THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
Carole De Saram
“I Will Never Go Back Again”
Interviewed by Penny Stoil, April 2018
PS: Carole De Saram, when did you first start to identify yourself as a feminist?
CD: Well I kind of thought about that and when I first started growing up I never even heard the word feminism. I started viewing it as to stand up for what’s right and wrong. And I remembered that at home my mother used to read a lot. We always had books in the house. And I was reading as a child about all these famous people who suffered and became the champions of causes – like Lincoln.
And I remembered in school there was a big thing in the New York City school system about boys not having to wear shirts and ties to school. The children in New York at that time for the most part were not wealthy and the clothes were pretty bad. The teacher said about speaking about something in the class – so I got up and I spoke about Abraham Lincoln growing up in a log cabin and wearing furs and becoming president of the United States and why can’t the children of New York wear to school what they want.
And all the kids start pounding on the desks with their little knuckles – this was about the third grade and teacher threw a fit. So needless to say I got a failing grade. But then I said – No I’m right.
And That Only Made Me Feel Stronger About Standing Up For What I Felt Was Right.
And that’s how I got into that – looking back in hindsight of course.
PS: Your very first protest was against Procter and Gamble in 1964. What offended you and what did you do?
CD: That was back when on television they showed the woman in an apron and how you began your day with cooking this and cooking that – and that was the perfect little life and the perfect little kitchen. They brought out an ad for Tide Soap powder with a woman with disheveled hair [who] spoke like a moron. I mean really bad. I mean this wasn’t even funny and I was so shocked that I actually wrote a letter to them. A full-page letter explaining why this was bad and also that I was switching to another product.
And as long as she continued – I may find that I like this other product better and not go back to Tide. Well I got a full-page letter back saying they had changed the ad – it is no longer that way. They apologized.
They Sent Me A Box Of Soap Powder.
But they also said that it was corrected and they were sorry. So obviously this went further than just my observation. But it also showed me the power of writing and standing up for what’s right. And I carried that forward.
PS: In 1970 you went to your first NOW meeting. How did that meeting change your life – if it did?
CD: It turned my whole life upside down for the better. I was working for the American Stock Exchange and we were automating the stock exchange floor. This was a whole new field with IBM. And one of the women said to me – oh look at this – The Wall Street Journal front page had a little blurb about this meeting being held by women. It was being held in the basement of a church on the Upper West Side about a march for equality – Strike for Equality.
I Always Felt This Wanting To Do Something
And so I figured – let me go – and I went. And I remember the reason for the basement in the church is none of the other places would rent to the women at that time. They considered them some kind of a communist conspiracy. So I went down there and it was chaos. I mean the place was filled up with women all by themselves. And this is what got me excited. And they were all talking about doing this march. I remember Jacqui Ceballos up on the stage. And there was a big fight – should they march or shouldn’t they. The mayor left town – he shrunk from the whole thing, it was down to one lane.
PS: Which Mayor was it at that time?
CD: John Lindsay. Mr. liberal left town on this one. So they decide we are marching. So I met up with two women that had just two weeks before, hung the banner – Women of the World Unite off the Statue of Liberty. So I met up with them and they said they were going around that day to hand out flyers and to go to businesses and tell them what they were doing wrong against women. So I linked up with them and we went to these places – they looked at us – what are you talking about? Now at that time organizing this march you have to remember there were no computers there were no cell phones. Television wasn’t really covering it. We would have been happy if 50 people showed up.
I’m Walking On Fifth Avenue and All of a Sudden I See Buses Coming and People Coming From All Over – Literally Thousands.
There was a bus from Connecticut with nurses where they used to wear their hats with the type of school they went to. Women with baby carriages – we went into Central Park – it was packed. And they made us line up on the lanes there over by the Plaza Hotel and the cops were there and they were angry. These were the Irish cops – that first of all women were not exactly on their list of – feminism they definitely were against that. So there was a stand there that the media was and they said – oh well women as usual late – they’re still late coming out at the park to march.
