Martha Scott

“My Small Amount of Activism Made a Whole Lot of Difference. It was Short Lived, Illegal and Intense.”

Interviewed by Mary Jean Collins, VFA Historian, April 2023

MS:  My name is Martha Scott. I was born in 1942, February 8th, and I was born in Brooklyn. I like to say at Williamsburg Hospital, because now it’s so trendy. My family did not stay in New York for my upbringing. They were part of a lot of the East Coast migration to California, so that from about age eight on, I lived in San Diego.

MJC:  What happened next?

MS:  When I was 17, I went to college. I went to the University of Chicago, and I have stayed in Chicago since then. I lose count of the years, but it’s well over 60 years I’ve been in Chicago, in the same neighborhood, more or less.

MJC:  Hyde Park, right. So, what about your family led you to become an activist in the women’s movement?

MS:  I can’t say that my family ever took very much activism in the women’s movement, but my family likes to refer to our kind of socialist background. My father had a cousin who ran for the mayor of Brooklyn on the socialist ticket, and my family were, at least when they lived in New York, staunch union people. When we moved to California, that was much harder to do, but there was a sense of being kind of the outside progressives in a very narrow place. So, I’m not sure my family background is what interested me in doing any kind of activism. I think it was, in fact, the times.

I graduated in ’63 from college and immediately got pregnant and had a set of twins, and by five years later, I had four children under the age of five. It was a time when there was a lot going on, and so there was a lot of room for very low-level activism. This kind of signing petitions and going to rallies and taking part in marches, around not necessarily the women’s movement, but around the anti-war movement and civil rights stuff.

MJC:  You went to the University of Chicago out of high school, right?

MS:  Yes, that’s correct.

MJC:  You must have married while you were still in college?

MS:  No, I married the day I graduated, and lo and behold, nine months later, I was really someone who understood the idea about pregnancy because it was so much a part of my life. I had a set of twins, one of whom was disabled. So whatever kind of professional ambitions I had at the time; I had taken some courses after I finished college, and I thought maybe I would go to law school. There was something about the necessity of these two babies, one of whom needs lots and lots of help, that kept me very much at home.

And so, as I say, in that point to kind of the mid and late ’60s, whatever activism I had, was really not around anything specific, but kind of a general feeling that maybe we can make a difference if we just go out there and do it. And in fact, I have a friend who lives in Seattle who said to me, I saw him quite recently, he said, “Well, what happened to the revolution we were building?” And I understand. It was like there were lots of different ways we thought we were going to make a difference.

My interest in women’s stuff really didn’t happen until I got involved in the Abortion Counseling Service. It’s not that I wasn’t primed for it, my head was there, it just hadn’t grabbed me. And in fact, my friend Madeline Schwenk, she and I lived down the street from one another and spent a lot of time at the playground with our cumulative seven children. At one point, she said to me, “Why are you interested in doing this thing that I do? Which is, I counsel people who are getting abortions. It’s not legal, but it’s safe, and we do a good thing.”

So, I joined this group. And the thing about joining a group that does any kind of political activity, it is very hard to not get really politicized if they do it right. And I have to say, when I look back on how that was, the Abortion Counseling Service did it absolutely right. They provided an important service, an important service that made you feel you were doing something outside what ordinary life would afford you, and you got to do it in a kind of a very small way. And little by little got pulled into the idea that this is really an important issue.

It’s important to that specific woman who needs an abortion. It’s important to you, who are giving her the right information and empowering her to do it. But it’s important in a much larger way, because we are speaking to a degree of female oppression. That really is the only word for it, female oppression, which is really pervasive in a society.

MJC:  At what stage was the Abortion Counseling Service when Madeline recruited you to it?

MS:  This was in ’69 when I joined, and the Abortion Counseling Service had been up and running for a while. It was at the point where, when we were recruited, we were told that we use a bunch of different abortionists and our role is kind of a three-pronged role. Our role is to make sure that people are getting a safe procedure. So, there was a lot of vetting of what went on.

