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

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Eighth Interview Session (November 10, 1987): Tape 8

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00:07

KC returns to the subject of the second statewide conference organized by Martha Peterson's office. Esther Peterson agreed to speak at the conference if they would assemble the statewide chairs of women's organizations to tell them about President Kennedy's commission on the status of women and discuss the possibility of having one at the state level. About fifty came to the meeting.

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02:16

There was unanimous approval for the state-wide commission at the meeting. Before Peterson's speech, KC had suggested to Martha Peterson that they might be doing a disservice to women by encouraging them to broaden their horizons when the outside world was so hostile to them; if there was a state-sponsored commission, they could do something for women that the University couldn't.

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05:15

The experience at the conference changed KC's life. Soon afterward, she and two others met with Governor John Reynolds to propose a state commission on the status of women. He was supportive and agreed to hold a statewide conference on the status of women before naming the commission.

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08:01

In July 1963 Governor Reynolds called for the conference on the status of women and asked KC to chair the planning commission and the conference itself. KC had a marvelous planning committee. She is sure that they were responsible for the seriousness with which the press and public took that conference. This type of committee was about to become very unusual in the women's movement. It was representative of the population, not just handful of radical feminists.

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11:06

KC was depicted as a radical woman, but in Wisconsin the women's movement wasn't subject to ridicule. Wisconsin’s Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women Zion’s finally put together in May of 1964. At the first national conference of these commissions, KC was one of two chairwomen who didn't report that they were ridiculed in the press or given the silent treatment. KC thinks this is because of Wisconsin's enlightened press and progressive tradition, and also because its commission emerged under different circumstances.

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13:03

The conference before the establishment of the Wisconsin commission on the Status of Women began on the day President Kennedy was assassinated, so the conference was postponed. The rescheduled conference took place in January 1964; all of the original participants came in spite of the cold weather.

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15:12

KC was glad they had the conference before the official designation of a commission on the status of women. By the time the commission was named they had a very good notion of the important issues in the state and how they wanted to organize themselves. They had good publicity and the top people in the state leading the discussion groups at the conference.

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16:57

The conference familiarized KC with new issues. She had believed women had legal equality in the U.S., but over the years they uncovered more inequities in state and federal law. KC cites some examples of unfair laws. The Commission on the Status of Women watched for those laws and tried to do something about them.

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21:51

The Governor asked KC to chair Wisconsin’s Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women after their second conference.

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23:42

KC was delighted with the appointment. It was the first time she'd been tapped by a governor to do anything. She was 44 at the time; she explains why she thinks a lot of the women in leadership were around that age and why more young women today aren't as involved in the women's movement.

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27:35

The planning committee helped the governor decide who would be on the commission on the status of women. Warren Knowles, who replaced Reynolds, continued the commission during his tenure as governor. The commission tried to be helpful to the governor after each election. In those days, party affiliation had less effect on the choice of the commission members.

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30:38

KC describes in detail the commission's successful effort to convince the Unemployment Compensation Board to change a ruling prohibiting pregnant women from collecting unemployment benefits. KC thinks that a lot of discriminatory policies are made out of ignorance or because times change.

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36:11

KC always thought that one of the greatest obligations of the commission was public education. She remembers the hostility of school counselors when they were told that their advice to girls foreclosed certain options to them. Sometimes the hostility came from women; KC gives an example.

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39:17

KC explains how she got an audience to identify with her whenever she spoke to a group. She was not the “bra burner” described by the press. KC tells how she misjudged one women's group in South Dakota. She also discusses a meeting in Appalachia for the National Advisory Commission on Women's Education Programs, where she met some wonderful people. Meeting such people has been a bonus in her work.

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44:50

By the early 1970s, all fifty states had commissions on the status of women; cities and counties were also starting commissions. At one point there were over 200 of these. KC points out that around 1980 there were over sixty-five women mayors in cities with populations of over 50,000.

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45:56

Pointing out that twenty or thirty of the U.S. cities with women mayors were in locations that had had county commissions on status of women, KC suggests that there was political development as a result of these commissions.

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46:20

In the Wisconsin Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, women in the labor movement were active participants. KC briefly describes her own participation in unions.

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48:08

Every two years, the membership of Wisconsin’s Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women changed, but they had continuity of leadership because KC chaired the commission for 15 years. They tried to give the governor direction by offering him a list of the people they did and did not want for the commission. The governors usually paid attention to this list. KC explains how the commission managed to function on almost no budget because of the University resources that were available to her.

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51:11

KC discusses men on the state commission. She lists some of the outstanding men and describes some “lemons.” There were not so many “lemons” among the women.

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54:25

Toward the end of his last term, Warren Knowles named a number of conservative Republican women to the commission.

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58:10

KC says that the Commission on the Status of Women made incremental changes that were not as overwhelming to the powers that be and begins to talk about the formation of NOW in 1966. Both Pauline Murray and Betty Friedan claim that KC held out against them during these initial meetings. KC agrees and explains why.

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1:02:11

End of interview session 8.

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