near the school or out in the suburbs?
JA: No, the high school in Niles Township, outside the city. I had moved into the city once they dumped me. And also, when they announced their decision, they decided that this is the law. It was the law, I don’t know what the law is anymore in Illinois, but the law was that if you were fired and if you had tenure, you had a right to demand a public hearing.
That’s what we did. That’s where the trial came from. That whole long thing I talked about, and the people who judged, who made the decision were the very people who fired us. So, to no one’s surprise, they decided they had been right to fire us. So that took care of that.
And like I say, I believe that that whole experience, including that decision making process, if we can even call it that, was part of my political education, and certainly not only allowed me to join a criminal underground in the world of abortion health care, but also prompted me to be able to say, “This is something real, valuable, useful, and I can do it.” They gave me a context. They educated this teacher, and so I could go in that direction.
MJC: Isn’t that a wonderful story and the contradiction of what people’s intentions are. Pressing, or whatever organizing you thought that you were participating in, and doing exactly the opposite.
MJC: So, you’re in the city and you’ve met the Janes, and now what happens?
JA: Well, what happens is I start going to meetings once a week and learning about what the service was at that time. I can’t say that I remember all of the rules and regs at any given moment, although I certainly have very intense memory logic and so on about the experience. I think that at the time I joined, fall of 1970, people were counseling not just referring, but actually counseling.
And so I, and anyone else who was joining at that time was paired up with a Jane who was already in the group. And if the woman she was working with was okay with it, go with her, be with her, when she did the counseling experience. She would invite the woman to come to her home or whatever they agreed on, and she would say, “There’s a new Jane. We’re working with her. Is it okay?” And inevitably, you will not be surprised to hear, they would say, “Oh, yes, of course.”
And so, I did that. I was, in a sense, an intern and I had several experiences of that kind. And then, I was allowed to do it myself, and began counseling. I also did what I think of and have thought of for years and years and years, as the office work part because there was a lot of it.
I wound up having the gigantic answering machine in my home, in my apartment in Chicago, and the beeper, this incredibly complicated, well, not that our current machines are not complicated, but it was complicated in a different way. And of course, new, totally new. Not everyone even had an answering machine, which is of course what we called those.
Anyway, so I was doing the office work stuff. I was training to be a counselor. And by the end of the year, I began counseling on my own as well as doing the stuff like calling back, “Hello, this is Jane. I got your message.” And then asking questions about medical condition and timing and the length of the pregnancy, et cetera, et cetera.
And then as the service itself went through metamorphosis, so that in less than a year after I joined up, we were doing everything ourselves, not only not referring, but not bringing in even really good abortionists – but our main guy taught some of us, who taught others of us. And then we were just completely integral unto ourselves as a group.
MJC: So, over that period of time, it grew from a counseling job, a counseling experience, to actually being one of the people, one of the Janes who performed the abortions.
JA: Yes. And there were many Janes who, maybe not many, but not just a few, who didn’t want to do the medical stuff. And there were others who were very good at some of the other stuff and so on, just like in any group. So not everybody did everything. I was to my surprise, when I look back on my history, I think you couldn’t even have guessed that someone would say to you, “Would you be interested in learning this?” And you would say, “Why, yes, I am.” It just wasn’t even in the universe.
It was only a year before, this time I’m talking about, that the women’s movement was manifest in a way. That every woman, literally every woman I knew, including my stepmother, who was not a feminist, everybody was learning, changing, talking about stuff she had not talked about before in her life. That was the world, that was the Chicago world and the world world, certainly in the United States. And I was, of course, like everybody else, completely aware of it. So, joining this service was like where I went to sign up, so to speak, with the women’s movement.
MJC: So that was the larger context for the service providing, was part of a larger movement.
JA: Definitely, and I saw it that way. I didn’t go to it because of that. I’ve already explained. I just sort of bumbled into it. But yes, I definitely saw it that way.
MJC: Nothing in your background kept you from being willing to participate in an abortion service?
JA: Apparently not. It didn’t take me long to decide. In fact, I don’t even know that I can talk about it as deciding. I was told, then I was invited, and I said, “Yes.” In later years, I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty interesting.” But it is, in fact, what happened.