Our second role was to empower, maybe empower is the wrong word. Educate, or maybe in a social working kind of way, prepare people who are going to have this procedure so that it’s not a devastating experience. And our third mission was to politicize people, if they were open to it. Make them, at least to some extent, understand that what we were doing was illegal, what we were doing was important, and what we were doing was empowering, if that’s the way you looked at it.

MJC:  What kind of reception did that get?

MS:  We were very clandestine, so what kind of reception did it get? I don’t know. Amongst us, it was quite wonderful. And I would want to say something, kind of because I came in in the middle and was already up and running, is that here was this very good thing to do, and in a kind of a social worker kind of way. And when I think about the people in the group, I think Ruth Circle, who in fact was a social worker, understood that one really completely, and was very, very instructive for people and helpful for people in those situations.

But it was really, when you go back a little, it was Heather Booth saying, “You know, this is really a political issue. I know it’s a personal issue because I’ve been dealing with it personally for friends of mine. But besides that, this is really a political issue and you mustn’t let it escape from being a political issue. It’s kind of the crux of not being able to control our own bodies.” So, I always like to give that kind of nod to Heather. Not only she, the other people she surrounded herself with initially when it was set up; nod to her and saying, “Yes, this is something that is more than just the service we’re providing.”

Because other people at that time were also providing that service. They weren’t providing it quite in the way we ended up doing it, but there was the clergy consultation which did the same kind of thing. Helped people find abortions that were not legal, or maybe were pseudo legal, and helped them through it. They did not have what we had, which is a real woman’s perspective on it.

MJC:  Right. And you probably service to some extent, different people.

MS:  Different people, right. Because if you were going to get a legal abortion, even when we first started working, that would mean going to Mexico or doing something like that. So, when I joined the group and I joined the group as a counselor, little by little you get drawn into this. “Oh, do you want to work a day? Do you want to see what it’s like? Do you want to serve as a driver?” That kind of thing.

More and more our group concentrated on using one abortionist who we thought was really competent and we could make some rapport with, to the point of bringing down our prices and expanding our times, that kind of thing. And so, when we kind of concentrated on this one guy, and then discovered he wasn’t an abortionist, I mean, he wasn’t a doctor, that altered the group. So, people who were nervous about it said, “I’m happy to do this, but when we were told we were using doctors, I could do that. But now that we know that we’re illegal in every possible way, maybe I don’t want to do it anymore.” So, the group changed a little bit. Not too much. Most people hung around.

We started using this one person mostly, who, as it turned out, the way I look at it, was willing to be badgered into teaching other people. He wanted to get out of the deal. He had moved to California. His family was there. He had a whole other life, and he wanted to be done with Chicago. And so, in the process of all this stuff that happened around the abortion counseling service, we learned as a group to do abortions. And this was when abortions were D and C’s and then a vacuum aspiration. Very often when people talk to me, they think, if there are no pills, people will not be able to get abortions. And I said, “Oh, no, you don’t understand. Pills are nice, but there’s a whole other way of doing this that is not very invasive and very quick and very safe.”

MJC:  That’s a very interesting point, because people, the current generation I’m sure, can’t imagine not having the medical abortion. The pills, right? Abortion pills available.

MS:  Well, and if the anti-abortion people choose to concentrate on the pills, I should hope that the practitioners would concentrate on a vacuum aspiration. Which is, I mean, it’s not snap, but it’s something that can be done with relative ease.

MJC:  So, the provider that you were working with, he taught the women?

MS:  He taught one person. That was Jody Parsons, who really, to a great extent, she and Ruth kind of made this organization happen. As a group, we changed often. Maybe at any given time, there were 20 people, and maybe in all, there were 150 people.

MJC:  150 people in the abortion counseling service?

MS:  Yes, but not at any given time. We kind of cycled through. So, Jody learned, and in this way, I think, medicine is taught, which is apprenticeships. And she in turn taught other people. So, by the time it was all over, there were quite a few of us who actually were capable of doing this.

