I was a feminist before there was such a thing.
When I was born on April 8, 1922, the word had not yet made it into the vocabulary or been defined in Webster’s Dictionary, but I inherited a long list of strong and capable women who had managed their homes, their children, and, in many cases, the financial stability of their families. I was a fifth generation of my maternal family in the small East Texas town of Lindale, a “stone’s throw” from Karnack, the birthplace of Lady Bird Johnson and arrived into a large extended family that had settled in that Smith Texas County community in 1879 from Perry County, Alabama, and the oldest of a third generation family born there. It was the birthplace of my maternal grandfather, John Lee Henderson, and of my mother, Jessie Lee Henderson Anderson.
Until age 6, I was surrounded by an extended family that included grandparents, great aunts and uncles, aunts and uncles and cousins by the dozens. My father, William Clarence Anderson, also an East Texas native of LaRue, some 70 miles distant from Lindale, had been home only a few weeks from service in World War I where he had been in the battles of St. Mihiel and the Argonne Forest, when my parents were married on July 23, 1919. I grew up with two younger brothers, Norman Owen and Quinton Travis.
At age 6 we moved to Memphis in the Texas Panhandle, arriving there at the start of the Great Depression, not an auspicious time to begin a new adventure. At age 7, already a reader, I started to school in Memphis. I vividly remember the anguish of family members at the crash of the banks in October of 1929. In 1931 my family moved back to LaRue for Dad to manage the farm which had been created by my paternal grandfather, Murray Elam Anderson. There I entered the second grade taught by my father’s cousin, Clara Killian, who I credit with being the first teacher to encourage my love of learning.. We had only a basic library in our school, but I read everything—the Sears & Roebuck catalog, the Almanac and devoured the daily newspaper which came to us a day late by rural mail carrier. The headline stories of the day—hovering war clouds over Europe, the New London School Tragedy, Bonnie and Clyde’s escapades, President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats on radio and his campaign to establish Social Security–were my current events. And I devoured Eleanor Roosevelt’s “My Day” column. My role models were women I found in literature—aviators Amelia Earhart and Anne Morrow Lindbergh and anthropologist/writer Margaret Mead. I never cared for fantasy; real life was too exciting.
When the schools in LaRue consolidated with a nearby town and moved out of the village, my father declared that he would not rear his children in a place that had no school and moved us to Athens, Texas, the County Seat of Henderson County. For me this was a gift beyond measure because Athens teachers were far above average. I was coached and challenged by two outstanding mentor/teachers, Wayman Blythe Hood, and Opal Boatwright Lewis. Mrs. Hood had been “let go” as a teacher in Dallas because she married and married women were not allowed to teach there. She sponsored the high school newspaper, “The Athenian,” which I edited. Mrs. Lewis was my history teacher and debate coach who guided my colleague and me to third place in the state debating the subject “Resolved that all citizens deserve quality health care at public expense.” (It took us more than 50 years to pass the Affordable Care Act). In my senior year, I was president of the Student Body, editor-in-chief of the school paper and on a debate team.
I graduated from Athens High School in 1940 as valedictorian of my class and accepted a scholarship to Southern Methodist University, entering as a freshman in September 1940. I was a first generation college student in my family and worked my way through college, tutoring, serving as an office assistant/secretary to the dean of women and doing any other odd job that came along. My parents, farmers and small town dairymen, could not help financially, but my mother strongly supported my educational ambitions and often said, …”Now, when you go away to college….” Dr. William Gregory Fletcher, pastor of the Methodist Church, was my other strong supporter.
December 7, 1941 changed my life and that of my entire generation. My roommate and I were visiting her parents on that dreary Sunday afternoon and were out picking chrysanthemums in their small nursery when her dad came to tell us that the radio had reported that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. War news from Europe had been permeating our press, but we college kids thousands of miles away and comfortable in our little cocoons, had paid little attention. Even though we had just come through a devastating depression, our dreams for the future were limitless. The war shocked us into a new reality. Overnight many of our male classmates signed up for the military. Ours, I think, was the last innocent generation.
Even with the war raging—both of my brothers in service, all of my male classmates signing up—and even though I was working several jobs, I loved my college years.