The reason we couldn’t march out of the park is the police wouldn’t let us out. Meanwhile the traffic and the intersection on Fifth Avenue by the Plaza Hotel came to a screeching halt. Because the police only had a few police there – they did not anticipate what later was said to be 30,000 people. Some numbers are a little higher. But I’ll settle with the 30,000. In front of us [were] some of the women who had experience marching in anti-Vietnam marches and we had the banner – Women of the World Unite. I think I had it hidden in my coat because we knew if the police saw it they would take it.
And I remember Jacqui – and they said start marching and don’t stop – the anti Vietnam women in front of us. And so now we started marching and we started pushing out and pushing out and pushing the cops too. And some women said they got hit by the cops with the nightsticks. Anyway we get to 5th Avenue and Jacqui said – start moving to the left and the right with the banner and don’t stop.
So We Started Chanting – Move On Over Or We’ll Move On Over On You.
And I remember there was a photographer down on the knee taking the picture – we just kept going. And we finally took over 5th Avenue screaming and yelling. At that time in New York people came off work about 5:00 o’clock out of offices by six o’clock they were out of the city. We’re now at 5 o’clock now because we were held up for two hours and the 5th Avenue started filling up with all the people pouring out of office buildings and they [were] just shocked. And the pictures – you can go back in the newspapers – their mouths are open, like what’s going on here.
And McGovern was running for president and his guys were not nice. They were yelling – “Gals go home!” and it was chaos. We started chanting and we took over 5th Avenue. And I remember walking down the avenue and I had this feeling of being liberated – I almost could cry now thinking about it. I thought, “Never ever go back again”.
Never Will I Ever Go Back To That.
So now we get down to the public library. 42nd Street. Now at 41st Street was supposed to [be a] turn and make a right to go into Bryant Park where everyone was speaking – Gloria Steinem – Bella Abzug and all feminists were speaking. And there across 5th avenue was a row of police horses with the policemen with their helmets down and riot sticks. I mean these big huge ones which they used on anti Vietnam marches to break up marches. And I looked at them and I remember the woman with the baby carriage and stroller. And I thought to myself – oh my God this is like the Doctor Zhivago the movie – at the Winter Palace.
And I said to myself – if I had to – would I march through this line for the cause. And at that moment – to make a decision. Thank God I didn’t have to make it because we made a right to go down 41st Street where we were supposed to go. But it was at that moment – I mean you could see the glare and the hatred. I think they were like shocked. They probably had to send out a notice for the police department to get them out on these horses because at 30,000 people on 5th Avenue, they didn’t know where they came from. We didn’t even know where they all came from.
So now we’re on 41st and I’m with the banner and they were doing construction on the side of the library up to the second level. I’m afraid of heights. How in the world I ever got up there with these women with this banner – I have no idea. All I know is I’m up there. We rolled out the banner again and the women coming by put their fists up in the air and were cheering.
And women told us later [that] when they saw the police they felt so bad and lack of spirit and felt they lost. And when they turned into 41st and saw the banner up there – Women of the World Unite with us up there with our fists. They said it was wonderful – it made their spirits soar. They felt like they were winning. And so we all went on to Bryant Park, heard the speeches and I went home on the subway.
I Vowed I Would Never Ever Go Back To The Way It Was And I Never Did.
PS: Well you had a very interesting background. How did you evolve from the background on Wall Street and banking and in business to become a leader of what was called Zap Actions. In fact I think you were called General Zap. And I’d like to mention four different things that you were involved in. Could you explain each one of them and what you did and how it happened? The American Stock Exchange shut down. Could you talk about that day?
CD: Because I worked in Smith Barney – American Stock Exchange – in a field they did not know what we did in computers. All they knew was we had hired IBM – Wall Street was the last to automate by the way.
They Wanted Control And They Didn’t Want To Give It Up To A Machine.
And because of that in programming, thinking logically you had to plot everything out from the first moment to the last. And it had to balance so you thought through the steps of everything logically. This is hindsight of course – but that was my way of thinking. I was offered a job at one place at what they call an arbitrage system. And they told me don’t even bother to be interviewed. The job is yours. Here’s the salary and they called me up and apologized because the man in the department did not want a woman.
And here the company needed this. There were only a few people on Wall Street that could do an arbitrage system. It wound up the president of the company called me up – Weeden & Co. but I couldn’t go against it because I knew I’d never work again. So now I was fired up – how to bring this to everybody’s attention in my naiveté. So I remember walking into the NOW office and it was up in the air and they were going to do another march and Jacqui Ceballos was there and I walked in I asked – what can I do?
