THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
“I felt very powerful when I had NOW behind me.”
Interviewed by Dr. Kathy McMahon-Klosterman, September 2020
KMK: Tell me your full name, where and when you were born.
JM: My name is Joanne Kay McQueen. I was born in Hamilton, Ohio, at Mercy Hospital on September 27th, 1940.
KMK: Briefly, what was your life like before you got involved in the women’s movement, including your ethnic background?
JM: I am a Protestant from pioneer stock, Celtic origin. It’s hard to separate my life before the women’s movement because it seems like I was always questioning things. I always wondered why they used “he” for everyone in the classroom. I remember in the second grade that I held my hand up when the teacher said, would everyone get out his pencil and paper? I thought, she said he and I’m not a “he”, so I didn’t do it.
When the teacher saw that I was doing it, she went to the front of the class and asked, Joanne why are you not doing this? And I said, because you said “he” and I’m not a “he”. She announced to the class from now on when I say “he” in this classroom, it includes girls. I went home and asked my mother, “Why is that? Why couldn’t it have been the other way around? Who decided this?” My mom would tell me that’s just the way it is.
I had an Irish twin, my brother, who’s still alive. We’re not quite a year apart from each other. I was told I was the older sibling and I was to look after my brother, but mother would let him go further away on his bike than I could go. She let him stay out in the dark longer than I could. When I would ask her why, since I’m the oldest, she would just say “That’s the way it is,” or “Things can happen to girls that don’t happen to boys.”
Years later, when we had a chance to have a Take Back the Night at Miami University, we chose the date around Halloween. When I was a little girl, [based on what] my mother told me, I was afraid that walking around town when it’s dark with shrubs along people’s houses [that] the boogie man would jump out and get me. Maybe that’s what my mother was afraid of. That fear was put into little girls my age.
Years later, when I got into violence against women, I found out it is true. We have to protect our little girls and women still today. That’s the battle we’re still working on.
KMK: So, Joanne, how did you get involved in the women’s movement and when was that?
JM: I got involved in the women’s movement in 1973. I got married in ‘59 and I had children in ‘61 and ’64. I had been a housewife, so I didn’t work outside the home, women didn’t in those days. I would see Betty Friedan was on Phil Donahue, Jane Fonda was on Phil Donahue and I understood what they were talking about. Then her book came out, and Betty Friedan was on his show. The Feminine Mystique came out and I rushed, and I read it, I underlined it.
And I thought, if ever I get a chance to go to a NOW meeting around this area, I will go. I even called my friend Reba Brown, at the time, now Reba Deal-Brown and asked her if she’d like to go because we had been talking about this. One day it came out in the Hamilton Journal – [for] anyone interested in the women’s movement, we are forming a NOW chapter, come to the YWCA in Hamilton at such and such a time. I called Reba and we went. And that was the beginning of my involvement in the women’s movement.
KMK: What were the issues of greatest concern to you?
JM: The stereotypes against women, where they come from and why does this still continue even when it was pointed out? It was a wonderful group of all women like me wanting answers. Why were things this way? We chose to deal with violence against women. Certainly, that’s something you would think that everyone would want to do away with and work for.
We started a consciousness raising group before we had a NOW chapter to talk about issues. And the women came from all over the county. There were so few of us, they came from Oxford, Hamilton and Middletown, so we had to have a county chapter and we really bonded. We even got guidelines from National NOW about the consciousness raising group and we had men come and join us also when we felt that we were ready. Then we started the Butler County chapter of NOW.
KMK: What are your most memorable experiences or major accomplishments from that time?
JM: We started a rape crisis shelter. We had Mary Beazley in our group who was a trained counselor. She worked for family service in Butler County and some of us volunteered to be trained by her. One night a week, she would stay after work and train us and we would role play the victim one time, or we would be the trained counselor the next time. Eventually we had little cards printed up to go with us and publicity went out so people would call us. We went out in twos, didn’t go alone.
One of the first things when you talked to the victim on the phone was, “Are you alone? Is he still there?” We went all the way through the court system and that was unusual at the time. We also started a battered women’s shelter. One of the first people in our group was Lois Haqq, she eventually took the name Woman. She was a battered housewife and was having such a hard time with the courts getting restraining orders. She was even admonished one time by a male judge for causing him so many problems and “Do what he says, and he won’t beat you up.”
