THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
“Dedicated to Equality and Justice for All Workers”
Interviewed by Mary Jean Collins, VFA Historian, April, 2019
MJC: Good morning Annie. It’s good to see you for this Veteran Feminists of America interview. We appreciate you’re making yourself available today. Let’s start out with your name and where you were born.
AC: My name is Annie Crump and I was born in 1953 in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.
MJC: Tell us a little bit about your earlier life before you found feminism, just to acquaint us with your upbringing.
AC: I grew up with three brothers and lived initially in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. My father was a school teacher and we moved after my parents got divorced when I was about 9 to a suburb of Milwaukee and continued to go to school at that suburb where my father taught. We had four kids altogether. Three brothers and me. After my mother left, my father took custody of us after a prolonged court fight. His real reason for taking custody was to pay back my mother and not because he wanted custody of his children.
Back then, a man doing anything favorable towards his own children got him great accolades from the public. Oh my goodness, isn’t he a wonderful guy because he wants custody of his children, when the real motivation was revenge on my mother leaving him. At any rate, we grew up and it was quite a difficult situation. He married again, a woman who was quite psychopathic, and unfortunately a severe alcoholic, very physically violent to all of us, but especially to me.
She did not like me at all because I was a girl and took out things on me that were steady and ongoing and nerve wracking, frankly. She would come in, in the middle of the night, and get very violent and I would have to sleep in front of my door most nights when I was there, just to block her from getting in. I remember they changed my bedroom from one end of the house to the other. The first bedroom I had, there was a doorway that I could block her with my feet up against the wall and it was served as a wedge.
The second doorway did not have that. I would have to moisten the bottom of my feet to prop them up against the floor, to get enough grip on the floor to stop her from coming in the bedroom. As you know, psychopathic people are quite strong, inordinately strong. And she was very, very strong. Very frightening. So, it taught me a lot of good lessons about life and certainly not easy to grow up under those circumstances. But I think I became stronger as a result.
MJC: How long did this go on? This behavior and her presence in your life?
AC: It went on from the time I was about 9 or 10 to the time I turned 16 or 17. So it was a prolonged experience. Had it not been for going to a high school and taking refuge in some of the teachers and the school environment. I remember, because I wouldn’t sleep at night I would go into the hallway and there would be a desk there for people who were monitors and I would sleep on the desk in the middle of the day whenever I had a free moment so that I could get some sleep before going home.
My father took me to the doctor because I was pretty dysfunctional sometimes in school and they put me on tranquilizers. They put me on tranquilizers! And how I survived because I certainly misused them! I remember falling asleep in a chemistry exam in the days when students were not sleeping on their desk traditionally. Apparently that has changed. But I remember falling asleep and of course flunking, which we never did in the family. We never flunked tests.
Finally the pharmacy refused to renew the prescriptions, which I think saved my life, because I would overdose trying to blackout the reality. Finally my father was told by the doctor to get me out of the house or he would lose custody. And he was outraged at the very thought that the state would come in. At any rate it was no good for my brothers. All three of them were heavily alcoholics in their adult life and two are recovering now thankfully. One is still sort of mired in that illness.
MJC: That’s a lot to deal with. So what happened? You finally got out of that house and graduated high school?
AC: I did. I finally got out and graduated high school. I decided I would try to go to nursing school, associated with the Medical College of Wisconsin now, but at the time it was an independent school of nursing. I changed my mind and decided to enroll in UWM, University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. I enrolled and went the first semester. I had saved up enough money – I worked full time as a CNA in nursing homes and enjoyed the work very much. But of course it was not paid very fairly.
And the second semester I went to UWM, by the third semester I had run out of money because I was paying rent and trying to survive with roommates galore. I did not know that you could get a loan to go to school. And of course I was just baffled at how people all these people would go to school with no money.