MJC: Did the women that you met have an impact on the fact that you said yes?
JA: When you say the women that I met, you mean in the service or who came to the service?
MJC: I’m sorry, in the service, yes.
JA: That must have been the case. We were not, just like any other group, all alike. Nor did we all think alike. But there were at least a few, as is always the case. Just like in your gym class when you’re playing basketball as a 15-year-old girl, there are some people in the group that you gravitate toward, and they gravitate toward you.
So, yes, some of those people, we were friends, in addition to being Jane co-workers, and also some of the people that I had known in the years before this, including a couple who had been my students – I guess the school board was right – joined the service. One, for a fairly short period of time, I think not more than six months. She went on to other things, which I believe she’s still doing.
And another, who is in the documentary film The Janes, did some of the, what I would call, I don’t know if she would say this, heavy lifting. Dealing with women who were far enough along in their pregnancies to not be able to do a D&C and to need to have induced miscarriages. And this young woman was one of the people who actually midwifed those miscarriages at a very young age and was obviously quite competent.
MJC: So, tell me about, as you go along, what portion of your day is spent at this? Or portion of your week, and do you have another job, or is this what you do with your time at the time?
JA: Certainly for at least a year, this is what I did with my time. This was my work. One of the discussions that we had in the group, actually was, “Should we be paying ourselves?” Enough money was coming in. And when I say paying ourselves, this will sound absurd. Here we are, moving into the 21st century, third decade coming up and all that, but it was $25 a week for each job.
So that if you were doing medical work, you were getting $25 for that. If you were doing counseling, you were getting $25 for that. If you were doing office work, same deal. And there was a period, I didn’t keep records because, of course we didn’t want records, that would be dangerous. Some still exist, and that’s kind of lucky now, but it wasn’t the purpose.
I did three, so I actually made $75 for a number of such weeks. And in those days, that was grocery money, rent money. Seems absurd in these times, but it’s reality. That’s why I think that I am always telling myself the truth when I say I learned so much when I worked in the abortion service, because it wasn’t just about abortion.
It was about working together with other women, making very difficult and sometimes painful and sometimes angry decisions, because that’s what happens in any group about any subject. And the more volatile and important the subject is, the heavier the discussions and agreements and disagreements are in your mind and in your spirit. You know that. That was my life for at least a year.
I was still married. I say still married because that did not last much longer, but I was married. I can’t remember all the details about how the husband-and-wife thing played itself out, but we made some agreements. He was an attorney, and he was a little nervous about the fact that his wife was performing felony homicide on a weekly repeated basis. But he was supportive. He managed to get his head in the right place, which is amazing and wonderful. And there were others like that.
My ex, and a couple of others are in the movie. There were people who could do that. We decided to have a child on purpose, as opposed to by mistake or accident. And so having the baby gave me need, to take some time in slivers. And that must have been a few months at least, that I was in slivers. But I could still do office stuff and that kind of thing. And then when I was going back, well, of course, great irony, a lot of irony. Well, there’s a lot of irony in real life. So, okay, this was definitely real life.
When I went back, one of the first, maybe the very first full day of working a whole, what we would call, a day, in the service was the day we got busted. And I was the driver on that day. So that was a stunner. And again, not because we were so ignorant, we didn’t know it could happen, but because as anyone who watches the documentary film will learn, both from the police and from other people who are interviewed, we did not expect that.
It was pretty clear to us for quite a while, along with other abortion providers, as they’re called these days, that nobody really cared that this was illegal. And anybody who was lucky enough to get hooked up with a good abortionist got, okay, that’s lucky.
There’s an explanation given by the cop in the movie, and that may be accurate. It doesn’t sound crazy to me. One person’s opinion is never a whole story. But anyway, we did get cracked. And I think it took hours and hours and hours. And by midnight, we were finally, we, the seven of us who were working that day, were in the women’s lockup in downtown Chicago. And because I was at that point, a quote unquote nursing mother, I was the, I can’t remember what they called it, these lawyers who came to visit the cells; they took me out of my cell, the guard did.
