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Interview #466: Clarenbach, Kathryn F. (September, 2009)

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Second Interview

Tapes 13-15 Length: 4.5 hours

Nomination to chair of NOW Board in 1966; Role of family and children in her life; Involvement with Wisconsin Governor’s Commission on Status of Women; Impact of Wisconsin and other state commissions on NOW; Determining direction of NOW; Educational efforts of Wisconsin Governor’s Commission; Creation of National Association of Commissions on Status of Women; Details of job as executive director of International Women's Year Conference; Controversial issues and important figures at Conference; Views on future directions of feminist movement; Her major contributions to women's movement.

First Interview Session (March 10, 1989): Tape 13

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00:13

KC describes in detail the reasons for her nomination to the chair of the board of NOW and for Betty's Friedan's nomination as president, going back to the June 1966 Washington meeting where KC, Margaret Raywalt, Mary Eastwood and Betty Friedan put together a proposed constitution and bylaws.

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06:14

During the October 1966 conference, Pauline Murray called KC and told her they wanted to structure NOW so it would have a two-headed leadership. KC wasn’t keen on this idea. Her concerns about working with Betty Friedan grew more over time. It was a while before they began to trust and tolerate each other. They have a lot of differences in style.

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09:46

KC gives the dates and tells the extent of her involvement with the commissions on the status of women. She was never a member of the National Commission on the Status of Women, which was appointed in 1961 and existed only until October 1963, when they issued their report, American Women.

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11:10

KC tells how she got to know Mary Eastwood and Katherine East, both of whom were on the staff of the National Commission on the Status of Women. As executive director of the citizens' advisory council that was formed after the commission finished its work, East was important to the development of the women’s movement. So KC was involved with the state commission before NOW.

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14:10

One of the reasons Catherine Conroy volunteered KC to be the temporary chair of NOW was because they were both on Wisconsin’s Governor’s State Commission on the Status of Women. Many NOW members were from Wisconsin because of Wisconsin's Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, NOW publicity, and its connections to other movements, such as labor, in the state.

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16:48

The women from Wisconsin at the October 1966 NOW meeting represented a broad coalition. The Wisconsin Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women had conferences at university campuses all over the state; they were attended by housewives, people interested in going back to school and others who realized that life ought to be better for women.

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18:16

At the first national board meeting of NOW, there was a great deal of ambivalence over whether NOW should be a broad coalition or a pressure group. They didn’t come up with an answer right away, but there was no question they wanted publicity and wanted to spread ideas broadly. KC describes the efforts of Muriel Fox and others to publicize the group. In the earliest days, there was a great deal of paranoia about excluding the press; NOW put out its own reports. The publicity helped NOW to build a mass base. There were other strands developing on campuses that helped build a base, like the more radical women’s liberation efforts. KC also thinks state commissions on the status of women served an important role.

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24:21

The Kennedy commission’s report on American women was ground-breaking and in many ways terribly radical for 1963. The membership on the National Commission was outstanding and the report was wonderful. It was predominantly state commissions on the status of women that made that information accessible. In Wisconsin, the state commission patterned itself after the national commission.

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26:57

As Betty Friedan toured the country she organized community groups into NOW chapters. At that time, NOW had no procedure for organizing a chapter. At a national board meeting, Catherine Conroy pointed out that NOW needed a procedure for the selection of delegates to the national convention. There were differences of opinion on this issue; it was a quite few years before NOW developed a process for chartering local chapters and state organizations. Originally, policy was often made by the members in the region where the national conference was held. That changed; it was important to have some people who knew what they were doing on the national board.

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30:55

The first NOW board had black men and women, white men, representatives from labor, the unemployed, and professionals, so the criticism that NOW was a white middle-class group isn’t quite accurate. But it wasn’t always easy to recruit members from a wide range of ethnic groups.

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33:13

Returning to Wisconsin’s Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, KC says that its membership was always excellent and explains why. They had representatives from key state agencies whose work affected the lives of women, but that no longer exists. KC says those individuals were crucial and offers some examples of the changes they made. In some states, however, the commissions on the status of women resembled garden clubs. KC is sure Betty Friedan’s continuing degradation of these commissions results from this impression.

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40:14

In Wisconsin, the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women divided into committees that identified issues and decided what to do about them. The commission tried to educate citizens through statewide and regional conferences. This public education undergirded everything else.

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45:49

KC continues to talk in some detail about the outreach efforts of Wisconsin’s Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women. Again quoting Arthur Schlesinger, KC says she thought of the commission's work as an educational process.