So I dropped out and one of my roommates was working at Wisconsin Telephone at the time. Wisconsin Bell as they called it. I decided to apply for a job and I knew when I took the test for that job that I scored very highly on it. I was good with numbers and they did memorization things. I was right out of school so I had a good knowledge of it and they offered me a telephone operator job. I took the test with one several other people, but one guy that I remembered.
He also was offered the operator test and they told him upon hiring him that he wouldn’t be there very long because he was a male. I ended up as a telephone operator and he was moved right into the plant operation, the higher paying job. I always was startled about how that could happen. Growing up with brothers, I always tried to put myself in a position where everything would be fair for boys and girls and this seemed terrible to me, just a terrible standard. And it grated on me but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.
MJC: What year would this be?
AC: 1972. It was right after I dropped out of UWM. I worked as a telephone operator in information, which was the old days of calling 411. And we would answer it “information” or “directory assistance” and then they would stand behind you with a stopwatch and time each of the calls to see how you’d done on the job. And they would take these accuracy tests all the time and do test calls to see how you’d done on the job. It was a very high pressure job. I used to just object like crazy.
Beyond that, it was the first job in Wisconsin Bell where they decided to start hiring African-American women. Because women were telephone operators as we know. So the influx of African-American women brought me into a place that had African-American coworkers and bosses as it turned out. So that was fascinating. Very much like that because I had not been exposed in my life to diversity in the workplace or even in my high school or anything.
I worked in that job for a while and decided that it was just a horrible job but they had scheduled me for weekend after weekend and I knew that that was not supposed to be the way it was. I went up to one of the women that I knew who was African-American and said I want to quit, do I have to give notice?
I was really so ignorant of all the rules. If you want to quit – you can just quit. It was so horrible that I was working 13 weekends in a row. She said, “13 in a row?” And she said, “Let me check.” And she went to the clerk’s desk and told the clerk the only way she’s going to stay on this job is if you give her the next four weekends off in a row and I thought there is no way that this is going to happen. I see the clerk take out the scheduling card and a very old fashioned system and mark 00 for the next four weekends in a row. I thought, Holy mackerel who is this woman that has this power. It turned out she was vice president of the labor union for all of the telephone operators and I thought, I want a piece of that.
MJC: You were obviously a union member because it was a union shop.
MJC: But you had no awareness of the Union until you had this problem.
AC: Not at all. In fact, they were collecting for political donations and they called it the Committee on Political Education – COPE. I was told that I should help collect and I was willing to do anything. I thought it was a program on sex education in the schools. And so when I would go collect for COPE, I would tell people that we have to have this done in schools. I mean look what was happening. They would give me their two dollars because that was all that you had to give. And I collected more money than anyone for this Political Education group. It was quite funny but I made you know a hundred mistakes every day. And then I became a steward working for the people and when they were mistreated which was often by the management…
MJC: Was your management mostly men?
AC: No, it was women because that was the one job that they would give women in management was managing telephone operators. From the old days when you had to wear skirts and et cetera. In fact even an African-American was one of the managers, which was a breakthrough in management at AT&T. But at any rate, it just really got me going with the union movement. This woman by the way that got me the four weekends off came up to me later and said, “I’m running for a convention”, which I didn’t have any idea what that was, “would you come and vote for me?” I thought vote for her?! I would put a parade together for her! I went to the first meeting and it was very well attended in those days for union meetings and she won as a convention delegate. I got more and more active in the local and we had thousands and thousands of telephone operators in those days. Of course there are hardly any left in the world now but it was an interesting very high pressure job.
MJC: So that launched you into the Women’s Union that represented a lot of women.
AC: Right. And I decided that we could no longer tolerate the strain of this job being so high pressure. I organized literally almost by myself but probably with two or three others and I’m not trying to be vain but no one thought of it. I said, we need to have a walkout. And at the time I thought you could just have a walkout. I didn’t know that we had a contract and we had all of the things you had to abide.