Maybe she even already had some women in her home, but she turned her home into a battered women’s crisis shelter. I was on the board; many people were on the board to help her get this started. It was very successful. We learned that we had to keep it a secret. One time a man came trying to drive his car into her picture window. It was the first operating battered women’s shelter in Ohio.
We formed task forces and because I was so interested in the stereotypes for girls, I was also interested in the stereotypes for men. Warren Farrell’s book had come out and that explained a lot. I formed the Mask and Steak Task Force with Fletcher Gray and Steve West. We would meet at different times and then we would report back to the committee. We had the Rape Task Force, the Battered Women’s Task Force. I think we eventually had an ERA Task Force. Sandy Bray was in charge of the task force with Reba Dean’s help – we even changed the laws about rape in Ohio. That was a big contribution we made and we’re very, very proud of that.
KMK: That change was that a woman’s past sexual history couldn’t be introduced in court.
JM: Yes. I think we had an Equal Rights Amendment Task Force. I was a volunteer to be the Title IX person for Tonawanda in Oxford, and other people that lived in Middletown and Hamilton worked in that capacity. To make sure that they were abiding by the law, they appointed someone to be coordinator in the school system.
KMK: Have you been involved as an activist in the women’s movement or other areas since your experience in the second wave?
JM: There was a saying that a woman without a man was one man away from welfare. Well, that hit home. I had no training. I dropped out of college. I’m a pretty creative person, I think. I did get a job with an advertising specialty company where you try to sell a business the mugs with their logos or things. I got into that and they happened to find out how I was involved in the women’s movement. And then I went to conferences and conventions all across the country.
They proposed this idea to me that we can make a catalog with women’s slogans on them and we did. After that I started my own company, Fantastic Business Enterprises, and I designed catalogs. Not all women look like Wonder Woman: long wavy black hair, tiny waist, beautiful legs, so this woman is more like the average woman. She was a wonder woman in the way that she could do feminist things like change society.
This is my last catalog – we included rape crisis whistles. I sold them to the rape crisis centers all across the country: a whistle and a keychain. Women out at night, if you suspect anything, don’t think it’s just me. No, look around. Blow the whistle. We found out in our rape training that men who are going to do violence against women are afraid of noise. We were taught to yell, “Fire, fire!”
Then I had the menstrual sponges I sold to women’s health clinics all across the country. I had designed some note cards honoring the women in film who were a good example to follow, like Katharine Hepburn. We designed a T-shirt for men’s consciousness raising groups. I did this design, and we sold them to women’s groups all across the country.
I had a friend who was a publisher, and he learned about my involvement in the women’s movement. He wanted us to write some booklets and we did that. One was on Women’s Liberation by Sandy Bray. One was Rape, The Crime Against Women by Reba Deal, which the Hamilton police department lifted excerpts from. We taught the judges in the hospitals and the police departments how to handle rape victims. There was no booklet, they didn’t know.
No one really knew, this was brand new. Reba and I talked to the Oxford Police Department. One time when I was on a case in Oxford, there was a 13-year-old girl whose uncle had been abusing her and he somehow made her feel guilty. It was a big secret between the two of them – it’s just so sad.
Fletch and I did a book on men’s liberation. My parents were into home movies a lot. And when I got old enough, Dad taught me how to run it so we could watch the films when he wasn’t there. The high school had a production team. They were the people that would come in with the projector, set it up and show films, and I was excited, so I went down to the office to sign up as not a lot of people knew how to do it at the time. And they told me, sorry, no girls were allowed. This was 1957, 1958, Towanda. “Why?” “That’s the way it is.”
When I decided to get married I did not like the fact that I had to change my name because when I was growing up, I was taught to be proud of my name. Through pressure I did change my name to my husband’s name. I was working for a dentist at the time and people would say, did you grow up in Oxford? I would say, my name used to be McQueen, used to be like I was somebody else, but I was still the same person.
Finally, a lot of women across the country were refusing to take on their husband’s name or they added it on. I tried that at first, but it was too long to write on little tiny lines. They accepted it and thought I did it for professional reasons. Oxford was a village when I was growing up in my early 20s, when I got involved in the women’s movement. Classes were wanting to speak to us revolutionaries. The town was not like it is today.