She said – Well this is an employment meeting and why don’t you go in there. So I went in there and they were trying to think of – should they stand in front of a building handing out flyers.
And I Said – I Know How To Make Attention.
Because the things I was working on were the stock exchange and the ticker. We had to figure out how to stop it – because the guys used to write happy birthday on it or something. So I said I know how to do that. So I told them what we could do and a few of these other little things. It was fun plotting it but now carrying it out – that was another matter. So they said oh no – in two days we’re going to be down there.
So it was Grace Welsh. We went to her apartment with this muslin material – laid it on the floor and I had gone into the stock exchange and measured the windows – because Abbie Hoffman had thrown down dollar bills one year and disrupted the floor. So now they put windows up there. So I measured each one we made a letter on this material. Woman Power – and then we folded it up in front of me and tied it to me and we practiced for me standing on one side of the room and the women grabbing and running it across and pushing it up like a window.
I Went Down To The Stock Exchange And I Registered As The Garden Club.
Because you had to register because they were worried about anti-Vietnam people. So now we send out this flyer – I came up with the word Zap – meaning we were going to zap them. And they had people calling me up from the TV and radio and I said no I can’t tell you [what we are planning] you’re just going to have to meet us in front of Trinity Church. And they even had the top of the news media calling me. Well again it’s one thing to think these things up, but it’s another thing to do [them].
I came out of that subway – I was terrified. I was so thin and my knees were knocking and I had to wear this spring coat, and underneath there was this banner tied to me. Now they had to go through the cemetery to get to the American Stock Exchange. Carrying these big cameras in those days and these were these big burly union guys. So I go in and I say – I’m with the garden club and the man says yes go right up. So we go upstairs we ask the tourists please step back. I go to the end we take the banner and shove it up against the glass.
Well The Floor Went Berserk – I Knew They Would.
They started booing and screaming. The guards tore it down and we shoved it up again. Now the guards are cheering. So it’s happening – they’re not trading – at least the guys that put it in – were not putting it into the system. The ticker’s not moving. So that’s how we stopped that. They got into a fistfight with the guards.
So now we go out, we traipse over to the Treasury steps. We took over the Treasury steps. And I was putting some papers together last month for Smith College – I noticed that the photos taken by the Daily News front page – literally all the offices emptied out into Wall Street and there were thousands of people shoulder to shoulder. And the men – even to the extent of having their feet up on steps of the Treasury. That’s how many filled up the street to see them.
Who are they? These women or girls. That was what the Daily News called us – girls – and they showed us with the banner. Then we took it over to Tom Brown’s Bar and sung, “It ain’t what it used to be” – and told them they had to open up because we had nailed to the front door a new law saying they could not discriminate against women. And so the guy said – serve them, it will be fun. So anyway we sung – “Roll Out the barrel”. So then we marched out of there.
The following year we did Citibank and I’ll tell you about that later. But that’s how we got involved in that. But the amount of consciousness raised and that came out of it. But the point was to the press is to have four short sentences. Why are we doing this? And the reason was to show that women were not hired in top positions in Wall Street other than secretaries and clerks. And the salaries were – if God forbid you got a job – the males earned sometimes 50 percent more than you did. So we used those sound bites to tell why we did this and that was the reason for this and the fact that restaurants and bars were not required to serve you because you were a woman.
PS: The Statue of Liberty. What did you do out there?
CD: The second time we took the banner up there – and that was before the Citibank event – and we took it over to the Statue of Liberty and we went up there and we tried to put it out again like the first time they did – Women of the World Unite. But this time it was Woman Power. And one of the guards interestingly enough went over the ledge to go after one of the women. And had he pulled the banner she probably would have fallen off. Thank god one of the other guards yelled – NO. The last thing we needed was a martyr – it would have been terrible.
But interestingly enough…they took photos of that. Someone had a camera somewhere. And one time I was there as a tourist and they had it as what the United States stands for. And it showed us out there with the women power banner and cheering on but unfortunately there are no copies because someone came and burned the second floor of the Statue of Liberty one year and all those records were destroyed.