I decided to plan this walkout with all of these offices, probably seven or eight offices in the Milwaukee area and everyone was going to walk out at the same time and protest the ungodly working conditions for telephone operators. Well don’t you know that we got it organized. And to make a long story short we walked out and so did every office in the Milwaukee area. Because we were in the headquarters office where we had two hundred and seventy operators employed, not all at once but 24 hours a day. We walked off the job, went into the cafeteria and decided that we were going to hold a meeting there.
Well of course I didn’t know that you couldn’t stay on the premises. Somebody from the management came out and said, “You can’t stay here.” I said OK we’ll go up to the union office which was on Twenty third and Wisconsin Avenue. So everybody had to either walk or get up there and the other offices had to show up there when we got there hundreds and hundreds of telephone operators [were] in this lobby of this hotel that had to be split up into two different meetings.
And in walks, [there was someone] who I later found out was Catherine Conroy – with her gray hair. And I’m thinking “Who the hell is this? I’ve never met her.” Didn’t know what she did. She stood up in front of the meeting in one section, because we had to divide the area and she told us that we had to go back to work. Well it was on a Friday. You know, I had much more success trying to get everybody to walk off the job on a Friday because the weekend was coming.
So I jumped up from the audience and said, “We are not going back to work.” And she looked at me and said, “Well, we have to figure out what your problems are.” I said, “Well, we have hundreds of problems and they don’t seem to be solving any of them.” And she said, “Do you have grievances filed?” And I thought “grievances”, what are those? So off we went.
Off she goes into the other room which was loaded with young women and older women. I follow her over there I thought, well, she’s not going to convince all those people that they’ve got to go back to work. So she said the same thing and I jumped up again and they said, “We’re not going back to work.”
So anyway the long and short of it is the film crews were there from all the TV stations. In the Ambassador Hotel which was our meeting room, they had a phone booth – a literal phone booth inside the hotel. She said with all the cameras pointing from every TV station, “I’m going to call the company.” She goes into the phone booth, leaves the door open and she calls the company from this phone booth in the Ambassador Hotel and didn’t have a dime to put in the phone booth. So somebody had to give her a dime.
She calls up the divisional level manager who says to her, “We know who did this.” And I thought, “You know who did it because I was so open I didn’t know you couldn’t do this (why would I be afraid?)” “And we’re going to fire that person or people.” I mean there were several others from other offices and Catherine said to him in front of the cameras, “We’re not coming back to work if that’s your deal.” So they relinquished their opportunity to fire me. We then went back to work much to my dismay. But she said to me, “I want to talk to you privately, so go up to the union office and we’ll talk.” And after [that] I started my union career with Catherine as my mentor.
MJC: I’m sure she was thrilled to see you in some ways.
AC: I think yes. I think she was surprised that there was life in the audience. That somebody was trying to lead the crowd. But it was only because I had grown up with my brothers that I learned how to object and how to state my position and not cower to people of authority. I had no authority figures in my life so I really didn’t know what to do with them.
MJC: That was a tremendous change in your life and career. Were you conscious of it being a problem for women?
AC: Absolutely. We went into a grievance meeting, Catherine and I did later in the years, and we were fighting the way that they monitored and kept track of women and pressured them. And she said to the labor relations head from Wisconsin Bell, “Why do you do this to predominantly women in this job and hardly any men, because they would be moved right into the high paying plant jobs?” And the guy looked at her and I’ll never forget this he said, “We do it because we can.”
It was so stunning to me. It never occurred to me that we had the ability to stop this. And so from that point on, my whole life was dedicated to try to figure out how to educate women to know their worth, to assert themselves, to be aware of their lives so that they weren’t stepped on by people who do it just because they can.
MJC: When did you become aware that there was a larger movement of women outside of your local and your CWA institution.
AC: I sort of kept track of NOW in the Milwaukee area. I went to a couple meetings. I was not vocal at those meetings so I didn’t get involved. I just sat through them and listened.
MJC: Do you remember how you became aware that they even existed?
