THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
“We are able to make changes in policy and in people’s lives.”
Interviewed by Judy Waxman, March 2021
PG: I’m Patricia Goldman. I was born in Newton, New Jersey, on March 22nd, 1942.
JW: Briefly tell me what your life was like before the women’s movement and please include your ethnic background.
PG: I lived in a town called Newton, New Jersey. It was 5,000 people and it was the largest town in the county seat. It was a rural upbringing. I was a 4-H-er and I can still repeat the pledge. I was an only child; my dad was a dentist, my mother a homemaker and it was a very nice life.
JW: OK, great. And your ethnic background?
PG: I am a what would be called in the New York area, a green bagel. My father’s Jewish, my mother Catholic, and I was a Catholic and now identify as a Jew.
JW: What led you to the women’s movement?
PG: My life as it went along in consciousness. You observe things: my mother was a homemaker over my life time. I saw that she missed the opportunity to continue with a nursing career, which she had before she married. As a bride of the depression, she stopped when her husband began to get enough money to survive, because he thought the wife should be home. I continued so much later in life to see that as sad before I realized it’s hard for some women.
It made me think I certainly don’t want to ever be in that position that she was. As I look back on it, I don’t know how much consecutive thought I had about it, but it was just there. What led me to the movement as we knew it in this second wave was working on Capitol Hill and seeing very few women around other than myself in staff positions right from college. There were also incidents that went along.
A friend of mine who was working in a Senator’s office called me up and said, “There is a meeting at the Capitol Hilton this weekend and it’s supposed to be about establishing a women’s political organization; we should go particularly because they don’t seem to have invited many Republicans, if any, that I know of.” At that point, it was ’71 and I was working in the House of Representatives as the executive director of something called The Wednesday Group. I decided to go along and that introduced me firsthand to the women’s movement, because it was the first meeting that established the Caucus.
JW: Who were you working for at the time?
PG: The House Wednesday Group was a group of Republican members of Congress that was formed following the progressive era after the ’60s and amidst the war on poverty, that would come together in one of their offices for cocktails to talk about the issues they were working on. They would prepare issue papers on things together to get more press than an individual member. I did that for a number of years, and that’s where I was working at the time.
JW: Tell me what this first meeting of the Caucus was like.
PG: Star struck – seeing Gloria and the other leaders of that era. And it took off from there. I also eventually came to be involved with what became The Wish List, which meant women in the Senate and the House, which was a pro-choice Republican women’s organization, to raise money to support Republican women candidates who supported abortion.
JW: I want to go back to that meeting. As far as you could tell, was it Republicans and Democrats?
PG: No. Not that I knew every Republican woman staffer, which wasn’t a big population, but I don’t recall seeing anybody but Carol and myself who would identify as Republicans. I was sort of awestruck by the leaders who were there and there was a lot of talk.
JW: Do you remember anything about the discussion?
PG: Not in detail, I wish I did, but I just remember being there. In my recollection I just don’t recall, it was a lot of speechifying. I can’t even recall how I moved from that as the organization got going. I acquired friends over those years in other organizations that were percolating for women. For example, later the organization had been going a while when I moved into another job on the National Transportation Safety Board. Several years before that, the few women who were involved in federal jobs were private sector but working on transportation and formed a women’s transportation organization.
I became more involved with the sub groups that got going. There came to be a discussion among the larger group of people in the building caucus as to whether it was a Democratic organization or whether they’d allow the Republican women to be involved. It was eventually ironed out at a meeting in New York City to which I and some people, like Elly Peterson who had been vice chair of the Republican National Committee, Bobbie Kilberg, and some others went to New York to meet with the Democratic women while they decided whether we could be admitted.
JW: And it was decided that you could be.
PG: That was correct.
JW: Did you feel accepted and part of it?
PG: Yes, and I think it showed the difference of those who were across the spectrum of Democratic activists. We sort of laughed because I guess there was a certain feature of a Republican woman: going there we had our nice little jacket dresses on and Elly Peterson said, it looks like all we needed was white gloves. I was seated next to her and she slyly opened her purse and there tucked inside was a pair of white gloves.
JW: She was ready should the need arise. Tell me a little more about this group called Wish List.
PG: There’s a woman who is an activist in that regard named Candy Straight who had it going before I was introduced to it. It was to raise money among some wealthy women who had money at their disposal who were pro-choice and wanted to make it go further. I was recruited to be the chair of the organization and we hired a full-time staff person and we then really began to ramp up. That organization died subsequently several elections ago. It was almost impossible to find candidates who could succeed – they may have wished to be pro-choice, but the party had made it almost impossible for them to get through a primary.