MJC:  What was your thinking at the time? Were you afraid in any way that this could have an impact on you or your family? How did you think about it?

MS:  The way I felt about it at the time, was if I concentrate too much on the fact that something bad would happen, that I might get arrested and blah, blah, blah, kind of stuff, I would not be able to do it. So, I put it aside. I saw some evidence that I was protected. Chicago was a very unfriendly place for abortions. It was very Catholic and certainly there was very little room for what I like to think of as, appropriate women’s health.

But we would see people coming through our service who were connected to the police, or connected to the state’s attorney’s office in one way or another, so we felt the level of protection in that way. So, there was that part. The other part about, are we doing something that is going to cause harm, was much more of a fear for me, than for maybe I don’t know, for other people. But the other it’s like, “Let’s hope that what we’re doing is really the best that people can have.” And we tried to cover ourselves in that way by making sure there were medications, that we gave appropriate counseling, and we followed people afterwards in a good way.

We, of course, as a group, were part of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. And there was one of our members who would go to their meetings on a regular basis, but they didn’t know what we were doing, and they didn’t want to know what we were doing. And that seemed right to me. There were so many other things going on that you could get involved with that had to do with either the arts, or pay, or education, all of which were very important, but nobody wanted to associate with us who might endanger them as being illegal.

People were perfectly willing to be loud and even risk themselves in situations that involved marches that were illegal, but as a group, the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union was not interested in doing what we did. And that was fine. It was kind of a small cover that we had. I’m not even sure they kind of liked us very much. There was some feeling that what we were doing was kind of reformist. You’re just going to make people’s lives better and then they won’t be so angry. People were angry enough, believe me.

MJC:  Good luck with that. But were some of the people who actually were involved with Jane, did they come out of the Women’s Liberation Union?

MS:  Well, there was a lot of cross over. My friend Jean Galluper, who was also involved in various other parts of things that the union was doing. Ruth Surgal, certainly had other things going on in the union, and there were any number of people in our group who were involved in consciousness raising groups or other things. So, it’s that, yes, some of them came out of, and some of them just was overlap. It may have been that the Abortion Counseling Service was their entrance to what was going on at Chicago Women’s Liberation Union.

MJC:  They got educated about feminism coming through that door in some ways.

MS:  Well, yes. I often think about people who are involved in the Abortion Counseling Service, or the other people I knew at this time who considered themselves feminists. It’s like none of us needed to be educated as feminists. We were already there. What we needed to know was where could we put that energy, which was kind of roiling around in us for a really long time, maybe unrecognized. And the Abortion Counseling Service was certainly true for me, and for a lot of people, there were lots of other entrances, and that’s quite wonderful that there were not just singular things.

MJC:  Right. So, can you talk a little bit about the relationship among the women who were a part of the service?

MS:  We always liked to hope that we would be a collective. This was the time we wanted to do that, but in fact, it was a very top-down organization. And part of it had to be, because what we did was, we did work that involved certain people being in control of the administration of it. When we were by ourselves and having money coming in, we even paid people to do some of that work, so that there were people who took the calls, and there are other people who organized the work, and that kind of thing. We liked to think of ourselves as egalitarian. We fell short all the time.

And some of us, I think all of us, came up with good friends. They were not always the same people who other people came up with as good friends. The thing that I would say about the group, and this was always true when I worked there, is I just felt these people always had my back, and I felt the same way. That whatever was going to go on, I was there. This was the time when you felt as though, if sisterhood had any meaning, this is what it meant. That you would be there for your sisters, if that was necessary. Were we always good friends? No. What was true, is we ate together a lot. Which I always thought carried us over at times where there might have been some troubles.

MJC:  Yes, just like a family. Right?

MS:  Well, I’ll tell you, I have, of course, encountered over the years many people who I feel are doing this kind of work and feminist work. I mean, where did the eating go? I loved that part.

MJC:  Right. Miller’s Pub. That’s where we used to go after meetings.

MS:  Oh, really? Miller’s, yes. I just remember that we often, because we were not out in the world so much, we would eat at one another’s houses, we would bring food wherever we were, that kind of stuff.