The war gave women an opportunity to find how capable they were, because women were doing everything—running the businesses and the homes, rearing the children, producing the aircraft and other essential military supplies, and often joining the military themselves. For me personally, the war gave me the chance for experience in my chosen profession. Had there been a male student available, no matter how capable he might or might not have been, I doubt that I would ever have been elected editor of The Semi-Weekly Campus, the SMU college newspaper. I did not confer with any of the officials at the University before I announced my candidacy because I knew that our dean of women would not approve. The day after my picture and candidacy was announced in the college newspaper, I met the Dean in front of Dallas Hall, our first and major building. When I greeted her, she said, “Vivian, did you forget that you are a woman student?”
When I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in journalism, minors in speech and religion in 1944, the war was winding down. Every one of my close journalism friends went to New York City, the mecca for artists/journalists/writers. I went to work in Dallas for The Petroleum Engineer, publisher of four oil magazines, because I was tired of living from hand-to-mouth and needed an income to support myself. In Texas, oil is the way to do that! It was not a good fit for me, but the paycheck kept me at it.
On Christmas night, 1945, Curtis Wales Castleberry arrived home from three and a half years in the South Pacific where, as a Marine, he had fought in some of the deadliest battles of World War II. Curt and I had been high school classmates, friends but never dated, he was, however, the only man, with the exception of my two brothers, with whom I had corresponded throughout the war. Curt and I fell in love by letter. So on that beginning of a New Year, we had only a vague idea of who each of us had become in those critical young years when we did not see each other nor, what, if anything, we would share in the future. When the doorbell rang on New Years Eve 1944, I hastened to open it. . And there he stood — in his dress Marine Corps uniform, his best friend behind him, who had a “blind date” with my roommate.
Curt opened his arms. I walked into them. And I knew I was home.
After dinner—Curt had said he wanted Chinese food and I made reservations at the only Chinese restaurant in Dallas at the time—the four of us, my roommate, Edith Hanby, and I showed Charlie Coker and Curt our Dallas. After midnight, on our way back to our apartment, Curt asked why we did not grab a bag and go with them to Athens for the rest of weekend And we did. It all sounds romantic And that it was! For the next few weeks, Curt would be waiting in the lobby of my building when I got off from work.. Our romance proceeded at rapid speed.
One hundred days after he arrived home from World War II service, on May 4, 1946. Curtis and I were married at my Methodist Church in Athens; I have always regretted that my beloved Dr. Fletcher, had retired and was not available to perform our vows..
We had a one-year honeymoon. Because Curt was new in Dallas and had no history in our community, my friends became his friends—and I am so grateful that he accepted them one and all, even as both of us reached out to establish new friends. We were lucky beyond belief because we found a lovely apartment at a time when housing was almost non-existent.
After the year, when Curt was denied a promotion because he did not have a college degree., we knew it was time to make good on our promise to each other that he would go back to college. We gave up two good jobs, a dream apartment and our Dallas friends for College Station and Texas A&M on a guaranteed GI income of $67.50 a month. Working two and three jobs for three years, Curt graduated with honors In 1951. For me those were bittersweet years. So much happened! We had Carol, our first child in 1949 and a son, Kenneth, who lived for only two days, in 1950. At her father’s commencement exercises, Carol was two, old enough to shout, “Dats my Daddy!,” when Curt walked across the stage to accept his diploma. Lonely for a professional career I had put on hold, I haunted the offices of The Battalion, the college newspaper until they created a job for me, the first ever Women’s Editor. When “we” graduated, I was presented with a certificate signed by the President of A&M, its regent and all of the Aggie editors on the staff making me “editor-in-chief of the Texas A&M Battalion to serve as such for life.”
My professional awakening to feminism—and my total commitment to it—began in 1955 when I went to work for The Dallas Times Herald, the afternoon and most liberal of the two Dallas newspapers. Curt and I were now the parents of two little girls—Chanda had arrived in 1952 during the one-year interlude while Curt taught in Burkeville, Texas. A former staff member of my college newspaper, Doris Allen Dowell, called me at The Petroleum Engineer, where I was doing “fill in work” and told me that there was an opening in the Women’s Department at The Times Herald and that I should apply for the job. I knew instantly that this was the opportunity I had been waiting for all my life—but I was scared.
