THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
“In some ways that was my clicking moment that the Montana State Legislature said you don’t think I’m equal.”
Interviewed by Judith Waxman, September 2020
JW: When and where were you born and give me your full name.
JH: Joanne Massey Howes. I was born in West Hartford, Connecticut in January 1944.
JW: When did you first learn about the women’s movement?
JH: I remember in college my senior year people were reading The Feminine Mystique. I don’t remember that I read it, but people were reading it and talking about it. My next recollection really wasn’t until 1970: I was working in Washington, D.C. in an administrative assistant capacity. Over in Farragut North Park, there was a demonstration or gathering of women that had to do with the women’s movement. I didn’t even go, but I remember hearing about it.
Fast forward slightly, I got married in 1971, I moved to Montana. I got involved with the McGovern campaign. I was always interested in politics: I was a government major in college, I was the president of young Democrats at my small Catholic school. I was always interested in politics. We got involved in the McGovern campaign, I met this group of fabulous women in the campaign. Robin Morgan actually came to the campus of Montana State University – we all went to hear her.
After the campaign and McGovern lost, I said, “So now what are we going to do?” They said, “We’re going to reform the abortion laws.” And I said, “That sounds like a good thing to do.” I clearly remember I was sitting at a desk getting signatures in the Student Union of Montana State University in January 1973, when somebody came running into the student union saying Roe had happened. It was the sense of, well now we’re done with that, because the Supreme Court has solved this problem, which is pretty ironic where we are today.
Then we said, we don’t have to do that anymore, but right at that same time the Montana state legislature was considering the Equal Rights Amendment. Forty out of fifty of the state senators were co-sponsors of the amendment. When the vote happened, it was defeated 26 to 24. In some ways that was my clicking moment that said you don’t think I’m equal. I think until that time it was really the camaraderie of the women and my progressive instincts, but when did I understand the discrimination aspects and the feminists? I always think of as my clicking moment when the Montana state legislature said that. That was my history of how I got to then, eventually, have women’s politics become my career.
JW: Were there earlier influences like in your family that got you to your progressive instinct?
JH: I was raised in an Irish Catholic family. My family was rabidly for John F. Kennedy. In 1956, with my uncle, we were down at our cottage. We didn’t have television; we were listening on the radio to the roll call vote for John Kennedy when he was running for vice president. My uncle had this thing of states: Alabama has so many delegates and how they were going to go and if he was going to win, how many. We were listening to it like it was a ball game. My family really wasn’t politically active, they were Democrats, but they were rabidly for John F. Kennedy. Growing up in a Catholic environment, the feminism involved was counter to the culture of the Catholic Church.
JW: That was the question I was going to ask you. But you were out on your own trying to get abortion legalized, even though your family may or may not have been so hot about that?
JH: No, they would not have been hot about it at all. I got married in ’71 to a person who had been married before in the Catholic Church. We couldn’t get married in the Catholic Church unless he got his first marriage annulled, [which] would have taken a year and a half, and that was my clicking moment when I got rid of the Catholic Church, because it just made no sense to me. All the things that have happened within the Catholic Church since 1971 have reinforced that decision. As an institution, it didn’t make any reasonable sense to me that I could marry this guy in a year and a half, but I couldn’t marry him today.
We started a chapter of the Women’s Political Caucus in Montana. The first meeting in Houston was also in 1973. There was one woman who was a delegate to that convention in Houston. We formed a chapter and I was back in D.C. before I moved back once and I went into the Women’s Political Caucus office. I met this woman, Jane Pearson, who was the field director at the time, who became the executive director. So, when I came back to Washington, I wanted to do some work in the women’s movement.
Now I was committed to [the movement] and nothing I did in Bozeman, Montana, was I paid for, but now I wanted the job and I wanted to get paid for it. So, I wrote letters to everybody via typewriter and a woman, Arvonne Fraiser, she responded. She called me on the phone and told me to come over and visit with her that afternoon. Arvonne Fraiser is a generation older than I was, I think, or almost. She was a very well-known person in the field of the women’s movement at that time.
