Judith Arcana

“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:  I’m Judith Arcana, born 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, though we can never be absolutely sure where this stuff has come from, I was lucky.  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 politically opinionated – and my father’s family not only opinionated, but active. His father was a socialist and my mother’s father was a communist; though they were not in the streets (I didn’t have that as an example), I must have been told by family members because I knew when I was ten years old.

As for me, political action per sé, doing something I’d have thought of then as political, didn’t really happen until my twenties. And then, by my late twenties, partly because I got fired from my teaching job (a complicated story) – and then certainly because of my work in the abortion service, my consciousness grew rapidly.

I assumed I would be a teacher. Partly out of interest and partly because, in those days, there were only a few things a girl could be. I was very aware of that, like every other girl who was paying attention. You could be a nurse, you could be a teacher – maybe there were a couple others, but those were the biggies. And I chose teacher because I was such a reader. Everyone said, “Well, of course you should.”

MJC:  Now, I gather you’re no longer in Cleveland.

JA:  Correct. But my families did live in the Great Lakes region, and I lived in Chicago during most of the years I was learning about what we can call real life.  When I was growing up, the family moved a lot. I lived briefly in Milwaukee, and 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, for the parents, in ways that I was certainly not aware of then, it was rough.

My mother died when I was thirteen months old and my father remarried. So here’s this stepmother who gets two kids, my brother and me, and then makes another one with my dad. And they had some hard times, economic hard times, in the first decade of their marriage.

So I became a high school teacher, in a township north of Chicago (at the high school I had graduated from – and then got fired from). I’d gone to college; I did all the appropriate things, and then became a teacher. And here, I think, came the primary lever that pushed me into (or let me spring into?) the work we did in the abortion service. That lever was being fired. I was tenured. I had great reviews. But two other teachers and I, the three of us, were fired in a secret school board meeting decision in March of 1970. As you know, political action was rising all over the country in those years.

We were falsely accused of petty things; not keeping attendance correctly is my favorite example of that falsity/pettiness. But everybody, literally everybody, certainly including the students, knew that’s not what it was about. They, the school board, were upset by the attitudes and actions of the students – many of whom were far more politically conscious than I was – and were unable to imagine that their children had independent minds and ideas. Those students were teaching me – and to this day I’m grateful to them.

So: The teachers, the three teachers, John and Nancy and Judy (as I was called in those days), were blamed for the behavior/action of the students – fired and told to leave immediately. I had to pack up all my stuff in Room 148 – a lot of gear, after teaching for six years in that room – and be “escorted” from my classroom by police officers (yes, really).

But John and I, both tenured, both with excellent reviews (Nancy was new to the school that year), discovered we had legal recourse: the state of Illinois gave fired tenured teachers the right to a public hearing – which turned into, essentially, a trial. And it lasted for months, several nights a week for several months in the high school auditorium. Hundreds of people attended. And that experience, along with all that was going on in the world – all that many of our  students had been talking about – was educating me.

I was totally blown away by that experience. Not blown away in the sense of damaged – I was changed.  And angry, and more conscious politically than I had ever been, even with those lefty grandparents.

And here’s the Jane connection: During that summer, during the trial, I had a very late period and thought, “Oh, no! Pregnant! Not a good time to make a person – I’ll have to get an abortion.” I had a friend who was a medical student; I called him.  Bless his heart and mind, he called me back in less than 24 hours. He said, “Everybody here ….” (the medical school at the University of Illinois campus in Chicago) “… says ‘Call this number and ask for Jane.’”

MJC:  Oh, my heavens.

JA:  Isn’t that wonderful? I love it. At the med school, in that pre-Roe time, some people had told him, “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), and we talked for a long time. I mean, a long time. Totally not connected to booking an appointment. We just hit it off.  (In our conversation she said, “You should get a pregnancy test.” Um, oh, yeah, that makes sense. But I was so freaked out – a common response, I soon learned – that I’d not even thought of it!)

