THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
“It’s an Awesome Moment, Talking to Someone Who Can Make a Difference.”
Interviewed by Carol King, March 2019
BL: I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in March of 1943.
CK: And what’s your family background your ethnicity?
BL: Primarily Irish and German. My mother was a stay at home mom. My father was the breadwinner. I’m the oldest of four children. I have a sister who’s two years younger than I am, a brother who’s five years younger than I am and a baby sister who is 14 years younger than I am.
CK: What was your life like before you got involved in the women’s movement?
BL: Before I got involved in the women’s movement I had just finished a Dietetic Internship at Cook County Hospital. That’s where I met my husband. He was in the Navy for two years. He came back and we got married and I started to raise my family. But while I was in Chicago, we lived in our apartment and I met a woman who lived down the hall from us and she introduced me to my first consciousness-raising group. That was a big awakening for me. I loved every minute of it. When we moved to Michigan we lived in a small town. I got involved with the Berrien County Chapter of NOW and then met more people on the state level and became more involved through being involved with Berrien County.
CK: What year was that?
BL: 1974 -1975.
CK: What was your involvement and what were you active in – in the women’s movement?
BL: This is as everyone knows, this is at the heart of trying to ratify the ERA so most of the chapter involvement that I was working on, I would get calls from the state office the Legislative Coordinator at the time to send out phone tree messages to reach people to contact legislators to see what their vote was going to be for ratification of the ERA.
CK: You worked on other issues as well right?
BL: We were involved with anything that had to do with women. We were involved with The Homemakers Bill of Rights. I think they were the ones that I primarily remember at the time. But the big push was the ERA.
CK: What were your major accomplishments personally that you were involved with?
BL: When I was Legislative Coordinator, I made an effort to go around to every chapter to make sure that the people in every chapter knew what was happening on a state level as far as legislation was concerned. And when I was president of Michigan NOW we started our first what we called the 20 – 200 Club. We were trying to get 200 members to contribute 20 dollars a month to create a PAC.
We ended up at one particular wonderful point in time, anywhere between 30 and 50 thousand dollars. And we started to have a big impact on who was going to be in the legislature because they wanted some of that PAC money. And we found that to be a heady, wonderful, marvelous experience. We couldn’t believe that they were coming to us and asking us for money. We loved every minute of it. It was great.
CK: I seem to remember some of that. And you also worked very closely with the NOW lobbyist.
BL: Yes, Sue Wagner ended up being a wonderful friend of mine and still remains a wonderful friend and is almost like a member of the family. Sue brought together and did some unbelievable things when she was the NOW lobbyist. I remember once that she had called all of us and said – I want to get all of these pro-choice activists in a room together. We thought that was a great idea and we were thrilled that she was going to make those phone calls and make those contacts. We later found out that she had invited the “anti’s” to come too.
This is the first time that a lot of these people had seen each other face to face and were sitting down in a room that they couldn’t get out of. We had a good exchange of ideas and no one left feeling put down or put out or left behind. I think everybody felt as though they were heard and to me that was a wonderful accomplishment that we did as women and as feminists and to begin to guide that. We saw a brief moment of some groups coming together and it was really good.
CK: I seem to remember Barbara when you were the legislative vice president you organized a method of communication from a lobbyist to every chapter and you did a newsletter.
BL: Sue and I decided that because both of us really thought most of the things that were going to happen were going to happen politically. We knew that we had to get the word out to these folks and how are we going to do it most efficiently. The first thing we did was contact the chapter president and said who would be the most reasonable person to reach out to in your chapter so that we could set up phone trees, and would this be something that they would respond to? And she said yes it would be. It would be great. They were all very cooperative in giving us names.
Some chapters were much bigger than others like the Ann Arbor chapter we’re given two or three names because they had hundreds of members at it and I don’t know how active they were on a daily basis, but they certainly would have been happy to make a phone call. That that was extremely important. And we never realized how many people we were touching and reaching out to till we got the feedback – this is this is a good idea. This is working.
CK: So, you had contacts in each chapter, and you would direct those contacts?
BL: Then we would ask the contacts if they would set up a phone tree. How would you set it up – and whom would you contact – for branch A, branch B, branch C and branch D. And they came up with some really good ideas. All Sue and I had to do was make the original phone call and then all these people would do their part of the job and it would all come together.
CK: And what you would ask them to do would be to contact their legislator?
BL: Yes, or to see if something should be in the newspaper. Or if something could be in a local newspaper, if something could be put on a billboard, if we could put a sign on a laundromat window or a laundromat door. We weren’t particular. We would take all the help we could get. And it worked. It was it was great. It worked out really well. Personally, being part of the movement has made me a much more confident person. To be able to go up and talk to a legislator can be very intimidating. I remember when Sue and I lobbied the Lieutenant Governor and he was anti-choice, and we thought – what could we ever possibly say to change his mind?
We asked him how he would feel about questions like this, if it was his daughter or his niece or his granddaughter. And I don’t think he ever really thought about it before on a personal level. And what would you do with that compilation of facts – can you internalize that and realize what that means to women and to their families? I don’t know if he changed his mind, but he certainly listened. We had over an hour of his time and it was a very awesome moment to be there and knowing that you were talking to someone who could really make a difference.