It was extraordinary to me that she called me up and asked me to come over and visit with her, which I did. She was on the board of the National Women’s Education Fund. The 501(c)(3) kind of attached to the National Women’s Political Caucus and its job was to train women to run for office. At this point, it was bipartisan. As a c3, it was nonideological. That’s actually what I did first – I went and worked with the National Women’s Education Fund.
There were two women there who are also very important in this whole era; one was Betsy Wright and the other is a woman named Betsy Griffith. Betsy Wright went on to become Bill Clinton’s chief of staff when he was governor of Arkansas. Betsy Griffith is a renowned historian. Particularly, she’s written one of the best biographies of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I was just kind of an administrative type person, but I went from there, shortly after, to the National Women’s Political Caucus and there I met Millie Jeffrey, who became my mentor.
Millie Jeffrey was probably 20 years older than I was, and she had been Walter Reuther’s right-hand person at the United Auto Workers. But she was a political genius and I was under her tutelage. That’s where I learned a lot. I stayed at the Women’s Political Caucus through 1977. One of the important things that we did then was through the Democratic Party we changed the rules at the Democratic Convention to require that men and women be equally divided in terms of the delegates. It was a fascinating political struggle, and I learned so much about how to make things happen, how change works under the tutelage of Millie.
It really had a very dramatic effect for women in politics, this change. Most people don’t pay any attention to the Democratic Party rules or understand how they could work to enhance women in politics. But it meant then that women had this entrée into the political arena, because half of the delegates had to be women and it set the stage not only for more women getting involved in politics, but it also set the stage for the idea put in 1983 that we should have a woman vice president on the ticket.
The fact that half of these delegates were going to be women was part of the equation as Walter Mondale was weighing what he was going to do. That was a Washington insider game that was going on, but I think [it] had a major effect on women in politics. I learned so much about how change actually can happen when doing something like that, even though it was kind of below most people’s radar.
JW: So, you were with the National Political Caucus through ’77? You mentioned the first Houston event, did you go to the second one? The one in ’77…?
JH: The one I meant in ’73 was just the formation of the Women’s Political Caucus. But yes, I went to the conference in Houston. By that time, I was working for Barbara Mikulski. I was chairing what was called the Democratic Task Force of the National Women’s Political Caucus, which was a volunteer job. I went there as an organizer; there was a very good effort to make sure that the document that had all the important principles around all the issues that we care about, would pass.
There were delegates elected from across the country to come to this thing. It was another time that we saw what was going on in terms of the organizing of conservative women in our country, and there were many states where they had these state meetings to pick the delegates. We saw then that many of these delegations, particularly out in the Rocky Mountains, were sending these conservative delegates; the same type of people that were opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment, etc.
They were using that as a platform to organize, so we had to make sure that we were organized in Houston to make sure that this document that had been crafted was enacted. But it was passed. All ten, I think there were ten planks in it, and the last plank had to do with equal treatment around the issues around sexual preference and gender and all that. There was a fear that that plank would have been defeated, but it was not, it was passed, as was the whole document.
JW: There’s a lot of talk right at this moment about the TV show Mrs. America, which gave Phyllis Schlafly really most of the credit for defeating the ERA. Did you feel her presence? I know she wasn’t physically at your meeting.
JH: During this period of time, very much so. I believe Schlafly was the face of the anti-ERA, anti-feminist movement. She was pretty much the face and as far as I knew opposers followed her direction.
JW: You were working for Barbara Mikulski when you went there. Tell us about Barbara Mikulski and what your job was.
JH: I was a legislative assistant and it was a great job. I learned so much from Barbara. She was a social worker by training; she was an organizer by instinct. In a place that at this point in time had very few women in Congress and very few women like Barbara Mikulski in Congress. She from the beginning was a person who knew how to get things done, how to organize, how to build bridges with different constituencies. I learned a lot about organizing as a way for political success both from Barbara and from Millie, although I don’t always keep this lesson – the idea that there are no permanent enemies or permanent friends in politics. I’m not sure that’s true anymore but back in the day, it was true.