Anyway, long story short (well, shorter than it has been), I wasn’t pregnant, and called her back to tell her. Again we talked for a very long time, and she said, “Listen, we’re going to be taking in new counselors in a couple of months. I think you might be interested.” And, although nothing like this had ever occurred to me before, I said, “Yes, I might be interested.” So, then, just a couple months later, I went to a meeting she called to tell me about, in a small church on Fullerton Parkway on the north side of Chicago.

That’s where I met some Janes, and some other women who had probably said “Yes, 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, emotional history. Back then, it was just taking the next step, then the next step, and the next step. And when I joined, I loved it. I loved it. I loved working in the abortion service. I went to those meetings once a week, every week. That was the beginning.

MJC:  Were you still living near the school or out in the suburbs?

JA:  No, the high school was in Niles Township, outside the city. I had moved into the city after they banished me, when the school board “decided” they’d been right to fire us, and made it final.

I do believe that whole experience, including the decision-making process, if we can call it that, was part of my political education, and not only allowed me to join an illegal underground providing abortion healthcare, but had prompted me to say, “This is something real, valuable, useful, and I can do it.” By firing me with such dishonesty, such hypocrisy, by upending my life, they had given me a new context. They had educated this teacher.

MJC:  Isn’t that a wonderful story and the contradiction of what people’s intentions are. Whatever organizing you thought that you were participating in, and doing exactly the opposite.

JA:  Right.

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 many intense memories about the experience. I think that by the time I joined, fall of 1970, people were counseling – not just referring, as in the beginning, but actually counseling the people who came to the Janes.

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 women that Jane was counseling were okay with it, we’d be with her when she met with them. She would say, “There’s a new Jane, who’s learning and training.  Is it okay if she’s there with us?” And, inevitably, you will not be surprised to hear, they would say, “Oh, yes, of course.”

So I did that. I was, in a sense, an intern. Then I began to do it myself – began counseling. I also did what I’ve always thought of as the office work (and there was a lot of it).

I wound up having the answering machine in my home, in my apartment in Chicago (along with the “beeper” that came with it).  That kind of machine was new back then.  I probably had never even seen one before; I certainly had never used one. Having such devices at home was not common.

While doing the office work (that job later got the title “Callback Jane” – because we were calling back to say: “Hello, this is Jane. I got your message.” and to ask questions about health, timing, the length of the pregnancy), I was learning to be a counselor. By the end of 1970, I’d begun counseling myself.

The service was evolving as a group; less than a year after I joined up, we were doing pretty much everything ourselves.  Not only were we not referring people to outside practitioners – though we knew of some good local abortionists – we were completely integral unto ourselves as a group.  Our main guy had taught a couple of us, and those Janes went on to teach others.

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. There were of course Janes who didn’t want to do medical work. Not everybody wanted to do everything, just like in any group.  I was, to my surprise (as I think about it now), a Jane who learned pretty much all of the tasks available. When I look back on this history, I know I couldn’t have guessed someone would say to me, “Would you be interested in learning how to give shots, how to put in a speculum, how to use a curette?” And that I would reply, “Why, yes, I am interested.” It wasn’t even in the universe of my thinking.

Let’s remember, it was only a couple years before this time I’m talking about – in US history, in Chicago history – that what’s called “the second wave” of American women’s movement was truly manifest. By the end of the nineteen-sixties, every woman, literally every woman I knew (including my stepmother, who was definitely not a feminist), was talking about stuff she had not talked about before in her life (whatever her perspective on that stuff might have been). That was the world, that was the Chicago world and the world world – in the United States and elsewhere. I was, like damn near everybody else, aware of it. Joining the abortion service was where I went to sign up, so to speak, with the women’s movement.

MJC:  So that was the larger context for the service, which was part of a larger movement.