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48:36

Education was a goal of the commission because it affected votes. The commission's goals were well-defined. The overall goal was to create fairness and equity throughout the state for women. As Katherine Conroy said, it was not the intent of the commission to shift disadvantages from one group to another, but to eradicate them.

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50:54

Legal change was not a primary goal of the commission at first because it took a while to realize the extent of the legal disabilities of women. Between 1970, when the push for the ERA began, and the time Congress passed the ERA in 1972, the commission convinced the governor to get started on the changes that would be necessary if the ERA were ratified. KC tells who was named to the committee that worked on this issue. They found 280 provisions in Wisconsin statutes that treated men and women differently. The commission took care of most of these changes. The commission put together a coalition of thirteen organizations in the state that managed to get much new legislation passed.

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56:10

In 1973, the commission hoped to pass a state ERA, but it was defeated on the spring ballot through a combination of the Catholic Church and veterans organizations. These groups were more powerful than they'd anticipated.

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57:22

KC lists the steps necessary to make legal change. Those efforts took a lot of educating and speech-making. KC gave thirty to forty speeches a year and loved to do it.

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58:32

After KC began working with NOW, there was no dramatic change in her involvement with the state commission. Her vocabulary became more forceful, but she's not sure if this was an effect of NOW or of her own development.

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1:00:22

After the formation of NOW, KC's personal relations with the Women's Bureau of the federal Labor Department were less than congenial. Mary Kaiserling, the director, felt stabbed in the back by the formation of NOW; she thought the Women’s Bureau and the state commissions were all that was needed for change. Kaiserling's successor, Libby Koontz, made a conscious effort to mend those fences. Before the break, KC had relied very heavily on the Women's Bureau in Washington for information. She did not see the formation of NOW as a traitorous act; she believes you need allies on the inside as you push from outside. The loss of inside women during Ronald Reagan's presidency was a great blow.

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1:05:56

KC describes how the National Association of Commissions on the Status of Women was formed in 1970. KC was on the steering committee that set up the organization, and she was the first president. The national association was organized along the lines of the Wisconsin State Commission; they strove for a broadly-based membership and a progressive agenda. Some of the less progressive commissions benefitted a great deal from this.

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1:10:10

KC mentions that Elizabeth Duncan Koontz and Catherine Conroy both died of cancer at age 69.

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1:10:50

KC doesn't believe that NOW or the snowballing of the feminist movement would have occurred without the work of the state commissions on the status of women. The National Association of Commissions continues to exist. Some states still have commissions; some don't. KC doesn't think the National Commission is as effective as it once was. In the early days, they made themselves sound like the marching millions. As the representative of the National Commission, KC signed the amicus brief for Roe v. Wade.

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1:15:28

KC did not keep tabs on what happened with the middle- and working-class women who came to the state commission conferences, but notes that some of NOW's twenty-two to twenty-seven chapters in Wisconsin were probably the result of these conferences. A number of women also came into KC's office when she was running the continuing education program in 1963. The state commissions also did a lot of television programs, and when they put out the first edition of Wisconsin Women and the Law, it was a hot item.

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1:20:30

At KC's retirement party, five former presidents of the National Association of Commissions came. They've stayed in touch and continue to do business together. Katherine East is writing a book about the women's movement and KC has faith that her account will be accurate.

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1:24:21

End of interview session 13

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Second Interview Session (March 16, 1989): Tape 14

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00:11

KC tells how she got involved in the International Woman's Year Commission. Plans for U.S. participation in the IWY were begun under President Nixon, and President Ford appointed the first commission, with Jill Ruckleshouse as chair. KC tells how Katherine East got her appointed to two subcommittees; while she was in Washington for these committees Ruckelshouse asked her to be conference coordinator for the national conference. In December 1975, Bella Abzug and Patsy Mink introduced legislation calling for this conference.

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04:04

KC could not picture being conference coordinator because she could not imagine staying in Washington, but she worked out a compromise so that she could work part-time.

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06:52

KC prepared a handbook for the state and territorial meetings on how to conduct business. The national IWY commission had to name planning committees for fifty-six states and territories. To find committee members, they wrote to various groups and individuals for suggestions, and relied on their own networks. In her handbook, KC detailed how those planning committees should function. The handbook was good because KC had so much experience running conferences. It told how to get groups together and conduct outreach, and discussed other details of advanced planning and conducting a statewide meeting.