Our little girls were 6 and 3—and I was living in a cultural climate that decreed a woman’s place was in the home, and, worse, that any woman who left her children to be reared by others to go out and “find herself” was asking for a disaster at home. Divorce and juvenile delinquents were sure to follow. Even so, weighing all the odds, I applied for and got the job as home furnishings editor. I knew absolutely nothing about reporting on furniture. I did not know a Sheraton from a Hepplewhite from an Early American. On my way home from being offered the job I stopped by the library and brought home 20 books to give me a crash course for my new job. The interior decorators in Dallas, mostly my gay male friends, were my salvation. I am so indebted for what they taught me. But, writing about sofas and chairs and coffee tables and their arrangement into housing space was not appealing. I longed to report on People, and their myriad lifestyles, so I created a way to make this happen.
My break-through came in the early days of my new job when I outlined, researched, interviewed, and wrote a series of stories called “Homemaking Under Handicap.” Arranging home furnishing to serve the needs of those with special needs was a challenge. I found the woman who did all of her housework and cooking for a family of four from her wheelchair and the man who became both mom and dad when his young wife died and he became both breadwinner and surrogate mom to his three young children. I wrote about Patti Jones, whose special needs child absorbed much of her time and left so little for her three younger children. The eight-part series was a journalistic blockbuster that led to recognition of a “different kind” of women’s news.
It was a heady, yeasty time. In the midst of outlining my future, I found myself pregnant with our third (living) child. Curt and I weighed the options and I resigned from my job. On the day I got home from the hospital with baby Keeta, Bert Holmes, managing editor of The Times Herald called to tell me that the women’s editor was leaving and the job was mine if I wanted it. How I wanted it! Curt and I talked, pondered, considered as many of the plusses and minuses that we could think of. He finally said to me: “Honey, if you want that job, take it! If you think you have talents that somebody will pay you for, have at it! We can make it work! I will help.” We hired a live-in homemaker/child carer and when our baby was six weeks old, I went back to work! What a glorious day it was!
I was on my way, undergirded by a wonderful staff of 10, in addition to myself, and a reading public, all of whom encouraged me to do more, more, more, and working for an all-male management that wondered what was going on in the “women’s pages” of their newspaper. Briefly, what was going on was a revolution. Every lid I lifted, every interview I conducted, every woman I interviewed, every story I wrote, every assignment I made was increasing proof that women wanted/needed/deserved more than the vacuous frou-frou that filled most of their daily newspapers.
We changed the name of the section from Women’s News to Living and published a daily section of the paper Monday through Friday, two sections on Sunday and special sections on fashion, food and home furnishings two and three times a year. One of the Sunday sections was devoted entirely to weddings—and on a peak June Sunday, we wrote, edited and published stories on the nuptials of 72 couples. We did not get a single bride married to the wrong man!
I learned to be an editor and a manager the hard way–by training myself. Ernestine Adams, the woman who had hired me at The Petroleum Engineer, was a feisty, smart, 5-foot tall dynamo who conducted herself and her staff by male management models, the only recourse she had in the masculine-dominated oil industry. To have shown any female or feminist tendencies would have been suicide to her professional career. My other female editor, at The Times Herald, erred at being too lenient. Even though I learned from both and appreciated both, their management styles were not mine.
My male editors were as supportive as they knew how to be, but they tended to judge all women by their own wives and mothers–the only example they had of what it meant to be a woman. They told me that they were available to help if I had any questions, but I did not know what questions to ask. The two pieces of advice they gave me were wrong for me. They told me: 1) Do not mix your work life and your private life. Leave any family problems you may have at home when you come to work and don’t take your work problems home with you. (2) You must not socialize with your staff members because you cannot manage your friends. Neither piece of advice worked for me. I was Curt’s wife and the children’s mother 24 hours a day, seven days a week and I was also women’s editor of The Dallas Times Herald 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As for socializing with my staff, I would have been the loneliest person in the world had I not cultivated closeness with my staff members. My all-male management was not about to welcome me into their social circle, nor did I want to join their golf-playing, beer-drinking after-work parties. I admired women who could, but at the close of my workday I had a whole different world waiting for me at the end of my commute drive. Unless, I had a night assignment, which was often, I cooked dinner for the family every night.