JA:  Definitely, and I saw it that way. I didn’t get into it because of that, as I’ve 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, when I thought about how it happened, about what I’d done, my response was “Wow, that’s interesting!” But that 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 all alike. Nor did we all think alike. But there were at least a few for each of us, a few we gravitated toward, 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 you click with, and they click with you.

So, yes, some of those people became my friends, in addition to (and in the context of) being Jane co-workers. Also, some people I knew from other experiences in the years before this (including two who had been my students) – joined the service.

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 (after all, I’d been fired from what had been my work ‘til then). One of the discussions we had in the group was, “Should we be paying ourselves?” Enough money was coming in to do that. And when I say paying ourselves – the amount will sound absurd now, more than twenty years into the 21st century – it was $25 a week for each job.

So 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 what I call office work, same deal. And there was a period in which I did those three jobs every week for a good number of months, so I actually made $75 a week for a while. (I didn’t keep records because, of course we didn’t want records, that would be dangerous. Some bits do exist, and that’s kind of lucky now, for the sake of history, but that wasn’t the purpose.) In those days, that was food money, rent money.

That’s one example of telling myself the truth when I say I learned so much when I worked in the abortion service; it wasn’t only about abortion. It was about working with other women, making very difficult, sometimes painful and sometimes angry decisions, because that’s what happens in any ongoing group, about any important 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 from fall of 1970 to fall of 1971 – no other jobs.

I was still married. I say still married because the marriage did not last much longer (I was only twenty-one when I 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 was a little nervous about the fact that his wife was facilitating and performing felony homicide on a weekly basis. But he was supportive; he managed to get his head in the right place. (He’s in the new documentary film, The Janes.)

We had decided to have a child, and having the baby caused me take some time away from Jane-ing.  He was born in late October, 1971, so I worked up to almost-then. In early 1972, I returned to office work and counseling, and moved gradually back into other Jane tasks.

In spring of 1972, I was back to full-on Jane work, and that’s where irony enters my story, a lot of irony. (Well, there’s always a lot of irony in real life. This was definitely real life.) When I went back to full-on Jane work, on what might have been my first full work day, working what Janes called a day in the service, was the day we got busted. Before that, I’d gone back to counseling and working at fronts, and I’d helped some women with induced miscarriages. I was the driver on that spring day. The bust was a stunner. Again, not because we didn’t know it could happen, but because (as anyone who watches the new documentary film about the service will learn) there was little reason to expect a bust.

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 abortion work was illegal, and anybody who did find a good abortionist felt lucky.  There’s a notable description/explanation given by the cop in the new film. It sounds reasonable to me – though we all know that one person’s opinion is never a whole story.

Anyway, we did get cracked. And the whole experience – the bust itself – took hours and hours and hours. The cops showed up at the place around 3pm on a workday, and at midnight we were finally, the seven of us who’d been working that day, in the women’s lockup in downtown Chicago.

And then, because I was a quote-unquote nursing mother, I became the linchpin in the lawyers’ scheme, the plan of the lawyers who came to the lockup that night.  A guard came and took me out of my cell.  She was really good, that guard; I appreciated her. I still appreciate her.

She took me to a cell in another section of the lockup, to talk to the lawyers.  They told me their plan: I, because I was a nursing mother, would be taken downstairs to night court and (they thought) because of that I’d get out for low bail.  Of course, they didn’t say anything about me being white, being married to a lawyer, being a college graduate; they didn’t say any of that. They just talked about being a nursing mother, but I knew those privilege flags would be useful in their presentation to the night court judge. They said, “You’re a good bet to get out with low bail, and that means that in the morning the other six can be given no higher bail than that.” That was their plan, the scheme.

I said, “OK, I’ll talk to the others” – which maybe kinda pissed them off (my not immediately saying yes).  But I thought, “I’m not gonna make this decision alone. I’m here with six other women.” So the guard took me back to my cell.