I could go talk radical talk on Miami’s campus and be invited back again and none of the people I went to school with or my teachers knew anything about it. It was like I was living a double life. But that is not the case anymore. And over the years, all of us have been invited to clubs, organizations and college campuses to talk about the women’s movement.
When Geraldine Ferraro accepted the nomination to be the vice-presidential running mate I was alone at the time watching her on television, and it was the first time in my life I said to myself, you helped make that happen. And I did. That was years ago. I and a lot of women made a lot of things happen that changed society. Also, on college campuses, with my goods that I was selling, I would travel around to conferences and conventions wherever.
I went to the women’s music festival one time and I picked up a pamphlet that I saw. It was Women Take Back the Night. The artwork was wonderful because it showed the branches of a tree at night with the moon shining through. That thought had never occurred to me before, although my mother told me when I was a little girl how unsafe it was, not explaining why. I came back home and I said to Kathy, we can do this. And we did.
We started the first Take Back the Night march at Miami University campus in Oxford Ohio 20 some years ago and they still have it to this day. And we’re very proud of that, too. I just got finished working on the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote, which we had to cancel. Five years ago, I thought let us recreate a march of suffragists. I knew that we could do it and get people involved and we did. But of course, the virus took care of that. But we will next year.
I had another business also. I got into vintage clothing, which morphed into costumes. I like dressing up. I got the Oxford League of Women Voters just to start dressing up. It started in the 4th of July parade first.
KMK: How has your involvement in the women’s movement changed your life personally or professionally?
JM: It’s changed my life completely. I dread to think of what my life would have been like without the women’s movement. I was so dissatisfied. I had a lot of talents I didn’t know that I had when I was just a young, stay at home mother. I would have become a very depressed housewife and never understood why. Because I got involved in the women’s movement I was able to use my creativity and my curiosity.
I was on the school newspaper in high school and I find it very easy to ask people questions. I saw an ad in the paper wanting people to volunteer to work with the local Miami radio station and to show up. And I did. I told them a little bit about myself and said I think I could interview local women about their lives. And they went with it.
Jay Shaylor of ABC News, he was the one I spoke with and he was very excited about this project. I had never done television before and I was nervous, but I got used to it and that was a lot of fun. I did that for one year because it got to be work. Famous people would come and lecture in Miami and I would want to interview them, and I could because I had a postcard now from the radio station from Miami. At the time we had just found out that women were 53.4%, the majority population of America, not men, even though it seemed like there were more men than women since they controlled everything.
KMK: Kathy had her own show called Women About Women, and it was a feminist consciousness raising on the air, and you were one of the four women every week.
JM: I had been involved in an accident and was wheelchair bound for several years. They had a ramp where they would wheel me in, and we would do it. Yeah, that was a lot of fun. I think I would have been a depressed woman. There are women in my family on my father’s side who had problems and had to take medicine. I think that’s what would have happened to me without the women’s movement.
KMK: I want to talk about the digitizing of all your archives.
JM: Yes. I think I’m just an archivist at heart, I just do that naturally. It runs in the family. My mother did that, my grandmother did that, my grandmother’s father did that. My mother let me play with her scrapbooks when I was a little girl. I learned about people in the news from mom’s scrapbooks. Naturally I kept scrapbooks.
So, I became the archivist of the Butler County NOW chapter – it just happened. I just did it and we didn’t even have a title. We got a lot of press and we took pictures of our actions. It ended up with 11 scrapbooks of our activities. First, they were digitized by a class at Miami University.
KMK: The women’s gender and sexuality class digitized your scrapbooks and artifacts, T-shirts that you have and buttons that you and I had of the period throughout the history of the women’s movement.
JM: That was amazing because anyone in any place in the world who wants to know what was happening in Butler County or Oxford, Ohio, can go online and find out what we were doing.
KMK: And they are available now. One of the things our old chapter was very good at was publicity, taking pictures and getting notices in the newspaper, and we often made it sound as if we had a hundred fifty women showing up at this thing. And it might have been actually ten of us, but we acted like it was a lot of people. Who wouldn’t want to be involved with the group? We would have a birthday party for Susan B. Anthony. When that dollar came out, admission was a Susan B. Anthony dollar to get into the Susan B. Anthony birthday party for any women or men who wanted to come and celebrate.