But what we did after that is one of the things – because now I worked for Chemical Bank and knowing there that again there’s no female officers and you could not even get credit. There’s no way you could get a loan on anything unless you had your father’s signature or your husband’s signature. Or a credit card was given as Mrs. Brownsmith. But never in your name.
Citibank advertised they were going to open accounts for anyone – for under five dollars. This was to get you to open accounts so we all opened accounts for two dollars. And so we posed as customers in the branch – we picked the one on Park Avenue because it was open. The main one on Wall Street was dark and we had to worry about safety. So I go in and I walk up and I said I’d like to talk to a female vice president. Of course they didn’t have one. And so they knew because the press had put it all out all week we were going to raid some bank. So they went on the phone – they said – they’re here.
This Was Like A Hollywood Setting.
In the back was a row of elevators on Park Avenue. The elevator opens up and out he walks with this pencil mustache and a lackey on each side – down the center of this branch and he says can I help you. And I say – well female vice presidents – you don’t have one. Well meanwhile all the women were posted around the bank filling out deposit slips – they’re in line. And you know those days we all wore dresses, and they all looked nice.
And they turned to each other and said – Did you hear that? And they said what? Citibank discriminates against women. They have no female vice presidents. Oh that’s terrible. I’m closing out my account and another woman on the other side – I’m closing out my account.
All Over The Bank Women Are Screaming – I’m Closing Out My Account.
They shut the doors. They wouldn’t let their own customers in at the bank. So then they said we had to get in line and the tellers were laughing and they said – would you like this in coins or bills? By the way we took the banners outside. We demonstrated. They took that skit and used it in the movie – Stand Up and Be Counted or something. Charlton Heston taking place in Chicago on mortgages.
PS: Of all people!
CD: And they did this – they took the whole thing. But within months – they got rid of the word girls – women – deposits – and then they started using this and for advertising and using our statements. Giving credit where credit is due and etc. And they started doing this whole campaign – by the second year they had all over the banks how they loved women and they would open accounts. But one of the fun things that came out of this – how we dreamed these things up – is we decided one time having an argument – well they’re the culprits – they’re the wrong ones – why are they accusing us? And we said let’s do a 10 Most Wanted. They are the criminals not us.
We Did The 10 Most Wanted FBI Poster And Called It The Feminist Bureau of Investigation.
Thank God I put a little asterisk at the bottom as a Feminist Bureau of Investigation. And then we went and got all their photos and we put them in under their names – the numbers were their private phone numbers because what happened we had a woman who worked for the American Bank which she says – Oh we just took all the CEOs of the corporations, especially the banks and the pictures last week for our annual —- and she says, “Well come by”.
We drove up in my little beetle at 6 o’clock at night out comes…a guy and hands us a package of the photos they just took that week. And so here we use their photos, the private phone numbers and we put it for crimes against women. They are known to hang out in private clubs and athletic clubs and they are known to discriminate against you because you’re a woman and we did the text of an FBI poster and proceed[ed] with caution.
Well we went down to Wall Street to put them out at night and paste them up and we practiced with a four-door car. We got the glue that for the anti-Vietnam people showed us how to make this glue – you put it on posters. We practiced and we got wigs and we put mud on the license plates – we went down there. I’m in front of Trinity Church with the bucket of my posters and the cops were there because people were blowing up the banks and it was really barer at times. And they yelled stop.
I run down the subway steps and I think they were rough – then I could get shot. So I come back out with my bucket and they said – oh you’re a cleaning lady, you can go back. I can’t believe this. I stood there and I said I’m not a cleaning lady. I’m a feminist and we’re here – I went through my whole thing – out of our mind. But we did it. So they looked at me like you’ve got to be kidding. So I gave them a lecture on why their wife doesn’t have a job. But he says OK get out of here.
So we went around. But then we had to stop because the police were trailing us [like] we were prostitutes. And then the next day we got up in the morning [and] we marched. Well all I found out – my mother worked down Wall Street – she said that all over everybody was talking about them. And then what happened is the women in Washington D.C. used the same thing. And one of these congressmen that was part of the John Birch Society sent my name into the Justice Department and wanted me arrested for sedition. And the Justice Department to the FBI said they didn’t think it was a good idea.