(And, inside the lockup, by the way, in case folks who are reading this want to know, it was seriously noisy.  In the women’s lockup, it was seriously noisy. All through the night, there were women screaming, yelling, crying.)  So it was easy for me to shout over the cell walls, “Janes!” And to tell them what was being proposed. And to ask: “What do you think?” And they said, the ones who shouted back, “Go! Of course you should go. Do it. Do it.” One, a mother of four children, said “I’d go if I could.” Their response had a big impact on me.

So I did that, and it was exactly as the lawyers had predicted – except for the fact that I saw the judge behave badly.  Not to me – to the woman who came up after me.  He talked to her in a completely different voice, almost hostile, certainly peremptory; and it literally stopped me in my tracks. I’d been walking out with the lawyers, and I stopped, turned around. But the lawyers, who were practically carrying me out by my elbows, hustled me along.  And I let them. That’s been a very heavy memory for me, all these years.

MJC:  And what nationality or color was that woman?

JA:  That woman was white; she came from the northside neighborhood called Uptown. I knew something about her because we, the seven Janes who’d been busted, had been locked with her and another, younger, woman, in a holding cell, before we were taken up to our cells. So I knew that those two had been accused of smashing a window and stealing a television set – which they said they hadn’t done. But the main thing was, this was not a person with the list of useful elements that I understood, politically, about myself. Yes, she was white. But that was all she had going for her. It was clearly about class. It was all about class. No question. The difference in the judge’s tone and language was clear. And she had no lawyer.

MJC:  So, you got out that night?

JA:  In the morning; it was dawn.

MJC:  Okay. And then the other James came up?

JA:  In the morning, they were taken to the morning judge, and it was as we had been told it would be; the lawyers’ plan worked: The other six Janes got out for that same lower bail.

MJC:  That strategy was a good one.

JA:  Oh, definitely, yes. Those guys, they knew how the system worked and they knew what would happen.  They were smart, and they were right.

MJC:  Right. So now you’re out, and now what happens?

JA:  Well, the next several months, for the seven, were spent on legal business. Interestingly enough, though the service stopped working – was sort of held in suspended animation – for two weeks, only two weeks – it then got back to work. There’s evidence that the police really didn’t care; they weren’t even watching to see if Janes were going back to work.

The police did what they thought they had to do. As viewers will see in the new documentary, they didn’t necessarily want to do what they had to do. They just did it.  They arrested us.  But it was no more than two weeks before the service was back – and there were women waiting. More than 200, maybe 250, women were waiting. They were on the list, had appointments.  Then, though maybe they saw in the news what had happened, they got taken care of. They either got plane tickets from the service to go to New York or they were taken care of in Chicago by a Jane. The service kept on going.

As for the seven of us, each woman made her decisions based on whatever the circumstances of her life were in the fall of 1972. By end of the summer we had chosen an attorney, and she was working with us. She had a plan, a method – and it worked.  She used legal stalling techniques, knowing that the Roe case was coming to the Supreme Court. And when it did, as everyone knows, the whole country got three years off. Another kind of stalling, though we didn’t know that then. We didn’t know about Henry Hyde in January of ’73. For three years, just those three years, it was good.  Maybe it was even three and a half years before the Hyde Amendment kicked in.

MJC:  Let’s go back, if we could go back for our people watching. About the clients. A little more about the clients, who they were, how they found Janes.

JA:  The people who came to us changed over time. At the beginning, there were many college students, some housewives. And of course, the number of people coming to us was much, much smaller at first. But it doesn’t take long, especially in a big city, for people to find out, hey, there’s this group of women, they’re good, they’re skilled and they’re kind – and they don’t charge a huge amount of money!

Once we were doing it all ourselves, we could charge whatever we wanted. We weren’t in it for the money like the guys were. The price we set was $100 or whatever you could afford.  That meant $18.50 for some people, $70 for others. Some did pay $100. But there were so many that the service had enough money to buy the medications we needed, the tools we needed, to pay the rent on a place to work.