At work, we were constantly pioneering new paths. At home things were working out, not always easily and never perfectly, but I learned what has become my message to women: If you want to have both a career and a family badly enough, you can usually find a way to make it happen. Because we had planned so carefully and had found a gem in Granny Bush, who was not only surrogate mother to our children but also nurtured Curtis and me, I had almost none of the guilt that haunts most women who combine home managing and child care along with a career.
Life was going well for us when, in the winter of 1956, I was pregnant again—with our fourth child. She was born in August and this time I did not ever consider leaving my professional career. I was the first woman to be granted a leave-of-absence at The Dallas Times Herald pioneering the way for all women who came after me. After the briefest time off, when Kim was six weeks old, I was back to the job I loved.
Curt and I were very, very fortunate because our children were healthy, our caretaker committed and our schedules flexible. I bargained with my male management. I told them I loved my job and wanted to keep it, but I could not afford to “screw up” at home and they could not afford to have a women’s editor who did. I told them: “I love my job and will do a better job with my section of the newspaper than anybody else, but you will have to be lenient about my time. I will work nights and weekends. I will meet all of my deadlines, but if I have a sick child who needs to go to the doctor, I will be gone from my desk for a few hours.” We were fortunate in a second way: Curt’s job as a teacher allowed free hours after school and on weekends that many males do not enjoy, so it was usually Curt who drove the girls to extracurricular activities–the library, Girl Scouts, music and dance lessons, birthday parties. I was always aware that children needed special time with each parent and the hardest job I had in child-rearing was finding a special time each week to be alone with one our girls–a trip to the grocery store or to the library or the PTA, an evening walk around the block–little blocks of time devoted exclusively to the one daughter in my care at the moment.
At work, I continued to push for change. I inherited an annual major event, always held around the first of September, the Times Herald Women’s Forum, that preceded the opening of the women’s club year. Held in a major hotel ballroom, the morning coffee and reception featured a keynote speaker. Invited guests were the presidents, program chairwomen and publicity directors of every organized club in the community whose membership was open to women. This meant a lot of people. We kept records on more than a thousand clubs from the tiniest neighborhood garden club, all of the PTAs, to the city’s most prestigious organizations. The purpose of the program was to tell women what kind of news we sought for our pages, our deadlines and other expectations. On the stage were some of our male bosses and all of the women on the staff of Living, all dressed in our new fall attire. Hats and gloves were a requirement into the 1970s when we rebelled and shed the hats and gloves. I always began the meeting by telling the women that our rule for considering items to publish included fresh ideas and that their competition for space sat all around them. When Erma Bombeck was our keynote speaker, she told me afterward that it was the first time she had ever been to an event where the host told guests what they would NOT be doing for them!
The summer was dead for news in Dallas. The women’s clubs were inactive from May to September. Fashion and home furnishings markets were held in the late winter and early fall. The weather was too hot for social events. Newsworthy speakers were on the schedule for fall, winter and early spring. But we still had pages to fill in July and August. It was an opportune time to explore different news sources. We found them in ways and places that were not considered appropriate for the “women’s pages.”
I’d hired a new reporter, Helen Farabee, who would go on to become one of the outstanding leaders of the women’s movement in Texas. In a staff meeting, we pondered how to tackle the dearth of news problem. And with Helen’s fresh ideas, we came up with an answer: Create a program for women that would probe their needs, their interests and their desires. We were all excited about the prospects. In the midst of planning for this new venture, to be held in July 1959, I was pregnant again–with our fifth child. It barely slowed me down. I have a picture of me, very pregnant, interviewing Pat Nixon, whose husband was running for president. And I vividly recall sitting next to Judge Sarah Hughes at a podium, very pregnant, where I am to introduce the keynote speaker, and having her lean over, pat my tummy and whisper “if you keep this up, you will never be successful.”