But the bad thing about [it] in some ways is I asked for my FBI files and they said they had nothing on me. I only found out about it in the FBI file in the 80s when some newspaper in California called me up about it. And I said where did you get it. They said they asked for something else and they showed me. And there was the Justice Department discussing with them why they should not have me arrested.
The First United Nations Interational Women’s Conference
PS: Very interesting. Well then you went into national law if that were not enough. In Mexico City they were having the United Nations International Women’s Conference. You were there with some other subversive women. Could you tell us more about that?
CD: The Red Stockings went and I was talking to them because all the groups – we work together. And I’ll explain about the chapter later about working with different groups. But I went down there and I was working at the bank and I was an officer and also the movement had changed. Doing these zap actions no longer or everybody was bored out of their minds. And you made your point and you had to know when to move on.
So I went down there and Betty Friedan had gone down there and Jacqui Ceballos and a whole bunch of us. But there was a big controversy about this whole international women’s year. And reading about it basically Echeverria – the president of Mexico wanted to become the next secretary general of the United Nations. So he had to show the world his anti American stance. And so that’s what he did. And most of the nations at that time, for one reason or another did not feel favorable towards the United States.
So on that side of Mexico they had the United Nations session of all these countries together. So Nelson Rockefeller paid to get where the medical center was – in Mexico City, which was a huge place with huge auditoriums for International Women’s Year. So we went down there and the hostility shown to us as American women was incredible. It’s one thing in America to say one thing – but when you leave America and say it outside – it’s a whole different situation.
And so when we had sessions or anything they’d be booing us – anything that was said by any of the women or whether they are black or white or Hispanic – Americans were booed. And I was just one of thousands. I mean we were just nobodies in this whole thing. Betty [Friedan] was threatened. Bettye Lane was the photographer, mostly for the feminist movement. And she said to me – tomorrow the embassy is having Pat Hutar and Kevin (I forget his last name – for the aide to undeveloped countries, which was really an arm of the CIA).
And the New York Times had called me on this and said to me – are you aware that Betty Ford cannot speak at the Embassy because Kissinger did not want her to go. And Ford was furious. Instead, they are sending Pat Hutar and she told me who she was. So I get up in the morning and go across the street to the Embassy, which is all open except with those special bars they all have. And there were all of these women that I had met on the plane coming down there from different states. And I said – where are you from – Oh I’m sent by my governor, etc. But they weren’t feminists and they were all sitting there and I’m in the back freezing.
And all of a sudden out walks this Pat Hutar – she looked like a Barbie doll with the hair dew – the pearls – and I flipped. I said you have no right to represent American women – Betty Ford should be here – you’re the CIA – you’re this and that. All hell broke loose. But the Marines that guard the embassies came running down. Bettye Lane – four days before she died in the hospital – told me they had bayonets pointed at us. Honestly I don’t remember the bayonets. I do remember guns pointed at us. So then they brought in all the representatives and they were standing up and one of the men said he worked for human something of an agency of our government for the sterilization of women. I mean this is who was representing us.
Bring Back Consciousness Raising
Now we go back to the sessions. So now we had a little more – smiles are towards our way a little bit. But still, it was still bad. So finally I said to Betty and Jacqui Ceballos, why don’t we get together and do a consciousness raising like we do with other women and get a room with some of these women. We called it East Meets West. And there was Betty, myself and a woman from China. So we had about 50 women came together and some of the workers there volunteered to do the translations. And right away they started in – well you have too much land – you have this and all negative – negative.
And so I thought, why not do consciousness raising. And so I started talking and then the women started changing. Because now they didn’t have – by the way all the women had male partners up to that point. So one woman from China told us how she had drowned her baby girl because they didn’t want girls. And if you had the baby you drowned it. And as you drowned it you said in Chinese a prayer and a little piece of wood you made into some symbol as you drowned the baby.
Well the whole room came down and all of a sudden the women start looking at each other and we said, we’re women – we’re not political – it’s not political – it’s not males – we are women. And then all of a sudden the whole room opened up and the women started to go back and forth talking. I found out later this picture of us was put in a magazine and it was in China – printed in China in a national magazine in China of us sitting up there – with the Chinese woman, myself, Betty Friedan and Jacqui Ceballos.