Very quickly, when word got out, once we were a functioning work group, it was anybody who managed to hear about it. And there were a few ways that people would hear about the service. One was, they might be lucky enough to know somebody, what’s called “word-of-mouth” – somebody who’d come to us, or even a Jane.  Another was that we actually (this is another thing people can barely believe today), we actually advertised through the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union.

We were known. The Abortion Counseling Service of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union was our official title; that title even appeared in Chicago newspapers, certainly alternative papers. Not as exposes, just as a matter of fact. Plus, there were occasional signs, some posted on telephone poles, the way people do if they’re having a yard sale. Same kind of deal. The Jane answering machine phone number was listed with other useful-to-feminists phone numbers in Chicago and the surrounding area.

People could find us that way. Also, once it was just us and the price came down, that meant people who had much less money or even no money could come. And one of the results in a city as racially segregated as Chicago was that many, many Black women came to us, even though we were predominantly, almost entirely, white as a group.

But they came because they’d heard we knew what we were doing, that we didn’t hurt anybody, that we had the chops, basically. Ultimately, we had a majority of Black women and girls coming to us – by the time we were in our last 6-8 months of working. And that makes sense in a society where access to money and public service is based on race – and racism.

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. Because we had found this woman, this really excellent attorney, JoAnne Wolfson, who is, unfortunately, no longer alive. We can’t talk to her about this, although if she were here and she were asked, I think she’d probably say, “Get out of my face.” I doubt she would want to talk about it.

JoAnne was really smart, really skillful.  She had been, despite being a white person and a woman, the lawyer for Chicago’s Black Panthers. She was a very heavy hitter. And when she was convinced by one of our pals, Marie Leaner, to take our case (after a certain amount of nagging by Marie), she took us on. Her plan was to stall, in all the conventional legal ways – to file a petition for this and that; everything takes so long anyway – and she just stalled and stalled and stalled, knowing the Roe decision was coming. When Roe happened, she was able to make our whole case disappear (I don’t know the proper legal phrasing, but that’s what happened; our case was dropped, the files were voided.)

MJC:  Well, that was an incredible set of circumstances, wasn’t it?

JA:  Yes, the timing was very lucky, to say the least.

MJC:  So then Roe was 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 after the end of January 1973 in which thinking, talking, arguing and deciding were happening. I think it was April when the service actually disbanded, erased itself, saying, essentially, “No longer is there a need for an underground abortion service.” And in those few months 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 others said, “Wait a minute. We know how to do this. We care about, and care for, these women in ways that the medical industry does not, and it would be good if we could continue.”

I’m one who actually thought and felt that way, but I was convinced by Janes who said, “Look, when abortion is illegal, it’s felony homicide, but when it’s legal, then it’s medical practice. And that means we’d be practicing medicine without a license.” That was a notable closer.

Again, every Jane probably has a different opinion of how this came to be. I believe that was a very strong argument for shutting down the service. And a good number of us went on to other women’s health work 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? There 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 that intensely. And for a while I thought, “I’m going to go back to school and become a midwife” so that I could do abortions and baby catching – childbirth and abortion, all women’s reproductive health, sexuality, bodies, etc. (This was when Our Bodies, Ourselves was on its way to becoming the enormously valuable resource it has been ever since. At first – when we were working – it came out in newsprint, maybe about fourteen pages long.)

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 mindset absolutely was sparked by being a Jane. For the next several years I taught Bodies classes in high schools and colleges. I was, like other Janes, called and invited by teachers or groups of teachers: Would you please come and talk with the students about this? Would you do this, would you do that? I was totally into it.

And I joined the Women’s Union work group called the Prison Project. A group of us went down to Dwight, the women’s prison in Illinois, and taught what was basically a Bodies class. I have no memory of how we got approval from the warden – who had to have been one of maybe two or three wardens in the United States who would allow such a thing to happen – but somehow we did.