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12:23

Each statewide meeting had to be held before a certain date so the national IWY commission could have the results before the Houston conference. There were two commission members at each of these statewide meetings so they would be run in accordance with federal requirements. The commission tried to foresee glitches, but KC tells how some conservative Mormons in some states took advantage of loopholes in the voting laws.

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15:33

The IWY handbook had guidelines on how to reach those who didn't have access to mainstream channels of communication, such as those who don't belong to organizations, low income people, and minorities. The handbook also had concrete suggestions for electing delegates to the Houston conference. The most specific business of these state meetings was to educate and to take votes on certain issues. The Washington IWY staff had prepared materials on the twenty or thirty obvious questions confronting women; they wanted to hear how people felt about these issues.

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18:49

The controversial issues at the time were reproductive rights, lesbian rights, and the ERA. At the IWY conference in Houston, only one plank on the platform was carried unanimously because there were several states that sent conservative delegations.

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20:06

The national legislation calling for the IWY conference, initiated by Bella Abzug and Patsy Mink, specified that each delegation should be mixed with respect to economic status, race, age, religion, etc, and racial minorities, low income people, and young people were actually over-represented at the conference. When the National Commission had to fill in shortfalls, they had to name white, middle-class, and elderly women; this was a total surprise. It was possible to elect and send low income people because payment to attend the national conference was subsidized by Congress, which allocated only $5 million for it. The State Department picked up postage and donated office space, which made it possible to pay the way for these delegates.

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24:32

Many state meetings very political, such as New York’s. Carter named Bella Abzug as chair of the national IWY commission and made a lot of other changes. Alan Alda and Jean Stapleton were on the commission. Both were very active participants, especially Stapleton.

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25:10

When Bella Abzug came in as chair of the IWY commission, she told KC to be executive director. KC was reluctant to do this because of the impact on her personal life.

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28:43

KC discusses the adoption of a national plan of action at the IWY conference. The National Commission pooled the results of the state meetings and put together a tentative plan of action that elected delegates would consider in Houston. Some people came ready to adopt the whole plan; others did not. In order to counter ultra-conservatives and dispel some of the lies floating around, a group of forty organizations in Washington urged their constituency to come to Houston and support the conference.

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32:06

In addition to the plenary session at the IWY conference, where the elected delegates voted, there were 20,000 non-delegates. There were other conference activities besides this session; KC describes some of these.

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34:53

The 2,000 elected delegates to the Houston conference stayed in the room where the plenary session was held and did their job. For the most part, they wanted to be there to vote.

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35:54

One of the exciting planks at the IWY conference was that of minority women, who were unhappy with the preliminary plan. These women hammered out a new plan, which was passed in an emotional plenary session.

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38:52

When the plank on sexual preference was debated, there were impassioned negative statements, especially from religious fundamentalists. Betty Friedan gave an impassioned speech in favor of adopting the plank despite her past history of being unfriendly with the lesbian community. The statement was well-received; it reflected an honest change on Friedan's part. Friedan ran into a lot of controversy recently on the subject of whether there should be special treatment in the law for pregnant women. She and Katherine East were on opposite ends of this issue. East opposed the sexual preference plank at the IWY conference because she said it wasn’t a women's issue.

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43:36

KC describes the reaction of two of her friends from Milwaukee to men from Utah who were telling women in various Mormon delegations how to vote.

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45:17

In between the votes at the plenary sessions there were speeches by Barbara Jordon, Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson and Rosalyn Carter. Judy Carter, the daughter-in-law of the President, was active throughout the planning of the conference.

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45:57

KC briefly discusses Judy Carter, President Jimmy Carter's daughter. The voting at the IWY conference was interspersed with other activities. Bella Abzug was very demanding, often insisting they have staff meetings at the end of long days.

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47:19

KC continues describing the program highlights from the IWY conference and focuses on Plank 26, a proposal that called for an ongoing commission responsible for implementing the conference's plan of action. It was the most controversial plank of all and KC explains why. Both Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem were twisting arms to get it passed. This plank was an exception to the general feeling of unity at the conference. To provide a more upbeat close to the conference, singer Marty Adam performed a song and taught it to the audience.

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52:13

At the IWY, Plank 26 was passed, and it forms the basis of the National Women's Conference Committee (NWCC). President Carter named a Women's Advisory Committee with Bella Abzug as chair, but it fell apart after it criticized some of Carter's budget proposals. Carter fired Abzug and half of the committee resigned in protest. But the continuing committee of the Houston conference remains.