During the time I was working ’77-’79, Jimmy Carter was the president. It was heady in the sense that you got to go to the White House, you got to do things and I didn’t realize it at the time, I was a relatively young staffer and it had nothing to do with me, it had to do with that I worked for a member of Congress. And the same was true, there were all kinds of people in the administration – I could call them on the phone, and they would call me back. I didn’t quite understand that they weren’t really calling me back.
Once I got out of that world and into the more private sector world, I learned that the power was not mine, it was because I was an employee and I worked for Barbara Mikulski. It was a very important piece of my political career education, of learning how Congress works. The main piece of legislation that I was involved in was a piece of legislation around domestic violence, violence against women. Barbara had a bill and at the time, George Miller and Lindy Boggs had a different approach but [were] working together.
We never actually got it enacted into law. A version of it passed the Senate, and in the closing early morning hours, we were waiting for the bill to get brought back up on the House floor and the House adjourned without doing it. We had had the bill up on the House floor under what’s called suspension, which meant you needed only two thirds of the members to vote for it and it got defeated. It was just at the beginning of the whole kind of movement in our country to cut back on the role of federal government. It was defeated. We thought it was an easy vote, but we couldn’t get two thirds. That was the main piece of legislation that Barbara and I were really working on and learning how a bill really does become law, which is not the way it’s written in the books.
JW: Before we go on, I just realized I should really ask you more about changing the rule to have equal number of men and women delegates.
JH: In 1972, which was when McGovern was nominated, the representation at the convention was pretty diverse among women and men and also among African-Americans, and those were the primary constituencies at the time. That was because the McGovern movement came out progressive. As we were looking at the makeup of the delegates going in as they were being selected for 1976 – which is when Carter was nominated – we saw that there was a significant falling, a decrease in the number of women who were going to be delegates and also African-Americans and other constituencies.
We, Millie Jeffrey, the Women’s Political Caucus, we were trying to figure out what we could do about this for the future, how the rules of the party could change, etc. Millie came from the state of Michigan. In Michigan, to the state party, their delegates were equally divided between men and women. The Democratic National Committee in itself is equally divided between men and women, the members of the National Committee. So, there were some precedents for it, and we decided that that would be a vehicle to sort of have this conversation. But that was not going to solve the diminished numbers in the African-American community.
This is what I learned so well from Millie: how she went to the African-American community from the beginning to tell them what we were going to do, tell them what we were thinking, leveling that we knew it wasn’t going to solve their problem, but asking for their support in this effort. A Congresswoman from California, Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, who was also influential in the party, embraced what we were going to do, as did Mayor Hatcher from Indiana, who was a major player in the Democratic Party. It was learning about how you build constituencies and you do the outreach at the right time so that when you’re doing these things, you’ll get the support.
One of the things that was a learning experience involved a process where you have to get it past the Rules Committee. We thought we had successfully done that on a Saturday, and so all of us that had been working on it all went out to dinner at the Iron Gate, reveling in how brilliant we were and all of a sudden Hamilton Jordan, who was Jimmy Carter’s campaign manager, got wind of it. He said this smacks of a quota, and we’re not having quotas in the Democratic Party. He tried to squash it.
We then seized upon that as a way to organize: we got a minority report out of the Rules Committee and then we were going to bring it to the floor of the Democratic convention. That was the last thing they wanted. We had enough – I think you need 25 percent to bring it to the floor and we had that. We had developed a lot of supporters and it got us meetings with Jimmy Carter before the convention, promises from Jimmy Carter about what he was going to do, this whole thing.
Judy you were probably somewhere involved – this coalition for women’s appointments and the number of women that were going to get jobs. We got a lot out of it, even though we didn’t at that moment get the equal division. But we used it as a leverage point that was actually very useful, since Carter won and we needed to have access to this administration.