And we drove down there, I think it was every week for X number of months. And that too was an extraordinary experience for us, for me; we were bringing education into the prison, a place where virtually nobody with much knowledge/information was talking about this stuff. (Here’s how your body works, here’s what you need …..) All the learning women all over the country were – in that time, in those years – experiencing: Self-help.  I remember one time (perhaps before we’d taken over all the service work) a small group of  Janes, maybe half a dozen, met in somebody’s apartment. We brought flashlights and mirrors for looking at our own and each other’s cervixes, learning more about female anatomy.

All of this was what was happening in the USA back then. And it continued to happen, in various contexts. There was a new/special program for and about community health at the University of Illinois Chicago campus. I have no memory of what it was called, but I was in it. I applied and got in, and that was at least a semester – maybe a year? – of classes about health and healthcare.

Again, because my marriage was definitely coming apart and I had a tiny child, I wanted to make a middle-class income – if I could. That actually didn’t come for another ten years, but I began to walk that path, and some income was coming in. I got a job at Columbia College in Chicago, where the dean was incredibly decent. I would write up a course description, go to his office, walk in and say, “How about this? Can I teach this?” And he said yes to what I suggested. He took my work seriously.

I taught women’s literature, of course, and other courses that were part of what was then being created as Women’s Studies, and I always taught Bodies classes.  Now, mind you, that was a private college, not part of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, not a feminist enterprise.  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 believe he’s retired now, but he was absolutely an ace. I think he never turned me down. Mind you, Bodies classes – that was news on the college circuit!  I could not say in the course description that it was open only to women, but the students who signed up were almost exclusively women. (Fun fact:  There were almost always – almost every term – three male students, and two would drop out after the first class, and one would stay – respectfully. That happened in virtually every Bodies class I did at Columbia).

I would say to the students, “This is separate from our class and has nothing to do with your grade or your credit hours. At the end of this course, we’ll set a date for the group and any woman who wants to learn self-help can come to my place and I’ll teach you.” And they would come. About a dozen, depending on how big the class was. And I’d tell them, “Bring a flashlight, bring a mirror” and I’d have plastic speculums for them; they would learn how to examine their own cervixes, learn female anatomy – we’d already be using OBOS, so they knew it was (as we say now) a thing.

I did that for several years; maybe five or six years in the ’70s after the abortion service ended. Also, I made a few attempts to get that middle class income, which I finally realized was going require going back to school to get a bigger degree. I went to a Catholic university where they thought I was just fine. You can do that in Chicago. You can go to a Catholic university, be a Jane, and they can think you’re just fine. It’s a little miracle of Catholic Chicago.

Also in the ’70s, in response to your initial question, I wrote my first two books. And both of them, I am 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, write the book together.  She said, “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that!” Then she said, “But I can type.” Oh, so dear, so dear. She said, “Bring me those transcripts,” because I was taping all the interviews. I did 120 interviews, and she said, “Just bring me that stuff” and she typed up every damn interview. And this was not a political person, not a radical person, not a lefty.

So I wrote the book about mothers and daughters. And then, still growing out of my own life, I wrote a book about raising male children in a misogynist, woman-hating society. Also strongly influenced by my Jane time, no question. The atmosphere around Jane work was notable for attention being paid to women’s health and well-being and safety, and how all of that has to be supported in many ways, including access to safe, healthy, abortion – which has always been a motherhood decision.

Clearly the second book came out of the first – and both were surely sparked by, fed by, Jane work. There’s no doubt in my mind. Yes, there were other sources – that’s always true, isn’t it? I’m not saying none of it was coming from other places, but being a Jane was bedrock education for me. Being fired from my much-loved teaching job for political reasons, then experiencing the subsequent months of astonishing testimony – all of that led me to the abortion service, which then led me to even more education.