She was really good, that guard. I appreciated her. I still appreciate her. She took me in to talk to these lawyer guys and they said they had this plan. That was, I, because I was a nursing mother, would be taken out downstairs to night court and that they thought because of that, and of course, they didn’t say this, but because I am white, because I was married to a lawyer, because I’m a college graduate, they didn’t say any of that. They just talked about being a nursing mother, but I was no fool. And they said, “You’re a good bet to get out with low bail, and that means in the morning the other six will get no higher bail than that.”
So, I went back. I said, “Well, I’ll think about it”, which blew their minds, but I thought, “I’m not going to make this decision all by myself. I’m here with six other women.” So anyway, they took me, that great guard, she took me back to the cell. And everybody inside, by the way, in case the folks who are watching, listening, want to know, in the women’s lockup, it’s very noisy. All through the night, women are screaming, yelling, crying.
So, it was not a problem to shout over the cell walls and say, “Janes, this is what’s being proposed.” And, “What do you think?” And they said, “Go. Of course, you should go. Do it. Do it.” So, I did, and it was exactly as it was described, except for the fact that I saw the judge behave badly, not to me, but to the woman who came up after me. He talked to her as if he were a ventriloquist in a completely different voice, and it literally stopped me in my tracks. But the lawyers who were almost carrying me out by my elbows just hustled me along, and that’s been a very heavy-duty memory for me all these years.
MJC: And what nationality or color was that woman?
JA: That woman was white. I knew something about her because we, the Janes, had met up with her and her friend, partner, whatever, in the waiting cell, the holding cell, before we were taken up to our own cells. And so, I knew that they had been arrested for smashing a window, stealing a television set, which they of course, said they hadn’t done, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But the main thing was, this was not a person with the list of positive elements that I had understood in my mind about myself. But she was white. But that was all she had going for her. I mean, it was clear it was about class. It was all about class. No question. She had no lawyer.
MJC: So, you got out that night?
JA: Yes, in the morning. It was dawn.
MJC: Okay. And then the other James came up?
JA: In the morning to the morning judge, and it was as we had been told it would be. They got out for the lower bail. No question. Yes.
MJC: That strategy was a good one.
JA: Oh, definitely, yes. Those guys, they knew how it worked and they knew what would happen, and they were right.
MJC: Right. So now you’re out, and now what happens?
JA: Well, the next several months for the seven of us, were really spent on this legal business. Interestingly enough, I think that the service was only stopped, or sort of held in suspended animation for two weeks at the most, and then back to work. This is why I say what I say about the police, that they really didn’t care because they weren’t watching the service to see if they were going to go back to work.
They did what they felt they had to do, and that was it. They didn’t even want to do what they thought they had to do. They just did it, which is to say, arrested us. But I don’t think it was more than two weeks. And then the service was back, and there were women waiting. More than 200 women were waiting. They were on the list. They had been given appointments, but they saw in the newspaper what had happened, et cetera, et cetera, but they got taken care of. They either got money to go to New York or they were taken care of by a Jane. And the service just kept on going from then on.
And the seven of us, each woman made her own decisions based on whatever the circumstances of her life might have been in the fall of 1972. Which is when we finally had found an attorney and she was working with us, and she was the one that was on our, what should I say, I think of her as being on our pass. But then, of course, at the end of January in ‘73, everybody got a pass. It was a three-year pass. We didn’t know that then. We didn’t know about Henry Hyde in January of ’73. But three years, three years, it was good. Maybe three and a half before the Hyde Amendment actually kicked in.
MJC: Let’s go back, if we could go back for our people here. About the clients. A little more about the clients, who they were, how they found Janes.
JA: Okay. The people who came to us were, well, changed over time. At the very beginning, they were college students, maybe some housewives. And of course, the number was much, much smaller at the very beginning. But it doesn’t take long, especially in a big city, for people to find out, hey, there’s this group of women, and they do this, et cetera.
And also, once we were doing it ourselves, we could charge whatever we wanted. We weren’t in it for the money like the guys were. And so, the price we set was $100 or whatever you could afford, and that meant $18.50 for some people, $70. Occasionally someone paying $100. But there were so many that there was enough money to buy the medications we needed, the tools we needed, pay the rent where we needed to do that, et cetera, et cetera.