After that we worked in 1978 to get the party to change the rules, they did change the rules in 1980 and from then on, we had equal division between men and women delegates. For me it was a fabulous as a young person learning experience of how you get things to happen and the inside stories and how it really works. Working under this extraordinary person Millie Jeffrey, I just learned so much about relationships and how important relationships are to get things done.
JW: The Equal Rights Amendment was still alive at that point too?
JH: Absolutely. I was somewhat involved more [when] I was chair of this Democratic task force. The National Women’s Political Caucus did not have extraordinary financial resources, but we had some that we put into it. There was this whole organization, ERA America was set up to try to move it along, I followed it fairly closely. I also followed the whole ERA extension battle on the Hill when that was evolving as well, when they were trying to extend the deadline so that they could get the last 3 states to ratify.
JW: For 1980 you were actually working on Ted Kennedy’s campaign.
JH: I was, as I said, the chair of this Democratic task force and I got a call from the person in the campaign who turned out to be Paul Kirk the political director, but I wasn’t paying attention, I was working for Barbara. It was another learning experience, because it was a very male dominated experience when I went to work there. My job was to do outreach to women. I was called the deputy campaign manager, but I had very little power and no budget.
Carter was the incumbent president. A lot of progressive women were supporting Kennedy. It was sort of a division within the party, but it was still you were going up against the incumbent president. So, it wasn’t easy. In the fall of 1979, he was ahead in the polls by 30 points. Then we had the Iran hostage situation, a variety of things, and all of a sudden Kennedy has his famous Roger Mudd interview. His star fell fairly quickly. So, he lost in the Iowa caucuses badly, in the New Hampshire primary, and it was a difficult campaign and we really never recovered.
My job, back to the equal division thing, my job was to do outreach to women. There was another wonderful person, Dotty Lynch, who had worked for Pat Caddell and was a pollster. Also, within the campaign, another woman, Susan Estrich, who worked on issues. There were 4 or 5 of us who had modest input who were trying to make things happen, but it was a big learning experience for me of how hard it was to operate in this world dominated by men who really didn’t care about women’s issues. They only saw them for what they could achieve for them politically. That’s not true of Kennedy himself, but it was just more the operatives that were around.
As we got close to the time of the convention, Carter’s star was also falling, and Kennedy won a number of the last primaries. There was a sense of could we unbind the delegates that were already committed to Carter. It’s called the robot rule. My job was to convince women who were Carter delegates that it was actually a powerful thing they could do to vote for to get rid of the robot rule and allow themselves to vote for who they wanted to. But it wasn’t a successful strategy, it did not work. Because half of these delegates were women, the Kennedy campaign seized on that as a possible strategy toward victory, even if it didn’t work out that way.
JW: You did work for Planned Parenthood a little bit and I wanted to mention what that was like for a couple of years. But then you went on to be director of women’s vote. So, let’s hear a little about each of those.
JH: Well, the Planned Parenthood experience was very intense because after Reagan was elected we had the biggest legislative battle around choice in terms of the constitutional amendments – there was even this human life statute. So, it was a very intense time on Capitol Hill around these statutes and constitutional amendments they were trying to pass. One was just a human life statute declaring that human life begins at conception and if that was true, then that caused all kinds of problems for abortion.
I worked for Planned Parenthood for two years. It was at the heart of the abortion struggle and the Democratic Party was not as pro-choice at all as they are now. There were a lot of Democrats that continued to be very weary of the issue at all. It was a tough slog but as we know, neither one of those things passed and we’re still now fighting the abortion issue in so many other ways in terms of all other restrictions and funding, etc. But in terms of passing a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, that ended and that was during the time that I was with Planned Parenthood. It was a very intense battle, but we succeeded at that one.
Then I was recruited to this effort in 1983. We all know we won the right to vote, the big struggle in 1920 and then what began to evolve in 1980 and beyond was a difference in polling between men and women as voters that got to be characterized as the gender gap. Men and women were voting for different candidates and they really had different interests. I think that really aligns with what was happening in terms of the women’s movement and that women were beginning to feel more empowered to think themselves. They were out in the workforce in much bigger numbers, all of those things that led women to be more independent.