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 literally doing it. But the fact of people taking action against the standard, against the rules, against the sociopolitical power structure – I mean, people taking action that’s considered underground, but with signs on telephone poles? People calling the CWLU office and saying, “Can you connect me with the abortion service?” And the women who answered the phone in the office saying, “Sure, here’s the number.”

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, even speak of it sometimes still in whispers. But the majority, of course, are far more outspoken than most women were in those early women’s movement 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 the conversations in 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. That group went on for about six or seven years and grew out of the same rich ground. In my case, that ground was, as I say, strongly seeded by my work as a Jane. People came in from different places. That’s one notable source I came from.

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, now, may look just silly, but were vicious and damaging and made us work very, very hard on self-respect and mutual respect. Because that was what women were thought to be. 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 local doctors. But the ones who actually knew about us, or that we knew personally, the ones we had contact with – yes, I believe the existence of the service affected those guys in positive ways. (They were, although there were a few female doctors at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the ’70s, pretty much all men.)

I remember a doc who knew about the service even before he was my doctor, before the bust outed us and the Roe decision made abortion a common topic – and he, a decent guy, an intelligent guy, would say silly things. Well, silly is the wrong word; he just used fairly common contemporary language. He would say something like, “Well, you girls,” using that phrase to talk about the Janes. But what he was saying, the content, the meaning, was not offensive or ugly. He would say, “You girls have to be careful, and you girls need to find this, and here’s a book you girls will like.”

So even he – this actually good person – was using the conventionally stupid language to say smart things. And there were certainly some good doctors other Janes knew personally, sometimes literally their neighbors or their family physicians. And sometimes those guys were of use in various ways. They could be of help to us; they might be nervous about it, but some were helpful, useful.  In the main, male doctors were just as ignorant about women, just as negative about women, as male teachers, plumbers, bus drivers, lawyers, shoemakers. However, because doctors have extra power, more than most men, they could be more dangerous, more damaging – even if they were not of that turn of mind.

MJC:  Excellent. So that’s another impact. Moving on in your life then, you wrote two books and you were teaching.

JA:  Yes.

MJC:  And then other movement activities, or women’s activities?

JA:  Well, after that was when 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?” I said that I wanted a middle-class income, and wanted to do what my parents had done, my stepmother and my father, which was pay for college for all three of the children they’d raised.

I thought, “Okay, I’m going to do that.”  Amazingly, as in what I said about my work at Columbia College in Chicago, it was rapidly becoming possible, because of the fiercely rapid growth of Women’s Studies, to do that while focusing on the lives and work of women! I could write my dissertation on the life and work of Grace Paley (and then turn it into a book!).

It took years, of course – I graduated from the university the same weekend 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 whose work and attitudes were good for me. I joined the faculty of an unusual university, now called the Union Institute (it wasn’t yet accredited when they hired me).

It was called a “distance learning” school in those years, a “university without walls.” We used telephones and the postal service, and we traveled by airplane, train, automobile. Faculty members and students were all over the country – a fabulous experience.

I was first hired as a dean, which I had never imagined. That had not been a goal or even an idea, but their philosophy of learning was profoundly compelling – and I got to teach, too. I must have answered a hundred ads. That’s not an exaggeration – and many of them didn’t even reply. But I did get a couple of interviews, and one of them was the Union, with a central office in Cincinnati, Ohio.

So I joined up as assistant dean of the doctoral program. I stopped being a dean after a few years (administration, which I turned out to be good at, was not what I wanted to do). I stayed on as a full-time faculty member, loving it.

I was with the Union for about 17-18 years and had the luck to work with a lot of faculty members who thought about education in ways I had learned to think when I was a high school teacher. I was educated through the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union School, through my work as a Jane, through being fired by the regulars at that high school in Niles township – yeah, I got lucky.