Even as plans for a better, more productive women’s section were going forward, I was pregnant again. Catherine Castleberry joined our family on January 22, 1960. From the first she was an “easy child” who fit right into our wonderful hectic schedule. All of us say, “this child was born wise.”
During that pregnancy, I presided over the first Women’s Panel. For the first few years we called it the Homemaker Panel, better to assure the approval of our male management. This was the format: Every July we invited 12 women in the community to meet with us for a full day. We made a big production of the event. We sent out letters that said, in part, “…The Dallas Times Herald has chosen you to be a part of its annual program about women…” We met in the boardroom at our paper and we honored participants at a noon luncheon at the Press Club. After the first year, we invited back for the afternoon session all of the participants from prior years. We chose our participants very carefully. All year, each of the reporters on the women’s staff dropped information on a special woman they had met into a folder that I kept at my desk. Six weeks before the chosen date of the event, we spread a map of our community on my desk, took all of the year’s nominations and worked through them. We chose women who were not likely to know each other and from a cross-section of our community. We chose women from varying ethnicities, ages, interests, education, professions (work at home or in a career). Choosing 12 from the dozens of “candidates” was never easy, but the final 12 always represented a composite of our community. We never had a turndown. And the results were phenomenal.
We arranged every program around six questions: (1) Who am I? (2). What am I? (3) Where am I? (4) Where do I want to be? (5) How am I going to get there? (6) When do I start?
We always started them off gently. Before our guests arrived, we had made seating arrangements for each participant. Following a light breakfast (coffee, fruit juice, rolls and a fruit platter) I asked a simple question, which varied from year to year. Once I asked, “When you go into your kitchen in the morning, what is the first thing you do?” The panel erupted into laughter when one panelist responded, “I look for the maid.” At 10 o’clock we broke for 30 minutes of informal chit-chat around the coffee pot because I learned that often more important things happen during social hours than during scheduled programs. I then invited everybody back to the table asking each, to sit beside a different person.
We followed the panels with a full week of reporting on the various topics that we had covered in that one day. Once one of my editors told me, “It’s all right for you do this, but just be sure you include women who do not want careers but are happy just being homemakers.” We were careful to do so. The next year, we chose a woman from a suburban area who said that one of her most joyful experiences was seeing the line of white shirts she had just ironed for her husband and two sons. The following year she gleefully returned for the afternoon session and reported that after spending the day with us, she went home and ran for her community’s school board—and won!
In the chain of evolving management at our paper, one puzzled new managing editor chastised me for “making the news instead of reporting it.” I convinced him that understanding the concerns and wishes of our readers made us better reporters.
We did these panels for 19 years, 1959 through 1977. By the time we stopped, our afternoon reunions filled an auditorium. I still have the original card on each panelist, along with name changes, multiple address changes and other pertinent details. As important as the programs were for us as reporters, the ripple effect among the participants was more significant. For the first time, in many cases, women sat next to someone of a different color, socio-economic background, age–entirely out of her comfort zone –and discovered that she shared similar dreams and visions. Many also learned that they had values and were valued far beyond what their limited horizons had conditioned them. And they were responsive to each other. When the president of a large women’s group sat beside a mother from the housing projects and learned that her children were sleeping on the floor, she provided, through her group, bedding and other pressing needs for the children. Many formed lasting friendships with women they met at our panels. Many formed networking groups that were helpful to each other both in personal and in career growth.
For me personally the ripple effect has often moved me to tears when I meet someone who tells me that participating in the panel changed her life. When I meet former panelists on the street, in the grocery store aisles or at a community meeting, someone often asks “why don’t you do that again?” Recently I was privileged to introduce, Patricia Meadows, an internationally recognized artist and art appraiser who told me that her participation on the Panel in 1972 was the first time she recognized that she had talents and responsibilities beyond her role as wife, mother and community volunteer. In a large sense, these Panels were the first Consciousness Raising programs for women in our community.