JM: I remember when we went to a state conference in Cleveland and during the business meeting someone came in and made this announcement about this famous department store May’s was selling socks that said ‘stop rape, say yes’. I don’t know who was in charge, maybe Flo Kennedy, we left that building and marched down the streets of Cleveland down to that store. And Flo Kennedy got up on the glass countertop and had the women get out their Mays card and tear them up. We demanded to see the manager and I thought for the first time I might have to call my husband and tell him to come and get me out of jail.
I have a picture from the ERA March in Illinois. And what’s funny about this picture is there was a plane flying over that had a trailer behind it that said, LIBERS GO HOME, and I never heard the term before. I asked someone what they were, and they said, we’re libers, women’s liberation. When I would have to make calls for Butler County NOW I felt very powerful saying that I was from NOW. I wasn’t afraid to make phone calls and I felt very powerful when I had NOW behind me. People respected NOW and I was never turned down. NOW was very much respected.
I wanted to talk about the doll I created that I mentioned once before that was like the average woman. She has short curly hair, her breasts were normal size, and she was kind of short. And I made her left-handed, too, because left handed people get a bad rap. This is fantastic feminist. I had her put on t-shirts and night shirts. Then I decided to make other versions of her. At one of the first NOW conferences I attended, I was kind of timid about letting people know what I was doing.
When I first started in, this one woman walked in front of me in a business suit. You did not see a lot of women in business because there weren’t that many women in business – they were secretaries. And she had a business suit with a little tie and a briefcase. On the side of the briefcase, she put a bumper sticker: I’m proud to be a feminist. And that gave me courage. I thought, yes, we need to be proud that we’re feminists. I think that’s how I had the original idea about fantastic feminists.
But then I never forgot that woman. When I decided to do other outfits, this was the first one that I did: a woman in a business suit. Sally Ride had just gone up in space and this is my Sally Ride doll. This is her astronaut suit. I wrote Sally Ride because I didn’t know what she wore. I asked her to send me a picture of her in her flight suit. She wrote back, Joanne, sorry the flight suit you saw in Ms. is as close as we come to “spacesuits” on most shuttle flights. There aren’t any pictures of me in anything more exotic. I thought that’s very nice of her to respond to my letter.
Myself and the person who made the costumes and designed them, this is what we came up with, NASA – it’s a space suit. Bev Wewe, by the way, is the woman who designed this, I would just tell Bev what I wanted. These are very intricate, and I had a hard time finding anyone that wanted to make these clothes for the dolls because it’s so tiny. But Bev did, bless her heart, and I wanted to give her credit.
The next was a judge because there were very few judges – I don’t think I saw any during that time period. We needed to have women judges in the court. This was an easy costume to come up with. There weren’t many women doctors either. So, I came up with this jacket, got the Red Cross on it. And this is a woman doctor. When I would show it to little girls and ask them, what is this woman? They would say, “She’s a nurse,” because they just weren’t used to seeing a woman doctor. Thirty-five years later when I show my great niece and I ask the same question; what do you think she is? She says, “A doctor.” Thirty-five years later, she had grown up knowing women doctors.
One of the good changes that we made and lastly is Janet Guthrie who was the first woman to drive in the Indy Five Hundred in Indianapolis, it’s not very far away from us. So that’s a big deal. I also wrote to her to ask for her suit and she did write me back and I have a postcard here. I had given her a doll at a convention. Happy to hear about the business. I like the new line. Many thanks for the personalized suit. This is the suit that we came up with. On the back it had “Major”, my mother’s maiden name was Major.
These are my tributes to the different women. My Fantastic Feminism doll appeared in Ms. Magazine in the Christmas issue as a non-sexist toy. I got a lot of letters from young mothers so glad that there was an answer to Barbie. They hesitated giving their children Barbies because Barbie was just glamorous. She never worked. How did she get her money? She just had fun. I still have those letters; they are in the archives.
This is a photograph of one of Kathy’s call in radio shows, Women About Women. And here you can see Gail Brandt, myself, Kathy and Carla Coleman, and that’s how we looked.