AC: I think through Catherine probably talking about it. Coalition of Labor Union Women started in 1974. We went to the founding conference in Chicago, which was hundreds and hundreds of union women saying we’re not going to accept just being at the highest a secretary or treasurer of unions, we want to get up into the leadership, because we think we could contribute and do a good job.
So we get to this conference and at this conference was Kay Clarenbach – the first time, I believe, that I met her. I went up to Catherine when she was standing next to Kay and said something about the girls from my local and Kay Clarenbach boomed out “GIRLS?!” I thought, “Oh this is bad!” She said, “We say women.” And from that point on in my life I have never had to be corrected, because it was so startling that I was so off on that.
MJC: What did you learn about the two Catherine’s – Katherine’s and their role in NOW at that point?
AC: I learned from Catherine that she had a significant role in Chicago NOW and the founding of NOW. She was not someone to talk about her own history much, but when she would be in meetings with others, she would always bring me into these very high powered meetings. I was in my twenties and a lot of the women sometimes were suspicious about what I was doing there. Not in a mean way, but just wondering who the heck is this and why is she always tagging along to these meetings? I learned so much from these powerful women.
I remember she had the dean of the law school down and she would have these meetings around her dining room table – just phenomenal. I met you through her, all of the Alverno College people that were founders of NOW and running the organization. And the one thing about the founding of CLUW, there was a consciousness raising movement and Catherine said I want you to do this favor for me. I want you to go down to this bookstore and UWM and I want you to sit through these consciousness raising sessions.
Now she didn’t present it to me like it was for me. It was an assignment from her for me to figure things out. I go down there and I ended up finding out about all of these different women and women’s political caucus and all of these women who were bonding together in this consciousness raising movement – phenomenal stuff. Through CLUW I met some women who were very powerful in their own unions but in the women’s movement as well. So it was a win win.
MJC: You remember any of those names?
AC: Joanne Rica was one. Patty Yunk was another. And the women who ended up being delegates to the IWY convention. Just a myriad of women from every walk of life. From academia to every aspect and just phenomenal, phenomenal women. I met the most phenomenal women in my growing up period and ‘getting aware’ period that I can not tell you. Just a blessing.
MJC: As one of Catherine Conroy’s mentees myself, I credit her and Kathryn Clarenbach with opening those same kind of doors for me. I’ll just make a comment about her, the quality of leadership that reaches down immediately to find the bright young girl or woman in the audience who has leadership potential and then to nurture it is an amazing quality. They both had that.
AC: She called us, the group with Joanne and Patty, the runny nose kids. She would have these meetings around her dining room table. We would meet all the time to discuss what was going on and what the latest thing was. And the IWY conference, when that was coming up in 1977, we had to go to Madison [and] sit through the election of the representative. We stayed up all night with Kay Clarenbach, Gene Boyer and Catherine, of course. And trying to figure out how we could balance this election so that we would have representatives from all aspects, which is what was required by the law from Bella Abzug.
We stayed up all night long to get these people elected. It was fascinating and then we presented it into this big forum with the Concerned Women of America and the Eagle Forum women. Just nutty people who lost on every count in Wisconsin and they had the majority of everybody there. We elected a wonderful squad of people and I ended up going to the IWY conference in Houston because of my CWA involvement on the CWA Women’s Committee. They sent the whole women’s committee to Houston. I was able to sit in the audience and observe the wonders of that conference. I don’t think [that] can ever be duplicated.
MJC: So those were two feminist tracks you were on in addition to your work. Were you an employee of the Union or were you still working for AT&T at this point?
AC: I still worked for AT&T. I worked there for 30 years. I retired in 2002, thirty years after I started. But most of the time I spent working with the union. The union on the local level would pay me. In 1996 I was offered a job on the national staff. That was a job that Catherine held.
MJC: You were hired as an operator and then eventually did you do any other job within the company except to go into the Union?
AC: While I was working with the union they didn’t want me as an operator because I couldn’t be scheduled as firmly as they needed people to be scheduled. So they moved me into a clerical position and I worked as a clerk but I really never learned the job so they would have me alphabetizing things and filing things when I did show up to the job.