MJC:  Well, the women’s movement was playing out in this activity, and also the interrelationships. You built a tremendous operation service that changed people’s lives.

MS:  That’s the way I like to think of it. And when it all went away with Roe v. Wade, we were disinclined to entirely do nothing. There were some people who wanted to continue doing the abortion counseling service. We had this feeling about – this could be paramedical work. This did not have to be inside the medical system. There were some people who felt this quite seriously.

This was a very narrow thing that you could learn, you could do it right, and you could provide the service. It did not necessarily have to be inside the medical system and so Jane could continue. On the other hand, when Roe v. Wade came down, then we were practicing medicine without a license, no matter what we thought about it. And there was this feeling of, time for other people to do this. Maybe not as well as we did it, I think that that in fact, is true.

A couple of our members became nurses later on. One of them worked at Planned Parenthood and she said, “You know, they don’t deliver as good a service as we did.” And that’s because they did not concentrate on the counseling. They concentrated on the medical part. Perfectly legitimate. But in lots of ways, if it’s legal, you have to concentrate on the counseling less. There is something about things being legal makes them seem morally right. Nobody needs to talk about that at all. “I’m choosing this, that’s okay, let’s go with it.”

MJC:  And yet the counseling certainly helped the women to reaffirm their own decision making.

MS:  Absolutely. Yes. And so, one of the things that we continued to do, is a group of us and many other people who were interested, decided we could set up a paramedic clinic that would help women, which was one of the many Emma Goldman clinics that was set up at that time, in the early ’70s. We opened a storefront up in Rogers Park and we said, “We’re paramedics. We are not going to prescribe anything. But if you’re interested in having a PAP smear or breast exam or being taught how to do breast exam” or that kind of thing.

We couldn’t give you a diaphragm, but we could certainly do a certain amount of well, woman care. So, we did that. That was true for a while, and I did that for a while, and eventually that kind of went by the by. And then there was other things that kind of that didn’t grow out of the abortion counseling service, but grew out of that attitude, which was women’s health services that were there, and pregnancy services and that kind of thing.

MJC:  Can we step back a little bit. I’d just like to ask you; I can’t imagine having four kids and fitting this level of commitment to these other women into your life. Can you talk about that a little bit?

MS:  I can’t now imagine it either, do you know what I mean? I look back at it now, and I say, “What was I thinking?” Part of it was the support of the group. So, we did a lot of mutual babysitting. I mean, Madeline and I are a pretty good example, or Ruth Sergele and I. We did a lot of mutual babysitting, which in lots of ways was also part of the philosophy of the time. And that is, if you want to break down the patriarchy, one of the things you want to break down is the nuclear family.

And one of the ways to do that, is to do kind of group child rearing. Well, that was an idea, that was an idea. I mean, as it turned out, those of us who ended up participating, found ourselves doing kind of a lion’s share of that, the way it’s often true. It’s the person who knows how to cook, who cooks for everybody. That kind of person who’s willing to deal with six children, deals with six children. So, part of it was that part of the group saying, “We could do this mutually. We can take on these other roles that will help us out.”

For me personally, I had the advantage of a very supportive partner who as it turns out, worked nights, and really makes a difference. He had lots of room for what we were doing inside my house. We never did abortions in my house, but we often were the place where people gathered, and he certainly had a lot of room for covering my kids and other people’s kids. Yes, when I think back on it, I think if I had thought about making decisions at that time, maybe I would not have done that. But you get kind of pulled in, a little bit at a time, and then all of a sudden find yourself saying, “Oh, I’m doing this three days a week for full days, and how is that?” And it turned out to be okay.

MJC:  It’s a fascinating story I think, because it reminded me preparing for this and watching the movie again, that you had four kids. I mean, that’s a little unusual today. We were still in the ’50s, ’60s habits of child rearing, and so that this happened in that context is just, I think, fascinating and something everybody should learn from. So really happy to have you talking about this.