Through the 1960s, the 70s and into the 80s, my job and the exceptionally fine staff of “Living” continued to break barriers and to accumulate awards as we reported on cutting edge of change issues for women and families. By the early 80s this began to change as we, an afternoon newspaper, like most afternoon dailies, began to lose subscribers. Our revolving door of managers neither knew nor cared about our community. One new editor told me that I couldn’t be any good or I wouldn’t still be working for The Times Herald. I reminded him that had I and other fine reporters not hung on, he would not have had a paper to inherit. My work was scrutinized and often dismissed, and going to work was no fun any more. I began to explore ”What next?”
I knew I was going to retire to something, not from something. Curt and I had long discussions about our future. In the summer of 1983, we rented a cabin in the Colorado mountains where for five weeks—my very first five-week vacation–we lived as simply as possible. I wore jeans, no make-up, went barefoot, dipped my toes into the icy waters of Big Thompson learning who I was separate and apart from what I did. My name had been on by-lined stories for 27 years. I had been privileged to lead a staff of enormously gifted women and to interview most of the leading “angels” of the Second Wave of the Women’s Movement in America, but that life was winding down.
What next? When I came home from that vacation, I told my family that I would retire one year from that day—and I did. (I learned later that my five daughters were betting I wouldn’t do it!)
Curtis and I took early retirement in the summer of 1984. Ten days after I walked out of The Times Herald building I was on a plane headed for the Soviet Union with 24 “Grassroots Citizen Diplomats.” led by my dear friend, Sharon Tennison, founder of the Center for Citizen Initiatives. Curtis and I had had many conversations about what each of most wanted to do in “retirement.” I was determined to use the years of my journalistic training and the research I had done on the contributions of women to relate the untold story of women’s gifts and talents to the founding and growth of Dallas. He said he had always wanted to build a house with his own two hands, to put into practice what he had been teaching his classes to do all those years. He immediately started to realize his retirement dream of building a house on our lake property in East Texas. I postponed my writing dream to become involved in what I saw as far more imperative: to do everything I could to create a more peaceful universe.
Those were critical days. The United States and the Soviet Union had atomic bombs pointed at each other and purposefully, or accidentally, a finger pushing the trigger could have annihilated our universe. All of us felt helpless, but being offered a chance to go to the Soviet Union with Sharon’s second group I signed on as a Grassroots Citizen Diplomat. We had no credentials from our government, were, in fact, discouraged from going, told that we would not be granted the freedom we had been promised by the Soviet Union, and, finally told that we would not be supported by our government if anything happened. With 23 others, none of whom I had met before leaving the States, we boarded a plane for Helsinki where Sharon held a one-day training session outlining what we should and should not do while there. Then we flew to Moscow and to Tblisi. Georgia, then to Baku, Azerbaijan, and on to Leningrad. We wore badges printed in Russian and in English. “I am an American; Do you speak English?” We left our tour guide at the hotel. Traveling in groups of three and four, we took to their streets, stopped in their parks, traveled by their Metro, one of the most advanced urban transportation systems I have ever encountered, We were there for three weeks and never encountered a single scary incident. We were followed everywhere by interested individuals who responded to our badges and stopped us for conversation. Often we were invited into their homes.
The trip changed my life. It was there that I met Dr. Lily Golden, a professor of anthropology at the University of Moscow, who immediately became my “soul sister,” and while saying good-by to her in front of the University, she challenged me with my next assignment. “Go home,” she said, “and bring us your women. Men have talked peace on earth forever while preparing for the next war. If we are ever to live together in peace, women must assume the responsibility.” It was a challenge beyond my capabilities, but it would not go away. Back home, reeling from so many experiences, I had a call from a friend, Attorney Dolores Pevehouse in East Texas, who said she must come to see me because she had something she wanted me to do. I discouraged her, saying I knew what I must do and was not interested in taking on anything else. When I shared with her my “assignment” from Lily, she said “I will be there tomorrow.” She came with an almost identical idea that Lily had handed me in Moscow. The only difference: Dolores wanted us to do the conference in Dallas, which for me was much more manageable.