So, in the very beginning, a lot of college students, maybe some housewives, and then very quickly, once word got out, once we were in an actual group, it was anybody who managed to hear about it. And, there were two or three ways that people heard about it. One, was they might be lucky enough to know somebody. We actually, and this is another thing people can barely believe today, we advertised through the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union.
We were known. The Abortion Counseling Service was our official title, and it was named and discussed and so on, and also probably more than once in Chicago papers. Not as exposes, just as a matter of fact. Plus, there would be occasional signs posted on telephone poles the way people do about anything, if they’re having a yard sale. Same kind of deal. The Jane answering machine phone number was listed with other notable to feminists’ phone numbers in Chicago and the area.
And so, the people who came could find us that way. Also, once it was just us and the price came down, that meant that people who had much less money or almost no money could come. And one of the results in a city that is as racially segregated as Chicago was and still is, I believe, many, many Black women came to us, even though we were predominantly, almost entirely White as a group.
But they came because they knew that we knew what we were doing, that we didn’t hurt anybody, and that we had the chops, basically. And so, we had more than, definitely a majority of Black women and girls coming to us by the time we were in the last year of working. And again, that just makes sense in the society as it was and as it is.
MJC: Now picking up our story. You were charged originally, and then quite a delay between then and the Roe decision. So how did that work?
JA: The delay happened quite deliberately. Deliberate delay. Maybe that’s actually a legal phrase, or maybe I just invented it. But anyway, because we had found this woman, this really excellent attorney, Joanne Wilson, who is unfortunately, one of the people who is no longer alive. And so, we can’t talk to her about this, although she probably would say, “Get out of my face,” I doubt she would want to talk about it. But anyway, she was really smart, really skillful.
She had been, despite being a white person and a woman. She was the lawyer for Chicago’s Black Panthers. This was a very heavy hitter, Joanne Wilson. And when she was convinced that she should, by one of our pals, Marie Leiner, to take our case, after a certain amount of nagging by Marie I think, she took it. And she stalled in all the conventional legal ways, filed a petition for this and for that and all these things. Everything takes so long, and she just stalled, and stalled, and stalled. And then Roe happened. So, then the whole case disappeared or whatever the proper legal phrasing is.
MJC: Well, that was an incredible set of circumstances, wasn’t it?
JA: Yes, the timing was very lucky.
MJC: So now Roe is the law of the land. And how does that impact on the service and on the abortion counseling service? Why don’t you tell that story? So, what happened?
JA: Well, just like everything else, we didn’t all agree. There were a few months between the end of January and I think it was April when the service actually disbanded, erased itself, saying, “No longer is there a need for an underground abortion service.” And in those few months and what took that long was that there was disagreement, surprise, surprise among the Janes. Everybody who was in favor of closing said, “Look, it’s over. There’s no need.”
And other people said, “Wait a minute. We know how to do this. We care about these women in a certain way that the medical industry is definitely not on board with, and it could be good if we would continue.”
I’m a person who actually thought and felt that way, but I must admit, I was convinced by whoever it was who said, “Look, when abortion is illegal, okay, its felony homicide, but when it’s legal, then it’s medical practice. And that means we’re practicing medicine without a license.” And so that was like a gobstopper.
And I think that, again, every Jane will have a different opinion of how this came to be. But I believe that that was a very strong argument for shutting down the service. And many of us went on to other women’s health related things pretty quickly. So, it’s not like we stopped thinking about such stuff. No.
MJC: So, yes, I guess that’s the next question. How did this experience impact you and to whatever extent you can speak for them, the other Janes? That had to be a moment when you thought about that to some extent, how that experience had impacted you. Do you want to talk about that?
JA: Definitely, no question about it. I thought about it very intensely, talked about it with other Janes and with other friends, but mainly with other Janes who were my friends. And for a while I thought, “I’m going to go back to school and become a midwife” so that I can do abortions and baby catching, do childbirth, abortion, all women’s reproductive health, sexuality, bodies, et cetera. This was when Our Bodies, Ourselves was at first, when we were working, it was in newsprint, I think it was 16 pages long.