MS:  So now I think about that. I’ve encountered a lot of the people who now are abortion providers, and I also know a fair number of people in the medical profession. So here are these people who already have three children, and they’re working as OB-GYNs. Well, you know, that’s such an unusual thing. Back when I was doing what I was doing, I knew one woman by reputation who was an OB-GYN. None of my doctors were female. And you know, 93% of the obstetricians were male. So, I think to some extent, I don’t look at the abortion Counseling service as making a difference, but I think the ’60s and ’70s made a difference there. Really opened that stuff up, and the women’s movement really opened that stuff up in a way that allowed you to have a life, and have maybe a medical profession or other stuff that makes you happy.

MJC:  Well, I think the women that were working on not direct service, but on trying to pound on the university’s door to say that more women ought to be admitted, all of that, each thing reinforced each other, I think.

MS:  Absolutely true. And I think sometimes now we forget how strong that can be. And I think about abortion, and I think about states that are now prohibiting abortion, and have they looked at the fact that this will diminish the people who want to go to college there? This will diminish the people who want to be doctors in that state? That kind of stuff. We sometimes don’t look at the power we have.

MJC:  Yes, and let’s pick that up later. If you wouldn’t mind sharing with us the day that the arrest happened.

MS:  Oh, well, that was just an ordinary day, only it turned out to not be. Over the years, we had set up the system where we had a place where people gathered that was called, The Front, and then we drove people to where the abortions took place. And at this point, the distance between it was about a mile and a half or 2 miles. One was in Hyde Park, and the place where we worked was a place we had actually rented in a high rise in South Shore. We’re working a regular day and from my point of view, there’s people coming and going and that kind of thing.

And then there’s this knock on the door, which clearly is not what you anticipate because we were convinced that we were very protected by the police. This was true in a local way. If the people who had complained, “Oh, my sister in law is having an abortion and we think that’s a sin and you should do something about it.” If they had complained instead of on the far south side as they did, but had complained to any of a number of other police places along the way, nothing would have come of it. It would have somehow gotten buried because we felt so protected in that way.

MJC:  The whole thing was an open secret to the police?

MS:  I think for much of the police it was an open secret. And in fact, it had to have been an open secret in a lot of places because we advertised, we put signs up. A lot of it I think, was, “My sister-in-law told me such and such.” Or, “I heard that a friend”, that kind of thing. A lot of it was word of mouth, but it wasn’t all word of mouth. And in fact, I had an abortion at one point, and I was seeing my doctor, and I said, “This would be number five, and I think I can’t do this.” And I said, “Can you help me?” And he said, “No, but I’ll give you the number of these people who can.” So, he gave me Jane’s number.

And when doctors did that, we often called back and said, “I know you’ve been referring people. Is there any help you can give?” And they almost always said, “No” and I don’t blame them. When I think that these were people’s professions, and I think about this now, with people who are working, and are being constrained by laws that criminalize good practices, it just drives me nuts.

Anyhow, in terms of the arrest, we were all carted off to jail, including the people who were waiting. And this was a day that was, except for one woman whose name I cannot remember, the entire clientele who was waiting there, and there were about five or six women, were black. Then, this one white woman, and all of us were white. And of course, we had the amusing situation of the police saying, “Well, where’s the doctor? Where’s the doctor?” Well, of course there’s no doctor. It’s just us. We’re doing this thing.

And so, we’re carted off in a paddy wagon. And it is, in some ways, it was not until I was fingerprinted that I really understood the degree to which I was personally endangered. I don’t know why that is. But there was something about being in the paddy wagon with everybody else. It was not a carnival feel. It was very grim, no two ways about it. But getting fingerprinted made me think, “I am now in a system that I have no control over at all.”  So, we only spent a night in jail. It was not a happy time, I have to say.

Here was Judith, Judith Arcana, who was a nursing mother at the time. Her husband, who was a lawyer, said, “We’re going to get you out, and that will help other people get out sooner for less bail.” She said, “No, I don’t want to get out. I mean, I feel as though we’re all in this together.” He said, “You’re all in this together, but you can make a difference by getting out sooner.” And she did. That was an appropriate thing to do.