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55:58

KC doesn't want to see another conference on women under the current administration because it would not have a progressive agenda; it would be a tool of the administration.

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56:32

KC describes the movers and shakers at the IWY conference in Houston. In one moving moment, the delegation sang “Happy Birthday” to Margaret Mead on her 75th birthday.

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1:04:04

One of the organizational problems of the IWY conference was getting food for the delegates, and KC briefly describes efforts to cope with this.

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1:06:19

KC briefly describes her job behind the stage at the IWY conference. This gave her a very discontinuous view of the whole meeting.

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1:07:48

KC briefly describes the follow-up work after the IWY Houston conference, like publishing the “Spirit of Houston” and presenting a report to the President and Congress. Some of the bills from Houston were not paid very quickly. KC briefly describes the activities of the Committee of Houston Volunteers, which found local printers and artists to work for the conference and promoted the conference in Houston. Payment was delayed to these local people, and it was very embarrassing. A lot of the work in the office was anticlimactic. KC was happy to get home and stop her weekly commute.

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1:15:17

The IWY conference made KC see how universal some problems were. She had met some terrific people. She was astonished at the effectiveness of the ultraconservatives who took over the state meetings. KC thinks the women's movement is not as organized as the conservatives; when the chips are down, the women's movement is not as effective because they're more democratic and don't take orders from on high.

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1:17:57

If there were to be another conference like the IWY, KC speculates that a global perspective might be more in order. There's no dearth of agenda items for a national conference, like the widening gap between rich and poor, reproductive rights, child care, drugs, the educational system. KC suggests creating jobs for the unemployed by expanding service fields such as teaching. She thinks women, children, and minorities are worse off now than at the time of the IWY conference.

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1:22:52

The issues KC describes are not just women's issues. She's never restricted her objectives to improving the lot of women alone. As Bella Abzug says, the feminist movement has a vision of society that's fair to everyone. NOW was begun on behalf of women and minorities.

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1:26:37

KC predicts that the current Supreme Court could affect Roe v. Wade. She doesn't think either George Bush or Ronald Reagan cares about the right to choice, but they have political debts to pay. A lot of people say the women's movement should be on the offensive, but KC isn't sure how to go about doing this. She points out that 75% of people believe in a woman's right to choice, but a few zealots intimidate Congress and state legislatures.

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1:31:53

End of interview session 2

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Third Interview Session (April 11, 1989): Tape 15

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00:09

Discussing her major contributions to the women's movement, KC says she's had more of an impact in Wisconsin than nationally. Because the Wisconsin Commission was headquartered in her office, it gave her the flexibility to conduct educational efforts.

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04:45

KC had a hand in the E. B. Fred fellowship and the women and apprenticeship project, for which they made a film, “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman.” They had requests all over the country for that film. KC talks more about the women and apprenticeship project, which was an effort to move women into nontraditional occupations; it became the model for the Women's Bureau of the Labor Department.

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07:22

A lot of these projects had a big impact. One project for the National Advisory Council on Women's Educational Programs held four regional conferences that brought together rural women and girls and various services. KC wrote the final publication for that project, “Educational Needs of Rural Women and Girls.”

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10:56

There was an underlying educational component in everything KC did. She has a couple of audiotapes from her earlier days as a feminist, and finds her vocabulary then fascinating; it was gentler because she didn't want to offend anybody.

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11:54

KC's speeches have undergone a lot of changes, but she's not sure how much of this change comes from her and how much is the result of changes in the outer world. In the late 1960s, for example, she had to emphasize that there was nothing freakish about women being in the work force, and high school counselors were hostile when she said that they shortchanged girls by encouraging them to be typists or nurses. Those speeches are no longer necessary, and KC's not sure if attitudes have changed or she's changed.

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15:56

KC's Midwestern roots are helpful in the Midwest, but she offers a couple of examples of problems caused by her background—Betty Friedan, for example, described her as a “rawboned Midwesterner.” She relates a few more instances in which her background affected her, like when she accepted her first teaching job at Purdue rather than Bryn Mawr because she wasn't comfortable on the East Coast. She's sure her background made it easier to communicate with women in the rural women's project and the continuing education project.

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25:25

KC has not been universally popular. She got hate mail from right-to-lifers and religious fundamentalists, and a number of her friends had to defend her to others.