JW: Was choice then one of the issues of greatest concern to you at the time?
PG: I think it was clear it was a major one as it continues desperately today. Some of the women who were involved with that started a general group also funding pro-choice candidates for men and women. That operated out of New York and with staff and some of the same people who had been involved with The Wish List.
JW: What other activities were you involved in?
PG: After the Carter election I was still with the Wednesday Group on the Hill and I was appointed by the administration to an open seat on the National Transportation Safety Board. You have to have a balance of Republicans and Democrats on each of these boards. It was interesting to be Republican in those years. I got to where I was in the women’s movement through the help and knowledge of the people back when the Caucus had moved to working on the Equal Rights Amendment. It was a time when Republican women and Democratic women worked really well together, we had a common motive.
Some of the women who had all been working on that had, once Carter got elected, moved in where they could to the White House. When they were looking for Republican candidates, one of the things that had happened in the meantime for me was I got involved in the Caucus. The Caucus had set up a Republican women’s task force and a Democratic women’s force. I was heading the Republican Women’s Task Force. As we were preparing for the Kansas City convention we were identifying all the people that we could find who would become delegates and encouraging those who weren’t yet already appointed to be delegates to the convention.
We did this so we would have enough people to support the platform in the report, which until that time had been the Republican platform to keep choice, as Republican women had been major actors in Planned Parenthood. We all helped each other out. Over that time, we got to know where all the women were in positions around the country. So, if the White House was looking to fill a position and boost their women appointees, they would call and say, who in your group would fit well? We could supply those people. That got me more involved in such activity. As it came along, you get deeper and deeper into your affections and what your causes are.
JW: Tell me a little more about the Republican Task Force within the Women’s Political Caucus.
PG: All the staffers who were busy raising money for various causes helped us identify people and figure out how we could raise more money to help people.
JW: People who were running?
PG: The people who were running or going to be at the convention. We were simultaneously working to identify the women who could help in the Equal Rights Amendment among our Republican members of the task force. We published a booklet for both parties, we had a banner when we would go someplace whether it was a Republican group or a Democratic group, that said Democratic women are wonderful. Depending on which group we were with, we had a piece that used to be fit over the “Democratic” if you’re a “Republican” and vice versa. It was a lot of harmony and joking about it and it was a good time to work together.
JW: So, the Equal Rights Amendment then was an issue that you cared a whole lot about.
JW: Were there any other issues that you were particularly engaged with?
PG: Leading up to the conventions and equal rights amendment and eventually in Detroit it got removed from the Republican platform. By that time, most of us who had been working on ERA just withdrew from the party, people weren’t changing the registration yet.
JW: That was 1980 right? Do you remember any particular anecdote you want to share about the activities at the convention or anything that comes to mind?
PG: There were some funny times. It shows the difference in era as this is pre-computers so everything was done in notebooks and people were very diligent about sending all the details we knew about each of the delegates of men and women, particularly the men that we might persuade. That involved details about spouses if they were male, daughters that they might have. They were quite detailed notebooks and one of our group discovered in getting there and getting to meet some of these people, that things that we had heard on one way may not be quite accurate[?]. One time one of the gentlemen walked into our office at the convention in the convention center indicating how much he wanted to help us and wanted to see the “The Notebook”. Suddenly like, oops, we had to be very careful.
JW: You did say that after the ERA was taken out of the Republican platform, women in your group were not as active in the party or they just didn’t change registration? Did women leave the Republican Party over that, at least the ones you knew?
PG: Oh, a variety obviously have over this period. I had been active in another organization called The Ripon Society, which was a group started at Harvard by several men and then some of us who had been active in politics got involved in it too. We were progressive and John Mitchell called us the political something negative of the Republican Party. Some people hung around trying to get the party perhaps to move, we’ve seen how successful that has been. Many people have left the party and changed their registration whether they have become Democrats, or they just maintain independence, they’ve left.
JW: Around that time, did you also not work with the National Women’s Political Caucus anymore?
PG: I was busy with my career, depending on what years we were talking, when I was in the safety booths, traveling a lot. I kept in touch with people. I was more involved with women in transportation, because obviously that was my field and it changed depending on what activities I was involved in. The caucus women stayed friendly. For example, the book club I belong to mostly all of us knew each other in the Women’s Political Caucus. This was friendship, it went beyond just the politics of it, although we are all pretty much the same on that.