MJC: For people not familiar with unions, describe how the contract allowed you to be if you could you briefly.
AC: The officers of unions were afforded so many days per year to be off on union business and when they were totally off on union business they were paid by the union, by dues and whatever they accumulated. When they met jointly with the company, the company paid their wages as long as they were still on the payroll. So it was a division of payment, which really kept people whole for their salary. Because I was a telephone operator it was not much to keep me employed by the union, so it worked out for everybody.
MJC: I think people who aren’t familiar with unions don’t really always understand the other benefit, in addition to the contract, is that you actually have people who are working for you every day on the job.
AC: Right, and within CWA, the Communications Workers, I was so vocal and often so brash. I can tell you that there were so many mistakes I made during that career, but I stood out among people because I was so vocal. I objected to policies that were so unfair. I objected to people who did not serve the members specifically. If you got a call, you returned the call. You serve the members just as you would in NOW or the Women’s Political Caucus or any other organization.
Because the National Union was often a little bit negligent, you get in the job, you stay and you get a little bored and you don’t do what you’re supposed to do: nobody’s servicing the members nobody’s paying attention. So often the company would threaten to fire me or sue me and I would call Catherine. She would call them up and say, “Well if you got to sue her, then sue her. I will tell you she’s going to have the full weight of the union behind her. They never ended up doing anything. Much like Trump who was always suing everyone.
MJC: That’s a good analogy in this case. You were very active in the CWA in doing your job and then some and in CLUW. Did you have other activities in CLUW? Did you start a chapter?
AC: We did and I was president of the chapter for a while. We kind of shared the responsibility. CLUW met yearly at a convention for a while and then they went to bi annual conventions but [with] very good leadership there – Addie Wyatt and Clara Day and others. CLUW was a little bit to the right initially when they were founded by Olga Madar who turned out to be their first president.
She was very convinced that she was still kind of in the McCarthy era of communists. So when any workers wanted their rights, they were always Socialist Worker Party members, in her mind. Of course they weren’t. So she was very threatened by all of that progression of worker’s rights. It always smacked of communism to her. So once we sort of moved on from Olga Madar in CLUW things got tremendously better. Just fun times and good leadership plus we were able to make friends with women from other labor unions around the Milwaukee area and the community. And it was so valuable to compare notes and talk about bargaining and strategy.
MJC: CWA, CLUW and NOW, we’re those the major organizations in which you contributed and participated in?
AC: Yes, and then the Wisconsin Women’s Network. I was there with Gene Boyer when she founded it. Catherine Conroy was there at the founding meeting. Actually Kay Clarenbach was there as well. And originally Gene Boyer wanted to call it the Feminist Action Network. Then she was convinced that Wisconsin Women’s Network was a less divisive name. We had a wonderful meeting of the activists – from the Jewish community to the Catholic activists. Just a conglomeration of everyone. I ended up as the co-chair and the chair of the Wisconsin Women’s Network at some point down the line. We did tremendous work on particularly child care legislation in Wisconsin and other things – just fun stuff.
MJC: I think at some point you decided to get your degree at Alverno college?
AC: Yes. I got to know sister Joelle Reed and sister Austin Doherty and the gang over there through Catherine. When they introduced the concept of weekend college, I had thought about it. I talked with Catherine a little bit and she said, “Well you should go.” And I hemmed and hawed and in a late way and a tardy way I decided I could go. Well when I called they were filled because they had such a swamping of students. Catherine called over to Joelle or Austin or someone over there and said I have someone who wants to go and she needs to get in and I think it was Austin who said “Well of course she can get in.” And she paved the way for me to do it.
I wasn’t late in terms of attending. I was late in terms of registration and they took care of that. I went to Alverno and met wonderful people when I went there from 1977 to 1981. As a matter of fact, when I went to the IWY conference, Austin put a little meeting together after I came back since it was during my first semester at school, to have me report, because she went too. I told her a quick story about sitting in the audience with a lot of the right wing people from Kansas and Oklahoma and there were two men telling a woman what she should do. Giving her instructions – go down there and do this, go down there and do that. And they were leaning over, they somehow suspected I was listening and so they started leaning over very closely and whispering to each other.