I kept writing. I made the dissertation into a book and got it published; it’s a literary biography, after all.  Then I started writing more; I’d been writing all along, little bits at maybe four in the morning, poems and stories. Since quitting work to write more, I’ve published some collections. I don’t know how many more I’ll be doing, because now I’m eighty, but hey, there could be more books.

MJC:  So, you were back in Ohio. You went back to Ohio, the state of your birth. Right?

JA:  Right. In order to take that dean job. Although I’d never been in Cincinnati before.  That was in 1989. I moved to Cincinnati for that job, and I was there for a year and a half.  Then, again, great good fortune. The college opened an office in Washington, DC for their socially and politically focused programs. I, as Director of the Center for women, moved to DC.

I loved living in DC. It was more for me than Cincinnati had been. I got to work with faculty and students whose work focused on women’s lives. We were working with students doing doctoral programs, and they were all well over 40 years old. It was an amazing experience to work with these grown-ups who wanted a doctorate for serious personal and political reasons – and with community groups in DC. It was a gift. And I’m grateful, still, for that gift.

I was in the District for three years, then moved back to Chicago for a few years, where I kept doing that distance faculty work – and kept writing. Then, almost 30 years ago, I moved to the Pacific Northwest. When I realized I had to stop being an administrator to be able to write, I moved back to Chicago, and, after two years there, moved to Oregon in 1995.  I’ve been here ever since. A series of women’s writing workshops, which I went to like kids go to summer camp, introduced me to that land, and to some women who lived there.

MJC:  Excellent. So, is there anything we’ve missed in the telling of your story? Is there more?

JA:  Oh, I don’t know.  You said you’re just a bit older than me; we both know there’s always more.

MJC:  Well, I did forget to ask you about the rock band, didn’t I?

JA:  I was a fan, of course. And I remember their presence at public events. Also, I think the first, I don’t know how many there were, but there was an album, that of course I had, by the Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band. They were notable for doing music in ways that women were not expected to. And that, too, was an example of the many amazing things growing out of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. In just my own experience, there was the abortion service, the prison project, teaching and taking classes in the Liberation School. I am a beneficiary of women’s organizing in Chicago. 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, you get what it is, what it makes, so 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 I love saying, is that now there’s this new documentary film about the abortion service (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. Their film is called Jane: An Abortion Service. (Almost everything about us has a title that’s almost the same as all the other titles.)

Kate and Nell did a great job. They were students, and they had a very low budget, but their documentary is solid. And now, nearly thirty years later, there’s this fine new documentary, The Janes.

I love to tell anyone listening, watching, reading, that this new film was my son’s idea. He said to me, one day in late spring or early summer of 2017, I think, “Mom, we need a new documentary about the service.” I was startled, actually stunned – to me this came out of nowhere. I said, “We do?” I even remember where we were, in the living room of my apartment in Portland, when he said it. He was the one who made that new film happen in this extraordinary time of outrage and action around abortion healthcare in the USA. He was the one.

MJC:   Let’s say his name.

JA:  Daniel Arcana. Daniel Arcana is the person who sparked the thought and the action that became the new documentary film. He brought in his half-sister, Emma Pildes, who brought in Tia Lessin, a longtime documentarian whose work people should look up and watch immediately – as soon as they’re finished reading and watching VFA stuff.

It’s been quite amazing, yes, to have my son began it and put in a lot of grunt work. (You can’t just spark and walk away!) And then to have these excellent women, with a whole crew of more excellent women, actually make the film in the years when national outrage is growing ever more fierce – it’s remarkable!  Perhaps even more remarkable than the fact that people put their time and energy into this project is that it’s really good. Really good, really valuable. A gift.

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 a history textbook in the form of a good movie!  It’s lucky to have multiple forms as well, to reach even more people. 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 something to be grateful for. It’s extraordinary, great good fortune, to have been born in a moment when “Hit the Streets,” was (essentially) a slogan, if not a bumper sticker. I’m pretty happy about it, and I’m grateful.