But within the next few years, it became the big book that we know it as. So that was my thinking, actually, and I certainly would never have had such a thought in my life if I had not been working as a Jane in those years. That absolutely was sparked by being a Jane. But I realized after a while, I taught Bodies classes, both in high schools and colleges. I was, you know, like a lot of Janes, I was called and invited by teachers or groups of teachers, would you just come and talk with our students about this? Would you this, would you that? And I was totally into it.
And I joined this group I think was a work group of the union, the Prison Project. A group of us, at least three of us were Janes. Maybe all of us were Janes. I can’t remember everybody who was doing it. But we went down to Dwight, the women’s prison in Illinois, and taught basically a Bodies class. I have no idea how we got in touch with possibly one of the two or three wardens in the world, certainly in the United States, who would allow such a thing to happen, but we did.
And so we drove down there, I think, every week for X number of months. And that was also an extraordinary educational experience for us, me, as it was, that we were bringing education into the prison where nobody was talking about this stuff. Here’s how your body works, here’s what you need here’s, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. All of that stuff that really women all over the country were dealing with – self-help. I remember some experience, a group of us, Janes, maybe half a dozen, we were in somebody’s apartment, and we all had our flashlights and our mirrors, and we were doing looking at our own cervixes, et cetera, et cetera.
All of this was what was happening. So, it continued to happen, but in different contexts. There was some special program at the University of Illinois in the city, the Chicago campus. I have no memory of what it was, what it was called, but I was in it. I applied and got in, and that was at least a semester. I don’t think it was a full year of classes about health industry. Well, they didn’t call it an industry, of course, but it is anyway, the medical industry and health and self-help and so on.
And then again, because the marriage was definitely coming apart and I had this small baby, I wanted to be able to make a middle-class income if I could. That didn’t come for another ten years, but some kind of income was coming in. I got a job at Columbia College in Chicago where the dean was incredibly decent. I would go to his office and I would write up a course description, and I would walk in and say, “How about this? Can I teach this?” And I swear to God, he said yes to damn near every single thing I suggested.
He was really an ace. So, I did stuff like women’s literature and so on, but I always taught Bodies classes and for the end of each bodies class. Now, mind you, this is, after all, a public school. It’s actually a private college, but I mean, this is not part of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. This was a college in town. They did this. I give them so much credit for this.
MJC: You want to mention that gentleman’s name?
JA: Absolutely, the dean was Louis Silverstein. I think he’s retired now, but he was absolutely an ace. And honest to God, I swear he never turned me down. And Bodies, that was just an amazing, I could not say in the course description that it was just for women, but of course only women, with the exception of one guy, and I think this one guy took every class I offered. He was into it, but of course it was women.
And I would say to them, “This has nothing to do with your grade. This has nothing to do with your hours. But at the end of the course, anyone who wants to learn self-help, you can come to my apartment separate from the class.” And they would come. At least a dozen maybe two dozen, depending on how big the class was. And I would say, “Bring a flashlight, bring a mirror” and they would learn how to examine their own cervixes as part of the Bodies class, but a sort of add on. People who didn’t want to do that could still fly away in wonderful royal blue robes, et cetera.
I did that for several years; I think maybe five or six years in the ’70s after the service itself ended. And also, I made a few attempts to get that middle class income, which I eventually realized in the 1980s that I was just going to have to go back to school and get a big college degree, and that was how I was going to do it. And I did that, and it turned out to actually be okay. I went to a Catholic university where they thought I was just fine. You can do that in Chicago. You can go Catholic university, be like us, be Jane like, and they can think you’re just fine. It’s a wonderful little miracle of Chicago.
Also, in the ’70s in response to your initial question, I wrote my first two books. And both of them, I am completely sure, were sparked by being a Jane. The first one was about women’s relationships with our mothers, a clear case, and I worked with my stepmother. I wanted her to work with me half and half, that we would write the book together.
She said, “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that.” She said, “But I can type.” Oh, my God, so dear, so dear. She said, “Just bring me those transcripts” because I was taping all the interviews. I did, I don’t know, 75, 80 interviews, and she said, “Just bring me that stuff” and she typed every damn interview. And this was not a political person, not a radical person, not a lefty person.