There were other ways we kept in touch and benefits from having known each other, in addition to getting jobs. I might add, in the Carter period, if you looked at the variety of women who were put up by the Carter administration under various positions: the postal board, the Federal Trade Commission, et cetera, they were all Republican women. Pat Bailey was Federal Trade Commission, [and] had been heavily active in both ERA and the Caucus. People moved and kept in touch with each other and aided each other. Subsequently, there were so many other offshoots: the Women’s Education Fund on which board I sat.
JW: Tell me about that, the Women’s Education Fund.
PG: Although the Women’s Education Fund grew out of the Caucus, it was recognized that if women were going to get into office politically, they were going to have to be trained as the men had been and coached. That was set up and eventually there was a board set up again, people who were active in either the equal rights amendment or who had some political experience at the local level, and we ran training programs. We had little conferences where people who were interested in running for office could talk about not only issues but appearance, how you present yourself. You’d find a lot of progress was made through that.
Into later years, I ended up getting ovarian cancer and knew no one else who had it. Terrified, I managed to get through my chemo and go back to work and then I heard another staff person on policy, Ann Kolker, had also gotten the disease. I went to see her, and she used to tease and say I looked too happy when I walked into her kitchen. I knew Ann was such an activist that I wanted to try and start a new organization to give information to women who would get the disease, and they were all over the country – I was discovering, that we could provide information and work on better things with insurance and other policy issues that affected the disease and research.
Eventually we started working out of the offices of Bason House, other people from the Caucus, and it turned out that so many of the people in the Caucus had moved into jobs that had a lot to do with health legislation and were working as the Washington representatives of pharmaceutical companies. Our first contributions came from Caucus people and elsewhere. That was like watching oil and water and you suddenly see all of the things moving outward and outward. That’s sort of what the Caucus was.
JW: And that organization is still going strong? Did you think particularly in the early years, that there was a cost to you professionally or personally for being this feminist? You mentioned something about John Mitchell.
PG: Now I remember, he said the Ripon Society was the “juvenile delinquents” of the Republican Party.
JW: That wasn’t just women as you said, did you feel like you got push back?
PG: I’m embarrassed to say one part, but it also showed what happened. I was a finalist during the Nixon administration as a White House fellow. I distinctly remember the finalists met together with the commissioners on the White House Fellows program who were to decide after interviewing the finalists, who would be those who would get those very nice positions. I went having been told I was the only woman who was in the finals, so question was whether that was a slam dunk or not.
I went down and it turned out there was another woman there who eventually became a great friend, and that was the same weekend that the Cambodian invasion took place and leaving on a bus to go to ERA house, seeing the tanks around was really shocking and amazing. A newswoman who was on the panel to select people said to me years later that she had been told in a meeting with the fellows that I was not to be selected and that ostensibly was because of my activities. So, if you were looking for pushback, I think that was it.
JW: That would count. It sounds like you did continue your activist activities through the years, and they evolved as you changed, as you changed jobs they evolved into different kinds of activities. Are you involved in anything right now?
PG: I’m involved in sitting in my office doing a zoom. It’s very frustrating at this age, at risk to our health and our spouse’s health or anybody in the family, to do the kind of things we used to. In the last election if one wanted to go knock on a door you’d realize even if you wanted to knock on the door, nobody’s going to answer the door. It’s very frustrating at this period. One can go and make sandwiches at a little lesser risk in a church that’s making food for people. Typically, if you can, it’s contributing money to things and it’s very frustrating.
JW: What would you say was the effect of the 1970s women’s movement, as you called it the second wave? What effect did that have for American women in general?
PG: Women were moving ahead, slowly for a time, but now its improved constantly. Without the Caucus or NOW or the other organizations pushing, there wouldn’t be the people in the positions they are in now. We are able to make changes in policy, make changes in lives for some people. From The Feminine Mystique angle, it changed women and how they are to be addressed, it broke up marriages. There’s a common affection just to see you for the first time in years and remember.
It made vast improvements and changes slowly. The family dynamics have changed, the ability to go to schools, I went to a women’s college which was very important to me in making changes in my viewpoint as well. That was before there were as many co-ed schools, the state universities were there. I went to Goucher College, which was an all-women’s college and has gone co-ed. It broke my heart, but my head said it was the right thing to do. I’m sure it was tough to decide.
JW: Is there anything you’d like to add?
PG: Thanks to finding out about the Caucus starting, being involved with this, I treasure the contacts and the things that it did for me and I’m very grateful.