Veteran Feminists of America
VFA Board Member, Former NOW Regional Director
I was born in Miami Beach, Florida, on February 24, 1945, the third child of William Robert Rand and Rose Lasser Rand. I arrived nearly ten years after my sister Caryn and twelve years after my brother Sterling. While I don’t believe my mother was thrilled about having a baby at the age of 42, my sister was very excited. She said it was the best day of her young life: my mother had a baby and my father bought a convertible!
My family returned to Chicago two years later, back to the South Shore community where they had lived prior to moving to Florida.
When I turned four, my parents decided that I should be in school (they said it was because I was smart, but I’m sure it had more to do with getting me out of the house!). My father had political connections in the City of Chicago, so he arranged to obtain a fake birth certificate that said I was born in Chicago in 1944 (a year before my actual birth). I began kindergarten at Bradwell School at the age of four.
I entered South Shore High School at the age of 12 and graduated at 16. I was a well-behaved child. I didn’t get in trouble, I didn’t make waves, I did what I was told. I was a good student.
After high school, I spent a year at the University of Illinois/Chicago and then three years at Michigan State University, graduating in 1965. Thoughts of a career never entered my mind. Most of my friends were going to be teachers, and that did not interest me at all. But my father advised me to get a teaching degree, since “teaching was something you could always go back to after the children were grown.” I had an English major and an Education minor.
I went to Europe for the summer after graduation. When I came back, reality dawned. I did not have a husband, much less any children. So I had to actually be a teacher. I taught for one year and hated every minute of it. Over the course of the next few years I went to graduate school in California, worked at an educational publishing company and served as managing editor of Appliance Manufacturer Magazine, a trade publication.
In January of 1970, I was working hard at my job, living in an apartment in Chicago and having a fun life when my mother died very suddenly. While I didn’t make the connection until many years later, I am quite sure that my mother’s death played a role in my feminist activism.
Only a few months after my mother’s death, my friends and I discovered sex discrimination. And we became obsessed. We talked about it constantly and got together for so-called consciousness-raising sessions. We were shocked to learn that the men in our company were making twice what we earned.
And then came August 26, 1970. Betty Friedan and NOW called on women to go on strike from their jobs and attend the “Women Strike for Equality” rally. I asked my boss for permission to go on strike (!) and went to the rally in Chicago. That was the start of my activism. From there, I quickly became active in NOW. I served as chairperson of the Chicago chapter’s public relations committee. In 1971, I was elected Midwest Regional Director of NOW and served two terms, until 1974. As Regional Director, I also was a member of the NOW National Board and Executive Committee. My role was to start and work with NOW chapters in the 13-state region, including conflict resolution. I spent most of my weekends traveling. I was actively involved in national actions against AT&T and Sears, and twice debated Phyllis Schlafly. I also served as the first chairperson of Women Employed.
For the four years that I was active in NOW, the women’s movement consumed my life. I held jobs, but I was much more interested in being an activist.
The first years in NOW were exhilarating. I had never confronted anyone before – much less civic and corporate leaders. I learned incredible skills. I learned public relations, which ended up as a career based on what I learned in NOW (with thanks to Joanna Foley Martin, the first chair of the Chicago NOW PR committee). I learned public speaking, organizational skills and Roberts Rules of Order. I learned conflict resolution and had a real opportunity to learn and exercise leadership skills. For the first time, I began to think outside of my own little world.
Disagreements in civil rights organizations are to be expected, and NOW was no exception. But we did not have the ability in NOW to deal with them in a constructive way. One complicating dynamic we experienced was the use by some of race and sexuality as a cudgel against others.
There were individuals in NOW – as in any movement – who created problems within the organization. Some were new to power and did not know how to deal with it. Some were undoubtedly well meaning; some were not, and had their own agendas. As NOW Regional Director, I was the victim of one of the latter. I became the target of a member who seemed to have unlimited resources to use for personal attacks against me – and eventually against others, including the entire NOW Executive Committee. A well meaning NOW grievance committee let the process go on longer than it should have.
Eventually there were two major factions within the NOW leadership. There were some philosophical differences – and some personal differences. A group of NOW Board members, calling themselves the Majority Caucus, walked out of a Board meeting. We never had the opportunity or the ability to try to reconcile our differences in a rational manner and make the organization stronger and whole again.
The so-called Majority Caucus took over the leadership of NOW. The faction I was part of was basically driven out of NOW. It was devastating because I had invested so much of my time and energy and emotions into NOW and the movement. But I could no longer put up with the personal attacks. And, in the end, for me personally, it turned out to be a good outcome.
When I left NOW, I began to pay attention to my career and my personal life. I went back to school at night and in 1980 earned an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.
I married Peter Ritsos, a Chicago attorney, in 1982.
I had a very successful career in corporate and agency public relations in Chicago. My last position was Managing Director of the Chicago office of Manning Selvage & Lee, an international public relations firm. I retired in 2002. I continue to serve as a senior public relations consultant.
Shortly after I retired, I received a call from Betty Newcomb, who had been the Indiana State Coordinator of NOW when I was the Midwest Regional Director. She was on the Board of the Veteran Feminists of America (VFA) and asked if I would be interested in joining the Board. I agreed.
In VFA, I have played a major role in coordinating three Midwest events: Chicago in 2004, Milwaukee in 2012 and St. Louis in 2014. I continue to serve on the VFA Board. One of my recent contributions was creating a Wikipedia page for VFA.
In 2015 I agreed to join the Board of the Friends of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, NY. I am serving as the PR/marketing coordinator for a campaign to update and upgrade the Park. We plan to raise $5 million to have the Park buildings and exhibits completely updated by 2020 – the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the U.S.
My husband and I split our time between Lake Forest, Illinois, and Palm Desert, California.
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