So, I wrote the book about mothers and daughters. And then very late in the ’70s, growing out of that as well as the earlier business, I wrote a book about raising male children in a misogynist and woman hating society. Also obviously, strongly influenced by my basic work and life, in Jane time, no question. I’m not saying all the Janes agree. I’m not saying they did then. I’m not saying we did later. It’s just that the atmosphere around us was about the importance of women’s health and well-being and safety and meaningful lives, and all of that that has to be supported in many ways, including, access to safe, healthy, abortion practice.
And so, the second book came out of the first and the whole thing, I believe, when I look at my life now that I’m 80 years old, and I’ve been thinking this for years, really, but the older I get, the more sure I am, that all of these things were sparked by, seeded by, fertilized, if I may use that term in this context, by the work that we did as Janes. There’s just no doubt in my mind. I’m not saying none of it was coming from other places, but that was bedrock for me. That was the first overt law defying action that I took publicly, openly, not for a minute, but for months and months and months, learning all the time. I’m sure of it.
MJC: Absolutely. So, the impact was both on you and the other Janes personally, but the impact on society was enormous.
JA: Yes, I think that’s right. I think that’s a very fair estimate. Not just so much what we did per sé, although we were in this case, the actors, we were the ones. But the fact of people taking action against – I mean, it’s like the civil rights movement, people taking action open, supposedly underground, but let’s face it, signs on telephone poles. People would call the women’s union office and say, “Can you connect me with the abortion service?” And the people who worked in the women’s liberation union office said, “Sure, here’s the number.” That was real.
MJC: The impact was both personally on the Janes right, and let’s say on the clients.
JA: Unquestionably. And some of them speak of it today, or speak of it even sometimes still in whispers. But the majority, of course, are far more outspoken than women were for the most part in those times. Yes, I think that the work we did was foundational in a variety of ways. And not that all of us were the same, thought the same, acted the same, wanted to do the same tasks in this; no sameness, but group functioning, successful group functioning. Just like we would talk about in our women’s groups.
Also in the ’70s, one of my dearest friends and I started what was called then, a women’s group, and we didn’t mean garden parties. And that group existed for six or seven years after we started it in the late ’70s. And certainly, that too grew out of that same rich ground. And in my case was, as I say, strongly seeded by my work as a Jane. People came in from different places. That’s where I came.
MJC: We’re roughly the same age, I’m a couple of years older than you. But at that time, it was thought that women couldn’t work together.
JA: Yes, I know. Right.
MJC: That was the myth that we couldn’t work together.
JA: And that we didn’t really like each other.
MJC: And that we didn’t like each other. So many things were put to bed out of these experiences in the women’s movement.
JA: Anti-woman cliches and socially passed along beliefs that on the surface look silly, but were actually vicious and damaging and caused us to work very, very hard on self-respect and mutual respect. Because that was the thought of what women were. Yes, absolutely. You bet. I remember that very clearly.
MJC: Can you talk about the impact directly, what you think the impact was on the medical profession?
JA: Oh, wow. The impact of, you mean of the change in the laws, or the fact of the service, or what?
MJC: All of the above.
JA: I think that in Chicago at that time, we had not much impact on the medical industry and the local doctors. But the ones who actually knew about us, or that we knew personally, who were the ones we had contact with; and of course, they were, I’m going to say inevitably although there were one or two female doctors at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the ’70s, but numbers, just teeny, teeny numbers.
Those guys, I remember I had a doc who knew about the service even before he was my doctor, and he would say, silly is the wrong word, he couched in contemporary language. He would say something like, “Well, you girls,” he would actually use that phrase, but what he was saying was not offensive or ugly. He would say things like, “You girls have to be careful, and you girls need to find this, and here’s a book that I think you girls will like.”
So, he was using the stupid language to say smart things of that time. And there were certainly other doctors that other Janes knew personally, or literally were their neighbors. And sometimes those guys were really of use in various ways. They could be of help to us, and they were nervous, but some of them did be of use to us.
MJC: Excellent. So that’s another impact. Moving on in your life then, you wrote two books and you were teaching.
MJC: And then other movement, activities, or women’s activities?