Then we all get out the next morning. And I realized that what had happened, from the time we got arrested, which is kind of mid-afternoon until the following morning, there were all these calls and all of this connection to people who could gather money. There were seven of us. That’s a lot of people, and each of us were bailed out for about $2,000. So, that’s a lot of money at that time.

But I have to say, the women’s movement rose to the occasion. Part of it was our personal monies, whatever monies we happen to have in the bank. But besides that, it was not a feeling of, “Well, those people were doing that, and we don’t care about them.” It was really like people coalesced around it.

The other thing that I always want to point out, and the movie doesn’t talk about this very much, is there were maybe 100 women waiting to have abortions at that point, and not a single person didn’t get taken care of. Now, they didn’t get taken care of in Chicago, of course, but New York was legal at the time. A lot of New York women and groups, and I had nothing to do with this because once we were arrested, we said, “We’re pulling back. You take care of this.” Lots of people went to New York.

People went to Philadelphia, where a lot of abortions were performed. It wasn’t necessarily legal, but there was kind of under the radar, and I have always felt so good about that, and we had to figure out other ways to do it later on and that kind of thing. But at that moment, everyone who was waiting got taken care of, because you can’t say to someone, “Well, we got arrested. There’s nothing much we can do for you for the next month.” The next month, you’re what? You’re 18 weeks pregnant, and not a damn thing can be done for you unless you’re willing to go through an induced miscarriage, and that’s no fun.

MJC:  So, people were taken care of. That’s lovely.

MS:  As I say, I had nothing to do with it, but I’ve always looked back at it and I thought, “Good for us, and good for the women in New York, and good for the women in Philadelphia, and good for the women anywhere who said, this is something, and we will rise to the occasion.”

MJC:  Right. It’s wonderful. So then, were you conscious of the fact that Roe was being…

MS:  Yes. Not that we had paid much attention to it before we were arrested, but once we were arrested, we knew all about it, and there was someone who somebody knew, who had submitted an amicus brief. I remember she talked to us as a group, trying to put as much weight as possible to make this happen. And so, of course, our hope was that Roe v. Wade would go our way. It would kind of vitiate our arrest, and that is what happened.

In the meantime, of course, we had to fight the lawyer. We were not working, and of the people who were arrested, there were four of us, two of us were kind of full-time abortionists. They kind of did it all. And I think two others were really far along in their learning process, so there were far fewer people to do the work when they actually set up again. But it never stopped. And some of us went back and worked. I remember I went back in August. Our arrest was in the spring, I went back in August. Diane may have gone back sooner on the assumption that Roe v. Wade is going to make a difference one way or another, we’re going to do it until we hear what we hear.

MJC:  Meanwhile, you were out on bail, free to go your own way up to a point. Taking the risk of doing more abortions.

MS:  And many of us did not do that. Of that group, only a few of us went back. And it’s interesting how that broke down, because I would not have predicted the way it broke down. It just happened that some of us did and some of us didn’t. And when it seemed to be rolling in a way that it didn’t look as though, like, say, my services were needed, I stopped doing abortions in about the winter at some point before Roe v. Wade was announced. But I worked from the summer through the winter, because the other thing that had happened is this availability of New York, made an enormous difference to the people who needed abortions in Chicago.

MJC:  Well, then that was a matter of resources to get them there and pay them.

MS:  Well, as a matter of fact, we did none of that. Maybe clergy consultation did it, but we thought our role is entirely different. If we were looking for resources, we were looking to do people for free. Because if you do an abortion, that costs your money. You have to have pills, you have to have equipment, you have to have medication, you have to have whatever you need, cleaning supplies, that kind of thing. Insofar as we had a way to use our resources, we wanted to use them for people who could not afford to have abortions otherwise.

MJC:  You served a certain population and you ran it like a small business in a way.