After we won the right to vote in 1920, we had the League of Women Voters and other things doing education around broad issues. But the Women’s Vote Project really was a nonpartisan effort to get women to vote for the issues that were important to them like child care and pro-choice and equal pay. And to mobilize women as voters around the constituency so that we could hold then these elected officials accountable and as a way to turn the women vote out.
It was a coalition of 76 different women’s organizations. We were successful in that we engaged a lot of these women’s organizations in the whole concept of the importance of women thinking about voting and thinking about voting for their interests and the interests of their families, etc. Obviously, we had the election that this was involved in, which was the 1984 election in which Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro in a landslide. And Reagan got every constituency, probably not African-American women. But it did help get a lot of women’s organizations at that point in time thinking more politically.
All of them were doing voter registration and groups like the girls clubs and the YWCA and those that had not been necessarily that activist in that way. It was a nonpartisan event, so it was not about who was going to get elected, but I think we felt like it didn’t break through either with women. One of the things we learned, this is 1984 and Ronald Reagan had their campaign sophisticatedly divided women into 64 different subgroups and had different messages. So they were, in a much more sophisticated way, reaching out to the women that they felt they could influence.
JW: Let’s talk about team A, the small group of women, as you described it, who advocated for Gerry Ferraro.
JH: There was growing talk among the women’s community about having a woman be vice president in 1984. Good friends of mine, Joan McLean and Nanette Falkenberg – Nanette at that point in time was the executive director of NARAL and Joan was working on the Hill. We had done politics for years together within the Democratic Party. In 1983, there weren’t a whole lot of women who had had the experience that would mean they were ready to be president, whatever that definition is anymore. But if there isn’t the right woman ready running to be vice president, we just thought it was going to be a hollow, symbolic but not successful campaign.
I laugh at it now because, we’re smart, political, savvy people but we were just three people and WE decided that the person, after looking at all of that, that made the most sense was Gerry Ferraro. At that point, she was only a three-term member of Congress, but she was a rising star and she had a number of positive attributes: she was Italian, she was Catholic. We went to Millie Jeffrey because we knew that if Millie thought this was not right, it wasn’t going to be right. Millie came over to my house for brunch and we went through the whole schtick and at the end, Millie said, I think you’re right, I think this is the right thing to do.
We approached her chief of staff at the time who was Eleanor Lewis and we said something about vice president, and she said vice president of what? She agreed that she would get Gerry to come to dinner at Joan McLean’s very small apartment where we had Chinese takeout food sitting around on folding chairs. We presented this idea to her and she said, “Yes, I am flattered, I’m amazed. Yes, I will do this. I don’t think this will ever happen, but yes, I will do it.”
Then we plotted out a strategy and Gerry’s first instinct and others had been that she should be the chair of the convention. We said that’s too late, you need to create visibility before that so we said you should be the chair of the platform committee. At that point in time they used to have hearings all across the country and it did exactly what we wanted it to. It gave her a standing, stature, got to know a lot more people. It mushroomed along the way.
One of the biggest changes [was] when Tip O’Neill, who was the speaker of the House at the time, said she should be the vice president. There was a growing momentum of people, but we never told anybody what we were doing. And it wasn’t known until actually Gerry Ferraro wrote the book and talked about this group of people. We were all shocked because at the end of the selection process, it didn’t look likely that she was going to get the nomination.
Even though it didn’t make any difference in the outcome of the election, what it did do is stirred women and men with their daughters, this energy and this excitement that hadn’t been tapped into before. Even though I think it’s true today as well, people vote for who is on the top of the ticket. That’s the person who’s going to be president. She was able to catalyze and wake up energy in our country and the sense of possibilities that women could be different roles than we had had traditionally. Personally, I think it was a success even though it didn’t get Walter Mondale and Gerry Ferraro elected.