JA: Well, after that, that was all through the ’70s into the early ’80s. Then I went back to school in order to get a PhD. And when people said to me, “Why are you doing this after all these years?” And I said, “Exactly. I want a middle-class income,” and I also want, I remembered very clearly what my parents had gone through. The parents who raised me, my stepmother and my father, to do what they thought they should do, which was pay for college for all three of the children.
And I thought, “Okay, I’m going to do that.” But in order to do that, I needed to get more education and get a higher-level job. And I did. Took years, of course, and I managed to do it just in time. I graduated from the university the same weekend as my son graduated from high school. I thought, “Just in time.” And then, to my amazement, I again had great good fortune in coming together with a group of people. I joined the faculty of a very unusual university, which is often called the Union Institute, now. At the time, it had a few different names.
It was a distance learning place in those years. We had no computers, of course. It wasn’t that kind of distance. We used telephones and the postal service, and we traveled by airplane, train, automobile. There were teachers, faculty members all over the country, and it was actually a fabulous experience for me.
I was first hired as a dean, which I had never imagined. I mean, that was not a goal or even an idea, but that was the ad. I must have answered 100 ads. That’s not an exaggeration. And most of them didn’t even answer me. But I did get a couple of interviews, and one of them was this place, where the office was in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Anyway, I joined up as the assistant dean of the graduate program, and I wound up working at that school. I stopped being dean after a few years, but I kept on as a full-time faculty member and loved it, and didn’t have to stay in Cincinnati anymore because I didn’t need to be at the office.
But I was there for about 17-18 years and had the enormous luck to work with a number, more than a big number, of faculty members, who thought about learning and education in the ways that I had learned to think about it. Through the CWLU Liberation School, through my work as a Jane, through being fired by the regulars in that suburban high school in the township north of Chicago. And I got lucky. I got lucky.
So anyway, then I kept writing. I wrote a biography, a literary biography, and then I started writing. Well, I had been writing all along. Little bits snuck in, like at 4:00 in the morning, poems and stories. So, in the late 1990s, early 2000s, I began seeking publication. Now, I have in fact, published a couple collections of stories and poems. And that’s I mean, I don’t know how many I’ve got going because I don’t have as much strength and energy as I used to, but I do have still strength and energy, just not as much. So, there may be other books. You never know what’s going to happen, and that’s the way it’s going.
MJC: So, you were back in Ohio. You went back to Ohio, the state of your birth. Right?
JA: Right. In order to do that. Although I had never been in Cincinnati.
MJC: So, when did you, I know you’re on the West Coast now, when did that happen?
JA: That was late in 1989. I moved to Cincinnati, that assistant dean job, and I was there for a year and a half. And then again, great good fortune. The college opened an office in Washington, DC, or had opened the year before. That’s where their social, I don’t remember what they called it, but basically it was socially and politically motivated programs, and they had an office in the district. And so, I, as the representative of the, or maybe I was the director, I don’t remember what the title was, but anyway, of the women’s group on the faculty and staff, I moved to DC after just a year and a half in Cincinnati.
I loved living in DC. It was more for me than Cincinnati had been. And so, I got to work with everyone on the faculty, all the women on the faculty who wanted women’s lives to be centered. We were working with students who were doing doctoral programs, and they were almost all well over 40 years of age. I think there was one person I met who was like 33, and he was like a baby, and everyone else was 40s, 50s, 60s.
It was an amazing experience to work with these grown-ups who wanted a doctorate because of this, or this, or this. Some very serious personal and political reason. It was a gift. It was a gift. And I say thank you still for that gift. So, I was in the district for three years doing the women’s work of the doctoral program at that strange university. I think it’s available now online. I don’t know, I haven’t kept up with it. And then moved back to Chicago for a few years and kept writing. And then about almost 30 years ago, moved to the Pacific Northwest and kept writing.
MJC: Excellent. So, is there anything we’ve missed in the telling of your story? Is there more?
JA: I don’t know, you know very well you said you’re just about a year or two older, but there’s always more.
MJC: Well, I did forget to ask you about the rock band, didn’t I?