MS:  Yes, exactly. In fact, one of the lawyers we talked to, and of course did not choose, he said, “You know, the Feds might get you on not paying income tax.” And I thought, “Well, there’s no profit here. I don’t know what kind of income tax would ever be.” But his thought was, “You’re criminals like Capone, that’s how you get caught.”

MJC:  Was everybody charged with the same crimes?

MS:  Yes. Abortion and conspiracy to commit abortion. I think eleven counts, but I may be wrong. Or, it may have been five counts and it was eleven years. I can’t remember the details. Other people seem to have paid more attention to that. I was so clear that this is going to be terrible if it happens, and it’s going to be nothing if it doesn’t. It was an either-or thing for me. I realized I didn’t have a nuanced understanding of it. I just kept my fingers crossed.

MJC:  So, Roe happened in that January?

MS:  That’s right. It was to our good fortune that the attorney general did not say, “Well, we’re going to prosecute them for practicing medicine without a license.” Our cases were just dismissed and eventually our records were expunged. Which was, I thought, an interesting thing. Meaning that if we then wanted to be public school teachers, we could, because there was no record.

MJC:  Very interesting. It is.

MS:  Though, I have to say, having been arrested on a felony charge has really kept me from ever being on a jury. Which maybe it’s a good thing, because they always ask you, “Have you ever been arrested? And what kind of a category of the arrest?” And at that point there was this sense of, “Should we keep working? Should we not keep working?” And then this group that said, “Let’s see about setting up a paramedic clinic”, which we did.

MJC:  So, you continued that.

MS:  Basically, we kind of go back to what our lives were interested in, and in various different ways. I think about Laura, who moved to Wisconsin and did lay midwifery, that kind of thing. Diane and Eileen, who went to school and became nurses. Most of us went back to, I want to say, our previous lives, insofar as it was not taken up, all of this time, with that. On the other hand, your head’s been changed. There is no two ways about it. And so, you look at things through a different lens.

I did a fair amount of health education, both in the public schools and anybody who would ask me at the community colleges and that kind of thing. And I did that for years, either by myself or with Ruth Circle, or with this other person who was part of a group whose name was Susan Miller. It’s not like I moved entirely out of the idea that women’s health is important, but it became much more kind of a regular part, a smaller part of my life, and my life was taken up by other things.

MJC:  So, you were active in the women’s movement, in the women’s health movement, any other movement work that happened?

MS:  Well, I don’t know if anyone thinks of this as activism, but we did a fair amount of food activism at this time. It’s kind of gone by the by. Maybe it’s irregular, nobody thinks about it. But in order to kind of encroach on the regular way food was happening, we formed food clubs. We had someone shop the market for us and then we distributed this food. When I think about it, does anyone consider this activism? I considered it activism. It took up time in my life and it was for a political purpose.

Now, regular people do CSAs and they think that you do a CSA because that’s a good way to get vegetables. But we were doing this really quite specifically, so we weren’t going to the grocery store to get vegetables. We were cutting out the middleman and we were getting a little closer to it. And this group was called Cornucopia, and this group had a certain amount of political leverage. As it turned out, they didn’t use it very much. I was on the board for a while, and at the point at which they did not feel as though it was appropriate to sanction Anita Bryant, I thought, “Well, this isn’t the group I want,” though I appreciated the work, and I enjoyed the work.

It was one of those things that you do for a while because it seemed easily to integrate into my life and my kids would come with me. We would count vegetables, that kind of thing. But was this activism? Yes, it was activism, but of a different sort, that nobody looks at anymore and says, “Well, that was an important thing.”

MJC:  Was a Hyde Park co-op established then?

MS:  The Hyde Park co-op was established in the ’30s and by the time I came into the neighborhood it was this big grocery store and it had a whole different orientation than these little food clubs. And so that kind of co-op work, which still exists in lots and lots of places, is much more of that time when in the ’30s people wanted to figure out their food stuff.

MJC:  Served their families and serving the community.

MS:  That’s right. So, it was of an entirely different nature.

MJC:  What other activism have you pursued beyond that?