JW: But it moved the women’s issues.
JH: It did. It moved the women’s issues and women’s sense of themselves. For being only a three-term member of Congress, she did a phenomenal job. She did have the stature to pull it off and the charisma. And I think people could see her in that role.
JW: You mentioned to me that you think that led towards EMILY’s List.
JH: There were a small cadre of women that all got to know each other through the Women’s Political Caucus. What happened politically, with the election of Ronald Reagan and the drift to the right of the Republican Party which continues today even more so, that this idea of the women’s political movement, started as a bipartisan effort. But I think those of us that were Democrats were no longer really interested in electing and spending our energy electing Republican women.
The issue of choice was really always a key issue within even the Women’s Political Caucus or the Women’s Campaign Fund. The whole idea that we were no longer feeling in a bipartisan mood, we were feeling partisan and we wanted to spend our energy electing Democratic women. It was Joan and Ellen Malcolm, and myself and Randy Cooper and Julie Whitman and people like that.
I think the catalyst had been Harriet Woods’ Senate race in 1982. She was running against John Danforth and in the end, she lost by less than two points. But she couldn’t get anybody’s attention when she was running. It was just like you can’t take this guy out, etc. The decision we made is that it gets to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The concept of EMILY’s List is “early money is like yeast”, it makes the dough rise. If you can’t raise early money, you’ll never be a credible candidate. It was trying to sort out how we could create this entity and what this entity could be.
We had 82 of the Harriet Woods and we would get together for lunch every few months and then we had the Gerry Ferraro phenomenon. Actually in 1984, there were 11 women who had the Democratic nomination for US Senate. Only one, maybe two, had any chance of winning. These nominations were given to these women and they accepted them, but they weren’t in places that you could win.
We got the idea [that] we would write to our friends; we have this network of friends all across the country from both the work we had done on the ERA and the work we had done on the Democratic Party, etc. so we knew women all across the country. We would write to them and we’d say, here are two women who are running for the Senate. If you feel like it, write them a check. That was the beginning of this concept that then turned into EMILY’s List.
It was after the Ferraro 1984 that EMILY’s List was actually launched, in 1985. Now it’s this extraordinary juggernaut that has changed the face of politics. Ellen Malcolm had the resources, but nobody knew that at the time. She had just finished getting a master’s in marketing from George Washington University. She learned a lot about how to create an organization that would appeal to the kind of women we wanted. This is the time in which if you happened to get $35.00 to join an organization, that was a lot of money. It didn’t have anything to do with whether women had the money, partly it did, but also it had to do with women’s sense of giving money and politics.
To join EMILY’s List in the beginning, you had to give $100.00 to EMILY’s List, and you had to commit to give $100.00 or more to two candidates. That’s committing to $300.00. That was a lot of money back in 1985/86 for women to commit to. It was something about it when you kind of create a goal and a sense that people want to be part of that, well I could do that. I could do that! And people did it.
The important part of the whole EMILY’s List story as it launched goes back to Barbara Mikulski. There was an open seat for the senate in Maryland. Barbara was going to run, Mike Barnes was going to run who was what people think a senator should look like: six feet tall, white, fairly good looking. Harry Hughes, who had been the governor of Maryland also ran. Barbara is 4’11”, a little chunky, whatever. Everybody thought that she looked like a member of the United States Senate and EMILY’s List got behind Barbara and raised about forty thousand dollars when she filed and that was a huge infusion of money.
It made everybody look and say, maybe this Barbara Mikulski has a chance and then Barbara won! She won for a lot of reasons. Partly at that point in time she represented Baltimore and that’s where a sizable chunk of the Democratic vote comes from. It was critical that the first race EMILY’s List was behind was Barbara Mikulski and that she won – never hurts you to win. She went on to be a legend as a US Senator.
JW: Back in that time you got together with Marie Bass and formed your group. Let’s hear about that.