JA: Well, I was a fan, of course. And I remember their presence at public events and marches. And also, I think the first, I don’t know how many there were, but there was an album, that of course I had, for the Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band. And that too, was well, you know this, that so many amazing things were growing out of that really rich ground that the union, the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union was. And so, I had the abortion service, I had the prison project, I had the teaching stuff going on. I am a beneficiary of women’s organizing in Chicago to create the union and unions project. No question about it. Yes, no question about it.
MJC: You shaped their life, and they shaped your life.
JA: It was mutual, I’m sure. It was a great gift to all of us. When you work on something, when you get what it’s for, it’s still a gift. Even if you’ve been one of the workers. You know.
MJC: Yes, that’s true. It’s a wonderful story. Is there anything we’re missing?
JA: The only thing that I will add, which may not even be appropriate for you guys, but I love saying it, is that this current documentary film, now there is an earlier documentary film.
MJC: Why don’t you mention them both.
JA: There was a documentary film about the abortion service made in the mid 1990s by two students at the School of the Art Institute. Kate Kurtz and Nell Lundy. And I think their film might have been called The Story of Jane or something like that. Almost everything about us has a title that is almost the same as all the other titles.
But anyway, Kate and Nell did a great job. It’s true, they were students. They had a very low budget, et cetera. But it’s cool. Their documentary is totally solid even now. And then, we had this extraordinary, we being the Janes who are still alive, and people who worked with us, have had this extraordinary experience now in the 21st century, of the new documentary.
And this is the thing I was going to add, and that was my son’s idea. And I love knowing that. I love the fact that its happened. I remember still, you know how some things just, the moment just sticks in your brain. He said to me one day in, I don’t know, let’s say 2016 or 2017, one of those years. He was visiting me; he lives in Chicago. He still lives in Chicago and I don’t, which is really too bad, but that’s a whole other story.
But anyway, I mean, what’s too bad is that we don’t live in the same place. Not that Chicago. But anyway, he said to me, “Mom, we need a new documentary about the service.” And I was just stunned. I said, “We do?” I was stunned, not because of the idea, but because he was saying that to me. I remember where we were in the living room of my apartment when he said it. It was so notable. And anyway, there’s obviously a history since 2016, 2017. But he was the one who got it started. He was the one.
MJC: Let’s say his name.
JA: Daniel Arcana. My son is the person who actually sparked the beginning, the thought, and the action that became the new documentary film. And then, of course, we have these two wonderful co-directors, his half-sister, Emma Pildes and Tia Lessin, who Emma brought in, and Tia, a longtime documentarian, whose work people should look up and watch immediately as soon as they’re finished watching our stuff here.
And so it goes. It’s been quite, I’ll say, notable, to have my son be the spark that began it and then put in a lot of grunt work on it. You know, you can’t just spark and walk away. And then to have these excellent women with a whole crew of more excellent women, actually making the film happen over a period of two or three years, just remarkable. And what’s perhaps even more remarkable than the fact that these people put their time and energy into this is, that it’s really good. It’s so useful, like the one made in the mid ’90s for its time. This one made now for our time. Really good, really valuable. A gift. A gift again, I say that.
MJC: Absolutely. I thought it was remarkable. I thought it was an excellent film.
JA: Oh, good. I’m glad.
MJC: I really enjoyed watching it. Obviously, I work on this project because I believe this history is enormously important. And to the historians to be able to tell the story.
JA: Yes. It’s valuable, like any history textbook. Only luckily, we have all these other forms to have pieces of it. Yes, it’s great.
MJC: Right. Because we need to communicate in different ways because the next societies, the next generations communicate differently.
JA: That’s right.
MJC: We need books, but we need movies, too.
JA: You’re absolutely right. Which is to say I agree with you.
MJC: Well, this has been delightful, Judith. Do we have any final words?
JA: I’m like you. I’m one of the women in the world, and certainly in the United States who has been a beneficiary of the women’s liberation movement in the 20th and 21st centuries. And I’m grateful. I’m happy about it. We all did a lot of work. We’re apparently still working. But that doesn’t make it any less of something to be grateful for. It’s just extraordinary, I think about the years of my elders and what they had to deal with and compare that with ours. Not that ours was peachy keen, but unquestionably great good fortune, to have been born in a moment where, “Hit the Streets,” is like a bumper sticker. I’m pretty happy about it, and I’m grateful.