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26:52

KC's family life influenced her political activity because it affected her attitude toward men. She believes women don't have a monopoly on virtues, and all men aren't male chauvinists. This is one thing the gay and lesbian movement has also helped people to understand.

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29:54

Discussing the advances made by the women's movement, KC says that there's a more generalized acceptance of women. Women are moving into positions of authority, although they're still powerless in foreign affairs and high finance. Another advance is the development of women's studies and its revision of human knowledge.

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32:30

KC sees women's studies as part and parcel of the women's movement. Women's studies has long-range potential, as additional history, psychology, and literature books are written. There's also been an amazing outpouring of women's art.

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38:08

KC sees the influences of the women's movement in organized religion.

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38:26

Discussing the global nature of the women's movement, KC mentions the study “Sisterhood is Global,” which suggests that the West's ignorance of the rest of the world is monumental.

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39:21

Another strength of the women's movement is its focus on peace. Women are leaders in identifying and opposing violence. But to make changes, women have to be in positions in the decision-making establishment.

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41:28

KC continues to be appalled and frustrated by the slowness with which women are elected to Congress, although there have been enormous strides at the state and local level. This difficulty probably exists because of the glass ceiling and because it's very difficult to unseat someone in office at the Congressional level. It's also hard for women to get elected to Congress because it's becoming more expensive to run for national office.

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44:38

KC begins to discuss some of the errors made by the women's movement.

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45:47

One of the difficulties in the women's movement is that is has tried to be nonpartisan. But despite some Republican feminists, the Republican Party has in general been diametrically opposed to the interests of women. The Democrats have failed to take advantage of this, and a women's party has no potential. To KC, this is one of the great failures of the women's movement. The influence of women in the Democratic Party has not been great, and the Democratic Party has not addressed itself to the concerns of women, minorities, and working people. KC thinks Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition inspired more hope.

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49:44

The women's movement hasn't done a great job of educating young people. There are many young people in awful situations, who are in single-parent households, exposed to drugs and violence, and out of work; they're not going to grow up to be nonsexist liberated feminists.

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51:21

Discussing how the women's movement has addressed a broad range of issues, KC points out that a lot of grass-roots services, like crisis hotlines and shelters, have been done on a shoelace by community women.

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55:27

The agenda of state legislatures, KC notes, could almost have been written by the women's movement. Women in Congress have managed to work together across party lines and have been joined by a great many men. Coalition-building with men at the state level has been successful. There's been a real effort to keep state legislatures progressive.

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57:25

Before the ERA is ever reintroduced, KC believes the women's movement should count votes before it invests in another all-out effort. KC doesn't think they have those votes now.

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59:12

The women's movement has been responsible for educating people about the status of women on the national as well as state level. There are now forty or fifty national organizations that educate on women's issues.

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1:01:24

Asked how she believes feminists today can best reach young women who say they aren't feminists, KC says she doesn't foresee the day when there won't be a vocal opposition to the women's movement because the women's movement is struggling against the status quo. Its opposition comes from those who want to confirm the enormous gaps between rich and poor. It wasn't just Phyllis Schlaffly and the Eagle Forum who defeated the ERA; they were the front people for the boys in the back room, who wanted to make it look as though women were divided. Progressives and conservatives are going to remain divided no matter what the agenda. Nobody can call herself a feminist and be opposed to raising the minimum wage. Feminism is a vision of a different kind of society, where people don't lack health care and housing.

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1:07:48

KC points out that women working in battered women's shelters can get so involved in the whole subject of domestic abuse that they don't see any connection between that and the rest of the feminist agenda.

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1:11:11

KC says we need good child care and need to make the workplace more hospitable to families. KC uses recent progressive efforts to change property tax laws as another example of needed change. All sorts of people who voted against that constitutional amendment voted against their own self-interest. This is where education needs to come in.

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1:15:57

KC thinks the yuppie mentality, in which success is measured in dollars, has affected a lot of people. In amassing money and getting funding, women begin to think success is measured in dollars and may support laws that won't raise the minimum wage or won't base property taxes on the ability to pay. Women imitate men when they get into high places because that's the way the system is.

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1:19:21

KC remembers Round Table discussions concerning two percent, across-the-board faculty raises. KC felt only the lowest-paid people should get the biggest raise. People found it hard to believe that she was willing to forego her own raise to allow that, but she believed in equality.

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1:21:20

KC says there has been progress overall. There are infinitely more people who care about women's issues; the 600,000 people who marched for reproductive rights in Washington are a hopeful sign.

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1:22:31

End of interview session 3

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