But that was the impression we made and out of it came the front page of the New York Times Sunday section about us shutting down the embassy.
My mother had a stroke; she didn’t think I was going to come home. I thought I was going to get fired. Nothing happened. No one wrote about it. I looked it up in the New York Times index that year it was not listed. It was not listed at all. Now I think it is but it wasn’t then. These are the things that just spontaneously happened because you were surrounded by women – all kinds of women – all kinds of problems – all kinds of ages – economic – social whatever but underneath it,as someone said – you scratch underneath – I think Betty Friedan said that – you find a woman. And that’s what happened.
PS: In 1974, you became a two term president of NOW New York. What were the issues of greatest concern at that time?
CD: The greatest concern at that time was I believe reading the newspapers from when we first hit the newspaper because of the march, to 1972. Everything was happening drastically, all over. Changes, radical changes. Then in ‘72 we started sensing things were hostile or opposition even within the women’s movement. By ‘74 it was peaking. In hindsight I feel what was happening – the powers that be called their think tanks in – nationally – government – internationally – they did not need this around the world – to put an end to it. And partially by doing this is to disrupt.
And we had all different levels of disruption. And working in Wall Street, in my environment where I worked mostly only with males and everything in a logical approach to things, looking at these things [they] were not logical. There was definitely something wrong. But some good was coming out of it too, because we started having all kinds of committees and dealing with abortion, sexuality and such like that. But having people coming in disrupting – we either had the ultra left who thought we were the bourgeoisie and should be gone – anti gays – government.
We Later Found Out The FBI Did Infiltrate.
In fact we had a joke because nobody wanted to take minutes or be secretary and I said look if you were in the audience do us a favor and take the darn minutes and give us a copy. So I had to deal with that. Our meetings, looking back just recently, we had sometimes six meetings a day, seven days a week, 30 days a month. That is how the movement was – but it was holding all these personalities together to have these committee meetings and to have it flow [so] we didn’t have disruptions.
And finally one of the ways I ended some of it was talking to Nancy Borman and Joanne Steele and Majority Report and some of the other groups. I said look why don’t we just lay it all out on the table. Has the FBI – CIA infiltrated the women’s movement? So I got [Carol DeMeo?] and certain people to represent certain groups – radical groups. And I made the rules – because by that time I know all about it – how these people disrupted meetings.
And so I stood up and I said each speaker up there will speak five minutes or less and they will answer all your questions even if we have to stay here at 3 o’clock in the morning. But you have to let every speaker speak. And then I’ll open up the floor – because part of the disruption tactics was to interrupt the first speaker and you never got to the last speaker. Then I said – I will call four of you who will stand here. So I didn’t have to go here – and everybody’s screaming – you didn’t pick her you picked me. And then I said you have to direct your question to one of the speakers. So I tried to avoid people getting up and making speeches.
And then I said everybody will get a chance to ask a question and then we’ll do it a second time and a third time until everybody has no more questions. We’ll stay here until the morning. I turned the audience into being my watchdog – because if somebody got up and started making a speech they yelled – sit down – you only have four minutes – you got to ask a question. So my audience became my backup.
So we went through it and you know what happened after that – I had peace. I had a few of the usual – but that other insanity that used to be – oh and by the way the elevator didn’t work that day. This is what we did all the time. So they had everybody trudge up – but this is what happened. And so that’s how we calmed that down. By that time everything matured to a point where we had people really doing fantastic things.
There was Midge Kovaks doing her campaign – Stand Up. Hire Him He’s Got Great Legs. We had people going and doing speeches before government – making changes at EEOC – recognizing lesbianism – all of these things started really becoming success stories at that time in ‘74.
PS: And what would you say were your most important achievements during that time? Was there anything particular that stood out?
CD: Because of my experience of working in Wall Street and working for a bank and knowing how they did credit reporting – I found out that women did not have credit. You could not buy a house – you could not get a credit card in your name. It didn’t matter what your salary was – it had to be in your husband’s name. And I testified before the Banking Commission against Arthur Burns of the Reserve Bank and to the members of the Banking Committee of Congress on what it meant. What it meant is that 52 percent of your population had no investment in the system here. They had no means of wealth.