JH: I was running the women’s vote project, although there was really no energy really there. This is 1985. The funders weren’t particularly interested in it, the women’s organizations weren’t particularly interested in it. Nobody was willing yet to put that final nail in the coffin. I was over at Marie’s apartment helping my friend Jo McLean pack, who was going to go to Ohio State to get her doctorate. Marie asked what I was doing, she had been the political director of NARAL and had taken a sabbatical after the 1984 election. She was just starting back again to doing some projects. She was doing some stuff for NARAL, EMILY’s List, and a couple of other clients.
She said, “I’ve got so much work to do, do you want to come help me?” That was in the summer of 1985 and by April of 1986, we actually got an office. I think we made a decision to start a business January 1986. The total impetus for actually getting the office was our friend at 2000 P Street where a lot of women’s and progressive organizations were. That’s where Voters for Choice was, and what was the Women’s Legal Defense Fund and a number of others; Lael Stegall had a couple of foundations, a number of other progressive foundations. She called us up and said there’s a suite available – you guys need to take it and so we did.
We started out with our first “brochure”: it’s like three pages of all the things that we could do for you. We were everything. Organizations started getting involved in the campaigns, but neither one of us really wanted to travel. Mostly what we were doing was fundraising for candidates in town and only had two or three of them. We were reading about this drug, RU486, which was being researched in France about whether it could be a pill that you could safely take to terminate a pregnancy. Marie said, if it’s really safe, maybe it will lessen the political noise around abortion. Because even now in 1985/1986, it’s still continues to be a contentious issue. But it’s not a contentious issue anymore within the Democratic Party.
We went to a person who had a small family foundation and asked her if she’d give us $25,000.00 to do a fact-finding thing about what was this drug and whatever. Two things came about for our business. One was that our assessment was it was potentially safe and that we should get involved in this. Eventually we, Bass and Howes, created the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, which was a 501(c)(3) that was housed within Bass and Howes for many years, until we actually sold our business. It was a major part of the work that we did around RU46 and then around emergency contraception and all of that.
The work we did around Reproductive Health Project within the project was very important work within the reproductive health world. In addition to that as part of our fact finding, we had met this woman, Florence Hazeltine, who was out at NIH. She came to us and said, if you really wanted to do women a favor, you’d start organizing around the fact that there is no women research being done and all of that. Out of that came the concept about equity funding for women’s kinds of research and all that within the confines of Bass and Howes run the Society for Women’s Health Research.
Those two things led Marie and I to say, let’s get out of paying work, which is so cyclical and whatever and we changed our focus and became more of a health policy advocacy change organization. We weren’t doing campaigns in that way, we were still consulting for EMILY’s List, but it wasn’t working for different campaigns. It really changed the trajectory of our business and our business primarily in Washington was focused on women’s health issues.
Mostly we worked for not for profit organizations, including the National Breast Cancer Coalition and what was the Family Violence Prevention Fund. But in addition, our good friend Annette Falkenberg in New York helped us open a New York office and she had her master’s in public health. That office was really more involved in health policy issues. We did a lot of work for foundations around food allergies and things like that. We also worked with the Pfizer Foundation, health literacy, those concepts. It was less women’s health focus in the new York office but by the time we sold our business, we had 22 employees and five interns.
One among many successes of it was 99 percent of the people who worked for us were women and extraordinary women. We sold it in ’02. We’ve had three reunions in which 17, 18 people on their own pay to come to be with each other. Many of them have their own continuing friendships that are close friendships. For me, the biggest success was all of these fabulous women who work there and have gone on to do really interesting things.
I feel so fortunate that I was able to make a good living doing things that I thought were really important. I don’t think you always get an opportunity to do things that really make change, difference, and so I feel personally really rewarded that I did get to do these things as part of my career. I do think that even in these bleak times we’re in right now that we have advanced a lot in terms of women and women’s organizing and women’s sense of themselves and power to the good. It’s still so hard that we haven’t advanced farther, faster. At times now it looks bleak but there will there will be light, I hope, at the end of this very dark tunnel that we’re in right now.