MS:  That’s about it. I’ve always been up for hoping to make a difference to people by talking to them about what I did. But like I like to say and this has been true for years, I’m no longer the activist, I am just the historian. I mean, I still go to marches. In Chicago there’s lots of opportunity to be out there on the street. I sign petitions. COVID did a whole number.

I was in my late 70s when COVID happened and so a lot of things, door knocking and that kind of thing, which I did for years and years and years, attempting to get progressive candidates in place, a lot of that I became very cautious about with COVID. I’m kind of picking that up a little bit more now because having had COVID, I know that if you’re lucky it doesn’t do you in. But are you an activist when you write out postcards to the people in Wisconsin? I don’t know. That seems like a very small amount.

MJC:  More than some others do, let’s put it that way.

MS:  That’s right. But no, my life as an activist had a great deal of concentration at one time kind of petered off and now it’s kind of settled back in the same place it was in the ’60s and ’70s before I did Abortion Counseling Service stuff, which is going to marches, signing petitions, making sure people vote, that kind of stuff.

MJC:  You want to talk about how the abortion counseling experience impacted your life and how you think it impacted the politics of the women’s movement?

MS:  Well, I think it focused as I was saying, it focused my view of the world in that you now have this lens to look at things. Not only through how women are oppressed or women are slotted into certain roles, but that it’s very easy to expand that and say, “We work in systems that marginalize people all the time.” And even if that population is 51% of the population, they get marginalized too.

So, in that way, the work at the Abortion Counseling Service, or at that time maybe it would have happened anyhow, without that particular work, kind of makes your view of life very specific and applicable to a whole bunch of different things. So that when the black lives matter, and of course that had been going on for a lot of years before we ever had that slogan come to the fore, you say to yourself, “Yes. When I hear this, you’re preaching to the choir.”

MJC:  How do you think your experience, our experience in this history, how can we utilize this to help the next generation?

MS:  One of the things I think that came out of the Abortion Counseling Service and not only it, but a whole lot of things, was some alteration in the medical system. And I think that this sense of, we should have a medical system that is patient oriented, and that patients have a right to do it. In fact, that very clearly was not true in the ’50s, and very clearly it is true now. People may say, “Our system is not what it should be.” I agree. Our system is not fair to everybody. I agree. Our system treats women not as good as it could, but [it’s] nothing like it was, really nothing like it was. And we were not singular in that. There was a whole other thing going on.

And I think about someone like Quentin Young who, in Chicago spent a great deal of time trying to educate doctors to say, “Pay more attention to the society as a whole. Pay more attention to how the people you are dealing with get into that society.” And I just think we were part of that large movement in the same way that Our Bodies, Ourselves, the Boston Woman’s Health Collective were part of this larger movement.

That we have to be educated consumers and we have to push to make things better, that kind of thing. So, I think in that way, my small amount of activism made a whole lot of difference because it was part of this larger thing.

MJC:  Is there something we should be doing more than we’re doing to share our story with the next generation?

MS:  Well, like I like to say, “I’m not the activist anymore maybe I’m the inspiration.” I don’t know. But I do think that the significant thing about the abortion counseling service, and this is true about counting the vegetables, and this is true about Emma Goldman, and the Women’s Health Service and all that, it’s that situationally, things present you with a chance to make a difference. And you don’t have to be the smartest, strongest, most competent person in the world. What you have to be is say, “This is my time to make a difference.”

And so, insofar as I can say that to people, and look at my own experience and say, “Well, you know, I don’t have a whole career of activism.” I mean, I think about someone like Heather Booth, who with the Midwest Academy and all the work she has done, she’s never let go of this. Whatever she took in her teeth when she was in college, I let go of it a whole lot of times. But when situationally I’m presented with a possibility of making a difference, I do it. And insofar as that’s a different way of looking at activism, I kind of want to tell people about that.

MJC:  That’s good. It’s more doable for a larger number of people too.

MS:  Yes, because a lot of people can’t do the other, and in some ways, if we each can do what we can do, maybe we can change the world, right?