If they were really wealthy, which was like 2 percent of the population, it still was managed by a bank. And by that – it meant the poverty level was horrific. But one case came up that really brought it to the top. I got a call from a man who says I work for Con Edison and I dig ditches – and this is the way he talked – I dig ditches and they think my wife, what the heck, she’s a broad, I went down to get a mortgage at a bank because her salary and my salary we could get a mortgage. HUD wouldn’t give them the mortgage.
In those days two people who worked in a post office – we’re talking minimum income here – post office and things like that – two incomes could afford a house then under a HUD mortgage. And they went to the bank in Flushing Queens – he was told she still could become pregnant. He said what are you talking about. Well even [after] vasectomy it doesn’t matter – insinuating she could be pregnant by another man. Well he went ballistic and everybody he went to – his union at Con Edison – nobody would help them.
He says I’m calling you girls. I called up Barbra Shack at New York Civil Liberties – she says you know he’s kind of rough. I say but don’t you get it? He’s one of theirs. He’s perfect. He’s one of theirs. They don’t listen to us. He’s one of theirs. TV got hold of him. And by that time he calmed himself down. They loved him on the TV programs they were considering keeping him on one – the women in the audience loved him because they all related to him.
HUD went ballistic when everybody found out about the sterilization – proof of sterilization. [Within] thirty days they eliminated that law. But it took him from Con Edison to do it. We could have been down at Congress and even now forget about it.
PS: You were named the New York City Commissioner of the Treasury. Who was the mayor at that time?
PS: Mayor Koch – in that position how were you able to affect women’s financial rights?
CD: Well this goes to show you and this was 1980 – 81 or so.
Some Things Change – and Some Things Never Change.
The higher you go up, the worse it gets. They were willing now to give women credit. They figured out fifty two percent of the population [were] women. This is good business. I mean how could a department store not want women and so now that’s OK. Now they got rid of this. They opened up jobs. But when you get up really into – and even today you can look at the very highest positions there and still we don’t have women there. But it was the subtleties within the city government – my so-called liberal city government Koch – they were the worst. And it was hard.
I hired in my department, women – my assistant was a woman. I hired gay people – that threw them in a tizzy. And I hired them on their merits. I wasn’t hiring them because – and they made our lives miserable. It was not easy.
PS: Looking back, what were your most memorable experiences in the woman’s movement and to whom in that movement do you owe special thanks?
CD: I first have to say I owe special thanks to all the women – because there’s no way I could have done these things without them. That goes to all women. But individually looking at certain women who were there and helping – I have to say Jacqui Ceballos, Betty Friedan, Denise Fuge and there were quite a lot of women. In the VFA I know different women that I work with and I now look towards. But back then it was basically – like Linda Stein now and Barbara Love these are the women – Muriel Fox. And these are the women now that have come out of the movement back then. But we’re on a different level now reaching out on the big global picture.
PS: How do your husband and two children support your life long fight for women’s equality?
CD: Well my son and daughter are quiet. But my grandchildren – they are little warriors. They go out and they are little fighters. They stand up for what’s right. Two of them stood up because they felt that some children in the school were being picked on. Others, they do various things. One of them now – they took in a little child that my son who was working – that was basically abandoned and in Florida the system is so overwhelmed and he had so many medical issues. Anyway they have this child in their family now and it’s their brother as far as they’re concerned. But they took these values and they go out and they stand up for what’s right in classrooms. They don’t fight or do anything like that. But they stand up and speak for what’s right.
Always Stand Up for What Is Right
PS: Well I want to say about those that you’re a particularly lucky woman. You have five granddaughters. And as a member of the board of the VFA what do you say to your five girls about their role as future feminists?
CD: Well basically to stand up for what’s right. You don’t have to stand up verbally at the moment and place but not just be a passive participant in it. You can do it many different ways – of going to someone above you , or writing about it, or joining a group to do something about it. And that’s what they do. I’m trying to think one of them what she did here – one of her schools – she went up to the school and told them – I’m thinking to the principal’s office that what was happening to some of the children wasn’t right.
They don’t do it as a cause – they just do it because it’s the right thing and that’s what I feel is good. It’s not like they’re told to do it. They just feel this is the right thing to do. And each one of them has so far you know has been out there and standing up for what’s right.
PS: Well that’s your legacy and it must give you great satisfaction.