I had not recovered from jet lag when I had a call from Sharon asking me if I would help her plan a second trip to the Soviet Union. The Women’s Committee in Moscow had invited her to come and bring leading women in the United States for a conference with them. What a challenge! I demurred. Backed off. Had all kind of excuses, until my husband, ever supportive of my myriad cutting-edge-of change notions, said, “When are you going to call her and tell her you will do it?” It turned out that I wrote the letters of invitations to our country’s leading women and have a packet of letters in return saying they could not go, but wished us every success. Those letters are among the treasures now in the Women’s Archives at Southern Methodist University. The packet includes letters from Barbara Bush, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Diane Feinstein, Jane Alexander and other peace activists—about 25 in all wishing us success. We had a group of 56 outstanding women sign on to meet and explore ways of making peace between our two nations. We landed in Helsinki on the eve of the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl and spent our first training day in Helsinki determining, whether or not, we would continue our mission. In the late afternoon of that day, a Native American professor from New Mexico stood and said, “I am going through. My Soviet Sisters have never needed me so much as they need me now.” With that, every one of us signed on. We sent two delegates home, an older woman with a heart condition and a young woman in the first trimester of pregnancy. We cancelled Minsk because it was too close to Chernobyl. Everywhere we were applauded for being “brave,” because most Americans were leaving the country.
Back home, I began the long journey that I had retired to do: Writing about the women whose gifts and talents had made Dallas my city. My first book, “Daughters of Dallas,–a History of the Gifts and Talents of its Women,” is like most “first children,” the pride of my life. It is a, coffee-table sized book, spanning the time when the first woman arrived in the fledgling community on the Banks of the Trinity River through 150 years when we elected our first woman, Annette Strauss, as mayor (Adlene Harrison preceded her as mayor, but “inherited” the position when the mayor resigned to run for Congress.) “Daughters” was published in 1994 and followed by three more books, “Texas Tornado,”in 2003, the story of Louise Raggio the attorney who gave women equal legal rights in Texas, “Sarah—the Bridge Builder,” Dallas’ first woman millionaire, who financed the first bridge across the Trinity River, and “Seeds of Success,” the story of women who changed the roles and rules for women in business.
Interspersed, along with my writing, were two more trips to the Soviet Union. I was there in the last days of Communism, there as that country was breaking apart into its disparate units, there when Gorbachev came to power and the Wall fell, and into the first stages of a new democracy. My last trip, with Sharon for a month in 2002, let me to help in interviewing young Russian entrepreneurs who had trained in the United States and gone home to push for a new openness in their country.
My dedication to feminism continues unabated, even though my energy cannot keep pace with my enthusiasm. I have had the best of all families, the best of all possible jobs. The girls have turned out fine—not a single ”juvenile delinquent” among them. My career allowed me to interview seven First Ladies—Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, Barbara Bush, Rosalyn Carter, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush. People often ask me which was my favorite. My answer: “Lady Bird,” but only because I knew her best. I interviewed her countless times when her husband was in the House of Representatives and had watched Lynda and Lucy grow up. Mrs. Nixon was the most private, Barbara Bush the most candid; Betty Ford, the most elusive (she was suffering from alcoholism and unable to project her depth of compassion); Rosalyn Carter, the personification of a “steel magnolia”; Laura Bush the most gracious, completely dedicated to home and family while quietly going about what she does best, aid and support the world’s neediest women. Hillary is by far the most personally experienced in world politics and the most qualified in every way to be the first woman president of the United States. I plan to be around when she is sworn in as President.
When people ask what was the most significant story I covered in my 28 years as a reporter, I am impelled to answer: the Kennedy Assassination It is the one story that captures the imagination and interest of others. But it is NOT what I consider the most important. I credit that to the Second Wave of the Women’s Movement in America. I consider it a rare privilege to have been present and reporting on the women who led us into new possibilities for our future:
On the national level: Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Erma Bombeck, Shirley Chisholm, Flo Kennedy, Wilma Mankiller, Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi.
On the Texas State Level: Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Mary Beth Rogers, Cissy Farenthold, Helen Farabee, Sarah Weddington, Liz Carpenter.
On the Local Level: (many too many to name), but here are a few of the leaders: Judge Sarah T. Hughes, Emmie Baine, Johnnie-Marie Grimes, Sandra Tinkham, Maura McNiel, Ann Chud, Virginia Whitehill,, Gail Smith, Fran McElvaney, Harryette Ehrhardt, Kay Cole, Victoria Downing, Shirley Miller.