And when I got up for a break, I went over to them and tapped one on the shoulder and I said “I am so glad to see some gay men here”. And I kept right on walking. That was what I reported to Austin in that meeting and she laughed and the gang all laughed.
MJC: Who said feminists don’t have a sense of humor? So that’s just part of your women’s identification experience, having the Alverno experience.
AC: Yes, just a wonderful education. Very taxing for anyone who thought that they were going to get by with a song at Alverno. They were sadly mistaken. People were in tears! I met my future wife there in a wonderful environment and never suspected that would happen but was very happy to do that.
MJC: What are we missing in terms of women’s activism? You came out. You want to talk a little bit about that? Did you get active in the gay rights and lesbian rights movement or is that part of your lived reality and not a movement?
AC: I had a couple of very taxing experiences with it. My family was never troublesome. But I had the national officer from CWA who was my nemesis in CWA, and plus he was indicted and a crook. I did not like him at all. He went to a national meeting of his international staff and told people that I was a lesbian. This was at a time when I never disused it. I hadn’t come out. Of course, it was the talk of the town and the secretary treasurer of the National Organization repeated it. Barbara Easterling was her name.
She was single as well and I had already known that he accused her of being a lesbian. To the best of my knowledge and obviously it didn’t matter, but I don’t think she was a lesbian. When I called her to confront her about this because I was never going to let it rest, I said, “You’re aware that he has called you a lesbian as well?” It just stunned her, because this guy was her close buddy, And I said, “Well you know you should ask these people, who will tell you about what happened at the meeting.” So that was one incident. And then when I ran for vice president of the state AFL CIO, I was defeated soundly but among the other things, my opponent and the other officers who ultimately did win election put out that I was a lesbian and people could not vote for me because I was a lesbian.
MJC: Do you remember what year that was just to place it in time?
AC: I would say 1995. I went on staff for the international union and [it was] right after that. They had asked me to go on staff prior to my committing to the election. Even though they weren’t going to vote for me and I knew that I would lose because they were a majority vote and there was no chance, I decided that I was going to run anyway. So it was not a big surprise. And I said to the international, “I am going to wait and see what happens because I committed to run and so I’m going to run.”
MJC: Just to clarify, this is a state level position?
AC: State AFL CIO; and I was on the state AFL CIO board for a lot of years. Catherine was the first woman on the board and I was either the third or fourth woman on the board ever. It was important that they get women in leadership. They had had no women. Not even the secretary could be a woman in that organization at the state level.
Those were the two coming out experiences that were more career effecting. The rest is in my personal life. I have celebrated and helped along anything that would move in the direction of marriage equality and equal rights. And we’ll see what happens with the Supreme Court now.
MJC: Any other thoughts about the impact on your life of being an active feminist in addition to your job in public and politics etc..?
AC: It’s been just the most fun and the most rewarding. Knowing the people and the women that I’ve met has just been, it’s indescribable really. It’s just been so wonderful. I don’t regret a single thing in my life that I would change and go back and change because all of the stuff that I have been through and years of getting to know people and just having the blast of my life. I made so many friends and loved so many people as a result of living this life.
MJC: Would you call out any specific thing as your greatest achievement or your greatest disappointment?
AC: I like to think that my small achievements were always miracles. Anything that is an achievement on anyone’s part is a miracle. I think my biggest achievement is coming out of my youth and my family and my upbringing being fairly mentally healthy thanks to a good dose of therapy. And some good support system that I’ve always had from women in my life, no matter what age, even from very little on. I’ve always had women who have supported me. I had teachers that were supportive and befriended me above other students and supported me beyond description. I have been so lucky, Mary Jean. Just as lucky as you can be honestly. And so far so good.